Category Archives: Conversations That Matter

When policies & practices don’t align…

A 15 year old boy (let’s call him ‘John’) recently commenced work for a multi-national fast food chain in Australia. He is a delightful young man, having been recognised this year by his secondary school as the most outstanding student for his year level, as well as being awarded the most outstanding player for his Australian Rules Football Club in 2014. His peers have elected him Captain of his football and cricket teams for the past two seasons. He really is a terrific young man.

Given his qualities he was assigned to front counter duties. Two months in to his new job he received a text message from his shift manager from the previous Saturday shift requesting he meet with her at 5pm to discuss an error with his till. He received the text message at 4:30pm. It was a Tuesday. He replied and said that he would be on site as soon as possible.

He arrived at 6:30pm. He was informed that his till had been down “about forty dollars”, that the CCTV video footage had been assessed and that it was clear he had not stolen the money, but because of the amount that his till had been down he “had” to be given a written warning, which he was compelled to sign.

The three major sections of the written warning are provided below:

Blank Warning

Note the section, ‘Record employee’s response.’

What does the word, “No” mean?

Given I know this young man, I did some investigating. He told me that despite the policy that only one till be handled by a single staff member, and that each till be opened and closed according to each person’s shift, this was not what he had experienced in his two months working for the organisation. In every shift he had worked, including the shift in question, his till had been used by other staff, including the shift manager. In fact, during the shift in question, the shift manager and at least one other staff member had used ‘his’ till during the shift. In addition, a staff member had slipped and suffered a suspected broken ankle during the busy lunch period and an ambulance had been called to attend to the staff member.

Having worked as a young man myself on the front counter for a fast food chain I found it easy to imagine a fairly hectic scene. The sort of scene where, if a mistake was going to be made, this is when it would be made.

I asked him about his recorded response to the second question above. He said that when he told the shift manager, who was leading the investigation (the very same shift manager with whom he had worked during his shift – it seems that for this organisation closed loop investigations for missing cash are the order of the day) that other staff had used his till, the shift manager said, “No. I have checked the CCTV footage an no one else used the till.”

He said that because he had seen his shift manager use his till, and she had denied it, what could he do? He was then asked if he had anything to add and he said, “No.”, which is why that was recorded as his response.

When I spoke with him he was completely unaware of the serious nature of a written warning and because of his desire to ‘do the right thing‘, had thought that he should simply sign the document and move on. His shift manager had told him that she had received a written warning when she had started working for the organisation but it hadn’t stopped her from becoming a shift manager, so it wasn’t a very big issue. But, it is a big deal. A written warning is about as serious an issue that an employee can experience.

His father immediately understood the serious nature of the written warning and visited the site to speak with the shift manager. He was calm and wanted to understand the process that had been followed. He was informed that the missing amount was “$44.65”, that his son had definitely not stolen anything and that the CCTV footage of his shift had been observed and no one else had used his till. The following day, John’s mother also attended the site and observed a busy lunch shift and noted multiple staff using multiple tills. The one till per staff member was just a policy; it was not reality.

From the start of the issue, John was open to the possibility that he had been the one whom had caused the error. However, he couldn’t remember making a mistake and given that other people had, from his perspective, used the till, he believed that there was enough doubt about who had made the error that it felt “pretty bad” that he had received a warning. He also said, “It is pretty clear that I am just a number. They really didn’t want to hear what I had to say and I was guilty and had to prove my innocence; not the other way around.”

There are times in life when you just have to go straight to the top. Encouraged by his father, John contacted one of the owners and asked to speak with her in confidence. John was concerned that if he spoke up about his experience and if it wasn’t confidential, then he risked being ‘victimised’. Fortunately, the owner was happy to speak with him in confidence and was willing to accept his version of the story, partly because she told him that the missing amount was actually $41.25, not $40 or $44.65. How the actual number was not properly communicated is anybody’s guess. His written warning was changed to a file note that was to include the fact that other people had used his till. Personally, this still doesn’t seem a fair outcome.

The owner asked John if he believed the shift manager had viewed the full three hours of his shift. He told her that he didn’t think that the shift manager had, simply because he didn’t think she would have had the time to do so based on his experience of seeing how busy they are every shift.

Despite her decision, the owner informed John that the one till per person was the corporation’s policy that the franchisees were expected to follow it.

