After – September 9, 2009

After – Issue 45

It is a positive sign that people are now beginning to think about what happens after the recession. Maybe it’s the result of being sick and tired of feeling depressed about something we have little or no control over, or maybe it’s not a mind game and things really are getting better? Either way it is a nice change to hear words like ‘green shoots’ come into our dialogue. This may sound ungracious, but as thankful as I am of rumors, or real signs of a recovery, I must admit I am looking forward to something a bit more robust than a green shoot to get me excited, perhaps shrubbery?

The GFC is a little like the Olympics, the story doesn’t end with just getting there and doing something spectacular – it is about getting there and back that makes the journey epic. There is no point in doing a quadruple toe loop or a triple salchow that ends you on your arse. Nor does it gain you any points to do a back one–and–a–half somersault pike off the platform that leaves you entering the water with a big splash. Being a winner is not just about doing something phenonomial, it’s about doing it and then recovering with grace, style and your spirit intact.

We shouldn’t be putting smiley faces on our report cards for surviving the GFC if we did so by chewing off our right arm. If you have lost key people, lowered prices, or performed services you normally wouldn’t, just to keep the doors open, have you really survived? Being realistic, when one is in the throws of battle the focus tends to be on getting through the day, not what happens next. I understand that everyone needs to do what they can to sustain themselves; never the less, I worry that many organizations today are making choices without the slightest thought of what happens ‘after’. In the long run, not only will that seem like a foolish lack of strategy and a missed opportunity, but also a big step backward.

Smart people and smart companies will not have waited till the green shoots began to appear to ponder the what’s next question, they would have been all over that way before this mess started. Looking back through history you will see the old saying is true, when the going gets tough – the tough get going. Digital computers were born during the Great Depression, the Ethernet during the 1970’s oil crisis, the personal computer in the early 1980s and the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s.

When the tech industry bombed in early 2000 companies like Apple hedged their bets on the internet and radically changing their business model to enter the music industry, which worked out quite well for them!
What are we going to show for our great GFC? Bank regulation, executives getting paid normal people wages, big companies being honest, those are a few of the unexciting but potential positive outcomes. Sadly, we may also see an abandonment of the things we have been slowly gaining ground on over the past years: environmentalism, work life balance, worker empowerment, mentoring, and training. It is astounding how quickly many of our clients have moved these things to the back burner, in some cases decisions that will impact their business for well after the recession ends.

Everyone seems to be making goofy decisions these days and behaving a little off kilter, for some people the past year has been such a battle that they have very little left in their reserves to keep up the fight, let alone make reasonable decisions. Their jobs have been so tough that now they are showing the telltale signs of ‘change fatigue’. That’s a new term you will see creeping into our lexicon, it refers to the added levels of anxiety, stress and depression many people feel, particularly those who work for organizations that have experienced major upheavals such as changes in ownership, mergers or redundancies.

Redundancies really wreak havoc on us both mentally and physically, findings from a 10 year study at University of Puget Sound, and University of Colorado in the US has found that managers that lay off workers have long term health effects: sleep problems, emotional exhaustion, dizziness, and increased headache and heart problems. It also impacts the way we work, I was looking at the results of an office metrics survey of 80,000 workers world wide that found that workers concerned about layoff are getting to the office earlier, Aussies arrive earliest coming to work at 8:14 (7 minutes earlier than in November) Americans arrive at 8:32, Germans 8:35, UK 9:00 and French 9:22.

Longer work hours and more paranoia don’t sound good to me, isn’t it enough to worry about global warming, the Taliban and tenacious cellulite on your butt? That last point is no joke, not only are we working longer hours, but snacking is on the rise too, 43% of workers surveyed in a Career Builder Survey admitted to having gained weight. One of the reasons there is more snacking is there is an increased number of women in the workplace and we gals like the occasional snack at work. This shift to more women has been particularly prevalent in areas where the construction industry is depressed; the wife is back to work and the tradie is at home with the kids, a six pack of beer and a home decorated with Makita posters.

Changes in an organization affect everyone, but to a leader they can be particularly damaging. Not only are they closer to the flame, but we all look to leaders to set the course for our future and when they are paralised, as is the case when one suffers ‘change fatigue’. The psychologist and executive coach Virginia Mansell warns that the extreme pressure executives have been under in these tough times is often not recognized by company boards. She warns that the highly charged emotional state of executives today can be sever enough to prevent even the most competent managers from doing their jobs well.

Everyone intuitively knows that people don’t make good decisions when they are suffering from anxiety or depression. In fact, research shows that when agitated or anxious whole mechanisms in the brain – called calm intuition – that are critical to decision making shut down. In particular two traits, creativity and intuition, essential for decision making in hard times cannot be accessed. When people are anxious they become irrational, they cannot concentrate and they don’t balance out the information they have. This leads to reactive decision making. Without calm intuition, concentration and balance the decisions leaders make are most likely not their best.

On the other hand there are a whole lot of leaders out there who have kept a cool head, prepared their companies for the worse and took appropriate precautions to weather the storm. One who I heard speak at an executive breakfast forum a few weeks back is David Smith the CEO of HBOS Australia. When asked what he had learned from the tough economic times he indicated that the most important thing an executive could do in tough times was to be transparent. He says people can see through the façades, so it is best to be real and communicate honestly and often about the situation.

Smith went on to say that a positive aspect of this recession has been a greater sense of collegiality and teamwork amongst his people which has allowed them to achieve more than they would have had they worked independently. Getting senior people more involved and dealing with the detail, as well as asking for a greater level of accountability from them also contributed to positive outcomes. Smith made an interesting comment, he says Australians are not used to direct feedback and as a result it is more challenging to correct mistakes.

The financial services sector is going to have a tough go over the next decade, still in survival mode they have not even begun to contemplate how they will move forward, let alone think about what happens ‘after’. They are going to have to ask themselves some tough questions about leadership, given it was the leaders in the industry that led them to the mess they’re in.

Our industry will be doing the same. I am not suggesting that anyone in this business has as much to answer for as the bankers; never the less, I worry that our desire to survive has put us in the position of eroding our market in a way that may be irreversible. The aftermath of what we have just been through is not going to be a restoration of the industry as we knew it and we have done little to reposition ourselves for our new future.

It is a shame, because one of the traits that sets us apart from other industries, creativity and innovation, appears to have been absent in the past months. There is nothing creative about retrenchment, travel bans or undercutting the competition. Other than the architect in Seattle I have read about who is doing residential work from a hawkers stall at a local market, I haven’t heard of anyone doing anything really clever. We have not taken the opportunity of this lull to proactively think about what we want our industry to be like after.

The worst things that could happen to us would be to survive the great GFC only to realise we played a contributing role in creating a reality where our services are not valued and there is an expectation to deliver them for prices well below market value. As an industry we are smarter and a heck of a lot more clever than that, the companies that take the time to think about what happens ‘after’, right now, will be the ones to lead the market in the decade to come.

Sources:

Executive Breakfast Forum – An Interview with Narelle Hooper, editor of AFR BOSS magazine, with David Smith, CEO of HBOS Australia and Virginia Mansell, Managing Director of SMG, August 6, 2009

Becker, Bo, Why Competition May Not Improve Credit Rating Agencies, HBR Working Knowledge, August 31, 2009

Condon, Turi; Construction Job Losses Mount as Funds Dry Up, The Australian, July 16, 2009

Kahler, Alison, High Anxiety , AFR Boss, July 2009

Mansell, Virginia, Staff Under Siege. Business Week, December 15, 2003

Smith, Fiona, Message Wins Workers Hearts, Australian Financial Review, March 3, 2009

Being Gay at Work

Being Gay at Work – Issue 43

There has been no shortage of bad news e mails arriving these days from my old stomping ground the US of A, the topics have been cheery subjects like: illness, divorce, layoffs, salary reductions and work hours being cut back. Between what I read in the newspaper and what I hear from friends, one might conclude Armageddon was most definitely on the doorstep. This is why it was such a pleasant surprise to find an e mail in my in box from a friend in New York with the subject heading – ‘good news’.

This ray of sunshine was the announcement that my friend had gotten engaged, the news spread faster than swine flu panic. This is understandable; after all we have been starved of anything happy to talk about for quite some time so the logical human response is to jump on good news with the fervor of a nerd at a video game launch. And face it, recession or not, getting married is a big deal. What followed was a barrage of e-mails exploring all aspects of the nuptials: who would be in the wedding, who would be the ‘old hag of honor’ and were rainbow bridesmaids gowns so outdated that they might be back in again?

Our friend used to live in Seattle and has only recently relocated to New York. So having time on our side, those of us further west were able to iron out most of the details of the wedding before our soon to be married friend got up in the morning. Never mind that those directly involved were not part of the planning, with such a draught of happiness, why spoil an afternoon of good fun? By the time he read his e – mails the next morning, almost all of the details were resolved, with one exception. Where would the wedding take place? You might think that was simple, but in this case it’s a bit of a challenge, because my friend, who is a man, is marrying another man. One friend hit the nail on the head when she said, dude you can’t get married, you’re gay.

Sadly this is true, there are only four states in the US where gay marriage is legal and New York, while being exciting, diverse and one of the more liberal states is not one of them. My friends won’t get any joy going home to Seattle to get married either, Washington State also prohibits gay marriage. What a shock that one of the states they can get married in is Iowa, yes Midwestern, cornfields, superman Iowa is a state that has legalized gay marriage! This knowledge threatens my long held belief that the United States would be a far better place if you cut the middle out and pushed the two ends together, keep Hawaii and give the great state of Alaska to Sarah and Todd with an enthuastic endorsement to succeed from the nation.

