WHAT GLASS CEILING? … I ONLY EVER WANTED TO BE A MUMMY REALLY!

Quite recently I had the pleasure of working with an inspiring group of women of all ages on an open programme I was facilitating for the CIPD which gives an insight into the world of Human Resources for those either starting off their careers in HR, changing to a career in HR or who’ve just had HR bolted on to their already very busy roles at work.  

Over the many years of facilitating this programme I am still amazed at how few men attend (we had one very brave soul out of 12 with us last week) and why our profession is still so heavily biased towards females.  At Change Gear we are often approached by clients who are trying to bridge the gender gap at senior level asking for creative ways of helping them address this challenge.  When we ask about their existing statistics on gender at senior level we frequently find a Board made up of 80/90% men and typically one of the only one or two females on the Board is the HR Director.  

In trying to unpack the reasons why this is still the case I did some inward reflection about my career journey.  Having opted for nursing school as opposed to university, a minor back injury led to a rapid change of direction where I found myself working in Graduate Recruitment at Ernst & Young – I loved the job so much but the travel didn’t allow me to study for my CIPD qualifications – and I found myself taking a more generalist role at a well-known retail business – and starting my journey into the world of HR and L&D.

As much as I loved my work, my biological clock was ticking, in fact thumping and when things got tough on the fertility front I decided to leave my permanent role and take on what I thought at the time was the softer option of “going freelance”.  Fast forward 20 years and I have never regretted that decision once.  What started out as way of having a more flexible way of raising my children somehow morphed into me co-owning Change-Gear with my business partner (and dear friend) Karen Christensen.  Did I ever wish for this – sadly no! My only agenda was to have a family and I didn’t think way beyond that.  

I often wonder if I’d stayed in the corporate rat race where my career aspirations would have taken me. Would I too have shied away from senior level roles in favour of getting home at a decent time to bath and put the kids to bed?  Would this glass ceiling have affected me? I believe it would. Having fought so hard to have my family I can’t imagine for one minute I would have sacrificed my time with them in order to gain myself a seat at the Exec table by staying late every night and toughing it out with the boys.  I am hopeful that these attitudes change but I fear for our daughters that they face quite a tough time ahead and I wonder what advice I can give mine as she starts to make career choices as she approaches 18.  When I observe her peer group they seem so much bolder and stronger than I was at her age but in another way so much more vulnerable – I’m actually not sure what was a better era to grow up in – I hope that we continue to strive for gender parity and that those businesses that are out there flying the flag for the sisterhood with a strong D&I agenda continue their great work.

In the meantime, I will continue to encourage both my children (of both sexes) to treat everyone with the same respect they deserve and to always believe they are of equal value in this challenging world we live in.

Would I have changed my path if I could? Not for one minute – I may not have reached the heady heights of a corporate board but I have a business that I am proud of, a business partner that I love working with, a fantastic team and a family that I am ever grateful for.  No seat on the Board could match that.

If you’d like to find out more about our innovative Diversity & Inclusion workshops or Women in Leadership programmes please contact us at hello@change-gear.com

“FAILING TO PREPARE MEANS PREPARING TO FAIL” – IS IT TIME TO RETHINK THE OLD SAYING?

 

We all know the old sayings “failing to prepare means preparing to fail” and the 6 P’s – “Proper Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance” – goodness knows I had them drummed into me enough times as a fledgeling Training Officer back in the day. While there might be some truth in these old adages, I think it is time that we started looking at them through a new lens.

In a week’s time my family will either be jumping for joy or drowning our sorrows – what am I talking about? Yes, it’s almost time for the dreaded A-level results. My daughter along with countless other students up and down the country will be nervously waiting for their UCAS tracker to update and hopefully show they have a place at their university of choice.

Anyone that knows me will probably be sick to the back teeth of hearing me warble on about the unhealthy pressure and stress that was heaped on our teenagers during this year’s exam season. In the rush to meet the political agenda of halting “falling educational standards,” examination papers were created which even degree undergraduates couldn’t answer, let alone the brightest of A-level students. This feels incredibly wrong and that in 21stCentury Britain we seem hell bent on “preparing to fail” our young people in many different ways.

