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worklife balance Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

7 lessons for work-life blend

By | Success, Work Life Balance

worklifeblendLast month I spoke to an executive networking group about work/life balance. I initially felt some resistance towards the topic.

My thoughts went … really? Are we still talking about this? Are people still wanting to figure this out? Yes. Yes they are. It’s nearly always on the agenda with my executive coaching clients who balance the tightrope of working hard and achieving their definitions of success, whilst managing their own time and personal relationships to ensure ‘balance’.

As I reflected on my own journey over the past 15 yeas, I see that the way I manage time and achieve balance has certainly changed as life and priorities change.

In my early 20’s it was all about building a career, driving and working as hard as I could to achieve work success and results. In my late 20’s it was about having a family, whilst managing an executive career and proving that I can have both and in my 30’s it is very much about building a business and lifestyle where I am doing what I enjoy, I like the people I work with and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ – it is an all encompassing approach to work and life. In my view, they aren’t separate. The way of the world isn’t like that anymore with technology and accessibility and for me that’s okay; I embrace it and use it to my advantage to thrive. Everyone’s definition of balance is different and how we achieve it is also going to differ from one person to the next.

Along my journey I’ve learnt that to get to my place of harmony requires a combination of practical techniques, mindset and continual learning and reassessment.

 

  1. I’m Accessible – I don’t believe in black and white rules of turning my phone off or no work on the weekends or not checking emails on holidays. I love what I do; I’m engaged with my clients and love achieving results. So this means I can work anywhere, I can take a call at night or answer my emails when I can’t sleep and that’s okay. Being accessible gives me flexibility and balance at all times.
  1. Be present – when you commit to something – a coffee catch up, a networking event, a meeting, a phone call – whatever it is, being present is something I try really hard to do. I imagine I’m in a bubble and there is nothing else there – that there are no deadlines, no problems or worries. The only thing that matters in that moment is the person I am with and the commitment I have made to myself and them, to show up and be my best self. If you feel yourself struggling in this type of situation, then it is an opportunity to reassess what you are saying yes to and realising that saying no in some situations is going to be a better option to achieve your right blend.
  1. Outsource – for me to achieve a greater blend, I have learnt to outsource or invest in those things that someone can do better, faster or cheaper than me. From a marketing newsletter, to housework, to gardening, to helping with children, to debt collection! Whatever is taking your time, giving you a headache or where you are feeling angst – ask yourself “is there someone else better to do this for me?” Don’t feel guilt – life is too short for that – feel joy in doing something else.
  1. Organisation – it goes without saying I know, but without being organised, achieving successful work life blend is going to be difficult. A ‘to do’ list is my go to tool and it hasn’t let me down yet. Planning in advance, a diary that coordinates personal and business appointments, emailing myself reminders, leaving people voicemails that don’t require that they call me back, ringing my own voicemail while driving if I remember something are all little techniques I use to try and stay one step ahead.
  1. Evaluation & learning – like most things in life, if you want to get better at it, you need to reflect and reevaluate is this working? If not, why not? Change it, try something else, ask what others do, google it, read a book – don’t just accept the way things are. There is always a better way.
  1. Avoid W4W – I first leant about work for work’s sake (W4W) reading Tim Ferris book The 4 Hour Work Week. It is common for a lot of us (yes I’m guilty), to turn to email or social media as a habit – it’s just what you do when you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you can recognise this pattern first and then fill it with another activity to get out of the cycle. Would you believe a lot of our coaching sessions with executives involve them re-discovering hobbies and what gives them joy. I can tell you their answer certainly isn’t Facebook! W4W is an easy trap that can cause you to lose sight of your dreams and where you feel pure joy and happiness.
  1. Self-Responsibility – it is completely up to you as an individual to take responsibility for your work/life blend. That is what it means to you, how you define this success and how you will actually achieve it. You can’t blame your partner, your boss or external factors like where you live, things are too expensive, you don’t earn enough etc. First decide on your definition, realise that it will be different to other people around you and their definition and that’s okay and then get into action. The quickest way to cause any result you want is take responsibility for it right now.

