Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Striving for an excellent workplace – open your books to your staff

There are many levers that you can pull to create an excellent workplace, and whilst not new, 'opening your company books to your staff’ is one that can often be overlooked.

Research in to what makes an excellent workplace has brought to light the effectiveness of an open book management philosophy, as outlined by John Case's work. 

This approach accepts that every staff member has a stake in the organisation they work for. According to Case, providing staff with quarterly or monthly reports and updates may not be sufficient. Staff need to be able to access whatever information they want to know about the business when they want it, not when managers say so.

The Open Book Management philosophy and approach argues that no question is ‘off limits’ and staff are to be trusted to have information that is (by some organisations) restricted due to the need for commercial confidentiality. Stack and Case conceptualize open-book principles in similar ways.

A pioneer of the leadership model known as open-book management, Stack (1992) is the author of two books on the subject, The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Outcome. Stack uses three basic principles in his model:
  • Know and teach the rules: Every staff member should be given the measures of business success and taught to understand them
  • Follow the action and keep score: Every staff member should be expected and enabled to use their knowledge to improve performance
  • Provide a stake in the Outcome: Every staff member should have a direct stake in the company's success-and in the risk of failure
Correspondingly, in 1995, Case made sense of open-book with three main points:
  • The company should share finances as well as critical data with all staff
  • Employers are challenged to move the numbers in a direction that improves the company
  • Staff share in the organisations prosperity
In a company fully employing open-book management staff at all levels are very knowledgeable about how their job fits in to the companies financial plan. However taking a company from "normal" to open is not as easy as just sharing financial statements with staff. The true success of open-book management is when companies allow numbers to come bottom-up (as opposed to traditional top-down management). According to Case, "a company performs best when its people see themselves as partners in the business rather than as hired hands" (Case,1998 as cited in Pascarella, 1998).

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Want to create an excellent workplace – then relax and have some fun!

As a leader this statement is probably not what you expect to be saying to yourself and the staff on a Monday morning. However according to research there are very few excellent workplaces in Australia and one of the key elements that makes an excellent workplace is the ability of staff to relax and have some fun.

The researchers found that primarily, the fundamentals or drivers for an excellent workplace are mostly about people rather than about machines, policies, and corporations. In particular they are about relationships between people.

There is no doubt that developing excellent workplaces is a serious business. Rearchers have consistently found that in excellent workplaces there was a relaxed environment that allowed work to be more than just pleasant. Having fun is a key marker for establishing excellence.

It is very hard to imagine any workplace being excellent if staff are miserable or abrupt. Similarly, industrial prisoners do not make excellent workers. In excellent workplaces, humour was sometimes part of the way stress was alleviated without detracting from the job at hand. ‘Laughter is good medicine’ was certainly a key element.

Humour was also used in presentations and the personalising of workspaces. While some events were planned and part of a social programme, it also seemed that spontaneity was an important element – always within the bounds of safety.

Every excellent workplace they studied had something different to offer. One workplace they visited had recently discovered that one of the team was a professional Elvis impersonator by night. His workmates and the management loved his stage act, which they asked him to bring to work for the morning teatime entertainment.

In another workplace the management had a regular day when they reversed the standard roles and served the employees morning tea. A considerable amount of research highlights the links between stress, productivity, and performance. The notion that ‘fun workplaces also tend to enhance learning, productivity and creativity, and reduce the changes of employee burnout or high absenteeism’ is a common theme.

Creating the environment that encourages your staff to have fun was shown to be more beneficial than programmes designed and implemented by human resource departments. Spontaneity was important.

If you are creating an excellent Australian workplace, having fun appears to be a good indicator that you have quality relationships where staff are relaxed and feel safe in doing so.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Good Life, by Hugh Mackay

This book addresses the ultimate question: What makes a life worth living? So why did I choose this book at the airport to read whilst on my way to Darwin for a 10 day holiday, because I want a good life?

Well yes I do, and I liked the back cover with its suggestive invitation that what I would gain from reading the book would be provocative. 

At the heart of the book Mackay suggests that the good life is not the sum of our wealth, security, status, postcode, career success or our level of happiness. 

But surely the good life is about happiness, well according to Mackay it is not. The good life is one that is about the quality of our relationships, our willingness to connect with others in useful ways and our capacity to be selfless. When we are selfless we are not always happy...

I am sure you can think of a time when you did something for someone that was not about your happiness, but after you gave, you felt good. The everyday altruist without any thought of a reciprocal benefit. This can mean acting in ways that are actually against your own self-interest.
So a good life can be one that is lived for others, one that contributes to others well-being, and one that is socially inclusive.