As my daughter has rightly pointed out, what is the point of putting in the hard work if the exams are so difficult the grade boundaries have to be adjusted so much that a student with a score of 35% could potentially get the same grade as someone scoring 85% (sadly this has been confirmed by a number of teachers). I am not talking as some pushy mother that wants her child to be first in everything but as someone who is concerned for the mental health and well-being of all our young people. Clearly, we are short changing everyone, creating a dangerous world of over inflated expectation on one hand and de-motivation on the other.

When I look at my daughter and her friends, there is no way they could have prepared any more than they did and yet they may still fail! I am a great lover of the saying “there is always more than one way to skin a cat” and on the morning of the 15thof August, should the results not be as hoped for, I will be helping my daughter to see that her perceived “failure” is something she can learn from and that she hasn’t failed, the system was prepared to fail her!

Perhaps a new saying should be “work hard, put the effort in and good things will happen eventually because the road to success is always under construction!”

What are your thoughts? Do you have any sayings that are better than the two I shared at the beginning of this blog? 

Leave us a comment in the box below or get in touch at hello@change-gear.com

Karen

P.S. Good luck to all A-level and GCSE students waiting for their results – I really hope you get what you wish for!

Who’s Laughing Now?

The Change Gear team is an incredibly talented one; each of our consultants brings a diversity of thought and experience to everything that we do. In this post our resident stand-up comic (as well as expert facilitator and coach), Sam Sanns reflects upon what she has learned about the relationship between comedy and leadership and whether leaders can learn anything from the world of stand-up.


A leader, a stand-up and a cynic walk into a boardroom…

Having worked in the worlds of coaching and stand-up comedy for the past two decades, I’ve become increasingly curious to see how these two very different worlds collide. I’m not usually one for a big bang so have instead decided to eagerly straddle both worlds in the service of exploring the true value of humour in corporate settings, providing tangible skills that a leader can employ. 

My career started in acting. I went to drama school after reading the shocking statistic that 95% of actors are unemployed at any one time. Result! You only have to work 5% of the time! It swiftly dawned on me however that only working 5% of the time meant you were only paid 5% of the time, which I hadn’t really thought through and so turned my hand to comedy. I also started to look for opportunities to utilise my passion for self-development and instilling confidence; something where I could help individuals who were blocked in realising their full potential. I studied hard and qualified as an Advanced Executive Coach. This provided a bridge between the brutal world of stand-up comedy and the often-sit-down tragedy of the boardroom. 

Business and humour are traditionally unhappy bedfellows. Of course, there’s the broad seriousness of making money, though often the differing roles and status of those collectively contributing to the company’s success can present communication challenges. I believed this to be worthy of further examination so, purely as an exercise, I pitched up a tent in the C Suite to see if I couldn’t create a titter or two, proving that they’re actually a match made in heaven, like Romeo & Juliet, Posh & Becks, Boris & Brexit. My objective was not to create stand-up comedians of leaders, but instead share the strategies and skills employed by comedians to win hearts and minds. This is what I discovered:

What’s in it for you as a leader?

Building Trust

Many communication models (including Patrick Lencioni) highlight vulnerability as an essential ingredient in building trust within a team. Humour is a way for leaders to show their humanity and a useful, controlled tool for shining a light on ‘selective’ vulnerability. No need to diminish your status or fear that you’ll come across as unhinged – humour can remove potential for an awkward response and leave you looking confident and credible as you reveal your poker hand with no apology. Trust will build. 

Being Present

Stand-ups live or die by how present they are. Trust me on this! A recent session I attended with global leaders illustrated just how hyper-vigilant one needs to be in order to observe reactions, stay in the moment and adapt one’s style to effectively influence the room. How often do we allow ourselves to fully sit in current reality and just observe the raw data? It can be overwhelmingly exposing to just ‘be’ and to put our own agenda aside. There are many exercises and strategies a stand-up will employ in order for them to read the room, enabling them to make conscious choices on delivering material, being physical, pushing boundaries and getting the timing right.  All this results in the notion that the individual who visibly displays the skills is one who is at the core – present; in stark contrast to one who hides behind the twin shields of PowerPoint and corporate jargon.

