Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nostalgia - The Enemy of Change

I have a confession to make. I was one of those who tuned in to the last fifteen minutes of a breakfast radio show that had graced our airwaves for 10 years on Friday morning. Why? Part curiosity, part nostalgia. In the lead up during the week, the media promised a ratings bonanza. There were outpourings of love, tears, and plenty of thanks for the memories.

And that's when it hit me. The desire to wind the clock back, to reminisce, to relive our youth  or other special episodic eras can fill an arena when Bon Jovi or Leonard Cohen or the Rolling Stones come to town. Yes there will be a sprinkling of young people in the audience who recognise genius when they see it but mostly it will be the parents themselves, wanting to reconnect with yesteryear.

This is the major hurdle for change agents at work. We can have change thrust upon us, even well-conceived change, represented in clear and consistent ways but the change still represents a loss - even if it's a loss in the old way of doing things. In essence the person who remains in change "resistance" is stuck and their orientation is mired in the past. What's even more tricky is that we are capable of romanticising the past; re-inventing it in our minds so that it morphs into something so much more attractive than perhaps it ever really was. We harness clich├ęs like "if it ain't broke" and sit around the water cooler, longing for "the good old days" in our faded, shrunk and misshapen Rolling Stones concert t-shirts purchased for an arm and a leg at the MCG in 1995.

What is safe but futile is to live our lives in yesterday, the era we can only remember, even distort, no longer shape or control. Tal Ben Shahar says pointedly in "Happier" that ignoring The Now with endless striving for The Future makes us nothing more than a rat racer. Living in the now and never plucking up courage to strive for the future because there is no guarantee of success, makes us nothing more than a hedonist. But the combination of pleasure (being present in the here and now) and purpose (finding meaning in intentional striving and growth) is the road to true happiness.

As we reminisce about the year that was, let's acknowledge we are shaped by our past. But let's resolve not to be imprisoned by our past. The choice to walk through the door of change from Resistance to Exploration is exactly that - a choice. And that's why we'll go wild for Abba at a Bjorn Again concert but I won’t turn up to work tomorrow in an outfit Agnetha would have worn.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

NSW Flames and Blame Games

Our thoughts and prayers are still with the families and fire fighters in the New South Wales Blue Mountains and the uncertainty and fear that hovers along with the acrid black smoke. The Australian Army did what I believe it had to do this week and came out and expressed profound regret about the explosives drill that caused one of the fires, destroying houses and property. No one is saying there was any intent to cause harm. Indeed it wasn’t a total fire ban day so nobody can say they were in contravention of those regulations. Yet when terrible things happen, it’s often human nature to point the finger. The Army, of course, is investigating. The fact that someone ‘didn’t mean something to happen’ can be very cold comfort.
Do we feel any differently about those fires that appear to have been deliberately lit? People are debating whether or not youths should have been charged and incarcerated. As a psychologist I want to know if they exhibited other forms of antisocial behaviour. If so, why didn’t others pick up on this earlier? Do we feel comforted in the knowledge some firebugs get caught and punished? Does this provide any succour to those who lose homes, property and even loved ones? For some, this is not just about getting perpetrators off the streets so they don’t reoffend. It is about our fundamental need for justice.

And so we confront some of the same themes in the workplace. Some of us bully, harass, even mismanage and it seems to be of paramount importance to the targets or victims that the behaviour is ‘owned’. Some managers model dastardly behaviour or condone it; turning a blind eye or caught asleep at the wheel.
One of the fatal mistakes I see in managers wanting the easy life is to refuse to make the perpetrator accountable. Inevitably the target of the unwelcome attention says to me in those situations: “Why didn’t someone admit it was wrong?” Why wasn’t someone prepared to take me seriously until I submitted a formal complaint or threatened legal action?” Indeed the refusal to acknowledge and validate feelings is often the catalyst for grievance behaviour and stress claims as people seek to test their perception of wrongdoing against a definition at law, a company policy or a WorkCover guideline. Another tricky and increasingly common occurrence is the request by a manager for the two parties to mediate as an alternative to an adversarial and often expensive solution; namely a formal investigation. Aggrieved parties have persistently argued to me that being asked, no, coerced into mediation is tantamount to the manager saying that “what happened between us was no more than a misunderstanding or even more insultingly, a personality clash”.

