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Feedback would happen all the time if… we had trust

A couple of weeks back a guy knocked on my door and asked if he could have a look at some of the noxious weeds on our property. He explained that the Council had just implemented a new policy where they eradicated weeds on properties bordering native bush. He was there to do an assessment. I got quite excited. Creating a beautiful garden is my fun project and I lept at the prospect of some help transforming my jungle into an oasis. So I keenly showed him around.

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised my naeivity. He hadn’t shown me any ID (I hadn’t asked) and, as Gareth pointed out, it could have been just as likely he was casing the place for a future robery. I’m still waiting to hear back from the council about whether he was legit.

But here’s the thing. I implicitly trust that people have the best intentions. I assume that they are looking out for my best interests and are open and honest people. Unless someone is being an obvious arsehole then, this level of trust is my first and natural response. I apply this same approach to giving and receiving feedback.

I’m naturally inclined to tell people what I think. I usually beat myself up about how to do this in the best possible way – although sometimes it still doesn’t go so well. I am that person who told her friend that her boyfriend was a douchebag and wasn’t treating her right. Unfortunately we are no longer friends but she did go on to marry someone lovely. I’d like to think I’m pretty open about receiving feedback (please tell me if I’m not), and I try my best to not talk about people behind their back without telling them personally what I think (I think I inherited that from my Aunt!).

This doesn’t make me particularly politically savvy. But I am getting better, I think, at recognising when I need to keep my mouth shut and when my values compel me to say something. I have to ask, do these people trust that I have their best interests at heart? Maybe, maybe not. Do I genuinely have their best interests at heart? Maybe, maybe not. Feedback would happen all the time if we just let it – it’s not as simple as that.

Continual feedback doesn’t happen without trust. Trust doesn’t happen without vulnerability. Vulnerability doesn’t happen without safety.

Can I trust that the feedback I give will not be used against me? That I won’t be blacklisted or shunned for saying what I think? Sometimes no. That’s a hard lesson to learn I tell you! I told this story recently. My feedback made the situation worse. It was a lesson that keeping my mouth shut, and moving on to bigger and better things, can be the best course of action.

People can be blind to other perspectives, closed, walled, invulnerable. Trust diminishes, safety evaporates, feedback dissipates.

Trust is humanly chaotic. Feedback is a degree between rawness and political manoeuvring.

But if you never speak up when behaviour clashes with your values, stand up for what you believe in, tell people what is on your mind, even if it’s not popular, then behaviour will not change. Should you override concerns about trust to get rid of noxious weeds?

Or does that mean you just get robbed?

These are my reflections on feedback for the #feedbackcarnival. You can find more information about it here


Why I wrote a book

I’m about to publish a book. It’s a little scary. Will people like it? Will they enjoy it? Am I allowed to be say those things? By the time it’s out there it will be six months of energy and determination in creating those pages. Yet the content took a lot longer. The book captures over two years of NZLEAD tweet chats. But it’s still more than that. Writing it was cathartic. It was a way for me to re-frame a negative experience into hope and purpose, a way to reflect on a personal learning curve.

This story starts many years ago. You see I was probably a bit cocky about my skills and how much I could take on. And take on alot I did. I pushed myself really hard through university and beyond, I worked full time and studied full time. I worked my way up and across the career ladder, I loved my job and took immense pride in it. I did really well at just nailing everything. Get stuff done, make things happen, that was my thing. Then I decided to leave the role I had been in for nearly four years because I felt like I was ready for the next challenge. I didn’t have anything lined up. I had left jobs before and easily stepped into something.

Unfortunately I ended up unemployed for 6 months. I spent every week scouring job ads, talking to recruiters and every other week being rejected. I took temp work to fill the gaps, to get me out of the house, reception and PA work, my sense of self-worth plummeted. I didn’t know what to do when I had nothing to do, nothing to measure my worth against. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I was finally offered a job that fit my skills. I actually had the choice of two roles. My instincts were screaming at me, but my head prevailed. An awesome culture, a well-known brand, great career prospects, innovation and a great team. That was the package my head told me I was walking in to – that was what my experiences and education had taught me was the right path. I was so pleased to just have something to measure my worth against again, that I ignored the voice inside of me.

It turns out that my manager wasn’t interested in what made me me, and my instincts were entirely correct. It’s much easier to look back on these things in retrospect. I spent 12 months in a situation where I felt like a freak for the way I thought, the way I spoke and the way I worked with my colleagues. I walked in with so much hope that my sense of self worth was to be restored, only to have more of it stripped away. I hated the thought of giving up, I didn’t want to relinquish hope that I could influence my situation and change it. But after trying everything I could, my only option left was to leave. My health was suffering. I was exhausted, crippled with anxiety and depressed.

