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Life’s Too Short For Bad Vacations

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The other day someone asked me what skills I have learned from my various roles as trainer / coach / speaker / MC / comedian / writer that can be used in managing the stress caused by the Christmas / New Year / summer holiday season.  Here was a person not only determined to let the holidays cause them stress but was investing time and energy anticipating that stress.  I bought them a(nother) drink and told them the following joke:  Someone put a little notice under my windscreen wiper.  It was headed Parking Fine.  It’s always nice to get a compliment.

She laughed, stopped asking me questions and walked away but my point is that everything depends on how we choose to react to situations.  One person’s stress is another person’s motivation and Christmas is much the same.  From commercial hype to religious differences to the fertile ground for conflict laid by blood relatives in enclosed spaces with alcohol and over-excited children.  It doesn’t have to be like that.  If we compared family arguments at Christmas to a crime scene then it ain’t Christmas’ fault.  Christmas provided the opportunity but not the motive.

The reason such scenes occur is due to the repression of lots of little incidents and feelings.  Then when they do get released, it is volcanic in proportions, rather than the hissy-fit status it deserves.  This why organisations make regular performance reviews mandatory, or at least why they should.  Things can be nipped in the bud.  Pressure release valve opportunities are provided.  Today we are so focused on work, or success in school or sport that families are spending less time with each other.  For many, the dinner-time ‘review’ is rare or non-existent.  Greater emphasis and expectations get placed on events like Christmas, weddings and so forth.

A survey revealed that the number one stressor at Christmas time is “finding enough time to fit everything in.”  So whatever you’re going to do at Christmas, you should start early.  My sister buys all her presents on Boxing Day for the following year.  Somewhere between you and my sister is the right level of preparedness.

Human Resources professionals are famous (infamous?) for being able to develop an assessment tool for each and every occasion and Christmas is no exception.  I am able to provide a preview of a new festive season preparedness test.  Tick any item you agree with; would like to agree; think is a fabulous idea; or seriously plan to implement.  The more you tick, the higher your Christmas Stress Rating.

Santa Claus is long overdue for a cholesterol test  
   
Plastic surgery vouchers are acceptable gifts  
   
The odds of surviving holidays without email is less than 10%  
   
Being sacked would give you more time for Christmas shopping  
   
Replanted Christmas trees attract significant carbon credits  
   
Possession of a stun-gun at during Christmas lunch is acceptable  
   

Keep in mind that there are many variables that interact on health during the holiday period including the altitude of your holiday destination, the brandy content of the Christmas cake, and the radiation from the electric fence you erect to discourage unwanted visitors.

The summer holidays present an opportunity to “get away from it all.”  Technology allows us “it all” to chase us.  You may have seen the television advertisement of the couple in the beach-house getting amorous only for the woman to remember her scheduled tele-conference with the marketing team.  A friend of mine is taking his family to Christchurch for Christmas.  The main present for the kids is a trampoline, which he isn’t taking to Christchurch with them.  To provide a vicarious trampoline present-opening experience, he scanned photographs of all the big presents and published a website which the kids can log onto come December 25.  Not a memory from my own childhood but then this is a new millennium.  The same guy signed up his son for a Disney website as part of his Christmas gift planning.  He told me he tried to make the password MickeyDonaldGoofyScrooge because it had to be at least four characters.

Focus on the positive outcomes you want from the holidays, not the expectations of others.  New Zealand is a wonderful country during the summer holidays.  Sure sometimes kiwis have to go overseas to achieve their potential because we don’t do enough for them here.  Lord Rutherford wanted to be first in the world to split the atom – had to overseas.  Kiri  Te Kanawa wanted to be the best opera singer in the world – had to go overseas.  Ed Hillary wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world – had to go overseas.

National parks in New Zealand have those fire-risk-meters in the national parks.  A large sign with an arrow depicts the danger on a scale of low (green) to high (red.)  Visitors see the sign and it is a constant reminder to be careful and not create sparks.  A household I was in one Christmas had a similar device stuck to their fridge with a magnet, only it was a Christmas-stress-ometer.
Visitors see the sign and it is a constant reminder to be careful and not create sparks.  This use of a small but humourous technique got everyone talking about the stresses and pressures and that in itself provided release from them.

