the traveller not the cartographer

One of the joys of being funemployed is the learning.  I have learned how to be a systemic team coach, I have learned how to assess people in a number of different ways via some cool psychometrics; I’ve read plenty of very cool books. (Thank you Dave Graham for the latest eye-opening, life changing one.)

Another joy is clearing out old shiz! I’m not a hoarder except when it comes to note books. Stuff with my musings, old work notebooks of lists and meeting notes; great ideas; every imaginable quote, model and teaching on leadership…

I found one today that I wanted to share. It started out as one of those notes to a younger self things which I would not normally do, but was prompted by a relative’s 21st birthday. The more I look at it and the more I talk about Leadership, the more I realise it is about humanity. Something on LinkedIn caught my eye yesterday, (because I have also been saying this for a while.) Excellent leadership is about being the best human we can be. We may have lost sight of that a little lately. So here is my manifesto.

  1. Be brave enough to truly know yourself. Be brave enough to ask yourself tough questions and really listen to the answers
  2. Love yourself. Love your imperfections. NO-ONE ELSE SEES THEM!
  3. Listen to the anger that goes on in you. Find out why
  4. Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. How do you want to be remembered?
  5. Check-in with yourself: Am I happy, kind? Am I doing what I want? Am I being who I want to be? or am I just going along?
  6. Take time to BE and to explore and to do the things you love
  7. Be a contributor to family, friends, community, causes
  8. Challenge. Question. Say no. Say YES! Play. Have fun regardless of how old you are.
  9. Remember the little girl or boy in you, because they never leave you
  10. Be grateful and kind and gentle. There isn’t always a need to fight everything/everyone, or chase everything/everyone
  11. Be you! Listen to you. It doesn’t matter what you “DO” for a living, it matters what kind of soul you have
  12. Simplify the confusing stuff – break it down. Listen to your heart and your gut. Intuition is underrated
  13. Know you are beautiful. Know you are talented. Know you are unique and know you are loved for all that you are
  14. Don’t strive to make people happy at a cost to yourself. That’s not your job
  15. Feel ALL the feels. Emotional intelligence has more credence than intellectual intelligence
  16. Travel. Eat amazing food. Learn new things – music, another language. Be shocked. Be shocking! BREAK THE RULES
  17. Be whoever you truly are. Know who you truly are. Respect who you truly are
  18. Hold tight to the belief that you are wonderful
  19. Approach difference with curiosity
  20. Have empathy and compassion in your life. For everyone. All the time

There are many more I am sure, so if you have them and would like to add to the manifesto, I welcome your thoughts.

“I am the traveller, not the cartographer”.  Nothing here is new, I didn’t make the map I’m just on the journey.

the heavy weight of empathy

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Empathy being a burden, or a heavy weight. Of course it isn’t – the world needs more of it. We as humans need more of it – for our fellow humans, for our animals, for our planet. It’s what separates us from our lower level animals. So how on earth could it be a burden?

For me, it isn’t usually. It’s one of the things I seem to have in abundance. And I am so very grateful for it, believe me. Having it means I’m not a narcissist. Good thing. It also means I can help others, I have a clearer window into the world of someone else’s pain or hurt; it means I can feel other people’s pain and excitement and unlimited emotions. 

Having it – I hope – means I am a better leader, auntie, partner, friend…all the endless things that I am. Having it makes me self-aware. It makes me laugh and cry and feel sad and reflect and learn and grow. 

So why is it a burden? As a Highly Sensitive Person I feel. A lot. Not just my own feelings, but I take on the feelings of others. In my case though, I’m not talking about anxiety. I am not anxious about things – I just feel them more intensely.

Recently I got some good news health results. Yippee for me – thank you Universe for all you moved around and schemed there for the lucky number to have my name on it. The professional person who shared my news with me seemed delighted to be the bearer of wonderful news. And then he also told me that I was the ONLY person that he had given good news to. That day was results day, he said and that means every other person who had gone before my allocated 15 minute slot had been told bad news. 

I felt the weight of that statement like a tonne of bricks. I felt the energy in the room that had all day held people and their loved ones hearing bad news about their health. I could feel them all floating quickly around me, darting left and right and over my head. In a panic and a frantic haze. I walked out after shaking his hand feeling overwhelmed. It’s a common thing feeling overwhelmed for me. I felt the pain of his job, I felt the heavy hearts of all the people who had left before me. I had to steady myself in the hallway as the tears very quickly sprung to my eyes. I took a moment. Then I walked into the waiting room – to a sea of faces that I immediately realised may not be as lucky as me. And I felt all of their fear and hurt and anger and sadness.

