Thursday, June 13, 2013

Front page of NZ Herald- officially off my bucket list!

Its official.  My quest in life is fulfilled, well sort of.  My actions have made it onto the front page of the NZ Herald this week.  Well, at least the front page of their website.  Yesterday one of my staff sent me the link which simply said "we're famous".

This Private Property sign has already blown off down Nelson street 3 times and has been hit once and it still lives on.  I still think my sense of humour and the ties to our IT side has come through well on this sign- I have not yet decided what the abnormal experiments should be- please comment on this blog if you have ideas- they are all welcome! 

The sign came about because we'd been having loads of issues with cars driving through our car park and out the other side to get back onto the motorway.  The final straw came when the lady who works in the fruit shop around the corner tried to short cut through the car park and HIT the building and ripped the door half off, smashed the concrete and wedged her car door so hard against the corner of the building so hard that she could not get out of her car.  It took 2 of our staff to manoeuvre the car so she could get out.  6 months of insurance claims and a still damaged door, we are the ones who are worse off for the experience!

The No Trespassing sign came about when we were asked by the signage company what we wanted it to say.  I thought it was an odd thing to ask as I thought No Trespassing was simply that!  Being a creative marketer, I took the opportunity to inject humour into something that is also serious and the subtlety to see if anyone would actually read and take notice of it.  Clearly they do.  It made Sideswipe on the front page of the herald this week!  I just wish I'd put our logo on it too!

I've always seen signage as a clear way of marketing- those who know us will know that we are famous for our signage on our building- simply because I decided to put in on an angle, rather than straight to draw peoples attention to it.  It was also noted on the 'observations' website too.

Putting that sign on the angle was one of the best things I have done with signage.  People know where we are and we often say- the one with the crooked sign and yes, its meant to be like that!  Its memorable to people amongst the other signage around and that is what counts.

So getting on the front page of the herald is another item ticked off my bucket list. 

In case you are wondering- some other things on my bucket list are: Attending a live sitting of Parliament during question time, Petitioning to have a piece of Legislation changed in Parliament and having it passed into law(Overdue payments and interest charges is what I am looking at ), obtaining a spot on on the board of directors for an NZSX listed company, visiting Hong Kong and new York( have never been), doing a Biking Trip through Vietnam, buying a beach house on the beachfront at Pukehina Beach and living a self sustaining retirement including growing, catching and foraging for my own food sources including doing some type of fitness activity most days.

So what's stopping you- get your bucket list sorted, your creative signage happening and if you love what I'm blogging, share it and send the link on to others to read :-)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Working with family - worth it or not?

Some days I want to scream and others I can't stop smiling. 

Working with family has its challenges, I know as I've worked with my husband now in 2 jobs in two different companies over a 10 year period.  In addition to this, I have worked for my father, brother and uncle when I was younger on many occasions on our Kiwi-Fruit farm- May School holidays was always picking season.  I also work with my father-in-law as he is our accountant and my Step-Father as our Commercial Property Inspector.

When people ask me what its like working with my husband, I always respond "Its a privilege".  I truly believe being able to work alongside every member of family is special.  You are able to work with one of the people you trust most in the entire world.  People often ask me- "how do you get on spending so much time together".  Its easy.  I don't!  People see us on the external as a married couple, and not many people understand that like all businesses, there are managers and colleagues, this is why it works.  We have our own people to see and things to do and are in and out of the office like yo-yos. 

Both Wayne and I have clearly defined roles and job descriptions.  We understand the boundaries of our day to day operational roles and the roles we have as directors and shareholders.  Because of the clear definition of roles, we are able to work on our pieces of the business .  So do we talk about the business at home?  The answer is yes.  I ask other couples- do you share things that have happened at work at home and discuss your colleagues or meetings you have had? I am sure the answer is yes.  We are no different. 