When you consider what Mackay says are the attributes of a ‘good life’, you realise that what he says does make sense because you know that the rich relationships you have with others are what is important.

The “Golden Rule” (treat others how you want to be treated) is richly explored in the book through various frames of religion, philosophy, politics, business and family life. He offers many stories of how we distract ourselves from this central principle, and how the good life is often about us choosing to restrain and restrict ourselves as a way of being balanced.

Mackay offers some easy ways for you to lead a good life, they include:

  • treating people in a respectful way by listening to them
  • being mindful in your thoughts and actions
  • apologise sincerely
  • forgive generously
  • make people laugh

If you seek a good life, I highly recommend you read this book and afterwards let’s have a conversation nicky@nickyhowe.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blood on the Wire, by Carolyn Wilkinson


This is a rich, deep and at times very troubled story about the relationship between a convicted murder (Daniel Heiss) and an astrologer (Carolyn Wilkinson) – the author. There was much about the book that captured my attention. I actually enjoyed reading all the prison stories, whilst many shocked me, I realised how naive I am about prison life. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Carolyn and Daniel and how she offered him hope, faith and growth through encouragement and love. She also took him seriously – wonderful gifts to offer another human being. I interpreted the prison system takes these things away.

I found the astrology side of the book interesting and reflective, I was fascinated by Carolyn’s offerings and insights to Daniel, however as these insights did not relate directly to me (or maybe they did) at times I got lost in Daniel's letters and found I was more drawn to Carolyn’s letters and the prison stories. I think part of me felt I should not be reading them, because Daniel was sharing deep things about himself…I felt like a ‘voyeur’.

On another theme I too struggle to remember to breathe when under pressure so I could relate to Carolyn’s constant reminders. I enjoyed her words of encouragement about self-growth, negative thoughts and not reacting to events. Or if you do react, do it from a resourceful space.

Carolyn is for me an interesting women and I am glad I stopped and bought her book at the Parap Markets in the Northern Territory. Carolyn insisted on us taking a picture and we choose the Leopard, which keeps drawing me in – his eyes are so deep. At the time I could not understand the significance of the pictures. Daniel's art is a rich theme throughout the book.

Coaching (my frame of reference) is another thing I took from the book. Whilst Carolyn doesn’t use the term, my sense is that much of what she offered Daniel through her letters was done using a coaching approach – deep listening, questions, intuition and the invitation for him to solve his own problems.  Which he did, he was able to overcome all the adversity and lead ‘himself’ from within an actual prison.  If you want to read a true and thrilling story about human endurance and how to lead from within self, read this book.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Industrial Prison or Excellent Workplace: 15 Things That Make The Difference

A recent coaching client of mine came to me to talk about her career. Her core concern was how unhappy she was in her current workplace. For her it was like a prison. She declared that is was not because of the hours she worked, it was not because the workplace was heavily unionised,  it was not because she had poor pay or bad working conditions. However she said no one laughed, tensions were always high, staff didn’t trust each other and many staff were miserable and abrupt.

What I took from what my client was saying is 'relationships between people were poor'.

So what turns an organisation into a prison or an excellent place to work?

Research undertaken by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) describes excellent workplaces as those that are: “So extraordinary in their performance as to cause us to stop and remark on them. They are the leading work-places, the exemplars of productivity”.

Their research found the following 15 factors contributed to excellent workplaces:

  1. The quality of working relationships.
  2. Managers who focus on leadership and energy rather than management and administration.
  3. The ability to participate in decision-making.
  4. Clear values.
  5. Being safe, physically and psychologically.
  6. A high standard of accommodation.
  7. Recruiting the right people.
  8. Reasonable pay and conditions.
  9. Getting feedback.
  10. Tolerance of autonomy and uniqueness.
  11. Sense of ownership and identity.
  12. Being able to learn on the job.
  13. Passion.
  14. Having fun.
  15. Connection with the local community.

Weighting the 15 drivers of excellence, the researchers concluded, on the basis of evidence from those interviewed and the workplaces themselves, that ‘Good working relationships’ was the paramount driver.

All of which starts through you having conversations with people and through these conversations you develop relationships.

Let us stop and reflect on this. When you have a good relationship with a person you work with, then works gets done. When you have a poor relationship with a person you work with, it can be much harder to get the work done. Quality conversations build quality relationships. In turn quality relationships encourage quality conversations, especially the difficult conversations that are easy to avoid, and which can be so beneficial.

So an excellent workplace comes down to the relationships between people. The sad thing is how many leaders see nurturing good relationships as a top priority? If you seek an excellent workplace, can I suggest you start by building relationships.