I stopped again on the way to the car, just to assess my own emotions. I had been given good news right? – So why was I feeling this confusion? This sadness, this tidal wave of emotion?

The feelings I could identify were relief, obviously. Then sadness, then guilt. I think there were dozens more that never made it to the surface.

I was still processing it all, hours later. Was I relieved? Of course I was. Was I worried about it? Not really. I have an incredibly positive disposition and I firmly believe the Universe looks after me. We had words earlier, she is on my side. I felt sucker punched. I felt the weight of the words that were spoken to me “You are the only patient I have seen today who I have given good news to”. This is the NHS. They have 15 minute slots. It was 3.15pm. That’s a lot of bad news.

So, when I talk about empathy and it’s weight and burden, this is what I mean. I am a sensitive person. Sometimes more than others. Sensitive people feel a lot more. We used to be told it was a bad thing to be so sensitive – and I used to believe it. I don’t any longer, that’s not my story and it’s not my voice. I feel more than a lot of people. I feel it like it happens to me. I pick it up, I carry it and it takes me a long while to sit with it, to soothe myself, to reassure myself and to say silent prayers for those who did get the bad news.

I live a life based on gratitude and today there are many millions of things I am grateful for. My health being the primary one. I’m also grateful that I am an empath. I live with an empath too – so you can imagine that car journey home, because he was in there with me and felt that whole wave of emotion, the same way I did. It can be fun in our house – we just pick our moments!

I would rather be an empath than not. I want to feel all the feels and I want to make sure that mine are spoken about, registered, spilled out of me and recognised. I am blessed with this gift. It can be a burden, but one I am happy to carry.

Do you have to be liked at work?

As a manager writing this and possibly as managers reading this, your answer to this question may be no. As a young person or graduate in their first role, the answer may just be the opposite. As for people who need to be needed, or need to be liked, I think we can guess what they would opt for.

But is it necessary to be liked at work? I think maybe only sociopaths and psychopaths are comfortable not being liked. That probably puts me closer to that end of the spectrum than I prefer.

Could it be I say that, because no-one likes me? (I don’t think that is the case, but you never can be sure can you?). Traditionally, HR people don’t fall into the category of people to like at work. We seem to be the department that people are scared of. The ones who wave the rule book, the ones who keep everyone in place.  (If anyone can tell me how we break that cycle, I’d be eternally grateful.)

I much prefer to be respected at work than liked. Liked is something I save for my friends and hopefully my family. Working in HR has taught me there will always be times when we need to appear as the enforcers of rules. Mostly that is because we are (or should be) about the needs of the business. The needs of the business dictate that you must perform well at what you do and must not perpetuate bad behaviour. That’s why they call it work. I would rather be known and respected as someone who has the guts to make a difficult decision or have a difficult conversation, than someone who has no credibility because they find these situations too difficult. I have been both intensely disliked and extremely well respected for the same decision. I have been respected by people who don’t like me – and I choose the respect every time.

I did a straw poll before writing this post asking the question of being liked at work and a few people mentioned that being liked can make your way in the office smoother. It is much easier when people co-operate with you because they like you. It means you are more likely to get a quick response or a little favour that makes your job easier or your day more pleasant. But why should this rely on being liked?

Are we, as adults, not evolved enough to make this happen regardless of whether we like someone or not? I worked for over 3 years for a man I disliked intensely. I didn’t respect him, but I respected the position he held; the one that managed me. Ultimately that meant, I reported to him and I did what he asked of me. Again, another definition of work. I’m not sure whether he liked me or not, I dare say he didn’t, as I challenged him in many ways – but we managed to get our respective jobs done in a way that complemented what we wanted to achieve in the business.

I do admit that some of the best relationships in my life have come out of meeting people I have worked with, including my wonderful un-marriage. Some friendships I have which have passed the test of time are with people I once worked with.  Most of those friends were colleagues, some worked for me and one was my boss.

I have a rule not to be friends with anyone I manage directly at work. Why? Trust me, it’s not because I am mean and nasty…. (There is a theme developing though). It is that I learned that it is much harder to manage someone you are friends with than someone you don’t know that well personally. In a work environment, we need objectivity. Making friends with and liking people who report to you, makes all of that subjective. When it comes to managing the poor performance of a friend, there is no greater ground fraught with large unexploded landmines. Not only will the business relationship be put under pressure, the friendship probably won’t last.