Here in Australia we consider ourselves to be much more progressive, but unfortunately this country also does not allow same-sex couples to marry. In fact, Australia will not even recognize the marriage of gay couples legally married in other countries that do, such as Canada, Spain and South Africa. To our credit you may have seen the new ads in the paper from Centrelink indicating that from 1 July 2009 changes to legislation will mean that customers who are in a same-sex de facto relationship will be recognised as partnered for Centrelink and Family Assistance Office purposes.

The interesting juxtaposition of this activity was that it coincided with celebrating the marriages of two Geyer people, Lianne in Sydney and Tim in Melbourne. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the same celebrations at work would be occurring for my friends in New York. Would they have champagne in the office and pitch in for a gift? The short answer is no, my friend’s partner said “when I came to work last Friday with my ring on, I was curious if people would notice. I saw eyes float to my ring finger, but not a question was asked. It’s a bit awkward…..I feel a bit dishonest keeping it from people, but it’s so politically loaded that I’ve shied away from telling anyone unless asked – and no one has asked.” Not only did his co- workers not ask, he also had to experience the celebration for a straight coworker who got engaged a few days later.
Unlike my friend, who is an architect, his partner works in the financial services industry which is normally thought to be a bastion of good old boy behaviors’ and attitudes. It was surprising to learn that the financial sector has moved out in front of many other professions when it comes to embracing gay workers. In fact many financial organizations are now listed among the top gay employers including Lloyds and Goldman Sachs. It really shouldn’t be such a big AH HA, any organization with a brain is not going to turn away talented people because of their sex, colour, religion or sexual orientation.

Especially if they want to employ the best and brightest, which despite the recession is still a concern for most companies. To date I have not been exposed to any organization we have done briefing work for who cite hiring straight mediocre people as one of their key business drivers. Also when it comes to work, there are real benefits to hiring gay workers. This is a generalization I know, but gay employees are highly educated, career focused and, not all but many, do not have children at home who impact their ability to travel or work longer hours and face it they usually dress well and give a stuff what they look like.

Despite these benefits, we still need laws that prevent employers from discriminating against gay workers and even though they exist, laws and behaviors are two different things. Changing human behaviour and beliefs in the workplace can be great challenge. The result is that for many people in Australia, it’s not so fun to be gay at work. At least that is what Paul Willis has found; he is a contract lecturer in the Bachelor of Social Work program at the University of Tasmania. He has recently submitted his PhD thesis which examines the social and organisational practices through which young queer people (18-26 years) are both included and excluded within Australian workplaces. He also discusses the politics of negotiating queer sexualities in workplace.

Willis’ studies found male participants often felt detached from highly masculinised environments and in some cases were subject to extreme hostility. One poor guy had to deal with a boss who told him he had to sit in a ‘gay chair’ while everyone else sat in ‘straight chairs’. That was mild compared to those that were interrogated about their sexual practices, or called names. It is hard to imagine the pain one would experience having to work with people who call you f – ing faggot under their breath, how would that impact your productivity and motivation?

In preparation for this article I have talked to many gay friends to learn more about their experience with ‘being gay at work’. It was not uncommon for them to keep their personal life to themselves. I wish everyone lived by these rules, I am reminded of a guy I used to work with in Chicago who frequently shared his bedroom antics with us, being a rather plump guy it wasn’t a pretty image and definitely not an appropriate work conversation. Most people, gay and straight, prefer to keep the more personal aspects of their lives to themselves. As one said “it is not like I run around the office in rainbow tights these days, but everyone who knows anything about me knows that I live with my partner.”

On the other hand, there were many stories about gay people being caught off guard, assuming everyone in the office knew they were gay only to be questioned about the wife and kids. Mr. Rainbow tights was asked at the company Christmas party why he didn’t bring his girlfriend with him, the person who asked the question had worked closely with the guy for six years and didn’t know he was gay! I remember having to inform the daughter of another colleague that Mr. Rainbow tights was not worthy of her romantic pursuit a few years prior. I guess he had people fooled.

This is why poor ‘gaydar’ can create problems. When the typical Joe cannot recognize the telltale signs that someone is gay: eloquent, well dressed, flawless hair, never a shirt untucked or fly down, there is bound to be problems as demonstrated by this story. “I was in a client meeting with a lady (still a client by the way) who each week was telling me a little more about her life and one day from under the table I felt her foot rising up the inside of my legs – I didn’t know what to do so spontaneously with two hands grabbed her ankle and quickly stood up, basically almost pulling her off the seat – I said to her (actually it was a desperate please don’t touch me plea) I bat for the other team – we had a great laugh and now would say she’s a great friend.”

Humour aside, almost all of the people I spoke to could recall times in their careers when they felt discriminated against for being gay. From not being included in a business trip to being asked not to attend a meeting for fear they might be perceived differently than a straight employee. One in the legal profession went as far as to wear a wedding band to court, because it was believed that gay attorneys are perceived differently than straight ones by juries.

Some simply have a gut feeling that being gay might be detrimental to their future in less obvious or overt ways. A good example is a friend who is an executive of a multinational company. The challenge came not from the company she works for, but the country she was relocated to. The company can move her and organise her work visa, but they cannot do the same for her same sex partner. Studies done on corporate relocations indicate a major success factor is the employee’s spouse liking the new place.

When I was in the US last August I was at a party attended by many gay couples, quite a few of them had children. I spent time talking with one couple who were selected by the birth mother to be the parents of her child, their daughter is now about 7 years old. As one of her doting fathers twisted her hair around his fingers, he explained that since they have had their daughter they now have to do four loads of washing per week: whites, darks, coloured and pink. They told me about the new house they are building and how they had honeymooned in Australia. They were a normal happy family.

Two weeks after the party one of the guys was walking the dog and was struck by a car and killed in a hit and run accident. Beyond the complete sorrow that I felt from learning that someone in their prime had lost their life, was the added sorrow that came with the recognition that this family will most likely not be entitled to the same benefits any other grieving family would. Insurance payouts, a leave of absence from work, or a break on income tax; in the eyes of the law this family is not a real family.

Things are slowly changing, one person said “In all honesty my sexuality is not part of my job however I do like to build a relationship with clients and I think / believe a big part of that relationship is being honest and transparent – I am fortunate that works for me.” This is true, while we don’t need to know everything about our co- workers knowing a bit helps us to bond as a team and a culture. Companies that support people being themselves, whether that is straight, gay, Muslim or Buddhist, will be the ones who get the most from their people. At times like these when organizations are struggling to get the most out of their resources, this acceptance is even more critical.

This months podcast features an interview with Michael Lamb of Cushman Wakefield in New York

Sources:

Berry, Mary Francis, Gay but Equal? The New York Times, January 6, 2009

Dennett, Harley, Bigotry Still in the Workplace, Sydney Star Observer, Posted: Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Edwards, Cliff with Hempel, Jessi, Coming Out In Corporate America – Gays are making huge strides everywhere, but in the executive suite. Business Week, December 15, 2003

Hammonds, Keith H, Difference Is Power, Fast Company, December 19, 2007

Konrad, Walecia, For Gay Couples, Obstacles to Health Insurance, The New York Times, May 8, 2009

O’Hara, Lisa and McPherson, Bill, Corporate attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the workplace
Academic Exchange Quarterly , Summer, 2002
Presley Noble, Barbara, At Work; The Unfolding of Gay Culture, The New York Times, June 22, 1993
Taylor, Jerome, British Business Seeks Gay Talent – Homosexuals are being courted by employers, even by the domestic intelligence service, Business Week, August 19, 2008

Move Over Boys

Move Over Boys – Issue 42

I have been home sick for a few days, which has afforded me the opportunity of catching up on listening to my favorite pod casts. One, This Week in Tech or TWIT, focuses on technology news, gadgets and Silicon Valley gossip e.g. how sick is Steve Jobs and is it right for Apple not to let shareholders know the intimate details of his health status? The podcast is hosted by a guy named Leo Laporte who is joined by other guests, generally men; I guess there simply are not many girls out there that like to talk geek. However, on rare occasion such as this, they found one.

The topic discussed was the new CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz who took over from co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang January 20th. The conversation centered on the appropriateness of e-mails Bartz sent out to everyone in Yahoo in her first weeks on the job. Apparently, the e-mails were very personal: describing her experiences, feelings and impressions of her first weeks on the job, including commentary on the food offering in the Yahoo cafeteria. As you might expect, the men on the podcast didn’t think much of all of the ‘girl talk’ and went so far as to proclaim the personal nature of the e-mails completely inappropriate for a CEO. The lone woman in the pack thought the opposite and applauded Bartz for her honesty and human approach.

We girls do like to talk much more than men do. Before we get down to a business conversation there is no better way to get loosened up than to run through a quick wardrobe critique or discussion of who got eliminated on So You Think You Can Dance. Building communities within a group is a basic trait of female survival; it is this ability to form relationships that makes women excellent communicators. So if you’re good at it, why wouldn’t you do it all the time? Face it; women are more relational than men. They also have greater intuition and like to share their feelings, observations and beliefs. So who can blame Carol for being Carol?

These so called feminine traits: holistic thought, creativity, collaboration and playfulness are associated with the ‘right side of the brain’; while the left side of the brain focuses on analytical thought, logic, language and science and math, generally considered to be male traits. There has been a great deal of talk lately about connecting to the right side of our brains because we are moving into a business climate where greater clarity, transparency and trust are desired. As a result, many companies are wondering how to get their people to be more right brained to get with the times.

It’s not just companies; some countries are even recognizing the benefit of feminine traits. As of January 2008 companies in Norway must have 40% of their directors be women or face dissolution. Spain is on the same path and Sweden has also proposed making gender diversity a legal issue. It seems a radical way to break up the ‘good old boys network’. Of course the reason they would do this is not ideological, or an effort to be fair to the ladies, they are doing this because there is data that indicates having women on the boards of companies can lead to better results.

