Talking Up – May 29, 2006

Talking Up

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 20 – May 29, 2006

At the recent opening party of our Brisbane office someone overheard me greeting Peter Geyer. Later they confessed surprise at my greeting, I am not sure whether they had an expectation that I curtsied or lay prostrate on the floor, but telling Peter that I had prepared myself for seeing him by taking a double dose of anti depressants that morning was not what they expected. The person said “you talk like that to your boss”? My reply, actually I report to Peter Mac but hell yeah why not just because the guy’s name is on the door doesn’t mean he’s not up for a laugh. Maybe it is the camaraderie built from catching 6am flights from NZ together that has given me this sense of comfort; on the other hand Eliza has been ill so perhaps there has been a delay in issuing my pink slip.

It is great to have fun at work and I confess to be the kind of person who likes to laugh which is why I have not chosen a profession where joking is prohibited. You will never see me working at the X-ray machines at the airport. I am lucky I can keep my mouth closed long enough about the Bush administration to walk through the machine; if the queue is long the pressure on me to not make a smart mouth remark is almost unbearable. For many of us, it is unimaginable to think of a day going by without sharing jokes or our thoughts with co workers, regardless of their rank with in the organisation. Unfortunately, in many businesses ‘talking up’ is discouraged; and those companies that do not encourage free and open interaction between all workers can suffer greatly for the loss of knowledge and experience.

Last year I wrote about my brother the rocket scientist and the little mishap they had at NASA with the space shuttle. You may recall that the disintegration of the shuttle was blamed on damage caused to the heat shields of the ship that occurred when a piece of insulating foam hit the hull on take off? Junior engineers at NASA expressed concern about the damage, but their superiors told them to mind their own business and shut up. This is an extreme example of the negative impact of not being able to speak up at work; fortunately for most companies the stakes are not so high.

According to Julie Cogan from the Australian Graduate School of Management, office culture can encourage or discourage employees from speaking up. Organisations need a culture and process for employees to voice dissent or bad news. “If you don’t – you keep vital information under wraps” Cogan says. There are a number of ways companies can encourage employees to share their views. One is to appoint a rotating devils advocate, another is to  employ some of Edward De Bono’s techniques of provocation –  the six hats theory or introducing a process of presenting alternative views such as the ‘fishbone diagram’. What ever a business uses, it is important to encourage employees to speak up and communicate positive and negative ideas at work.

Research done by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Professor James Detert from Penn State explores the reasons we are hesitant to speak up to internal authorities in the workplace. They believe that it is possible to create environments that encourage employees to engage both their “latent voice” and “upward voice”. The latent voice is when an employee considers speaking up about an issue, problem or an improvement opportunity and chooses not to. It is all of the potential communications that may not in fact occur. Having exposed you to this term, we can now have a secret language within Geyer. Similar to the way that mothers gently correct a loud child with “honey lets use our inside voices” we can softly urge one another “Can you please make that statement with your latent voice” in other words time for you to shut up already.

Where latent voice refers to the things we thought of saying but didn’t,” upward voice” refers to the fear or hesitancy in communicating with people higher up in the company, those with the perceived power to actually act on your suggestion. The hesitation comes from not wanting to subject yourself to embarrassment or the fear of losing your job. The research suggests that it is in this area that the signals leaders send are important. To encourage communication a leader must be open, interested and most important, willing to act on a subordinate’s voice. Anything an organization can do to prevent the widespread belief that voice is unsafe or not worth your time is likely to increase the upward communication flow. This in turn will create greater value by getting more ideas on the table by utilizing the knowledge and experience that exists within.

There are two factors that lead people to feel more or less safe in speaking up in the workplace: individual differences and contextual factors. Not everyone has the personality or disposition to communicate to the boss and having the ability to challenge in a way that does not cause others to become defensive is a developed skill. Context refers to the type of organisation we work for, is it hierarchical or egalitarian, does the company make the time or have a venue for such conversations, a suggestion box or gripe session? Interestingly, one of the reasons we are hesitant to speak up is instinctive human behaviour. Since living in caves we knew it was better for survival to avoid risks or threats, therefore according to Edmosdson and Deterts research we have “inherited emotional cognitive mechanisms that motivate us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being”

It is critical to note that in encouraging people to express their ‘upward voice’ may not produce what some people think is a “nice” workplace. Receiving direct criticism or comments from your co-workers whether they are senior or junior can make you feel pretty bad. It is important to remember that the bad comes with the good and to grow and learn and progress in our careers we need open and honest feedback. At my last job I was responsible for leading several groups of designers, once they all banded together to let me know how “mean” I was because I had told them that the vinyl wall coverings they were considering were inappropriate. After I explained that it had nothing to do with them personally, it was and issue of choosing a high maintenance product for low maintenance client they still did not get it. I had to knock them over the head with a club; workplace violence is a terrific motivator!

To grow and learn as an organisation, or as individuals, it is important to get honest feedback about the work we do. Responding to issues we are unaware of is good for the psychics amongst us, but for the rest of us poor sods we need the facts. For many the prospect of directly challenging or delivering bad news, is so uncomfortable they figure why bother? I suppose you bother because you really want to go out there and make a difference. We should all consider ourselves lucky in that in our line of work we will never have to deliver really bad news to anyone, not yet at least. “Sorry Mr. client we need to inform you that the groovy paint we specified has been emitting higher than normal  VOC levels and it is likely to cause brain damage to most if not all of your staff ”  Laurie’s latent voice

Some of the changes that we can make in environments to encourage upward voice are obvious. Creating workspaces with fewer barriers, allowing people to interact with greater frequency. It has also been proven that people speak up more in smaller groups and in settings that are more intimate. For companies where there is physical distance between sites, along with the added burden of cultural and generational differences there is a real challenge. As we begin to design more spaces on larger floor plates, and those with side cores we may want to think hard about creating intimacy.