By the same token, managing people who are your friends or people you do like, may create an environment of complacency. If you are liked by your boss, do you really need to try that hard?

Like most people, I have worked in all kinds of organisations, some where the people are mostly friendly and some where the word friendly has never been uttered. The friendly workplaces can quite easily translate into situations that reflect family dynamics. People learn about basic concepts of fairness, equity and resource allocation in their families, and these are crucial issues in the workplace. These basic concepts in families may be very different from the ones we find ourselves in at work. Familiarity in a workplace can cause as many conflicts as family situations do.

It takes a mature person to see past the likes and dislikes of our managers or our teams and just see the forest through the trees. If we can compartmentalise the relationships in the office and keep focused on the outcomes we will be measured on, maybe we will have more time and energy to pursue relationships that are lasting outside of the work environment.

Do People Resist Change?

Or is it change thrust upon them that they resist? This is one of my favourite topics to understand and convey, so I surprised myself when I realised I hadn’t written about it yet.

One of my new favourite mantras is “I am that which is constant” which just serves to remind me to get back to my core, despite what is going on around me. In a world full of change, I am the only constant. The me I know and trust. I used to think that I was unusual because I enjoy change. Then I realised that people change many things about themselves all the time. We create change in ourselves throughout our lives. We change our marital status, our professional status, our educational status (as Facebook reminds us!). We move, have babies, take on sporting challenges, get a promotion or even get sick parents, partners or children – it’s all change. Some of it is our choice and some is thrust upon us. What makes us accept the changes we decided upon and resist the ones we don’t?

I have been in many professional situations where managing resistance to change was the thing I spent most of my day doing – until I realised I was doing it all wrong! It can be exhausting if you think about it in a negative way – like “resisting change”. When you master it, and think positively about how to work with people to achieve the same outcome, regardless of the process – it becomes the most rewarding thing.

As leaders, we must do what is best for the business, it’s our job. Does it really matter what journey we take to achieve it? If we propose the outcome then work together to create the solution, resistance to change is minimalised. Sometimes it takes a while for people to be clear that they don’t like the change. We all need time to think things through, so if offered some time to digest, it’s easier to swallow.

There are of course business decisions made where not only the outcome is determined, but the process is too. These are the most unfortunate of experiences, because people are affected the most; resistance is at its highest and the results might be achieved but at the cost of people’s happiness, faith in the company and enormous stress levels on all sides. I’m not naïve and I have been involved in many business decisions where the people were going to suffer, regardless of how we created the solution! These are terrible situations to be in, but as an HR Professional and Leader, these are the jobs we do.  We must either find a way or make one, as Hannibal said. (True, he was leading elephants through the desert, but some days that’s how it feels!)

Enforced change hits people personally. When we deal with resistance to change, it all stems from personal values. People may not like the proposed change because it impacts them directly in a negative way. In a personal situation, change can be managed more easily. We can speak out and talk about what we don’t like. In a professional situation, this can be interpreted as resistance.

I encourage people to speak out about the changes they don’t like, in a constructive way. I also encourage them to propose an alternative solution. If we provide people with a reason to change and the chance to come up with their own solution, this ‘resistance’ can be addressed. It’s important to make clear that although we invite a solution, if it doesn’t ultimately meet the needs of the business, we will have to keep working until we find one that does!

Resistance takes many forms: individual or organised, active or passive, aggressive or timid, overt or covert.

People can be clever about the way they resist change, or their actions can be subconscious. It just means we have to be on our game. We have to understand why the resistance is there, what are the personal issues for the people involved and how do we address them. We need empathy for why people don’t want to change. It may be that they have never had to before (it’s possible!); or they don’t agree with the way the business is changing and the direction it is headed in.

Ultimately it’s about choice.

The thing is that sometimes the direction might not be right, sometimes business has to do things people don’t like. At the point of discourse though, it is our choice to decide if we agree and go with it or if we don’t. So either bow out if you don’t like the change, or find a way to make it work for you.

I could bang on about the ways people resist change and tell you some wonderful stories – but, this is about how to deal with it, in the way I try to and from my own experience. Change needs to be based on inspired collaboration. We need to find the common ground between different needs and motivators. We need to address both the positives and negatives of changing and of not changing. Once we communicate all of those things and take the time and personal interest to understand why people are resisting, we will have a much better understanding of not only our goal, but hopefully of what drives the people who work for us.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943

In the light of a Facebook post from my Mum two weeks ago, celebrating 61 years of living in Australia, I’ve been prompted to share this history, which is part of my life and culture. My maternal grandparents both died when I was very young and I have always felt a bit ripped off to not have them share their cultural history with us as kids. I do know that in the lead up to and during the Second World War, they were living in Malta, with five of their six children. As the youngest, my Mum was yet to be born and my Grandparents were up to seven years from leaving Malta to live permanently in Australia.

