Break a rule and you just break a rule;

Break a rule and you just break a rule; contravene a value and you let down your team mates. #values #culture #peepsly


Mashing up software thinking and People & Culture

There’s this game that I love to play called “the mashup game”.

Basically you take two unrelated things and mash them up together to give you something new.  So for example if I mash up a daffodil with a cat; then I might get a cat that when it does its business in the garden, a daffodil will grow 🙂

This is a great game to play with your kids or over a glass of wine of an evening; however it also has big implications in business.

Every organisation has areas of excellence and specialty, for example an ad agency will have creative know how, a manufacturing firm will know all about precision, or a project mangement company will be experts at organising many moving parts and deadlines.

As People and Culture professionals working within these companies, its vital that we “mash up” what we do with what we can learn from various functional experts within the company.  At Vend, I get a lot of inspiration from my marketing, business analytics and engineering colleagues.

All of this has led to me, unwittingly really, developing a software or agile thinking approach to doing People and Culture stuff.  I wanted to share how I do this so you might take some inspiration, especially if you don’t have engineering peeps in your organisation to model.  Please note that I am no expert at agile thinking and I’m sure the agile purists will find lots of holes in my reasoning – so if you’re an agile purist – stop reading now 🙂

Iterative thinking and MVP

There’s this picture in the ladies bathroom at Vend – it has a panel at the top with a tick, and a panel at the bottom with a cross.

In the top panel it denotes an MVP (minimum viable product) which in this case is a skateboard; then it has the next iteration, which is a scooter, then the next iteration which is a motorbike and then finally the last iteration which is a car.

The bottom panel – the undesirable one, marked with a cross – shows stage 1 of the car which is the wheels and axle; then onto stage 2, which is adding the chassis, then stage 3, adding the motor and body, and then finally stage 4, adding the doors and windows, a fully functioning car.

When you’re building software, you want to create your MVP, test it, learn, refine and then get your next iteration out the door.  You want iterative thinking.  This way you can constantly check in, ensuring that you’re on the right track.  The stakes in building a beautiful product step by step without testing it along the way are huge – in terms of lost time, dollars and missed opportunities.

We can do this same type of thinking in People and Culture – instead of working on a project for months with no testing, figure out what your MVP is and get it out there, test it, learn (which may mean making a big mistake), review and change if necessary.  Then rinse and repeat.

Fail Fast

Very closely aligned to iterating is that failing fast is a good thing.  Basically test what you’re working on regularly and be prepared for it to fail.  Be prepared to try another approach, to reevalute what the problem is, to go back to the drawing board.  It helps of course if you can figure out what success looks like at each stage so that you can objectively check in to ensure you’re on the right path.  I don’t need to tell you that biases exist so if you can have a predefined measure of success and be honest when assessing against it, you can get your ego out of it, and make the call.

Use Data (but don’t forget your intuition)

At Vend we have a love affair with data.  And because we’re a SAAS company we have data coming out of our ears.  So we use data to make decisions.  Of course some data is easier to capture, analyse and interpret than others; and in general People and Culture data is a lot harder to use than sales data, marketing data, customer data, etc.  But it can be done.

Of course we all know about the main data points – engagement surveys, regrettable turnover, length of service, sick leave, internal promotions, L&D spend, etc.  But for each project you’re working on, you can probably find other data as well.  So for example in the leadership programme at Vend, we track participation and satisfaction rates, as well as certain markers within the engagement survey.

All this talk about data is one thing, but also remember to touch base with your intuition.  If data and intuition are on a spectrum, then as People and Culture Professionals we need to be able to move up and down that spectrum at any given time, and remember that sometimes the data will send us in the wrong direction; and sometimes our intuition does fail us.  So its a balancing act of both things.

Retrospectives and Post Mortems

Within software, retrospectives are very common.  They might happen once per sprint, once per month and also once per year, etc.  A retrospective is basically a time to look back over what has gone well and what hasn’t in that period of time.  Often it is based around a couple of questions, being: What did we do? What went well?  What didn’t go well?  Its a chance to check in with your objectives for that time and see how you went meeting them.  If necessary you can tweak the system so that you increase the chances of hitting your goals for the next period.  Oftentimes questions will be asked like “What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we do more of? What should we do less of?”

