Friday, December 28, 2012

When Christmas is More "PC" than it is Merry

They seem to be annual these days. The two types of Christmas stories that strike fear and dread; the one about the Scrooge boss who gave staff a $10 Christmas gift voucher to a shop that closed down in September and the one about the humbug council that won't put up "Merry Christmas" banners for fear of offending some locals. The two stories invoke fear as well as derision; the fear of being vulnerable to unscrupulous bosses and the fear that the world as we know it is changing (and for the worse)!

 I've never said this in print before, but as well as being a very proud Australian, I'm Jewish. And quite traditional at that. That's right. I don't celebrate Christmas. However I get Christmas cards and I am sure some of them come from clients and friends who know that too. I see those cards as a warm gesture wishing me happiness, peace, good health and joy. Call me strange but I don't have a problem with being blessed with the aforementioned sentiments. I liberally wish shop owners Merry Christmas at this time of the year because if they do celebrate Christmas the greeting means something and if they don't, I trust they know I mean well.
 
I have no illusions that those who get distressed at the political correctness of outlawed banners, are necessarily devout Christians. The fear of minority-groups-taking-over may well transcend spiritual inclinations.

 I work extensively in the world of equal opportunity. I see organisations trying to balance sensitivity to the rights of minority groups with freedom of expression. They don't always get it right. They don't always make everyone happy, but I respect them for trying.

 We live in a pluralistic society. To me that means everyone living in this amazing country of ours should be free to practise their version of what matters. My only rider to that is they can't attempt to harm anyone else, foist their practices and beliefs on others or show contempt for the laws of our land.

Some of my ancestors had yellows stars pinned to their clothes, were forced to live in ghettos or more horrific than that, marched off to the gas chambers. I can cope with some Merry Christmas banners and I would hope non-Jewish people don't get offended  if anyone wishes them Happy Chanukah when buying Chanukah donuts. And for those of you who aren't convinced, have you been mortally offended by any "No smoking" signs lately... when perhaps you don't smoke?

Live, love and let live and Australia will be even luckier.

 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Uncomfortable Parallels and the Need for Courageous Leadership

In the 20 years I've consulted I have seen how people can condone, incentivise, deny, justify and enable bad behaviour from petty theft and time theft to racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Not all are first degree perpetrators. But those who stand by and do nothing because the person doing the crime makes the company lots of money, or because uprooting them will expose the company to scandal and consumer backlash, are guilty of the same warped thinking on a far lesser scale than those who thought they were protecting the Church by sending perpetrators off to hide in clinics or remote parishes.

Reading the weekend paper yesterday with its emerging testimony about horrific crimes committed against vulnerable children who don't have a voice, can't "resign", lodge a grievance or involve the union, I was struck by the uncomfortable parallels, not in magnitude of crime and breach of trust but in respect of cultures that allow bad things to happen to people and then go on to protect the perpetrators whilst selling out the targets and victims.

Only yesterday, a frustrated client told me how their organisation had taken the bully several people had complained about (several others had left in protest or in turmoil) and moved him to a regional Branch. Whilst the vulnerability of paid employees pales in comparison to the vulnerability of young children, both recipients of unwelcome attention can experience feelings of anger, shame or self-reproach, powerlessness and grief. The difference between the incompetence and cowardice of moving senior managers rather than investigating and sacking them and moving known perpetrators of sexual abuse to other schools when they should be reported to the police and charged, is a matter of degree.

Child abuse is the ultimate of all tragedies and travesties. Working on compassionate and effective ways to help victims heal is not mutually exclusive to working on developing culture so that employees also feel safe and can flourish. It would be inappropriate, even insulting to equate the two. But it is worth noting that human beings have a very limited repertoire of reactions when faced with threat. And no one, adult or child should ever have to feel cornered and unsafe. Our track record on both is poor. We can and must do better.

Friday, October 26, 2012

iClouding the Issues - Performance vs. Perception


I've always been a fast reader. I've never before sustained a back injury that meant I had to lie in bed for two consecutive days. I hope I won't again. But last weekend I took what advantage I could from the enforced rest and pain meds and read two biographies - Walter Isaacson’s tome about the late Steve Jobs and Christine Nixon's book "Fair Cop" which she co-wrote herself. Their personalities are starkly contrasted.