It seems to me that at no stage, other than when the owner of the business spoke with John, that his welfare had been considered. And this is what happens when policies, generated by head office, don’t work in practice.

Boxes might get ticked. Reports may get filed. Written warnings may be issued. And it is all an illusion that people use to report on how well everything is going. Even when, in reality, it isn’t.

John said that serving the customer was paramount which is why multiple staff would use the tills during a shift. He also said that the shift managers didn’t appear to have the time to ensure that a till was opened and then closed at the book-ends of a shift. While he had been taught these policies during his induction, he had quickly learned that in reality they don’t work.

However, those very policies were used to initiate a formal, written warning.

I share this story with you so that you can think about your policies. Which ones are being ‘worked around‘ by your staff because they simply don’t work. Or, if you are really serious about your policies, are you prepared to receive the customer backlash that will be caused by the reduction in service that your policies will generate? Your challenge is to create policies that are both customer and employer friendly.

It’s a pity that John has had his experience. He shared with me that he didn’t feel as excited about working for this organisation anymore. Surprise, surprise!

It only took a global corporation two months of casual shifts to teach a fine young man that he doesn’t really matter to them. And isn’t that a pity.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

What energy do you bring to a room?

Imagine if you could be a fly on a wall and observe yourself.

When you attend meetings or staff training, or when you are at your desk performing your role, what energy would you see yourself bringing to work?

Gary RyanWe don’t live in a perfect world and things could always be better. Most people get that.

Yet some people bring a downright energy-sapping vibe with them, which follows them everywhere they go. Other people find them exhausting to be around because they are constantly drawing energy from others so that they can continue to generate their negative energy.

From my experience these people seem horribly unhappy, and it is as if they want others to share their unhappiness. I feel sad for them that they seem so unhappy. Yet it also appears as if they believe that their unhappiness is everybody else’s fault and that they are stuck with no other option but to keep turning up to this job with their negative energy.

As the fly on the wall, do you think that these people have the right to draw on the energy of others so that they can feed their negative mindset? Life is hard enough for us all without having to constantly manage some else’s negativity. Life is also an amazing gift, something that I constantly remind myself about, especially given that I was born the ninth of 11 children. I appreciate that in most families, number nine was never born, so I recognise that I am lucky to be here and as such I should fully embrace the good, the bad and the ugly that life has to offer.

Maybe you don’t have to be the ninth born in your family to share that view of the world.

So, have a think. What energy do you bring to work? What energy would you like to bring?

You do have a choice.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Three kinds of peer to peer feedback

Here’s a perspective on feedback. It is a gift.

As such, when you receive feedback from a peer, what is the first thing you might say?

“Thank you.”

Gary RyanThis perspective can help those of you whom struggle with what you are going to say when a peer provides you with feedback, including whether or not you invited their feedback. No matter what they say, you’re going to say, “Thank you.”

Let’s continue with the ‘feedback as a gift‘ metaphor.

Have you ever received a real gift that was, well, not very good?

When you first received that gift, what did you say?

“Thank you.”

When you receive feedback from your peers, sometimes it will not be for you, nor about you. Below are the three kinds of feedback that you can expect to receive from your peers.

1. The feedback is for you, about you and immediately useful

The socks I receive from my children for Father’s Day are for me, about me and immediately useful. Sometimes your peers will provide you with feedback that fits into this category. You recognise that what you have been told is for you, about you and is immediately useful. You can apply the feedback and make improvements. For example, you may have given a presentation and a peer suggests that you change the italic font that you have been using because it is difficult for some people to read. You take the feedback on board and make the change.

2. The feedback is for you, about you, but not immediately useful

If you have ever received a thick book for your birthday, but your birthday falls during an exceptionally busy time of the year, then you’ll understand what this category is all about. You literally place the book on a shelf until you have an opportunity (usually during your holidays) to read the book.

Sometimes you will recognise the feedback that your peer is giving you is for you and about you, but it might not be immediately useful because you need some time to process it. At a point down the track, after you have made sense of it, you can then do something about it. For example, a peer informs you that you constantly cut people off when they are speaking. Maybe you’ve been doing this for a long time and no one has ever told you.

You believe that you are a good listener. You recognise that your peer was genuine when they told you this information. So you literally press ‘Pause’ and raise your awareness of this potential issue so that you can gather more data. After a couple of weeks of being more conscious of this issue you recognise that it is accurate. You have collected data that supports that you do, in fact, cut people off when they are speaking. Now you can do something with that feedback to improve your listening skills.

