Welcome to our Conference

Opening remarks made by Maxine Attong – President of HRMATT at HRMATT’s one day Conference – Business Unusual held on June 29th at the Trinidad HYATT

The word disrupt is in the air.

Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School hosted its Disruption Day Conference in May 2018.  At the Conference, Professor Luke Williams stated “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, and emphasized that companies are now required to “innovate”.

Ronald Hinds, the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s echoed these sentiments at the Chamber’s Annual Business Luncheon, themed “Make Bold Moves To Change Your Predictable Outcome. “Perhaps we can see the current crisis not as the shattering of our perfect world but an opportunity to remake it.” Hinds advised that, “We need to change and change quickly. Sometimes, it takes a burning platform for people to make the leap.”

All strategies that are implemented in the organization have an impact on the people. Projects are done by the people, the new processes and the new technologies impact on how people work. It is our job as Human Resources to work with the leaders of the various initiatives to ensure that the ethics, the core values, and the culture of the organization are retained. We need to ensure that whatever is done for the business is done within the limits of the Industrial Relations Acts and that all  legal and statutory requirements are adequately met.

That is the traditional role of HR. We are the care takers. We pick up the pieces and ensure that all is in place for the organization to function. We are tagged after the changes are made and implemented.

Today we at HRMATT – Human Resources Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago – are sending a strong signal that this is the old way. We are challenging HR professionals to innovate. HR too is required to make Bold moves.

HRMATT has its own burning platforms and we know that we have to take the leap. We are committed to making different decisions that will redound to our own bold moves.
We are questioning everything and will change the way that we are doing everything. We are building a repository of articles from our members on Linked in and Facebook. We are inviting our members home. We are being transparent with the decisions that we make and the things that we do. We are being strategic in the way that we step into partnership with other business associations, educational bodies and professional membership institutions.
We at HRMATT have already made the Bold Move of pledging our commitment to seeing the Draft National Policy on Sexual Harassment come to fruition. And we will continue to boldly to make our presence felt on the national landscape.

HRMATT invites our membership to be involved with us. Join a committee, volunteer at the office, renew your membership, write an article or pitch an idea that you’re willing to bring  to fruition.  There is a place at HRMATT for each and every one of you.

Today is not about HRMATT. Today we will hear about the Bold Moves that are being made in the Caribbean landscape and most importantly the Bold Moves that HR professionals have made and are required to make.

Welcome to our conference.

Maxine Attong is an Organizational Development Consultant, author and coach. If you enjoyed this post, please share with you colleagues, friends and network

 

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Leaders – Don’t call the PoPo

Verb Phrase: Call the PoPo

Origin: Black American cultural/ political expression

Context: Organizational

Definition – A leader who (ab)uses the power or privilege vested in him/her by the organization to consciously or unconsciously discriminate against or to sully the reputation of or to belittle or to harm or to incriminate a person with less power/ privilege within his team or the wider organization.

Examples
1) Mr Smith called the PoPo when he berated the people who were laughing at the water cooler.  He explained,  “ This is an office. Laughter suggests that they are not working.”

2) Sandra is exhausted, she’s been up 3 consecutive nights with her sick baby. Her manager is aware and empathetic. She puts her head down for a moment. Mrs Jones calls the PoPo as she says to Sandra’s manager ”I cannot have Sandra on the  the special assignment. She’s lazy, she’s sleeping on the job”

3) John’s kids eyes grew wide with astonishment as they watched Mrs Knight shout loudly and say mean things to their father. As John averted their eyes, he and his kids shared the deep knowledge that Mrs Knight was calling the PoPo on John.

Have you as a leader ever called the popo on your team members? What could you have done differently? What other examples of leaders calling the PoPo have you witnessed? Please share them

If you liked the article, please share or comment or repost.

(image by ODOBESTI)

3 Leadership Tips from Starbucks Settlement

By now you would have heard the news: the two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were discriminated against by the Starbucks barista, accepted a settlement of USD1 each and got the city’s commitment to fund a USD200,000 grant program for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.
As I read  their decisions and listened to their interviews I noted three tips, that would assist leaders to effectively lead their teams and to make better decisions.

Tip 1 : Leaders have long term vision – Nelson and Robinson are college students who undoubtedly could use the money. Yet, instead of cashing in on the situation they looked ahead, a little further down the road at their bigger vision. The swiftness of their decision, the manner in which they navigated this murky and dramatic situation suggested to me that these guys had a vision long before the event occurred. It was therefore easy for them to turn a negative into a positive since they viewed the event as an opportunity to move one step closer to their overall vision.

