Category Archives: Employee Engagement

Remote Engagement Showcase

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I’m very excited to partner with TeamUpEventsNZ to launch the Remote Engagement Showcase on the 21st of May (10:30am NZ-time). Discussing the unique challenges of managing a remote workforce and how to best navigate and adapt to the new norm of remote working environments, this is one virtual event you will not want to miss! For more information or to register:

https://teamupevents.co.nz/2020/04/remote-engagement-showcase/

virtualevent register showcase teamupevents engagement remotework remoteteams

How’s your energy after online meetings?

asleep at computer

Do you feel more tired after an online meeting than after meetings in real life? Why? And, what can you practically do about it?

There are plenty of posts with advice about the tech or techniques of running online meetings. In this post, I want to focus on ENERGY. (You remember that, right?)

Why are online meetings more tiring, particularly more mentally exhausting?

  1. NOVELTY: It’s new for most. Brains put their foot on the gas for novelty. In our cave-dwelling times, new things could eat us or be eaten by us.
  2. VARIATION: The apps and set-ups are different. What worked last time mightn’t this time. Brains are attuned to this risk even if it works fine.
  3. DISTRACTION: People’s virtual backgrounds might add value. Many do not and are, at best, a toy. A participant with no ears or pixelated hair diminishes their message and makes listeners’ brains do more heavy lifting. There are also other distractions from other work-from-home lockdown participants like partners, kids, pets, chores.
  4. SENSORY FEEDBACK VACUUM: Again from our cave-dwelling days, brains are always assessing the people with whom we interact – words, tone of voice, body language. Even in HD, the virtual meeting rooms leave out many of those signals or mess them up with noise. Nevertheless, they are an essential service for our brains and brains will actively seek them out. When they’re not there, that activity gets more frantic & consumes more energy.
  5. FACTUAL FEEDBACK DISCONNECT: Time is limited, others are tired too. Brains strongly dislike incomplete information loops. The Zeigarnik Effect notes that these incomplete loops help our task memory as it compels us not to leave things unfinished but if they cannot be finished because the meeting ended, the brain keeps on looping on repeat.

This energy problem has an ENERGY solution:

E – Eat snacks that support a balanced GI level throughout the day. You already know this. Google for ideas (maybe during a boring online meeting?)

N – Normalise check-ins. Allow people to express their distractions in advance, not apologetically but matter-of-factly. Most of us are in the same boat.

E – Enquire about people’s feelings about the facts. Google DeBono’s 6 thinking hats as a technique (maybe during a boring online meeting?) Connection and reconnection are vital and don’t have to eat up a lot of time if done in a structured and managed way.

R – Relax. I know telling someone to relax is the 180 opposite of getting someone to relax, even with yourself, so forget the telling and do the DOING. Be aware of yourself becoming overly tense and DO some stretching and breathing techniques you’ve googled during a previous boring online meeting.

G – Get used to the tech varieties. Set up practices with friends and colleagues. Plug n play n practise.

Y – You have to take responsibility for closing your own loops. Keep a note of your questions / concerns and speak up if they’re not addressed.

Post-lockdown and even post-pandemic, online meetings will have a new emphasis in our business dealings and relationship support. Now’s the time to work on this while people are mostly in the same boat and still pretty forgiving. That largesse will diminish in the months ahead and you don’t want to be left behind. There is not yet an app that allows you to plug yourself into a charger like you plug in your phone but I bet you check your phone’s energy level and address that before it runs out. Treat yourself with at least as much respect as you treat your phone.

Do You Care What Your Doctor Wears?

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Does what you wear and how you look impact your customer’s perception of your credibility? (Spoiler: It shouldn’t but it does). Do you care what your doctor wears? I asked this question on LinkedIn yesterday. A bunch of folks said, “No, I don’t care as long as they’re competent, they get me better, and they actually display some compassion, then I don’t care what they wear”.