Studies have shown that when women are on company boards they actually show up to the board meetings, you might wonder why people get paid to be on boards if they fail to show up, but apparently many blokes don’t bother. On the other hand women were 30% less likely to have problems with attendance and on the boards that had women involved, data showed a 9% reduction in male attendance problems! Obviously the women nag the male board members to show up for the board meeting. You might believe that this confirms women are nags, but if you sat next to Hoa on timesheet day you would know that a Chinese man can give most of us women a run for their money.

Women directors in companies are also more prone to be involved in committees. They are 7.5% more likely to sit on audit committees, 19% more likely to be on nominating committees that select directors and board members and 7.6% more likely to be on corporate governance committees. It is interesting to note that they are 11.8% less likely to be on compensation committees; perhaps this explains why women are still underpaid compared to men.

In companies where there are more women directors there is also a greater degree of equity based pay compared to fixed cash compensation. This means you get paid to do something right, not just for showing up; it also establishes a stronger alignment with the interests of the shareholders. Speaking of shareholders a study by the performance consultancy Catalyst found that companies with women in senior management earn their companies a higher return.

On the topic of high returns, let’s review the returns that Fred, Tom, Andy, Dennis, Eric, John, Stephen, Antonio and Paul produced for their respective companies. They were the boys that ran those British banks that have lost billions of dollars. Recently they got to go before the British Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee to answer for their acts and guess what? – the committee was a bunch of blokes – go figure. The banking industry is a fine example of why we might want to take this discussion about the difference in female leaders seriously. After all banks are industries long ruled by men and look how well they are doing today?

Some people go as far as to link the global financial crisis to testosterone and the higher degree of risk taking behavior displayed by men. Believe it or not, there is some legitimacy to this idea. In a study with Wall Street traders it was found that traders made the highest profits when they had the highest levels of testosterone in their spit. Elevated levels of testosterone lead to riskier behavior. Of course one can’t help but conclude that if there were more women, or any women, on the boards of some of the failed banks around the world, they would not have been so cocky and irresponsible. One of the top financial sector officials in London said “There are quite a lot of alpha males with testosterone streaming out of their ears”.

It is safe to say women would never do something that had the run on effect of impacting their ability to shop in the future. Women would have been more cautious and this is why countries like Iceland, who are really down the crapper, have turned over key aspects of their finances to women. They now have a woman prime minister and women leading two of their major banks all in a desperate attempt to pull the country out of bankruptcy.

Girl power isn’t limited to companies; it has been found that women are making more decisions at home now too, hence the phenonemia ‘womenonimics’ that you have heard me talk about. What has led to this is the increase in the disposable income of women, in fact it has risen 50%. In 2020, 53% of the millionaires will be women and right now in Australia, Gina Rinehart is the 5th richest Aussie according to the 2008 BRW Rich List. She is expected to top the list soon. Of course smart companies know there are gals out there with high disposable incomes and are falling over one another to get a piece of it.

Tapping into the female mindset is not an exercise in returning to the old feminist doctrine, but a move that is occurring because it makes good business sense. Mark Sinnock, the Chief Strategic Officer at the advertising agency Fallon London says “It’s about simple, clear & intelligent communication that has the ability to cross all segments, male or female”. The result is marketing that is more human / intuitive and cerebral, with a strong dose of humor.

I am not going to weigh in on a male / female – who is the better leader argument. In my career I have run across many arrogant, egotistical cowboys and girls so reject the notion that great leadership has to do with the kinds of chromosomes you carry. At the end of the day, being cocky or irresponsible is not gender specific and regardless of whether it is a man or woman doing the damage, it hurts a business equally either way.

In the debate over whose at fault for the GFC, to me it is clearly the dudes. And in the time honored tradition, it will be the women who come along later to clean up the mess. It kind of stinks really. Being the mother of two teenaged boys, I have spent a considerable amount of time encouraging them to pick up after themselves and have often pondered how you teach them to exercise the appropriate amount of risk taking behaviors? You can’t be a weenie in life, particularly now in these times it will pay have a bit of courage, but this courage must come with smart choices and that generally means engaging others in a debate.

I will leave you with a quote from Ian Davis – McKinsey’s Worldwide Managing Director, he is talking about what he calls ‘The New Normal’. “The business landscape has changed fundamentally; this is not a turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. Tomorrow’s environments will be different, but no less rich in possibilities if we are prepared.” So I hope we prepare well and find the right balance, if that means tapping into our inner Sheila, then we should.

Sources:

Adams, Renee, If Women Ruled Boards, BRW, January 15, 2009

Hoff, Robert D, The Difficulties Bartz Faces at Yahoo, Business Week, January 28, 2009

Hoff, Robert D, Yahoo’s Bartz Shows Who’s Boss, Business Week, February 26, 2009

Horin, Adele, Sometimes Lady Luck Kicks you Where it Hurts, The Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend Edition March 21-22, 2009

Sullivan, Kevin and Jordan, Mary, Men Behaving Badly: Testosterone Had its Role in the Lost Billions, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 12, 2009

Women CEO’s of the Fortune 1000 Business Week, March 13, 2009

This Week in Tech podcast, Episode 177

Conflict

Conflict

Sometimes even if it is completely justified, it is best not to cross someone, it is simply not worth the conflict it creates. This is the case, when my neighbours the Fuckyas extend their afternoon sport watching parties into the wee hours of the morning. No, Fuckya is not their real name, it’s just a clever way to elude the mail marshal and happens to be what the boys next door shout rather loudly when their team scores. The fun times go on till about 2:30am, long after the sporting event is over and well past the Aznavoorian 9 pm bedtime. As is often the case with sports fans, the Fuckyas practice continual and excessive drinking when they watch sport on television, beginning in the early afternoon and extending into the late afternoon and evening, into night and then on to the morning. It doesn’t end till the last Fuckya passes out.

I have confirmed the grog consumption through spot inspections of the Fuckya yellow recycle bin; however, this kind of investigation is hardly necessary when a rather overt clue, in this case a ‘shrine to grog’, is clearly visible through the front window of the house. It is the shrine, that keeps us from complaining about the noise. Twelve bottles of hard alcohol, artfully arranged on a side table, sitting in front of a pool table, and above that proudly displayed on the wall is the Australian flag. It’s a beautiful thing; really, it brings a lump to my throat and makes me absolutely certain that messing with an Australian with such conviction and overt passion would not be wise. Who wants to get into a neighbour to neighbour dispute about something so visceral?

Most of us prefer to live a life without conflict whether that be with our neighbour, our partner, our family, friends or co-workers. In fact when it comes to our co – workers, after financial considerations, Australians value relationships with co-workers far above other aspects of our work life. It is no wonder, conflict with co- workers is not only unpleasant, it is also stressful, highly unproductive and it takes a toll on workplace effectiveness and productivity.

Unfortunately, the recipe for workplace conflict is a simple one: throw in a group of people, a couple of different ideas and human nature and abracadabra you have conflict. With the added ingredients of spending lots of time together in a confined space, the process gets accelerated.

Workplace conflict can partly be attributed to changes in where we work and the historical evolution of the workplace. This makes sense, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries people worked in fields and didn’t have much say in the classical master servant type relationships. Now with globalization, technological change and higher employee participation, there are different expectations in how we can participate in company decision making.

With the emergence of Gen Y in the workforce, there is not even the old taboo of keeping your mouth shut until you knew what you were talking about. We enjoy the liberty of questioning authority in contemporary culture and unless you happen to be an Australian journalist with a loose jaw visitingThailand, we work encourage people to express their beliefs. The flip side is that when everyone has a say, there’s bound to be differing opinions.

The causes for conflict in the workplace vary, but most believe workplace conflict boils down to two distinct types: the first occurs when ideas or approaches differ and the second results from personality clashes. As designers and architects who have gone through an education process that teaches us to collaborate and vehemently defend our ideas, we know that the first type is not always negative.

Differing opinions often become a catalyst for new ideas or directions that improve work process and outcomes and initiate positive changes. Most industries these days look for this type of interaction and blending of opposing thought to drive greater creativity and innovation. The workplaces we design will often deliberately create spaces where this type of interaction can occur. Unfortunately, when it comes to conflict that is the result of a personality clash, there is rarely anything positive that results.

Differences of opinions can come from a place deep within each of us, the source might be the result of cultural differences, vanity, jealousy, simple misunderstanding, or even childhood preconceptions. It is not a big surprise that we all have different styles when it comes to communicating and thinking and not all of those styles work well together.

Regardless of the source, workplace conflict can lead to moral problems and wasted time; team members will be forced to take sides in a dispute, reducing team effectiveness. The most dangerous part is that a lot of disharmony can sabotage the team’s performance over time and that will impact business results. It is for this reason that many companies spend lots of time and money using tools like the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument to measure their employees thinking styles in an effort to better pair like minded communicators and thinkers.

Others believe personality style is the key and believe it is important to identify the different styles in your workplace to better organise teams. As if there weren’t enough ways to catagorise people: man, woman, gay, straight, Jewish, Cathloic, sporty, nerdy we can now sort ourselves by personality types. You can perform this exercise at your next team or cell meeting for fun. The idea here is to recognise and identify the personality types and behavioural preferences in your team and understand one another’s comfort zones. This will enable us to use different people in different situations, where one style is preferable to another. For example we might choose to use a shark for a project with an impossible deadline. The personality styles are as follows:

> Turtle – Generally avoids conflict, when they recognise one exists they withdraw or suppress and relinquish their personal goals. They believe it is hopeless to try to resolve conflicts
> Sharks – Compete, they try to overpower their opponents and force them to accept their solution to the conflict. They achieve their goals at all cost and have little concern for the needs of others.
> Teddy bears – Accommodate, they want to appease all by putting others needs ahead of their own. For them the relationship is more important than the goal.
> Fox – Compromises, they expect each party to give up something and are willing to sacrifice part of their goals and relationships to find agreement.
> Owl – Cooperates, they search for mutually satisfying outcomes and view conflict as a problem to be solved, they seek solutions that achieve their goals and the goals of the other person.