Jobs was most likely a narcissist (and this is referenced in the book). He could brook no criticism, routinely re-invented the truth, took credit for other people's ideas, mostly after rubbishing the idea first, screaming and berating those that proffered it, then coming back a week later with the same one. I don't like the way he favoured his son over his daughters. It's true he was also obsessed with quality, elegance of design and believed almost anything could be done, and he was usually right. No hurdle was too high or too wide in the pursuit of something artistic, simple, functional, beautiful and life-changing. Some of his colleagues and staff worked out that if they weathered each storm, it would pass without too much collateral damage. But this required a level of resilience that perhaps only people who were as passionate as he and prepared to work each day in the presence of genius and obsessive perfectionism, could do. Some have said similar things about working with James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar).

Nixon in contrast came to her calling early as a daughter of a high ranking policeman. She impresses as a woman who lives to her own deep principles; principles and beliefs which rarely fail her but in another world entirely to Palo Alto and Silicon Valley. Despite many attempts by those so opposed to her appointment and her philosophies to cast her in the stereotypical 'pink' role of too soft mother figure, she possesses her own inner confidence and determination. She weathered her own violent storms, most of which she never initiated. She is a model of compassion and resilience, no- nonsense and decisiveness even if she later thought a few of her decisions weren't her best. But she didn't scream and rant and rave, then sometimes cry to get her way as Jobs did.

I have walked into the Apple Stores on 5th Avenue and Soho and been overcome by the passion and the dynamism of customers and staff alike. Steve Jobs was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon. I love what he brought the world but not the way he went about it. I realise I admire him and respect his legacy; the strategic way he went about changing music, movies, books forever but I don't like him (and I rarely think that about anyone).

Nixon sits more comfortably with me because with her we can have our cake and eat it too. We can celebrate the successes she had in reducing crime, improving the way police handle domestic violence situations, reflect the community they serve in their greater diversity without having to justify or rationalise tyrannical rule.

I can't judge how well Craig Thomson performed his role as National Secretary of the HSU. That's not what anyone is talking about. He still insists he's done nothing wrong and I'm no hand writing expert (did he or didn't he sign receipts for escort services?) but that's starting to sound so Lance Armstrong! However Thomson is entitled to a fair trial. Sympathy for his union members and his wife doesn't make him innocent or guilty. He just can't help it if no-one wants to sit anywhere near him in parliament.

Many of those in the blogosphere who revered Lance Armstrong did not want to believe he'd done anything wrong. We can so easily get sucked into excusing ethical wrongdoing because we are blinded by charisma or wondrous achievements. My fervent wish is that anyone who has to work at the receiving end of behaviour most of us would deem unacceptable do so as a matter of choice and not because they have no other way to earn a living.

Does the end ever justify the means? Every part of me wants to say no. The manager that bullies to get the job done behaves unacceptably. The overzealous union delegate who throws the rule book away at EBA time is doing the same. Intent does not always equal impact. Life dictates that sometimes we will have to sit with the uncomfortable duality of admiring someone's lofty achievements without excusing the way they went about it. Our conscience must demand it.

In the troubleshooting work I do with organisations when people stuff blows up, often my best contribution as the 'cheeky outsider' is helping them see both performance and perception clearly in the light without being blinded by one or the other when making just and ethical decisions on next steps and consequences.

 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Balancing Worker Privacy with Worker Productivity


An article in yesterday's Age reported concerns that employers are becoming more intrusive in workers' medical assessments. One specific allegation was that some employers are insisting on accompanying workers on visits to doctors. This was held by the ACTU to be both a potential breach of privacy and unethical behaviour, particularly in light of reports that some employers have sought to have medical certificates and impairment determinations altered. If this is happening, it is most certainly disturbing and unacceptable. Having said that, the law of probability dictates that of thousands of employers with employees who regrettably suffer workplace injuries, there will be a few employers who take things too far.

What was predictably not raised by the ACTU was the reciprocal probability that a small number of employees will attend a consult with Doctor How Long Do You Want Off? and attempt to simultaneously maximise paid time away from work and minimise their contribution through exaggerated work restrictions once they return. If you think this is harsh I can assure you I have seen both the best and worst of employer and worker ethics in my 16 years of consulting. Some of these have formed the basis of case studies (de-identified of course) included in my book being launched in November.

Much contemporary research shows that those employees who have suffered a workplace or non-work related injury and return to work as soon as practicable in whatever capacity is helpful to the injured worker's recovery, both physical and mental. Employers are entrusted with the safety and welfare of their employees and employees are entitled to supportive and interested managers. The offer to drive the employee to the doctor, to take place in a round table discussion with the worker and the health practitioner about the injury, even the request to involve the company doctor can equally be framed as intrusive, mistrusting and intimidatory or inclusive, supportive and facilitative.