I’ve always thought my Grandparents were so very brave, moving their six children and the only lives they ever knew, to a new country. This was 1951, only a few years after the war finished. This story ends on the 10th of July 1943. Granny probably just found out she was pregnant with Mum; incredible for me to imagine!

Having emigrated myself, I know how difficult a move like this can be, let alone with six children! English was widely spoken in Malta during that time, but it was still their second language. It surprises me how my Grandparents survived the war and what was happening to their beloved home country, then decided to leave, when peace arrived.

Even though I didn’t know them, I have great admiration for the risk they took. Had they not have done this, my Mother would not have had the love affair of her life with my Dad, my siblings and I would never have been here; I would most certainly not be living in the EU….and so it goes. I was enthralled to read this story.

The history of the Siege of Malta is on a stone plaque here in London. I have transcribed the words below. If you don’t know the story, it’s an interesting read. If you do and like me, have part in this brave and courageous culture, you will no doubt be as proud as I am.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943
The text on the stone plaque in London commemorating the Siege.

Malta GC:  The Siege of 1940 -1943.

In the sinister shadow of fascism spilled across Europe and into North Africa, Malta under the protection of Great Britain, found herself alone in a hostile Mediterranean 800 miles from her nearest allies in Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besieged by enemies, Malta became a fulcrum on which the fate of the war balanced for the next three years. If Malta fell the rest of North Africa would follow, opening the door to the oil fields of the Middle East and for the Axis powers to join in Asia and threaten India. The allies knew this, so did the Axis powers. Malta, besieged, became and remains the most bombed place in the history of war.

Supplied only by sea, at great cost, Malta was defended not only by her own people but also by forces drawn from the whole free world. Figther aircraft delivered by the American and Royal Navies were piloted by Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Convoys crewed by British, American and Commonwealth seamen were supported by the free forces of Greece, The Netherlands and Poland. Free Norwegians added their merchant fleet to the allied cause.

In April 1942 King George VI awarded to the people of Malta, the George Cross, the highest decoration for civilian courage and heroism.

By summer 1942 only weeks of food remained and the Allies mounted Operation Pedestal as a last attempt to save Malta. After a five-day running battle the convoy’s four remaining merchant vessels and the immortal tanker Ohio, all that was left of the fourteen that set out, entered Grand Harbour. The date was 15th August 1942. The Feast of Santa Maria. The siege was broken. Within months North Africa was retaken and the first steps of European Liberation begun.

The stone this text is from, was taken from Malta and presented by the Maltese Government on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War to commemorate all who participated in the siege and defence of Malta, 1940-43.

Chronological History

June 1940:

Italy declares war on Britain. Malta is now only 100 miles from Axis Airfields. Defences are three obsolete fighters and a few guns.

July 1940:

The first convoys arrive. Air raids total 80 already.

August 1940:

More fighters and better guns arrive; civilian population evacuated from target areas.

September 1940:

Two more convoys arrive with troops and equipment; Malta is to become an allied fortress in the Mediterranean.

October 1940:

More fighters and additional airfields commissioned.

November 1940:

Torpedo bombers attack the Italian fleet at Taranto with devastating effect, a strategy later copied by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour.

December 1940:

The Italian army is defeated in North Africa forcing the Germans to send massive reinforcements. Striking forces from Malta cause so much damage to axis supply lines the axis high command decide to annihilate the island. The Luftwaffe moves to Sicily and begin round-the-clock attacks on Malta.

January 1941:

Axis bombers attack and damage the British carrier Illustrious in a convoy to Malta. The ship arrives at Malta for emergency repairs and is subjected to three days of ceaseless bombing before leaving to the USA. 39 axis planes are lost in the blitz for only 2 allied fighters.

February 1941:

The attacks continue; the civilian population are moved into rock shelters underground. Air raids now total 400.

March 1941:

Four ships arrive in convoy with essential food, ammunition and fuel; they are bombed incessantly on their approach and in harbour.

April 1941:

The carrier Ark Royal delivers another consignment of new Hurricane fighters.

May 1941:

Malta’s fighter defences are strengthened and reorganised; a bombing squadron is added to attack axis supplies to North Africa.

June 1941:

Axis forces invade and occupy Crete with airborne troops, a similar plan is proposed for Malta.

