Hope you don’t take this the wrong way.

But the TV sets and web pages around the world have been full of London terrorism reports. While I understand that this is a dreadful occurrence and the loss of any life is tragic, this event is highly unusual. The news system is geared to fuel and build Islamaphobia.


  • At least 8 Australians take their own life everyday from mental health challenges – I don’t see any 24/7 news coverage about this.
  • 66 people die on Thailand’s roads every day.  Local coverage but hardly world news.
  • 900 women have been killed in the UK from family violence over the last 6 years probably 10 times the number killed on home soil by terrorist events.

The really awkward point is that we give terrorists exactly what they want.  Days and days of front page coverage and political rhetoric that fuels fear and misplaced hatred.

There is a problem in many religions with extremist old men who like to manipulate their ‘cattle’ for the sake of ego and entertainment in the last 20 years of their life.  They are scum and don’t deserve the honour of occupying our minds 24/7.

Important Sign Posts or Meaningless Words?

Social Media influenced the American election.  

Social Media provides platforms for shaping the community’s beliefs and actions and we are just not teaching audiences enough about the power of repeated subliminal messages. Writers, posters and readers need to get busy commenting and questioning rather that just liking and sharing.

It’s very human to seek moral guidance.  People have been doing it since……well for a long time. It seems to give us a sense of purpose and well-being, especially in hard times.  This human need allows religious figures, ‘gurus’, politicians, academics, journey men, public figures, ratbags and combinations of the aforementioned to spruik their ideas.  They do it from pulpits, stages across the airwaves, on television, through newspapers and of course using Social Media.  And it is not only the spruikers who do the publishing. The friends of the spruikers do it, often as a marketing or sales mechanism, sometimes just simply from the heart because they love the idea.  The spruikers of ideology commonly use  short punchy sayings, proverbs or poems, often cliche ridden,  to attain maximum branding potential of their moral positions and, usually, related services and products.

In a world where people have so little time, and prefer to browse than read, it is the time for slogans full of propaganda and unsubstantiated ‘deep’thinking.

As a huge Facebook and LinkedIn user I have always been keen to ‘like’ or ‘share’ what people present.  It is a little like giving your ‘friends’ a handshake or nod of approval.  ‘Like’ their post and they hopefully know your thinking of them and the thoughts are positive.  I love being positive with people.   And, of course I love it when people ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on material I post which, in my own defence, is usually my own words. But I have now started to take a greater interest in the posts of moral and motivational slogans that are now finding their way, especially onto LinkedIn, a ‘serious’ business networking tool.  I have become more critical of the content lately because i have been looking at it through the eyes of my two children whom are 21 and 18.  They are also high users of Social Media and definitely browsers not readers.

I worry about the short sharp high impact moral slogans, because I hate the thought of my children taking this material to heart.

I see that they, like so many young people (even though they are both most intelligent) can be vulnerable to the subliminal impacts of Social Media posts. Especially when truth and ‘some truth’ are being published without differentiation.

One set of helpful hints recently presented by a very talented marketer with the very best of intentions included ‘Stay Laser Focused’, ‘Don’t Waste Time’ along with a few others including ‘Talk Less’ and  ‘Ignore Nonsense’.  In one context, if I’m studying for exams or working furiously to meet a target this is all good advice.  But without context the last thing I want for my children or our team is to stop talking and enjoying some nonsense in the workplace.  Talking a lot about the right things mean engagement and some nonsense with some limitations is a sign of morale and comradery. This nice Social Media reflection needed detailed comment and reflections, not just shares and likes.

Oprah Winfrey famously said ‘Failure is a steppingstone to greatness’.

I love this saying.  I want my children and team to understand it.  I also want my children and team to believe it. I want people to know that picking oneself up after failure is important to future success.  Determination is the essence of achieving success.  Now let’s compare her quote to that of Coco Chanel who said ‘Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.’   Who is right? Who is wrong? Lets talk about it!   Failure is inevitable but did Coco mean that success is achieved by those who don’t know ‘ultimate failure’ is inevitable.  What a wonderful conversation-let’s hope there is a forum to analyse, compare and debate the worthiness of  both these often posted sayings.