I believe those people believe what they’re saying and it makes sense. That sounds like the sort of thing we think we should say.
A study out of the University of Michigan found that you can say what you like but our perception of our medical providers is actually impacted by what they wear. I should probably stress at this point that I’m talking about normal times obviously. Right now during a pandemic we are very keen for them to be fully kitted out in PPE – the gowns, the masks, that gloves, the whole shebang. But, in general terms, just bowling along to your local GP or medical center, does it matter if they show up wearing a suit and tie, white coat stethoscope around the neck, the sort of things we might expect if we asked a child to draw a doctor.
Well, the research found that it does depend. Older folk we’re actually more concerned that their doctors should look like that they expect them to look – the full kit, whereas younger people not so much. These are sweeping generalizations. It depends on a bunch of factors. It also matters. Regardless of what my LinkedIn folks said they thought they thought, much of our actual behaviour is driven by unconscious bias. People who perceived their advisors as more credible were much more likely to follow their advice or do their homework. Which, with doctors is massively important. Try googling to see what percentage of post-op patients actually follow their meds, behaviour-change advice, etc. It’s horrifyingly low.
I was working with some medical folks the other day and they were wondering about this topic of appearance credibility because this is a debate they have going on.
My responses:
  • build a relationship with your clients,
  • ask them mix it up and see what works
  • you’ve got multiple people dress them in multiple ways see which gets the best responses in terms of your customer satisfaction surveys or general feedback
So, don’t let one-size-fits-all and this is true of not only what you wear but how you act.

20/20 Foresight

AT40

As a kid, I had a hobby following pop music charts. Being young, broke and in pre-internet New Zealand, it was hard yards tracking down sources like magazines, newsletters, and radio shows. One weekly highlight for me across crackly radio stations from towns nowhere near my own was Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. It was common practice in those days in New Zealand to marvel at the pop culture in the US and UK from many miles away and seemingly a couple of years behind. FM radio here was yet to exist and outside of the big towns, you were as likely on radio to hear a buy, sell and exchange community noticeboard as you were a new wave song. I did not live in a big town.

Music is inherently subjective. What is good or bad? That wasn’t why I listened. I listened for the numbers, the trends, to be connected to what I thought was going on where things went on, because nothing was going on where I was. If there was a coming of age movie based on my life, the soundtrack would focus in on 1979 to 1985.

In 2019, thanks to the internet, I discovered some FaceBook groups of people who were WAAAAY more into the show than I was and it’s entertaining for me now to check in on the mega-train-spotting types who have memorised every Hot 100 song every week for decades and can spout it all from memory via cryptic quizzes (and they do). I guess all hobby groups have their zealots.

There are all sorts of background politics about the show and its broadcast, ownership, formatting, programming, etc. It seems the halcyon days were 1970 to 1988. Many of those shows are now re-broadcast on nostalgia radio stations around the world and there is at least one IHEARTRADIO station that plays on shuffle random shows from that period all day every day. If I’m running or gymming or working on my property, my ears will be plugged into either podcasts,  or that station. Partly it’s nostalgia for my coming of age flashbacks for my own time of 1979 to 1985. Increasingly, it’s a curiosity for the 1970-1978 period where I’m aware of many classic hits from that period but they’re not the soundtrack of my life. I’m logically aware of peak BeeGees or early Bowie but it’s academic to me not personal.

This post is about revisiting contemporaneous expression. I know the Vietnam War and Watergate happened but I wasn’t there nor was I old enough to be fully engaged in the news about those events. I find it fascinating to listen to a top 40 show where Casey introduces a new song from a new act – for example, Elton John. In that moment in 1970, Elton is just some new act, no more or less than the one-hit-wonder one notch higher on that chart. Because I know what happens, re-listening makes it a different experience with a form of dramatic irony. Conversely, Casey had a habit of telling motivational stories about new artists with a promising future who just quit their day job once their first hit made the chart. I know they never have another hit. 😦

Outside of pop charts, news, and history, it’s useful for us to revisit our own past contemporaneous expression and that of people we let influence us. Every expert who genuinely predicted something in a blog post two years ago will point that out and cite the reference. What they won’t point out are the dozens of predictions they made that were simply nonsense. So, many countries, cities, and companies made decisions based on business-case studies and cost-benefit analyses. Who goes back and re-visits the prognostications in those for accuracy?

