Thursday, 22 December 2016

Forget 2016. Let's look forward to 2017 shall we?

2016 was a shitty year in my book and I'm glad to see the back of it. Man! It seems like many people agree by the look of all my social media accounts. Great people passed away, some before their time like Prince and Gene Wilder (oh Charlie) and Alan Rickman and Muhammad Ali and David Bowie and many, many more great people. Then there was Brexit and the US election and awful things in Syria and so much stuff. I must have known something because my word for the year was "strength". I can't say I lived up to it but it was obviously a good choice. Sigh.

I was all psyched up to go on a big whinge on 2016 in this post but decided that things have been so shit that I didn't really know where to start and because no one close to me died or was seriously sick I decided to let it all go. How adult.

Instead of a big whinge the no-one appreciates I thought I would tell you about what I'm looking forward to in 2017.  Let's see......

  1. Moving from the UK to somewhere else. To be honest I didn't really want to be here and not exactly sure what possessed me to move here. I have written a post about moving here but it may remain in draft because. Will see.  However lets just say I like warm weather. I do. 
  2. Moving to Singapore or Sydney. Might be good to know where but I don't. I seem to be getting better with ambiguity while friends we have made here in the UK are freaking out. Decision has to be made by January 3 2017 which should be plenty of time, shouldn't it? I thought the decision was made last week. And two weeks ago. And a month ago. Still in limbo land. Come on universe! Make a decision. We are grateful we have the opportunity to live in either place. Both are awesome amazing places to live and we have great friends in both locations. 
  3. I'm going to redesign my blog and move it to a new platform that is self-hosted. It will give me more flexibility and options. I'm looking forward to something fresh, something cool, something sexy. Cause I like sexy. Stay tuned.  
  4. Potentially trying something different. Feeling a little jaded from working for large US companies for the past 9 years. Working somewhere with purpose and soul could be for me. Or working for myself could be on the cards, depending on where we end up. 
  5. I'm going to give writing a go, a little more seriously. 
  6. Moving on. Being in a different place doing different things. Making new connections and contemplating life. Creating opportunities to be more creative.
  7. Planning new holidays in new places.
But sometimes looking back is good so keeping with the positive theme, here are my biggest read blog posts of all time, well since 2012....
  1. By a long shot is My Top 7 Interview Tips. It has three times more reads than any other post! I think it has something to do with the stress that people go through trying to secure a new job. 
  2. Breadth and Depth in your career: I really like this post myself and have also spoken about this to leadership development groups. There is something about doing generalist roles and then specialist roles and mixing it up in terms of companies you work for to gain a variety of experiences.
  3. Managing your career: keeping your mind fit: Look Mum I'm a health blogger! No just kidding. But some things that work for me.
  4. There's obviously lots of crap managers out there because this post made the top 5
  5. And at number 5 making a two parent family work is obviously on the mind of many and is my most recent post to make the top 5. Some tips that could work for you.
Happy Christmas everyone. Let's make 2017 better than 2016 shall we?

Lisa xx

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Making a two parent working family work

I love it when friends and readers of my blog suggest ideas for me to write about. Today's suggestion came from someone in a household where both parents work full-time and they are squarely in the middle of the small kids, work and childcare/school juggle. It's also the end of the year when everyone is tired and cranky and completely over 2016. Oh....hold on, that's me. Sorry.

I found it really helpful seeing how others managed going back to work after maternity leave, and thought this post might also be helpful for others in the juggle. Also, this is something I should write about because I think women should work. Full time. But it ain't easy and if you can see how others do it them maybe you can work it out too.

So here's how Arran and I did it when we lived in Sydney when Aiden was 3-5 years old and Charlie was 1-3 years old. This was probably the most challenging time in our family life, and after I accepted a big job that required lots of travel domestically and internationally, it got more crazy. Arran was also working on his international cycling career.

This is how we did it but I'm sure there are lots of ways you could manage this situation so if you have any other suggestions I would love to hear them.

First things first

Both kids were either in full-time childcare, or when Aiden started school he was in before and after school care. Thinking I was going to save money on childcare when Aiden started school was wrong people. I had to spend the same amount on before and after school care!