Leaders are also asked to have a long term vision. How many of us have a long term vision for ourselves and for our teams? The leader who has a long term vision is not distracted by what happens, she uses her long term vision to temper the effects of the present situation. Her vision becomes a barometer and the question she asks herself when difficult situations arise is “How can this situation serve my long term vision?”

Tip 2: Leaders are focused on others and not self– The decision to set up a fund for entrepreneurs moves the spotlight from Nelson and Robinson to other unnamed and unseen parties. They are creating opportunities for others to shine. They are building a legacy by providing a service to others.

How many of us as leaders have created opportunities for team members to grow? How many of us turn the spotlight on team members or put things in place for them to achieve their dreams? Leadership is about others and as the leader leads he also serves. While there may be a personal long term benefit for the leader who builds a legacy, it is often done by willingly sharing the spot light in the short term. As leaders we need to encourage others to build their skills, to increase their capabilities and to become leaders.

Tip 3: Leaders make economically sound decisions. – In one interview Nelson and Robinson explained that there is cost to a lawsuit, both in money and time. They consciously made an economic decision to accept the fund for USD200,000, even though there was a high probability that a lawsuit would result in more money.  They are also sharply aware that the USD 200,000 grant is only for one year and have begun discussing how to sustain the grant beyond the first year.

Every decision that we make as leaders directly or indirectly impacts on our companies’ bottom line. Do you think about the bottom line when making decisions? Our leadership does not exist in a vacuum, it exists in the context of an organization that has a mission and vision therefore our decisions should also reflect these. Those of us who work in for-profit organizations, have a responsibility to ensure that our decisions make a positive contribution to the company’s bottom line and that secure the company’s sustainability over the long term. This aspect of leadership is not often discussed, but leaders cannot be economically naive.  We have an economic responsibility to our companies and the teams that we lead.

 What thoughts did you have as you watched the Starbucks settlement unfold?

If you are a leader and want to increase the effectiveness of your team and your personal contributions as a leader, then drop me a line. I’m here in service.

(image by TriniChow)

Words have Meaning

I love words. I doodle with them. I take them apart – shredding bigger words into smaller pieces. I appreciate the art of double entendre and I get a kick out of homophones. Words are a load of fun.
Last week I held my breath as two creative minds dabbled in word play over my blog post. I thoroughly  enjoyed their arguments and marveled at their wit.
It’s not with any stretch of the imagination that this week I am thinking about words and how we make meaning of them.

We communicate with words in organizations. They share our Vision and Mission. We hang them as core values on our office walls and they become performance yardsticks ( or big sticks) as we evaluate behaviors.

Organizations spend a lot of time and money crafting these words, yet, when I work with leaders and teams and ask, “What do these words  mean?” The responses are never loud, the answers are never certain.

The meaning of words is constructed daily, deconstructed and reconstructed to bring new meaning and nuance. Words are also contextual, they shift shape and take their forms from us.  Think about it – in the 1960’s the word gay expanded its meaning to include sexual orientation and bling was entered into the Oxford dictionary in 2002.

While dictionaries provide definitions they often do not indicate how words play out in our everyday life. It is you, it is I, it is we, who through our interactions, our experiences and the tapestry of our lives who give words life.

When I think of the word share, I understand how organizations get words wrong. Share is defined as inter alia “have a portion of (something) with another or others” Oxford Dictionary.

Families A and B both agree with this definition and have decided that they want their families to share. They believe that it is a value that will lead to a Happy Household and make the Living Easy.
As a member of Family A if I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I can use it. If I see a piece of chocolate, and I want it, then I can have it.
As a member of Family B If I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I ask her permission. She can grant or deny permission, and  I will abide. If I see a piece of chocolate and I want it, then I find the owner, and ask  permission. The owner can grant or deny permission, and I will abide.
Both families have successfully instilled the virtue of sharing within their households and both families are happy with the outcome – Happy Household and Easy Living.
Both families share and each shares differently.
In Family A sharing is based on the need of the commons. Once the resource exists within the family you are free to share in it.
In family B, sharing is permission based. If you are not the owner of the resource  then you need to be granted permission to share in it.
Neither family is right or wrong, each has constructed a contextual meaning of sharing, that serves the family well.

It’s not a problem for the rest of us either, until the day that members from  both families work in an organization that espouses Sharing as a core value.

Then what?

