Cathy passionately believes that people work best when they feel good about themselves. This attitude – to help others feel great – led her from her start as IT trainer at Happy in 1995 to being voted best manager by the training team after just six months. Soon after, she became Managing Director. In 2003, she co-founded Happy People, a management and leadership training programmes.
Responsible today for maintaining Happy’s award-winning culture, Cathy provides external executive mentoring and coaching, enabling managers to create happy workplaces and become leaders of choice. In addition, she facilitates a range of client events and team training days. Cathy is an impassioned speaker at conferences and enjoys supportively challenging those she works with to raise their game, step up and bring the best version of themselves. She co-authored Relax: A Happy Business Story.
What do you think are the qualities of a successful leader?
Understanding that your role is to help others shine. The qualities which help you do that are authenticity, integrity, listening, valuing others and believing the best of them, compassion, respect and celebrating mistakes.
One thing I think about: If somebody needs me, its my job to give them the extra 10 minutes even if it means I have to stay 10 minutes extra at the end of the day.
Some things I value in successful leaders is their passion, energy and drive and their ability to forgive and never hold grudges.
When in your career did you find you really began to be an impactful leader and what gave you proof of this?
Actually the last year has been when I’ve felt I’ve had the most impact. The proof is that my team are doing many things without me. They meet together regularly as a team, they decide to stop doing tasks which do not give them joy, and to take on responsibilities which do.
Share with me your greatest leadership success/experience.
It is seeing our people taking full responsibility and leading beyond their role. When I see people collaborating, people laughing, people enjoying the work they are doing, people going out of their way to make it right for clients – not because a manager tells them to, but because they know it’s the right thing to do. At Happy, I observe this behaviour every single day.
Recall your biggest managerial challenge. Tell me how you handled this. What did you learn that you might do differently next time?
The company was making a substantial loss and was in danger. We parted company with one or two key people. Then it was a combination of some of my ideas but, more importantly, identifying the leaders of the future and supporting them to have the confidence to step up and turn things round. Within a year we had moved from a company-threatening loss to a substantial profit. It was about giving people time, coaching people, listening to concerns, stating my trust and belief in them and supporting them without imposing my viewpoint.
What have I learnt? When somebody isn’t working, when their approach doesn’t fit the culture and values, you need to be decisive.
What vision or goal are you working towards in your career? What accomplishment would you like to retire with?
I want to create a mind-blowing legacy, a self-sustaining culture of positivity and empowerment, that will continue long after I retire. This means people doing what they are good at, feeling joy in their jobs and being able to challenge decisions at any level in this business.
Common opinion states that in order to be succeed in business one has to be ruthless. A quick survey of world’s most domineering companies seems to support that view. Do you think it’s possible to be very successful in business and still be a nice/kind person?
My leadership philosophy is entirely built around being an enabler, a multiplier of peoples smarts and talent.
For me the human touch is crucial, being prepared to say you’ve got it wrong and apologising, caring enough to know when there’s a special birthday or significant event in their lives. Compassion and kindness, there should be a lot more of that around.
Do you want the intelligence of 1 person and 25 people following commands or the intelligence of 25 people? We don’t employ children. Why would you ask your team to leave their brain at the door of a meeting room and pick it up on the way out?
At the same time, when it’s not working with somebody, you need to be decisive in both people’s interests. But it has to be done with compassion and integrity.
Let’s talk about managing pressure – how do you control your own emotions and temper when things don’t go to plan? Not lashing out at those around you is a skill – what are your tips?
I believe in having a “to be” list as well as a “to do” list.
This means I think, at the start of the day, of the behaviours I will intend throughout the day regardless of what happens.
My To Be list for today is to be positive, kind, energetic, a time magician and fun. Today we are interviewing for new people to join our customer services team. So the positive, kind and fun is about putting people at their ease and making sure we set them up to succeed.
I don’t always get it right but, if I do get it wrong, I do try to make sure I apologise.
At times, we all hit a low point. How do you motivate yourself?
I use positive self-talk. I tell myself “you can do this”, “you always succeed when you put your mind to it” and things like that.
I look after myself. For instance, I make sure I give myself “me time”. Examples include walking my dog, a massage, listening to music, reading a book, time spent making hand made cards. “Me time” gives you down time to be yourself, provides the space to reflect and do the things which give you pleasure.
I also surround myself with people that make me feel good and seek to help others, because supporting someone else makes me feel good about me. At a recent one-to-one with a team member I was able to coach them to find two new projects to work on, that excited them – leaving us both feeling uplifted.
Working in an organisation where business culture isn’t people oriented, how do you create an environment where people want to work for you/in your department?
Isn’t all business people-orientated? Whatever you are in the business of doing or providing – it’s always all about the people and putting your people at the heart of your business. If a business wasn’t based on that, I just wouldn’t work there!