A side note on childcare: Aiden and Charlie are both happy well adjusted kids who have now moved countries twice and I can say that child care didn't hurt them and probably helped them a lot. They were lucky to be in a great childcare centre with fantastic staff. They are both robust, make friends easily and are now doing well in school.

The weekday routine

Arran would get up early each morning, around 5am, and do a big training ride on the way to work. He would start work at around 7.30am. I would dress, get breakfast and take the boys to childcare and/or school. That sounds easy if you say it fast, but usually by the time I got to work I had been up for nearly 4 hours. I arrived at work, somewhere between 8.30 and 9am, in a pretty frazzled state. Trying to get dressed, do your hair and make-up with two small kids at your feet is not a relaxing start to the day. There would usually be a tantrum from one or both kids at breakfast, and Charlie would do a big poo in his nappy just as I was trying to get them into the car. I would have an internal debate about either changing his nappy or pretending to the child care centre that it happened in the car. Yes, bad mummy.

The last 6 months in Sydney there were two different drop offs, Aiden at school and Charlie at childcare and let me tell you doing that in the middle of Sydney peak hour traffic is not fun. Arran was having a lovey bike ride while I was trying not to lose my mind.

Once I was at work I could happily work until 6 or 6.30pm without stressing about having to pick up the kids. The later it gets in the day the better I work.

But wait...

Arran needed to do the opposite in the afternoons. He needed to leave work at 4.30pm so he could pick up Aiden and Charlie on his bike. He would head home and hitch up the bike chariot and then head off to childcare and school before they shut at 6pm which was pretty tight. He was responsible for getting their dinner and bathing them, though I was usually home for bathing and bedtime. Just getting Charlie dry after a bath was a two person job! That kid was wiggly.

We could swap routines if needed and one of us could drop-off's and pick-ups if the situation required. I think the key is to be flexible when things come up.

Charlie was in the chariot and Aiden in the seat on the back. Arran on the fat bike. Sydney to Wollongong event
What would happen if I was travelling for work? Or had a work dinner? Well Arran had to do it all himself, sometimes a week at a time. That's a lot of organisation.

And what would happen if one of the kids was sick, which happened often, cause they were little and at a childcare centre or school with lots of other germ producing and spreading kids? Well that was a negotiation. It depended on what Arran or I had on that day. What meetings were scheduled and what deadlines had to be met? If I didn't have much on I would work at home. Or if I had been travelling a lot I would look after the sick kid. I was lucky that I had trust and flexibility in my job. Arran would do a bit of the same. One day when Charlie was sick I had an important meeting in the morning, so Arran stayed home and then we switched so Arran could attend a meeting in the afternoon. Pretty crazy but that's how we worked it.

When Aiden was more little and sick I could sometimes take him to work. I had my own office where I could stash him and he was a really good kid. I would take an iPad and a little sleeping bag and he would entertain himself and sleep. Not many people can do this though and probably not a practical suggestion. I could never take Charlie to work. He was just too high maintenance! Lucky he's cute.

Aiden watching out the window for trains and watching his iPad in my office 
Aiden asleep on my office floor
A friend recently shared this article on Facebook and I think it's great. At the start it says 'The well-being of children, the status of women, and the happiness of men will depend on whether more fathers are willing to take on primary parenting roles.' Arran and I share parenting roles, but during this period Arran took on the role of primary parent more than I did. And I had to push him to make it work. He definitely wanted to be involved in the parenting and doing his fair share but it doesn't happen automatically. I had to ask and push, mainly because he didn't realise what was needed. I have asked him to write a blog post of the challenges he experienced, particularly in his workplace. Stay tuned.

I am still the default parent which is kind of annoying.