Authenticity

Humour can’t be faked. You can lie about your LinkedIn profile, be creative about your credibility, even say “I do” with a straight face when “I’d rather not” is your gut reaction, but you can’t ‘apply’ comedy. It is, by default, authentically you. Leaders who authentically connect with and influence their teams are those who are truthful, direct and honest. Comedy is egalitarian and provides a shared experience across all levels of an organisation and can break down barriers. There’s nothing better than being in a room where everyone is on the same page. It creates a common ground where colleagues at all levels can feel heard and valued. Laughter is contagious and an involuntary reaction to something that is funny. It’s always more about the relationships, not the jokes. As a word of caution though, not all leaders are authentically funny and the use of comedy to mask a hidden agenda can go horribly wrong and often just look and sound desperate. There are enough toe-curling examples by politicians over the years to illustrate this (Teresa May’s Dancing Queen anyone?) And a word of caution I’m not talking about the evil that is “banter” either, which is the exact opposite of authentic communication and often has a divisive rather than collaborative impact. 

Neuroscience

A good joke has a setup that takes the listener in one direction then delivers a punchline that sidetracks them down a completely different path. That wonderful ‘Aah, I didn’t see that coming!’ moment. Good comedy relies on the flexibility and adaptability of the front temporal lobe – the part of the brain responsible for spontaneity, problem-solving and judgement. People hear differently when they are amused, alert and open to suggestion. This can be of enormous benefit for leaders in a corporate environment, contributing to compelling storytelling, decision-making, consciousness and communication. 

Empathy

Humour provides an excellent tool to demonstrate empathy and draw out the best of human group behaviour.  To creatively share with a workforce that you know how they feel, without ever having to say; “I know how you feel, guys’ which can ignite a knee-jerk reaction of “Do you?!!!! Do you really??!!!” It can deflate tension in the workplace and is a means by which colleagues can openly share solutions and create a forward-thinking and transparent culture, taking teams from one emotional state into a more positive, future-focused mind set. It’s harder to feel like a victim when you’re laughing. Its rhetoric can provide an effective persuasive tool. A Clinical Director of an Intensive Care Unit, I worked with recently shared with me the value of humour in troubled times. Some professions seek refuge in black humour and already see the value of a leader that can stand unshakeable in this, think Adam Kay’s best-selling book “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor” and you get the picture!

It’s absolutely not my intention to recreate Live at The Apollo within your workplace, or to encourage you to turn up to meetings riding a square-wheeled bike with a spinning bow tie. I will however provide a space where you can learn first-hand the value of comedy and the real benefit of appropriate humour. I will share exercises that bring this theory to life and offer techniques that you can put in your back pocket as another behavioural tool in your leadership toolkit. Try these techniques on for size and decide for yourself if they support you in your role as leader. At the very least, make someone smile today.

Mike drop.

If you would like to know about our lunch and learn session “Comedic Performance and Leadership” please get in touch with us at hello@change-gear.comwe would be delighted to share with you the details. What better way for your people to spend their lunch hour, than taking part in an endorphin-producing event, that will set them up for an afternoon packed full of productivity!

The KonMari Method – Can it work for businesses?

Over the past six months I have been increasingly suffering from a debilitating ailment – commonly known as “stuffocation!” Each time I enter our family home my stress sensors go into overdrive. Just looking around at the discarded and duplicated items we have amassed over the ten years we have lived in this house is enough to bring me out in hives and don’t get me started on what has been chucked into the loft over the past decade!

Taking the bull by the horns, armed with a positive attitude and a roll of black bags I started my de-cluttering mission. I exhaled a huge sigh of relief and felt so much better as I watched husband transport multiple black bags of once loved items to our local Emmaus Village and recycling centre. I am particularly proud of my wardrobe (the physical one) as I now only have clothes in there that I love and feel comfortable in. They may not be the most exciting to the outside eye but being able to make a quick and easy decision each day about what I am going to wear brings me so much satisfaction. Oh, the joy of breathing again without so much “stuff!”

