Organisations in Christchurch have now moved out of their initial crisis response mode into business recovery and a ‘new' normal. This typically includes temporary accommodation, disrupted workplaces, cramped working conditions and longer commutes; extra or different demands, loss of staff and/or clients or records.

For some managers and staff in the early days of their initial crisis response, they made unexpected yet immensely valuable discoveries. That is, many of their pre-earthquake everyday policies and procedures and practices were impractical, redundant and/or time-wasting. They also discovered what they really needed to focus on how they needed to ‘be' like, on a daily basis.

Their insights are applicable to all management teams, managers and team leaders. They're applicable to crisis situations AND all everyday, ‘normal' work days AND they can be applied immediately.

1. Focus on what is important – Constantly evaluate what needs to be done in terms of importance and urgency. Set priorities to determine what is mission critical, mission as usual and, what needs doing eventually.

2. Break big tasks/issues into pieces – This will reduce overwhelm and paralysis through endless analysis.

3. Create a sense of urgency – Do so daily. Be clear about what needs to be done and the expectations around deadlines. Role model the practices you need to see displayed by others.

4. Adapt quickly to changing situations – Ask yourself ‘who do I have to be and what do I have to do differently, now the landscape has changed/is changing'? Then be it and do it.

5. Question policies, procedures, systems and structure – Ask ‘what helps or hinders progress in the business? What doesn't make sense to do any more? What is really needed now?'. Change policies, procedures, systems and structure to reflect what's really needed in changed and constantly changing times; and in times of rapid expansion or other development.

6. Cut to the chase – Hold short, laser like meetings and quickly get to the point. Eliminate all unnecessary, habitual meetings. Identify all time, money and resource-wasting, non-productive, duplicating, draining, or historical ‘stuff'. Be bold and courageous and eliminate it. Develop a zero tolerance level to the intolerable.

7. Set clear expectations – Be clear about what is needed.

8. Check in daily – Check in with the staff first thing. Talk about what the day holds, any goals to be completed and issues people need to be aware of.

9. Support people – Encourage and endorse what staff do. Support and guide them. Show them how to lift or change their game.

10. Think and move quickly – If something is tried and the outcome isn't as successful as hoped for, find plans b, c or d and try again. Think ‘continuous improvement' model and get into high gear.

11. Ensure alignment -Ensure the organisation's values are real and expressed in everything it does. Check the staffs' alignment with the organisational values. If they're both in alignment, great things can happen. If they're out of alignment, they won't.

12. Acknowledge effort and successes – Notice what's going on around. Freely acknowledge effort and individual and collective successes. This is the ‘organisational oil' that enables people to feel appreciated, validated and energised. Everyone needs this.

13. Celebrate the wins – Find the wins, regardless of their size, and draw them to attention. It's easy to lose sight of all that has been achieved when there is always more to do. So celebrate them, they're all important.

14. Stop to continue – Take time to stop, take stock, draw breath, recoup energy and plan some more. Then continue on. Do this regularly.

Sue Dwan, Dwan & Associates,


In recent research conducted by Leadership Management Australasia, nearly 4000 respondents in Australia and New Zealand were asked how they felt about their jobs. The survey revealed more than 60% of the workforce either hated their jobs or didn’t care about their work, as long as they got paid. It showed nearly half were considering looking for a new job while 62% either hated or were ambivalent about their work. (Source: APN).

What this shows are large numbers of employees who aren’t committed to their organisation or the work they do. They’re not engaged, in other words. The Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) defined employee engagement as a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values, plus a willingness to help out colleagues. And the interesting thing with engagement is that it is a discretionary activity, it cannot be required by an employer. It is highly desirable to have, but it cannot be forced. And therein lies the problem. Employers want employees who are committed, care about their work and will do their best so the organisation meets its goals. Employees want jobs that are meaningful, fulfilling and meet their needs.

All of which begs the question: what can employers do to create an environment that encourages engagement? And by the same token, what can ambivalent or care less individual employees do, to change their situation?

