When caring responsibilities and work collide

My social media feed has been a flutter with talks about “secret parenting” these past few weeks. Don’t know what I’m talking about?  In her article for The Atlantic, Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, says that in addition to employers providing paid parental leave, we need to normalize the experience of parenting while working. She calls for the end secret parenting, where workers feel pressured to pretend that they do not have child-care obligations when at work. It’s well worth taking a look if you haven’t seen it yet.  

Oster gives examples of parents hiding or minimizing evidence of their children at work, calling in sick for themselves when it is actually their child who is unwell – felling that a sick day for themselves is more acceptable than sharing that they need to care for a sick child.  

Cue parents furiously nodding everywhere. Me included. Oster has perfectly described why so many of my new parent clients reach out for support upon their return to work. They feel pressure to parent in secret. Boom!

But parenting in secret is mostly impossible. And when this shows up for a client, I support them to stop compartmentalizing their worlds and to show up authentically as they are. As a real-life human being with parental responsibilities that they are still figuring out how to balance with being a rock star employee. It takes time, and as Oster rightly says, cannot be done when we are hiding what the challenge actually is. 

The end to secret parenting is particularly challenging for those workers who are not desk/office based. Which is actually most of the workforce. Think retail staff, teachers, healthcare professionals, most of the hospitality industry, food and beverage workers, call center workers. And the list goes on. Most retail staff can’t bring their child to work with them when childcare arrangements fall through. Most teachers and healthcare workers can’t work from home.  

And so, in order to end secret parenting, most business leaders (who may be parents themselves) actually need to reconsider what flexibility looks like in the context of their workplace and how they might cater to workers with caring responsibilities.

And sometimes it’s really simple – allowing a retail worker to carry their phone in their pocket while on the shop floor, because their child is unwell, and they need to be contactable. Sometimes it’s more complicated. But it starts with workers being able to ask for what they need, and business leaders being willing to partner with their staff to find creative solutions.

So why? Why should business leaders care? Why should they provide these things? Oster herself points to research that found that “the presence of children is a main driver of the gender gap in career outcomes, even for highly educated workers, because women drop out when their employer can’t accommodate their schedule”. 

Did you read that – parents dropping out of the workforce. Organizations losing talent. Talent that is hard to come by. Talent that the businesses have invested in. Gone. Talent that now needs to be replaced. And that has a cost, both financial and human.

And it’s not just about new parents. What about workers caring for aging or sick family? Or grandparents who have caring responsibilities? How can business leaders create environments that support those workers show up and do good work. What flexibility do they need?

These are big questions – and I love partnering with clients (both businesses and individuals) to figure out what the answers might look like.  So, if you want to chat, reach out. I would love to talk it all through with you.

Until next week,


When it doesn’t work

Hands up if you have ever hired someone and it didn’t work out. Didn’t go as planned. Or maybe things were great for a while, and then they weren’t.  

Friends- it happens. Even the most experienced people managers out there make hiring decisions that in the end, just don’t work. 

And when it does happen, a lot of energy is spent parting ways with the person who didn’t work out. Rightfully so. Thoughtfully parting ways in a manner that preserves everyone’s dignity and manages risk to your business is important.

AND once that part is over, there is another very important step. Reflection.  

You need to take the time to reflect on the whole hiring, on-boarding and people managing process, and with benefit of hindsight, see where things went wrong. On your end. With you. Yes you.

That part can be really hard. Hard to hear and hard to do. But it’s only by taking a moment to pause and reflect on where things went wrong, that you get insight on what you would do differently next time. Reflection is where the learning happens. 

So today my dear reader I am sharing some jumping off points to help you with your reflection process. 

  • The job ad and/or position description– were they an accurate reflection of the role that the person was coming into? Did you advertise and hire for the role you thought you needed, or the actual role – the role that would be the reality for the person coming in. I see this over and over. We hire the perfect person for the role that we THINK we need, but that person is not a perfect fit for the ACTUAL role. And then it doesn’t work.
  • Interviews and reference checks – with the benefit of hindsight, what did your interview process and reference check system miss? What could you add in to help deal with those blind spots? And, is there anything that you need to take away? Something that distracted you from what you really needed to see? 
  • On-boarding – what was missing from your on-boarding process to help set the new hire up for success? What training/systems/processes needed to be added sooner? What training/systems/processes needed to be more detailed? What training isn’t working? 
  • Were there any red flags? Think about this one. There usually are, but we miss them, dismiss them or push them away because we don’t want to see them. So be honest with yourself and use hindsight to help you hunt for the red flags. And then ask yourself, have these come up for you before? And if so, how did that play out? And what can you add to your process to help you see these red flags sooner and then do something about them?