‘Oh come on Stephen’ I hear you all saying. ‘Stop being so literal and negative……go find something better to do than dissect harmless moral gifts from amazing people!!!’  And yes you are right, today’s post can only go so far.  But, this is all part of the subliminal age. People with sometimes shallow intentions speak words of great depth.  Social Media audiences continually receive these words and rarely ask the question ‘does this make sense?’  Instead they digest it and place it somewhere into the long-term memory.  So why do I care?

This is the age when Donald Trump’s Social Media drive helped win an election that will now shape the world.   His sometimes nonsensical, unsubstantiated rhetoric and ‘moral’ positions was too easily received by disillusioned and unquestioning individuals.

The debate that often followed Trump’s Twitter comments was usually either hostile or adoring and not much in between. But the tool Twitter is built for the fleeting and not for logical and constructive debate.  I do deeply believe it is time to think more about what we write on Social Media and it’s time to think about the messages people so easily digest-consciously and unconsciously.  It’s also time to teach our young people to question what the author is saying and why are they say it?  It is time that schools provide education on Social Media use, its benefits, pitfalls and their own personal responsibilities when using this very powerful group of communication platforms.  Responsible use of Social Media needs to become a formal part of the English syllabus as soon as possible.

Compliance  Gap will Bite Organisations 

The more time I am spending meeting contemporaries in organisations across Australia, the more I realise that there is a real gap in the HR compliance risk management suite. They are generally ticking off the EEO and Safety pieces, even though often with under done and humiliatingly boring programs signed off by ‘lawyers’. Yet right now, perhaps the biggest risk in the Human Resource area is uncontrolled broadcasting of information and personal opinions about organisational practices, strategies, and inter-personal relationships over social media networks. This is a HUGE risk! We know because unlike many of the lawyers who sign off your eLearning modules we are living it everyday through our busy workplace investigations unit.

Everyday iHR Australia is seeing first hand the risk that misguided use of social media is placing on brands, staff relationships and competitive advantage. Through our investigations it has become clear that organisations are failing to communicate and apply rigour around use of social media. There is also a clear lack of commitment to training on the key content of the social media policy.

Take the case of Angie. A 27 year old receptionist. A bright woman who loves people interaction and has a rampant social life. Brian, a 38 year old investment banker likes to flirt with her. His comments about her dress sense, perfumes and body shape along with his tendency to touch her, if only on the shoulder, are not particularly welcome. Brian, however, is respected, influential and brilliant industry technician. Although the organisation has a clear anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying policy and some light weight eLearning, Angie doesn’t have the confidence to report the matter due to Brian’s status in the organisation. Instead she shares her displeasure with her friends from both outside and inside work via Whatsapp. To cut a long story short, her allegations and criticisms regarding Brian are recorded on a screen shot broadcast via Instagram by one of her work friends who also doesn’t like Brian. The situation becomes messy. Human Resource’s investigate the matter and find breaches of two policies; Brian the Workplace discrimination, harassment policy and Angie and friend, Samitra, the Social Media Policy. Brian is counselled and required to redo the EEO training program. Samitra and Angie and given formal warnings, later to be retracted on the orders of Fair Work due to the fact there was no training related to the social media policy.

Why are companies missing the Social Media Risk?

First, its complex legally. In many ways social media is unchartered territory. The legal system itself seems to be coming to terms with the boundaries and definitions of social media.

Second, there are no specific laws around social media use. It interfaces with a range of parliamentary acts related to privacy, human rights and safety to mention but a few. It makes writing effective policy a little like shooting in the dark. It also means that social media misuse is work in progress for courts and tribunals.

Third, monitoring social media use is a nightmare. Companies, think they have full proof tracking systems until they remember that social media extends way beyond Facebook and twitter and dissolves itself into chat and private message networks such as Whatsapp, Line or WeChat

What to do

1. Have a policy that is clear about what staff are NOT allowed to publish or discuss across social media networks. It needs to properly define what is meant by Social Media

2. Annual and consistent induction training that adequately defines social media and clearly describes the limits on employees use of social media in the organisational context

3. Constant updating of the policy and training content to match the changing environment

4. Reinforcement of social media responsibilities continually and in interesting ways such as games and case law

5. Building a culture where people value your brand and understand the potential threats that exist to the organisation and their colleagues when the brand is brought into disrepute.