A post mortem is held when something goes wrong.  Its aim is to get to the bottom of the issue.  A really easy way to do this is by asking the “Five Whys”.  Essentially whatever has gone wrong, you ask Why? And then to the answer of the first Why you ask another Why, and so on and so forth.  If you find something in there that is a big issue, then put it to one side and do five whys on that one thing after you’ve finished the first exercise.  This is a great way to get to the fundamental systemic things that may be causing problems.

Also note that a post mortem in a software company is normally held very quickly after the problem has surfaced, so haste is important.

Lean Process

At Vend we love lean process.  We don’t like bureaucracy and try to ensure that we don’t inadvertently sprout one.  Of course this can be challenging within People and Culture, because some of what we do is compliance, and as such, there are processes that need to be in place.

And I have found it to be true in my career, that often People and Culture people loooove process, even sometimes if it’s to the detriment of company culture and overall efficiency.  So ask yourself before you’re about to email out a 20 box checklist, or get overly prescriptive on job interviews, 1:1s or anything else, how is this process helping the business succeed?  And notice there the focus on the business.  As People and Culture people we are there to help the business succeed and help its people thrive.  If what you’re about to do is simply to feather your own nest, or make you feel like you’re doing a great P&C job even if the business don’t need it, then stop at once, and go back to the thinking about MVP.

These are some of the things that I have learnt from doing People & Culture in a software environment.  I’d love to hear from people who do People & Culture stuff in other industries and what you have learnt from your functional experts that you bring into your work.

Three ways to integrate wisdom into your HR practice

For busy HR professionals balancing the demands of an organisation, professional development, and life outside of work, it can be difficult to find new inspiration.

From a recent deep dive into the wisdom movement thanks to the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, here are three pointers that I hope can add some fresh food for thought into your HR practice.

1. The small things are the big things

Its very easy to get lost in strategy documents, employment negotiations, long range planning or the detail of administrative work.  Its so easy to lose sight of the important things you can do to add value to your organisation – often times these are in the simple gestures and words that someone in your position can use to convey a warmth and inclusiveness vital to organisational engagement and hence productivity.  Connecting with people in real ways frequently, taking the time to soften the tone of an email, spending that extra 15 minutes coaching vs directing someone on a work related problem, stopping the voice in your head in order to really listen to someone, and taking the time to drink in a small win.  These are the small things from which other bigger things are borne.

2. Follow your passion

Time and time again I heard at Wisdom 2.0 of people doing amazing things.  None of it was borne from a desire to make money or gain fame or notoriety.  It was wholly about pursuing a passion.  For example take Brandon, the guy behind Humans of New York, he had no idea how it would all end up, but just needed to follow his passion of photography.  To be truly engaged and successful in the fullest sense of the word, dig deep and reflect on your passion, and how you can bring this to your work.  Once you have done this for yourself, you are in a better position to do it for others.  Furthermore, to act as a role model in your organisation, being authentically you, sends a strong signal that will enable others to follow your lead.

3. Embrace the whole

Every situation has an upside and a downside, every person has strengths and weaknesses, every project has pros and cons, every day has good bits and bad bits.  One of the enduring memories of any visit to San Francisco is the sheer inclusiveness – sure its not without its problems – but as a whole San Francisco is a very inclusive, liberal place, that doesn’t shy away from hiding its less attractive parts.  Likewise, I think it pays to embrace the bits of yourself or others that you’re frankly not that fond of.  We all have bits of us that we prefer to hide away but if we can embrace all of ourselves for what we are, this helps us do a better job, by an honest reflection and discussion of our strengths and weaknesses.   If you’re having a bad day, then embrace the bad bits too, or the bits of a project that didn’t go well.  This allows us to learn and grow, and ultimately become better at what we do.

Lets face it, life is busy and work can be very demanding.  By taking time to attend to the small things; identify and follow your passion; and embrace the whole, you can find new perspective, energy and ultimately perform better at work.

Day 2 Wisdom 2.0

I’m at a loss to know where to start!

I guess from the beginning.