Life is busy. It can be hard at times. But this week I was reminded of Steve Job’s quote that the most important tool he used was to remember that he would be dead soon. This thought alone gave him perspective and helped him make the biggest choices in life. So yes we have demands and juggles, but it’s so crucial to enjoy, don’t take things so seriously and amongst the appointments, meetings, emails and expectations, be inspired and enjoy the present moment with those around you.

How to reduce staff turnover and to ensure top talent stays

By | Leadership, Recruitment, Retention

businessman-mirror12 years ago, I was asked by my business coach to write down a list of all my frustrations in business and in life. I wrote a solid two pages of whinges. It was the permission I needed to have my own little pity parade with on orchestra of violins. It was effective. It gave me several views – an opportunity to offload, an opportunity to get clear, an opportunity to look at patterns and the light bulb moment I needed …….. it was all within my control to change.

There were no concerns about market conditions, the economy, my competitors or external impacts – everything on that list was about people, culture or leadership. There was staff turnover, there were problems attracting talent and issues with keeping people engaged, motivated and performing. The impact on me as the leader was overwhelming. I felt helpless, burnt out, tired, emotional and frustrated.

Here’s what I did to turn it around:

  1. Ask for feedback

When things are not going the way you want, be brave and ask for feedback. Give your team permission to tell you what they love and loathe, without fear of retribution. If that is too scary or you don’t feel you will get the honesty you need, engage a Consultant or do a 360 degree survey. I discovered that our culture was one of high expectations and high pressure, where the client was king and the team didn’t feel they could achieve a healthy work life blend. This was the number one factor why they were leaving – it was impacting their relationships, health and personal time.

  1. Analyse real reasons for leaving

We all know that when people resign that don’t always tell you the real reason they are leaving. They start with the polite reason such as career development or it’s time for a change. I did an analysis on the past 3 years of all the reasons why people had left – not the reason they necessarily told me – but what I knew deep down was the real reason. That was a game changer. All reasons, apart from a handful of genuine interstate transfers and family reasons, there was a consistent theme related to leadership and culture.

  1. Leaders look in the mirror

Retaining talent and reducing staff turnover is not necessarily about more money or perks such as days off or free yoga classes. Although nice and staff will appreciate it, it isn’t what gets them out of bed in the morning, excited to go to work and to stay long-term. It’s about you, your leadership style and your ability to engage, inspire and create an environment that is motivating where they can contribute and feel valued. I found out that I was inspiring about 30% of the time and the other 70% I was pushing my high expectations, which resulted in feelings of pressure and an inability to please me. This doesn’t make anyone feel good and inspired does it? Looking in the mirror and seeing the impact this leadership style was having on my team was the wake up call I needed to reduce staff turnover and increase retention rates.

  1. Culture review

Leadership is culture. Culture is leadership. A leader sets the tone and culture is caught, not taught. Write a list of the type of people you want to attract into your business – what qualities and competencies do they have, what do they want out of an employment relationship and what will make them stay? This is your clue about what you may need to change, adapt, develop or build into your culture. It was for me. I created an environment where flexibility was introduced, people were empowered to make their own decisions and own the consequences, there were ongoing learning opportunities and success was celebrated and recognised.

  1. Action delivers results

There is no point doing all this pre-work, if you aren’t prepared to take action. Losing your people headaches, reducing frustration and ultimately getting your life back involves taking different action – implementing and trying new things. Don’t look at it like you are losing control (yes you control freaks out there), I know it will feel foreign and little uncomfortable – that’s good. You need to feel this to get a different result. For me this was the hardest step. We stopped having meetings at 8am, people left early to go to gym or to pick up kids, we hired part-timers, we set different expectations and had to let go of what others would think (we weren’t slackers or losing our drive or ambition!). It took time, but the change was just what we all needed. The results spoke for themselves – retention rates skyrocketed to an average length of service of 6 years, we didn’t advertise our vacancies – people knocked on our door to work for us and as for the impact on our financial results, they doubled.