How such actions are perceived is largely a reflection of the trust, consistency, transparency and appreciation that operate in that workplace. That is more likely to shape a worker's perception that their manager is demonstrating care and would like to facilitate an easy and safe re-entry to the workplace as opposed to forming a view that their manager doubts the veracity of their condition and/or is keen to exploit them. Both parties are only human. Past experience, poor cultural norms around return to work, habitual time theft and low work ethic will make employers hyper vigilant to worker misrepresentation. Similarly, insensitive, nepotistic or demanding bosses will have a hard time convincing their staff they have workers' best interests at heart if they have not acted that way in the past. At the risk of sounding too biblical, we reap what we sow.

Monday, September 10, 2012

We Need Common Sense to be Common in our Industrial Courts


Two significant industrial cases have been decided in the past few weeks that should give employers heart and reassure workers that sanity can prevail in our IR jurisdictions.

The High Court ruled this week that Bendigo TAFE was not in breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) when it took decisive action against a union official by standing him down on full pay and suspending his internet access due to allegations of serious misconduct.

In the first instance a Federal Court judge was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the TAFE CEO stood down the complainant on the same justification as would have applied to any staff member who was not a union official. The complainant had reportedly used the company email system to allege that unnamed parties had engaged in potentially fraudulent action in respect of an upcoming audit. The CEO took issue with the fact that serious allegations were raised inappropriately with other staff and not with management. A claim of adverse action against the union official was dismissed. The complainant subsequently appealed to the Full Bench of the Federal Court which overturned the original decision.

There was clearly a huge implication of this decision for employers; namely that union officials, regardless of conduct could now become a protected species under the Act because of the provisions prohibiting adverse action against staff in representative roles or those engaging in lawful industrial activity. The TAFE was granted leave to take the decision to the High Court which has come out unanimously in support of the original decision. It is regrettable that companies must incur such substantial expenses to test these legislative provisions at law or be prepared to settle ahead of public hearings in FWA or court proceedings in the Federal or High Courts.

There are parallels between this case and a far older case I encountered early in my career as an EEO practitioner. That case involved a food manufacturer which dismissed a staff member with a psychiatric disability for aggressive and threatening conduct. The terminated staff member sought relief under unlawful termination legislation citing dismissal on a protected attribute. However in that instance, the tribunal was satisfied that the company would have taken the same action against any staff member who compromised the safety of other staff and that the illness, whilst unfortunate, was not a factor in the decision to terminate.

We know that quite unacceptably, staff still face discrimination in Australia on prohibited grounds of discrimination and we must continue to fight against unlawful disadvantage and harassment on protected attributes. However we must also set boundaries and educate staff to ensure safe and productive workplaces. The mere fact of a staff member belonging to any minority group should not afford them special protections if they disrupt safety or otherwise engage in misconduct.

In a second noteworthy case, an employer was found not to have unfairly dismissed a senior IT consultant who was found on the balance of probabilities to have attempted hacking into his manager's email account after being 'tipped off' that the manager was investigating him for inappropriate behaviour. In this interesting case, the IT consultant had allegedly been a party to a very unsavoury conversation instigated by another staff member about a female colleague and a male senior manager. The complainant had clearly been given the tools of trade and would normally have had clearance to execute highly sensitive tasks in the normal course of his work day. It was acknowledged he had not instigated the conversation but because he had not opposed it and had responded 'lol' (a sms acronym for 'laugh out loud') this was tantamount to inexcusable involvement. In a very thorough decision, the Commissioner ruled the complainant had 'probably' hacked into his manager's email to see what the manager had accumulated 'on him' as evidence. The common sense message?

If it follows, as I have heard argued on occasion, that we give people tools of trade at work so have no right to restrict the tools' use, what happens at a butcher shop when employees are given very sharp knives to meet the inherent requirements of the job? Does that confer an automatic 007 Licence to Stab!?


In our civilised democratic country, no employer should have an indiscriminate right to terminate staff on irrelevant characteristics or should a 'punishment' be disproportionate to 'the crime'. No employee, including one in a legitimate representative role should use their position to abuse the power and privilege of their office. No skilled IT person should have unfettered access to anything and everything they have the expertise to explore. In each of these cases, it's the context that determines any wrongdoing, not the job description.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong - villain or victimised victor?