Yet, for months more I battled on, expecting that the freedom of being on my own, of doing something that I loved, of starting my own business, of going on holiday would cure me. But it didn’t. Funny that!

What it sparked though was a journey of self-care and self-acceptance. A journey I’m still on I might add. I wish I had been treated differently, both as a candidate and an employee. I wish I had treated other people differently, I’m not the best version of myself when I’m under stress. But most of all, I wish I had treated myself differently. Then maybe this lesson wouldn’t have been such a painful one to learn. I feel like I’ve spent the last few years wading through mud and still have more days than I’d like where I feel stuck. Thankfully they’re becoming fewer. I’ve been putting a lot of priority on meditation, mindfulness, self reflection, and self-discovery. I’ve gone from doing it all, to recognising that not doing everything is a good thing. Some things happen for a reason right?

I almost told this story in my book. But I decided that I wanted the book to be about the things we’d talked about and done with NZLEAD – all the positive and awesome stuff – the vision for humane workplaces. Because that has been what has kept me dragging my arse forward. These are workplaces whereby technology can help people be their whole selves and demonstrate their uniqueness. Where our trials are a demonstration of our strength, not our weakness. Where there is a sense of community and purpose. Where our workplaces are more humane.

I know there will be some people who don’t get why I’m sharing this, and might judge me for for my perceived weakness. But I also know that there will be many who find hope and inspiration from my story. My intention, in sharing this with you, is to explain why I wrote this book and break a mould of human silence that is stopping us from being our true selves. My book is not just grandiose ideas of what HR, L&D and Recruitment can do to respond to the changing world of work. But a mirror of my personal reflections on leadership, the expectation and design of work and drawn from my first hand experience of where some of this stuff that we currently let slide, and silently endorse, within the people and culture professions has a very hidden dark side.

Please hit me up for a coffee or a Skype call if you’d like to share your stories with me – I’d love to hear from you.

And please pledge for my book to be printed in hard copy. Particularly if you also believe in better and more humane workplaces.

Update on the book project: The Foreword

I am really truly honored to have the awesome Perry Timms do the foreword for my book. I couldn’t help but share some of it. Actually I wanted to share the whole thing but it seemed too special for that. You might just have to wait for the book (or pledge if you havn’t yet).

But here is a little excerpt from it which tells you a bit about what the book is about. My favorite is this quote: “Consider it your chart of the uncharted waters. The shield from the elements and the playbook for the forthcoming big game.” Because that’s really it, it’s a guidebook for other people and culture practioners told with the voices of fabulous and talented people from all around the world.

“The Humane Workplace – a field guide to making sense of the world of work and its intertwining relationship with social technologies is how to describe (very basically) the book that Amanda Sterling has written and crafted.


So should you copy and follow everything Amanda has done?

You could; but likelihood is, you’ll take a drop of Gemma Reucroft, a slice of Neil Usher and a dash of Harold Jarche and mix it all up with Amanda Sterling. Names you might not know but should look up on Twitter and on other blogging platforms. Heroes. Practitioners. Consultants. It matters not what we call them. They’re part of our destiny, designed world and denoters of great content.

It’s this excitement about the social world and the practice of being a people and organisation development professional that I share with Amanda. This coming together is like a perfect storm for us. It’s an unnerving world for others mind. This is where this book comes into play. Consider it your chart of the uncharted waters. The shield from the elements and the playbook for the forthcoming big game.”

Please pledge here to make printing my book a reality.

Outside the echo chamber

Yeah, echo chamber. It’s a term I picked up at KiwiFoo to label the internal circle we surround ourselves with, the people who are like us, the people who re-affirm us. KiwiFoo: an invite only unconference event for interesting people that I attended this past weekend. A place I met Kiwis, Aussies, and Californians. I can safely say that I was way way way out of my echo chamber at KiwiFoo.

I’m still confused by the experience. It was confronting, overwhelming, not something I enjoyed; yet inspiring, challenging and rewarding. Alone in a crowd of almost 200 people. Artists, musicians, activists, politicians, scientists, engineers, soft-ware developers, I could go on. Everyone on the innovative fringes of their profession. It felt like I was on the fringe of the fringes. A collection of people with people at the heart and soul of their professions, yet few from the people professions. Conversations where humane work was critical; yet ‘human’ resources doesn’t feature. Interactions where I was uncomfortably stripped of what I stand for, yet built my confidence in the simplicity of what I do. Experiences which took away what I thought I was good at, to leave behind greater confidence.