July 1941:

Sixteen Italian torpedo boats attack newly arrived convoy in Grand Harbour; all are destroyed by the defences.

August 1941:

The siege is gripping more strongly, food is severely rationed, the air attacks continue incessantly.

September 1941:

Eight ships reach Malta in convoy with vital food, fuel and stores. Malta striking forces are now destroying half of all axis supplies being sent to North Africa.

October 1941:

Food is desperately short, 3 British submarines shuttle in supplies under water to avoid the air attacks. Rationing is made more severe.

November 1941:

Malta striking forces are reinforced and increase axis losses to convoys to North Africa. Axis air forces increase the attempts to subdue Malta.

December 1941:

Air raids increase to 175 in this month alone; the entire civilian population is now conscripted into the defence of the island. Everyone lives underground in rock shelters. This memorial is quarried from that very same rock.

January 1942:

The axis determination to eradicate Malta continues with no demarcation between months; some bombing raids last up to 36 hours, during this month there are 263 of them. Food fuel and ammunition run dangerously low.

February 1942:

An allied convoy from Alexandria is attacked and destroyed on its way to Malta; the supply situation becomes even more critical. What food there is is now contaminated with the taste of high explosive.

March 1942:

With great determination, two fresh deliveries of spitfire fighters are made by aircraft carriers. Three ships arrive with 5000 tonnes of supplies which are discharged under ceaseless bombing. 177 axis aircraft are destroyed.

April 1942:

Raids are now between 4 and 10 per day in waves of 100 or more aircraft. By now, 15,500 buildings have been obliterated but civilian casualties are mercifully light at 1,104 thanks to the shelters hewn into the living rock of Malta. Air raids now total 5,807 accounting for more than 6,557,231 kilos of high explosive bombs. Food is shared between the entire population via communal “victory” kitchens. Ammunition is in very short supply. As the raids pass the 2000 mark, King George VI awards the entire island population of Malta the George Cross in recognition of their gallantry in the defence of their island fortress. With fighters now depleted to dangerous levels, reinforcements are desperately needed.

As April becomes May the USA comes to Malta’s aid, USS Wasp successfully delivers 2 cargoes of Spitfires and their pilots.

May 1942:

General Lord Gort replaces Sir William Dobbie as Governor and Commander-in Chief, he brings in his hands the George Cross medal and citation from the King.

June 1942:

The new fighters take immediate effect in improving the defences but food and supplies continue to deteriorate. Single-ship deliveries by fast warship and submarines cannot keep up. In North Africa, the axis retake most of the coast of Libya and fears of an airborne invasion become acute.

July 1942:

The axis, encouraged by their advance in North Africa and the success of their air raids on Malta opt to press on to Egypt, invasion fears recede. Fuel and ammunition stocks are critical, food stocks weeks from starvation.

August 1942:

With no alternative, Britain recalls all available warships to fight a convoy through to Malta. 14 of the fastest merchant vessels are committed to Operation Pedestal. They are escorted by the heaviest concentration of warships in the war so far. For 5 days, the convoy is continuously attacked. The attrition is horrific, but finally the 4 surviving merchantmen are delivered to Malta. The new American-built tanker, Ohio, decks awash, engines wrecked, bombed, torpodoed, a crashed axis plane burning on her deck; is, by a miracle, brought into Grand Harbour on the 15th of the month, the Feast of Santa Maria. All of her 11,000 tonnes of fuel are intact. The entire population watch as their salvation is nursed home by two small destroyers. The tide of the Siege and history, was turning.

September 1942:

Malta striking forces again press home their interdiction of axis convoys. Air defence goes on the attack seeking raiders before they reach Malta skies.

October 1942:

In a 4 day onslaight, the axis lose 114 aircraft to 25 Spitfires. Axis losses now total 1,252 with another 1,151 unconfirmed. The civilian populaton has lost 1,600 killed and 1,818 grievously wonunded.

November 1942:

Axis forces retreat in North Africa, allied landings take place, leading to their eventual rout. A convoy arrives unmolested. The siege is finally over.

December 1942:

Malta becomes the forward base for the first steps in the liberation of Europe. Allied and Commonwealth troops begin to build up in Malta with supplies arriving unhindered.

On the 10th of July 1943, the invasions of Europe begins in Sicily.

hr… it’s lonely at the top

In reading the latest post from Alison Chisnell, I realised and I guess recalled, what I remember feeling, at a time when I was deep in middle earth HR. That this is a lonely job. It is a tough job, and one you don’t seem to make friends in (it’s just easier that way!)