The breaking news is that Lance Armstrong has elected not to appeal a decision by the US Anti-Doping Agency that found him guilty of allegations of improper use of performance enhancing drugs. Late yesterday, he  was effectively stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles. 

It's sad but true that the higher the stakes we play for (and/or the more competitive we are), the more likely some are to resort to unethical or corrupt behaviour. To their minds, quite frankly, the end justifies the means. Call it a witch hunt by USADA (sadly, you can expect them to get some death threats), but if former team members’ testimony was credible and served to substantiate the allegations, Armstrong doesn’t deserve the acclamation he may have earned via unfair advantage. Does it tarnish the sport? Most definitely. Do I think we should be trying to get sport clean - absolutely. Does deciding to let it go now make him look guilty? Probably to many. He would know how his decision not to appeal would look to (most) others.  Is it also possible he's just decided as a cancer survivor that for the sake of his health and his family, he needs to let it go?
I have followed this story from the get go and I still don’t know that he cheated. And for the Lance fans out there, whether he did or didn’t, doesn't take away from his extraordinary giftedness and his discipline and courage over so many years. But if he did, it does take away from the majesty of his victories. We get the behaviour we are prepared to put up with. We get the culture at work or in a sporting code we deserve.
So it might be a “silly cycling race”, but living in the long tail of the GFC, how do we feel when we learn someone cooked the books, misappropriated money, manipulated and drove others to bankruptcy out of greed, used political leverage for personal gain or otherwise won by cheating? They are variations on the same theme. I’d rather we rewarded true worthiness, not slick wily-ness.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Getting our Priorities Right

The post mortems have begun. One paper calculated the investment cost per gold medal. Another ranked us on gold medals per capita. Another ranked on medals of any colour relative to previous Olympics decrying our torrid decline since Sydney 2000.
I love my sport. My Twitter handle includes the phrase "sport fanatic". I am the best athlete never to play the game, any game, at international level or otherwise (unless recreational jogging and moaning followed by intensive bouts of physio are added to the Rio Olympic program).
As an organisational psychologist and change consultant I woud like to think I was up with the latest on mindset and positive psychology. And I do agree that sporting success on the world stage is good for our national mood and can bring people together. So does a good sporting meet and building nice stadia. One year ago London was rioting, now London is rightfully proud and bonded in its success. Then again they have royalty so they are quite good at putting on a show.
However could I beg the Aussie powers that be, those who hold sway over our future spending on elite sport in this country not to be seduced too readily by the cries to ramp up spending on sport (unless it's grass roots and contributes positively to our fight against obesity and racial intolerance).
If we want to get collectively proud, how about spending on a more humane way of dealing with refugees and a more effective way dealing with people smugglers? Can we determine empirically the most efficacious ways to combat drug and alcohol abuse as they are so heavily implicated in crime and domestic violence respectively. Can we operate on public hospital patients quicker? Can we pay our good teachers more? Can we have the best equity outcomes on race, religion, gender of any country on earth and can we improve the human condition for our aboriginal population whose infant mortality rates and average life expectancy are still staggeringly inequitable and unconscionable.
There will never be enough money to do all those things superbly. But could I implore all of us to define success and national pride more broadly than the opportunity to stand in front of our television sets singing the national anthem at a medal ceremony even if we are celebrating excellence at the same time. This is not the only phenomenon with the capacity to give us goosebumps. This is not the only way for us to feel like proud Australians. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Positioning for Success

I was asked to present last night to a professional body on establishing and building a practice or workplace profile (presumably a good one!). It was great to have the opportunity to reflect and distil those things that I think contribute to success in our respective fields.

It occurred to me, especially in the wake of a few presentations lately for Women in Leadership and Career Coaching networks (for both genders) that all of those points have broad applicability. In brief the critical elements as I see them whether you run your practice or are an employee in someone else's organisation are the following:

1) BE GREAT. Do your 10,000 hours (a la Malcolm Gladwell) so that each time you make a contribution you make a difference. Be a restless learner. Invest heavily in your own professional development and don't make excuses because you are "too busy" (or fearful or complacent).

2) BE MEMORABLE. What is your signature look/style/beliefs/driving passions? Are you prepared to have an opinion or do you sit on the fence so as not to offend anyone? The risk is being bland or worse, irrelevant. What makes you special? Do you have a signature story or slogan that goes some way towards defining you or what you do?

