Archive for People

Side stepping the toxic workplace! Fostering individuals to work in teams

Business man and woman fighting over briefcaseLooking around my office I realise that people are the most expensive item on my profit and loss. And they are also where I experience the most issue within my business. Toxic work environments reduce productivity, create stress and can drive good performers to leave.

For those of you old enough to remember there was a great episode of Yes, Minister where the Minister and Bernard discuss a new hospital completed 15 months previously.  No medical staff had been employed nor had any patients yet been admitted. The 340 odd administrative staff argued that doctors and patients would only wreck a smoothly functioning hospital! People are a problem it seems.

People matter, and people have personalities.

The risk of a toxic workplace

The management of people and how they perform in their roles is a major key to our business success – Duh! No news to me as a business owner.

It has been my observation over many years of working both in my own businesses and with clients that all workplaces have the capacity to become toxic and dysfunctional.  Employees in these workplaces start to define relationships in the workplace not based on the organisational structure but by co-workers they favour and those they do not like or trust. In time your team becomes distracted by gossip, dramas and animosity and inevitably become less productive.

As a manager my answer to this risk is to focus on more closely on ways I can assisting my people to understand that they are part of a business organisational system in which relationships are dominated by work related activities and goals. When they arrive through the door each day, they will be working with other people. People whom they may like or they may actively dislike at times. People who will approach their work in different ways. People who will have different priorities to theirs.

Focus on work related performance

Experienced managers learn that honest and open feedback is your only avenue if the work environment is to function effectively.  Tiptoeing constantly around the personalities and personal issues of various individuals creates a stifling atmosphere.  Change becomes tediously slow and difficult or worse still, cannot be implemented at all.


We set out to create a system, or workplace in our office that allows open, honest and timely feedback on work related  and technical aspects of performance, focusing on those issues that influence work results.


Our solution has been to embed a management system within the business that removes some of the personality issues from the system to allow the processes of the business to flow and to ensure that team members are very clear on their roles within the business. If people are aware of their role within the general plan then they can co-operate to work to that plan together.


People need to understand clearly what they must do to be a successful team member. Focusing on what they need to do to contribute to the goals and outcomes of the business helps to remove the personal angst that can develop.


And encouraging professional behaviour between team members sets the standard for the kind of work ethic we want in our office.

Communicate constantly and in many ways

Let’s be honest – no one really sets out, or wants, to be merely average in their role.  Everyone wants to achieve and meet their goals, but if those goals aren’t set out and clear, then they fall to a level of mediocre – to the lowest common denominator.

What does this entail?

  • Job descriptions
    What tasks I am expected to perform?  What are the outcomes I need to produce? What are my responsibilities?
  • People development plans
    What plans are in place to help me improve and develop my career
  • Key matrix as to the skills required for them to perform their role
    What skills am I expected to have? What do I need to get training in?
  • Open feedback which is timely and constructive
    Let me know at the time the incident occurred what were the issues and why, and what I can do to change next time
  • Feedback that is interactive, communicative and conducive to meeting their own and the corporate goals
    Who can I discuss this with to give my feedback, resolve my problems and ask for guidance and mentoring? Will my supervisor communicate with me regularly in a constructive way so that we can all achieve our goals

Creating a Performance Management system

We are currently rolling out a performance management system internally that addresses all these areas.   It will focus on work related performance, skills and activities  and on regular communication which is professional and directed to work performance. Shortly it will be released to a number of clients.

If people are one of your biggest costs, or if the management of your people has ever been an issue then this system is something you should consider. Ring me personally to discuss your situation.


Making my business run independently of me. Month end..all hell breaks loose

Fighting-fur-sealsI have committed myself to the goal of setting up my business so that it runs independently of me. Unless your business can operate without you, it becomes a job, perhaps a lifestyle (desirable or otherwise), but not a saleable asset. In this month’s progress update I have to report – it’s not easy.  But I have five tips to help you create an independent business that you can sell one day – and survive the chaos on the way through.

Life is a flow: the flow of events over time, the flow of a business, and the flow of people’s personal lives. And each of these area impacts on all the others. Around 600 years ago a English poet called John Donne wrote ‘No man is an island’. Whatever happens to the people around us, says Donne, in effect happens to us too because we are all connected. I’d have to say that this month showed me the truth of that big time.

When my business and personal life is in flow everything just works and seems effortless. No bump is too big, everything is surmountable, everyone works together and it just happens.

The period of life I am currently experiencing is the opposite. It’s all about chaos rather than flow. In attempting to remove myself from the processes and ensure everyone follows their responsibilities and pulls together to assist me, the very reverse has occurred.