It’s More Than Just About The Way We Treat Women

(Image courtesy of abc.net.au)

AFL Football personalities Eddie McGuire, Danny Frawley and James Brayshaw have found themselves embroiled in controversy over comments made on live radio about another journalist, Caroline Wilson. While obviously an extraordinarily inappropriate way to treat a woman, placing the matter into the ‘violence against women’ basket is really limiting and not the total point.

The fact is that writing about this week’s very public issue arising from the school boy antics of a group of Australian Football League heavyweights makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s difficult for a number of reasons:

1. Whatever is written or said about the topic risks the ire of those who have every right to be sensitive about violence toward women
2. There is a growing distaste toward political correctness and its tendency to silence open discussion.
3. The people embroiled in the controversy are powerful in our society and hold significant influence over the mass market here in Australia.

I want to make comment because the incident, while looking especially poor because it was a group of men toward a woman, was an example of bullying behaviour more than anything else. In my view the issue is not substantially about a pack of men demonstrating sexist or intentionally inappropriate or violent behaviour toward a woman. It is about a group of men demonstrating bullying behaviour toward another person.

Caroline Wilson is a seasoned and challenging professional journalist. She writes articles that often make people angry. Her articles often hit on highly sensitive issues for a predominantly male industry. No better example of Wilson feisty and determined journalism was the pursuit of a ‘just outcome’ in the Essendon drug allegations saga. Frankly, she was quite relentless often leaving those within the industry uncomfortable and upset. It could be said, she did her job and made very public and, potentially damaging allegations. This was typical Wilson journalism.

When I read the transcript, I see a group of powerful media personalities exacting a kind of public revenge on an industry foe. A foe who has often challenged them. They are men with their fingers in a number of pies leaving them open to feeling hurt in a whole lot of different ways. I don’t, however, view their remarks as being particularly aimed at a woman. Had Caroline Wilson been a male journalist, I believe they still might have made such comments. This is not a defence, but it is suggesting that what may seem ‘lad’ behaviour at the time, can explode into a serious issue when ill-conceived.

As an Australian Rules football addict, former junior football coach, loving father of a daughter and son, I find domestic violence of any kind abhorrent. However to attach this incident to ‘violence against women’ alone is missing the point. I do understand why it gets construed in this way but I don’t think it really nails the point. It narrows the field and fails to emphasise our obligation to protect any person from inappropriate and unjust behaviour. Woman, man or child. My greatest concern with these live radio comments is that young people may think behaviour that is degrading, belittling and even mildly threatening is a way to deal with being upset, angry or a way of having a joke.

Simply,humiliating another because we disagree with their views, – woman or man – is unacceptable, illogical and, in this case, unprofessional. It reminds me of how a group of secondary schoolers treat the intellectual, opinionated kid that says things they don’t like. If it happened in a workplace or classroom, it would be bullying behaviour. The behaviour wasn’t funny and it was a cheap shot on public radio. It was no way to treat a woman. It was no way to treat a man. In my view, it was an unacceptable way to treat another human being.

Good Operator – Shame about the Person!

Good Operator – Shame about the Person!

There is a certain breed that turns up regularly as the defendant in a workplace investigation.  I don’t like talking about them aloud in case someone hears.  So I’ll just write about them instead. 

 I’ll call them the Pol-ego-tech. ‘Pol’ being generally politically inclined; ‘Ego’ because their ego is big but fragile when properly challenged; ‘Tech’ because they know a lot about some technical things that are useful for the organisation. Polegotech.

The Polegotech can be a male or female.  The complainant in an investigation might describe them as harsh. Regularly they are described as being really ‘great at their job’, and an excellent technician’.  Very often, they end up as a manager, not because they have the ability to lead and bring the best out of people but because they are ‘leading edge’ in the field and it’s an ‘honour’ for people to work for them.  How many times have I heard third parties say ‘Suck it up Michael, a couple of years working with Fred and you’ll be at the top of your game.’

In the eyes of the Polegotech, most of us don’t meet the grade and without their firm hard-nosed approach, things just won’t get done.  ‘Lightweight’ is a common term used by them to describe those with a softer or more conciliatory approach to work and life.  When the ‘lightweight’ is not getting immediate traction with an initiative, the Polegotech will play hard ball, sometimes in a direct intimidating manner and often in a political way, demeaning the ‘lightweight’ and making others doubtful as to whether the ‘lightweight’ can ever succeed at doing anything.