3) BE ACCESSIBLE. People have to know how to find you for you to make a difference. An obscure business name that seemed like a good idea at the time may not serve you. Be responsive when people need you without promising what you can't deliver. Make it easy for people to do business with you but always exercise your right to be treated with respect.

4) BE GENEROUS. Work on an abundance mentality. Do things without expecting anything in return. Show clients you care more about their needs and outcomes than your own (without putting up with disrespectful behaviour, see above). Know when you want to do special things for free but don't devalue your contribution, particularly if it leads to resentment. Not fair to the other party and not commercially astute.

5) BE VISIBLE. Do you have an elevator pitch? Can you tell people in a sentence or two what you do that makes a difference to others?  Are you stuck on the tasks and functions you perform without understanding or communicating the answers to "Why?" or "So what?". I don't believe in networking by scattering business cards like confetti. I love the chance to meet interesting people and have deep, genuine and stimulating mutual exchange. These tend to be the business relationships that endure. Do you nominate for high profile committees or working parties or worry you'll be given too much to do? Are you prepared to hang with bright, positive or successful people at the risk of feeling intimidated? Can you demonstrate self-belief without arrogance? Can you talk articulately when asked about your signature strengths?

6) BE BOLD. If people love your work, you may want to politely ask for referrals. Ask for the chance to do the work you'd like to do. Clients and bosses may think the world of you but not know how versatile you are. Remember Ken James found it very hard to get other TV roles after many years starring in "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo". Stereotyping and pigeonholing is human nature and business shorthand and we all do it. Many employees (and women more than men) will hide their light under a bushel and hope that someone spots them and opens doors. Expressing confidence in your ability and enthusiasm to take something on is almost always respected. Just know that the other party always has the right to decline your kind offer of assistance.

Let me know if there are some new things you're prepared to try. Enjoy the journey!

Friday, July 20, 2012

No I in T.E.A.M.

Watching Le Tour late last night I was staggered by the willingness of Chris Froome, one of the Sky team members and current race leader Bradley Wiggins' team mate, to forfeit a certain opportunity to win Stage 17. For those of us who aren't Tour de France experts, Froome would, according to the 'voice of cycling' commentator Phil Liggett, have certainly caught Alejandro Valverde from Spain who ultimately went on to win that stage but for Froome's disciplined and slavish desire to stick with the team rules and protect and assist his team captain Wiggins.
Wiggins seems destined to ride into Paris on Sunday as the race winner barring contracting Cadel's parasite bug or being run over by a media car (which has happened before). This is in no small part due to the extraordinary performance of the Sky team in protecting him from misadventure through the various stages, setting pace and allowing him to ride in their slipstreams and conserve energy until needed (you've just witnessed the extent of my knowledge about team cycling).  
Call me simple but I tend to draw inspiration about what works well and what doesn't by looking at teams that are spectacularly successful and asking what might account for it. Time after time commentators interview the player of the match after the event or match and ask them about their performance. Invariably these superstars talk about the outstanding performance of the rest of the team, the quality bowling or passing or riding (depending on the sport), the inspirational efforts of the young contributors, and basically everything other than themselves. This is not false modesty but the blinding reality of their understanding that they can't and don't do it alone.
That is not to say these high achievers aren't suitably high on self-belief but they don't allow themselves to believe they are bigger than the team. There may still be reverence, not jealousy for the superstar player who turns up to training first, leaves last and delivers week after week. If others compete with them it is to emulate them, not to beat them.
But where arrogance meets lack of discipline and an accompanying decline in performance, retribution is often swift and brutal. Just ask Jason Ackermanis or should I say Jason Who?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Narky or nirvana -your choice!

It's no secret I love my sport and while there's lots more productive to do than watch the idiot box, in a week with Wimbledon, le Tour de France and my beloved footy, life's pretty good.
So there I was last night kicking back late to watch the tennis. Remote control in hand, browsing through the stations, I found Footy Classified. Each of the commentators are officionados of the game and while Caro Wilson can't claim to have played AFL at the highest level, I happen to know she has been around footy since she was a little girl and dad would leave her in the back seat of the car while he coached then drank with his charges.
However the more I watched Caro, Thommo and Garry Lyon, the more I was overwhelmed by the narkiness; the point scoring, the sarcasm, the competitive behaviour, even the ridicule. Verbal punches being exchanged with a dash of doom prophecy about the future of one of the high profile AFL coaches and it went on and on.
This morning this intrepid blogger came down the Peninsula for the day. Everyone smiled as they walked past. The barista greeted me warmly. And it got me thinking about the psychological phenomenon we call "mood contagion".
The narky shows rate well. The media asks us to feed off people's misery and we show up in big numbers. The kitten rescued at the end of the 630 news doesn't compensate for 28 minutes of global terror, corruption and disingenuous politics. For many people the negativity is what we want, but is it what we need?
We choose our attitude but maybe we need to be more selective about the inputs (external stimuli) to help manage our outputs- the ability to show kindness, to temper our anger, to find the capacity to forgive, to practise gratitude and importantly at work, heighten our ability to respond rather than react.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Generations or Generalisations?