At the core of what make successful companies great are people, culture and leadership. Become a better leader, develop a great culture and only then can you attract top talent that will stay. Getting this right is the sweet spot in business. Your leadership will feel natural, your stress levels will float away and this empowerment will bring you work life blend, confidence and profit. Get great people and great stuff happens.

Nicole Underwood recently spoke at Elders Real Estate National Conference on Talent Management – How to Crack the Code. You can watch a snippet of her presentation

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Stress drowning you out? What I learnt in 7 days of silence ……

By | Change, Results, Work Life Balance

449854baad05e50f85d103d6ed02cb3aStress is an epidemic in our 21st century – most of us have experienced it or watched those around us suffer with it. It has become part of our modern lives with expectations of work, family, juggling social commitments and the pursuit of “when I get there…I’ll be happy” philosophy.

I see it working with stressed clients – those that have lost their energy and their desire. They have forgotten why they do what they do and seem a little sad and a little lost in their journey for happiness and fulfillment. I attended a client’s board meeting a few weeks ago and the Chairman admitted that their CEO had lost some of his “mojo”. They want to help him get it back. To see him stop, relax, reflect and refocus on the bigger picture of ‘what’s the point’ in all of this. It was a good reminder, that the leader sets the tone – so this personal clarity and realignment is critical when you are the one steering the ship and setting the example.

To walk my talk, I checked out last week. I left the country and headed for the mountains of Bali where I embarked on a journey of just that – silence, reflection and time to just stop. To remove all daily activity, stimulation and to rejuvenate. There was no wi-fi, no laptop, no iPhone, no contact with family, friends or clients, no email, no twitter, no Facebook …. there was nothing. I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t cope! But in reality it took less than 24 hours to switch off from the “outside” world and it was blissful. I really didn’t miss my daily ‘crutches’ or distractions!

I gave up my control freak, let go of my to do list and forgot the constant multi-tasking. This was a retreat to focus inwards. It certainly wasn’t what I would call a ‘normal’ holiday. No cocktails by the pool, eating whatever I want and long lazy sleep in’s. Now before you think I ran away to a “happy clappy” cult where we all sat around chanting, it was actually a profound reminder of the benefits of switching off.

In our group of 25, there wasn’t a dreadlock or nose-ring in sight; this certainly wasn’t a hippy commune in Nimbin. There were people from all over the world – successful entrepreneurs, a real estate agent, a builder, an advertising executive, HR manager, board director, retail manager, martial arts guru and even an ex AFL coach. However, it wasn’t about any of these labels or how we define ourselves in our lives back home. First and foremost, we were just individuals having some much-needed time out from our busy lives to give attention to the person we least give it to – ourselves.

A full detox from alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, media, technology and our daily addictions, we found ourselves experiencing the lows and highs of de-stressing our bodies, de-cluttering our minds, re-energising, being creative, feeling free and experiencing the magic of simplicity. I learnt the ability to switch off, I made new friends, I listened to different perspectives and concluded that perfection doesn’t exist – being in the present moment right here and now, is the most important thing of all.

Sometimes life can deliver an opportunity that puts us outside our comfort zone, as this certainly was for me. It is in these moments, when you’re least expecting it – you can learn the most profound lessons, see the most obvious with clarity and generate new and creative ideas that honestly just wouldn’t be possible in our normal day-to-day lives.

I left a lot of stress, stories about the past and worries for the future in those Bali mountains. I’ve returned grounded, refreshed, light and free….ready to paint a blank canvas.

Feeling like you need a re-start button? Visit www.oneliferetreats.net

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My Villa, Bagus Jati, Bali

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New Friends, Fresh Perspectives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too busy to be the tooth fairy….a lesson in prioritisation

By | Productivity, Results

Today I got a reality check when my daughter came into the bedroom crying that the tooth fairy hadn’t visited her in the night. This was a BIG deal and I felt terrible.  I had forgotten. No excuses.