Things that helped
  • Having childcare and school in relatively close proximity to either home or work. Ours were close to home which meant it was easy for both of us to get to. If the child care is near one of the parents work, guess which person is dealing with drop offs and pick ups?
  • Having a really good cleaner. Our cleaner in Sydney was a godsend. She and her team came once a week and also stripped and made the beds with clean sheets. It's hard to find a good cleaner but you need to preservere in finding one as it makes life much easier. If two parents are working you should allocate money to this service. It's cheaper than psychological help, pharmaceuticals and divorce. Doing the same for a gardener when you would rather spend time doing other things.
  • On a Sunday I would often make food for the kids or all of us that we could have for dinner during the week. I would make a huge pot of spaghetti bolognese (with lots of veggies hidden inside) and freeze in various portions so that we just had to boil some pasta. Or would make some meatballs and tomato sauce (also with veggies hidden). We would also have fresh or frozen ravioli the boys liked and fish fingers in the freezer so it was easy to prepare something if time was tight and the kids, and us, were tired. Luckily the boys childcare centre was in a shopping centre so it was easy to go to the supermarket to get dinner food on the fly if we were a bit disorganised (about half of the time). 
  • We had a combined washer-dryer which we had purchased to save space when we lived in a much smaller house, which took ages to wash and dry a load of washing (close to 7 hours), but this worked really well for us because we would put a load of washing on at night, shut the door of the laundry and the clothes were washed and dry in the morning. 
  • Arran would keep business shirts and suits at work and have them laundered and ironed or dry cleaned near work. I refuse to iron so my clothes either went to the drycleaner 50 metres from our house on Saturday morning or were hung on hangers to dry so they didn't need ironing.
  • If my hair needed washing and 'doing' I would do it the night before and just touch up in the morning
  • Arran exercised in the morning and I would go for a walk in the evenings after the boys were in bed.
  • You have to let go of some stuff. You can't have a perfect house if you are both working and you can't do everything that childcare and schools ask parents to do. Lots of parents are in the same boat. You just have to do your best.
  • We had some great friends in Sydney, who we now regard as family, who would kindly babysit if Arran and I wanted to go out for dinner.
So that's how we worked it. I hope this helps. What do you do in your house to make things easier?

Lisa xx

Photo credit of our family on the beach

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Work places that don't have their shit together

One of the things I have worked out, that is great for your career and your development, is to work at companies that don't have their shit together.

What?  Yep.

This probably makes no sense. Earlier in my career I decided I wanted to work for a large company to see how the human resource discipline worked for a much larger group of employees. The answer was it didn’t. Despite the very large global nature of the company, HR systems, policies and processes were basically non-existent. I wasn’t expecting this. I thought big companies would have it all sorted! Of course, they don’t, and all businesses have their own challenges depending where they are on their evolutionary path.

A start-up business with a small amount of employees with huge growth has very different problems to an established large business with a long history, trying to change to meet the changing needs of customers and the environment they are operating in.

The big company I joined was built on an entrepreneurial base, which meant everyone had lots of freedom to get things done. I learnt so much in this company but not what I thought I was going to learn. I learnt how to influence and provide tools and pragmatic advice that helped leaders make decisions, but not too much as to stifle their creativity and ability to get things done.  I learnt how to deal with some very challenging personalities and to work with very little direction and support. I learnt that these skills were valuable when I was sent to India at very short notice to sort some stuff out. These things were more important than learning how ‘HR’ is done because anyone can learn the HR stuff. Learning how to tailor your work to a culture and how to work stuff out for yourself is invaluable and translates to other companies and jobs.

Another company I worked for was a collection of acquired businesses with very traditional (read, old) ways of doing things. I learnt how to effect change successfully, how to support a business to enter new countries, to ensure we had the right people there, and to influence at a much senior level as well as getting on with the basics of people management.

I worked with a person who once said to me that she would love to work at ‘insert really big brand here’. Why do you want to work there? I said. Her response was that they are really good at all things Human Resources. The company was known to have state of the art systems and processes around people, excellent people development and high engagement scores across the business. Though it was likely to be a great place to work and see really smart people stuff in action, I thought it sounded boring in terms of personal and career development. I have learnt that it’s much better to work places where you can make a difference rather than be somewhere where it’s all done and you just get to tinker around the edges.

That's why I think its great to work at places that don't have their shit together, even if you do if for a short time. You get the opportunity to work on things from scratch, to create something worthwhile and create sense or structure out of chaos. You can walk away and say "I did that" or I delivered or implemented that thing there. You can point at something that you did. How cool is that?

Super cool, I say. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Working Part-time: How job sharing can work

I wrote about part-time work a few weeks ago and had a great response. Lots of comments and suggestions about how to get part-time work. One of the options is to job-share.   Job sharing is a version of part-time work which involves two people 'sharing' the full-time hours of one job. The pay and other benefits are shared between the two on a pro-rata basis, by the hours each person works.  I don't have much experience with job sharing so I asked my good friend Sarah Beck to help me out. 