3. The feedback is for you, but not about you, nor is it useful

When my wife turned 30 I bought her a PlayStation. I had seen her playing solitaire on her computer and figured that she needed a proper gaming machine. I may have also wanted to play Shane Warne’s Cricket on her PlayStation too!

Was my gift really for my wife, or was it really for me? Hmmm…

Fortunately I had also bought her some jewellery that she did want!

Some feedback that you receive from your peers fits into this third category. It is  for you but it’s not about you. It’s about them.

Your peer is simply trying to tell you how you can be more like them.

For example, you may be told, “You should get to meetings five minutes early because it helps you to properly prepare for the meeting.”

Feedback like this is really your peer imposing their perspective on the world on to you.

What to do

When you receive feedback from a peer, say “Thank you” and then categorise the feedback into one of the above three types. If it fits in to one of the first two categories then you will take it on board. If it fits into the third category then you have the right to ignore it.

Of course the reverse is true. When you are providing a peer with feedback, first ask yourself, “Am I just trying to tell them how they can be more like me?

If your answer is, “Yes”, then keep your feedback to yourself!

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

Why refer me to your feedback link?

Aaah, don’t you love it when you provide a customer service team member with feedback, and they refer you to a website link for you to give them the feedback you just gave them!

Melbourne IT recently gave me the pleasure of that experience.

Gary RyanI asked their team member, “Why would I now spend time typing in my feedback when I have just given it to you?“.

She responded, “Oh, I’m sorry, maybe I could record it for you?

Yes, that would be appreciated.” I responded.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that my feedback will have been recorded because, based on my experience, I’m not confident that Melbourne IT have a system for their staff to enter feedback on behalf of their customers.

Such a system could work like this:

  1. Customer provides verbal feedback.
  2. Customer service team member clarifies the feedback to make sure that it is properly understood.
  3. Customer service team member asks the customer if they would like them to enter the feedback to their system on behalf of the customer, confirms the customer’s email address and sends a copy of what has been entered into the system via email to the customer.
  4. The customer has the opportunity (if they wish to do so) to check and edit the feedback via a link provided in the email.

Companies must understand that feedback is a gift from their customers. They need to make it as easy as possible for customers to provide their feedback gifts. Smart companies understand that at least one-third of customer issues are caused by the customers themselves. They understand that you can’t help a customer better understand your products, services, terms and conditions etc. if you don’t know that your customers are sometimes confused by them.

Smart companies choose to love their customers, which means they forgive them for the things they get wrong.

I didn’t have to offer to help Melbourne IT with my feedback. I could have easily not told them that their system wasn’t working for me and moved to a competitor. I don’t think they understand this reality; otherwise they would have already made it easy for me to provide my feedback, not hard.

The obvious lesson is to ask yourself, “How easy do we make it for our customers to provide feedback to us?“. It needs to be as easy as possible.

There may be immediate opportunities for you to take action that will help improve the quality of the service experience that you provide your customers. Take action now, and make it as easy as possible for your customers to give you the gift of feedback.

Gary Ryan was awarded the Honorary Title of Senior Assessor for the Customer Service Institute of Australia in 2006.

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Entrepreneurs have the power

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being the Master of Ceremony for a Leadership Symposium at the Monash Business School. One of the keynote speakers was Creel Price.

Gary RyanAs the owner of a small business, Creel made a statement that caught my attention.

“It is not governments or large corporations who are going to make the world a better place. It is entrepreneurs.”

I had subconsciously believed in Creel’s statement before he said it. He simply provided the words to describe what I already knew to be true. Ever since we started our enterprise in 2007 we have been giving a percentage of our income to specific charities. Late last year I was introduced to Paul Dunn, co-founder of Buy One Give One (B1G1). Upon learning of Paul’s vision, we immediately became Lifetime Partners of B1G1 and have been enjoying the power of habit, impact and connection ever since.

To understand why we made this decision, please view Paul’s Tedx Talk  and consider becoming part of B1G1 yourself and sharing The Power of Small with other entrepreneurs in your network. We can and are already making a real and positive difference in the world in which we live. You can too.

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.



7-Eleven Scandal an Ethical Failure of Leadership

The ABC Four Corners and Fairfax joint investigation into the systematic wage rorting and exploitation of employees within 7-Eleven’s Australian franchised stores is an example of an ethical failure of leadership.