Perhaps this year for you has been a negative one from an economic perspective and the festive season, with its financial demands, exacerbates that.  If you bought one thousand dollars worth of Air New Zealand B shares a year ago, it would now be worth $67.50.  If you bought one thousand dollars worth of beer a year ago, drank all the beer, kept the cans, and traded in the cans for recycling, you’d have $78.10.  Everything depends on your point of view.  There was a Larson Far Side cartoon with three identical frames.  Each had a man staring at a glass.  The first said “the glass is half full.”  The second said “the glass is half empty.”  The third said “What is this glass doing here?  I ordered a cheeseburger!”  A lesson there for all of us I think.

Poignant rather than funny, is the tale of Emmanuel Kant.  Emmanuel Kant, as you will know, is the German philosopher of great renown.  He was cared for much of his life by a manservant named Lampe.  Then he discovered that Lampe had been systematically robbing him, and he was forced to dismiss him. (HR issues here!)  But he missed him.  Terribly.  And after Kant’s death, his journals revealed the recurring note: “Remember to forget Lampe.”  I think of that every year about this time as a signal about New Year resolutions.  The only resolution worth making is -“remember to forget”.  Forget all the minor hurts inflicted on you in the course of the year, the silly things you did, the petty jealousies, the embarrassing moments.  Kant’s painful and pathetic diary note is a reminder to take a moment to remember to forget, and to remember to move on.  Life’s too short.

 

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Family Business: When It Comes To Business, Don’t Mess With The Family

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Employees are sometimes heard to say that their workplace is, “like a family.” I always like to presume they mean that in a positive sense and they don’t mean, “like the Bain family.” But is it really a good idea to run a business like a family?

I’ve just completed MCing a series of regional awards dinners around New Zealand for the dairy industry. Hundreds of people from, or supporting, the dairy industry all scrubbed up and dressed up in places like Hawera and Awakeri. I wore a custom-made tuxedo but if I could have found one by Swandri, I would have worn it.

This was my second year of hosting them and, more significantly than just being around successful business people, I was exposed to the system that nurtures, develops and challenges them. You can wax romantically about some rose-tinted vision of families as much as you like but this industry’s consistent success is driven by a system deliberately designed to be progressive and improving continuously on a nationwide basis.

I’m not sure these days what mental images are struck in people’s heads when they think of dairy farmers but old stereotypes should be long gone. I estimate about half the category winners are women. They’re all very online. Many are not from a long line of dairy farmers.

That said, a lot of emotional acceptance speeches are given thanking mums and dads. (When I said “emotional”, I meant emotional. It wasn’t a euphemism for drunk, a.k.a ‘tired and emotional.’ There was only one really drunk speech and that was superbly hilarious for four minutes. I stopped him at four minutes. Trust me, no one ever finishes gracefully after four drunk minutes.) The genuinely emotional and sober declarations of thanks frequently cited the parents and preceding generations. Often there was a joke about providing babysitting services but it was quickly and demonstrably evident that it was much more than that. From capital investment, advice, motivation, assistance and connections, these business families help each other. It goes beyond help into intergenerational sustainability and this is where I think it can be truly powerful to run some businesses like certain kinds of family.

If you ever want to play an original drinking game at a dairy awards, just skull a shot every time someone says the word “sustainable.” You’ll be having an early night I assure you. They say it a lot because they mean it a lot. Environmental sustainability is critical to these best of the best, because it’s also about being economically sustainable. These people don’t have perverse short-term contractual incentives like some corporates designed to encourage the boosting of quarterly profits. This is about the long term in a truly inter-generational sense. I doubt many bank CEOs planting a tree will be in the job when that tree matures.

Forbes recently ran an article noting how the companies with the greatest combination of scale and longevity tend to be family businesses, or at least were family businesses originally. Many of these were over one hundred years old. A similar proportion of family businesses fail along the way as non-family ones but a disproportionate number of stayers are handed down on blood lines.

The NZ Institute of Directors estimates that about half of businesses are family businesses. They cite the advantages of adaptability, ingenuity and passion, strong relationships with employees, suppliers and customers, and the ability to retain corporate or specialist knowledge within the company.

My friend Mike has a model of family business that says the first generation has the idea and the passion, makes the sacrifice and gets it going. The second generation takes it mainstream and optimises production, distribution and marketing. The third generation has a sense of entitlement and wastes it away, embarrassing everyone along the way downhill. New Zealand has a few famous surnames conforming to this model.

Dairying aside, the first thing I thought of when writing an article about running a business like a family was The Sopranos. Tony’s management style was effective in the short run but it didn’t end very

 

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