I love words. I know their power. I know how important it is to establish one shared meaning of the words that we use in our organizations.

What do the words in your organization mean? Are you certain that the meaning is shared by each and every one?

If your organization needs help defining its core values, and establishing shared meaning among team members, then  contact me. I know words and I can help.

A Review of Lead Your Team To Win

A review by Catherine Da Silva of Silva Publications Creating Safe Spaces .A brief review of Lead Your Team to Win .By Maxine Attong Published by River Grove Books .

In her new book Lead Your Team To Win , local author/ Management Consultant Maxine Attong sites the advantages of managing strategically by a certain keen consciousness for the holistic well being of the employee .This takes into account creating the necessary outlets and inlets for team expression, exchange ,innovation and sharing in a positive -safe space, As home is where the heart is..so too the office is where we strive to achieve our professional and life goals .

The Safe Space is the ” happy place” within the organisation where team members should not be ostracised or criticised for venting , self expression, formulating solutions and inventing new ways to enhance processes and projects. Quite apart from the traditional top down ,linear type of management techniques ,safe spaces advocates for collaborative team efforts ,facilitated with inclusiveness and sensitivity for all involved ,towards achieving “optimal performance ” says Attong.

The 226 page book is a variable manual for those wishing to look at leadership from a different point of view. Chapters like The Concept of Caring,Trust, Decision Making ,serve to navigate the reader cleverly and with great honesty.Attong incorporates case studies , personal experiences and check lists for ease of reference and recall. It’s relativity to real life is formidable and down to earth and would be as instructive to anyone interested in establishing and maintaining conscious and creative spaces for success. “When I was solely focused on the results ,by any means necessary,the space could not be safe. ” This is one of my favourite quotes from the book,for we must go gently to and move fluidly in the spaces which are dear to us , and which dare us to think and create.

Lead Your Team To Win, available on Amazon is the second in her continued works to provide a unique approach to managing teams. Change or Die her first book occupied Amazon’s best seller list for six weeks in its category, and is readily utilised as a teaching and reference tool for Attong’s Team workshops and guest lectures at key regional and international events .

3 facts about Difficult Conversations

As leaders we often need to have difficult conversations with our staff and it’s never an easy task. Sometimes these conversations happen at planned times – the disciplinary meeting, the performance review; sometimes they evolve – a simple matter erupts and we’re in the middle of a difficult conversation.
These conversations are not unique to the organisation, they occur in our personal lives as well – with our spouses or our kids or the contractor who has not yet competed the job.
The content of the conversation rarely makes the conversation difficult. The three factors that make the conversation difficult are:

  1. Our role in the conversation – Usually it is our beliefs about the topic, our own feelings, our history and our emotional investment that makes the conversation difficult. We  bring ourselves to any conversation, which means there is a possibility for us to be triggered by what the other person may do or say at any time during the conversation. The same can be said for the other person.
  2. The relationship we have with the other person – We tend to resist and dismiss ideas, or opportunities from people we have labelled as irritating, or lazy, or rebellious, or bad worker. Whenever these people approach us we brace ourselves for confrontation.
  3. Our perception of the outcome  – When we believe that the outcome of the conversation can change our relationships or personal status the more difficult the conversation becomes. The more we believe that we or the other person may lose, whether real or perceived,  the more we will deem the conversation as difficult.

Based on this I define a difficult conversation as : one in which you feel vulnerable, where the outcome is unsure and you believe that the risk of the conversation being terminated is high.

What’s your definition of a difficult conversation?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

 

Leadership in a VUCA World

This article was published in pwc’s 2018 Budget Review on October 3, 2017

System theorists have long proven that external societal impacts affect an organisational system. When we map the correlation between societal stress levels caused by an increasing crime rate, and infrastructural deficiencies, to reduced productivity levels; we can attest that our organisations are a microcosm of the larger society. What if we can reverse this? What if our leadership can deliberately impact on the larger Trinidad and Tobago society?
We live in the VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, in which the butterfly effect is our new reality. Change on the world stage is felt faster and in larger proportions, leaving us with little time to react. The drastic reduction in oil and gas prices and the trickle down effects have affected all that we considered normal – access to foreign exchange, spending patterns, job stability and economic recovery. When we consider the sobering effects of climate change that have left our Caribbean neighbours devastated and the viability of social media as a platform for change, we realise that we need to review our leadership priorities.
In 2013/4 when tax revenues were at $57.2B, we could easily isolate ourselves from world trends but in 2017 when tax revenues are estimated at $38.7B ( a 31% reduction) we are forced to pay attention. Our economy has flatlined and the government’s capacity for projects has diminished. What is the role of each of us in this new scenario?
If we accept HInd’s* argument that, “on the political and governance front, we are seeing the near collapse of almost every institution of governance and service delivery by the State” then, we also accept that leadership needs to emanate from the other enterprises that constitute the business community in Trinidad and Tobago.
An unemployment rate of 4.4% (2016 Central Statistical Office) means that most of our citizens are employed in establishments where we interact and interrelate with internal and external stakeholders. We belong simultaneously to families and communities, to work teams, and to management and leadership teams within various industries that are nested in the wider Trinidad and Tobago. We are part of multiple systems, that create harmony or tensions within the workplace.