Gary RyanThe investigation uncovered widespread evidence of staff being underpaid and ‘forced’ to work long hours. Many of those staff were international students who’s visas only allow them to work 20 hours per work. It appears that many of those students were effectively blackmailed by their Franchisee that if they complained to Fair Work Australia about being underpaid, they would be ‘dobbed in’ to the authorities for breaking their visa regulations and therefore risk being deported.

The evidence produced by Four Corners and Fairfax indicated that these systemic issues have been going on for at least six years, which has included several investigations and findings by Fair Work Australia. Yet the behaviour has continued.

7-Eleven Australia has attempted to distance itself from the problem suggesting that the issue has been caused by a small number of Franchisees. The ABC Four Corners and Fairfax story argues that the problem is not limited to a small number of Franchisees. The story also highlights the plight of the Franchisees, many of whom are people whom have migrated to Australia. In simple terms, the joint investigation by ABC Four Corners and Fairfax suggest that the franchise business model is not one that can work in Australia if the Franchisees pay the wages they are meant to pay according to Australian Law.

7-Eleven Australian stores are generally open seven days per week, 24 hours per day. Given penalty rates etc., the wage costs of operating such a store would be significant. According to the report, Franchisee financial reports are supplied to the 7-Eleven Australian Head Office. In an example highlighted during the story, a financial statement indicated total wages of a little over $64,000 for six staff. Ex ACCC boss Professor Allan Fels says that in his view the only way a Franchisee could ‘make a go of it’ is to underpay their staff.

No doubt the marketplace will hold the leadership of 7-Eleven Australia to account, even if the law doesn’t.

Let this be a lesson for all leaders. It is not ethical to maintain a system that cannot operate profitably when following the law. Despite the law appearing to not have many consequences for the leaders and owners of 7-Eleven Australia, they cannot hide from their ethical failure. Washing their hands of their Franchisees behaviours is simply not good enough. They presided over a system that under most circumstances could not work. Human beings have been negatively affected. These are simple, hardworking people who are just trying to get ahead like you and I. For their sake, I hope some good comes from the courage of the whistle-blowers whom have taken great personal risks to ensure that this story has been told.

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

Tips for public speaking in another language

Imagine having to do an important presentation. A lot hinges on its success. Get it right and you’ll maintain your grade point average or secure your first overseas job. Get it wrong and all the money you have invested in studying overseas could be wasted.

Gary RyanAs part of a leadership development program at the Monash Business School that I have been facilitating for over 8 years, I teach public speaking.

The majority of the attendees are international students. In the pre-workshop survey that I conduct, the responses to the question, “What are you greatest concerns regarding public speaking?” are generally along the lines of, “English is not my first language and I am worried that I will use the wrong words when I speak. This causes me to worry a lot about public speaking.”

To alleviate their concerns about this issue, I explain the following key points to them.

1. Your audience wants you to be successful

When you are an audience member, what are you hoping the speaker will do?

The majority of people I have asked this question respond by saying that they hope the speaker is affective in getting their message across.

I then ask, “Are you waiting for the speaker to fail?”

“No, of course not!” is the response I receive.

The first place to start to be an effective public speaker is to realise that the audience does not want you to fail and is not sitting there ready to pounce on every mistake that you make. Instead, they are anticipating that you will get your message across and want you to do well.

2. When English is another language for you, use the words you have

Everyone has an accent, me included. Your accent only becomes noticeable when it is different to the accents of the people with whom you are speaking.

As soon as you start to speak, your audience will recognise your accent and immediately understand that English may not be your first language. Over time your vocabulary will grow, so use the words that you have at your disposal, rather than worrying about the words that you don’t have. Your audience will understand.

3. Test your speech on people for whom English is their first language

A quick way to expand your vocabulary is to test your speech (as part of your preparation) with people for whom English is their first language. Give them the specific instruction that they are to identify when there may be an easier way to say what you are trying to say. You don’t have to use all of their feedback, especially if you don’t understand what they are suggesting you should say. Nevertheless this tip will quickly improve your vocabulary.

4. Include challenging words in your presentation

If there are words that you intend to use in your speech that you recognise may be difficult for the audience to understand due to your accent, include these words in your presentation. Make them nice and big so they are easy to read.