Byron Katie : The Work

First up was Byron Katie and “The Work”, which was quite ironic as someone pointed out, as Emma Kirkman have started “The New Work” meetup.  I was interested to find out about this original work.  As it turns out, its a bit different to our “new work”.

Byron Katie is an expert at shifting people’s beliefs.  She’s also the type of person whose energy you can feel from 30 metres away.  She’s also funny, compassionate and real.  Basically I fell in love with her 🙂

Her premise is that if we can identify our thinking and believing then can put an end to our suffering. Especially if we can explore our thinking and beliefs with an “I don’t know” frame of mind – at the moment in time when you’re doing this there is no arguing or judging in that space. There is no right or wrong, there are just feelings.

She believes that taking your “wild child” thoughts and putting them down on the page means they can’t move from there, they’re stopped, still, and you can work with them.  She advocates getting very very still and looking for the barely there thoughts – like the princess and the pea, you know something is there, it may be tiny, but there is something there.  That’s why this process (below) is best if you take some time on it.

She believes that we do a lot of false identification, and if we identify with something that is anything less than kind, its not true.  Her belief that there is no one and nothing that isn’t here for us. We can ask people around us to help us blow our own cover, as many of the things that make us miserable are beliefs we have that aren’t true. We can stop fooling ourselves and enter a fearless state of mind.  Nice.

She also had an interesting question which I think I’ll find helpful 🙂 – “Who’s business are you in?”.

She has a “Judge your neighbour worksheet” that you fill out about someone that you haven’t forgiven yet.  You answer six questions:

1. In this situation and location, who angers, confuses or disappoints you and why?

2. In this situation, how do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?

3. In this situation, what advice would you offer to them?

4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need them to think, say, feel or do.

5. What do you think of them in this situation? Make a list.

6. What is it in or about this situation that you don’t ever want to experience again?

Then investigate each of the above statements using four additional questions and really get still in the moment and feel what comes up.  Then turn each thought around, e.g. “I don’t ever want to” becomes “I’m willing to” and “I look forward to….”.

The four additional questions are:

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know its true?

3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without the thought?

I witnessed a man who was brought up onto stage move through this process and quite honestly it was the most powerful thing I have ever seen.  It seemed like magic.

Fred Kofman – Conscious Business at LinkedIn

Fred is an awesome guy.  A brilliant intellect coupled with empathy, compassion.  He’s pretty memorable.

He advocates that most people and business behave in ways that make sense in the moment but don’t make sense in the long term. And this concept is very very easy to understand cognitively but extremely difficult to apply – kind of like a game of chess, its easy to know how to play chess but takes a lifetime of perfecting to play it well.

He believes that Conscious Business Principles are grounded in three basic truths:

1. Responsibility – make responsible choices

2. Have humility – you never had the full story, so always remain curious.

3. Integrity – share and live by your values everyday (even / especially on the hard days).

He gives himself the title Chief Spiritual Officer.  He sees “spiritual” as an animating force that helps people stay connected to whatever animates them. He drew a linkage between how this sits in with the Buddhist path to enlightenment – that the picture denoting the tenth step to enlightenment is not being in a zen like state, but coming back to be helping hands at the market.  He drew a linkage between this notion of enlightenment and coming back to the market with helping hands to making a profit and being sustainable in business along with doing good.

He talked about a quote and I don’t know who its from but it was “after the ecstacy, the laundry”.  He sees himself as doing the laundry at LinkedIn; in that he helps connect the dots of vision and everyday laundry conversations; in order to help the team win from any role.  I guess he sees the CEO Jeff as being the visionary one and him as the enabler.

He believes that change comes for him from people he trusts making a change in their life, not from curated articles, and this mirrors with this belief that its not in the knowing but its in the doing that you can change things in life or in business.

He was asked a question about making sacrifices, e.g. for profits over people or the other way around.  He likened this to a game of chess, where the key theme is to win the game.  When you see it in this context there is no real sacrifice, because if you sacrifice something in order to win the game, you are still winning the game.  I guess this begs the question, in your business, what is the aim of the game?  Is it the customer?  Is it money?  Is it around doing good?  Is it around providing an awesome workplace?  Because when viewed in these terms there is no true sacrifice.