Employers can:

  • have genuine corporate values that are well imbedded in the organisation and consistently evident in the behaviours of all leaders, all managers and all staff. Why? Some organisations have documented organisational values that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. They’re a sham, almost everyone in the organisation knows it and consequently, some of the behaviours and the culture within the workplace, turns people off.
  • show ethical leadership and actively demonstrate it, with integrity, with consistency, with professionalism. Why? If an employer delivers on their promises and their actions meet employees’ expectations, employees trust the employer. Trustworthy actions reinforce employees’ sense of fair play and create a “positive ‘psychological contract’ – an unwritten mutual obligation – between employer and employee”. (CIDP, 2009). Retrieved 11/07/2011 from
  • foster organisational citizenship, the tendency for people at work to help each other out and put in extra time and effort when required. Why? Employees who feel connected to others at work and have friends at work, are more likely to want to make a meaningful contribution to the organisation.
  • communicate with employees in a timely way using various communication channels. It is the employees’ responsibility to access the information given.
  • use human resources systems to enable HR practitioners or managers to have meaningful discussions with employees about their level of engagement with their role and the organisation. For this to occur, it requires high levels of trust between managers and their employees; and an organisational culture that provides a positive, supportive and enabling workplace. Why? For an organisation to be fully productive, it requires fully engaged, committed employees. If employees aren’t engaged, they need support to either be reengaged, leave their particular role or leave the organisation completely.

Individual employees can:

  • work on their inner self. This requires understanding their interests, motivators, demotivators and strengths; their core values, passions, fears, insecurities and tolerations; their self-sabotaging habits, thought patterns, emotional intelligence and their personality type. Why? Self awareness and self understanding is critical for individuals who want to know themselves and discover the work and environments that enable them to be their very best.
  • take personal responsibility for themselves and their situation. Why? An organisation can only do so much to make the environment conducive, supportive and attractive to employees. There may be limited opportunities to expand or enhance existing roles or create new ones. If, despite some changes, an employee is still unhappy, under-engaged or bored, they are responsible for the next step. They need to take control of their situation and make some decisions. If they stay in a role when they’ve mentally left the job or are unhappy in it, it will cause harm – eventually, their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health suffers.

In an ideal world, all workplaces would be values-led, ethical, vibrant, energized, productive and happy places, staffed only with keen, passionate and committed employees. Our reality may be very different. A number of workplaces today don’t reflect these ideals and neither do a number of employees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The future can be different. It starts with every employer and every employee, everywhere, today. ©

Sue Dwan, Dwan & Associates

12 July 2011 ©

Systematic management failure is a label I use to describe issues that are years old and have been unsuccessfully dealt with, by a long line of managers. Systematic management failure occurs when managers go into new roles and in no time at all, find they've inherited a number of longstanding issues. They discover that despite various attempts in the past to resolve the issues to a successful conclusion, it hasn't occurred. They discover remedial actions may have been started, yet not finished; or little has been documented, so there is no clear trail to follow; or no remedial actions were ever taken for a huge range of ‘good' reasons.

The reasons are often:

  • a lack of time (dealing with difficult issues typically takes up lots of time over a long time frame and management roles are already busy and demanding);
  • a dislike of paperwork (it's time wasting and takes them away from their real job);
  • a lack of knowledge (there's no one available to guide, coach or support them; there are so many issues, across so many fronts, they don't know where to start);
  • a fear of being seen as a mean or hard person (they want to be liked by their staff or colleagues);
  • a lack of specialist resources to draw on (industrial lawyers, psychologists or accountants may be considered too expensive to use)

Other common reasons involve aspects of the organisational culture. There may be unspoken or spoken norms around never performance managing staff or dismissing staff. There may be an accepted high tolerance of: sloppy practices, poorly performing staff, ad hoc use of systems, policies or procedures; missed targets or poor customer service. Additional reasons involve managers who don't want to lift the lid on issues as they're considered best left as they are; or managers who may be fearful of ‘carrying the can' for everything that has gone on before.