Quite apart from any specific lessons I learn from looking back on my mistakes from the past or my public declarations that didn’t pass the passage of time, I hope it reminds me to hold my breath, count to ten and think seriously whether what I’m about to say is worth saying. Our right to have an opinion is critical. The value of our specific opinion is far less so.

Vaccinate Yourself Against Uncertainty, Change & Risk: How to work out your ‘change muscles’​, get ‘change-fit’​, & develop ‘rebellious resilience’​.

How ready were you? How ready were the people you lead? How ready were the people you love?

Everyone (and by ‘everyone’, I mean ‘everyone’) has been thrust into a chaotic, scary and unpredictable state by the actual pandemic, the threat of the pandemic, the economic impact of the pandemic, and the uncertainty and tougher times ahead phasing out of the pandemic. Some say, “Unprecedented”. Some say, “No one could have predicted this”. Neither you nor I are in charge of leading the globe or society but we do each have responsibility for bits of it: yourself, the people you lead, and the people you love.

It would have been perceived as Chicken Little sky-is-falling quackery for you, even two months ago, to have started a team meeting or family dinner with, “So, what are we all doing to prepare for the global zombie apocalypse”? I certainly wasn’t. But, two months ago or two years ago, it would have been prudent and reasonable to prepare for something. Not something unfathomable like what is happening now internationally but something on the individual or local level. Something that occurs that will thrust us into change, uncertainty, risk, etc. Something we didn’t choose but something that just happens. These somethings occurred all the time and will continue to do now, job loss, heart attack, relationship breakdown or breakup. So many people right now are being forced to adapt and there will be varying degrees of success. They would be better prepared now had they proactively practised dealing with change, risk, and uncertainty on their own terms and timetable.

Uncertainty is a metaphorical virus and the future will continue to present us with additional uncertainties, changes and risks. The best we humans have to combat viruses is vaccines and the vaccine mindset is the way to innoculate yourself against future change, risk and uncertainty. Deliberately exposing yourself to small-scale uncertain situations of your choosing develops your ability, if you do it wisely, to cope with future situations that are not small and are not of your choosing. We need to test ourselves so we’re ready when life tests us later. This isn’t about leaping out of planes or climbing mountains. It’s about getting one foot out of your comfort zone, keeping one inside your comfort zone, so it’s scary but not terrifying. You get minor exposure but keep your logical brain working so you can actually learn from the experience. Repeat. You’ll notice that that comfort zone is a little bigger now.

This needs to be a lifelong habit of continual micro-challenge and personal continuous improvement. I appreciate that, right now, we don’t have a time machine and you can’t go back two years and start this habit of deliberate practice of uncertainty inoculation in anticipation of the current crisis. Nope, but you can look ahead and start now. It’s that old saying, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the 2nd best time is right now.

I first delivered my presentation ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ in February 2018. Since then and up to COVID19, I’d delivered it dozens of times to thousands of people. The message, and my mission, was to encourage and upskill ordinary people, teams, and families to prepare for the inevitable tests that life would throw at them. It was extremely encouraging to have people contact me to say how’d they done their ‘dangerous’ things and broadened their ability to handle change, risk and uncertainty. That presentation became a book and I want to give away the highlights of that to you in the rest of this article. The book is free until the end of NZ lockdown at www.terrywilliamsbooks.com

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Let’s start by addressing the consequences of not starting early in dealing with your change and uncertainty skills. I call this ‘Behavioral Physics’. There’s a law in literal physics: Newton’s 3rd law of motion – an object in motion will continue as it is unless affected by an outside force (like gravity). People are a bit like that rock floating through space. Many of us will simply continue to behave as we always have until we’re slapped in the face by a major life event beyond our control – that job loss, heart attack, relationship breakdown, etc. Let’s represent the consequences of that in visual metaphor:

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The smart thing to do once we’re aware of what’s happening is to take charge of change and initiate it on our terms and timetable. That requires a small amount of energy with a small amount of drama, and results in no damage. A ‘nudge’, if you like.

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But, most people wait and wait and only act when they’re forced to. A lot of energy is required, much drama is generated, and there is damage if not an irreparable catastrophe.

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Nudges don’t work if you wait. The secret ingredients that magnifies the effectiveness of little nudges are time and repetition. We might call this practice. (Believe me, if LinkedIn articles supported animated images, I would have the above graphic include an explosion..)