None of us wakes up in the morning with the intention of coming to work to get into a fight, most of us simply want to get on with it. So what do we do when there is a conflict? First off determine whether the conflict is due to differing opinions or a personality clash. You can do this by asking yourself whether the person you are having a conflict with annoys you all the time or only when there is a work related issue raised? If it happens around work related issues you can ask yourself if your anger is unreasonable or out of proportion, would you feel as mad if someone else in the office had a similar viewpoint? Finally, do you respect the other person in any way?

When the conflict is over ideas, experts advise we stick to the issues and appreciate that others have different opinions. You need to ask yourself if the issue is really that important to you or whether you just don’t like the other person. While it can be a challenge, you should avoid judgement and try hard to listen and understand their viewpoint. When approaching a conflict with the aim of solving the problem rather than trying to win the argument the outcomes will most likely be better for you and the company.

There is always the option to get others to mediate. However, be careful of putting company leaders in the position of becoming a ‘dictator by default’ which can cause other problems. Mainly the leader being disappointed and blaming those in power for their indecisiveness and the others resenting the leader for being a dictator.

Personality clashes are more complicated and those conflicts will most likely continue unless attitudes and behavours change. The suggestions are to accept that people are different and acknowledge the amount of time and energy wasted in not liking someone, consider all of the more productive things you could do. I know the next suggestion will make work no fun for some of you, but they advise we should not gossip or complain about the person you are having a conflict with. Finally try to be reasonable or at least neutral to the other person.

If none of this works you could do what a guy I worked with did, please note that just because I am telling you this story does not mean I condone the behaviour. Naturally, to protect their privacy and make them more Australian, I have changed their names to Davo and Lessa. Davo and Lessa were having a conflict that was so inconsequental that now years later I can’t even recall what it was about. It was a repeating pattern, but this time something happened and Davo reached his breaking point, he went a bit postal – not entirely because he didn’t have a gun. He pulled his phone out of the wall and chucked at Lessa’s head. I must confess that many of us were disappointed that his mark was off and the phone only managed to dent the wall and not shut up Lessa. Everyone agreed she was annoying,with her incessant talk talk talking and complaining, it was as if we were working with one of those homeless bag ladies with a mental disorder.

That being said, he should not have thrown the phone, while being eventful and the fuel for entertaining stories for years to come, this action did little to resolve the conflict. It would come as no surprise that shortly thereafter neither Davo or Lessa had a job. So kids don’t try that at work, keep the phones in the wall. If you have conflict with a co – worker don’t let it fester, have a calm conversation with the person whom you’re clashing with, don’t blame or belittle them and if none of that works get your employer involved or call one of the agencies like WorkCover Advisory Service, the ACTU workers line, or Relationships Australia.

Finally, I want to let you know we have resolved our conflict with the neighbours. This was the result of two events. First, one of the Fuckyas managed to get a girlfriend and women are simply too smart to put up with that kind of behaviour in men older than 22. The second was my husband got annoyed enough to go knock on the door at 2 am, I am not certain if it was his presence or the fact that he was in his underpants that alerted the Fuckyas to the seriousness of the situation. It doesn’t matter, they have learned to simmer down.

Sources:

Coburn, Clare and Jensen, Mike; Conflict in the Workplace: is Mediation an Appropriate Response? white paper

Dowling, Julianne; The Behaviour Behind the Bullying The Sydney Morning Herald, October 18-19 2008

Firsch, Bob and Monnier, Ron: When Teams Fall Out Harvard Business Review, December – January 1909

Gratton, Lynda and Erickson, Tamara; Why some teams just work The Weekend Financial Review January 19 -20, 2008

Grubacevic, Vesna; Putting a stop to workplace conflict Website – My business resource centre, October 25, 2008

Vine, Melissa and Dasey, Daniel; War at the Water Cooler – Learn to Diffuse Office Spats The Sydney Morning Herald, October 25-26 2008

Workplace Conflict – website The Australian Psychological Society

Influence

Futures Ramblings # 53
Influence.

Some of you know my son Harry, he used to help us with video editing back when we did that kind of thing. Harry has always been a smart kid, who had quite an advanced vocabulary even as a young child. His first words were somewhat typical of early speakers: Mom, Dad, No, Mine and then the little snark started saying dammit when he dropped his bottle. We immediately blamed our rogue rouge nanny for this; certainly we were not at fault, we were doting model parents who had read every baby and early childhood book published!

Our nanny denied every swearing around Harry, the solution to this mystery came to me one day as I was driving in Chicago where we lived. Another driver cut me off, naturally I delivered a colourful diatribe on his driving skills and overall level of intelligence. You most certainly would have done the same, after all, if we common people don’t stand up and educate others our society will be reduced to the lowest common denominator! Basking in the sense of release and community pride, my gaze fell to the rear view mirror; there he was, my adorable little sponge brain son absorbing it all. That was the moment I realised the power we have to influence other human beings. It was also the moment I was thankful that small children have a harder time pronouncing words with S or F in them.

Every day we influence people and other people influence us; for parents, governments and companies being able to harness that influence is critical to achieving goals. Understanding how to do this is particularly challenging today when pulling out the old chestnut ‘do this because I am the boss’ has little sway. Heck this line rarely works with children once they reach ten, so why would we believe that in this time of building self esteem and confidence we could use it on a young adult co-worker? This my friends, is why having the ability to motivate, direct, persuade and influence people is more necessary today than ever before.

So what do we know about influencing others?

Researchers have done studies on persuasion; one experiment done in 1968 and reported in the Journal of Personality found that people physically stood closer to one another once they learned that they had something in common. In another, researcher F. B. Evans found that people buying insurance were more willing to purchase a policy from a salesperson who was the same age, religion, or even had similar habits – such as smoking. What these studies show is being able to persuade others is reliant on deeply rooted human drives and needs. People want others to like them; therefore, they are influenced by people they like and who are like them.

When it comes to influencing decision making another key factor is reciprocity. If someone has done us a favour, we feel the need to return it. This is precisely why furniture manufacturers bring us food and hang around chewing the fat with designers in the office. We sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these gestures of good will do not influence our decision making, but that would be more than somewhat naïve. In fact, many organisations recognise the sense of obligation is human nature and therefore prohibit their people from accepting gifts, lunches or expensive conferences. My husband works for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and as an employee of the federal government he can’t accept a candycane from a supplier at Christmas without fear of losing his job.

In his book Influence author Robert Cialdini writes of the ‘awesome strength’ of our nature to reciprocate when someone does us a favour. “So typical is it for indebtedness to accompany the receipt of such things, that a term like ‘much obliged’ has become a synonym for ‘thank you’ not only in the English language but in others as well”. According to Cialdini there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule of reciprocation and sense of obligation, it is pervasive in human culture. So I guess you could say resistance is futile and rather than fight this, understand and use it.

Within the office the situation is similar, we gravitate toward people we like and those who think, dress and act the same as we do. The term ‘yes men’ came from this type of behaviour and for obvious reasons it has its downfalls. Particularly if you are an organisation that cares anything about connecting with clients, pushing innovation or basic business evolution. These tendencies can be especially limiting when it goes beyond simple reciprocity of favours, to influential people in the office making it clear that rewards will come to those that help them and retribution will come to those that don’t.

We are all people with complicated emotions and while we should, we do not always base our decisions on logic. The fact is we frequently are not aware of how much we rely on emotions to make decisions. Once this is recognised, you can use it to your advantage and become a more powerful influencer by appealing to a person’s values, self image and sense of belonging. I for instance have commented over the years on how nice Peter Geyer’s hair looked and you can see the personal rewards that has brought.

It often helps to couch requests in a larger purpose vision and express confidence in a person’s ability to do the job. By listening for clues you can determine what motivates another person and appeal to that. For an excellent tutorial on this technique I recommend watching Leave it to Beaver a 1960s American television show, note the behaviour of Eddie Haskel. I watched this show faithfully in my formative years, again you can see the personal rewards it has brought.

Some would not label the behaviour I have described as influence, but might call it office politics. This term is often labelled with negative perceptions, as it is believed to lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, low morale and commitment; and can become a catalyst for employees leaving the organisation. However this is only if you’re on the wrong side of the equation. Empirical research shows that being politically savvy and seeking power actually pays off, this is because there is a correlation between managers’ primary motivations and their success. Some managers need to be liked, others like to achieve targets or goals, others are interested in power. I am motivated by money, so the few people in the organisation that report to me would find that making a small cash contribution towards my son’s school tuition would serve them well.

Power, like office politics gets a bad rap, this is something we should all get over because the experts claim that to be successful and influence other people, you must develop personal power. According to Colin Gautrey, this need not be Machiavellian, nor does it need to be a violation of personal integrity. Gautrey maintains Influence is the outcome of people doing something they would not otherwise do, Power is something about you which motiviates people to be influenced by you and Politics are the behaviours which people use to influence others in a positive or negative way. He believes that by focusing on developing personal power, people will become less dependent on the use of politics to create influence. In other words those that have power don’t need to be political, even though they sometimes are.

Some of the things that can make an individual powerful are:
Position on a particular project
Ability to veto or sign-off proposals
A friendly and fun personality
Qualifications, skills and experience
Good relationships with key people around the organisation
Being very tall and/or attractive (fortunately for me – sometimes ugly and menacing works)
Positive public profile
In a position to provide help and support.