Beisser in his 1970 essay, Paradoxical Theory of Change reminds us that, “change does not take place through a coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him, but it does take place if one takes the time and effort to be what he is …” No longer can we fold our arms and wait for the government, there is a need for a new remit from all of us who consider ourselves to be leaders.
The experiential learning experience of systems is important for our leaders to truly understand the possible far reaching impacts of his/her leadership.We need to be aware of the wholeness of “each part ( of our organisations) the dynamic relationships between the parts, the whole (higher-level) entity they form together, and the interdependence among the parts and the whole,” Stevenson** (1970, p.114).
When we deal with a team member we become conscious that we are no longer dealing with an individual, we are dealing with his family and his community. Therefore by our leadership we can make a difference that will redound to the wider Trinidad and Tobago.
The old paradigm of the maximum leader that thrived in an environment devoid of social media, with an inability to follow international trends or without the presence of  millennials needs to make way for a new remit, where we embrace the ideas of the collective. As the volatility of our external world increases, and as we are still guessing the effects of changed international policies ( Brexit, Trump administration) there is need for more collaboration in the co-sensing of our next move. The leader who makes decisions on his own or with only his leadership team is making decisions from a position that only considers the impacts on the systems that he/ they belong(s) to, with many assumptions about the impacts that will be made on the collective – the families, the communities and the wider Trinidad and Tobago.
More than ever, the call is for leadership to harness the creativity and intelligence of the people with whom we work so that we can make a positive impact on the wider Trinidad and Tobago. We can no longer wait on the economy to get better or for the price of oil and gas to recover, or for a new gas/ oil reserves to be developed. The call is urgent and the response has to be made now. Our economic situation has changed and our world has shrunk.

*Ronald Hinds address T&T Chamber of Commerce & Industry address Sept 2017

*Stevenson, H., 2010. Paradox: A Gestalt theory of change for organizations. Gestalt Review, 14(2), pp.111-126

Who do you impact with your leadership?

What are the possible far reaching impacts of your leadership?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

Is Leadership the Engineer’s Kryptonite?

Excerpts from the Speech given at Association of Professional Engineers Trinidad and Tobago 57th Annual Awards and Honour Function.

I have worked with engineers for most of my working career in the old and gas sector. These women and men are absolutely brilliant. Yet I have witnessed many A class Engineers struggle to become A class managers. Therefore I can only ask “Is leadership the Engineer’s Kryptonite?”
I reached out via Linked In to some of my engineering colleagues around the world and posed two questions:

  1. What are the challenges that engineers face when they get into management/ Leadership positions?
  2. What are the three pieces of advice that you will give an engineer who is moving into a leadership[/ management position?

I will reframe the feedback and the remedies using my Organisational Development language.  The three challenges the engineer faces are

  1. Leadership style
  2. Thingification of the organisation
  3. Understanding the field

Leadership style
Engineers are promoted to management as a reward for a performing a technical job well ( thus far this is the way that organisations have figured this out). As a result the engineer steps into leadership, behaving the way that he always has, doing the things that have worked well for him, in the past.

She acts as a hero – A great engineer knows everything about her job. She has many years’ experience and knows exactly what to do. Just as Superman does not allow the firemen to extinguish the flames of the burning building, this manager tells team members what to do, without allowing team members to problem solve. She is impatient with failure, since she preferences success over failure’s value as a learning tool. She misses the field work and compensates by micro managing teams and getting involved with the minutiae of daily activities. Some of these heroes do not share knowledge and as a result, team members are often frustrated. While they admire and respect the  manager’s intelligence and experience, they are concerned that they won’t develop the talents that will in turn make them great engineers.
He is a shadow leader – This manager stands with his back to the sun, casting a long shadow over the team. These managers want mini-mes, they want team members to act and think like them and to do things the way that they do them. They forget that they have the benefit of experience and that they were allowed to hone their own personal style.
He displays Paternalism This attitude is reflected in the manager’s thinking that he “knows best” or “it’s my way or the highway”. This leads to the stifling of the opinions and the eventual dumbing down of the team members.  How would you know if you are paternalistic? If you find yourself saying “ after all I have done for them” or referring to team members as “ungrateful” or “selfish” then you may be paternalistic.