Last year we designed a space for a company that had merged with another, we created wonderful lounges that provide the organisation physical space to connect with one another, unfortunately we heard that the two groups remain distinct to the point they will not even share a beer together on Friday nights. One group has their drinks an hour before the other!  In addition, there is further division created by people speaking different languages in the office. Before the merger, the reigning CEO felt it was the companies point of differentiation to hire people who spoke different languages, the new CEO did not. What had been a good thing quickly turned to a bad thing. The point is that a lot of this has nothing to do with the physical space; a company may change leaders as they did in the example above, leaders can change philosophies, they can be arrogant or too busy or lack the interpersonal skills. All of these factors contribute to an organisations ability to speak up.

From the research that I have done for this piece the most disturbing thing I learned is the degree of fear that appears to be the present in many people’s work life. Being older and have a bit more experience under my expanding belt, it is unimaginable to think that many workers are too scared to challenge their boss and as a result are put in harms way. The Sydney Morning Herald did a feature article on the risks younger workers are at because they are hesitant to question or challenge their bosses: one kid had his arm caught in a dough mixer in a bakery, another fell from an unfenced platform, another died when the forklift he drove tipped over on a ramp. The risk is not only for youthful employees but also for those that are part time. Unfortunately the new industrial relations legislation will exacerbate the vulnerability of the young and temporary workers; this could lead to Australian businesses being slow to innovate.

We must consider ourselves very lucky that in our line of work the dangers are minimal; yes I know that Ella Lee almost broke her foot when she dropped a stack – perhaps she should avoid the materials library after the two martini supplier lunch. Oh I’m just joking and I was joking when I told PG I needed a double dose of antidepressants to face him. The real message is that we should not fear sharing and talking and being honest with one another and in the likely event we go out and hurt someone’s feeling we just need to go back and say I’m sorry. Even if it hurts, it is what makes us great.


Do I Dare Say Something

By Sarah Jane Gilbert

Working Knowledge – HarvardBusinessSchool Publication   March 20, 2006

Latent Voice Episodes: The Situation – Specific Nature of Speaking up at Work (Research Abstract)

By Amy Edmondson and James Detert

Double Whammy under New Industrial Laws for the Young Worker

By Michael Quinlan

The Sydney Morning Herald April 24, 2006

Dissent Vital Part of Organisations

By Fiona Smith

The Australian Financial Review May 16, 2006






Office Snooping and Gossip – April 18, 2006

Office Snooping and Gossip

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 19 – April 18, 2006

When I was less than two weeks old I developed a life threatening ear infection, to relieve the pressure in my tiny head doctors punctured one of my eardrums, the other ruptured on its own. Other than having to endure listening to my mother tell every date I ever had what an awful crying infant I was, the fact that I have damaged eardrums has had little impact on my life with the exception of not being able to hear very well when there is background noise.

It is for this reason that I am not a very good at office snooping, it is difficult for me to hear the detail of hushed conversations and telephone calls that could provide useful fodder for gossip. Even with the recent office move, which has located me directly next to Peter McCamley, I know less gossip about our company than the guy that works at the Manhattan Cafe on the corner. Not knowing the office gossip is affecting my self esteem. This is a common side effect of not being in the know, confirmed in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which explained that our access to gossip within the workplace is a “useful barometer of our overall importance within a group”. The article goes on to say that gossip plays an important role in the workplace as a means to alleviate stress and anxiety as well as for entertainment.

Gossip can be good fun, at my previous place of employment the office gossip put bestselling books and television to shame for entertainment value. This continues, it was recently reported to me by a former colleague there, that the whole of the 23rd floor believes he is the father of another friend’s unborn child. This is what happens when you are seen one too many times at the many Starbucks in the building sipping a latte together. The best part of this is that the woman is happily married, and the man is happily gay. He said “I know I don’t skip down the halls in rainbow tights but I thought everyone here knew, I’ve never kept it secret”

There is of course a downside to office gossip, 50% of Australian employees have been victims of false gossip at work; and don’t think it is just the girls gossiping, according to Dr Grant Michelson from the University of Sydney school of business “men are just as adept”. Gossip tends to happen more in companies where there is a high level of uncertainty, such as during a take over or restructure and is prevalent when people don’t have all of the information they need or crave. When you don’t know what is going on, what choice do you have but to make it up?

Finding accurate information to be a good gossiper is tough these days, how do you get it; especially when there are pesky passwords and firewalls, or you are like me and can’t hear too well? Toby Miller a certified Intrusion Analyst and employee of a ‘major internet security firm’ – so secret they can’t name it – claims this is relatively easy in the workplace; despite the security measures many workplaces have in place. He reasons that as human beings, we rarely question actions that we consider normal and those actions are the very ones that make us vulnerable. “Social Engineering” is the term he uses to describe “an attack method used to take advantage of complacency at work”. His examples of Social Engineering listed below make you wonder how any thing stays secret, as it just about describes what most of us spend our day doing.

  • Friendships – where trust can be exploited
  • E-mail –  exploits trust  as well with the added ability to easily spread to others
  • Dumpster Diving- going through the trash bin to get information
  • Office snooping – looking and listening when you should be working
  • Trust – Social engineering exploits human trust
  • Time – obviously some people have too much of it.

By having no friends and not trusting anyone, shredding all documents, and religiously cleaning our desk we can sleep at night knowing the office snoop will have nothing on us. But you know as well as I, that there are far more sophisticated methods for snooping now a days than digging through your bosses garbage can. Most workplaces now have security cameras; they are so common today that we consider them benign.  Do you really care if the security guard in the building watches you pick spinach out of your teeth after lunch or adjust your underwear in the lift? We are so used to this level of snooping, or voyeurism, that we don’t pay it much attention. We also pay little attention to the forms we sign when we start a job giving consent for the company to read our e mails and review computer files whenever they want.