Most large organisations today have a strict bonus and pay raise policy, which makes it difficult to reward people even when you know they truly deserve it. In the absence of monetary rewards, how else do you keep people motivated?
First, we believe in a flexible approach to pay, to only having group bonuses as individual ones are generally divisive.
All salaries are openly displayed (from the lowest paid to the highest paid) on our intranet and pay rises are decided by staff – via a committee of elected representatives.
We keep people motivated by enabling people to choose their manager, to choose what jobs they do based on what they are good at. A key belief of mine is that everybody should find joy in their work at least 80% of the time. I currently reckon I’m at 95% joy!
Some managers believe in a strict hierarchy and the “do what I say approach”, sighting cultural norm as an excuse. What are your thoughts on this?
That is an outdated and ineffective approach. Cultural norms? We don’t go by what is the norm, we go by what is most effective and what creates the best environment for people to succeed and to thrive.
I prefer to create a culture where people can bring their smarts to work, where they are ready to challenge decisions and no decision should be the result of where somebody sits in the hierarchy.
Beware of Hippos (Hippo = Highest paid person’s opinion, a google term)
How do you decide to be available to your team and to support them? How do you determine the best way for them to contact you that does not interrupt your workflow?
First, I have regular one-to-ones and team meetings booked into my diary. People rarely interrupt me because they know what they need to do, when they need to do it and how they need to do it – they are empowered to deliver what needs delivering. They are more likely to collaborate as a team to find an answer and only come to me as a last resort. They shouldn’t need to come to me for approval.
How much do you value transparency of information at work? To what extent do you share information with your team?
Everything should be open and transparent, with the sole exception of confidential personal information. Salaries are publicly available on the intranet, we have regular staff meetings to explain the finances. The senior management meets monthly as a strategy group, the information from this is shared with all staff and we invite anybody to attend if they would like to (up to two per meeting).
How do you best harmonise your work and personal life – for a healthy balance? What are your biggest challenges around this?
For the last 21 years I have been doing compressed working. I fit 38 hours into four days at the office and don’t get involved in work at all from Friday evening to Tuesday morning.
I make it a policy to NOT check emails outside of work (and we require everyone else to do the same).
I recently took an 8 week paid sabbatical after 20 years here, and the only contact I had with the business was a text from the CEO about my pension. Even so, when I did come back I was pleasantly surprised that everybody said they had missed me and were pleased to see me. This said to me that they didn’t need or miss my decision making, but missed me as a person.
No challenges really. Sometimes I do more hours, sometimes I do less hours but I get to choose. And everybody in the business understands that work is work and play is play.
How do you respond to employees / colleagues who are diagnosed with mental disorders, e.g. depression or anxiety?
First, we do everything we can to create an atmosphere where work does not affect people’s mental health and, as I’ve said, where people find joy at work.
If people are affected, we encourage them to talk about it if they choose, and offer support as needed. We have offered individual and personal coaching in house via our trained coaches. We make sure we have conversations about reducing stress and finding work that still enables them to make a contribution. Eg, we’ve helped people work from home if they want to do this, we’ve changed hours so one individual didn’t have to travel in the rush hour. One person was even given paid time off to attend a weekly counselling course.
Sometimes an employee is not working out despite your best efforts and you know that this relationship is not serving them or the business. At which point do you decide to part company and how do you go about it?
First, we make things as clear as possible about what is expected, with plenty of feedback from all around and especially from the customer. For example, if a trainer is not working out in their 3 month probationary period – it is normally them that makes the decision to leave because the feedback is so clear.
If it is clear that it is no longer working, with absolute clarity on what is expected and where it’s not being achieved, we give people 3 months paid time to find another job.
Until you make the decision that it isn’t working, it’s about what the company needs. After you make the decision, it’s about what that person needs. We want them to leave feeling good about themselves and good about us.
How do you create, manage and motivate an efficient team when your team works remotely?
First, its important to have regular contact – more regular than if they were in the office, as you don’t get to ‘bump into them in the corridor’ for a chat.
Look for opportunities to meet in person and when you do, include time for something nice – like going for lunch or cake and tea. Always include extra time for this.
If possible, make sure they get to attend team days and ensure you encourage others to have contact with them too. Keep them in the loop on all activities and information. The key point is: value them.
The Best Boss Coaching Project brought to you by Talent Investors is here to promote excellence in the workplace. Throughout 2018 we are speaking to people from across the world, and across different industries, regardless of the companies’ size or their job title. Over the course of 52 weeks, you will be introduced to 52 bosses, from 52 backgrounds, answering 20+ questions. All designed to motivate you to lead, and grow effectively. We are here to provide wisdom from, and recognition for those every day other people’s lives better.