I met Sarah when we worked at the same company in Sydney, both in the Human Resources team. Sarah was job sharing then and is the only example I have experienced, which probably doesn't say much about the companies I have worked for, or me as a Human Resources professional!

Sarah moved to Singapore about 4 years before me and was the first person to take me out for coffee when I moved there.  She was great at filling me in on dealing with frizzy hair and the medical conditions common to the tropics, as well as where to find the good coffee. Super helpful!

Sarah has recently moved to Chicago with her husband and today I interviewed her about how job sharing worked for her.

Say hello to Sarah! *waving*

Hi Sarah, firstly how did the job-sharing arrangement come about?

I don't have children however wanted part-time work after years of full-time. A friend in HR working for a large corporation told me of an Executive Assistant role but it was full-time. Long story short the business offered the role as a temp position which I applied for and got. I made it clear early on that I really only wanted part-time (four days). When I was offered the role as a permanent full-time position my manager added to my contract that the role would be reviewed in six months with a view to job-sharing. Luckily for me the business already had a job-share model in operation so my manager and I could see how it worked. It was explained that I would be the one to recruit a partner and also make the arrangement work. True to his word my role was reviewed and I found a partner to job-share with. I no longer work for that business; we moved overseas (twice!). I am still very good friends with my job-share.

Could you tell us about how the job share worked? How many hours did each of you work and how did you agree this?

I wanted four days and to make it work we needed two days from the other party.  We advertised externally and internally and were fortunate to recruit someone from within the business.    Having someone already familiar with the systems and processes in place as well as knowing other aspects of the business was a huge bonus.  She had not worked in HR (to be fair neither had I previously) though had a very keen interest and had completed a TAFE course.  I worked each day except Thursday so I could continue doing voluntary work.  We had a day together on Wednesday and she worked alone on Thursdays.  Our hours were flexible though I preferred an early start.  She has children and generally it worked better for to have a later start.   She had the capacity to work from home on some days and would access emails remotely as required eg if she was struggling to get in or had to leave early (one of her children has an ongoing illness).

Did you each have specific responsibilities that only you worked on? Or did you both do the whole job on the days you worked?

The idea was to share the whole job though in practice this was not always possible.  For example, minuting a weekly team meeting that fell on a day she was not in the office.  We had to practice strong communications from the outset to ensure we were both as fully informed as possible on an all key items.  Depending what the task was and the urgency required we could make an informed decision as to who actioned a request.  It could also depend if our manager specifically asked one of us to perform the task though generally speaking I was the lead and would delegate as seemed to make the most sense given the days we were both in.  

At the start of the job share some of the weekly more mundane tasks such as expenses and filing did fall to her as these could be started and completed on her days.  As time went on she was able to manage more interesting and time consuming duties.  Using PowerPoint was not a key strength of mine and the more organisational tasks were not hers.  We could cross over but as I say we found where our key strengths lay and used our time as efficiently as possible to ensure all aspects of the role were covered.  Our manager needed all of our skills.  He did many presentations and her PowerPoint skills and creative flair was fully utilised.  We had to arrange functions and organise annual events such as a HR conference and Service Awards.  Both our strengths were used in performing these elements of the role.  In many ways we were evenly matched and would frequently share knowledge between us.  

How did you ensure that each of you was updated as to what the other was working on?

We would keep a rolling update sheet and email handover notes.  We tried to have lunch or at least a coffee together though this wasn’t always possible.  Sometimes there would be a need to contact each other on the days we were not working however we did try to avoid this and as time went on we got better at streamlining the role.  We shared an inbox though this was associated to my name.  IT tried to give us joint names on the email but it was too complicated to set up unfortunately.  We wanted to make sure we operated out of the same email account so as to avoid doubling up and confusion to those outside our department.  At the start, despite her signing her name on correspondence some of our colleagues assumed it was me managing the inbox requests though this did change over time.  

How did you other workmates deal with the job-sharing arrangement. Were there any issues with your manager?