You’ve probably completed many personality profiling tools or behavioral assessments over your life and career. They’re neat and, if used wisely, can open up your self-awareness and a pathway to better skills, relationships, and results. I have some critiques of how they’re sometimes applied but my key takeaway from the concept is that people are different. One way in which they’re different is how keen they are to throw themselves out of planes. In my presentation, I direct participants to an online survey at amIdangerous dot com. Here, after 30 quick questions, you get a score indicating where you likely lie on the sensation seeking scale and what I refer to as the ‘Change Evolution Path’. I use physical fitness as an analogy. At the lower end, we have ‘change sloths’. At the upper end, we have the ‘change-fit’.

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Obviously, it’s over-simplified but it’s a simple way to capture and simply communicate that:

a). people have different natural predispositions when it comes to feelings and actions around risk, change, and uncertainty, and

b). it’s not like height. We can choose to do something about it.

My advice for change sloths is to find or create low-risk, low-consequence opportunities to practice being uncertain and uncomfortable. For change sloths, that bar is pretty low. It might be going to a different supermarket, or initiating a conversation with a stranger while queueing for coffee, or driving a different route to work. It will feel weird, awkward and unnatural but, with practice, it gets easier and better. But, like working out at a gym, people give up because the hard work is definite and right now whereas the beneficial outcomes are not guaranteed and in the future.

So to bridge the gap between change strain and regular change workouts, I developed a model called ‘Danger DNA’ – 8 things you can do to promote the success and habitualisation of your proactive practice of deliberately exposing yourself to the non-routine and unexpected.

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Create dissonance – On a single page, create two columns. In the left column, write down how things are for you right now with your current beliefs, actions, and results. In the right column, write down how you need things to be in a year. What we’re trying to create here is a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo and give your brain an itch that only proactive changes will scratch.

Describing vivid specifics takes that right-hand column with your description of your desired future state and brings it to life. Sketch a mindmap or create a vision board with as much emotive and multisensory language and imagery as you can muster.

Identifying supporters is about exactly what you think it is. To get back to our gym metaphor, these people are your spotters. They’re not mere cheerleaders on the sidelines. For you to develop self-reliant change muscles, you need to get to the edge of your ability and tolerance. That will require buddies. Find them and form a 2-way social contract of mutual support, safety, and provocation.

Gather resources is about reading, research, and questions. Find others who are ahead of you on their paths and pick their brains, directly if you can. THis internet thing is remarkably useful for that if you’ve got a good BS-filter.

Place WIIFM reminders is about keeping strong, emotional and visual reminders in front of your eyes and mind to remind you of what’s in it for you – the WHY. And, this doesn’t have to be selfish. Sometimes, the WIIFM is what’s in it for your people. Anyone can act motivated and handle bumps on a good day. You need your WIIFMs on the not-good days.

Quick wins and display progress are about creating momentum. A marathon is, well, um, a marathon. You don’t crack one of those out of the box. Chart your goals and incremental progress, celebrating milestones of note. For some, it’s the first 5k. For some, it’s the lamp post on the closest street corner.

Burn the boats is about not having a plan B. You’ll always have a doubt about your ability to move forward if there’s always a move backwards. If you’re genuinely going to commit to a change, make forwards the only option you have.

I started this loooong article with the COVID19 lockdown – an outside force over which we have no control and little choice, where we are being forced to adapt. And, adapt we must because the alternative is, well, you know the saying. I’ll finish this loooong article with a hopeful tilt to the future. Hey, it’s terrible and I’m not sugarcoating it but we each have to get something out of this. There hopefully won’t be world wars or pandemics again for ages, or at all, but there’ll be those lesser somethings that will happen and will throw you for a loop. If you want your team or your kids to have a skill that’ll set them up for a better life, traditional resilience isn’t enough. Resilience means bouncing back from adversity to how you were before. You and your people need better than that. You need to bounce back better than before and that means learning from the experience, and permanently extending that comfort zone. You need ‘rebellious resilience‘, to deliberately alter your ‘danger DNA’, and choose to move you and your people along the change evolution path. To work out your change muscles, get change-fit, to test yourself now so you’re ready when life tests you again later.