Tempers have become frayed, relationships have soured, and issues we have not encountered for a long time have arisen.

The nature of my business has one particular feature that militates against flow. We deal with many clients in a wide variety of businesses and industry sectors, so there are always at least two clients with fairly major issues at any given time. Our commitment to our clients is that we will do everything we can to assist. This can threaten to interrupt our internal processes and generate a certain amount of upheaval as we pull out the stops to help our clients through their difficult patch.

The combination of a business that inevitably operates under a degree of pressure coping with one-off unpredictable crises, my program of working towards removing myself from the middle of communications, (plus a few personal issues happening at present) and you get &%#&#&%$$& – in spades.

So now to sort it out. In order to move forward, I have to take two steps back.

Processes and training for the unpredictable

I have been following the enquiries into the management of the great bushfires that swept through Victoria and Tasmania. Bushfire management by definition is conducted through periods of chaos, high emotion and lack of predictability as to the likely flow of events. The idea of the reviews is to devise systems and processes and train people to manage through these situations.

It struck me that there were similarities to my situation. My business and my people need this kind of training and preparation.

What is the key to systems and procedures working smoothly – communication.

I’ll need to clearly communicate my goals, give direction and set some standards regarding mature and professional behaviour.

One of the reasons we employ a variety of people in the workforce who have different skill sets and personalities is to ensure a balanced organisation capable of being effective and competitive in different arenas. But a balanced organisation leads to potential internal conflicts when not actively managed.

5 Key Tips For Managing The Tough Times

Here are my five first-hand learnings for managing through the tough times when chaos seems to be more dominant than flow.

  1. Communicate clearly to all stakeholders
  2. Reinforce – use the black stick if you have too. Consistently reiterate your decisions, reward or point out where they are not being adhered to.
  3. Actively manage – don’t let thing get out of hand in anticipation that things will sort themselves out ‘after all we are all adults’. The reality is that everyone is capable of quite child-like behaviour when old wounds and buttons get pushed, or other personal / business issues are under strain.
  4. Persist. Don’t walk away and just give up. Persisting through the hard times means that your organisation and your people will evolve to be much stronger, better organised, more resilient and capable of dealing with the ups and downs of business life.
  5. Keep your goal in the forefront of your mind. What are you trying to achieve? What and who is important to you?

Life rarely flows smoothly. Personal and business worlds collide, individuals might be struggling in some area and often people try to escape rather than stay and work it out.

If you keep your goals in mind and work together then I truly believe anything is possible and achievable.

Remember at all times we are here to help you through.

Habits vs the Habit of Thinking

Today I have been thinking.

Interestingly, I have been thinking about how little time many people actually and actively engage in thinking. Now I have a few comments to make about this because there are some serious consequences for a business.

But first I want you to sit back and reflect on how many tasks you or others around you do automatically.

  1. There are the simple tasks where we do then everyday such as eating, drinking, cleaning our teeth, brushing our hair, going to the toilet, walking and many other such examples.  Things that have become habit and occur without the need to think or process anything.
  2. There a more complicated tasks, such as driving a car, which can still be automatic. Many parts of that skill are learnt at a young age and then become automatic – a process if you like.  Of course people might perform some of these actions to different levels of skill and they may feel capable of undertaking other tasks simultaneously with more or less degrees of success. Hence the reason they have banned the use of mobile phones when driving.

Let’s take an obvious but important conclusion from all this. Once something becomes routine – no matter if it is carried out with perfect form, or is a badly performed habit- we no longer think about how we perform that action.

With that thought in mind let’s get a little bit more complicated and start to think about how that same concept applies to the work environment.

Consider how many daily work tasks are carried out without the application of any thought to the process because what the person is doing has become a routine.  They tick the box without thinking.  They perform the role without understanding or thinking of the consequences to the client.

Unthinking routines can impact negatively in the business

  1. People do not change, grow or develop.  They cease to contribute to the growth to the business.  In some cases they begin to detract from the business or prevent it from moving forward.
  2. They often begin to make mistakes. They tick the box, or perform the action, or hear what they ‘think’ the client or customer said simply because they have heard or done it many times before.
    Case in point, how many emails have you received where the person has half-answered your question, or answered what they think you asked, rather than what you did ask?
  3. Depending on their role they may also influence the others. People may follow their lead because it is the easier route.
  4. When questioned or asked to think more deeply they have lost the ability to analyse.  It can take a lot of effort to re-ignite or teach the skill.

 Assessing whether non-thinkers have a role in your business

What do you do about the non-thinkers?