For people to heal, it often seems to be important for some acknowledgment of wrongdoing to occur. This is highlighted when we experience the reactions of those where investigations return an inconclusive finding. I agree that employment and anti-discrimination law must judge our behaviour by its impact and not its intent. Can we reliably assess intent? I’ll leave that to criminal lawyers and judges. We can try to measure impact. In employee relations, it is called “the reasonable person test.”
The Lithgow bushfire was an unfortunate side effect of a routine yet important activity. Bullying, unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment cannot be seen in the same light nor should we explain away the inaction of those managers who allow such damaging conduct to occur on their watch. Putting aside the issue of intent and any human natural impulse to blame, what other choice do we have but to pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Eurythmics Strategy - Should sisters be doing it for themselves?

I was totally inspired at a recent conference to see the extraordinary creativity of young Australians using YouTube and home movie making to tackle bullying at school. The major thrust of their strategy was sending the message that bullying is uncool and if you can get the bystander to confront the bully, the target feels supported and the bully sees that it's not just the victim who has a problem with their behaviour. If you take this to the nth degree, the bully isolates him or herself through their antisocial behaviour and may then acquire more empathy for others and motivation to curb the behaviour.

In a parallel universe, there is increasing amount of chatter about the role men can play in shattering the glass ceiling for women given that in many sectors and companies, men are still the gatekeepers. 

The risk and therefore the controversy with this uncommon strategy of deploying the bystander and the gatekeeper is that it could appear like those targets of bullying or discrimination respectively can't stick up for themselves and need someone else or a man specifically to advocate on their behalf.

 In my opinion, it's a risk worth taking.

More and more often we are seeing men appealing to other men to stamp out violence against women. We see and hear third hand accounts of the horrific impact of road trauma, problem gambling, drinking and street violence by those who have witnessed it.

The best way to normalise equal opportunity in the workplace is to have prominent men demonstrate through their words and their behaviour their belief that capable women bring so much to the table and that it's both dumb and unjust to subject them to continued systemic disadvantage. Of course women will continue to demonstrate their worth but men can and must at times fight for a woman's right to be given the chance if those men still hold the balance of power. Similarly women's responsibility is not to see other women as their automatic competitors and kick the ladder from underneath them as they climb.

To suggest that the only strategy (to almost quote the Eurythmics) is that sisters must be doing it for themselves, limits our progress and disrespects those men - partners, husbands, fathers and sons - who are truly gender blind and want all talented and hardworking employees to flourish at work.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Special Kind of Magic

I had cause to reflect this week on a magical time in my working life with the tragic passing of my old boss at ANZ Bank. I witnessed the outpouring of grief and warm memories from my old colleagues and the way in which people have kept in touch over two decades; looking forward to our reunions hosted by the beautiful Agapi, a colleague I met there who, with Catriona, was to become a lifelong friend. The sad news and the associated memories we have shared with each other this week on Facebook are such a visceral reminder of that extraordinary thing called engagement, the power of work and shared purpose to bring people together, the positive properties of laughter (frequent) and the autonomy that Graham gave me to do my thing, trying to make a difference to leadership capability and fair treatment at the Bank.

The Bank itself was not going through a happy time in the early 90’s. Not the only one to adopt this strategy, ANZ Bank policy had resulted in a whole lot of customers loaned too much money (on the value of their assets) with insufficient capacity to pay. These were dark times for actual Bank Managers, particularly in regional Australia who found themselves having to sell up residents of local communities. It was the dawn of a new era, a time when people began to dislike the Banks. This was a far cry from the days when my late Nana Rose, would put on her best outfit, don her gloves and hat and go to town to visit the Bank Manager who was right up there in her estimation with accountants and heart surgeons.