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Learn more at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com

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Is Your Team A ‘High-Trust Environment’?

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Among all the new phrases we’re getting right now like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ is ‘high-trust environment’. The Govt uses it about an unenforced lockdown and wage subsidies to employers that are supposed to be passed on to employees. There is a need for speed, and a cost to enforcement, so who am I to argue? Clearly, not everyone can be trusted but (hopefully) most can, and someone will sort the stragglers when the dust settles.

I’m not in charge of a country (& neither are people who post comments on online news sites). But, during crises and beyond, our ability to achieve is highly impacted by our team’s ability to generate a high-trust environment.

Self-assessments are by definition SELF-assessments, so your FEELINGS about how your own team is doing on the trust front might be interesting but they’re a fraction of the picture. How can you better assess the current state of trust, determine where it should be, AND get yourself from A to B? It’s especially critical for remote teams who are separated by geography and schedule.

This is one of the personal and professional effectiveness topics I coach online in highly interactive sessions with practical takeaways. Let me know if you want to learn more.

Learn more

#leadingremoteteams #managingremoteteams

Are You A Commodity?

commodities

I’m no economist. I did study ECON101 in the first year of my first degree. I got a C- which is technically known as a ‘restricted pass’. The practical implication is that I passed but that both the university and I agreed that I wouldn’t be doing economics anymore. (I’m not sure if it’s an economic term but I believe that was a ‘win-win’ scenario). I liked economics at high school when it was about supply and demand, and the decreasing marginal utility of eating multiple ice creams. I related to that and my teachers made it interesting. If my university experience of economics taught me anything, it was to never be as boring, abstract, unrelatable, and seemingly irrelevant in my own career helping people learn. I have something of an OCD-ish behaviour where I’ll shade in the letter o in texts if I’m bored. (I’ll do it in front of you if you’re talking to me and boring me). My ECON101 textbook had all the o’s shaded, plus every other letter with anything resembling a shade-able space. a b d e g p q and it got a point where I was tracing over every letter that was just lines.

Something I did learn when I was still learning economics was the definition of a commodity. (Goods that were tradeable and interchangeable). Lots of businesses sell milk powder by the tonne. Logically, I buy the cheapest because it’s all the same. The problem was that ‘cheapest’ part. If you rely on selling commodities you’ll always be competing on price and that is a race to the bottom where even the winner loses, especially if you’re small fry because larger producer-sellers can live with smaller margins on higher volumes. That logic and maths I understood, even then.

Decades on, I don’t sell goods. I’m a lone wolf, self-employed, freelancer selling the services of speaking and training. Today, especially with technology, services too are increasingly commodified. If you’re selling speaking or training, you’re competing with online courses from massive global institutions some of whom are giving those courses away. There are TED talks too. AI means even expertise can be automated.

A necessary mindset shift for people in my position (and I’m mainly talking to myself now) is to not think of myself as selling services. I am selling me and you are selling you. Thankfully there’s only one of me. Another economic term is differentiation. That’s more important now than it ever has been. Are YOU a commodity? Are YOU human milk powder? If not, what are ya – specifically? What aren’t you?

Here’s a mindset shifting activity. If your gig marketplace was a bookshop and you were a book, what books are similar to you so that you can compare yourself to them so prospective book buyers know what the hell you’re on about, BUT how are you different / better than those comparable books?

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terrywilliamsspeaker.com

The Business Of Napping

asleep at desk

The Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ means to acquire reading material but to let it pile up in our house without reading it. I think we can all relate to that. Well, those of us who read. Um, and those of us with houses. OK, so probably a sadly decreasing number of people can relate to Tsundoku but we can probably at least grasp the concept. You’re reading this article so at least there’s hope.

The Japanese word ‘Karoshi’ loosely translates as working yourself to death. Maybe we in this country cannot relate directly to that, nor the cultural and institutional forces that drive or influence people to over-commit to their job to such an extreme extent. That said, there are plenty of technical specialists, professionals and self-employed folk who don’t see their job as a job. Perhaps if they see it as a calling or a craft or a ticket out, they might put in the level of energy, time and sacrifice that edges them eerily closer to a Kiwi Karoshi. (Kiwishi?) Maybe we don’t work ourselves to death because social constraints dictate that we can’t leave the office until the sun is down and the boss goes first. Maybe we skip breaks, forget to blink for hours on end and drive home into a tree, or self-medicate with the drink or drug de jour then drive into a tree. I think we have more trees than Japan.