Well principally that depends on the workplace and needs.

  1. Can you ensure they are in a role that requires limited thinking but generates a return on the funds invested in their salary?
  2. Can you ensure they think to the level of the system in place – and once again ensure that their salary is in line with their efforts and abilities?
  3. Have you got enough thinkers in the business to keep it growing?
  4. Does having some non-thinkers hamper the growth of the business and its future and/or limit the development of others?
  5. Do they need to be removed from the system?

At the end of the day – re-examine your business value and proposition. Does their role fit? Are they happy that it (and their salary) won’t evolve further?  Are you happy with this?

If not change it – but do it properly.

Remember Business Success doesn’t just happen.

Fine dining, our kitchen rules – and the delicate art of team building

Fine dining

This week I am flying to Cairns.  Whilst I have been to Cairns a number of times for work this trip is a little bit different.  This trip is all about showing my appreciation to two of our long-standing team members for their commitment to us and to you.  I am investing in my building my team.

In a service and knowledge-based industry the second most important asset we have is the team that serves you.  Most important are our clients or customers because without them everything else we have to offer, including our great team, is irrelevant.  But assuming we have customers then the next crucial step is delivering on, and exceeding, their expectations.

So this got me thinking about how different companies invest in their teams.  Investment in your employees can be done in many ways. Very probably you invest in team training (technical or delivery-related), but you might also invest in your relationship with your employees so they recognise that you value them and they are motivated to contribute their best efforts.

Our kitchen rules

Which brings me back to the history behind this trip.  Years ago we established a policy of lunch on the anniversary of an employee’s start date (or thereabouts). Each succeeding year the restaurant or location was of a slightly higher standard. After 5 years we’d reached the upper echelons of Sydney restaurants, so it turned into lunch in Melbourne. Fast forward to this week and my two long term team members have feasted in Melbourne, dined on the Gold Coast, banqueted in Tasmania and today we’re off for a tropical treat in Cairns!

Lunch in Cairns will probably be cheaper than Sydney’s fine dining venues. With my frequent flyer points I’m able to arrange for flights using my points. And yes, sometimes it is an extended trip (this time it’s Friday through to Sunday), but each person who chooses to stay pays the extra costs incurred beyond our celebration lunch. So the significant cost to me is the time out of the office for us all, and the loss of productivity. Do I recoup this investment in my team – absolutely. The cost to me is minor in terms of their whole-hearted commitment to our clients and to the business.

How do you assess business ROI for team building?

As with any business cost, outlays like this team building exercise should always be evaluated for their return on investment. When you evaluate time and dollars committed to your team there are factors you should consider in determining the ROI:

  1. longevity of employment
  2. effect on costs
  3. business returns.

A case example

In ours and in many knowledge and service based businesses we have significant costs in the following areas:

  • Initial orientation and ongoing training for new team members into our systems and processes and our working culture
  • Educating our team about our clients and their needs
  • Continuing education in our industry, legislation and technical skills
  • There is an additional workload (and cost) for senior managers who must commit more time reviewing work done by recently employed staff (regardless of their seniority) until a level of confidence is achieved in reliable performance levels.
  • Finally, we frequently have projects that need to be undertaken in tight time frames to meet specific deadlines. These sorts of demands are better achieved when you can rely on well-trained and dedicated team members who share your commitment to the business.

Applying all these factors we judge that the investment and cost of a day in Cairns is justified.  Will this always continue in the same form? Not necessarily.  We constantly monitor and improve where we can. But for the moment it works. It signals to all our team how important they are to us, the role they play and the reliance and trust we put in them. We have succeeded in attracting and retaining highly skilled and dedicated people and we experience remarkably low turnover, even amongst the younger team members.

Before you are tempted to think this is a one-off case – I am a Director in the services industry, ASX listed company Vesture, and there also we place a high value on team training and the returns it offers.

Developing your team building policies

Building a team and creating a good culture is both art and science.   It’s a mix of fostering relationships and team culture, developing good systems and processes, team training and performance mentoring. And all of this can and should be assessed for its return on investment for your business.

  • What are you doing to train your employees?
  • Do you have policies in place to actively recruit and train talent?
  • Do you have systems and procedures in place to ensure a smooth transition of team members both in and out of the business?

If not, then it’s something you should possibly consider and give us a call to discuss.

In closing this blog it’s appropriate to thank all of my team for the work effort and commitment they put in – we truly do appreciate it.



PS. I have just been informed that next year these two would like to go to Hawaii. Mmm … it comes down to the return on investment, and that might be a bit of a stretch from Cairns in one leap. Perhaps a couple of years down the line??