Historical issues can and must be dealt with because unchecked, they create organisational drag and waste precious resources. The workplace isn't as effective and efficient as it could be because of the accumulated effects of numerous less-than-ideal practices occurring over many different areas in the business. Additionally, there's the slow, steady, almost invisible leak of precious resources: people not doing their job to a required standard wastes time and salaries; time wasting individual and organisational practices wastes more money; missed deadlines or rework wastes time and money; inadequate systems or processes that don't support the organisational infrastructure, waste time, money and effort.

Another hidden cost involves turned-off managers and staff. Dealing with inherited historical issues is an immediate energy drain. Managers may quickly lose enthusiasm for their role when they see what they'll have to fix and then they question the wherewithal and credibility of the previous managers who left issues unattended or partially sorted, for so long.

Eliminating systematic management failure isn't easy or quick, yet it is doable. Active and committed leadership is required and a genuine intention to get known, historical issues successfully sorted.

It requires courage to name and deal with difficult issues. The issues need to be clearly identified, named for what they are and honestly ‘aged', to determine how long they have been tolerated.

The issues requiring attention need to be documented in an action plan, prioritized, allocated resources to fix them and realistic time frames and milestones established. The action plan then needs to be used and worked through for as long as it takes to successfully resolve every issue.

The keys to success are commitment, sticking with the plan, monitoring progress regularly and keeping the end goals in mind. Other factors include training and coaching managers to get onto issues the moment they first appear. There needs to be a change too, to the organisational culture. Develop guiding principles, so that best management and business practice is adhered to; and lift low standards to ensure tolerating the intolerable, is intolerable. ©

Sue Dwan, Dwan & Associates

September 2011

 It seems strange that an 800km walk across the north of Spain in 2009 provides ‘lessons' for getting through challenging, changing times, but it has. And it seems equally odd to be writing about it in these terms, but then again, why not?

Context is everything, so picture two sisters walking the Camino – the French Way – from a small village in the south of France to Santiago de Compostela, in the west coast of Spain. This involved walking over and around the Pyrenees, up and down hills through four provinces, hot days and cooler weather. It required back packs, stays in hostels of varying quality, facilities and comfort and two sets of clothing. Each day brought different challenges, interesting people and joy. There was ample time to reflect on life and living as the speed of travel and distance covered each day depended upon the terrain, injuries and the available accommodation. The journey was mentally relaxing, spiritually uplifting, emotionally and physically challenging and ultimately, a reminder of important ‘life lessons'.

Lesson 1. Get over yourself

In response to wearing only two sets of clothing for thirty days; sleeping in cramped accommodation with up to 120 strangers; accepting other pilgrims' different personal habits; walking some days with inadequate food or water, leg injuries and no guaranteed accommodation at the intended destination, the ability to ‘get over yourself' was critical. It necessitated great adaptability to the unfamiliar and rapidly changing circumstances; and the ability to find the humour in every situation.

The key to ‘getting over yourself' is self awareness. How we see and experience the world is only how we see and experience it, no one else. We all carry well buried self-limiting beliefs, negative attitudes and expectations about ourselves and others that unwittingly hold us back or tie us in knots. And when faced with challenges, when push really does come to shove, we will find we can actually do more than we may ever thought possible. ‘Getting over yourself' requires making no assumptions about anything and avoiding judgements; having no expectations (of anyone or anything) and adjusting quickly to change. And if we're really clever, deliberately setting our intentions for each day and deliberately choosing the attitude we want to take into our day, lifts our game and energy levels immediately.

Lesson 2. Self care

Despite adequate preparation and preventative measures, leg injuries and blisters struck a week into the walk. Our recovery was relatively quick because of a good level of fitness, strong immune systems and healthy bodies. Numerous pilgrims who weren't fit or adequately prepared had a miserable time and struggled from the outset.