And yet in this oppressive environment surrounded by sadness and stress, was our little enclave of engaged training professionals, working day to day with those who struggled trying to lighten the load by building capability, even resilience although we didn’t know to call it that then.

Once a month, I’d drive off to the country, run a four night residential for managers, stay up to the wee hours of the morning hearing them talk about the difficulties they faced (and yes, our ANZ leadership course discos were quite famous). I’d head home on a Friday, hoarse, trying to stay awake at the wheel and bracing myself for the little monsters I had left at home who would be sure to show me in their feral behaviour (for at least an hour) that I should not have left them.

It’s no secret when you meet me that I love my work now. What I do for a living is a privilege. Running my own consultancy gives me rare autonomy coupled with significant yet welcome responsibility (I am the eldest in my family!). But one of the main reasons I went out on my own after having Zoe is that I knew no job was likely to ever stack up to that one for purpose, autonomy, supportive and visionary leadership by Graham and Cathy our Chief Manager and the camaraderie of ANZ Bank Learning and Development.  The combination of these elements could have come right out of a Harvard University Press best seller. We were living the Dan Pink dream, and in no small part due to our departed friend and mate forever, Graham Bronk or Bronkie as we knew him. Vale Bronkie. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bully Busting and Bystander Apathy

I was privileged to attend and present at the inaugural No2Bullying conference last week on the Gold Coast. It was fabulous to hear so many excellent speakers on the topic of bullying yet confronting to hear so many vivid tales of personal and professional devastation from bullying at work, schoolyard bullying and cyber bullying.

Only today my partner said how much more frequently he is reading articles on bullying and harassment cases in the digital and broadsheet press.

Whilst now armed with fresh statistics and leading edge research, my frustrations around the truth of bullying and management accountability have not really changed.

Is bullying on the rise? Perhaps not. Are more workers aware of their rights? Yes. Are they more likely to take action? Possibly. But the vast majority of those bullied tend to leave rather than stay and fight. And what's more, it's not for us to tell them they should stay and fight if their physical and psychological health is on the line.

We would not have survived as a species if we didn't have a fundamental desire to flee when under threat. And in an era in which some bosses think their people are lucky to have a job, and in the context of excessively lean staffing, some workers are being asked to do the unreasonable. They shouldn’t have to lose their jobs to make that point.

In recent articles, some of those commenting have been quick to point the finger of bully blame at young inexperienced managers, but an autocratic or micromanaging style doesn't discriminate on age.

I feel for those who are bullied, sometimes mercilessly. I also feel for those managers who are guilty of nothing more than wanting to ensure their people do a reasonable day's work for a reasonable day's pay. Workers, who got away with a lot previously and have now been made accountable, may be genuinely stressed. But no-one has caused them a workplace injury if the reasonable person test is applied and measures taken constitute “reasonable management action”. Some managers don't set out to bully but become frustrated, even aggressive when employees don't respond well to the feedback. It's not the manager’s fault if employees don't want reasonable or necessary change. However managers must make reasonable attempts to set their people up to be successful through patience, empathy, consistent application of rules and quality coaching.
The big new push at the conference and indeed one of the major premises in my new book “Vulture Cultures” is the critical importance of ‘calling’ bullying when people witness it. The passive role of the bystander marks the most critical opportunity for change as 80% of counterproductive workplace behavior is not called. That being so, rarely is a mirror held up to the bully by someone else who sees the bully’s behaviour as overzealous, notwithstanding genuine conduct or performance issues. Expecting the person being abused or intimidated to stand up to the bully in the presence of a substantial power imbalance may not be practicable or reasonable.