I mean that in the best possible way. If you think about what we, as HR Professionals get charged with; what we are told, what we do – a lot of that is surrounded by confidentiality, integrity and privacy. If you hear something, or if you are the official holder of information, you are usually where the buck stops. If the CEO has decided to outsource the business, you get told but you can’t tell anyone else. If there is a performance issue with a staff member, same deal. I have even been entrusted with relationships that have needed to be kept secret!

Alison’s post reminded me what it was like, being in a position of managing change within an organisation. It isn’t just HR Professionals who can be isolated, senior management are in the same boat. The saying of it being lonely at the top didn’t just magic it’s way into our phrase books. I’m not talking about HR being the “top” of the business world (although, we all know it should!), or making a point about it being a better role in any organisation (again…..!), but usually, when the heads at the top want some change in the business, we are either the first to know about it from them (preferable), or the first to hear it on the grapevine, possibly because something has been done in a “unique” way. It makes us the top of the tree sometimes, when it would be far easier not to be.

Either way, the idea of HR Professionals talking to each other, supporting each other and sharing our experiences is a healthy one. In the world of Social Media, or in fact most online business, everyone shares everything – results, what to do, how to do it, how not to do it especially! In HR, we tend to want to be the keepers of information. Shared knowledge is a powerful thing. To be the one sharing your own knowledge, helping people out and perhaps lending an ear or a shoulder of support needs to be encouraged. Thanks for the reminder Alison!

Social Media and HR: Worthy Partners or Evil Enemies?

I was recently at an HR Professionals networking function and asked who there was using Social Media in their business. The majority told me that they don’t let their staff have access to any Social Media platforms because “they’d just be on Facebook all day”. I wasn’t all that shocked. Disappointed yes, but I had been hearing that quite a lot. I do get it; there are thousands of reasons why we should keep ignoring it and hoping it might go away. Some of them are even valid.

The biggest impact Social Media can have on any organisation is the ability to change it. If you are not involved in a decision about the introduction of Social Media into your business, then you may be put in a reactive position. Social Media creates open, honest and transparent engagement with customers, suppliers, peers and staff, whether it is used as a PR campaign or a whole of business strategy. It means listening to what people have to say, hopefully responding, and learning to adapt. What does that mean for your staff, policies and business? It could very well drive change in the entire business, so we need to be prepared. Here are some fables, tips and benefits:

Fable: It will make our staff less productive.

I wrote recently about this. Using Social Media in the workplace is no different to using the phone on your desk for personal calls, or using email to contact friends, or going out for a coffee. If you have unproductive staff, they will find any excuse to be unproductive. Monitor the behaviour, not the tool that is causing it.

Fable: Our only online presence is our website.

Are you sure? How often do you Google your company name, managers, Directors, Board members?  I don’t mean typing in your company website address, I mean putting those names into Google or Yahoo or even Bing? Each one of those search engines will get you different results. So it probably pays to check them all. Do the same search on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. That is real time search; what is happening right now. Hopefully you won’t be surprised by what you find.

Fable: All voices are equal.

Are staff sharing praise or complaints about your organisation? Are they telling their innermost thoughts and secrets about the company, co-workers or their boss? Generation Y love Social Media platforms and they love to share; a lot and loudly, to anyone who will listen. It could be bad if they are a staff member. A supervisor or manager could have far greater impact. Are they on the board…..well you would hope not, but stranger things have happened! Usually if they are not saying it to you, they are saying it about you.

Fable: Ignorance is bliss!

OK, so you have been brave enough to Google, Bing and Yahoo yourself silly. Did you find comments or a whole conversation? You may be more visible than you would like. Assess the risk and decide on what to do. Do companies even want to know what their staff are saying? They could be either supporter or detractor.  What about ex-staff members, what are they saying? Surely this can’t be any different to what was said at dinner with friends? Unfortunately it is; times a few hundred, thousand, or million. The old way of being social meant we had a few wines then forgot the whole conversation; it was just having a moan. The new way means it all stays for eternity. The old adage that “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity” is so true.  The rest you can find on Google.

Um, HR – we need your help…

So why does all this matter? We never did it before, why start now? All this public discussion can impact on your brand, your reputation or your competition; let alone your retention of staff, attraction of new staff and your own credibility as a contributor to the business. Are you a “values based organisation”, are you on any lists as an “employer of choice”? Does it matter what someone once may have said about you? It does if you have principals and values and you use them to attract talent. There are countless examples all over the internet about one person’s perspective, how it was picked up, misconstrued and shared with millions of people.