The fact is that this type of monitoring is very common in today’s workplace and we should expect some level of snooping to occur at work. That being said office snooping must be handled with the upmost sensitivity. Not only are there ethics and employee moral at stake, there is the need to be fair and consistent. The mistake many companies make is that they don’t take snooping seriously and this puts them at risk. Often employees assigned to be the snoops are those that understand the computer systems and have the necessary access to hardware and software. This can lead to inconsistency if surveillance is low on that employee’s priority list. Don’t fear being snooped on at Geyer. Our information technology specialists are far too preoccupied teaching me the ins and outs of my blackberry to have any time left over to snoop on you.

In some companies spying on employees is taken quite seriously, mostly to protect theft of proprietary data and software but also to patrol loss of productivity and sexual harassment. An American Management Association survey on electronic monitoring states that nearly three – quarters of the large American companies that responded said that they routinely record and review employees phone calls, e mails, internet connections and computer files. Since one in four companies will fire an employee over what the surveillance turns up you would have an expectation that who ever is doing the snooping would take their job seriously .

This is one reason snooping is taken so seriously in America. Employers there cannot knowingly let an employee do something that is illegal, and this gives them an excuse to snoop. By example, not only could one employee’s surfing a porn site impact productivity; it could also be used to prove the company allowed sexual harassment in the workplace. It is not just what a person does, it is the impact they have on those around them that is considered when establishing whether a workplace is ‘a hostile work environment’. Corporate executives can now be held responsible for misconduct of their subordinates and this is why the courts are no longer buying (unless you have excellent legal counsel or are reporting to the Cole enquire) the line “I don’t recall, or I can’t remember” or “I had no idea that we were selling wheat to Iraq”.

All of this has led to an increase in new applications for snooping like Security Call Analysis, Monitoring Platforms and Scamp. These database technologies allow access to about nine weeks of calling information. It was through technologies like these that AT&T helped crack the Moldovan porn scam – a group in the former Soviet republic  tricked users of internet sites into downloading software that disconnected them from their local telephone company and redialled a 900 number in Moldova. You would see the benefits of this if you were a shareholder of AT&T. Similarly if you are running a business and your employees are making phone calls to Moldova when they should be working you would be pleased. In a survey by Elron Software one tenth of the respondents said they had seen co-workers viewing porn sites at work even though company policy explicitly prohibited it.

As I write new tools are being developed to help mine data and this will enable the application of software analysis tools, now used by law enforcement agencies, to identify activities that would be missed by human eavesdroppers. Data mining is used now by credit card companies to stop fraud and insurance companies to predict risk but in the future it will be used to draw connections between unrelated pieces of information by using mathematical or statistical techniques to scan for hidden relationships in streams of digital data.

This technology has attracted the interest of the US government who recently dispatched a group of National Security Agency officials to the Silicon Valley to go shopping to find the best snooping software money could buy. They were scouting out this cutting edge technology to support the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist eavesdropping program. As a US citizen, I am subject to having my e mails and computer files searched by the US government, as well as by my employer! The new data mining software could track how many times seemingly unrelated bits of information might occur together, such as the presence of the words president and incompetent in the same sentence in one of my emails. This could well earn me a little vacation to Guantanamo Bay. Given this information we had better ramp up our secession planning sooner rather than later.

The reality is that we can’t complain about the lack of anonymity or privacy we have at work or in our lives. Most of us willingly embraced the convenience of mobile phones, GPS devices, EZ passes, and BPay. We like knowing that our security pass keeps vagrants out of our workplaces. We cannot then be enraged when RFID tags or “spy chips” are placed in the products we buy, from shoes to milk to give retailers the ability to amass and analise our buying patterns. Nor should we be surprised when our employers want to use similar applications to track our movements. Particularly as mobility and distributed work environments become more predominant. That day is already here, two years ago Allan and I visited Paddy from Cisco systems, he demonstrated for us how he could find an employee, an acquaintance of mine in Santa Clara. In less than one minute he knew which building she sat it, which seat she sat in, where she was – travelling or at home, and he pulled up a picture of her to boot. This was a few years ago, I bet now he could tell us what she is having for lunch.

It does make you wonder about the great concern so many of our clients have about being overheard in an open office environments. With the technology that exists today the concern should not be for the guy sitting next to you snooping in on your phone calls, but for your employer digging through your computer files and finding out that you have over extended yourself on your mortgage, visit a Barbie Doll collectors web site with frequency, or have been viewing porn from Moldova. There are some things you just don’t want everyone knowing about.

By the way, did you hear that Andrew Isaacson has resigned


Extent of UK snooping revealed

BBC News

The Latest on Office Gossip

By Owen Thompson

The Sydney Morning Herald  March 25-26, 2006

Fast Company

Office Handbook – Chapter 63 Busybodies

Issue 78 January 2004

By Ryan Underwood

Taking Snooping Further; Government Looks at Ways To Mine Databases

By John Markoff; Scott Shane contributer

The New York Times February 25, 2006

The Right Thing; As Office Snooping Grows, Who Watches the Watchers?

by Jeffrey L Seglin

The New York Times June 18, 2000

Executive Life; New Kind of Snooping Arrives at the Office

By Marci Alboher Nusbaum

The New York Times July 13, 2003

A Growing Web of Watchers Builds a Surveillance Society

The New York Times January 25, 2006

Social Engineering

By Toby Miller

Security Focus Web site June 19, 2000

Just How Fair is the Workplace?