The key to self care is embracing the ‘if it's to be, it's up to me' motto. Self care is our own responsibility and we can't blame others for what we may or may not have done to date. Good, ongoing self care strategies are essential to cope with everyday life and ordinary challenges, as well as extraordinarily difficult times. This necessitates healthy eating, regular exercise, reducing negative stress, managing multiple stressors and having enjoyable, fun things in our life. Keeping one's health and wellbeing is critical, because if it's lost, other losses inevitably follow.

Lesson 3. Let go

The best laid plans can go to pieces. It happens. Despite our intentions to walk every step of the 800 kilometre route, leg injuries necessitated the rapid development of Plan B and bus travel for a few days. It required us to let go of our expectations of ourselves and our original plans yet keep the end goal clearly in sight.

The key to letting go requires us to stop railing against things we have no control over. It means identifying the things we can control and identifying the things that aren't in our control – it pays to know the difference. It requires us to see the new situation simply as it is. There is simply no point analyzing it to death or going on about it. Alternative plans are needed, as is getting into gear, quick smart.

Lesson 4. Be in the present moment

Walking six – eight hours each day means legs and arms do their thing automatically and the mind is free to roam. Without the need to be ‘doing' anything else than walking (well, that and keeping a sharp eye on the terrain and potential hazards), the opportunity was to be truly human ‘beings', fully engaged in the present moment i.e. this minute, this hour, this morning. We were absorbed with what we were doing, seeing and feeling, with all that was around us.

The key to be in the present moment is to stop wasting energy and time looking back to how things are/were or, looking too far forward on how things might be. It is easy to ruminate endlessly on grievances, missed opportunities or past successes or events. Too much focus in the past or on the imagined future means we miss now – the present. The challenge is to remember that this moment, this day, will never come again. The past is gone, the future isn't known and there is no guarantee we'll have a tomorrow, so all there really is, is now. Focus on that.

Lesson 5. Ask for help

Some days, there was nothing familiar or remotely comfortable about some of the situations we found ourselves in. We relied on the help of strangers for clarifying directions and finding transport, medical facilities, banks and shops. Everyone we asked was happy to help us and we were grateful for their efforts.

The key to asking for help is to understand it isn't a sign of weakness rather, it is a sign of self awareness. It is about realizing that sometimes, time is of the essence and input sooner rather than later, is the best option. It is also a reminder that in this arena also, we may need to ‘get over ourselves' and let the ego take a back seat for a while.

Lesson 6. Receive gracefully

On a number of occasions, we received food, drink, medicine; help with accommodation and unsolicited, much needed directions. Villagers and fellow pilgrims, people we didn't know at all, offered items when they thought we needed them. These random acts of kindness occurred without warning and were freely given – and always at a time when what was offered, was exactly what was needed. It was humbling and heartwarming.

The key to receiving gracefully is to ‘get over ourselves'. People most used to giving freely to others may find it strange and uncomfortable being a recipient of other people's generosity, yet, receiving is the other side of the giving coin and needs embracing. A reminder too that gratitude needs to extend beyond an immediate need, to all that is good and great in one's life. A ‘gratitude list', reviewed daily, is one way to do this. Entitlement attitudes and deficit thinking is best avoided.

There is nothing new about these ‘life lessons' – they are as old as time itself. Yet in the busyness of personal and working worlds and in the context of extraordinarily difficult or challenging events, they can get forgotten. There is no time like the present then, to start anew.(c)

Sue Dwan

Dwan & Associates

May 2012

It is a fair bet that most people are time poor because they're dealing with multiple, conflicting demands in their personal and professional lives. Some people appear to juggle work and other commitments without any apparent difficulties or feelings of stress whatsoever; yet there are others who seem to struggle keeping all the balls in the air all the time and feel those effects. And unexpected events, like the Christchurch earthquakes or the loss of a loved one, can test one's coping mechanisms to the max. The best we can do is try and minimise and manage stress through a number of ways:

1. Listen to your body

You know your body best of all, so learn to listen to it carefully. If you allow yourself to listen and acknowledge how you feel, you will detect the early warning signs that you may be getting very tired, overwhelmed, feeling flat or sick.