He talked a little bit about the difficulty of incentivising people in a workplace – do you incentivise on local metrics and have local incentives? No, because then you are not evaluating the whole.  Should you incentivise people on global metrics and have global incentives? No, because then you are not evaluating the individual output. He didn’t have a clear answer other than to say that to hold people together through growth its important to connect to the mission and translate that mission into hard daily conversations.

In terms of getting something off the ground, like mindfulness practices, the conclusion was to iterate it often, go viral and grass roots and give people a choice – don’t mandate it.  The Skippy Buffy exercise is apparently worth googling, haven’t heard of it, but when I have more time I will.  Apparently this gives people a direct experience themselves.

His last remark was stop seeking momentary pleasure and find a life of happiness.  Truer words have never spoken!

Culture Building Roadmap 

This was a guide for culture champions, tribe-builders and people Geeks and change agents.

The steps covered were:

1. Reveal what your default culture is and what it is costing you.

2. Design a Culture Code that is value based, behaviourally explicit and an expression of your highest possibilities.

3. Activate a shared context of “culture as daily practice”.  Provide training for common language and behaviours.

4. Embed your culture code through organisation – hiring, on-boarding, managing performance, decision making, role definition and organisational design.

5. Amplify – find the people who already demonstrate the culture code and encourage and amplify their efforts.

6. Iterate – track leading and lagging indicators to measure progress and continuously improve.

Connection and Collaboration with Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is big into mindfulness practices at her business.

Some things that work for them:

  • a chime at the beginning of each meeting where everyone has a minute or so in silence to connect in with themselves
  • a checkin – everyone has a minute or two to talk about something that is going on for them right now.
  • dialogue walks – as part of off sites people go in pairs for 20-30 minute walks and talk (time split evenly so one talks and one listens). Great for building connections across the company.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

An inspirational moment in time with this guy.

Some quotes that I thought you might like:

“Focus on this breath because the next one is not guaranteed”

“Don’t mistake thoughts about reality as reality”

“There’s no better place, you just get older”

“Hasten slowly”

“We’re all here to learn, none of us know much of anything. Its like a love affair, take a seat”

“What is your job on this planet?”

Kai Kight – finding harmony in the interplay of dissonance and consonance

Last presentation of the day.  This guy is a violinist and speaker.  He spoke of the night his mother broke the news to him that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the regret in her life of never having lived her dream of opening a jewellery store and working with her hands on making the jewellery.

In that moment the paralysing stage fright he had experienced for years in his violin performances just dissolved and he started to see them as an opportunity to learn and grow and basically feel the fear and do it anyway.

He likened it to learning to play a difficult new note on the violin – maybe your fingers need to contort themselves to play this new note and its really uncomfortable, but in time you build up muscle memory and you can play it without thinking.  The same can happen in your life if you are prepared to make your own unusual way in the world.

By the way, his mother recovered and is now thriving.

That was just the presenters

I’m getting just as much goodness from everyone I am meeting here, and each has in their own little way added to this growing something that is inside my head.  Its so freaking great!

So, now I’m off for Day 3, and I promise when I have more time and perspective I’ll craft these blog posts into something truly awesome.

Wisdom 2.0 Day 1 – key takeouts

Well where do I even start about my first “offical” day at Wisdom 2.0 Conference 2015.

I guess with honesty by claiming the world’s worst hangover this morning, as a result of some pretty awesome partying last night.  I had to laugh when I arrived at the conference and the first thing I saw was a quote that said “When you know better you do better” by Maya Angelou.  Well, clearly I have some way to go until this applies to me.

But seriously, a little bit of self care and I was up and running ready to go for the conference.  Thanks to Austin for his advice and generous spirit in this area 🙂

So, to the conference then.  Please also bear in mind that I’m bashing this out in 30 minutes so knock yourself out looking for typos and grammatical errors OK 🙂

The standout for the day was listening to Fred Kofman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn talking about the “Lessons in Conscious Business at LinkedIn”.