I think I still need more time to process. Kiwifoo kicked a whole load of dust up for me and I still can’t see through it. Personally I don’t understand how any of the stuff I experienced happens all at the same time! On an intellectual level, let me try and articulate some of the things that KiwiFoo made me think about from a professional stand point.

We think that this concept of the organic workforce is relatively new when actually it’s been around a while, in academia and in the movie industry. It’s not the structure that makes the difference, it’s the underlying culture. That much I think we know. Toxic cultures are toxic, whether they are traditional organisations or in flexible and contractual arrangements. Are flexible structures more relevant now or is it that culture is? Or are they both intertwined?

We think that money is not the be all and end all, yet it’s what makes the world go around. There’s this inherent tension between money and meaning and there probably always will be. There are different ways of navigating and balancing the value of each. Those balancing points are where disruption will happen in organisational culture. But where does the balance become tipped in favour of one over the other?

We think that organisational design is about structure, and yet it’s all about people. Connecting over a common purpose, leadership role modelling behaviours, values, ethics. It’s about relationships, not rules. I think we know this too. In trying to simplify it into something we can understand we remove what makes it truly work. So how can we approach this?

We think that human related practices in organisations are the domain of human resources. But they’re not. People within organisations are taking charge and creating the businesses they want to work for, that are highly productive, making a positive impact on the world and they’re telling their friends about it. HR is not part of this conversation. I wrote a blog a while back about how HR won’t change the world of work. I’m starting to believe the title of that post. So what role do those who are passionate about these things, and not traditional HR, have?

I’d like to go back next year to try again. Because I think outside the echo chamber is the best place to find your voice… or get confused about what you think you know about the world.

Thank you to Nat and Jenine for organising this awesome event!

Change is scary

Gareth and I have just bought our first home. We move in just under two weeks. It’s a pretty big deal for us. We’ve been hunting on and off for years. It’s been challenging to say the least: saving for a deposit to match Auckland’s rapidly rising house prices, finding somewhere that meets our requirements (dog, home-brewery, office, not cramped in), and not becoming financially crippled in the process. But we did it!

I’m particularly excited. My parents owned their own home when I was very little. I don’t remember it much, but it was in one of the worst areas of Auckland. After they sold that place and moved north, we lived in rentals. When I moved back to Auckland, I lived with my grandparents. Then I went flatting, followed by more rentals when Gareth and I moved in together. I don’t feel I’ve ever really had somewhere to call my own because someone else has always had ultimate control over my home. So yeah, I’m excited!

But it also feels like a big scary change. Yes, it’s greater freedom – I can knock down walls and paint them if I like and, if I don’t like the garden, I can pull it out and put a better one in, something I fully intend to do. But I can’t help approaching it with trepidation. It’ll be a whole new environment, I’ll have to find a new walking route, a supermarket that I know my way around, yoga teacher that I like. It all seems trivial and silly really, but for all my enthusiasm to travel the world, I’m a bit of a homebody at heart. This change is scary.

I happen to be reading a book about appreciative inquiry at the moment. This positive psychology approach to change recommends visualising the wonderful things about the change. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m floating on a lilo in my pool (did I mention we have a pool?). I’m feeding my chickens. I’m digging over my organic vege garden. I’m walking the dog I’ve always wanted but never had space for. But I wish I was there already. It’s the limbo and uncertainty in between that bothers me.

But hey, first world problems ay?! What I want to get across is that change is scary no matter how awesome it is. For now, I’m focusing on the relative peace and quiet before I’m spending every evening and weekend renovating and gardening. Plus, I should really start packing.

Memories from UnfurlingHR

I’ve started on the organising and planning for the next #NZLEAD unconference. I came across what I wrote to introduce the day and welcome people to the event and I wanted to re-share it with you. I put my heart and soul into organising this day and I have some pretty awesome memories from it. It’s more than just a one-day event to me. There is a bigger picture to why I do this stuff. You can also read my recap of the day here, which includes links to what everyone else wrote. 

I’m really honoured to welcome you to the first and not the last NZLEAD unconference.

The world is changing and as people practitioners we need to be at the forefront of this change. But we need to do it consciously. Which is why I’m asking you to put your phones and gadgets down for a couple of minutes.

We are bombarded with so much information, so many contacts, so many ways of doing things, ways that are constantly changing that, to actually make a difference, we also need to find the peace and the path amongst the chaos. To connect with ourselves, with each other, and with what we’re trying to achieve.