To my surprise, I learned that what I was doing (thank-you Carrie) is described in the KonMari Method. For those of you (like me before my conversation with Carrie) who have never heard of Marie Kondo, she is an organising consultant and author, best known for her work “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the recently released Netflix series – “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” There are six basic rules to her method of organising and de-cluttering:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up 
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  3. Finish discarding first 
  4. Tidy by category, not by location 
  5. Follow the right order 
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy

It is not only in my personal life that I have felt the need to de-clutter but also within my working life. As Change Gear entered its sixth year (birthday celebrations to be reported on later in the year) Carrie and I decided to take a step back to objectively look at our business and reflect on what we want for 2019. Last year we had set ourselves the challenge of being Bigger, Bolder and Braver, which meant that we had tried lots of new things in promoting the Change Gear brand, but 2019 calls for something different! We were both starting to feel overwhelmed by the different roles we play within the business: from financial planning, driving business development, keeping all the administrative tasks up to date, legal compliance, as well as doing what we know and love best – designing and delivering learning events. And so, after much discussion, we came to the decision that this year is about focusing our priorities and goals, that less is definitely more and the drive is to keep things lean.

Can we learn from KonMari Method and overcome the suffocation we were starting to feel in our business? Too right we can!! With the help of a team of brilliant business consultants we are already starting to put into place many of the things Marie Kondo suggests, just with a strategic business focus.

  1. We are committed to tidying up!! We have set up new systems for streamlining much of the back-office jobs we do and have boosted our administrative support in acknowledgement that we can’t do everything!
  2. We’ve imagined how we want the Change Gear lifestyle to be: exciting, fulfilling, sustainable and creating a legacy for the people we work with through immersive and experiential learning
  3. We are discarding what we don’t need – we are letting go of processes that might have served us well in the past but have little use five years after our initial set up
  4. We are tackling the category that is Google Drive – this monster of a filing system, which has controlled us rather than us having control over it, is being tamed and soon we will be free of its tyranny!
  5. We are constantly questioning each other as to the order in which we do things. What needs to be done first? What comes next? Are we being thrown off track? Are we focusing on the right things? Will a particular activity get us to where we want to be?
  6. Does what we are doing spark joy? An overwhelming yes from us! It feels so good to have clear sight and vision and not be encumbered by all the clutter that was weighing us down. It’s still a work in progress but the future looks bright, exciting and joyful! 

Sometimes organisations and leaders get bogged down by the status quo, too often when asked the question “why do you do it like that?” the answer comes back “because that’s the way we’ve always done it!” Learning to step back, strip away the clutter that can get in our way allows us to embrace opportunities that were hidden by a whole heap of unimportant things. Personally, and professionally I am going to keep streamlining, so I get to spend time on the things that matter, rather than the accumulated “stuff” that I no longer have use for and which only seeks to hijack me in one way or another.

We’d love to know your thoughts on de-cluttering and organisation, maybe you have some handy hints that help you from feeling overwhelmed – perhaps you can be the new Marie Kondo.

I’m off to binge watch “Tidying Up with….” on Netflix, what else can I learn from the master of organisation?

A YEAR WELL TRAVELLED

As 2018 came to a close I took some time to reflect back as I always do on what type of year it has been for me, my loved ones and of course – Change-Gear.  As always, the time feels like it’s flown. It seems like just a few months ago I was writing a blog pledging my new year’s resolution of using less plastic and here we are already; 12 months later and the time has come to set my goals and intentions again.