I'd like to think I know something about so-called Gen Y's. I have four of them at home. I'd like to think I know something about Baby Boomers. Many of my clients are boomers. As for me, I like to think of myself as a Gen X trapped in a baby boomer body but that's for another time.
We constantly hear stories about Y's as flight risks. I do a lot of work with graduate groups and they visibly bristle when someone tries to label them. They didn't know each other until they came to their employer organisation. They were hired as unique, bright, educated and enthusiastic individuals. To lump them in together is to sell them short.

Yes it's true. Many of them are quite confident. They want flexibility, respect, autonomy and meaning in their work. So I ask, how different is that from what anyone else wants at work?

Dan Pink in his fabulous new book Drive explodes the myths of the carrot and stick. He provides countless examples of situations in which employers throw money at employees who leave anyway. The carrot and the stick may have worked in the olden days when people were paid to do structured and sequential tasks. But most people in workplaces these days do heuristic (innovative, non-sequential) tasks and the joy lies in the freedom and mastery, not the bonus. If anything, some of the most corrupt book-cooking behaviour we can see in workplaces comes from the compulsion to manipulate results in order to qualify for the aforementioned bonuses.

So this is where I return again to the stereotype of the generations. In HR Monthly, Willem Pruys, the HR GM of Bunnings talks about the success they've had employing older experienced staff and valuing them, respecting them, giving them flexibility and trying to cater to the needs of the individual. Isn't that the dream job of the Gen Y too until they decide they want to travel to Vietnam to teach English for a while. As long as we juggle their absence with the roster so that the grey nomads can do a longish haul in the campervan to Coober Pedy and back, we should have enough staff to get the work done.

Let's not focus on what separates the generations. Let's provide all of our employees with what Dan Pink calls the necessary three motivators: autonomy, meaning in the job and organisational purpose. I've seen the vibe in the funky Apple store in Soho and I've seen it at Bunnings in the carpentry section. Let's love and liberate, not label our people and see them flourish alongside each other for as long as each of them decides to stay.

Do you believe you see distinct differences in the generations? Are the labels a help or a hindrance?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Etiquette and Style Classes for Raunchy Work Dress Code - Oh Puh-Lease!!


I read an article by Sarah Whyte in The Age today regarding dress code for working women and how some of the high profile accounting and legal firms are running courses on dress style and etiquette for some of their (mostly young) staff. It would appear the employers are quite dismayed at some of the daily fashion choices being worn to work.

As a consultant who has worked in Equal Opportunity for 16 years, I was bemused to learn concerns have been raised about potential "unlawful discrimination" in asking women to dress more corporately at work. The issue to me is not the “casualisation” of the workforce but the lack of modesty and professionalism reflected in dress style for some women of any age. I don’t care if the culprits are Gen X, Y or octogenarians. The professional firm feeling compelled to spend money on style classes is pandering to employees in the same way as those parents so desperate to be their kids’ friends, never say “No” for fear of incurring any disapproval. By this rationale, the antidote to sashaying hips in fishnets and stilettos at work would be deportment classes.

We can all dress individually. I know I do. And we don’t have to be on big salaries to do it either. One or two suits if necessary with several alternating blouses that don't expose d├ęcolletage are fine. But whether or not we have a body good enough to flaunt should not be an excuse to do so within the confines of a professional services firm. If women or men dress inappropriately, leading to other women or men being embarrassed by their ‘sexual’ attire, that is sexual harassment. What the firms should be providing is EEO briefings, not style and etiquette classes. And ironically, the sex discrimination act administers sexual harassment law so any worry about possible "discrimination" by enforcing a professional dress code should give way to real concern that those sexually harassing peers, bosses and clients by the way they dress at work are definitely in breach of sex discrimination law.