How do important things get lost in the haze of busyness? How is it that there was something more important than delivering a gold coin under her pillow? Well the truth is, there wasn’t anything more important and I can list 100 reasons why I forgot, but I’m not into excuses, only solutions.

Have you ever missed a deadline? Forgotten to return a call? Let it slip your mind that something had to be done by a certain time? We all have.  We all make mistakes.  Just this week I was speaking to a client who was given an opportunity by the Managing Director of her company to deliver a report on a special project.  2 days after it was due, she remembered. Gulp! We discussed how to avoid this in future:

  1. Daily ‘to do list’ – yes I have spoken about this before here. I can’t emphasize this tool enough. Now, I must tell you at this point she argued with me that she does in fact use a ‘to do list’. On further investigation it was a random set of notes on a page that were in no logical order and did not provide any direction or motivation.
  2. Be specific – tasks on a page need to be very specific.  Ring Henry Jones re: credit card payment or email Heather the ABC report by 5pm.  Anything that says, “do reports” or “make calls” is not going to happen or if it does, you will still miss tasks due to its generic nature.
  3. Projects – this is where it goes pear-shaped for most people in my experience.  You have things you would like to do or a project in the distance that you have to start at some point.  So on the to do list goes “Project XYZ”. And then it gets re-written and moved to the next day and the next day….and so on.  The idea is to break it down so the only thing that goes on the do list is something specific to do with the project eg: “Research competitor products”. Once this is done, part 2 of the project can go on the list. Before you know it, your project is well under way and there is no chance of missing the deadline.
  4. One location – it turns out my client was using her task book, in-tray, outlook calendar and inbox to keep and track her workload.  When I asked her how she missed this important deadline, it turned out that she had printed the email, highlighted it and then put it in her in-tray. It had been lost in the pile. One location and one list is the key.
  5. Human contact first – so when your list is 2 pages long and it is 2 o’clock in the afternoon, how do you decide what to do and what gets moved to the next day? People first! Anything that involves human contact gets done before close of business.  Verbal contact is the most important thing! This is where you build relationships and your own reputation as someone who does what they say they will do.

On reflection, this high achiever sees that she missed a moment to shine and deliver – but just as importantly she has learnt a valuable lesson in responsibility and prioritisation. I feel quietly confident that she won’t let a deadline slide again – with a new system in place and a big picture view of her own reputation and values.

By the way, the Tooth Fairy did deliver and there was some guilt money involved! She delivered her first bank-note, instead of the standard gold coin! I’m quite sure she has learnt her lesson too of important vs urgent.

How is your work/life pie? 6 essential ingredients for your recipe

By | Results, Work Life Balance

Over half of my coaching clients claim they need more time and struggle to find the ‘balance’ to do the things that are important to them.  When I ask the reasons behind their struggle, I hear “I don’t have time”, “I’m exhausted – I don’t have anything left” and “my workload is too much”. I also hear “next year it will be better” and “once this project finishes” and “we’re talking about hiring another staff member to help”.  Guess what? I’ve heard it all before and actually I think I might have used one or two of these lines in the past.  Here are the facts – it won’t change, unless you do.

The first time I really felt my priorities were out of whack, to a point where it wasn’t healthy, was in the first few years of building a business.  The effort, time, brain space, heart and soul that goes in to getting something like that off the ground is significant.  The ironic part is that the wheels can fall off when you take your eyes off the big picture – the whole point of creating something and working so hard in the first place.

There are signs. There always are. Skipping meals, not exercising, declining one too many invitations from friends to catch up, not sleeping (or in my case not being able to go back to sleep once awake), family making comments about your time away or not being ‘present’.  Sometimes it goes beyond this and you see physical symptoms – I had a consultant  who got so worked up before meetings, that she was suffering from anxiety and IBS.