2. Know your triggers

Everyone has stress triggers. They may include constant change, overwork, financial pressures, arguments with loved ones, excessive noise, overcrowding, loss of friends or loved ones, or demanding colleagues. Know your key triggers and the physical and mental responses they generate within you. Know how much stress you can cope with before you feel affected by it.

3. Know the types of stress

Not all stress is bad. Eu-stress is ‘good' stress, when just the right amount and type of stress enables us to be at our energetic, creative best. Too much ‘bad' stress causes distress, which may eventually lead to health issues. The ideal is to have the right amount of eu-stress in our lives and the ability to minimize and successfully manage any distress.

4. Evaluate your work/life balance

It's easy to get things out of balance, despite our best intentions to do otherwise. One way to avoid our work or life arenas dominating is to evaluate things on a regular basis – take the pulse, as it were. Oftentimes, mini breaks or holidays give the mental space to do this. All work and no play makes for a tough road so assess how things are going and take corrective action as soon as possible, if you know your work and life balance are out of kilter. The Wheel of Life is a useful exercise to do if you want to see where you put most of your energy and time and identify the areas that get little attention.

5. Look after yourself

If you have any health concerns, any small niggles about things at the back of your mind, then get them checked out. Don't leave them unattended as they'll become a constant worry, an ongoing concern and a drain on your energy. Get onto things as soon as they first appear. Your health is your responsibility and is your most precious asset – take good care of it.

6. Use self care strategies

Look at what you do for yourself that lifts your spirits and refreshes you physically, mentally and spiritually. If you don't have many self care strategies in your toolkit, start small and build up: for example, a relaxing bath, a good book, a walk in the park, a sleep in, a 3 day weekend, a facial or massage, a swim, game of golf, a walk in the park. Do whatever you need to do to look after yourself, to enable you to keep functioning well across all the areas in your life.

7. Set boundaries

It can be challenging when constant demands from the home world and our working world clamour for attention. Set strong boundaries between the two worlds, so work stuff doesn't eat into personal time and vice versa.

8. Develop interests

It can be easy to have a relentless focus on work, especially if we don't have many interests outside of it. Develop a range of interests that will enable you to switch off from work demands or home demands and give you personal time and space that's fun, enjoyable and restorative.

9. Exercise and eat well

Our bodies often reflect how we treat them, so if we want to get the most from them, they need to be well looked after. This requires all the usual things: healthy food, regular eating, limits on alcohol or other stimulants, regular exercise. If you're out of the habit of regular exercise and good eating, aim to get back into the habit as soon as you can. Spend time planning your food shopping and meals for the week, so you don't get caught out when you are hungry, tired and besides yourself.

10. Change thought patterns

Our future needn't be a repeat of our past. Any change to our current habits (both good and bad) start with our thoughts and intentions. You can make a deliberate choice to change or enhance certain things you do; you can make a choice whether to tolerate some of your own behaviours any more or do something about them; you can make a choice to strengthen your personal boundaries. Aim to be clear in your thought patterns. Set your intentions. Make the changes you want to make. Go for it. Keep at it. You may ‘fall off the wagon' a few times and if so, that's ok. Every day you have the chance to start anew.

Sue Dwan, Dwan & Associates

February 2011 ©

During 2011, waves of baby boomers around the world will turn sixty five. Some of them already in full time paid work may choose to ‘retire' completely from the workforce; some may choose to keep working full time; and some may elect to reduce to part time hours and keep on working. For those in the Western world, statistics show we're now living longer and people in their sixties may spend 25 -30+years in their next life stage. Given that is a huge amount of time, how do they want this time to look like and be like? What do they want from this time? And where do you even begin planning and preparing for this next life stage?