Some women still have to fight hard to be taken seriously every day. And they have always deserved to be. Let’s not give men a pretext not to. And any employer has the right to ask their people to dress in keeping with a professional workplace. My rule of thumb? Anything that would ever be worn to a night club is definitely out of bounds. Oh, except a watch!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seriously Negative Energy at EnergyWatch

We have probably all seen or heard about the unfortunate rants by Ben Polis, disgraced (now former) CEO of EnergyWatch who’s confessed racist vitriol on Facebook cost his company its sponsorship deals with Melbourne Football Club and Melbourne Victory. Interesting about this scandal connected with sport is that the sponsor created the furore, not the footy club and it was the club forced to cut ties for fear of being vicariously besmirched. It has always happened the other way round until now... which brings me to my point.
There are just some critical incidents for which there are no precedents. We remember Steve Bradbury's Gold Medal, not because he came first, but because he was the last one left upright when he crossed the line. There was no precedent for the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in terms of its cataclysmic impact, the poisoning of headache tablets and subsequent deaths of seven consumers in the tragic 1982 Tylenol case and the Wayne Carey/Kelly Stevens saga that severely disrupted North Melbourne's season to say nothing of the psychological devastation for some of its players and the strain on team relationships.

Companies cannot be prepared for every watershed, take your breath away trend breaking contingency. We are operating in a new paradigm; one in which every suburban blogger is a published author, everyone with a Twitter account is a social commentator, everyone with a YouTube channel is a would-be celebrity and every smart phone owner a primetime producer of current affairs and captor of breaking news.

Therefore the only way companies can prepare is to do the following in preparation for any potential media scandal:

  • Ensure staff understand the critical importance of preserving the company's digital reputation
  • Respond rather than react to negative publicity
  • Embrace social media and control the message as best you can
  • Use skilled PR and communications staff as trusted advisers but own your own decisions
  • Always put the safety of staff and customers first - no exceptions
  • Ensure you have diverse, balanced representation around the board table in determining early primary and secondary strategy
  • Don't give undue control or sway to major clients or sponsors as they may be of the belief that any publicity is good publicity for them
  • Act bravely and decisively to 'cut the tangled parachute' of wrongdoers as long as you are sure they have done the wrong thing and that you accord them procedural fairness. Don't ever offer up a scapegoat. Any punishment must fit the crime
  • Swift decisive clear consistent messages including acknowledgement of wrongdoing delivered authentically is the best and most ethical way to make it go away
  • Watch the blogosphere and gauge the mood of members, shareholders, supporters and clients but don’t be overly swayed; their moral compass may just be magnetised by a conflict of interests. You must always do what's morally sound even if the members want you to keep playing the star player who fraternises with criminals or otherwise brings the 'club' or the 'firm' into disrepute. Even if they are willing to sell out on ethics in the short term, it's a false win and will always come back to haunt you because of the message it sends and its impact on company culture
  • ....oh, and try to do the right thing every time!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

There must be a collective conscience about Kony

Unless you've been marooned on a desert island you will have heard about the extraordinary documentary made by the film maker Jason Russell and the Invisible Children movement about the ruthless warlord Joseph Kony in Uganda. In a half hour documentary on YouTube, Kony is accused of capturing and brainwashing thousands of child soldiers, many of whom have then reportedly mutilated other children or returned home to murder members of their own families.
The explicit aim of the documentary and endorsement by several A-list celebrities is designed to put political pressure on world leaders to act on something they have purportedly known about for a long time but did nothing about. It is not the first time western leaders have been accused of valuing the lives of their own well above others living far away.

However a second disturbing element of this story emerging in the wake of the first is the aspersions now being cast on those dedicated to the capture of Kony and what they are doing with donations they have received by those keen to help. Firstly it is worth noting that the rumour they are misappropriating monies that should otherwise be spent on the cause, is ironically itself only a rumour spawned in the same social media the documentary makers themselves are attempting to exploit. However they are not a registered charity, they have dedicated 10 years of their lives to pursuing this man and profiling his horrific deeds. What is the opportunity cost for them in having spent a decade trying to bring this despot down? What good will a couple of million dollars do and haven't they done more than any government to date? How else do they fund the manufacture of their action kits, banners and badges? They have been explicit in stating their primary aim is to highlight the plight of Ugandan boy child soldiers and girl sex slaves and bring Kony into captivity. Are they not acting in a way consistent with that? For the money rumour to gain traction is to detract and distract from the significance of what the documentary makes are trying to achieve and means we play into the hands of the evil perpetrator.