News Release – SauderSchool of Business August 30, 2001




Being Fair – March 24, 2006

Being Fair

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 18 – March 24, 2006

My younger son is a baseball player; he spends several nights a week going to practice and then has a game on one or both days of the weekend. Clearly this is not a passing fad for him, but something he loves and cares deeply about. The bad thing about caring so much is that when something doesn’t go quite right it is ten times more painful than it is for those things that you might have a lukewarm connection to.  In a recent game Charlie was called out by an umpire who was in a poor position to make a call, his line of site to the play was blocked. The fair thing to do would have been to consult the plate umpire, who had an unobstructed view of the play. The spectators were outraged at the call; this was exacerbated by knowing the umpire was the father of one of the children on the opposing team.

I found it a challenge to console my son, because it just wasn’t right and sadly my words of wisdom ‘honey life is not fair – get over it already’ didn’t ease the pain he felt. Despite being taught as young children that we should ‘be fair’ it is one of those things that doesn’t happen as often as it should and while saying ‘life is not fair’ might work when something bad happens that you have no control over, it doesn’t carry much weight when genuine unfairness occurs. I believe there is a difference between bad luck and unfair behaviour. For instance it was not an absence of fairness that friends of ours were driving from Seattle to Spokane three weeks ago on a two way road at the exact moment when a driver coming the other way had a heart attack and crossed the road. It was bad luck that they were there, it was bad luck that their cars collided, and it bad luck that they were killed, it is bad luck that one of their kids is still in a coma and if and when he wakes up his life will be far different than he imagined it before those two cars collided. This wasn’t unfair, it would not have been fairer if you or I were in that car, it was just stupid bad luck.

When people are treated fairly and with respect, they are more likely to accept decisions, or the outcomes of those decisions. In the context of a work environment this is called practicing ‘process fairness’. Just as there is a difference between fairness and luck, there is also a difference between process fairness and outcome fairness. We don’t always agree with what happens at work, which doesn’t mean that it was not fair. Unfortunately, the reality is that oftentimes what happens really isn’t fair, and the consequences of obvious unfair actions can have a negative impact on an organisation.

When people feel hurt by their companies they tend to retaliate. Reactions can vary from withdrawing at work, to leaving, to extreme cases of sabotage or violence. I recognise that this is not something dealt with in Australia. I made a comment once about ‘going postal’ and got one of those stunned mullet looks from the person I was talking to. The phrase ‘going postal’ was quite popular in the US after a bad string of violent incidents in workplaces occurred, for some unknown reason it seemed to happen more in post offices than other work environments. Perhaps there was too much stress with the imminent demise of their livelihood with the onset of e mail? The term going postal refers to being so unhappy, so fed up that you march into your place of employment with a handgun and shoot everyone, and everything that was getting on your nerves. Living in a kinder gentler society in Australia, you might not understand being pushed to such extremes; I noted there is nothing in gPool on boss or co-worker homicide.

A study in the late 90’s by Duke University’s Alan Lind and Jerald Greenberg from Ohio State found that only 1% of employees who felt they were treated with a high degree of process fairness filed lawsuits for wrongful termination, versus 17% for those who felt they were treated with a low degree of process fairness. HBR has put this in monetary terms. The expected cost savings to a business for practicing process fairness is $1.28 million for every 100 employees. With the new workplace relation laws coming into effect in Australia we might see a similar impact to business.

The benefits of being fair can be seen in many industries, medical practitioners who practice process fairness are less likely to be sued for malpractice. Patients who feel they have been treated disrespectfully and who have not had their problem explained to them, or been allowed to question and discuss treatment with their doctor are more likely to file a malpractice lawsuit than those that feel they got poor treatment. There is legislation being drafted in the US now that will allow a doctor to apologise for medical errors without increasing the risk of lawsuits. By making an apology inadmissible during a lawsuit doctors could express regret without worrying about legal action and this would give us all a bit more of what we all want – common courtesy and respect = fairness.

In researching this article I found examples of the benefits of process fairness in Hollywood of all places. It seems that the in thing in many TV dramas is to kill off one of the main stars of the show. Apparently, this is the only way to keep us hooked on the dramas and off reality TV. The script writers have found that if they tell the actors that they are going to die before they discover it practicing their lines it keeps the actors from getting angry.

Process fairness pays off in other areas beyond avoiding lawsuits. Process fairness can be used to inspire employees to carry out a company’s vision or embrace a new strategic plan, rather than sabotage it. The fact is that most strategic and organisational change initiatives fail in their implementation and not their conception. The same could be said for embracing a new work environment, which is why we always suggest a change management program run in parallel with our design work.

Process fairness plays a role in creative environments too. Studies show employees working in creative fields that have a high degree of autonomy have a higher degree of creativity and innovation. The connection here is that operational autonomy is a version of process fairness. When employees feel that they are being micro managed creativity will suffer.

So if being fair is so good for people and business why don’t more of us do it? Part of the reason is due to a perception gap that exists between managers who think they are being fair and respectful and the perception of their direct reports. I attended a conference last year where this gap in perception was highlighted. When coaching managers Human Synergistic has both manager and his direct reports take a survey. The difference in results was sobering, which goes to show you that what you see in the mirror when you wake up in the morning could be something quite different to what others see.

One reason given for more businesses not practicing process fairness is the lack of obvious benefits to executives. Another reason is that in some cases corporate policy hinders process fairness. I have had to lay off employees in the past and was advised by the human resources department to say nothing. At another place of employment that also started with a G we were all told that if anyone ever called for a reference on another employee we were  to say that they worked here from date X to date Y. Couldn’t say anything about whether they designed well, showed up for work on time or embezzled from the company.