The label ‘retirement' is often used for this next life stage. The dictionary defines retirement as ‘to withdraw from life' and it's no surprise to find many people don't want to plan and prepare for their next life stage because the idea of withdrawing from a productive and busy working life is horrifying. It doesn't have to be like this. There is another way to view and do things. It starts now with the mind and the heart. Not later, but now.

1. Identify the ‘models' you are familiar with

What ‘retirement' role models have you had, that have influenced the way you view this next life stage? For example, did your relatives view age 60+ as a time to put their feet up, get their reward for a lifetime of hard work and aim for endless leisure? Or do you know people who went back to school, learnt new things and spent their time with paid and/or unpaid meaningful activities that contributed to their community? It's useful to consider the ‘retirement' models of previous generations as they reflected the societal norms of that time. Some residue of these norms is still around today and they may not be relevant or attractive to you because they don't reflect the norms of today. The point is this: you can actively create your own model. You don't need to be bound by the past, what your family norm has been or what your friends think about things. There are no rules.

2. Listen to your heart

If you're not in the habit of listening to your heart – that is, what you really feel about things you want or stay clear of, then it's time to do so now. Give yourself permission to get out of your head and free yourself from any shoulds, oughts and must-dos in your thoughts and language. Think about what would make your heart sing, make you feel alive, capture your interest and feed your mind and soul – and note how you feel inside. These feelings are the clue to what your new future could look like, sound like and be like, on a daily basis.

3. Recognise society's views of aging

It's pretty ghastly. It's largely portrayed as a negative time represented by: potential poverty (the limitations of living on government superannuation); ill-health (take a note of the television adverts for incontinence products, denture paste, arthritis treatments and funeral preparation); gradual or sudden decline (the advertisements for male and female menopause medications; funeral preparation; tips to avoid dementia; retirement villages); frail elderly (media reporters ask people their age and label them accordingly – elderly seems to be anyone over 60!) and, huge drains on the health system (the elderly take up most of the budget, tutt, tutt). These views are widespread, stereotypical and any stories about positive aging, hardly rates a mention. Yet despite all of this, opportunities exist to actively challenge these negative stereotypes by creating a positive, different future. Yes, our bodies physically age and change, that's unavoidable, but aging is also about attitude and mindsets. A negative or positive attitude, outlook and approach to things, is a choice.

4. Replace what's familiar

We gain five main benefits from our work that combined, give us an overall sense of satisfaction and purpose. In our work we get: structure (start/finish times and stuff in-between); purpose (we have a focus to our day, doing something worthwhile or productive); remuneration (we are rewarded each payday); socialization (lots of people to interact with, develop friendships with, connect with); and status (we use a label to explain what we do – we have a place in the world and it gives us a sense of self worth). If we want to have a rewarding, purposeful, enjoyable next life stage, the five benefits we get from work need to be replaced in some way. Worldwide, the number one illness for ‘retirees' is depression, typically caused by workplace-related losses and personal losses, such as health, mobility, loved ones, missed opportunities and money.

5. Identify what's really important in your life

You need to know yourself well, know your values and what's important to you i.e. working, family, friends, travel, adventure, giving to others, leaving a financial inheritance. You need to know your needs (what you actually need to feel safe, secure, comfortable), your fears and self-limiting beliefs; and also your hopes, dreams and passions. If you're feeling bold and fearless, think about your vision statement – what's your mantra going to be for the next 25+ years?

6. Do your sums

The biggest fear people have is they will outlive their money supply, so do your sums. Know what your personal and lifestyle goals are and your current financial situation. Know what you actually need to live on and what you think you might need to live on in the future. There may be a difference between the two. Get sound financial advice. Ideally, planning for a sound financial future should start as soon as we start working however that isn't a reality for most people. Get on to it as soon as possible to ensure you can have the means to implement the next life stage you really want.

7. Do a health check

Good health is a priceless treasure. Our enjoyment of the present and the future can be quickly derailed by health issues, so if you haven't already done so, take stock of your health. Get regular checkups. Attend to health issues as they arise. Aim to be fit, well and active throughout your life, so you can enjoy the life you've planned or want to have.

