Category Archives: Managing People

Federer and the performance benefits of working part-time

The professional tennis circuit is a punishing arena for men’s and women’s bodies.  To aim for #1 requires a level of commitment and a volume of matches that seem beyond the capacity of the human body to sustain.  Hence, our heroes regularly need injury time off, or even worse, limp off the court without finishing their matches – leaving the public without the contest we have paid good money watch.

The rule of sport, and most working lives, seems to be “play full-on for as long – or as short – as you can, then retire”.

Roger Federer understands the cost of full-time commitment to the game. In mid-2016 he took a six-month recovery break and looked to be facing the end of his career. But in 2017, he staged an amazing resurgence, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, among others.  Instead of returning to full-time tennis, he cherry-picked the games that he would play and we heard him use the term “part-time” at both Wimbledon 2017 and at this year’s Hopman Cup win. In the Hopman Cup interview he explained: “I’ve played almost 1500 times so you have to be careful now. It’s nice, I work part time now. I work in the morning, I’m off in the afternoon or I do it the other way around. It’s good being a dad, good being a husband, good being a tennis player. I have the best of all worlds, it’s great.”

Many senior business people face a similar dilemma, working too hard and not participating in their children’s development, until a disease or illness knocks them down. Then they re-evaluate and have to decide whether to persevere or retire. They often don’t have the choices that Federer – a self-employed professional – has the advantage of making.  Federer can choose which competitions he enters.  The only thing he may have to give up is the ambition to be number one again, if he is not playing as many competitions as his compatriots.

Federer is a great example to reinforce that “part-time” doesn’t mean “poor quality” or “poor commitment”.  In fact, many part timers work harder than their colleagues and yet they are distrusted.

Given the paucity of good quality part-time jobs, it’s time to start having more conversations to remind our leaders that having happy and high-performing part-timers can be a better option than requiring senior employees to remain full-time and frazzled?

Will you stay or will you leave?

Fascinating article from researcher  Irit Alony, of Wollongong University, published in the Conversation today. She and her colleagues applied the successful divorce-prediction criteria of John Gottman, from the University of Washington, to see if it could predict which employees were more likely to leave their organisations.

If I understand the research study correctly, those who express negativity such as: “disappointment, withdrawal, hostility, or contempt” (Alony, Hasan & Sense, 2015) are more likely to leave both a marriage and a workplace.  In contrast, those of us who learn the following coping mechanisms are more likely to stay (in both a marriage and a workplace):
– Balancing the good with the bad (e.g. with at least a 2:1 ratio of two positive comments for every negative, aiming towards a thriving relationship ratio of 5:1)
– Genuinely accepting that bad things (e.g. annoying people and systems and rules) are just part of work life
– Avoiding lengthy discussions of the negatives (e.g. learning to shift conversations to focus on how they coped or what they learned so that we/they can do better or differently next time)
– Expressing hope (e.g. that you can directly influence and/or you can cope with whatever happens to you).

And the best way to increase the positives, is to thank others for their contribution, rather than just assuming “that’s what they are paid to do”.

So ‘thank you’ to my Thought Ratio colleague, MIchelle Carlyle for this link.

[How] are questions better than affirmations?

Thanks to John Campbell at Growth Coaching International for the link to recent research into the benefits of asking questions before doing a task, versus making affirmations.  The research shows that asking “Will I…?” helps generate more internal motivation and success on tasks than stating “I will…”

I am also an advocate of asking “how will you …?” or “how can you…?”  when managing others, so it would be interesting to know whether the “how” provides even more benefit.

By the way, the link to the underlying research led me to the Science Daily website – which looks like a great source of updates for a research junkie like me and led to another article, which I will review tomorrow.

Will I test this out on myself this week? Hmmm it would be helpful to see if there was a difference.  But will it work if I know what I am doing?  I will just have to try it and see.

Retrench the role, respect the person

I’m working with a management group at present where there have been a number of retrenchments and we all agree there is no easy way to do it.  The key is to show respect for the person and their feelings and allow them to be shocked and hurt.  I’m not sure the value of explaining “why” the role can no longer exist, because the ‘why’ is only ever in the organisation’s interests.

It reminds me of the “bad” ole days when I was retrenched twice in two years.  The first was known well ahead of time, in fact they wanted me to go so they wouldn’t have to make a payout and I was too young and green to know my rights.

But the second was a complete shock.  I had worked hard on a merger only to be told the night before that there was no role for me in the new line up the next day.  Yes, he said kind words, and yes he explained the company’s position but ….. “its not fair” I wanted to yell, as I was shuffled off home with a cheque and told don’t come back tomorrow.