As HR Professionals we all know what happens the minute something in the business gets too hard to handle. Our phone rings or there is a knock on the door. If someone came to you with an issue like this, are you prepared? Would you know what to do? I have many colleagues and friends in HR all over the world, unfortunately most of them think I have lost my marbles and gone to “the dark side”. It’s true. I have and the message is: be prepared, don’t be scared, and embrace it! These tips may help you start:

Understand the tools. (the most relevant)

  • Twitter is very powerful for business, short, sharp relevant messages and real time search. (It’s also cool to be on it if you are human!)
  • Facebook is becoming powerful for business. Look for business pages. Probably the best area for direct communication with staff.
  • LinkedIn is the most professional platform. Used predominantly as a recruitment tool, it also has some wonderful moderated groups and forums for discussion across industry and profession.
  • YouTube is of course the most popular of the video sites. Anyone can post content…on anything. Nothing moderated here.
  • Blogs are a great business tool if done well. Used for sharing industry and business information, and learning before you actually have to experience it! Excellent marketing and communications tool.
  • Google and Google alerts. You can set up an alert for your company name so that anytime it is mentioned on the internet; you will be sent an email.

Learn and Research. Set up a personal account on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are not sure, then create an alias. Once in, go and see what all the fuss is about!

Standards. Create a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement, or remind your staff  of what they signed in their employment contract. Find or create a policy, framework or guidelines around what you can and can’t do and say on these platforms.  The quick fix is to add them to your IT, email and web standards.

Finally…..The Benefits

Like anything else, Social Media can be managed and controlled if you think you need to. Remember the introduction of fax machines (how many jokes did you or your staff used to fax around?), computers, the internet, mobile phones…the list goes on.  Think about the core of our profession: our people. Use these tools to engage with them, to understand them, to listen and then respond and to get to the truth of who you are, who they are and who the business is.

Be in control, be aware and start something. You are bound to have a more grateful team who want to connect with you, who want to know they are heard and who want to know they are trusted. If you are blocking access, does that engender a culture of trust? Ensure that this one little act doesn’t go against the culture you have worked hard to create.

Social Media is just another tool. Imagine you are new to a country and you don’t know which newspaper to read. You might buy a paper a day for the next fortnight, scan the headlines, or look at the pictures. However you do it, you will seek out information that is relevant to you. This is no different. You don’t have to be in any of it, you don’t have to know it all back to front, but you do need to be aware of it, of what is happening and how you would act in any situation. Be responsible for being a trend-setter in your industry, create an inviting place to work, and have your people engage with you; for good, not evil.

Have you got the guts to have the tough conversations?

It has been a year now since I had any staff to manage. If you listen closely, you can hear the angels sing. Whilst I did enjoy it and all the challenges it threw my way, it was nothing short of the most difficult thing I ever did. I chose not to have children, so I managed people instead. God works in mysterious ways.

It is true that I will have stories to dine out on for the rest of my days.

Anyone who knows me lived this example of managing poor performance, painstakingly! One of my staff used to take the company car to drive to the shop to get coffee for everyone (of course he walked around the building and took orders before he left). He returned, delivered said coffees, chatting to all along the way, then took time to drink his own coffee and eventually got back to work. He thought this took 15 minutes; his tea break. In fact it took 40 minutes, on a good day. He conveniently forgot that he traded off that tea break when he signed the last Enterprise Agreement giving him a 13% pay increase over three years. Not entirely his fault, no one had the guts to tell him that he couldn’t do that anymore.

If you are let get away with something for long enough, it can become the norm.

This very same guy did a less than sterling performance for 27 years. He was an absolute under-achiever of the highest order. When challenged on his work ethic, his work contribution and his general performance, he quite rightly produced his HR file and showed me that no one had ever challenged him on this before. That meant it must be me, the new Bossy Bitch who had a problem with him and the way he worked.

Well hidden potential

That was without doubt one of the toughest challenges of my career. It took me a year of setting targets, measuring performance, reviewing targets, adjusting targets, sending him on more learning and development than was good for him and basically devising every strategy I could find to get him to reach his potential. He had the most well hidden potential of anyone I had ever met.

Lots of very tough conversations and nine months later, he was dismissed for his consistent abysmal performance, including mistakes costing the company thousands of dollars, ruining our reputation and creating ill will amongst his colleagues (unlike anything I have ever seen.) Dismissing someone in a Government run institution was a tough gig, I give you the drum!

Your staff may just thank you for it.