Some world aid charities themselves are borderline exploiters of grief and dislocation in a bid to shock donors out of their compassion fatigue and habituation to human suffering. Linda Polman, a War correspondent in Sierra Leone and Liberia for many years chronicles this phenomenon in her book War Games. Only this week we heard the account of a journalist who paid to attend a Fundraising Conference here in Australia and was dismayed at the lengths charities are being encouraged to go to compete for our hard earned donation dollar in a world where government aid allocations cannot be assumed. Why if Russell has such a horrific, dramatic and emotional story to tell should he not use drama and emotion to do so?

I hold World Vision to account in ensuring our monthly payment assists our young Arcidio in Mozambique to live a better life. I hold the Kony 2012 documentary makers who have opened our eyes and have brought pressure to bear on western governments to expedite the capture of the evil Joseph Kony, accountable for nothing. Invisible Children deserves our admiration and tangible support, not our cynicism nor our self-righteous deflections. The world of social media means we live in extraordinary times. Surely its biggest gift for all its downsides is its power to inform, bring people together in the spirit of a common cause and call us to action. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Losing the plot by victimising the victim

Very serious allegations against a Flight Centre Store Manager in today's Age. The manager is alleged to have engaged in "relentless" mistreatment of an employee and then reportedly victimised the top performing assistant manager for 'calling' such behaviour. Executive teams and HR Departments never look for such situations to deal with but deal with them emphatically they must.
A tragedy for all concerned if the allegations are true and the case potentially provides impetus for tougher victimisation laws that underscore the immorality and the folly of bullying staff and giving in to the instinct to "shoot the messenger"?

How many staff members will be motivated to stand up to inappropriate behaviour if they experience a backlash for speaking up? This is why the victimisation clause is enshrined in the legislation and why management must ensure that any unwelcome and offensive behaviour that gives rise to a  complaint, be stopped and further, that the complainant and anyone giving reasonable and courageous support to them must not become the targets of further hostile attention.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Slamming Tennis Prize Money and other EEO Matters

I admit it. I'm ambivalent. In the wake of a history-making men's final of the Australian Open the debate over prize money predictably reared its head again yesterday in the media. The breakdown in the Herald Sun of how much the women's and men's winner won for each minute on court was absurd when you consider that each respectively was paid for outcomes, not face time. As a change consultant and psychologist, I charge my time. I don't ask for bonuses for exceptional outcomes because that success is contingent upon so many variables.

It's not Victoria Azarenka's fault she outplayed a former No. 1 to such a degree she won in two sets and to love in the second. Was I disappointed it finished early? No! I couldn’t stand the noise coming from Shriekarova. But for those who paid a lot to attend the match, you'd have to ask them if they got their money's worth. Isn't it about quality, not quantity, you say?

This is where I'm ambivalent. The International Labour organisation signed a convention in 1951 about equal pay for work of equal value. If there is a legitimate argument for women in tennis receiving less prize money (disgracefully women in Australia earn approx. 86 cents in the dollar to every man for the same job) it should only be because they play the best of three sets, not five. It would not be just or legal to pay women less at work because they can't lift as much as a male factory worker. But for elite athletes, there should not be any question about stamina and the ability to go five sets. How well they fare on the day becomes a factor and adds to the theatre of the game as it did for Nadal and Djotkovic who were both near collapse at various stages of the match.

The fact is the women don't seem to want five sets (and where's the incentive if they get the same $ anyway) and the event promoters and broadcasters don't want it because the reality is women's tennis doesn't rate as well, hence the reason why tickets to the men's final are much more expensive.

I can understand what a vexed issue it is in 2012, how ugly the differential would look on paper. I champion equal rights at work every day. But equal pay for work of equal value is a worthy principle and fundamental to human rights. The requirement to play best of five in a Grand Slam puts men and women on a truly equal footing and gives supreme women athletes the respect they deserve for being able to do the job they're paid to do. I understand the economic connection between ratings, ticket sales and revenue, but ratings should not dictate the prize money (ask Karrie Webb) and if women are already getting the money, let them pull their weight, not for face time as that's unpredictable, but for effort.

When equal prize money was first granted, Serena Williams said it was a victory for women all over the world. I don't think the women in Kazakhstan being paid 65 cents in the male dollar would celebrate Serena's extra half a million, even more so if she spent 48 minutes on court getting it.