Monday, October 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Mindsets

Well, there went my last excuse for pizza in 2014. My five week stint presenting in communication and change leadership for some of the best and brightest at Monash University Engineering has wrapped up for another year.

I think about this bright hard working group of young people making the best of their talents and putting their hands up voluntarily for even more contact hours, more late lecture nights and more carbohydrates. Of course it’s good résumé capital, but I know just how engaged they are. You can’t fake that.

Then this morning I read an article in which a Williamstown ship builder expressed concern about the potential for a so-called "valley of death" if the federal government follows through on its intention to build two naval ships in either Spain or South Korea.  It's either political folly or a gutsy yet unpopular move when a government, at a time of record unemployment in this state, is unabashed about the need to go overseas because of "under capacity and poor labour productivity" in any sector.

Before you condemn me for “class-ism”, juxtaposing the ship builders and the university career builders is not a tacky commentary on white vs blue collar workers or a belief we should exploit anyone.  And governments do have a responsibility to create opportunities and not leave it all to big business. It is certainly not a crack at decent unionists and their important representative role, particularly when keeping companies honest on OH&S safety and workplace justice. It is a lament about the difference in opportunity and outcomes as a function of our preparedness to work hard and not aspire to the bare minimum acceptable to keeping our jobs (or less whilst hoping not to get caught).

We reap what we sow. We all bring different gifts and perspectives to our work but let's make the most of our opportunities. To remain the lucky country perhaps we have to make some of our own luck. Doing a reasonable day's work for a reasonable day's pay is a fair ask.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stand up Australia. Be proud (It's not what you think!)

As the sun sets on Tollcross Swimming Centre we can learn some valuable lessons from the Aussie swim team in Glasgow and how the team has transformed its culture to produce the most wonderful esprit de corps and exemplify the best flow-on effect of shared goals, great strategy and sublime teamwork- outstanding results.

If we think back to the last Olympics, only two years ago, team members were individualistic and arrogant. There was a pronounced lack of discipline and that extended to poor choices around curfews and the use of social media.

This is what I've seen two years later. In post-swim interviews the commitment to a shared purpose was palpable. Swimmers who were pitted against each other in heats and finals were absolutely committed to doing their best whilst never forgetting they were part of a team (think the Campbell sisters). Swimmers were comfortable to say they were really pleased with their performances without a hint of arrogance. In the case of Christian Sprenger, rather than the game playing and cloak and dagger that can take place around injuries in the AFL ("hamstring soreness" is a euphemism for anything but), he was open and transparent about his shoulder injury and the pain he endured with not a shred of self-pity or excuse.

What was quaint but symbolic of egalitarianism was the team nomenclature as they described their team mates and events. The "girls" spoke of their excitement when a "boy" did well. The "boys" would say how proud they were of the "girls" in the relay. In too many previous major meets, women, by reference, have been relegated to adolescence whilst the men strutted.  Even Channel Ten commentators this time round were far more egalitarian and respectful in their approach to both genders and I am positive this was a very deliberate reflection of an ethos (followed up with media training) that displayed an intentional shift in maturity and respect for all who competed. Having the para-sport events intermingled with the others was again symbolic and long overdue but so important.

If we're being honest, outcomes trump effort these days (do well vs. try hard is all that matters when landing a plane), but there is something inspirational about seeing members of a team "leave nothing in the pool" whilst remembering it's a whole bunch of people who got them there. Stand up Australia. Be proud. Not just of the medals - but of the culture and the cohesion. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bystander apathy in all its forms

Working extensively as I do in the area of equal opportunity, harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, sadly not a lot surprises me anymore. I've seen it in the board room and the boiler room. But I was filled with compassion and admiration for Jane Marwick this week when I read her gutsy piece in which she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Rolf Harris, a celebrity she admired, when she was a young star struck radio host.

She works in the media. They have lawyers. They let her publish her article. The word "alleged" was nowhere in sight. She was prepared to face whatever came her way even though she said in the piece that her friends and family had cautioned her against it. I respect her for doing it.  I love her co-host Gary who reportedly wanted to go after Harris once Marwick told him what Harris had allegedly done. Yes, I used the "allegedly" word as I wasn't there and I'm not that brave.

In my work, I do see examples of people who are willing to defend the indefensible. Good people behaving badly. Executives do it because they don't want reputational damage.  Unions do it because the other party isn't a union member. Team leaders do it because they don't want their teammates to think the power went to their heads. Team members do it because they can't stand the person who complained.

There's another way to defend the indefensible. It's to sit back and say nothing when grave injustice occurs. It doesn't always mean people don't care. It's more likely to be because they don't want to deal with their shame. In today's Australian newspaper, Bettina Arndt makes a perfectly valid point when she questions the deafening silence in the media and from feminists about Clive Palmer's attack on Peta Credlin, our PM's Chief of Staff who was open about her struggle to bear a child. 

The day any feminist, male or female, decides who is or isn't a victim of sexism or misogyny based on their political proclivities is the day we've lost our souls.