When your audience reads the words and connects them to your accent, it helps them to ‘tune in’ to your accent which in turn helps them to understand you. As an example, last weekend a Thai student spoke about “Mergers and Acquisitions”. When she first spoke without an accompanying presentation, very few audience members understood what she was saying. When she repeated the speech, this time with an accompanying presentation with the words, “Mergers and Acquisitions” prominently displayed, everyone understood what she was saying. They ‘tuned in’ to her accent.

5. Recognise that what you are doing is amazing

There are over 320,000 international students in Australia. This can make it seem as though it isn’t a big achievement to do a presentation in English. The reality is that any presentation that is conducted in another language is an amazing achievement. Be proud of yourself because you really are awesome.

I am constantly in awe of the international students with whom I work. Studying, let alone public speaking in another language is a huge challenge, yet you do it.

Use these five tips to help you to build confidence in your public speaking. See yourself as someone who is constantly learning and improving and be proud of your improvements over time.

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

Should you be thanked for just doing your job?

How often do you recognise people for doing their job? Not the over and above work, just the work that they are ‘paid’ to do. You know, the ordinary work that is part of their job.

By ‘recognise’ I mean a simple thank you or a quiet pointing out that you appreciate such and such being done.

Gary RyanMaybe a junior administrator completes photocopying tasks for you. Simply saying, “Thanks for getting that done so quickly, I appreciate it.” can go a long way to helping that person feel valued. When people feel valued they are more likely to keep repeating the (often) simple behaviours that have been recognised.

I’m not talking about going over the top and making a big deal about ordinary tasks. In fact, my experience indicates such behaviour would have a negative effect on your colleague.

Interestingly, I find quietly appreciating people for their efforts works just as well with children and adults outside of the work environment. I have five children of my own (aged from 15 to four) and am also heavily involved in junior sport where parental support is essential for the teams to function properly.

‘Catching‘ children doing the ‘right thing‘ and pointing it out helps them to repeat those good behaviours (although isn’t it interesting how many adults are very good at pointing out the poor behaviours that children do but completely miss pointing out the good behaviours! Then this pattern is repeated at work – only the poor work is noticed!).

Quietly and subtly thanking parents for their support also re-enforces the supportive behaviours. It doesn’t matter who does more or less in terms of contribution, what matters is that the jobs get done (and done properly!) and the team co-ordinators aren’t left ‘pulling teeth‘ to get parents to help them.

In simple terms, appropriately acknowledging people for doing the right thing at work, home and in community organisations simply makes life easier and more pleasant too! As Dan Pink says in the RSA Animate video below, treat people like people and organisations can make the world just a little bit better!

What simple, yet effective methods do you have for recognising people for ‘just doing their job‘?

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

Do you know how to Dialogue?

In 2011 Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about organisations creating shared value.

Porter and Kramer argued that organisations need to operate from a new paradigm. One where value creation is not just about profit generation but also about how organisations can contribute to solving community and societal problems. Interestingly their article was not solely about corporate social responsibility.

They spoke about a genuine paradigm shift in which profit and social responsibility create equal value and they argued that it is possible to create such an organisation.

Shared value provides value to the organisation achieving its objectives, provides value to the employees of the organisation in helping them to contribute to worthwhile projects and provides value to the broader community in contributing to solving social problems. Importantly, shared valued will enhance your performance and therefore your career.

A challenge you face is that it is highly likely that neither you nor your colleagues know how to have the conversations that will enable the paradigm shift that Porter and Kramer described. This is difficult for professionals to acknowledge because in doing so you will be admitting that, from your perspective, you are not fully competent in your role. After all, aren’t you supposed to have developed your management competencies both from your education and your experience over time?

If you see yourself as a life-long learner you will be okay with identifying skills that require improvement.

Unfortunately you won’t have been exposed to the set of skills required to enable you and your colleagues to engage in dialogue. The short video below explains where dialogue sits within the Conversation Continuum, and the essential skills that underpin its development.

The fastest way that you and your colleagues can develop the conversation skills required to enable a paradigm shift to occur, is to learn dialogue together. A safe environment where both you and your colleagues are willing learners will enable you to quickly master the skills associated with dialogue and create the opportunity for paradigm shifts described by Porter and Kramer to occur.

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good and has been teaching dialogue for more than 15 years.

Enabling organisations to be worthy of the commitment of employees