Of course if that is all too hard you could just hire someone to build your influence, I recommend Mekanism in New York. Mekanism, they bill themselves as a production company, but they are really an advertising agency that has been focusing on the Web. The company is known for being quite unconventional, never the less have created spots for a number of established companies like Microsoft, Frito-Lays, and Unilever. Jayson Harris from Mekanism makes the bold guarantee that they can create an online campaign go viral. Their confidence isn’t all cocky luck, for each campaign they leverage social-media tools like Quantcast, Visible Technologies, and Visible Measures. They also tap into a list of influencers to pair the right tone and content to get the proper balance of reach and credibility.

Fast Company magazine is so interested in this they have challenged Mekanism to create a viral marketing experiement whose outcomes will be documented in the magazine’s November issue. This experiment called The Influence Project, is attempting to measure influence on the Web and explore how influence and influencers spread and kill ideas on the Internet. Mekanism has suggested a number of possible site ideas that could be used for the experiment, one a Twittering Business Jesus who responds to companies in distress, another titled f&*k China were passed over. Fast Company settled on something more mainstream, individuals who participate will measure their influence based on how many people click the link to their personal profile. If you participate you will get your photo on the cover of Fast Company so if you’re interested there is still time. While the project hasn’t taken off as quickly as David After Dentist, or Dog Poo girl it has been quite popular in the US with people resorting to bribes and other underhanded means to get others to open their link.

While you may not believe an individual’s personal online influence is any measure of real influence, it is interesting to note the people who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential people. According to the list Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton and Brazil’s leader Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva top the annual list. How does the leader of Brazil, whose behind the drive to end social injustice and inequality, and someone who wears no pants (Lady Gaga – not Bill, although one could argue he has on occasion dropped his) get on the same list? Time says it is because these are the people whose ideas and actions are revolutionising their fields and transforming lives.

This brings me back to the beginning of this piece, you never know who you are going to influence, or how you might do it. I for instance, might influence you with this article and while I may intend it to be taken one way, you may take it another. Just as when twenty years ago while doing my civic duty I influenced my young son. Perhaps it was me who influenced a whole generation of young people to use swear words– as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs, a trait that appears to cross cultural, educational and economic lines.

The moral to the story is quite simple, as with so many things the more you practice your influencing skills the better you become at it. By noticing what floats another’s boat: logic, emotion or relationships you can give yourself a leg up, but be careful relying too much on one of these may blind you to opportunities with another. You need more that one tool on your tool belt. If you practice extending your range in different situations and take note of the responses you get, you can develop your own style of influence and build personal power.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to start right now – If I were to own a dog, the only dog worth owning would be one of those Monopoly dogs – Scottish Terriers I think and of course it would have to have a regal name. People who own those dogs are really smart.

Sources
Borden Mark; Gary Vaynerchuk on Influence, Emotion and Being a “Douche Bag”, Fast Company; July 6, 2010

Borden, Mark; Popularity, Ego and Influence – What is the Influence Project?, Fast Company, July 7, 2010

Cialdini, Robert B, Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, The Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2010

Gautrey, Colin, Personal Power and Influence, The Sydney Morning Herald

Hoffman, Greg, The Art of Corporate Influence, The Age, July 12, 2010

Hurley, Robert F, The Decision to Trust, Harvard Business Review,

Nicholson, Nigel, How Hardwired is Human Behaviour, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 1998

Pfeffer, Jeffrey, Power Play, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 2010

Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton, Lula Top Time’s Influence List, The Age, April 30, 2010

Jerks are Bad – issue 36

Jerks are bad –  issue  36,

 

I get a little snarky when people generalize about America, after all it is a very large country, and all of Australia has the same population as one major American city for heavens sake! With so many people, there are bound to be all sorts. This is why it is unacceptable for any of you to make fun of, or generalize about America. However, being an American citizen, it is fair game for me. Just wanted to get that straight.

My generalization – Americans are much fonder of automobile bumper stickers than the typical Australian. From my observation, the topics of the bumper stickers fall into three distinct categories. The first belongs to people with very nice expensive cars who only have a bumper sticker that demonstrate their devotion to their overly provided for children. This sticker would say something like “My daughter Sunday Roast is an honor student at West Tennessee School of Acting and Country Music”. Then there is the category of cars that look as if the bumper sticker is the only thing keeping the car intact. This category’s message generally proclaims something profound like “Tell me how you like my driving, call 1 800 eat shi$%#”. The third category is reserved for liberal, political hippy sorts. My friend Susan falls into this category, her bumper sticker says “defoliate Bush”. There are many of these types in West Seattle where I am staying with Susan. I saw one yesterday that had a map of the state of Florida that said “electoral disfunction” if you don’t understand Google the state of Florida, look at the map and then research the 2000 US presidential election.

What is the relevance of this? None. It was just a lead in to tell you about a bumper sticker that was popular in the US years ago, around the same time when bumper stickers like “save the whales” and “visualise whirled peas” were all the rage. This bumper sticker said “mean people suck” and you know I think it was ahead of its time.

I thought about this when a Geyer colleague and I had to endure an especially horrible meeting a few weeks ago. I wont tell you who the colleague was, or the job, because it is only right to protect the guilty. I will admit that enduring a two hour meeting with a bullying jerk that was downright mean to us is my inspiration for this article. I found the behaviour surprising, for finding a real live -no holding back – jerk in today’s workplace is quite unusual. Most of us working today would have undertaken some kind of ‘be nice to everyone’ program that has been designed to exorcise our inner jerk.

The times of it being acceptable to be a jerk are long gone. My friend and I were reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ when we worked together in Chicago. Our boss was a textbook jerk; he went from design team to design team berating them for substandard design work. He once told me at the top of his lungs that our teams design was so awful that he could have gone and hired of bunch of monkeys and they would have done a better job. My friend said that once when she laughed, a nervous reaction to a similar abusive attack, he asked her why she was laughing and offered that if she thought it was so funny she better consider another profession. He used some different words starting with F, S, and C that the e – mail marshal won’t let me repeat.

Ah the good old days. Well no more, because as the bumper sticker says, “mean people suck” and this is why so many businesses are working hard to eliminate jerks from the workplace. For example, there is the “no dickheads” (their name not mine) policy at Arup Australasia; if you cannot treat others with respect, you won’t be tolerated in the organisation. It is a tough stance to take, Arup is keenly aware of the critical labour shortage that exists in most countries today so this puts them in the position of having to walk the talk. Arup’s managing director Robert Care told the Financial Review that a positive aspect is the organization has become much more supportive in the past two years since he announced he would no longer put up with bad attitudes. The bad news is they had to have the courage to let some senior people go.

Arup is not alone; organizations right around the world are getting rid of people who are not nice. In every industry ‘no jerk’ policies are becoming a common staple for hiring and in some lucky places they will even sack clients who are tough to deal with. Believe it or not this has even entered politics where as you know Kevin Rudd dressed down Belinda Neal for her misbehaviour. Watching some of the election coverage here, they do not seem to be as enlightened.

Unfortunately, acting badly in the workplace is somewhat epidemic and it cost employers much more than they would imagine. A company in the Silicon Valley calculated the cost of an employee who behaved badly and found it was up to $US 160,000. Of course such a cost would not even have include the reduction in creativity and innovation, dysfunctional operations, inability to attract the best talent, impaired cooperation and collaboration and in some cases higher rates charged by others to work with you.

Workplace jerks can do a lot of damage to an organization. Demeaning acts can drive people to quit their job which can sap others left behind of their effectiveness. One study found that employees with an abusive supervisor quite their jobs at an accelerated rate and suffered from less work and life satisfaction, heightened depression, anxiety and burnout. It is clear that having a jerk in the workplace can undermine an organisation’s productivity.

According to some experts, jerks cannot be rehabilitated either. This is why the former Gillette CEO Jim Kilts’ created a “never hire jerks” policy. Other companies have started using Workplace Aptitude Tests to ensure they don’t hire jerks. At one Silicon Valley software company, new employees are asked to sign up to 17 rules of engagement which include not being a jerk, being nice, helping others, and having fun.

This is very good news because what I have learned from researching this topic is being a jerk is contagious! Even though the experts suspect some people are predisposed to being nasty, under certain circumstances almost any of us could become a jerk! That’s me or you folks, while we were concerned about bird flu and SARS we could have been slowing evolving into a jerk without even knowing it!  

You really have to watch it if you’re in a position of power. There is a substantial body of knowledge that shows when people are put in positions of power they want more, which leads them to ignore what others say or want and also ignore the impact their actions have on others. They treat any situation, or person, as a means to satisfy their own needs and are generally blinded to the fact that they are acting like jerks. 

In the event you find it challenging to identify a jerk in the workplace, here are a few tips from Robert Sutton Ph.D., who is a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, he wrote The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t: He says that while you might call such people bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, or unconstrained egomaniacs; for him the best word to capture the fear and loathing that one experiences working with such people is “asshole”. While he acknowledges most of us have to deal with assholes at one time or another, the key is to not have yourself branded as one.

Sutton advises two tests before passing judgment on whether one of your co workers is an asshole. The first is to monitor your own feelings; do you feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled? The second is whether the person you believe to be an asshole aims their venom at people who are less powerful, rather than those that are more powerful. Sutton feels the test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power. Do they give co-workers nasty stares, tease or use jokes to publicly shame others, exclude some from gatherings, invade personal territory, make uninvited physical contact, threaten or intimidate – verbal and nonverbal, send withering e mails, rudely interrupt, make two faced attacks, treat others as if they were invisible? If so, they there is great likelihood they could be classified as an asshole. They are probably also using these tactics as means of exercising power. Either way, it will have a negative effect on their co – workers mental health, their commitment to their boss, peer and organization.