The most common reason for managers not being fair in the workplace is the desire to avoid uncomfortable situations. Leaders have to manage their own internal dramas as well as their anxiety about interpersonal sensitivity, for many it is simply easier to avoid the situation. “Emotional contagion” comes into play; this is when we mimic the emotions of others. When someone laughs you laugh, when they cry if you are a manager, you might prefer to head for the hills.

have shown that fair process training can make a big difference so it is surprising that more companies do not make this a top priority. If what we saw in our Net Gens workshop is any indication the next generations will have a much greater expectation of fairness in the workplace than we have today. We are already beginning to see a subtle shift of focus away from what is achieved or produced by a business and the fairness of the process used to create it. I sold all of my shares in Enron.

Ultimately each of us decides for ourselves what we believe to be fair. I will leave you three drivers of process fairness that you can use for a guide. The first is how much input we have in a decision, are our opinions requested and if so are they given seriously consideration. Second we look for consistency and knowledge that the decision was based on accurate information. Did the person making the decision do their homework? Finally the way that people behave when a decision is made has the ability to alter its impact. Do they treat an employee with respect, actively listening to any concerns that they may have. If we were all to follow these tips the lawyers would be driving Holdens.


Fairness In The Workplace

Australian Council of Trade Unions Website

Working Toward a Better Future

By Leo Hickman

The Guardian September 1, 2005

Best Practice – Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair

By Joel Brockner

Harvard Business Review March 2006

Management: Seasoning Compensation Stew; Varying the Recipe Helps TV Operations Solve Morale Problems by Jonathan D Glater

The New York Times March 7, 2001

As the Plot Thickens, No One is Safe

The New York Times March 14, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Just How Fair is the Workplace?

News Release – SauderSchool of Business August 30, 2001



Keeping up Appearances – February 16, 2006

Keeping Up Appearances

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 17 – February 16, 2006

Since releasing the last Futures Ramblings I have been engaged in several conversations with people  who have intimated that they believed the newsletter was my personal vehicle for having a go at the company, its policies or people. Since I am now up to issue 17, and in the time that I have been writing these many employees have departed and joined Geyer, I thought it might be appropriate to reiterate to you all why I do this.

At Geyer we are very different, but the one trait we share with many design firms, is the tendency to get carried away with the ‘design current’. It is our passion, our driver –  the air we breath. Unfortunately, many of our clients are breathing a slightly different mix of air, and for them there are many other issues that they need to consider. Some of these can be pretty far off our radar as design professionals. The purpose of the Ramblings is to put these issues on the screen. We pride ourselves in taking a holistic approach to projects. In fact, our briefing process is designed to dig out the variables that exist in our client’s business strategies, brand and culture to enable us to create a design uniquely suited to them. So it is with the hope that we will create better design solutions, that I write these.

It comes as no surprise that Geyer, as an organisation faces some of these same issues I write about. It is also not startling to find that  that some of these articles have  hit a nerve with you personally. This is after all a company, and people work here, we do share similarities with the rest of the world.  However, please note (just like in the cop shows on TV) the similarities between these stories, and characters in real life is circumstantial. I will confess that with the exception of my comments about US foreign policy, and the competency of my home land’s ‘Commander and Chief,’ there are no intended secret messages. If you think you see one, well you are probably the kind of person who could see the face of Jesus in a tortilla, and saw great meaning in Paul McCartney being barefoot in the photo on in the ‘Abby Road’ album cover.

It’s about the issues that businesses face, nothing more.

It  is intended as an internal publication,  but I do send it to my husband, my brother and a special few people who I believe can stomach my sarcasm and I hope they are the kind of people who will take it in the spirit it is intended. Therefore, the idea of you, a client or my brother reading these and formulating some opinion on Geyer is an interesting offshoot. Should I now watch what I say because we have an appearance to keep up? After all it is not like we are like the USA madly scrambling around trying to keep the story about the Vice President accidentally shooting his hunting buddy in the chest from the public! Or the big developer in town who is always leaking to the Financial Review that the new hot client in town has committed to their building.

Communicating a companies brand values in their work environment is something we are very familiar with,  our reputation in the market for this is quite unparalleled. Where do you draw the line: the workspace, the marketing material, the people, their clothes, their hair, their behaviour outside of the office? We have all heard stories about people being fired for doing something in their personal life that was inconsistent with their public image. Poor Kate Moss, Hugh Grant and Pee Wee Herman. Personally I think that the ability to snort coke at night and still look good  is quite an effective  testimonial for cosmetics!  Since all of these people were being paid to represent a company’s image their fate is understandable, but what about the normal worker?

I know that a number of our clients that have instituted dress codes, to complete the appearance of their new work environments. They believe that this will encourage their employees to behave differently and I think we would all agree that clothing, like lighting, and space can influence  behaviour. Also, no one would argue that if you are in the public eye, the way you look creates an impression of the company that you are employed by. Unfortunately, when it comes to dictating appearance it is a challenge to know where to draw the line. One of our clients confessed they were having a real problem identifying the application of the  dress code to call centres where there is no client contact. Really, who cares what you wear in a call centre, except maybe the person that has to sit near you? We should all call our favourite help desk and ask them to describe what they’re wearing before we ask for tech help and see if this somehow changes our perception of their service. “ a really light, clingy, sexy, hardly even there – SARI –   because it’s damm hot in Mumbai”

The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran an article about women in China undergoing voice – alteration surgery in hopes of obtaining a voice with a higher pitch. Apparently in a business climate still dominated by men, a woman with a high, sweet falsetto voice will have better opportunities in China. Dr Yu Ping, from the People’s Liberation Army GeneralHospital in Beijing said that her voice clinic, which has only been opened for a year, is treating an average of 40 people a day! Even though the surgery cost hundreds of dollars women are willing to pay the price if it will give them an edge in the increasingly competitive job market. Chinese universities now churn out about 4 million graduates a year, so it is tough.