Some remedies for these afflictions are:
Be a Host not a Hero – if ever you went to or hosted a great party you know what to do. A great host selects the guest list, ensures that the food choices cater for religious restrictions and allergies, introduces people to each other, then leaves guests to enjoy the party even while keeping a watchful eye. The manager who acts as a host supports the growth and development of team members, helps them to network and keeps a birds eye view on what is happening with the team.

Let the sunlight fall on team members instead of casting shadows. Allow team members to develop their own style and support them to do so. Allow them to be recognised for doing great things. They won’t steal your thunder, because every win for a team member is a win for you as leader.

Build adult to adult relationships with team members. They are not kids. These are people who balance budgets, take care of households and care for aging parents. They deserve to have their intelligence and creativity honoured and to be treated with dignity in our interactions with them.

Thingification of an organisation – Engineers deal with things. Therefore leading teams provides a contradictory experience. Gone is the high probability of the consequences of actions and decisions taken, since an organisation is not a thing. An organisation comprises of humans who are interrelating and interacting through communication with each other along the parameters of process, function or department of the organisations’ structure. This creates situations of high unpredictability since different people react differently to different situations.
Engineers are great at fixing things and slowly he comes to realise that he can’t fix people, and there is no formula that serves all people.

A manager needs to work on his relationships with the individuals in his team. He needs to understand what makes each team member tick and motivate each of them from this place. The manager can view himself as a mentor and adopt this attitude when dealing with his people. Leaders can take the opportunity to self reflect and do the personal work that may be getting in the way of their own professional development. Wherever we go we take all of whom we are so the messiness of our personal situations if not resolved eventually seep unto the jobs.

Understand the field. Systems theorists share that we are all connected to multi systems. For example, an engineering manager is part of his engineering team, and also part of the management team, which is nested in your organisation. The organisation is part of an industry sector which belongs to all businesses operating in Trinidad. All businesses are part of Trinidad and Tobago, nested within the Caribbean and the wider world. This means that a manager now bumps up against other systems that he did not have to engage with when he was an engineer. When I worked in oil and gas I had many interesting interactions with engineers. When a piece of equipment needed replacing, engineers did wonderful research to identify what was the most technologically advanced piece of equipment. As an accountant my interest was in three things. Is it within budget?  What is the return on investment? What is the payback period? My selection process was based on highest return on investment, the shortest payback period and the cost within budget. Engineer managers need to have similar dialogues with other non technical managers in their respective fields. As part of a management team he is expected to understand that the business needs are beyond the newest technology.  He needs to appreciate that there are external and internal stakeholders who may not be part of the daily operations but whose decisions impact on what occurs on a daily basis. Those of us who operate in multinationals know that an event that occurs in China may impact on local business decisions.
The Manager is advised to expand his professional networks, both within and external to the organisation, to include non technical professionals. Expand the reading base beyond Popular Mechanics to include management and leadership information. And while in transition from technical expert to manager get a mentor or a coach.

All is not lost for the engineering manager because he / she can decide that he/she wants to be a better leader and this is a powerful first step. Some questions to assist with the transition will be:
How do you define leadership?
What is your reason for leading a team?
What is your stance as a manager/leader?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

Tips for Effective Leaders

As leaders we will have many successes and failures. I had several failures that matched my many achievements. In last week’s blog I shared ten tips that will assist leaders to be effective. In this blog I will share more of what I learned.
To be effective, leaders need to:

  • Leaders need to count to 10
  • Leaders need to be able to fail and to support failure
  • Leaders need to be consistent
  • Leaders need to be responsible
  • Leaders need to be honest
  • Leaders need to be trustworthy
  • Leaders need to be fair
  • Leaders need to be open to suggestions
  • Leaders need to ask open ended questions
  • Leaders not to take themselves seriously
  • Leaders need to have fun with their teams

Over the next weeks I will be sharing more details on each of these tips.  If you have any questions on any of these tips, feel free to let me know.

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.