Key points that resonated with me:

  • most people talk about their jobs in terms of a small compartment e.g. “I sell this product to this market segment”. In short they are spending their energy on optimising their subsystem within their company. But when you do this you are not optimising the main system, in fact you may lead to its destruction.  In fact to optimise the system one must suboptimise the subsystems.  In other words, its not that you sell this product to this market segment, its that you work towards achieving a shared vision, and all focus on optimising the main system.  Love it.  To look at it another way is to look at a body with cancer, each bit of the body is trying to do the best for itself but without a shared consciousness, basically you’re screwed.
  • “the best way to do is to be”.  I liked this quote and it resonated with Jeff’s purpose behind starting LinkedIn which wasn’t to build a platform but to do good business – to get the intent right, the people right, the vision right, the purpose right, and then to see what came from that.  To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first but the more he spoke I came to believe that this was his intent, and it moved me just a little.  So if LinkedIn’s key vision is to deliver economic opportunity to every person in the global workforce – how would you use LinkedIn differently, if at all?
  • “Wisdom without compassion is ruthlessness; Compassion without wisdom is folly”.  This really summed up Fred and Jeff’s strong belief that compassionate leadership and management is the way of the future – and the best way to create an organisation of like minded professionals all fused in one shared vision.  Jeff talked about the difficulty of expressing compassion to people you don’t like, whose views you don’t respect, or who you have witnessed being mean to others; and the absolute strength and fortitude that takes.  There was a strong theme of mindfulness not as touchy feely and I felt this is a good example to give voice to that.
  • Leadership as inspiring others to follow you to achieve shared objectives.  They talked about this needing clarity of vision (which mountain to climb), the courage of your convictions in order to be able to overcome adversity, and to be able to effectively communicate this vision and conviction.  Fred talked about the analogy that he had of Jeff’s leadership – that was not him rowing a boat and getting everyone rowing in the same direction, but catching a huge maverick wave on a surfboard and inspiring others to want to do the same.  If you’ve got this vision, courage and resilience sorted, then just choose the right objective and make sure you surround yourself with the best talent.  Sorted 🙂
  • The idea of LinkedIn working for them instead of them working for LinkedIn.  This resonated with me because I strongly feel that an organisation doesn’t really exist in and of itself, it is made real by the people working in it.  I loved the notion of LinkedIn serving them and it worked in this example because there is such strong buy in from individuals to Jeff’s powerful vision.
  • The old data vs intuition argument.  Man, this is really taking up some headspace for me right now.  So Jeff says “CEOs tend to be data driven” and then in the next sentence “people just know it works because they see results in day to day practice”.  Before them Julia Hartz of Eventbrite said “we are a data driven organisation” and then later says “really I believe the qualitative more”.  I sense that right now we are in a very logical-dominated business arena and everything must be measured to ascertain value.  I also think that there will be a movement towards intuition taking more of a role at the decision making table.  I guess the challenge for me is to incorporate both, to look for more data to be the balance to my intuition.  I suspect for many people the challenge may be the direct opposite.
  • Being compassionate yet still demanding excellence.  On the subject of compassionate leadership, we talked a little about what to do when you were faced with a difficult situation.  If each of us have a circle of compassion then the solution is in extending that circle of compassion and refer it back to the vision.  An excellent analogy was given of the mediocre doctor that has a high casualty rate but is a really nice guy.  That is clearly not acceptable.  And neither is dropping your standards of excellence just to be compassionate.  Always refer back to your vision as your guiding light when dealing with these difficult situations compassionately as that is the shared truth to which you are aspiring.

In other news I also discovered that:

  • Jeff Weiner has an excellent karaoke voice and he passed on some karaoke tips – avoid your favourite songs from amazing artists (you’ll only sound shite), remember its all in the energy and not the quality of voice – so find something that others can sing along to (even if for no other reason than then they won’t be able to hear you)!
  • Sweet Caroline, Lean on Me, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay are great songs apparently for karaoke.
  • Gap has an amazing performance system “Performance for Life – Better You, Better Gap”.  Loved that sentiment.
  • Karen May from Google sees learning as the goal in and of itself; and takes a very holistic view.  i.e. maybe its learning on how to be a better parent, or contribute more to society and thats all something that Google will support

Final word

But the final word goes to Julia Hartz from her amazing talk about the experience of live events.  It seems that her and I share a common life philosophy, in particular about YOLO and FOMO!