The biggest lesson in hiring for many of us is resisting the urge to fill a vacancy when you haven’t found the right person. This is when we may dismiss red flags. Especially when everyone is having to do extra work to make up for the fact that there is an empty seat. There is a real discipline in carrying a vacancy until you find the RIGHT person to fill the role. It might even take a failed search or two until you find the perfect person.   

But making that investment in time up front, taking the time to find the right person for that specific role will save you on the other end. Because parting ways with someone who does not work out is not pleasant. It’s not a position that anyone wants to be in. Especially the person you hired!  

So, when things don’t work out, take the time to pause and reflect so that you can learn from it. And, if you need someone to help you with the reflection process, you know who to call. Your favorite people whisperer. 

Until next week,

Succession Planning

When was the last time you worked on succession planning in your business and/or team? Hint: if it was more than a month ago, it’s time to start working on it more often.  

Many business leaders don’t make plans for both the career progression of their people, or for what they are going to do when (yes WHEN not IF) key people leave. They don’t have a succession plan.

And while many business leaders want to have a solid plan, they can’t find a way into a succession strategy. 

So today dear readers, I want to share a way in. Drum roll please: Professional development (PD).  

Most of us know that our own development is important for our growth. And these days, business leaders get that investing in the growth of their people is an investment in their business. But they are more likely to think that PD is important in terms of employee retention.   

Yes, it is. AND… 

What does retention look like? Top talent/high performing employees are going to be looking for career advancement. They are not going to want to stay in the same role forever. So, in order to retain them, organizations need to offer a path for advancement and plan for how to replace employees who leave. 

Because here is the thing about succession planning: when the time comes, your people need to be READY for that next role.  

So, what types of PD do you need to be thinking about when looking at succession planning? There are three key categories: 

Technical skills development: these are foundational skills and what most of us think of when we imagine PD. Think sales training for a sales person. It’s the training that you need to do each year to keep your license. And many of us get stuck here – but there are two other kinds of PD. 

People management skills: knowing how to manage, inspire, and lead a team. Having a basic understanding of HR, interviewing skills, and how to give feedback. 

Peripheral vision skills: these are the strategic skills, financial literacy, understanding the broader industry context, having networks, imagining what is coming and what is next. 

Here is why PD is your way into creating a succession strategy. Imagine a retail store. Let’s call it RARE retail. It has a store manager, assistant manager, 3 FT sales people and a team of hourly temporary staff for the holidays. One of those FT sales people is an absolute rockstar. They are a top sales person for the region, consistently exceeding sales targets. One day the store manager resigns. The assistant manager is promoted to store manager and because the rockstar sales person is so good at what they do, they are promoted to assistant manager. And it’s a disaster – the store’s sales plummet. 

Why? Well, the sales person was a rockstar sales person. They had done lots of sales training. They probably even led some sales training for new employees. But no one said they were a great people manager, no one said they had peripheral vision. And they had not had training in these two areas. But as a new assistant manager, they now spend most of their time managing people and running the store, rather than being on the floor selling (so, the store has essentially lost its best sales person). And they are now struggling because they don’t have the skills to run a team. And suddenly they are not enjoying their work, and now are thinking about looking for another job.  

I see this over and over, across every industry. You probably have seen this too. People who have strong technical skills being promoted, but without the people management skills and peripheral vision training. It doesn’t work. A successful succession strategy needs to be support by a PD plan. It’s your way in. 

In my consulting practice, I work with organizational leaders to develop a comprehensive PD plan that incorporates ALL THREE kinds of development: technical skills, people management skills and peripheral vision training. And that PD plan then supports a succession plan. With this kind of PD plan, the sales person would have received the training that they need to manage a team and run a store, so that when the times comes, they are ready! 