These days large organisations have outplacement services but for smaller organisations that often isn’t possible.

As a colleague or friend, or a great manager, the best thing you can do is to sit with your and their discomfort and just listen, not so solve, but so that the person feels heard and respected.

Are your people smart or do they work hard?

Lots of useful ideas in Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog on how to use the workings of our brain to enhance our marketing persuasiveness.  Most of the ideas are also translatable into the management context.  E.g. a reference to the research of one of my favourite educators – Carol Dweck – on praise, can be translated from the parental and teacher situation into performance praise.

According to the research, we should expect that managers who praise staff for the effort they put into getting results rather than praising them for their natural intelligence will find their staff tend to engage in more efforts to improve, whereas employees who are told that they are smart have no incentive to work to improve.

Work life flexibility – a useful business strategy

A Fast Company leadership article about CFO views of work life flexibility strategies is yet another example of the knowing – doing gap. Yost’s study of CFO perspectives confirms that American CFOs recognise the business potential of work life balance, yet few of the American companies surveyed have formal policies, or their use is constrained by leadership teams who see such flexibility as perks.

The practices are indicative of the research by Avery & Bergsteiner into sustainable leadership practices in Rhineland Europe, where downsizing has not been a regular practice because leaders realise the value of maintaining a skilled workforce through economic cycles.

For Australian HR professionals, Yost’s research and articles providing a starting point in building a business case for flexibility practices as a viable alternative to downsizing and Avery & Bergsteiner’s research provides the  examples of leading organisations that have already turned the knowing into doing.

Wellbeing and Resilence are replacing Engagement

According to a recent HR breakfast presentation by  Roger Collins, Professor Emeritus, UNSW, managers and HR representatives can best help their employees by focusing on Wellbeing programs rather than Engagement programs.  Professor Collins argument is based on the evidence-based view that engagement provides a one-way benefit to the organisation, whereas wellbeing and resilence provide two-way benefits.

In line with this view, Sharon has seen first hand evidence from a Wellbeing program at NAB Technology, where Wellbeing courses and support tools provided productivity benefits to the organisation as well as increased employee health and satisfaction, coupled with decreased perceptions of stress and overwhelm.

Following this theme, A Passion for Results, in conjunction with People Dynamics, has been busily redesigning our programs and we are pleased to launch our new integrated offering for 2009: ROC your Staff: Building Resilence, eOrganising and Collaborative capabilities to ensure everyone thrives in difficult times.

For further information please contact Sharon McGann, Paul Worth or Cheryl Gilroy at info[at]

Co-operative not Superior Specialists

I’m working with a client whose strategy was to hire the best specialists and throw them together to solve the problems faced by their clients. You can imagine the result – not quite what the founders imagined. It’s similar to the outcomes described by Dr Meredith Belbin, the creator of the Belbin Team Roles inventory, in his book Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail.

Unfortunately, there’s a dangerous tendency for specialists to also be superiorists -“I’m better than you are” and whilst I don’t know for sure, I suspect this organisation had a few of them.

It’s the same when the most technically expert person is promoted to a management role; their attitude is often “no one can do it as well as I can” and unfortunately, the staff get the communication loud and clear.

So what can we do in such a situation?

If you are the ‘superior specialist’, the key is to remind yourself that even if you can do better than others, you can’t necessarily do more than others, so you have to decide to what extent you are interested in quality and to what extent you are interested in achieving more than you alone can achieve, which is the power of team-based working.

From a team perspective, it’s useful to acknowledge that strengths come bundled together with weaknesses, so a good thinker is not necessarily good person with people and vice versa, but a team that has all bases covered can outperform any single-strength team, no matter how technically brilliant.

Hunters and Carers

I’m grappling with the consequences of implementing the strengths based philosophy and a recent conversation with a good client is indicative of the dilemma. This organisation wants their Relationship Managers to be as good at bringing in new clients as they are at looking after them, but few in the team seem to have both strengths in balance (funny that) and training isn’t a viable solution, unless other things are addressed.

The strengths approach (and my experience) says that those who are “hunters” love wooing others (winning them over – to use the Clifton Strengths Finder category) and will never be as good at caring as they are at wooing. When they’ve brought a new client in to the organisation, the wooing is over and the hunter is on to the next prospective client and the new client can suddenly feel a bit “unloved” if no one else takes over to care for them.

The carers in comparison, are a little bit slower in forming relationships with new clients and find the wooing very difficult so they procrastinate. But they love looking after existing clients and making sure they are happy.

A mix of hunter and carer is ideal, but we are more likely to create that in a team than to create that mix in a person.

What happens to a manager of a team who has been tasked with making sure each team member does their share of hunting and caring?

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