8. Dare to dream

Now is the time to dream a little then a lot. Let your imagination fly and recapture all the things you've always wanted to do or experience. This next life stage is ideally the time to do what you've always wanted to do. Don't just dream it or dismiss it out of hand. Make a plan to do what is most important to you. Remember the Bucket List film? What's on your list?

9. Think it, ink it, do it, review it

Develop a cunning action plan to bring your ideas and desires to fruition. Allow your plan to cover the short, medium and long term then, get into gear and implement it. The plan won't work unless you do.

10. Make it happen

The mantra for this planning phase and the next life stage could be ‘if it's to be, it's up to me' with a side dish of Nike wisdom on the side – just do it! Now!

It has been said that nowadays, age 80 is the new 70; age 70 is the new 60; age 60 is like the new 50 and so on. This is because many people are thinking and operating in a way that is very different to the typical, negative stereotypes and mindsets. Instead, they are vibrant, active, contributing beings. They make choices to be fully engaged with the world around them, their work (paid and unpaid) and interests. They ignore the stereotypes of the past and created a next life stage that meets their needs, one reflecting their interests and passions. They've planned well and not left it to chance or left it too late, to make it happen.

Dwan & Associates Ltd ©

February 2011


  • Know the differences between strategic plans (a high order long term plan) and action/business plans (annual, tactical plans that convert the strategic intent/goals into reality).
  •  "If you don't know where you are going, any path will do" – have clear long term goals and directions in mind.
  • Conduct strategic planning as frequently as needed to set and reset the direction. Conduct planning annually, in order to develop action/business plans.
  • Planning starts with thinking – so make time to think and plan.
  • Thinking and planning are legitimate business and management practices – use them frequently.
  • Planning is a good time management technique. It needs constant practice and application.
  • Being busy doesn't necessarily mean being productive or achieving results – planning and plans help us be productive and produce results.
  • Documented plans are management tools to provide direction, focus, priorities and a clear picture of outcomes required.
  • A planning cycle is typically tied to the budgeting cycle – so that plans with resource implications can be considered/included.
  • Conduct planning exercises at the same time every year, so it becomes a normal business practice, not a one-off event.
  • Conduct your planning and develop your plans before the end of a year so that work can easily continue in December, January and February – typically, months of slowness and downtime, due to Christmas and holidays.
  • Some symptoms of ‘lack of planning' include time and resource-costly re-work; missed deadlines; reactive, crisis management; constant rush to deadlines; time spent majoring in minors; inconsistent application of policies or practices; stated goals not achieved. Most of these situations can be avoided or minimised with good planning.
  • Follow the Pareto Principle – the 80/20 rule – aim to spend 20% of your time on tasks that will contribute to 80% of the results.
  • Spend your time on the things that really count – start with your time, and not with the task. The task must fit the time in terms of importance.
  • Know the difference between time working ‘on' and ‘in' the business. Time spent planning and developing plans is working ‘on' the business. Working 'in' the business is when you are out on the shop floor, doing the doing, so to speak. © 2011

We spend most of our life at work so getting on well with those we work with and manage is essential, if we want to get the best out of our days. Managers need to create the conditions in the workplace to enable people to be their best but sometimes, difficult situations arise and some staff may appear to be ‘difficult' to work with. Try the following tips to help you deal with difficult people situations.

1. Respond, don't react. This involves taking sufficient time to determine what the issue(s) may be.

2. Establish the facts of the situation(s) i.e. the core problem, not the symptoms of a problem. For example, check to see that the staff member(s) were not set up for failure in the first place (inadequate job orientation, no training, no supervision, poor communications, etc). Look to see what organisationally and personally (as in you, the manager) may have contributed to the situation.

3. Approach the person(s) directly, in a one-on-one meeting.

4. Discuss the situation with the staff member. Listen carefully, using your eyes and your ears. Clarify points raised, so you get the full picture. Don't assume a thing. Find the facts. Discuss the issues fully.