In my work with my career coaching clients, I ask them to create a PD plan for themselves that incorporates all three kinds of development. It creates possibility, it prepares them for their next steps, and it diversifies their skills. It makes them a desirable candidate for their next role, and ultimately, having skills in all three areas, technical, people management and peripheral vision, positions them well if there is a downturn. 

So, this week, have a think about the PD you have done recently. Is it preparing you for your next steps? Does it include people management training and peripheral vision development? And if you manage a team, start to think about succession planning- your way in is through PD plan that includes all three elements for your people. 

If you get stuck, you know who to call for help, your favorite people whisperer. I would love to work with you to figure it all out. 

Until next week,

The weekly 1:1

What should I cover with my people in our weekly one-on-ones? Many of you have asked this question. So today friends, I am going to share my how-to for supervision meetings. So, without any further ado:

Step 1: Decide to have the one-on-one.  
Yes, the first step is to decide that regular supervision meetings with each person are important, a priority, and something that is valuable to the whole team. Because they are all those things. Effective supervision meetings provide a space for feedback and open communication. They signal to your team that they are valued and their needs matter, all of which increases employee engagement. People often wonder what regular means. I would say that supervision meetings should ideally be scheduled weekly, or at least every other week. And how long? At least 30 minutes. So, if you have 5 direct reports that is at least 2.5 hours per week in supervision meetings. Plus, a meeting with your own supervisor. Side note: if this sounds like too many meetings, consider that you might be supervising too many people.

Step 2: Set it up.
Schedule a regular day/time with each of your team members. Put it on your calendar, and each of your people’s calendar. Then stick to it. Remember, these meetings are a priority. Next, find a space for the meeting. Supervision meetings should be at a time where your people have your complete, full attention.  You need to find a private space where neither of you will be interrupted by phone calls, emails or other people. This might mean meeting somewhere where you can’t see your computer, you can’t hear your desk phone (ie not at your desk) and turning off your cell. 

Step 3: Start the meeting.
Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part. Here are some questions that can help get things going:
How are you this week?
Where would you like to begin?
What has been coming up for you this week?

Step 4: During the meeting
Some of us are nervous about the format of a supervision meeting. “What should we be talking about?” is a question I often get. A model that I learned that has worked well is the 5 Ps
Projects– going over the things that your team member is working on right now
Problems– talking through things that aren’t going well
Praise/Positives– making sure your team member knows about all the things that they have been doing well
Professional Development – what is their growing edge? What goals have they set for the year.
Personal  this is about getting to know each of your team members as a person, with life and demands beyond their work.

Is there a particular order that works best? I think this is a question of your own style. I like my team member to run the meeting. I see it as my job to make sure we cover all 5 Ps, but I want to start where they want to start. And often they start with what they need from me, which is great! 

The part that both supervisors and team members often struggle with is the “personal’. And this takes time. Building trust. Creating the habit of having the meeting. Remembering the names of their partner/kids/pets and asking about them. Deep listening.  

Step 5: Closing the meeting
At the end of the meeting, go through the tasks that have come out of the meeting – both the things that you now need to do, and that your employee needs to do. Make sure you are both clear and in agreement on these next steps.

So, there you go – my how-to for supervision meetings. I hope you find something in here that you can use with your team. Or maybe there is something here that you could bring to your manager for your supervision meetings with them. Let me know how it goes, you know I would love to hear all about it.

Until next week,

Precious time

This week on the socials, I have been talking about time management. Monday’s post was about seeing where your time goes, and Wednesday’s post looked meeting overload. 

Time management is a huge part of the work I do with all my clients- people and workplaces. So today, in classic Helen style, I want to share the why behind time management. Why is it such a crucial part of my work? 

Managing time is not about creating more space for something new- though that might be an happy outcome. And though managing time might improve your organization skills or increase your efficiency and effectiveness, it’s not about that either. It’s certainly not about creating balance- friends there is no such thing.  

No, for me it’s not about any of that. So, then what is my why?  

Managing time effectively, allows us to be fully present to where ever we are in the moment. And as my yoga teachers tell me, “You are either now-here or nowhere”.

There is a time to check email, a time for meetings, a time to dive deep into a project and time to mentor and coach. There is a time for family, for friends. And most importantly there is a time to take care of yourself. And to do any of these things well, we need to show up completely for the task/job/person. We need to be fully present. 