In the best cultures, the wrong thing is rarely committed, but if it is, someone ‘calls’ it and even more indicative of an ethical culture, is prepared to ‘consequence’ it.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Does fortune favour the working father?

Our mental model of "conflict" often compels us to gravitate towards that tricky stuff that occurs between two individuals. However, just as stressful and mentally tough can be the goal conflict or values conflict we experience when two or more of the big priorities we have in life are at odds (or at war!) with each other. 

There is a growing awareness of the critical impact of father figures in the raising of children. Moreover, more fathers than ever before want to take an active role in parenting and while they may work outside the home full time it has dawned on them that parenting can't be squeezed into the gaps as a very part-time role either.

We all know the law plays catch-up to the hearts and minds of society. Any legislative or policy change that legitimises and enables better work-life balance for fathers is to be applauded. I believe the shift in focus from the gender-based Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act to the Workplace Equality Act is welcome and important. But, for any equity of outcomes to really occur, organisations, or specifically the people who run them, must be willing to enable better work-life balance for working men too.

This striving for balance will only grow in urgency and focus. Companies hospitable to these emerging cultural norms will have competitive advantage.
I have coached senior, guilt-ridden, remorseful and fretful men who have made a career of being absent during the child rearing years. Of course there will always be some happy to walk in the door, just in time to kiss kids good night but they will often end up paying the price in estrangement from partners and/or their children.
Increasingly, the economic argument of women who earn more than their male partners and/or enjoy vibrant and rewarding careers will also stimulate demand for family friendlies for men.

Providing career women don't come home at the end of a long day and find an empty fridge, dinner conspicuous by its absence and a playroom carpet littered with toys, what's not to like? And who loses?  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's just not cricket - or is it?

The decision by the Australian captain and coach to stand down 4 players ahead of the test against India today has attracted a furore. Setting the tone for what's acceptable and what's not is critical to establishing good cultural norms. A robust feedback culture, respect for leadership and a commitment to excellence is essential in elite sport as in other workplaces. A few points though...
Sidelining non-compliers is reasonable as long as the punishment fits the crime. Any punishment sends a message but is it proportional? Michael Clarke should not judge the appropriateness of the punishment by what the media thinks or former players who played in a different era and might have operated under a regime characterised by a "win at all costs mentality". That's the same as keeping on the top salesperson even if they are a prize bully or a sexual harasser. Clarke should have determined the appropriate consequence by comparing with the ongoing values narrative in the team (if there is one), the culture he wants to instil and by being consistent with stated goals, standards, expectations and potential consequences.

If this transgression was used as a pretext to send a wakeup call and these players were scapegoated for other laxness in the team, this is not fair. Whatever we do or don't sends a message. But never punish just to send a message. I suspect in the wake of publicity about AFL players, cycling and our Oz swimming team, the time was ripe to shake up cricket and this was a good reason to do it. For mine, long term cultural integrity matters more than one test match. I can only hope they are as strict about other "off field antics" when one considers these players are high profile and represent their country.
Not handing in one's homework might seem on this occasion to have attracted a costly detention.  It might even seem old school. But we get the behaviour we deserve. We get the culture we're prepared to tolerate.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Tale of Two Cycles

When studying the MRI results after 10 years of jogging, I made the decision to reinvent myself as a cyclist. I figured all I needed was a beautiful road bike until someone told me it might help me maintain my fitness if I rode it now and then. I've been doing so for a few weeks but should never have economised on the 'knicks' (padded cycling shorts). So here tis...

Last week I stopped into a cycling shop in Black Rock mid-ride as without getting too personal, my rear end was unhappy. I was greeted in a friendly enough fashion until I advised them I had $50 in my pocket (originally intended for breakfast for my son and I but Tony graciously deferred to my need for knicks). I can hear the cycling snobs scoff but to be fair to myself, I did tell them I knew my credit card number and was prepared to spend more. Well, the owner did not even attempt to disguise his eye roll as he turned on his heel and walked off in disgust while an only mildly embarrassed shop assistant took me over to the women's range of padded over garments.