The Polegotech is a divider.  They thrive on other people’s uncertainty about each other. They fill the divide created by the uncertainty.  Uncertainty often exists because those in key leadership roles fail to deliver the vision and focus that disempowers the Polegotech.  If the Polegotech is in a management role, it will be up to his or her peers to be strong; to question and hold their often arrogant peer accountable.

Some typical Polegotech behaviours include:

  • Subtly or directly undermining or disempowering others with the potential to be influential within the Polegotech’s political or professional sphere. A political animal.
  • Sarcasm and subtle put downs toward those that question the Polegotech’s intent or logic
  • Inconsistent use of logic and facts to support their strong views.
  • Making people feel stupid, often in front of others. Suggesting the person they have put down needs to be ‘realistic’ and only complains due to their ‘low self-esteem’
  • ‘Cutting people off’ or ‘cutting them down’ when they seem to be getting to understand what is ‘really going on’. This is often done politically, especially at the senior level.

The confusing aspect of a Polegotech is that they are sometimes right.  They have a tendency to be convincing for a while.  It is not until the organisation receives a  pattern of complaints that it begins to realise that it has a problem. This is understandable.  An organisation cannot go into panic mode every time it receives complaints about a person who pushes others to think or work more effectively or differently.  Sometimes a manager who has good intent, is respectful but has a strong change agenda will make others feel uncomfortable.  There may even be complaints against this person as an obstruction to a legitimate change agenda.  So you need to be careful differentiating between a Polegotech and a strong manager or change agent.

So  how does an organisation manage and minimise the impact of a Polegotech?

  1. Be on the front foot in training its people about what is expected in relation to behaviour – especially leaders. In this training, talk about what is legitimate behaviour and not legitimate behaviour that may result in discomfort to others.
  2. Demonstrate a strong commitment to workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment reporting systems and natural justice. If the senior team has no commitment to this, it could be lean times culturally because it means there is little accountability for behaviour even at the top.
  3. Don’t allow ‘political correctness’ to be the basis of operating professionally and fairly. This allows Polegotechs to gather support and divide between what they describe as ‘the realists’ and ‘PCs’.
  4. Politely and professionally make people who make complaints about inappropriate behaviour accountable for their statements. Get them to be specific about the behaviours they have experienced or witnessed.
  5. Don’t promote or recruit experts into managerial roles if they don’t show a hint leadership ability and genuine commitment to the organisation. Be prepared to train them, even if they do.
  6. Train managers in having challenging discussions as soon as they identify a team member behaving poorly.
  7. The top leader needs to be continually reinforcing a commitment to appropriate and ethical behaviour, if she or he cannot the organisation has a problem. It will be a breeding ground for Polegotechs.

I would love to read some further ways individuals and organisations respond to a Polegotech, and welcome your comments and further discussion below.


Leading in the Challenging Times – 7 Good Habits

Andrew really got on well with the members of his team.  For years the team had been riding on a high.  The organisation’s average growth was about 9% over a period of 12 years from 2002 to 2014.  In the second quarter of 2015 activity slowed and the growth figures evaporated.  The organisation spent the second half of 2015 ‘riding it out’.  Recruitment of new heads was put on hold and natural attrition became the downsizing strategy.  In February 2016 Andrew was charged with reducing headcount by 20%.  The mood got tense and confrontational.  Suddenly the positive vibe was replaced by a unanimous sense of fear and insecurity. Suddenly there was a new subtle pressure on relationships between managers and staff.

If your organisation is experiencing the effects of an economic slowdown or simply changing to remain relevant in a changing world, it is definitely not alone.  However, it becomes extraordinarily important that managers and supervisors are prepared to lead for the times.  Perhaps this is one reason sporting teams elect their leadership groups regularly. While we cannot do this in an organisation, we can certainly give focus to our key people on behaviours and actions that can be targeted to effectively manage people in challenging times. Here are some qualities to highlight.