There are thousands of employees out there just like him. It is tough having to have conversations with people about the way they work, or rather the way they don’t work. I doubt to this day that he thanks me for it, but I have had other staff who have. I have had people return to thank me after I have made them redundant, cancel their contract or just plain old tell them off for bad behaviour. Some of them gloat, and that is OK. Some realise it is the best thing they could have done, or could have had happen to them. To leave an environment that doesn’t stretch you or your creativity and is a lovely deep, well grooved rut can be a liberating experience, regardless of how it happens.

It is never a pleasant job to have to tell someone that they are going to lose theirs. People are human at the core of all that shockingly poor performance. They have lives to lead and children to feed, husbands, wives and parents to entertain and ignore just like the rest of us. Pity they don’t think of them when taking their employer for granted.

I have had to have tough conversations, not just about performance, but about stealing, bullying, racism, sexism and inappropriate swearing. I have had to tell someone it is not appropriate to call the company you work for a euphemism for a female body part. I have had direct and uncomfortable chats with people about bad body odour, inappropriate clothing, smoking in a non-smoking flammable confined space; coming in late, leaving early, excessive private phone calls – you name it. Were any of them nice, NO! Not for me and especially not for the staff concerned.

However, every single one of them knew exactly where they stood after those conversations.

To refuse to tell a person that they are under-performing, is not only poor management practice, it is poor leadership. It’s unfair and in fact, it’s just plain old bad human skills. Most of us just want to do a good job. Some of us think we do, and some of us know it, even though we aren’t always told (when will people get that? Can you just say “thank you for your work”, or “You’re doing a good job”. Is it really that hard!!?). I digress…..and OK, yes I was channelling a few of my previous bosses just then, sorry.

If you don’t provide feedback to people, good or bad, they will keep doing what they have always done, whether it is right or wrong. Having the tough conversations can drive you mad if you are not prepared and if you don’t have the skills to do it well and to protect yourself in the process.

Six tips for having the tough conversation

  1. If you witness the bad behaviour, ask the person into your office. Nicely, quietly and privately.
  2. If you don’t see it for yourself, then ask them to come and see you. Ask them for their version of the story. Perhaps: “I heard something unpleasant about xyz….can you tell me what happened?”
  3. Whatever the situation, start the discussion immediately. Do not make small talk or make them feel like they are going to be having a friendly chat with you. This is business and it is serious.
  4. Address the issue. “I just noticed {or I heard} that you did……(insert appropriate disaster here). I wonder why that happened, can you tell me about it please?”
  5. Give them enough time to provide you with an answer. Let’s be honest here, no excuse is acceptable when someone has used bad behaviour in an office, so the next tip is not negotiable!
  6. Say this, clearly, precisely and succinctly. “I just want to make it clear to you that that type of behaviour is not acceptable here in this office, nor in this business. Do you understand?”

Then stop talking.

My experience is that people listen, tell the truth and respond. They are usually embarrassed to be called on bad behaviour and who isn’t? Ask them if they are clear on it. Never underestimate the power of repeating your point, over and over again if you have to. If they start to give an excuse, remind them in the nicest possible way that they are adults; that they have a responsibility to work well with others and to just do their job.

If there are serious reasons why their job can’t be done, they can be discussed later. Make a note of them, then make another time to review workload, or do whatever you have to do to support them (yep, crap behaviour still requires support…much like parenting!). But make those two meetings separate so they are clear on the performance message, and that they are also clear on who is the leader.

The “…how dare you?” tantrum

Seriously, if ever anyone says those words to me, I walk away. They may as well ask me if I know who they are. As a manager I recover from my shock and then take the person in question for a very strict, very sotto voce conversation (strange phenomenon that, the angrier I get the softer my voice!)  I have had staff attempt to throw a tantrum after they have left my office. I followed them and suggested that they go for a walk, or take a break or go work the guillotine (OK, that was a dream, I was in printing!). Keep your resolve and make sure they are aware that you will not accept that behaviour under any circumstances.

Livestock in your living room?
Livestock in your living room?

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I have been known as the Feedback Queen all my life. I love it. I have learned to accept it and I give both positive and negative feedback graciously. It is difficult to manage people because they are people. Some will hate your guts till the cows come home (but what are you doing with livestock in your living room?) and some will adore you for it.

I know some of you reading this will be wondering if I worked in a prison, or even dealt with small children and farm animals. Not so, just an environment where staff had been let do what they wanted; one with no authority, no leadership and certainly no one there who had the guts to have tough conversations.