The one I liked was four times my breakfast money but I needn't have worried. She suggested I come back another time "after a shower" (and presumably after I'd stuffed my jersey pocket with cash).

Yesterday I went to a little cycling shop in Elwood recommended by a friend. Tracy from Canada, was warm, patient, informative and anything but pushy. Some $560 later I left the shop, excited about my ride tomorrow morning.

This morning, thinking about the two experiences, I had a momentary 'Pretty Woman' flashback and imagined going back to Black Rock to advise them of their "Big Mistake". I would never do it because firstly I coach in Emotional Intelligence and it would be petty, spiteful and reactive and secondly my big lot of shopping was one very little bag and may not have looked all that impressive. 

Nevertheless, the tale of two cycle shops reminded me of some key things it's worth us all remembering:

     · Our internal voice is often the cause of leakage in our non-verbal behaviour (e.g. Mr. Eye Roll) so to tame the behaviour, we need to take charge of our self-talk. Suspending negative judgment, particularly contempt, is a good start!

     · People want to feel important and will appreciate those who help them feel that way. And, it's free!

· People and organisations that focus on giving time and providing value without fixating on what you can do for them engender loyalty beyond words

· People like Tracy from Canada who loves Melbourne, loves cycling and is proud of what she sells to people who really want it, is invaluable to her organisation (And no, there was no boss in sight).

How can we focus more attention day to day in helping our people feel that way?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lance Armstrong - competitive cyclist, cancer survivor, con man, confessor

Well, if you’re like me, you’ve watched both parts of the Lance Armstrong special (OK, I admit it, a couple of times each). I’ve met people like him, a small number and mostly in corporate; fiercely competitive, astronomically high on self-belief, selfish and self-absorbed in their focus about what needs to happen to ensure their success. In the wake of his 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, a word was coined to describe achievements of extraordinary magnitude against the odds– such feats were “Phelpsian” (inspired by Michael). And so, the cyclist who loved to train, with the ruthless desire to win, was on his way to fame and fortune, until cancer struck. None of this suggests Lance Armstrong was anything but a gifted athlete. But the fierce competitor needed an edge in a tainted culture and from what we now understand that edge included corticosteroids, human growth hormone, Erythropoietin (EPO) and testosterone. Graham Watson the 30-year cycling photographer said in a recent blog post Armstrong himself endorsed that “Lance did what he had to do to win, and he clearly did it very well.”
But to really understand, we need to take account of the character of the man himself. A self-confessed ruthless competitor, who thought he was invincible, plunged into a corrupt culture and was ripe for seduction. Talented enough to have a real chance and fearful enough about the prospect of losing, what was going to give him the edge? Or as he suggested, create a “level playing field”? And once the invincible narcissist received adulation, money, love and respect (his biological father was gone by the time Lance was two), the addiction was entrenched. Winning the Tour de France, winning it more than once, winning it after cancer was an intoxicating story; the stuff Hollywood movies were made of. But this wasn’t Mighty Ducks or even Moneyball. This was real. Lance was on the bike and he couldn’t get off.
So the competitor, the cancer survivor was also a conman. But Lance couldn’t have done it alone and moreover, we now know that he didn’t. Cycling, swimming and weight lifting in the 1990’s and early 2000’s appear to have been to sport what Enron, Exxon and Lehmann Bros. were to corporate America, and in the same era.
Lance was enabled and incentivised. Remember, we see it at the Olympics. Gold medallists are set for life. Lesser medallists (and non-medallists) are often destined for obscurity. Thus when we consider what is rewarded and what is overlooked and forgotten, the die is cast when a bad culture meets the personality attributes described above. 
The Oprah interview took an interesting turn when Lance Armstrong and Oprah began discussing Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG foundation. That and his obvious love for his children may be the only things in his life that brought Lance Armstrong’s tenuous hold on reality to real attachments and meaning. Paradoxically, his “most humbling moment” was being asked by his own foundation in November last year to step down. The doping helped create Lance Armstrong, the cancer surviving legend, which in turn became his springboard to establishing LIVESTRONG. To date the Foundation has raised $500M. Was this one of the rationalisations for what Armstrong continued to do and lie about? If not for the doping, if not for the wins, how could he have raised so much money for cancer research? The rationalisation that the end justifies the means coupled with big payoffs are the classic breeding ground and perpetuators of bad behaviour.