Like many other businesses, it was quite a tough one for Change-Gear.  The beginning of the year threw some difficult challenges our way but we continued to push forward and eventually, our hard work started to pay off. We found ourselves engaging with some exciting new clients and working on very different projects across a spectrum of sectors, many of whom we will be partnering within 2019.  Despite promising myself that I would improve my work-life balance in 2018 I can honestly admit that did not happen.  If anything, I found myself working many evenings and most weekends to keep things going.  By the time it got to my summer break in August I was exhausted.  10 days didn’t seem long enough and I found myself feeling like the holiday hadn’t happened.  I knew something had to give and when the opportunity came along to visit my friend who was living in Brazil I jumped at the chance.  This coincided with a number of projects abroad in the second half of the year.  I couldn’t believe the amount of travelling I was doing – work trips to Amsterdam, Brussels, New York. It felt like I was on and off planes continually.  But at the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to spend more time with my family.  We decided to book a ski holiday for Christmas to finish the year.

So back from my ten days in Portugal my first adventure took me to NYC at the back of a work trip.  I decided if I was going all that way I wanted to spend some time there enjoying one of my favourite cities.  I tagged on an extra 3 days and managed to cover so much ground with only myself to think about.  From the heart-wrenching 9/11 Memorial to the High Line, Jazz at Blue Notes, Chelsea Market, back to Grand Central for cocktails and people watching, art galleries and shopping in Greenwich Village – I loved every second of it and felt really at ease being a solo traveller after years of family or group travel.  Coming home I felt energised and super excited about my impending trip to Brazil yet my son was back from his own adventure in Australia and had been back at university in Falmouth – I knew it was going to be tight to visit him before Christmas so I managed a short weekend break down to Falmouth to get my fix.  As always Cornwall never disappoints.  A week later I was packing again and on my way to South America. This trip far excelled my already high expectations – Rio was an incredibly vibrant city full of colour and live music and dance.  The first few days, amongst other things, had me at the top of Christ the Redeemer, attending the races, sipping beer watching the sunset over Ipanema Beach and visiting a secret jazz club high in a pacified favela.  The diverse culture and acceptance of all ages felt liberating – I loved seeing grandparents samba-ing with teenagers in city squares.  I wondered whether you’d ever see this in any part of the UK. After back to back adventures in Rio we headed off to Igaucu Falls and were lucky enough to stay in the National Park and see the Falls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides.  We then headed to Paraty for some time on the Costa Verde enjoying the beautiful beaches and coastlines.  We finished the trip back in Rio and spent my last few days lapping up galleries, markets, botanical gardens and not forgetting the top of Sugar Loaf for the best views of the city.  As much as I was desperate to go home and see my family I knew I couldn’t wait to go back having only seen a fraction of what this beautiful country had to offer.  Hardly unpacked I was off for an impromptu weekend in Prague with some girlfriends – another beautiful city with so much to see and explore.  We covered almost everything in our short weekend and were lucky enough for it to snow on our first night so the town squares looked magical and the view from the top of Frank Gehry’s Dancing House Hotel was a real highlight.

And so finally I was home and unpacked and really looking forward to some time with my family on the Slopes – yet I knew I needed to see my mum and my sister before Christmas – how and when was the challenge.  I booked a ferry in between work commitments and found myself in the Isle of Wight where they lived, breathing in the fresh island air in Bembridge for another whistlestop trip.

And now I find myself sitting at the crowded airport in Turin after a wonderful week of skiing with my family in the beautiful resort of Cervinia in the Italian Alps – I’ve skied, I’ve eaten far too much and most importantly I haven’t thought about work (well not much).

I actually can’t believe how much travelling I have done in the past 6 months – the challenge has been fitting it in around my work – and so the weekend and evening work continued. Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  And yes, it’s left me hungry for my adventures.  Now my children are almost both grown up and independent I feel this will very much be a focus for me.

So, what are my hopes for 2019?  Of course, it’s for Karen and me to have a successful year with our talented Change-Gear team as we enter our 6thyear.  We will be setting our new business goals next week in our annual away days and are looking forward to some exciting times ahead.  For me personally, I will continue to strive to get a better work-life balance.  Having now been fortunate enough to have had a taste of new cultures and adventures – more travel will also be high on my list.  I’ll continue to work on looking out for our planet and apart from the other usual suspects of continuing to stay fit and eat well that will be about it for me.

Whatever your intentions are for 2019 we hope that it’s a great (well-balanced) year for you all with plenty of new adventures and places to explore

Happy new year from all at Change-Gear.

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