Like most normal colleagues, we have our board-room battles and battles at homeThe main difference is we have a major, major advantage for our customers and staff.  That advantage is that our communications are so good that we are able to stand in for each other at a moments notice, often interchangeable.  We are also able to more openly 'tell each other what we think' as most people tend to be more honest with their partners than work colleagues.  This can also be a disadvantage to our staff sometimes as they see us first as a married couple rather than colleagues.  They can mistake the discussions for a 'marital spat' so we have to be aware of this more often than most.

I don't think everyone could work together as we do.  It takes a great deal of patience and willingness to navigate through  very rough waters in business, but in turn, the ability to really celebrate the good times- not too dissimilar to a relationship really.

Working with siblings and close relatives I don't find much different- it can get awkward at times.  I have personally witnessed members of my family attack each others with spades, not normal behaviour in the workplace, but it happens.  The number of family businesses in NZ is actually quite amazing- there are more around than people realise.

So its it worth it or not?  Here are my key points about working with family:-

1/ Before you start working together, have written and agreed job descriptions.  Worth the effort- absolutely!  This clarifies who does what before you start and stops the dreaded 'stepping on toes'.  Make sure you all totally understand the boundaries.

2/ Business is business.  Treat the boardroom as the boardroom.  Personal stuff stays outside the office- don't use it as ammunition in a meeting- its bad form.  Fight battles as you normally do with other non related colleagues- otherwise your working relationship will be limited.  This has happened to me and I have broached it and aired the reasons why this is 'unprofessional' at work.  You are professionals.  Stay that way.  Worth sticking to- definitely.

3/ Don't be afraid to do the hard stuff and treat a spade as a spade.  Have I had performance related discussions at work with family.  Yes.  Has it been awkward- yes.  Its it worth it- this is the toughest thing you will have to do.  The jury is still out on this one unless you can get your family member to do point 2 and treat business as business.  You must iterate this clearly.

4/ Have a personal life that is actually personal.  Yes, I am my husbands facebook friend and I tag him in photos.  But, when it comes to LinkedIn, this is our place of work.  If I have a better profile than him with more endorsements and connections, game on! (Please endorse me for something if you read this!!).  Remember- Business is business (see point 2!).  In seriousness, our personal life is pretty personal.  Most people have no idea that we love to Kayak Fish together and we often go Mountain Biking or Road Biking together.  Its important to have a life outside of work that is totally different to your place and type of work.  This is what keeps you sane.  Worth it? Yes

5/ Weekends are sacred.  This has been our number 1 rule since we have been working together.  Work as many hours as you want during the week but DO NOT work in the weekend.  I can count on 1 hand in the past 8 years the number of times we have had to work in the weekend.  We have done this on purpose and it is what keeps us normal.  You have to have time away from work- working 7 days a week would even drive non- related people to go crazy after a period of time.

6/ Business trips are business but there is no reason that when the business is finished that you can't have some time out.  This is one of the advantages of working together- you can share some great experiences away- even if it is for work.  We have both travelled extensively for work over the years and have always said if the other is away for longer than 2 weeks then the other person needs to travel to be with them.  I am so lucky to have been able to share experiences, again a privilege.  It can also be problematic.  I was once on a business trip away in the USA and sitting is a conference session and got a text from the team back in NZ.  It simply stated 'I think one of the tradespeople is smoking dope in the ceiling space and its going through the air-conditioning in the office'.  I looked at my husband and nudged him in the conference and simply passed my phone over so he could read the text.  He just shrugged his shoulders.  What does one do in this situation?  I simply said back to him- awesome, we are here and our staff are now in-voluntarily stoned and we have to fire our air-conditioning company.  I love my job!

7/ Plan your holidays wisely.  The downside of working together and running a company together is holidays- who will be there to run things if you are not.  Make sure you have good staff, and if you need them CCTV cameras.  We can't all have eyes in the back of our head. 

8/ Some people will just never get it and see you as a 'family run business' and will never get past it.  I recently lost a deal because of this.  It was substantial.  I was more disappointed that the company directors could not see past this.  And furthermore to see me for the skills I have and as being talented in my own right, as well as having a very successful company that has worked with some of NZ's largest organisations.  Their loss really, a shame that some people will never move on from this mentality.  Worth it- I still wouldn't change working with family over a loss like this, but I think we do have to learn to accept this as an issue and know we won't win all the time.