So now that you can run a litmus test on your colleagues to determine whether or not they are assholes, now what? Suttons tips:

  1. Escape if you can. The best thing to do if you are stuck under the thumb of an asshole (or a bunch of them) is to get out as fast as possible. Not only are you at great emotional risk; you’re also at risk of emulating the behavior of the jerks around you, catching it like a disease—what Sutton calls “asshole poisoning.”
  2. Use polite confrontation. Some people really don’t mean to be jerks. They might be surprised if you gently let them know that they are leaving you feeling belittled and demeaned
  3. Limit your contact with the creep as much as possible. Try to avoid any meetings you can with him or her and try to  talk by phone rather than in person.
  4. Keeping an “asshole diary,” in which you  carefully document what the jerk does and when it happens. Helpful if you  want to sue them.
  5. Practice indifference. Sutton advises that when you work with people who treat you like dirt, they have not earned your passion and commitment. Learn to be comfortably numb until the day comes when you find a workplace that deserves your full commitment. Until then, direct your passion elsewhere, like your family, your hobbies, or perhaps a volunteer organization.

Sutton reminds us that being an asshole doesn’t just happen to others – it could happen to YOU. To protect yourselves stay away from those that could infect you with “asshole poisoning”. Also eliminate any unnecessary distinctions in power between you and others. Sutton acknowledges some people in an organization are more important than others because they are more difficult to replace or have essential skills – status difference will always be with us, but he says you can downplay and reduce the differences.

Another step is to get your friends and colleagues to tell you when you’re acting like an asshole. (What excellent advice to give when we are all setting KPI’s) Of course if they do tell you your behaviour is a bit off, it is wise to listen. Finally, competition breeds assholes so it is best not to foster an overly competitive workplace.  

I feel if by writing this we all have to deal with one less jerk it will be well worth the time investment of writing this on my vacation! I hope this has made you all a bit wiser and remember you can only change yourself, the project managers we work with are on their own. Oops did I say that – what a jerk.

 

Sources:

 

Smith, Fiona . “Now be Nice – There’s no Place for Bullies”

The Australian Financial Review, June 17, 2008

 

Bryner, Jeanna . “Workplace Bullying ‘Epidemic’ Worse Than Sexual Harrassment” LiveScience Webpage, Posted March 08, 08

 

Butcher, David R. “The Civilised Workplace: No Jerks Allowed” Industrial Market Trends , June 19, 2007.

 

“Dealing With Difficult People: Workplace Jerks”

On line newsletter www. Itstime.com,  April 2007

Sutton, Robert  “Are You a Jerk at Work”. Greater Good Magazine, Volume IV – Issue three – Winter 07 -08

 

 

 

Cultural Diversity – July 30, 2007

Embracing Cultural Diversity

Issue 32

I got a letter the other day from the Hon Kevin Andrews MP – Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. He was writing to say he was DELIGHTED to advise that my application for Australian citizenship had been approved. This came as no surprise; I had passed the entry test at the department of immigration the week before with flying colours. The short quiz one is required to pass to become a citizen of Australia paled in comparison to the horrendous mound of paperwork that had to be produced to become a permanent resident!

Please do not get the wrong impression, there were others taking the test the same day who were not finding it effortless. Those that do not have a command of written English found the essay questions very challenging; defining the terms ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘bloody oath’ and outlining the appropriate times to use them. The dexterity section required participants chug a scooner of beer while simultaneously turning over an entire barbeque grill of snags, which you might think is easy, but in some cultures ambidexterity is not common.

A woman taking the test the same day as me spilled her beer before she even got the barbeque tongs in her hand. Unfortunately, the rules are very strict. It was sad to think she would not achieve her dream; on the other hand, we simply cannot have citizens of Australia spilling our precious commodities. I am fortunate to have come from a country that has similar customs and beliefs, spending my teen years chugging warm Budweiser in the back of a pick up truck prepared me well.

Unless I do something really wrong or fall upon unfortunate circumstances like Mohamed Haneef – the Indian doctor from Brisbane, I am here for good. Of course Haneef can remain in the country now that all terrorist charges against him have been dropped; however, I suspect that now even applying for a rental card at Video EZ will be quite an ordeal for him.

Luckily Americans and Australians are quite similar: both thought the war in Iraq was a good idea, but thought the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t, both have an insatiable desire for reality TV. Naturally, there are some differences. Driving on the opposite side of the road, eating differently and fortunately for me there is a difference in approach to the topic of immigration and multiculturalism. While Bush has been working to keep foreigners out, Howard has boosted the rate of legal immigration to Australia – and one of those immigrants is yours truly.

One good thing for Geyer is that my being around will not warrant any changes to the work environment, which is not the case for many businesses that hire immigrants, and this can become a point of confusion. Knowing where to draw the line when it comes to acknowledging diversity is a challenge for many organizations. The reality is, we should and do, openly welcome people from other cultures into our work environments, but often do not want the baggage that comes with embracing their culture; whether that is celebrating different holidays, allowing native clothing to be worn, or participating in religious rituals unlike our own. Despite the fact that Australia is increasingly culturally diverse in terms of participants, our business culture continues to follow the predominant Australian culture.

According to the psychologist and IHR consultant Leonie Elphinstone the Australian business culture can be defined as relatively flat, egalitarian, time focused – sequential – monochromic. She says there is a focus on outcomes rather than harmony and that in Australian business communication is direct and of low context. Elphinstone goes on to explain that workplace cultures are influenced by industry area, size and ownership (Australian or International). 

Conducting a workshop with one of our clients a few weeks ago we were exposed to the often violent reaction many organizations have to suggestions that the work environment be amended to reflect the diversity of the people that work there. Like many, this organization was quite eager to point out that diversity is a major driver for their business, but when it came to providing prayer rooms, allowing employees to wear a head scarf, or installing squat toilets they wanted nothing to do with it. They said ‘this is Australia after all’.

After all it is Australia, and what that means today is that we are comprised of 216 different nationalities and speak 134 different languages. Only 60% of Sydneysiders were born in this country, in Melbourne that jumps to 64%. 36% of Australians speak another language and 7.5% speak a language other than English at home. In the workplace, the percentage of workers born overseas is 25% and 15% come from non – English speaking backgrounds. The inhabitants of the group of people I sit with in Sydney are a good example of this. I was born in the USA, Ji Wei in Malaysia, Neil in Wales and only Sally and Sean were born in Australia.

As you might expect, the biggest gaps in culture come as a result of different religious beliefs, so perhaps it is fortunate that in Australia 18.7% claim to have no religion. It is interesting to note that in Melbourne 20% say they have no religion, but only 14% of those residing in Sydney claim no religion – and this is the city referred to as Sin City? The source I got this from claims this is due to the fact that ¾ of all Lebanese Australians live in Sydney, and Lebanese are devout. It is also due to  the high percentage of Lebanese Australians in Sydney, that the percentage of those that believe in Islam is 4%.    

The question to consider is how much tolerance are we prepared to accept when it comes to embracing diversity? Beginning with dress, what ethnic and religious styles are appropriate in the work place, when is it acceptable to wear a sarees and kameez, dreadlocks, braids, and a turban to work?  According to Chandra Prasad, from the IMDiversity Career Center,many professionals are unwilling – and in some cases, due to religious and cultural beliefs, unable – to comply with the standard corporate dress code.

There are many reasons why people wear culturally specific styles in the workplace. It may be to maintain the culture of their homeland, or simply a way to express cultural pride. Some do it to be trendy, or as a means to educate others about their home and customs. All of these generally produce positive outcomes and do make the work place more interesting. On the other hand, when people wear culturally specific styles in the workplace it plays into our tendency to assume, or jump to conclusions. Prasad says a very common assumption made when one wears culturally specific styles is that they don’t speak English. 

Rosa Anabela Tavares is a family practice physician who is mixed Haitian and Angolan; she lives in New York and wears wraps on her head and sarongs to work. Apparently in the past she wore dreadlocks, which caused people to assume she was “radical, liberal and not approachable. Tavares says “In my capacity as a physician and role model, [my own style] is a strong signal to my patients and colleagues about being open and not being afraid not to be mainstream.” Tavares believes that people should wear the fashions with pride: “As a minority, you run the risk [of being labeled] regardless, so you might as well do it while embracing something you care about.”

A critical factor in this discussion is where you work, we have a great deal of latitude in our dress, it is almost expected that designers wear clothing that is out of the ordinary. Internet and high tech companies tend to be more lenient than law firms and some retail stores. Very traditional companies may regard cultural styles as substandard, so it is important that employees pay attention to what is happening around them and check with their employer if they wish to deviate. My son Harry was recently given a warning at work for not shaving, his employer Hoyts explained that facial hair was acceptable; however, the scruffy growth Harry was sporting could not be considered a beard. You cannot have a scruffy teen scooping out popcorn at the Harry Potter opening and uphold the brand.

Wearing different cultural styles may also bring unwanted attention to the employee, which may be positive or negative depending on the circumstances. There is the story I read of Mary, an Indian reference librarian, who believes that wearing a saree works to her advantage. She explains, “On the street when I wait for the bus, in the grocery store, and at functions on campus, students will stop by and say, ‘Do you remember me? You helped me with my research last semester.’ It makes me feel good about being recognized and acknowledged for my services in a vast, impersonal campus.”

Dealing with an employee wearing a turban to work is quite minor compared with other more challenging aspects of cultures that might be manifested in the physical environment. I mentioned earlier the suggestion of installing squat toilets in an Australian headquarters nearly made it necessary to get a defibulator for our client. After his violent reaction we didn’t have the fighting spirit to tell him about our other client just a bit further down the road that has had to repeatedly replace the toilet seats in their fitout due to employees standing on top of them.

Last year when working with Ngai Tahu our brief called for special areas and requirements for food preparation and greeting customs. This had an impact on the physical environment and amount of space required for the fitout. Given the purpose of Ngai Tahu it seemed natural and appropriate, but how would we have reacted if it was something less mainstream or from a culture more foreign to us than the Maori? How would we react if this was an insurance company with a large number of Maori employees?