Our workmates were incredibly supportive and we had the full backing of our manager.  The director of our department had assistants who job-shared so it was not a new concept to the group.  Our manager kept us fully updated on all matters.  We had regular meetings - something he had done with me since we first started working together and which meant we could tackle all the day to day matters as well as work on future planning and upcoming projects.  The meetings were a great way to ensure team cohesion and collaboration.  Plus he operated an open-door policy so we always had access to him.

The role and allocation of tasks evolved over time although our colleagues tended to come to me as the first port of call mainly as I had been in the role longer and was in the office more frequently.  It did perhaps seem at times that I was more productive - for example if she was working on a big presentation then the organisational duties fell to me – and we worked on this image of the role. She has the ability to be very focused and work on one task to completion without getting side tracked.  I can get side tracked.  Once we had established our strengths and areas for development we could arrange our work accordingly – it didn’t happen overnight though!  

How did you deal with any conflicts between the two of you? Did you agree anything up front or just deal with them as they arose?

Generally, we managed things as they arose.  We would go for a coffee and talk which wasn’t always easy when there was a pile of work to be done and we had limited time together.  Occasionally our manager would get involved though this tended to be at the start of the job-share when we were all learning.  It wasn’t so much about conflicts as about different ways of approaching tasks.  Neither way was wrong or right just different.  Ultimately, we had to keep our customer at the forefront of our minds and make sure that we did what they wanted us to do in a timely fashion.  Prioritising requests was very important as was managing expectations.   

Our company was very people focused and we were fortunate to attend an in-house training specially tailored to the needs of the EAs (executive assistants).  Through this we learned many things for example different working styles and how these impact on others.    I found this fascinating and an invaluable insight.  I am very much a structured (some may say controlling!) person.  I like order, consistency and to keep a track on progress –  making sure that nothing slips by.   My job-share was and still is extremely creative.  She gets things done but did not always provide status updates.  At times there were frustrations however as we got to know and understand each other we could work through any issues.   

Trying to give someone interesting work to do on two days a week when one of those days is a handover is hard.  The role was extremely demanding and handing over and keeping the role operational did have challenges from time to time.  We came up with and fine-tuned strategies to overcome the challenges.  

What happened when one person went on holidays? Did you or your job-share partner work full time?

On occasion when I was away she did increase her days and sometimes this may have been by coming into the office or by working remotely.  It didn’t really impact me too much when she was away.  So long as both of us shared handover notes it meant the role could continue uninterrupted.  We managed our time when she had to take leave to take care of her child.  Showing each other respect, compassion and understanding whilst making sure our role was carried out effectively involved flexibility and trust.  My job-share worked incredibly hard for her home life to run alongside her working life and to this day I am in complete awe of this amazing ability.

What else can you tell us about job sharing?

I believe job-sharing can be hard however when it works it is brilliant and very rewarding.  The benefits to both parties are huge and to the business as a whole – look at all the skills we jointly brought to our business both of which potentially may not have been realised if this opportunity had not come our way.  Communication and the ability to prioritise is vital.  The company we were working for was very people focused and the time invested in staff and the in-house training we received as EA’s, who can sometimes be overlooked, was wonderfully empowering.  It linked us together from a business, work, social and personal aspect.  We were both trying to do our best and both had different approaches.  Training showed us how to bounce off each other as opposed to bat against each other; understand each other without getting frustrated; and in turn made us a much tighter unit.  We were invested in each other.  

I’ve learned an enormous amount about myself and others through job-sharing.  I have to have faith in others, trust in myself and manage my expectations.  I’ve learnt that I have a lot to learn and am still learning.  My job-share and I were lucky – though we had to work at it for sure – to work together and make the role ours.   She now works alone in a role that uses both admin and creative elements to their full and said that she learned a huge amount from our time working together.   As indeed have I! 

The support and understanding of colleagues and associates in the business is also key.  My job-share and I are still great friends though we live in different countries now.  I am so glad I did not miss the opportunity to (a) work with her; (b) stand by my preference to work part-time; and (c) just ask about the possibility.  If you don’t ask you never know what the outcome will be.  As a colleague said to me by putting it out there, to the universe, as a verbal request and as a recurring thought in your head makes it far more likely it will happen.  And it did!

I learnt if you don't take a chance you could miss out on a great opportunity!

Lisa: Does anyone else have some good examples of how job sharing can work? Would love to hear from you