9/ Understand you still have legal obligations and contracts with family.  This is one of the hardest issues you may face.  As mentioned in point 2- business is business.  There are some hard things you will have to do- this will range from liability issues to having to sue family members.  I have seen this issue destroy some families.  Again, you must be aware of this when you enter any form of business relationship with family.  When I walk out of the office, family is family, if in the office, its work and I expect to be treated the same way.

10/ Some people will always view you as the wife!  Not unlike point 8, some people can't get past the fact that you are talented individuals in your own right.  I think my Mum thinks I am the receptionist for Business Mechanix. I recently decided that I would invite her to an event I was speaking at which was held at Microsoft.  I was speaking and Wayne was sitting down the back.  I think she was very shocked at how well I knew my stuff.  She even commented on 'wow you really do know what you are talking about'.  If you get the opportunity, you must take it to show other family members or even friends that you have talent in your own right and you are not just an extension of your partner or family.  Take the opportunity to SHOW them.  It will be worth it!

In summary, I would not change a thing in terms of working with family.  I have yelled, cried, celebrated, danced, flown, driven, collaborated, dined with and partied with my family as part of my working day.  There are large highs and massive lows. If you can actually work with your family, celebrate this and cherish every moment.  If you can't, at least you have tried and learnt more about yourself and them through the process- no matter how poor the experience- you have still gained from it.  I believe its so great to be on lifes journey with those you trust and respect the most.  Its definitely worth it.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When you should walk out of a meeting- the Aaron Gilmore Syndrome

One of our team had an interesting day a few weeks back.  A meeting with a prospective client ended halfway through with one of the attendees standing up and announcing "you are lucky I've given you 30 minutes".  This was despite our team member outlining the purpose and high-level agenda of the meeting.  To make matters worse, they deliberately left the business card of our team member on the table, signalling their real thoughts. 

The person who did the walking out was in middle management. Apparently they were "too busy" to have the meeting, or this is what they stated upon exiting.  Ironically, if they had stayed for the rest of the meeting, they may have discovered a way we could have helped the person be less busy through the services that we offered.   However,  we were not even able to discuss this as the meeting was cut short.  In fact, the person who left early actually also arrived late to start with.... and missed the important the intro and overview of what was articulated.  We also asked 'what are the issues you are currently facing and what are you trying to achieve?' The person could not articulate what they were trying to achieve or issues they were facing.  This in itself demonstrates an issue when faced with external vendors in front of colleagues.  Understandably some issues may be confidential,  however, the 'unwritten rule book on meeting etiquette' should still apply as you never know when you may run into each other again in the future, and instances like this are long standing.  I just feel for the persons colleague who was left sitting in the room with an awkward feeling in the air.

Apparently the demeanour of this person was very much along the lines of 'don't you know who I work for, I have an important role in an important company.'  This came through loud and clear by body language, tone of voice and the action of coming in late and making a point on how they exited the room.  The odd thing was that instead of giving a business card, they wrote their email address on a piece of paper and handed it over.  Strange in itself!

This got me thinking.  I do think that there is an appropriate way and time to walk out of a meeting and cut it short.  There are also ways to conduct yourself in a formal meeting situation.  In fact I walked out of a meeting myself this morning, but I did not do it in the 'Aaron Gilmore' fashion of 'I'm too important'.  I walked out of a meeting early this morning as if I stayed, I would have undermined one of my managers roles and this was not productive to be doing this.

It also made me smile.  I'll never forget another instance of a meeting exit that will stay in my 'mental history books' forever.  Working for a client some years back as a manager in a department, we had to work very closely with another business unit.  There was a manager from the unit I was in and another manager in another area who did not often see eye to eye.  They were in a meeting room holding a meeting with several other people.  The meeting was getting heated and loud voices could be heard outside the room in the open plan area where I was also sitting.  Within minutes, one of the said managers burst out of the room and slammed the door so hard the entire floor heard the bang.  It vibrated things on peoples desks, it was done with such vigour. 