As we enter a new chapter in the war for talent, the question of what is Australian and what is not will be on everyone’s mind. The labor pool we tap from will be increasingly diverse and as organizations we will all need to decide just how far we will go to make others feel welcome. Alternatively, those of us who are new entrants may just need to learn to adapt to the culture that has accepted us and get on with our work.

 

 

 

Sources

 

Exploring Culturally Specific Styles in the Workplace

by C Prasad

www.imdiversity.com

 

Cultural Diversity in the Australian Workplace

Leonie Elphinstone

Presented in May 2005 at Griffith University

 

Immigration the Defining Difference

By Duncan Currie

The Sydney Morning Herald

July 12, 2007

 

Two Cultures, Changing Dreams

By Deidre Macken

The Australian Financial Review

June 28, 2007-07-27

 

Demographics: The Population Hourglass

By Andrew Zolli

Fast Company

Issue 103 March 2006

Middlescence – June 27, 2006

Middlescence

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 21 – June 27, 2006

A lot of you know that I do Bikram yoga, it is the type done in a room heated to 39C. This past weekend I went to a special class with one of Bikram’s most experienced instructors who came over from the US to teach a handful of masters’ classes in Australia. I found this teacher very inspiring, not only did she have a great command of the postures and their medical benefits but she looked great too. As you might imagine, when one exercises in that kind of heat they wear as little as is legally possible, and the teacher from the US was no exception in a black one piece bathing suit. Watching her move through the room I couldn’t help but want to be like her, be as smart, as peaceful and look that good. Fortunately for me, I still have some time to catch up, she is in her 80s. When I wasn’t thinking about being nauseous and on the verge of fainting from the heat, I was thinking I would like to have the confidence to walk around in a bathing suit,  do an effortless sit up and be a yoga teacher when I am 80. Doing the math, I could go to the 8 week Bikram training in Los Angeles now and still get in a solid thirty plus years teaching before I hit 80.

I thought the fixation about what I should do next in my career was just a passing phase; I seem to have an insatiable quest to find things that give me a greater sense of purpose in life. Naively, I thought that I was the only one who did this and assumed the rest of you were content with your chosen professions. I imagined you were all like my old boss Art Gensler, once when I said good morning to him he replied “if I was any better there would be two of me”.  It was surprising and disappointing to suddenly read that I am not the only one who spends time thinking about what’s next.  In fact it is quite common. Go figure, my crisis is not even my own, and it is not even unique, it is so common with people my age that it even has a name.  Middlescence!

Like adolescence, middlescence can be a time of great frustration and confusion which explains the poor state of my household with a pair of each. People like me, mid career employees, between the ages of 35 and 54 make up more than half the workforce and we work longer hours than our older and younger counterparts. Unfortunately, only 43% of us are passionate about our jobs, 33% of us feel energised by our work, 36% say they feel they are in dead- end jobs and 40% feel burnt out. As a group we have the lowest satisfaction rates with our immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives.  We are working more, enjoying it less and looking for something else to do that may put a little joy back in our lives.

When it comes to mid career employees, the companies they work for mistakenly believe they are settled and content, the solid backbones of the organisation; and unfortunately often ignore them. This can lead to middlescents becoming so dissatisfied that they will leave their jobs, or worse stay and fester with a bad attitude. Every day companies all over the world are paying the price of lost energy, enthusiasm and a lack of innovation and focus from their middlescent employees, which is often more threatening to productivity than employee turnover. The Harvard business review states “companies are ill- prepared to manage middlescence because it is so pervasive, largely invisible, and culturally uncharted”.

The outcomes for business are not good, with fewer emergent workers entering the workforce and those that are, planning their exit, many companies could be caught out by their valuable experienced people quitting sooner than necessary. As workforce demographics shift over the next ten years, it would be wise for any company that wishes to control its fate to learn to recognise the early warning signs of middlescence frustration, and to actively develop strategies to combat it.

For obvious reasons I will not disclose which of these symptoms that I still have or had. However I will confess to having already gone through one middlescent crisis. Because it was more than shrimps on the Barby and distaste of the Republican administration that got me to: move around the world, switch jobs, and do something completely different. In the event you in the 35 to 54 age group and fear you may have this condition, here are some signs of middlescence:

  • Being stuck in a bottleneck – you are competing for too few leadership positions in an organisation
  • Stuck in work life tension, once referred to as the sandwich generation you’re caught between caring for the kids and the parents
  • Burnt out, being in a career for 20 or more years, you are stretched and stressed and find your work unexciting or repetitive.
  • Disappointment, realising that you haven’t achieved what you thought you would and probably never will.
  • Unimpressive boss, distrust of the company, great gaps in compensation between you and those above
  • Lengthening horizon, realising that you can’t retire and will have to work for quite a while longer.

As most of you know, Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft. While he plans to maintain a large holding in the company, he and Melinda are going to put all of their energy into the philanthropic organisation they founded several years ago. His primary motivation in retiring is a desire to spend more time on the issues that he really cared about. Whadaya reckon, Middlescence? Yes it is perhaps easier to search for greater purpose in life when you are worth 50 billion US, and you are the boss. Never the less, it is somewhat comforting to see that this condition can happen to just about anyone regardless of your position in a company or the number of noughts on your pay cheque.

For those of us without a spare billion let alone million to finance our pursuit of greater meaning, there are other strategies for revitalizing careers that are more attainable for us commoners. First is what the employer can do, followed by a few tips on how to take matters into your own hands.

For employers, it is advised that two preliminary steps are taken before embarking on the six following ideas. The first preliminary step is to remove barriers to occupational mobility, such as the policies within your company that may block employees. Second, it is advised that you ‘find the keepers’ and this means going beyond the stars in your organisation, who are probably already recognised, to identify the people whose skills and experience you need and want to retain. Once you have done that you can zip up a mid career employee by doing the following:

  • Offer fresh assignments in different geographical locations or other parts of the company.
  • Offer an internal career change, allow the employee to assume a different job.
  • Put experienced employees into mentoring, teaching and other knowledge sharing roles
  • Offer fresh training, refresher courses, in depth education to develop new skills in new areas
  • Let your people take Sabbaticals, (only 5% of the 500 organisations surveyed by Hewitt Associates offered sabbaticals)
  • Expand leadership development; there are shortages in leadership succession. Corporate restructuring and flattening of organisations has eroded career paths. The result is people can’t accumulate needed leadership skills on the job anymore.

In the event the company you work for does not recognise the signs or worse chooses to ignore them.  How can you take charge of your own work/life and find meaningful absorbing work?

Richard Leider founding partner of the Inventure Group has over three decades of experience as a career coach and counsellor. He believes that each individual is born with a reason for being and that life is a quest to discover that purpose. To help people decide where they are going he asks his clients to answer two questions honestly: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it? Leider believes that people have their own solutions; they just don’t know how to discover them or avoid that discovery. He goes on to say that if you want to make good decisions for your work in life, it all comes down feeding your three hungers.

The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life; not in the classic sense but to “touch creative energy and be touched by it” this could come from bringing a child into the world or introducing playfulness and creativity to the workplace.  (or for you clients might I suggest you could just hire Geyer) The second is to know how to express your gifts and talents, each of us has something to contribute we just need to figure out what that is. Aristotle said “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation” Determine what needs doing in your organisation? What needs doing in the world?  Finally you must know that our lives matter, we are here to leave behind something of ourselves. Work can and should give you a sense of joy, you spend 60% of your life doing it, make the most of it.

Many of us know all too well that there is nothing like a few kids, aging parents to care for, a mortgage and school tuition to make you feel like you have lost the opportunity to search for meaning and purpose.  We all want and need money but we also want to use our talents and want the ability to control our own time. We want to work on something we feel is worthwhile. Sadly, many of us measure our worth by our work. The good news is we don’t always measure this in dollars anymore. “The search for meaningful work is the heart of middlessence, just as the search for an identity – a calling – marks adolescence.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us” From the time we are small children we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. Looking at my children, both teenagers, it is hard for me to imagine them making a career choice now that will satisfy them for another 50 or 60 years. They’re not bad kids; it is just the chance of getting it right the first time is slim.  If research on career choice has any validity, they will not be the only ones.  The reality is that most people don’t choose their career their career chose them; they start down a path and never stop to ask what their calling might be.

According to Leider you need to understand your choices as well as understand the different points in life. He likens it to a spiral, there are times when you’re on a plateau and all is balanced and then something comes along and knocks you off balance. It is when these events occur that you need to take stock. You need to look at everything you’ve been carrying with you, unpack your bag and then repack it considering these four elements: discover how to live from the inside out, discover your gifts, discover what moves you and finally discover solitude because it is there that you will be able to deal with the first three.

I will leave you with a letter written to Fast Company magazine in response to the article “Are You Deciding On Purpose” Now, at 78, retired from major industry, I was stuck with the profound truth and beauty of your philosophy. In retrospect, you could have been writing about me… Now that I am retired and doing what I truly enjoy, looking back I wish that I had taken a few more risks and dealt with the opportunities that I chose to ignore. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

One last question, following the popularity of Big Brother can you e mail me back you thoughts on what you feel would be the best opportunity for me:

Vote A or B

A – Laurie should be a yoga teacher in her next career

B – Laurie should become a romance novelist, focusing on sleazy workplace trysts (keeping with my passion for the workplace and its issues)

Sources

Managing Middlescence

By Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson and Ken Dychtwald

The Harvard Business Review   March, 2006

My Battle with the Misery and Malaise of Middlescence

By Lucy Kellaway

The Financial Times May 15, 2006

Are you deciding on Purpose (extended interview with Richard Leider)

By Alan M Webber

Fast Company  February, 1998

Are you leading two lives?