Know the plan and maintain a sense of the future

The biggest mistake made by managers through challenging times is that they become immersed in ONLY surviving for today as opposed to retaining a sense of the future. A lack of direction and leadership often causes low morale. Leadership is ‘here we are today; this is where we need to go in the future – come with me!’ Therefore, if a manager has no sense of the future, how can their team?

You create a sense of future by being able to describe what’s ahead. If the future is uncertain just focus on very short term, week by week objectives.  If your team members know there is a restructure or ‘close down’ you can be focused on preparing your people to be in the best possible ‘situation’ once the event happens. In tough times you might need to increase your face to face communication with team members, rather than reduce it.

If the change is being imposed upon you, demand to know the short term plan, and if that is not available (often due to confidentiality reasons) at least gain an understanding of the short term goals and expectations that are being placed on you.  While the long term may not be clear, you have a right to know what is expected of you. Sometimes you have to manage upwards.

Act calmly and professionally, maintain perspective, and be prepared to change.

Tough economic times often lead to changes in numbers and structure. Feelings of uncertainty and insecurity can become overwhelming emotions for all concerned – including managers and supervisors.  The truth is, when leaders show outward anxiety, it catches like a cold.  On the other hand, maintaining a sense of calmness, at the least, builds a sense of perspective and continuity among team members.  Taking a deep breath and thinking before you speak is critical. How you react to events unfolding around you will be critical to the morale and productivity of your team.

Whatever you do, don’t indulge in negativity throughout a challenging period at work.  Once you start sharing you doubts and criticisms with team members – though there might be some short term satisfaction – in the long term you will cause mistrust and it will almost be impossible to lead the team into the future. Communicate your own anxieties and concerns upwards not downwards.

Being a professional manager, you may be expected to make adjustments to the way you work.  It may be your role, your style or team.  Never say ‘no’ until you have thought through the consequences of the change you are inheriting and expected to drive.  If it turns out that after contemplation you cannot commit to the new expectations, be honest with yourself and your employer.  It will save you all a lot of heartache.

Plan communications

When it comes to your more formal and less formal communication with team members, think about what you are going to say.  If the communication relates to a managed change process, it needs to be considered and consistent with the overall company strategies and any workplace relations agreements.  When communication is sloppy, there is a risk from a branding, legal and performance perspective.

Be highly disciplined about team meetings and other communication disciplines – they are like gold.  You can keep reiterating the short term objectives to your team and monitor the ‘temperature’ of the group in relation to morale and issues.  Remember, do more listening than talking.

Don’t make major announcements via email or electronic media.  Face to face meetings and on-going consultations are imperative. Debriefs after major changes are essential both at the team and individual level.

Think about and act on staff morale

Tough times are not only tough on the staff, they are tough on the leaders.  Sometimes you might lack the energy to do the disciplines that drive morale such as the pizza lunches, morning teas or recognition activities. There is nothing more important throughout a challenging period than doing little things that ‘ignite’ the energy of team members.  It’s a really important time to remember the phrases ‘well done’ and ‘great job’ when there is a genuine reason to say so.

Act with consideration for employee rights and agreements

Naivety and a lack of knowledge in relation to your team’s employment conditions is high risk.   Especially when the tough time includes a restructure or change of employment conditions, managers must know the key reference points and/or remain well advised about these. Following the policies, processes and honouring agreements is essential.

Workplace bullying and inappropriate behaviour can also be an issue in times of change, due to instability and less tolerance for costly mistakes.  Make sure you run some briefings and training on conduct and behaviour and ensure the reporting lines are clear and open should a complaint need to be made.

Refer mental health impacts to the experts

There is no place for managers to be counselling team members whose behaviours suggest that the challenging times (or other circumstances) are having a negative impact on their mental health.  Your role is to recognise that there may be an issue and refer the person to professional assistance via the organisation’s health and safety procedures or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service.  It is important that you get the balance between demonstrating empathy and remaining focused and professional.

‘Yes I understand that you are not sleeping well – have you thought of getting some professional advice about this.  Did you know we have an EAP service available? Here is the card.’

Take care of yourself, take a break and keep up your energy levels.

During challenging times it is vital that you maintain your own energy.  That energy will be vital in conserving the energy it takes to deal with implementing the changes.  There are so many ways people ‘get away’ but remembering what is important to you outside work is important to dealing with what’s going on at work.  That one or two days’ break each week can be vital to you surviving the challenge.  Eat well, sleep well, do well!