Edmund Burke said all that has to happen for evil to occur, is for good people to do nothing.
Jane Marwick was brave and should never be victimized for telling us what we would rather not hear. And Peta Credlin should not have been thrown to the wolves no matter how assertive she might be because she sits on the wrong side of politics to labour feminists.

We get the culture we deserve. We get the behaviour we're prepared to tolerate.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Attitude and avocado for breakfast

So there I was, feeling like a hero not a zero. My 20 year old graciously agreed I could drive him to soccer this morning. It's premier league. The standard is high. It's therefore great viewing. Now I think it's great he invites me. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact hat he's required in Parkville at 0915 on a Sunday morning. And let's be clear. He's genuinely appreciative. But as I'm not required for the warm-up, I exploit a luxurious half hour searching for good local coffee.

In this quest I found Queensberry Street North Melbourne. I went for my favorite haunt, packed to the rafters with trendy I-don't-cook-Sunday-morning Melbournites. After being told there would be a wait (something that struck me as somewhat obviously given the queue snaking around the corner), I defected to the empty cafe 4 doors down feeling somewhat disloyal yet practical.

I wasn't allowed to order at the counter. I had to wait at the door until I was directed to a seat. The chef was thrashing eggs for an omelette and I wondered what the eggs had ever done to her. I was then frisbeyed a menu at the bottom of which were the words: "We don't serve mugs or large takeaway in house. We do not split bills." I turned the menu over expecting to see the words: "We don't do any customer service either and we DEFINITELY don't smile."

My soy capp was sour. It wasn't sour. It was just cow. But my mood started to sour and it was then in my sick puppy way I began to think about your average workplace.

Do we make it easy for our clients to do business with us?

What are their first impressions of us when they make contact and are those impressions/expectations sustained?

Do rules dominate or is there always the promise of something aspirational in the cause?

How easily can emotion be contagious?

I arrived in a great mood and was soon heightened and prepped for the next screw-up. (The fact that the waiter came and checked my order again with me 10 mins later did not elevate my confidence although she was starting to kill me with kindness after almost killing me with cow's milk. The forensic investigator in me assumed she didn't want to get sued, but as I sit here typing this post on my IPad, it occurs they were more frightened of Urbanspoon than Slater and Gordon.

They needn't have worried. I don't subscribe to becoming the anonymous assassin of food blogging on a site that can decimate a business after one lacklustre experience. The breakfast you wonder? So many seeds in my avocado smash, I feel like a budgie but I'm sure it's good for my insides.
Anyway, gotta run. I'm sure my soccer player can't wait to see me and I'll leave this cafe to handle the Sunday morning overflow from the one down the street.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

A prominent Melbourne sports journalist made a pronouncement a few weeks ago on radio. He said he could virtually guarantee that either suspended Essendon senior coach James Hird, or CEO of the AFL Andrew Demetriou would not still be in their roles by the end of the year.

Well the journo proved to be a prophet when, at a packed media conference at AFL House yesterday, journalists learnt that Demetriou would be stepping down at the end of 2014. He has insisted this is not to do with the ASADA investigation into drugs in sport and that this is simply the right time to step aside for a "fresh pair of eyes".

Why do some struggle to believe him?

The best leaders are continually self-reflective, put talented would-be successors in place and may seek to depart knowing they leave the place in good shape. The game has expanded and is truly a national game. The money spent by broadcasters for footy rights is breathtaking. The media coverage on Foxtel is second to none and footy ratings for big games are healthy. Importantly also, footy has withstood the potential onslaught of soccer in the context of the Socceroos and our World Cup cameos; something that was on the AFL's strategic radar a full ten years ago. 

For those of us who love our sport, we can recall countless examples of players who "hung on too long". My opinion on this has always been if they're good enough to be picked for the senior side on the way they play now, they should have earned the right to decide when they want to go. It is the choice of the high performer to go at the peak of their powers or to play on; knowing that the phenomenon we know as the "recency effect" means our view of their contribution will be coloured by what they're doing at this moment. Demetriou hopes the Essendon supplements scandal won't sour his legacy.

To change codes for a moment, people started grumbling about Michael Clarke's poor batting form for some months and others have stoically watched and waited, arguing he "was due". Well he wasn't axed, didn't drop himself and scored a cool 161 thank you very much this week in South Africa. Now the decision to "bat on" seems inspired.

Demetriou has done such a good job for our beloved footy that he deserved to choose his own exit date as long as he is still acting in the service of the game and achieving his strategic objectives. Many said he mis-stepped badly last year in the wake of the Essendon saga and that hubris got in the way. Prime Ministers have had to call the removalists on that same hubris. It can be very costly.

I don't believe a conspiracy has to be the reason why a powerful CEO who used the role to push a racial tolerance agenda whilst navigating a brilliant game strategy to shore up footy against all comers decides to give his number to another player. And it's right that he doesn't choose his successor.

No doubt column inches will now be devoted to an assessment of the likely candidates. Either way, whoever it is, they land on the crest of a wave and that is the ultimate legacy of any good CEO.