Small steps are the key to turning it around.

1. Perspective – why are you doing this again? What’s the point? Where are you going? What’s the long-term vision? What are you trying to achieve? This is usually always a combination of career goals and life goals.  Yet, when you look at the effort you are putting into those areas it can be very skewed.

2. The “perfect week plan” – if you could create the perfect week, what would it look like? What are the most important tasks that contribute the most to your weekly outcomes? Put them in your diary first.  For example, I had all staff meetings on a Monday, Tuesday was planning, Wednesday and Thursday were client appointments and Friday was staff observation and coaching.  Of course, things come up and you need to shuffle, but having a ‘pre-planned’ plan of attack can ensure that you are focusing on the important things first. Schedule exercise, put in the calendar dinner with parents – whatever it is, if it’s important, you need to make the time and not wait for it ‘to happen’. It won’t.

3. Empowerment – one client was telling me at the start of the meeting how he has no time and is so over-worked and then 30 minutes later he was telling me how he had to re-write an entire email his staff member wrote. Therein lies the problem.  To get more time and reduce the volume of work – you need to delegate, train, coach and support those who work with you. I’ll let you in on a little secret – they actually do want to learn, they do want to do a good job and it might just be you holding them back from being brilliant.

4. Learn to say no – are you a people pleaser? A good friend of mine, has a terrible problem of saying yes to everything. She gets involved in every committee, school project, volunteering gig – you ask her, she just can’t say no. She likes to please.  There’s nothing left – no time for the things she would really like to do because now she has a full calendar of doing things others want her do.  Saying no is a great way to give yourself more time for the important things.

5. Control – one of my Consultants was always tired and complained about all the after hours calls and work she was doing.  No one else seemed to have this problem and I couldn’t work out how she was in this situation – clearly very demanding clients!  After listening and observing her conversations and interactions, I learnt pretty quickly that she was creating the expectation of always being available.  She wasn’t setting boundaries in regards to the process, how she would communicate and when she would communicate.  Creating expectations upfront in any relationship is a powerful way to ensure mutually satisfying behaviours for all involved.

6. Time for yourself – with 2 children under 6, running a business, clients, candidates, committees, speaking gigs, volunteering opportunities, a spouse, wider family and friends – I get it. It’s hard. If it were easy – we’d all be doing it. What do you do just for you? What makes you feel good? Hobbies – remember those things we used to do just for fun? If you’ve forgotten it might be time to sign up for that pottery class!

At a recent function, Professor Barbara Pocock told us that of 1,000 Australians surveyed over 7 years, showed that the work/life strain is very much alive and here to stay. It requires awareness, support, planning and leadership to help resolve these issues. Some of the survey results were alarming with more of us seeing our identity through our occupations than ever before and some people surveyed love their work so much that they said that their boss could “do anything” and they wouldn’t leave! Let’s leave that for another blog topic shall we……

Tell me – how do you achieve a healthy work/life blend? What strategies have been most successful for you?

 

 

 

 

How to reduce staff turnover with a flexible culture

By | Culture, Results

Staff turnover is an ongoing headache for most businesses.  Even booming industries like mining & resources are experiencing their fair share of hurt with 18% of workers leaving within the first 12 months and total turnover costing over $140 million per yearThe recruitment industry is certainly up there with rates ranging up to 45%.  Factors contributing to this include long hours, demanding client expectations, cultures that don’t support work/life balance initiatives as well as poor leadership and performance driven by deadlines and commissions.

Certainly in my first few years of managing a recruitment business, I was a culprit for churning through staff.  I made all the classic mistakes of hiring on experience, rather than culture, ‘hoping’ they would make it and leaving performance issues to fester.  The results were certainly consistent with the industry averages and left me tearing my hair out.

One of the instrumental factors in turning it around was creating, supporting and encouraging a flexible workplace culture.  Let me just start by saying it wasn’t easy.  There was no quick fix or magic cure to move from the traditional 8am – 6pm workday with “nazi style” metrics and expectations of ‘being in the office’.  It was a gradual process that required ongoing communication, buy-in from all employees and a commitment to leading by example.  Trust me the first time I left the office before 6pm it felt very strange!