I like professional managers to remember that leading in challenging and uncertain times is another tool in your kit.  It’s a quality that many international organisations are looking for and being able to demonstrate knowledge of what is expected in such times may land you your next big opportunity. In fact, I have a close friend and his profession is being sent to different parts of the world to supervise the closing down of sites. He is one of the calmest and most pragmatic people I know. 


Six ‘Must Know’ Points for People, Culture and Learning for 2016

As we move into the second month of the new year, it is an important time to take stock of the current climate and its implications for People, Culture and Learning professionals.

people learning

Here I outline what I believe are six of the most pertinent points to bear in mind for 2016:

  1. Anxiety levels will be UP (and so too will be mental ill-health issues)

Economic uncertainty and a requirement to achieve higher productivity levels is going to increase anxiety in the workplace. Make sure you have a good Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider and your management and staff understand the service. Management knowledge of how to manage behaviours related to mental ill-health will be important.

  1. People’s experience with eLearning must be improved

 More people will be looking for quality eLearning interventions with the likelihood of tighter budgets and an emphasis on message consistency. Alas, many Australian workplaces don’t have a high regard for the method.

As Managing Director of World Learning Hub , I am fully aware of the mixed views professionals have about eLearning. Some content has been poorly conceived, learning methodologies are hum-drum and the performance of eLearning technologies often inconsistent.  Our WLH annual training survey showed less than half were using eLearning as their key training methodology.

I am a great advocate of individuals receiving a blended approach to workplace  learning whenever possible.  That means combining the different forms of learning to achieve your individual  learning outcomes. Our WLH survey shows that under 20% of organisations are using eLearning or blended learning as major learning strategies. An effective approach requires that L&D professionals need to take time in choosing their interventions. Especially in the eLearning field there has been a tendency to buy access to hundreds of modules without really knowing their quality or effectiveness. It’s a slightly lazy approach and may not necessarily achieve specific learning outcomes.

  1. Generation Y and Millennials adjusting work expectations

Let’s face it, most of the western world has been in recession or has been slowly coming out of it for some time. Australia has been somewhat saved from the pain by a mining boom. That boom is finished – over and out!  I don’t see long term doom and gloom but I see a need for higher levels of productivity in new industries.

I’m personally unconvinced by the current official unemployment rate in Australia. First, all states but NSW have increasing unemployment rates. Second, research by Roy Morgan suggests rising under-employment.

My view is that employers will need more from less.  Especially in the medium sized business sector, the margins are just not what they were. The demands of a generation of lifestyle driven employees may well be easing as available full time work in many sectors diminishes. The adjustment in expectations will definitely challenge some old boom time attitudes to working.

The answer is leadership. Managers will need to find ways to lead workers to a new frontier of more concentrated and  productive output.

  1. Social Media and Work won’t always mix

I didn’t make ‘Responsible use of Social Media’ a priority at World Learning Hub for no reason.  The misuse of company information and depictions workplace interactions remains high risk for all organisations.

A good social media policy and effective training is paramount to protecting an organisations reputation and culture. Don’t procrastinate with this one and remember,  if you don’t train you haven’t implemented the policy.

  1. Racial and religious tolerance to be tested

So called ‘religious’ driven terrorism is making a loud noise, even though it is a relatively small group of people who perform such acts.

However, the noise creates fear, and fear often inspires  potentially  racist behaviour.  Some Australians may be starting to question whether or not multiculturalism is a sustainable policy. The concept, like in many European countries, might give way to a far more assimilationist wave. In the light of this, 2016 could see tolerance levels tested, especially if terrorist groups are not brought under control.

This signals a good time to reinforce the workplace bullying, harassment and EEO policy.

  1. Time off the job hard to find

 Productivity will be the mantra for many organisations in 2016. Face to face training programs and conferences will be harder to get to.  Not because organisations are less interested in developing their knowledge pool, but because people just won’t have the spare time. Reliance on eLearning and Webinars is sure to increase for critical training areas. The traditionalists will be challenged and the percentage of organisations using eLearning as a key  L&D strategy could ‘shoot through the ceiling’. That said, I will always advocate that face to face training is the most powerful tool building and changing work cultures.