To do that, you need to make a choice. That choice, and your actions, are conscious. Not based on blind faith to old ways or caught up in the flood of new ways but an acceptance of what is happening around you and a conscious step forward.  A choice to put aside busyness and reasons not to. By being here, you’ve taken a step in that direction.

This unconference seemed like a natural extension of what we’re doing with NZLEAD. The NZLEAD community has grown from a mutual desire to connect, communicate and collaborate into a force for change within the people and culture professionals around the world. It has done more than I ever expected it would and that is because of you, and others like you. So thank you.

Because this means a lot to me. Because I want my children to grow up in a world where people are treated with kindness, appreciated for their strengths and supported to grow, in their own way, and give back to the world.

Right now, I don’t see it. I see bullying and power struggles by people. I see turf defending, arrogance, close-mindedness, defensiveness. And I’ve experienced first hand what it’s like to be treated like a freak for thinking differently, saying things differently and being different. Something that I’m still dealing with the psychological and physical manifestations of. I am making a conscious decision that this is not for me.

This event is one small step to realise an ideal. Our world needs to be better, our world of work needs to be better, and we, as people and culture professionals need to be better.

And we can. A change in conversation, a change in language. Removing boxes, packaging and labels. Changing the scenery, removing the frills, getting down to simple honest conversations and planning. Small things, each of us small ferns. Unfurling a way of being and doing that helps the people within our organisations really excel.

We can do this together. Social technology now allows us to connect, communicate and collaborate on a scale that we’ve not seen before. And, in little ol New Zealand, we are not alone. Not anymore.

So all I ask of you today is to be here, be who you are, bring whatever you can with you. You, as you are now, are enough to make the world a better place. You will get out as much as what you put in, but whatever you put in is ok.

And please share your learnings from today through social technology, so that our colleagues around the world can come on this journey with us. Do it consciously and with purpose.

The date for the next event is the 11th May. Tickets etc. will be available soon but if you’d like to be involved in making it happen then tweet me or comment here. 

2015 intentions

Ever since I was in my early 20s I would write down my goals for the year and stick them somewhere I could see them. You might call them New Years resolutions, but I was quite serious about writing SMART goals and achieving them. I usually knocked off more than three quarters of my goals and at the end of the year would take some time to assess what went well, what didn’t and what I’d to differently next year. This year I haven’t really written any goals. For the last couple of years my tried and true method hasn’t worked for me so I’m trying something different. There are some specific things I’d like to achieve but for the most part I am setting intentions. These are my intentions.

The first thing I intend on doing is finishing off writing my book. I’ve taken ideas from two years of NZLEAD tweets, mashed them up with my own background and experience, and produced a narrative about the world of work. I’m thinking of calling it People First: How Technology Can Make Our Workplaces More Human, or something along those lines. It’s on track to be finished and self-published at the beginning of March.

The book sets the scene from what I plan to do this year. In 2014 I mostly focused on social technology and what it could do for HR, Recruitment and Learning and Development. What I found was that many people wanted training in how to use the social technology and, although this will remain part of what I do, in 2015 I will be putting more focus on the behaviours that underpin the authenticity and transparency that social technology enables. What fits with this, and floats my boat, is leadership development, coaching, learning communities, innovation and creating cultures where people can truly shine. So I’ll be adjusting my sails and, without too much prescription, seeing what blows my way.

To help me with this I’ll be putting a lot of work into growing my skills in methods that support people to think differently: appreciative enquiry, positive psychology and creative facilitation. So I can help businesses and individuals, as well as bring to life some cool stuff I have in the works for NZLEAD. For a start another unconference. I intend on threading a lot of positively, light, forward thinking and growth into everything that I do. Which means I need to thread this through my life too.

The last couple of years have been challenging but have given me many opportunities for learning, reflection and growth. I look to 2015 with a lot of optimism. I’ve been putting a lot of effort into practices that help me be stronger, more grounded and kinder to myself. I intend on making these practices a priority in 2015 not just because they make me feel awesome but everything else just seems to fall into place when I do.

2015 is already off to a fantastic start for me. I have an almost finished book; I’m so totally honoured that I got invited to attend KiwiFoo this year which is an invite only unconference for people doing interesting things; I’m putting a draft vision for NZLEAD together which I’d love your feedback on, but I’m already pretty excited about it; and, something that has been a bane of frustration for quite a few years might actually be coming to fruition this week! Watch this space 😉

2015 is going to be badass.