As many of you may know Andrew (ZAC) spent five weeks in South America over the Christmas holiday. He returned with stories of a culture obsessed with physical appearance to the extent that a common gift from a parent  to a sixteen year old child is some form of plastic surgery. This mirrors a program I saw highlighting young girls being told by modelling agencies in South America that they needed to have surgery before they should even consider modelling. The surprising part of this story was their parents allowed them to do it. I must be old school, because I believe: 1. If you ask your mother about your appearance the appropriate response should always be “ oh honey you’re fine just the way you are” and  2. At age 12 or 13 few people are very reasonable, which is why we don’t let them drink, drive or vote; they should not be exposed to people who would suggest to them that it is a good idea to have major surgery if they don’t need it.

Unfortunately the realities of ‘appearance’ discrimination in the work environment is wide spread and it is alive and well here in Australia.  Plastic surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle claims that ten years ago the average age for plastic surgery was mid 50s, now it is mid 40s. Nettle says “ I think there’s a huge range of motivation for seeking beauty, but probably a common motivation these days is to stay in the workforce”. This is what Shirley Dean, in her mid – 40s, and needing to raise two children on her own learned. She applied for 30 different positions and was rejected on all of them, even though she had the skills and experience. She elected to have a facelift to improve her employment prospects and almost immediately landed a new job. Whether it is from the new appearance, or the confidence that came with it, there is no doubt that appearance has a lot to do with today’s workforce.

Research shows that despite laws to protect against discrimination in the workplace, 85% of Australians think appearance and presentation is a major influence in earning power and success. Recruitment agency TMP International studies have shown that interviewers tended to make up their mind about someone in the first four minutes of an interview. So it is no surprise that the Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria deals with countless cases involving people who have been refused employment, denied promotion, suffered hurt, harassment and humiliation because they do not measure up to someone’s ideal of how they should look

A national poll in the US showed public opinion was sharply divided on regulating appearance – from weight to tattoos – in the workplace. The most surprising finding in the poll is that roughly half the nation’s employers have absolutely no policy or regulation that addresses this complex workplace issue. According to the poll most of the employee claims in the past have involved direct – customer contact businesses like retailing, restaurants, and transportation, but they are  now seeing image or appearance – based claims in virtually every employment sector.

So it is only a matter of time before Geyer will need to deal with this issue, in our own workplace or those we design. We might get a jump start by changing out the bad fluorescent lighting in our lifts and loos that make us all look like we have been up all night drinking shots. If we do the same in every job we design the boost to employee confidence should hold off the need for more radical measures by a few years.

In the event that time does come, and you fall into the tortilla watcher category of people who reject my disclaimer, believing this is a message for you personally; here is what you should expect to pay for an appearance tweak:

  • Nose job: $1,500 to $4,000
  • Liposuction: $500 to $5,000
  • Breast enlargement: $3,000
  • Breast reduction: $3,500 up
  • Facelift: $2,500 to $5,000
  • Eyelid lift: $1,200 to $3,000
  • Tummy tuck: $3,500 to $5,000
  • Chemical skin peel and abrasion: $600 up
  • Laser skin surfacing: $800 up
  • Ear job: $500 to $1,500
  • Cheek implants: $500 to $1,500
  • Chin implants: $500
  • Brow lift $1,500 to $3,000
  • Collagen $200 to $4600

For those that reject my disclaimer and believe this is a message for our company. Well then we had better immediately draft up a policy on plastic surgery and permanent body markings. Of course we will engage Simone  as National Design Leader to develop a guideline on body art and size.  I would suggest we start by only allowing tattoos in grey ink, Arial Narrow text, and to limit the images to hearts with the initials PG on the inside, or just a simple elegant text tattoo that says Geyer rules.


Surgery for the sake of work

A current affair July 23, 2001

Dodging Unintentional Discrimination in the Workplace

By Kathleen Wells, Ph. D.

What a Waist: Why the Fat Deserve Equal Opportunity – by Diane Sisel

The Age August 4, 2002

Women Make Pitch To Land a Better Job

The Sydney Morning Herald February 1, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Public Opinion Divided on Regulating Appearance In The Workplace By Judith Bevis Langevin

Press Release Gray Plant Mooty

Job Burnout – October 28, 2005

Job Burnout

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 14 – October 28, 2005

Not being Catholic the closest I have ever come to confession is sitting on a barstool, never the less I feel I understand the concept of sin confession. The propelling guilt that weighs you down. Consequently, I must start this Futures Rambling with confessions. Forgive me Geyer, I did not check my WIPS on time, sign the invoices immediately, I completed my timesheet two days late and it has been two months since my last Rambling… Why? Well lots of thing, most of them acronyms like AGS, MBF, IAG but also to be honest with you, I just couldn’t get myself motivated to do it. The sad thing is that I had even done some great research on appropriate behaviour in the workplace following the antics of John Brogden – former NSW opposition leader, journalist groper and insulter of politician’s wives. Just ask Jenny Angle. So what was the problem is Laurie a slacker? – never mind don’t answer. What I have determined after a process of self diagnosis is I had job burnout.

First off there is a difference between job burnout and basic exhaustion, or general aversion to hard work. In her book Overcoming Job Burnout, Dr. Beverly Potter defines burnout as “a destruction of motivation caused by feelings of powerlessness. Power – the ability to influence and accomplish – is essential for well being and sustained motivation”. In another book The Truth About Burnout author Christina Malach and Michael P. Leiter define burnout as the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion of values, dignity, spirit and will and erosion of the human soul. It is a malady that spreads gradually and continuously over time, putting people in a downward spiral from which it is hard to recover. Personally I don’t feel like I am in a downward spiral that is eroding my soul, I just want to take a few days off. The point is we all have our own idea of what this means, it is a very evocative term, a slippery concept with no standard definition but for many of us a real thing we experience from time to time. .