As we all continued to work, the series of events that unfolded was unbelievable.  We did not see the others exit from the room for some time, it must have been at least an hour.  Next minute, the maintenance people were turning up with their tools.  When I went past to go to the toilet and realised what was happening, I could not believe it.  The meeting attendees were still inside!  The slamming of the door by one of the managers had actually bent the door frame and the people inside were stuck.  The meeting attendees were stuck in the room and had to use the meeting room phone to call the maintenance people to get them out.  They did get out of the room and yes, it ended in tears.  The incident was so memorable because the person who slammed the door I'm sure had not realised the ramifications that would follow of their actions.

So in light of this,  I think a check list of meeting etiquette and times when its appropriate to 'walk out of a meeting' should be pulled together. Here are a few of my thoughts on this:-

1/ When given a business card, look at it, smile at the person, acknowledge and immediately put it in your folder or wallet.  Preferably somewhere that its visible to the other person that they can see you actually care about where you put it.

2/ Always give the other person the dignity of hearing them out in the first meeting for at least 1 hour.  You then never have to meet with them again, but at least you should be able to ascertain if they have something you want or vice-versa.

3/ If you genuinely have to exit a meeting, let the other person know in advance that you have to leave early and provide a plausible reason.

4/ If you are under-mining someone else's role in the meeting and its getting outside of your core job description, best to show you support your colleague/ manager by leaving the meeting with a comment 'I have full confidence that person x will be able to handle things, I look forward to their feedback- its been a productive session so far or something similar'.

5/ Never, ever in a meeting use the 'Aaron Gilmore' approach- 'don't you know who I am or who I work for'.  This is the ultimate in disrespect for the other people in the meeting and quite frankly, achieves nothing.  If you are that good, show it by what you say in the meeting and how gracefully and tactfully things are thrown into conversation.

6/ If there are serious personal attacks in a meeting, better to exit and walk out gracefully than to keep it going and show your support for the situation. Simply put, you can exit by saying something like "this meeting is no longer achieving the goals or following the agenda, its best to leave things here until we are able to meet again to review the original items".

7/ If you are in a vendor meeting and you really don't want to buy what the person has, you can still exit gracefully, telling them the truth is a pretty good approach!  How about 'thanks so much for explaining your products and services' to be honest we are OK right now with our current supplier but please keep in touch, perhaps again in another 12 months'?  or "I don't want to take up (not waste) more of your time as we are OK right now, but I do appreciate the efforts you have gone to'.

8/ Do not use electronic devices mid conversation in a meeting and then exit the room when something 'more interesting comes up' on your iPad, phone or similar.  It is very impersonal and looks almost secretive to the other person using electronic devices in meetings, unless you are taking notes and you have the device angled down so the other people can clearly see what you are doing.  Otherwise it can be taken as a sign of dis-respect.

9/ Walk out if the meeting time is up.  Often people will try and 'steal time' with you and go for that 'little be extra'.  If you are genuinely interested then stay but most of the time you need to pay some level of respect to the people in your next meeting by not being late, also, allowing for a meeting wind-up itself can often take 10-15mins so you need to be exiting gracefully again.

10/  Walk out if you need to make a point that it simply not getting through- this must be used with extreme caution and very sparingly.  I used to know someone that used to do this and it was very powerful.  It was like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence or a bold underline.  Usually used to get across a certain view point and to end on that point alone.  This method is usually used or saved for internal meetings only when you know the people quite well.  In my entire career I recall only doing this once, you must also do it under calm situations not when you are upset or annoyed.  Never, ever be a door slammer (see above)!

In summary,  walking out of a meeting and stating 'you are lucky I gave you 30 minutes' or walking out ending a meeting in anger will leave a lasting impression and not a positive one.  NZ is a small country and most people are only 2 or 3 degrees removed.  If you are having a bad day, walking out of a meeting is probably less than helpful for everyone.  Find another outlet- simply have a yell somewhere no one can hear or perhaps write a blog!!