In the end, I had nearly half my workforce on part-time flexible arrangements and a 100% voluntary staff retention rate.  I also experienced the highest levels of revenue and profit in our history.  It taught me that a flexible approach and creating a culture where part-time is possible, creates loyalty, increases performance and reduces staff turnover.  Tips to making it work include:

1.    Be realistic – I learnt that high performing Consultants moving from full-time to part-time need to manage their own expectations of what they can achieve.  Being able to step back and say perhaps I can’t take on as many clients as I used to, or being able to ask for help is okay.  You can only do what you can do after all.

2.    Prioritisation – the key to finding the balance is to make sure that you are doing the important rather than the urgent.  In recruitment there always seems to be something urgent, but it is critical to be clear on what makes the difference and doing those important things first is essential. As General Manager, I worked 3 days a week and ensured that I divided my time between coaching consultants, seeing clients, performance management and planning.

3.    Productivity – in my experience part-time employees work fewer hours in the office, but are capable of being just as productive as full-timers.  When those Consultants were in the office, they didn’t have time to waste and they were extremely good at juggling a range of tasks. I had one Consultant who billed 80% of her full-time billings in the year that she reduced to 3 days per week.

4.    Strategic approach – Recruiters and leaders taking on flexibility requests, need to have a big picture view of how it will work.  This involves planning and being more structured with tasks and time management. Just saying we are going to be flexible and family friendly doesn’t work unless there are real strategies in place on how this will work in a practical day-to-day sense.

5.    Support – I learnt very quickly that part-time Consultants need the full support of their leader, their teammates and family for it to successfully work for everyone.   This ranges from having tools of the trade such as remote access; Ipads and iPhones through to open communication, disciplined notes in the database and having the right attitude.  Once part-timers feel they have this support plus your trust, they will always (in my experience) put in more hours and effort.  Funnily enough this commitment by high achievers will always deliver greater results than what you pay them. Wouldn’t any boss want to increase billable hours with no increase in fixed costs?

All in all, I found creating a flexible work culture to be nothing but a positive and productive experience.  I truly believe it creates a strong competitive advantage and goes a long way to attracting and retaining top talent.

 

Nicole will be speaking at the 2012 RCSA International Conference in Fiji on: How creating a culture of flexibility will win the race in attracting and retaining top talent

“Part-time is a dirty word” & why it needs to change

By | Leadership, Recruitment, Women in Leadership

Last week in Adelaide, there was controversy and speculation after the CEO of the SA Tourism Commission was sacked with 9 months left to go on his contract.  This was the leading news story of the night, but it wasn’t that so much that got my attention; it was the newsreader’s description on the ad break.  She said something along the lines of “…and tonight the sacking of….and how he will be re-placed by a part-timer!” The inflection in her voice suggested how could such an important role be part-time, how absurd, can you believe it, how prospertious! The insinuation that a part-time person was not capable of doing a CEO role made my blood boil.  Now, I didn’t see the full news bulletin to see if this was their point, which I’m sure it wasn’t, but the newsbreak certainly created the drama.

It raises the question “can a part-timer be successful in a senior leadership role”? And what if the best person for the job is a part-timer?

I know when I returned to my general management role part-time in early 2008, I was met with a few challenges in terms of negotiating my new conditions and proving my contribution wouldn’t be any less just because my hours in the office had decreased. I had the support of my team who certainly weren’t concerned and I was positive, as I didn’t see that what I was doing was any less or that it was going to lessen my contribution.

The truth is there is still a stigma around part-time. There I’ve said it. Even if you, your boss and your team are all supportive and encouraging of such arrangements, you are constantly surrounded by other opinions, judgments and sometimes-even envy of being part-time. “Oh you’re part time” can often be the response, as if what you do is less significant and that you aren’t contributing as meaningfully as your full time counterparts. In this day and age, you would think the actual hours you are paid would be irrelevant as we embrace blending work-life balance and structure our businesses to ensure all employees have flexibility to achieve their goals inside and outside of work.