Work done on job burnout has found that there are three interrelated dimensions to job burnout which taken as a whole comprise a psychological symptom. The first dimension is exhaustion; feeling drained and not having mental or physical energy to get on with whatever it is you have to do. The second dimension is cynicism. Cynicism is defined as a negative evaluation and reaction to the job, often beginning with work overload. What happens with cynicism is that it leads to negative thoughts about both work and your colleagues. One hall mark with job burnout is the development of strong negative, hostile, cynical, dehumanizing responses to ones job. The third dimension is negative self evaluation, rather than being negative about ones job and colleagues’ sufferers are negative about who they are and what they are doing.

How do you determine whether you have job burnout or are just a big crybaby throwing a dummy spit?  Here are the early warning signs:

  1. Chronic fatigue – exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  2. Anger at those making demands
  3. Self – criticism for putting up with the demands
  4. Cynicism, negativity and irritability
  5. A sense of being besieged
  6. Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  7. Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances
  8. Weight loss or gain
  9. Sleeplessness and depression
  10. Shortness of breath
  11. Suspiciousness
  12. Feeling of helplessness
  13. Increased degree of risk taking

No one is immune to job burnout; anyone can get it, in any profession and at any level. Research has been done in many different countries and the same insights and findings emerge. Interestingly, data suggest that it is not just the senior – level managers who run the organization who get burn out. The research suggests there is not any increased vulnerability for certain occupational groups, be they white or blue collar. The bottom line is it is about mismatches, between the individual and their job, or the workplace environment.

As with most things prevention is better than a cure. What preventative measures can an organization take to prevent job burnout affecting their employees? First off balancing work load is a good start, followed by giving employees control and autonomy. When people feel they have control over their work you will see greater engagement. Creating reward and recognition programs to give feedback positive and negative gives employees a good sense of their job progress. Next it is important to develop a workplace community including colleagues, ones supervisor, and the people one supervises – anyone who the employee has an ongoing relationship with. Creating relationships with mutual trust and support is critical to feeling positive about a job. It is also critical to develop a workplace that is fair; people expect to be treated fairly and with respect, especially when it comes to workloads, pay or promotion. Finally it is difficult to avoid a mismatch when there is a conflict between values. If employees feel constrained by a job they feel is unethical and not in accord with their core values there will be low engagement. It make you wonder how a guy like Dick Cheney happily goes to work every day, unless he is really satin in disguise.

What can each of us do as individuals to avoid job burnout? One bit of advice from the experts is to manage yourself, which requires knowledge and skill. Self management will increase your personal power because you can create situations where you can give yourself the rewards you need. I do this; it’s why I have a file drawer full of shoes. It is also important to manage stress, learn what situations trigger stress responses. By knowing what sets you off you can better raise and lower your tension level.  Building a strong support system of friends, family and co-workers can also help buffer you against the negative effects of stress

In our job journeys we will inevitably encounter situations that will require skills that we have not yet developed. Knowing how to arrange learning situations for yourself will give you the confidence that you can acquire the skills required to tackle new challenges. With jobs it is important to stretch your abilities and follow the inertia principle: A body in motion will stay in motion, keep yourself moving forward. In some cases this may require you to modify or tailor your job to increase your enjoyment of work, shaping your job to capitalize on your skills and interest, and expanding those parts of your job that you enjoy most.

It may be necessary to reprogram your thoughts so you do not respond to every red flag that is waved in your nose. Learning how to empty your mind of negative chatter and remain focused on the challenges at hand can help with work frustrations. Eliminating the negative thinking from your mind can free you up enough to turn around a bad situation and avoid job burnout. It is important to fine tune your thinking and take corrective action.

Part of avoiding job burnout is to be in control of yourself and your thoughts. It is when we are not in control that we feel helpless. Experts recommend detached concern, explaining that it is a higher order of mental control in which personal power can be gained by letting go. Attachment to your notions of how things ought to be can imprison you and make you feel helpless. Like any yoga or dance teacher would advise relax and breathe to stretch.

In some situations the best solution is to change jobs, but the experts warn that if burnout victims quit their job without analyzing the source of dissatisfaction or exploring what is needed, they run the risk of finding a new job as bad as, or worse than the old one.  Personal power comes in knowing what you need and how to go out and get it. It is important not to limit yourself, consider every way you can imagine to achieve what you want.

Finally, it is important not to take yourself too seriously. Laugh – as a disciplined practice – find humor in disaster to save your sanity, your health and your perspective.


Management Today

{How to prevent job} burn out by Professor Christina Maslach

July 2005

13 Signs of Burnout and How To Help You Avoid It  by Henry Neils

“Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work” Beverly A Potter Ronin Publishing Copyright 1998

Job Burnout – Part 1 The Real Causes by Vicki Bell

Just for fun you can take a free Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP) that will asses your true skills to help you tailor your dream job


Reinvention – September 5, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 13 – September 5, 2005

Have you ever wondered what makes some things run their course, hit a peak and be done with never to be seen again; and others to do the same, but then years later emerge like a phoenix out of the flames? I am talking about things like flared pants, ponchos and pheasant tops or ‘The Fonz’ returning from a relatively dead acting career to star in Pulp Fiction. Consider Apple computer who is ‘thinking differently’ all the way to the bank with the popularity of the IPod.