After years of lying to cover up lying, when might a confessor typically confess? There are three common conditions. Firstly, the death bed confession is not a myth. Having nothing to lose and/or the desire for a clean conscience before one meets their maker are powerful motivators. Secondly, people can confess because they feel a rapport with the person who receives the confession. Armstrong had been interviewed by Oprah before and he liked her and (I’m sure) the gently managed legitimacy and protection her show could afford him. But because all the pundits said she’d be soft, she had to make sure she wasn’t. And thirdly, when else do people tend to confess? When evidence of wrongdoing is so overwhelming, the lies actually start to sound ridiculous. I believe it was for this reason, that Armstrong did not appeal the USADA finding.

While on the subject of USADA, how fascinating to observe the workings of an organisation that had a whole professional sport to salvage? There would have been no guilty conscience in scapegoating he who was found to be as guilty as sin and whom appeared to lie about it over and over. This was the supreme rationale for what Armstrong himself referred to as a “death sentence”. If there was ever a point to be made, it was now. If there was ever a message to be sent, this was the perfect storm. The decision to lynch Lance Armstrong followed the same logic as the decision by President Obama to take on the National Rifle Association in the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook massacre. These occurrences were not pretexts. They were the “burning platforms” for change. For those who remember Top Gun, someone had to “take the shot” because “it doesn’t get to look any better than that.”

The so-called fraud triangle has at its three apexes need/greed, opportunity and perceived likelihood of getting caught. Lance Armstrong the competitor was desperate to win. He knew no other way. This was his “need/greed”. Those who allegedly jumped on the bandwagon, sourced and administered his drugs and basked in his reflected glory provided his “opportunity”. And until the mid-2000’s given that EPO had been previously undetectable, the chance of him getting caught was small. Indeed his arrogance and self-confessed invincibility probably led him to believe he wouldn’t get caught and he said as much when he told Oprah he rued his comeback as he would probably otherwise have “gotten away with it.” Now I do believe he was telling the truth in that moment! 

At his deposition in 2005, he said plainly that if anyone was found guilty of the allegations of which he was accused, he knew that would undoubtedly be the end of everything. So the conman in him kept lying while the narcissist sued, bullied, abused, discredited and tantrummed.
The narcissist doesn’t often care if they hurt people and those who give negative feedback or contradict a story are so often treated with contempt. Watching him, I’m not sure Lance yet holds much remorse for those “crimes” but I did believe his shattered look and the seeming difficulty with which he spoke of his son who had kept defending him when his father’s actions had been indefensible.

So the interview has been broadcast and Lance will again be the major source of conversation around the water cooler this week. Was this the necessary first step forward to Lance’s healing? An exercise in forgiveness and self-forgiveness? Is it a cynical attempt to begin the journey to win back support because a hero wants to be a hero? A strategic ploy to begin the rebuilding of the brand for the sake of his family’s future financial security or simply the desperation of a man who wants someone in a position of authority to tell him he can run the Chicago marathon when he’s 50.
This is not just a sporting story or even the story of the inglorious fall of a sporting legend. It is also a story that heralds a serious warning. Be wary of high greed, fame, self-obsession and the justification of bad behaviour because “Why not? Everybody does it” or “Why not? Everybody wins”. We are in the long tail of a global financial crisis which has its origins in the same chilling combination of Gordon Gecko context and weak character we have seen in Lance Armstrong, fallen hero.