5. Adopt an assertive communication technique (the issue, the impact of the issue, what might be mutually done to resolve the issue) to keep the focus on mutual problem solving and resolution.

6. Seek agreement on the outcome of the discussions and check that your understanding of what has been agreed to and the staff member's understanding of what has been agreed to, is the same.

7. Document the agreement and give a copy of it to all the person(s) involved.

8. Determine, with the staff member, the ways you will monitor the situation at regular intervals i.e. fortnightly, monthly.

9. Monitor the situation regularly and check what progress has been made. Document the outcome of the monitoring processes.

10. Provide feedback to the person(s) involved. Acknowledge and endorse positive outcomes; identify and discuss issues still needing attention. © April 2011


This can be used to achieve personal or organisational goals.

1. Define the goal(s) you want to achieve.

2. Determine what's required to achieve them.

3. Keep them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed).

4. Document the goals and actions needed to achieve them.

5. Do the doing – write the plan then work the plan!

6. Review progress at regular intervals.

7. Include more actions, as needed, along the way.

8. Celebrate your successes!

9. Repeat steps 1-8.

Goal: (specify here)

Actions needed

Resources Needed



Outcome Needed

(key result area)









































































If you fail to plan, you'll plan to fail


Think it, ink it, do it, review it!


You may be surprised to know that in almost every workplace in the country, all through the year, staff dealt with not only their day to day work but an infestation of quadrapeds, fish, birds and insects. It's shocking but true and all without an SPCA or pest controller in sight. How could this be possible? You may well ask and yet the answer is quite simple – read on, to reveal all.

Some say it's the quadrapeds that cause the most problems in the workplace. Who hasn't said they're late for work because it was raining cats and dogs? Who hasn't declared in meetings they'll take the bull by the horns, tackled something then discovered they didn't have a dog's show of succeeding? Who hasn't confided to a workmate they had explored a difficult issue and once underway, wished they'd let sleeping dogs lie? And as for keeping confidences, who hasn't, on occasions, let the cat out of the bag?

When observing work-shy workmates, who amongst us hasn't wished they'd take the lion's share of the work, before realizing a leopard can't change its spots? As for business planning sessions, how difficult it is to go donkey deep into issues and keep a bird's eye view of things before someone says they don't want to be the fly in the ointment but…? Planning sessions may encourage some to count their chickens before they hatch whereas others may be known for pussy-footing around difficult issues and some may stick doggedly to their world view regardless of the views of those around them. Some participants may run with the hares and hounds on some topics and others may excel at nit-picking. Not nice in company, but still.

And who hasn't, on occasions, floundered around on a new project before getting crabby at their lack of progress? The fear of making an ass of oneself prohibits some staff to put their hand up on some things whereas others may prefer to put their head down, beaver away and work at a snail's pace.

It's common to find staff locking horns on issues or panda to the wishes of a minority group or mussel in on issues that don't concern them. Some staff are skilled at ducking for cover when things go pear shaped and others may be known for crowing about their achievements. Some workplaces are also known for having a Queen Bee, a wise owl and a wolf in sheep's clothing. Worse still, some staff like horsing around and acting the goat on occasions and who hasn't had a cat nap, some quiet afternoons? All of these things may cause workplace conflict. Who hasn't wanted to be the fly on the wall to get the inside goss at some meetings? Who hasn't been the sacrifical lamb on occasions, in the interests of moving through a difficult workplace situation?

And sometimes all these workplace shenanigans get a bit much and some staff may feel like a fish out of water if forced to join in.

Yet most people, deep down, are solid, dependable types who are as strong as an ox and after many years working, have developed workplace survival strategies that work for them. Many staff, although they may talk longingly about rats leaving a sinking ship, will stay where they are because they like what they're doing and they like their workmates. They're with birds of a feather, they'll say, and the usual goings on can be brushed off, like water off a duck's back. ©


Sue Dwan, Dwan & Associates Ltd ©,

October 2010