Thinking differently is quite challenging for most of us, particularly if we have personally advanced to a position of authority at work or home where we may have the expectation of resting on our laurels. To continue to push yourself and remain open minded and nimble to new ideas and the changes that are taking place in the world is not something that happens naturally. The Aznavoorian children remind me of this daily. I’ll admit I’m fascinated with people and companies who are able to rise to the challenges that a new world presents and do so successfully.

It takes training to remain open minded, and having the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves, is something that Fred Kofman, a US business consultant speaking in Sydney a few weeks ago, encouraged business leaders to consider. He believes leaders that wish to improve the way they do business must concentrate on three things: 1. Accept responsibility and accountability for all of your decisions. 2. Find a purpose – beyond the next big deal 3. Learn how to have difficult conversations in the spirit of truth. Achieving any kind of success with this is about training, not about an idea. “It’s like golf. If you don’t go out to play, and have some supervision, and a coach, and someone to give you feed back when it didn’t’ work, you are not really serious”.

Recently I attended the 7th annual conference on culture and leadership put on by Human Synergistics. If any of you know anything about this group you will understand what I mean when I say that it was bordering on feeling like a religious convention. Not that I attend many  religious gatherings; however, I do read and admit I’m fascinated every time I hear of groups that  decide to drink Cool Aid or don purple T shirts and Addias runners and snuff themselves. You have to wonder how some individuals can have so much influence on others, is it the sign of the leader’s strength and charisma or the weakness of the masses?

Human Synergistics believes that to understand and focus on improving culture in an organisation, you must understand the personal style of its leader. If you have the wrong leadership style they will train you to gravitate towards more constructive styles of leading. They do this by performing two ‘lifestyles inventories’ which measure styles and behaviours, one inventory is done with the leader and the second with their co workers. You would be shocked to know that there is often a disconnect between what the leader thinks his personal style is, and what his co workers think it is! From these inventories a leaders behaviour is identified into the three categories which I have listed below, with a few of the associated behaviours attached:

>        Passive – Looking to please others, non committal, process driven, avoidance

>        Aggressive – Oppositional, critical, competitive, perfectionist

>        Constructive – Achievement and goals oriented, personal integrity, self actualizing, tries new things

It is no big surprise that leaders who are constructive fair better. Leadership and organisational effectiveness are connected; personal styles can be shaped by organisational factors or culture, unfortunately organisational factors often reinforce the wrong styles of leadership. Therefore individual change depends on organisational change and vice versa, and both impact company effectiveness.

Human Synergistics is not alone in believing that we must understand the link between leadership and culture when it comes to changing or reinventing a business. They maintain that to really understand how to change, we need to question the assumptions we hold and not just tap around the edges. Like Fred Kofman, Human Synergistics believes we must practice or train to become more aware of the impact our actions have on our co workers. The sad thing is that most leaders know this; they just don’t do it because they don’t think it is that big of a deal.

As identified above driving cultural transformation takes training, it also takes courage which involves taking risks and encouraging people to do things differently. I have heard two CEOs speak in the past few weeks on the topic of company transformation. Mitsubishi Australia’s CEO Tom Phillips did not just lift sales; he pulled Mitsubishi up from near disaster after the closing of the Lonsdale plant and the aftermath of several of the company’s Japanese executives going to prison for hiding dangerous flaws in their vehicles. Ron Walker the CEO of Freedom Furniture spoke of the transformation of his business, how he created a company culture in remote locations where turnover was high. Their tips for constructive reinvention:

>        Surround yourself with great people and allow them to make mistakes

>        Life is short – Just do it

>        Seek out and learn from others and their mistakes

>        Start over – Tom Phillips fired Y&R and launched a new ad campaign with CHE featuring Tom (who is no movie star)

>        Hold your people accountable – leadership without accountability is management.

>        Lead by example –show leadership humility

>        Hire and develop the right people – be willing to get rid of others

>        Focus – over communicate and stick to it.

Sometimes reinvention of a business requires a more radical approach. In the book Blue Ocean Strategy the authors describe how Cirque de Soleil achieved rapid growth in an industry that had limited potential for growth. Cirque du Soleil did this not by taking customers from other circuses but instead created a new market that rendered the competition irrelevant. To understand this the book asks that you imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans – red and blue. Red oceans represent all industries in existence today, blue oceans denote those not in existence. In blue oceans demand is created, often by expanding existing boundaries.

According to Fast Company you don’t need to compete in a red ocean of bloody competition. Because even exhausted industries like the circus can be reinvented. Here are their tips

Don’t swim with the school

Quit benchmarking the competition or setting your strategic agenda in the context of theirs.

Find new ponds to fish

Don’t assume your current customers have the insights you need to rethink your strategy. Look to noncustomers instead.

Cut bait on costs

Put as much emphasis on what you can eliminate as on what you can create.

I will leave you with one last story that I heard on the radio. Madonna, who has sold millions of CD’s, has engaged in market research to determine which songs to put on her new album. I believe this is along the lines of DJ’s noting when clubbers stay on the floor and dance as opposed to going to get a beer. Not being a big fan of Madonna, it is hard for me to say anything about relying on past talents, because as far as singing goes I never thought she had any. As far as reinvention goes, she is a master and I just bet her next album sells just as much as any performer half her age.


Human Synergistics – 7th annual conference on culture and leadership, Sydney

AFR Boss club – Tom Phillips The man from Mitsubishi

BlueOcean Strategy  Renee Mauborgne

Fast Company

No Risk, No Reward by Keith H. Hammonds

Issue 57 April 2002

The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 9 August 2005

Seeing into the heart of the matter  by Bill Pheasant

Fast Company

Creating a blue Ocean of Innovation  by Renee Mauborgne

Issue 96 July 2005