  • “Say Yes.  Live more, do more, feel more”

Perhaps thats the reason I woke up this morning with a hangover?

’til tomorrow 🙂

Mel x

Finding and claiming your gift

Another quick post from Wisdom Week.

Today I had the good fortune to attend Wisdom and Purpose in Work as part of Wisdom Week.  What a day.  It was a smallish group of people (I’d guess at about 40-50 people) which was great for small group work – a thread that was woven throughout the day.

As I don’t have much time to blog and I want to get today’s information out before tomorrow’s arrives – here is my quick download – more to come in time 🙂

The importance of listening

  • When you truly listen you are allowing a little fragile idea to take hold.  We were talking a lot about our gifts and what we can give in life.  This is pretty serious stuff, far from the usual water cooler conversation.  We talked about “fertile listening”, i.e. providing a space for someone’s little “seed” of an idea or little bit of courage to take root and grow.  Fertile listening includes deep listening, clarifying questions but no giving advice, etc.  This proved to be vital to provide the arena for people to start sharing what is actually quite personal stuff.

Giving and receiving

  • In short, to give is to receive; and to receive is to give.  Check out the idea of mudita, its cool.   I could really make sense of this in my own experience where people are giving me to so readily, sometimes without me asking and sometimes when I ask (which is pretty hard to do, lets face it).  In each of these cases when someone gives me something, I hope they receive something back by watching me take that extra step forward in my life.  Likewise when I give something, really I receive far more, seeing how it empowers that person towards success, whatever that looks like for them.
  • We asked ourselves the question in quite explicit terms, what do I have to give, what do I want to receive?  Its a great question to bust out now and again.  We did this in a circle of about eight people and it was very empowering and helped us all towards our goals.
  • Asking can be out of desperation or inspiration.  Deciding what space to ask from can change your outcomes.  Interesting.


  • You may know that this is a big thing for me and something that is growing bigger by the day.  I connected over lunch with a lovely lady who was explaining her intuitive sense to mathematics and coding.  I talked to another lady in our group who explained that she was trying to find logical words to explain her intuition.  I have this growing momentum inside me to stop denying that intuition has a special, important and powerful place in business.  In particular the intuitive approach to coding is something that I have witnessed when watching Vaughan code and know to be true – I’m keen to start a conversation on this in the tech space.

The importance of claiming your gifts

  • Something I realised today that is that if I am not to claim my gifts (e.g. my intuition) then I make it OK for other people to not claim theirs.  This is something that scares the living daylights of me – to think that my girls could be in the workforce in 10-15 years time not claiming their strengths, gifts, not living their full selves.  Stuff that!  I feel a strong pull to help people claim their true selves in the work place for lots of reasons, and now I see that a powerful way to start is to start truly claiming my own self in all respects at work.  Watch out NZ!

Its all about the journey

  • What we have to offer in this world changes and shifts over time.  You never really get “there”, right!  Its all in the journey.  I loved this reframing.  When you look at it like this you can never get it wrong.  Sometimes also, you have no freakin’ idea what you’re supposed to be doing.  Well, it doesn’t really matter when you look at it through this lens – just ask “what are the things that can help me find my way when my path ahead is not really visible?”.  That’s a good start.

You never know what’s going to happen and thats OK.

  • So you have this future imagined for yourself and how you will step into and claim your passion in life, and it doesn’t work out that way – maybe you take another road, maybe something better comes along.  Well, thats OK too.  I have seen so many people as part of the Wisdom movement really making a difference but the reality is that they may have only been introduced to this in the last year or so.  When they were thinking about their future this may not have figured in it all, but they are making a difference, living their passion.  Its great to bear witness to.   Basically, go with the flow, watch out for the new unimagined opportunities.

So in all it was a great day, very inspiring.  It was a day of big ideas and simple gestures.  It was a day of connectedness.  Thanks to Nancy and Arturo for their loving and playful approach to facilitation of the day – you guys embody all that is good in the world and really helped the day unfold as it did.

Mel x