I can’t fault firms with enough resources to hire in masseuses for their staff. Employers know they’re supposed to be ruthlessly stringent on health and safety risks, not just the physical ones. They know about bullying, and #metoo, and psychologically safe workplace environments. I’ve even been given a tour of workplaces where staff are given barista training to run the space-age coffee machines at their disposal, and other workplaces where they have a multi-storey playground slide at the centre of their building. I am knocking none of these things. Smarter people than me have made informed choices in conjunction with other smart people.

I have yet to run into a standard workplace where napping is cool though. Yes, fire stations and other first responder locations can have living quarters with beds. Yes, young doctors in public hospitals working seventy-two hour days grab twenty winks in a cot in the supply cupboard. (I’ve not seen ‘Shortland Street’ for ages, have never watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and I gave up before ‘E.R.’ came to its presumably heart-wrenching conclusion but I’m pretty sure they were not just snoozing in those supply cupboards, right? If I was the hospital administrator in charge of those supply cupboards, the first thing I’d be supplying would have been locks for the supply cupboards). I’m not talking about those jobs and those sleeps. I’m talking about bakers, panelbeaters, lawyers and advertising copywriters.

I have seen significant companies that are profit-focused provide a meditation suite for their people. I’m not saying meditation and napping are the same thing but to the untrained observer, it’s semantics. You need a quite space, perhaps with dimmable lighting to be undisturbed for twenty or so minutes. I’ve never seen anyone in real life recreate George from Seinfeld’s sleeping space beneath his desk at the offices of the New York Yankees but I have seen people asleep under a conference room table – a conference room that the system said was booked out but I figured was in error as I could clearly see it was unoccupied. And, if you know me, you know that I’m a real kick-both-legs out-strongly-when-sitting-at-a-table kind of guy. I have also seen bakery assistants asleep on piles of flour sacks. They are super comfortable, and that sugary baking smell is amaaazingly relaxing.

So rather than fight nature, let’s work with it. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. We have two peaks and two troughs of alertness per day. One trough is mid-afternoon. Some cultures literally have siesta, then work into the cooler evening. An acceptable solution to a problem but not in anglo-colonial-protestant-work-ethic cultures (from the people that brought you the game of cricket.)

I’m not suggesting we compel people to nap. Places of work are not childcare facilities, unless you work in a childcare facility. We can choose to judge people on their skills, collaboration and results, not on how many hours they work nor where and when they work them. Getting back to Japan, they have Kapusero Hoteru (Capsule Hotels) that have rooms only the size of a bed known as pods. An American company has developed a $13000 chair that induces and allows napping with an effective duration of thirteen to twenty minutes. It has an orb that I choose to call the cone of silence. Smarter people than me are once again on the job… when they’re awake.

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Your ‘Change-Evolution’ to get ‘Change-Fit’

2D 3D book cover 2019

The book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ is available now on Amazon in Kindle format and in paperback.

If you constantly find yourself to be the smartest person in every room you’re in, then you need to get you into some different rooms. And that’s the theme of this book: developing yourself or your people by getting out of the ‘room’ you’re in, getting out of your comfort zone, getting better at getting better, working out your change muscles and building up your reservoir of resilience so you’ve got them before you need them.

  1. Why you should be proactive about change and risk,
  2. Why most people aren’t, and
  3. How you can – how you can make a start, build momentum, muscle through when it gets tough and bring others along for the ride.

There is a real concern amongst leaders that their people are unfit for change. Being unfit for change leads to disengaged and burnt-out people who won’t develop themselves nor meet their goals. The lack of development and unmet goals further reinforces negativity and contributes to a downward spiral called ‘Change Extinction’. The more positive alternative choice (and it is a choice) is a pathway called ‘Change Evolution’.

You can start on your ‘Change Evolution’ path by reading this book, doing your own dangerous things, adapting your ‘Danger DNA’, and becoming ‘Change Fit’.