Last week someone in my network was on the look out to fill a mid-level role and I knew of someone with the right industry experience, degree qualifications, who lived close by (important for this role & location) and had the strong intrinsic motivation for the position.  However, this person wanted part-time.  The client dismissed it almost immediately. “No, we need a full-timer for this position”.  Well, no, you need someone to perform in the role, produce results and contribute to the company’s overall revenue.  The immediate assumption was that a part-timer could not achieve the objectives of this role.

Funny isn’t it, because the most successful financial year on record when I was in my leadership role, I was part-time and nearly half of my workforce were under some type of flexible work arrangement.  These agreements grew loyalty, increased retention and ultimately delivered higher results.

Looking at the flip side, sometimes people returning part-time don’t want to continue at the same level or want the same pressures or responsibility. A good friend of mine who is in a senior marketing role with a global business is going through this right now. In 3 days per week she is still expected to do a full time load plus some and it’s taking a toll. With two small children under the age of 5 and a husband who has an executive role involving lots of travel, she wakes every day at 5am to get herself and the household ready before doing 2-drop offs and getting to work herself.  To keep on top of her workload she often works into the late hours of evening to ensure her contribution, performance and achievements continue at the level that they were when she was full-time. Like many women in similar situations, she doesn’t want her performance to suffer due to fewer hours in the office.  The cost of this is less time with the family, no time for herself and even health consequences due to constantly being rushed and running on adrenalin.  It came to a head this week where she has said enough – we need to reduce the workload or I have to go, as this is not sustainable.  As senior talent she is pegged for a directorship and of course they don’t want to lose her so a compromise is being made.  I think she did the right thing speaking up, but too often part-timers suffer in silence not wanting to appear weak or incapable because “aren’t they lucky” to have a part-time role especially at an executive level.

Until we stop measuring performance and success by job title, status and hours and focus more on contribution, achievements and outcomes, the stigma of part-time will continue to exist. When considering suitable candidates for roles – the focus should be on skills and experience and more importantly competencies and motivational fit because the best candidate for the job just might be part-time.  Let’s lose the negative connotations of part-time and focus on the right person in the right role every time.

Women in leadership – can we “have it all”?

By | Leadership, Women in Leadership, Work Life Balance

I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader.  She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review.  In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?

Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.

In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.

I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have.  My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker.  I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.

Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.

Quick tips to make it work:

  1. Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail.  The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity.  Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
  2.  Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”.  As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative.  However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people.  Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
  3. Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”.  This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both.  In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
  4. An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved.  Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
  5. Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals.  The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home.  I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.

To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different.  Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.

Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible.  The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.

Empty the cup…are there benefits of time-out?

By | Change, Strategy, Success

Empty the cupLast week I left my job after 10 years (see quit while your ahead…10 tips for going out on top) and since I announced the decision I have had lots of well wishes, feedback, new business offers and advice.  My head has been swimming to say the least.  Then one clever person said to me stop! You need to empty your cup.  My blank look obviously prompted him further…his philosophy is that good ideas, innovative thoughts and break through moments can only happen once you are clear and have emptied all your thoughts, emotions etc that are tied up with your current/last situation.  In my case, 10 years of “stuff” to un-learn and let go of.  Hmmm easier said than done!

So day 3 of my ‘time out’ – I’m struggling. I have cleaned out my office, re-organised files, had meetings with a web designer, accountant, photographer, business mentor, attended a committee meeting and updated my social media profiles. Did I mention a journalist rang, I’ve been invited to enough coffee meetings to last the next few months, I’ve given advice on an execs resume, signed my business registration docs and applied for a range of insurances? There is no time to empty my cup!