By Richard Leider

The Inventure Group On Purpose Journal Vol. 6 No. 1

Gates to Reduce Microsoft Role as Era Changes

By John Markoff and Steve Lohr

The New York Times June 16, 2006

Personal Business; A Burnout Cure That Few Companies Prescribe

By Lynnley Browning

The New York times June 6, 2003

Downsizing Worm turns

By Deirdre Macken

The Australian Financial Review October 7, 2005

 

Middlescence – June 27, 2006

Middlescence

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 21 – June 27, 2006

A lot of you know that I do Bikram yoga, it is the type done in a room heated to 39C. This past weekend I went to a special class with one of Bikram’s most experienced instructors who came over from the US to teach a handful of masters’ classes in Australia. I found this teacher very inspiring, not only did she have a great command of the postures and their medical benefits but she looked great too. As you might imagine, when one exercises in that kind of heat they wear as little as is legally possible, and the teacher from the US was no exception in a black one piece bathing suit. Watching her move through the room I couldn’t help but want to be like her, be as smart, as peaceful and look that good. Fortunately for me, I still have some time to catch up, she is in her 80s. When I wasn’t thinking about being nauseous and on the verge of fainting from the heat, I was thinking I would like to have the confidence to walk around in a bathing suit,  do an effortless sit up and be a yoga teacher when I am 80. Doing the math, I could go to the 8 week Bikram training in Los Angeles now and still get in a solid thirty plus years teaching before I hit 80.

I thought the fixation about what I should do next in my career was just a passing phase; I seem to have an insatiable quest to find things that give me a greater sense of purpose in life. Naively, I thought that I was the only one who did this and assumed the rest of you were content with your chosen professions. I imagined you were all like my old boss Art Gensler, once when I said good morning to him he replied “if I was any better there would be two of me”.  It was surprising and disappointing to suddenly read that I am not the only one who spends time thinking about what’s next.  In fact it is quite common. Go figure, my crisis is not even my own, and it is not even unique, it is so common with people my age that it even has a name.  Middlescence!

Like adolescence, middlescence can be a time of great frustration and confusion which explains the poor state of my household with a pair of each. People like me, mid career employees, between the ages of 35 and 54 make up more than half the workforce and we work longer hours than our older and younger counterparts. Unfortunately, only 43% of us are passionate about our jobs, 33% of us feel energised by our work, 36% say they feel they are in dead- end jobs and 40% feel burnt out. As a group we have the lowest satisfaction rates with our immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives.  We are working more, enjoying it less and looking for something else to do that may put a little joy back in our lives.

When it comes to mid career employees, the companies they work for mistakenly believe they are settled and content, the solid backbones of the organisation; and unfortunately often ignore them. This can lead to middlescents becoming so dissatisfied that they will leave their jobs, or worse stay and fester with a bad attitude. Every day companies all over the world are paying the price of lost energy, enthusiasm and a lack of innovation and focus from their middlescent employees, which is often more threatening to productivity than employee turnover. The Harvard business review states “companies are ill- prepared to manage middlescence because it is so pervasive, largely invisible, and culturally uncharted”.

The outcomes for business are not good, with fewer emergent workers entering the workforce and those that are, planning their exit, many companies could be caught out by their valuable experienced people quitting sooner than necessary. As workforce demographics shift over the next ten years, it would be wise for any company that wishes to control its fate to learn to recognise the early warning signs of middlescence frustration, and to actively develop strategies to combat it.

For obvious reasons I will not disclose which of these symptoms that I still have or had. However I will confess to having already gone through one middlescent crisis. Because it was more than shrimps on the Barby and distaste of the Republican administration that got me to: move around the world, switch jobs, and do something completely different. In the event you in the 35 to 54 age group and fear you may have this condition, here are some signs of middlescence:

  • Being stuck in a bottleneck – you are competing for too few leadership positions in an organisation
  • Stuck in work life tension, once referred to as the sandwich generation you’re caught between caring for the kids and the parents
  • Burnt out, being in a career for 20 or more years, you are stretched and stressed and find your work unexciting or repetitive.
  • Disappointment, realising that you haven’t achieved what you thought you would and probably never will.
  • Unimpressive boss, distrust of the company, great gaps in compensation between you and those above
  • Lengthening horizon, realising that you can’t retire and will have to work for quite a while longer.

As most of you know, Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft. While he plans to maintain a large holding in the company, he and Melinda are going to put all of their energy into the philanthropic organisation they founded several years ago. His primary motivation in retiring is a desire to spend more time on the issues that he really cared about. Whadaya reckon, Middlescence? Yes it is perhaps easier to search for greater purpose in life when you are worth 50 billion US, and you are the boss. Never the less, it is somewhat comforting to see that this condition can happen to just about anyone regardless of your position in a company or the number of noughts on your pay cheque.

For those of us without a spare billion let alone million to finance our pursuit of greater meaning, there are other strategies for revitalizing careers that are more attainable for us commoners. First is what the employer can do, followed by a few tips on how to take matters into your own hands.

For employers, it is advised that two preliminary steps are taken before embarking on the six following ideas. The first preliminary step is to remove barriers to occupational mobility, such as the policies within your company that may block employees. Second, it is advised that you ‘find the keepers’ and this means going beyond the stars in your organisation, who are probably already recognised, to identify the people whose skills and experience you need and want to retain. Once you have done that you can zip up a mid career employee by doing the following:

  • Offer fresh assignments in different geographical locations or other parts of the company.
  • Offer an internal career change, allow the employee to assume a different job.
  • Put experienced employees into mentoring, teaching and other knowledge sharing roles
  • Offer fresh training, refresher courses, in depth education to develop new skills in new areas
  • Let your people take Sabbaticals, (only 5% of the 500 organisations surveyed by Hewitt Associates offered sabbaticals)
  • Expand leadership development; there are shortages in leadership succession. Corporate restructuring and flattening of organisations has eroded career paths. The result is people can’t accumulate needed leadership skills on the job anymore.

In the event the company you work for does not recognise the signs or worse chooses to ignore them.  How can you take charge of your own work/life and find meaningful absorbing work?

Richard Leider founding partner of the Inventure Group has over three decades of experience as a career coach and counsellor. He believes that each individual is born with a reason for being and that life is a quest to discover that purpose. To help people decide where they are going he asks his clients to answer two questions honestly: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it? Leider believes that people have their own solutions; they just don’t know how to discover them or avoid that discovery. He goes on to say that if you want to make good decisions for your work in life, it all comes down feeding your three hungers.

The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life; not in the classic sense but to “touch creative energy and be touched by it” this could come from bringing a child into the world or introducing playfulness and creativity to the workplace.  (or for you clients might I suggest you could just hire Geyer) The second is to know how to express your gifts and talents, each of us has something to contribute we just need to figure out what that is. Aristotle said “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation” Determine what needs doing in your organisation? What needs doing in the world?  Finally you must know that our lives matter, we are here to leave behind something of ourselves. Work can and should give you a sense of joy, you spend 60% of your life doing it, make the most of it.

Many of us know all too well that there is nothing like a few kids, aging parents to care for, a mortgage and school tuition to make you feel like you have lost the opportunity to search for meaning and purpose.  We all want and need money but we also want to use our talents and want the ability to control our own time. We want to work on something we feel is worthwhile. Sadly, many of us measure our worth by our work. The good news is we don’t always measure this in dollars anymore. “The search for meaningful work is the heart of middlessence, just as the search for an identity – a calling – marks adolescence.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us” From the time we are small children we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. Looking at my children, both teenagers, it is hard for me to imagine them making a career choice now that will satisfy them for another 50 or 60 years. They’re not bad kids; it is just the chance of getting it right the first time is slim.  If research on career choice has any validity, they will not be the only ones.  The reality is that most people don’t choose their career their career chose them; they start down a path and never stop to ask what their calling might be. 

According to Leider you need to understand your choices as well as understand the different points in life. He likens it to a spiral, there are times when you’re on a plateau and all is balanced and then something comes along and knocks you off balance. It is when these events occur that you need to take stock. You need to look at everything you’ve been carrying with you, unpack your bag and then repack it considering these four elements: discover how to live from the inside out, discover your gifts, discover what moves you and finally discover solitude because it is there that you will be able to deal with the first three.

I will leave you with a letter written to Fast Company magazine in response to the article “Are You Deciding On Purpose” Now, at 78, retired from major industry, I was stuck with the profound truth and beauty of your philosophy. In retrospect, you could have been writing about me… Now that I am retired and doing what I truly enjoy, looking back I wish that I had taken a few more risks and dealt with the opportunities that I chose to ignore. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

One last question, following the popularity of Big Brother can you e mail me back you thoughts on what you feel would be the best opportunity for me:

Vote A or B

A – Laurie should be a yoga teacher in her next career

B – Laurie should become a romance novelist, focusing on sleazy workplace trysts (keeping with my passion for the workplace and its issues)

Sources

Managing Middlescence

By Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson and Ken Dychtwald

The Harvard Business Review   March, 2006

My Battle with the Misery and Malaise of Middlescence

By Lucy Kellaway

The Financial Times May 15, 2006

Are you deciding on Purpose (extended interview with Richard Leider)

By Alan M Webber   

Fast Company  February, 1998

Are you leading two lives?

By Richard Leider

The Inventure Group On Purpose Journal Vol. 6 No. 1

Gates to Reduce Microsoft Role as Era Changes

By John Markoff and Steve Lohr

The New York Times June 16, 2006

Personal Business; A Burnout Cure That Few Companies Prescribe

By Lynnley Browning

The New York times June 6, 2003

Downsizing Worm turns

By Deirdre Macken

The Australian Financial Review October 7, 2005