The Multi-Generational Workplace: Get Off My Lawn!

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For about a decade, I’ve been describing the colour of my hair as ‘salt and pepper’. It’s probably time I accepted that it’s now about ninety eight percent salt. (That might explain my blood pressure). Recently, I was in a conversation with a twenty-something who colloquially referred to Wednesday as ‘Weddy’ because apparently now days of the week require cool nicknames. (That might further explain my blood pressure). At my age, days of the week barely even require names at all. To me, there’s ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’ and ‘maybe if I’m lucky’. Just jokes folks. I’m not really a grumpy curmudgeon, as much as I’d like to be. Intergenerational communication would be so much simpler and easier if it was acceptable for me to shout, “Get off my lawn” at people in meetings in character as the last twelve movie roles played by Clint Eastwood.

I’ve never liked the term ‘workforce’. It implies either a militarily structured group with the archaic command-and-control model, or that people need to be forced to work. Entry to the workforce has traditionally come via afterschool part-time jobs like delivering newspapers. It won’t be long until actual paper newspapers are a thing of the past like VCRs, perms and the correct use of apostrophes. It’s not quite the same zooming along on your bike hurling iPads at lawns and mailboxes, especially if that iPad hits windows. (I was going to attempt some humour around iPads and Windows software, but it got all too confusing and hard work – a bit like Windows).

Leaving aside actual specific and technical work skills, these little pre-entry-level jobs introduced young people to concepts and attitudes that school may have struggled to do. (Like what prepositions not to end a sentence with). Comedian Mitch Hedberg commented that, as a child, his job required him to have the discipline and work ethic to deliver newspapers to three hundred homes or one dumpster. Among these concepts would be self-discipline, punctuality, perseverance, goal-setting and getting along with people.

Calling paper-delivery a job is perhaps a convenient and romantic rose-coloured recollection. It might be more accurate and helpful to frame such roles as the shallow end of the self-employed sub-contractor pool. Given that such ‘jobs’ were often volume-based and geographically defined, they might be considered precursors to franchises. Maybe apart from income and job skills, they stimulated and reinforced behaviours that might benefit a future entrepreneur or self-employed contractor in a future virtual team? Are young people really garnering the same from becoming an instagram influencer?

Being on-call and part of a casual pool was not what was envisioned when the powers-that-were set things up around the time of the industrial revolution. Back then, workers were mere cogs in the machine. Sometimes that was metaphorical with human labour being routinised and commoditised. Sometimes, with the deplorable lack of care afforded to human health and safety, people may have literally ended up with cogs in machines. With urbanisation and industrialisation, business lobbyists and Governments composed another production line – that of children in schools being processed into workers to join factories. The schools were, in effect, education factories and the students were the products. They’d get just enough education to enable them to be able to be productive but not so much that they’d get revolutionary. There were no stages between student and worker, and there were minimal options other than working or not working. The paperboy and matchsticks girl were legit options back then right up until they became caricatures in Dickensian musicals as foils to someone usually named ‘guvnor’.

A recent Government-funded report found an ‘attitude gap’ between employers and young potential employees. They noted the gap is self- perpetuating. Bad experiences equal more disengagement for both employers and young people. The ‘gap’ is more than just attitude, but a complex clash of norms and expectations, as well as ethnic and generational differences that occur throughout the employment journey. I want to focus in on one key insight from the report and link it back to my lament of the loss of paper delivery job types. Employment expectations and ambitions of young people are built through the experiences they have early on, so having positive connections with employers is important for building ambition and networks for young people. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know).

As with most of these attitude gaps in society, be they employer vs employee, young vs old, your culture vs that other culture, a pretty effective means of addressing it is exposure. What can be done to get employers and potential employers in front of the youth who want a job and don’t want to be stranded as part of the gig economy delivering newspapers, selling matchsticks or instagramming harmful diet products? There’s work to be done and questions to be asked. Why, for example, when I’m writing about the challenges of the old accepting the new does spellcheck refuse to accept the word ‘instagramming’? It turns out, spellcheck will accept it but only with a capital I. No! Get off my lawn Instagram!!

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