Or is there? If I do “nothing” for the next 2 – 3 weeks, what will happen? I’m sure I won’t evaporate or my networks will forget me? Worst case? I miss a few opportunities.  And that’s it. I can’t honestly think of anything worse.  On the flip side, what are the benefits? I take the opportunity to refresh and recharge.  I might be lucky enough to spark some new ideas, gain a different perspective or clarify my business plans.

So that being said, I am going to attempt to ‘empty the cup’. I have committed myself to a week away and I am looking forward to the opportunity to re-assess my goals and see what comes up for me. Wish me luck!

Have you ever taken time out to empty your cup? What benefits did you receive?

Can women successfully return to work after babies?

By | Leadership, Retention, Work Life Balance

What a week it has been watching the debate around working women, their choices and when they should return to work after having babies – all thanks to a glamorous Jackie O crossing the street while feeding her baby.

Not only as a working mother myself, but as Leader of an all-female team with more than half of them being career mums with children (the majority being 5 years or younger), I know it can work.

I have successfully retained high performing young women after they have had babies, successfully employed new returning to work mums part-time and have successfully integrated the two worlds myself.

Before the media blow up earlier this week, I often advise clients about how part-timers can actually work and how the business doesn’t need to fall in a heap if a key staff member takes time off for parental leave.  10 things I recommend to help it work:

  1. First reactions – I remember the first time one of my top Consultants told me she was pregnant.  She was so nervous and scared that I would be angry that she was going to be leaving the business when she was performing so well.  I was delighted for her and kept the conversation focussed on her and this exciting time in her life. There is plenty of time for the planning discussions around when, what, who and how at a later stage. Don’t take the shine off such a personal moment.
  2. No pressure – I don’t put pressure on any employee to return to work.  I have had some take 6, 9 or 12 months off for parental leave. Of course you need to know in advance to plan for their absence, but there has never been an expectation of it being sooner rather than later.
  3. Flexibility – the key to making it work! I have always given the returning to work mums the free reign to say what days/hours they want to work when they return. I then do my absolute best to accommodate them within a structure that also works for the business.
  4. Encouragement & empathy – if your baby is sick and you need to go home, go! Don’t sit at your desk feeling guilty. Remember Health 1st, Family 2nd, Work 3rd.
  5. Job ownership – each Consultant has had their clients managed while they are on parental leave.  This has given new/more junior Consultants the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. The returning Consultant has then been given their clients back on their return – this was a big incentive for Consultants who had been with the business for many years and had built up many long standing relationships.
  6. Support systems – without question,  Consultants are given remote access, car parks, iPhones and admin support to assist if and when they are working from home.  This is essential for teamwork, flexibility and communication.
  7. Continuing reviews – regular one on one catch ups to honestly assess whether the arrangements are working for the individual and the business and whether they need to be re-negotiated or adjusted where necessary.
  8. Lead by example – by preaching work/life balance and flexibility as the Leader you need to ensure you are walking the talk. People will be guided by your behaviour and make their own assessment of what the ‘internal culture’ really is.
  9. Acknowledge FT employees – for part-timers to really be effective in an organisation and especially a small team, the glue that often holds it all together is the full-time employees. I have learnt it is critical to acknowledge their support and contribution.
  10. You can’t win them all – as much as you want all top performers to return to work after having children, it isn’t always the case. I have certainly lost a few along the way through their own decisions about it not working, deciding to give up work altogether or taking the opportunity to have a career change.  In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.

All in all, these tips have been some of my most successful retention strategies over the years.  In making it easier for these women to return to work with part-time, flexibility and support, I have gained their commitment, loyalty and respect.

The business wins too – we have retained key clients who want to deal with the same faces every year, the profits have increased (as part-timers usually generate similar revenue to their full-time counterparts and in some cases – more), reduced costs in re-hiring and being able to give internal employees greater opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.

So can working women successfully return to work after having babies? YES!  It’s a two-way street that requires a committed and realistic employee coupled with a flexible and understanding employer.

Can you make it work?