And I have found that when you managing your time effectively, by creating a specific time for email, for meetings, for projects, for your team, friends and family, for yourself- you can more easily show up to what is happening right now. When you have set aside time for each of the things whirling around in your head, you can pause and show up to what ever is happening right now.

The truth is that our time is a precious gift. Give generously by being fully present, by being exactly where you are.

Now-here or nowhere.

Until next week,

Strengths vs Flow

My career coaching clients often come to see me because when it comes to work, they are either unsure of what’s next or don’t know how to make the next thing happen. And a voice in their head is saying “you can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t”.

Those minds of ours – they can be cheeky, always looking for evidence to prove what it thinks is true. If your voice is saying “I can’t, I won’t, I shouldn’t” then your mind is looking for evidence to prove that all to be true. Scientists call this confirmation bias. 

So, I ask my clients to play a trick on that cheeky mind and to search for new evidence. They write down 5 things that they are AWESOME at, particularly at work (in a job interview they are called strengths). And each day over the next week, their homework is to find two pieces of evidence for each strength. 

By the end of the week they will have 70 pieces of evidence to support their awesomeness- which may just trick that cheeky mind into flipping the script to “I can, I will, I should”. High fives all around.

But the exercise doesn’t end there. We also need to pause to reflect on each of these strengths. You see, there is a big difference between the things you are awesome at (your strengths) and things that put you in flow.

You know flow right – when you are working on something and you are so completely absorbed, that time floats away. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi popularized the term in the 90s. In flow, you are both feeling and performing at your peak. 

And if we confuse our strengths with the things that put us in flow, well then we just might find ourselves wondering why we are feeling drained  – even when we have been leveraging our strengths all week. YUCK.

So, in week 2 of the strengths exercise, I ask my clients to observe and record moments/tasks/projects where they find themselves in flow, and observe and record moments/task/projects that leave them feeling drained. And then we ask, “are most of my moments/tasks/projects in flow or draining?”, and  “which strengths put me in flow and which strengths drain me?”.

And here is the big one: “how can I spend more of my day in flow, utilizing my strengths”.

BOOM! Now we are getting somewhere BIG! Why not give this strengths exercise a go? And if you get stuck, you know who to call, your favorite people whisperer.

Until next week,

Cover letter 101

This post was requested by many of you. Writing a cover letter. It’s enough to spark fear in even the most talented writer’s eyes. Yes, it is an awkward form of writing, but composing kick-ass cover letter doesn’t have to be a painful experience. So today dear reader, I am going to outline how to write a compelling cover letter, and the general what to include.   

*please note – there will be specific things that vary industry by industry – so this is a general outline for you to use as a starting point.

First and most importantly, I want to share the why behind this form on writing. What is the purpose of a cover letter? Is it to torture you? Yes…. Kidding!!! As an applicantthe purpose of your cover letter is to make a compelling argument to the reader that you are the best person for the role- or at least a “must interview”. Remember those argumentative essays from school? That’s a cover letter! Surprise!

When you know the why behind a cover letter, it becomes easier to work out what to put in and leave out.

Before you sit down to write the cover letter, there are a couple of steps to take. This will make the actual writing easier.

First, make a list of your strengths and skills. These will each become paragraphs that you can tailor for different cover letters. Each paragraph should start with the strength or skills and then give an example of how you have leveraged it. 

Now look at the job ad. What are the key selection criteria? What strengths/skills/experience is the employer looking for? 

Finally, pick your strengths and skills that align with the key selection criteria. These paragraphs will become the body of your cover letter. 

Now you are ready to put your cover letter together! Here is the general structure: 

  • Introduction. Explain that you are applying for xxx role. Make your argument that you are the best person for the role. Include an I am statement that summarizes your relevant strengths/skills 
  • Body. This is where you address each of the key selection criteria. Use the strengths/skills paragraphs that align with their desired strengths/skills/experience. The number of paragraphs will depend of the number of selection criteria. 
  • Conclusion. Restate your argument- that your skills and experience make you uniquely suited to the role. And then don’t forget to end with an invitation to talk further. This is so important! Let them know that you would be delighted to discuss your application, and how they can get in touch with you.

Reminder: the above is a general outline, and again different industries have different norms/expectations around specifics. 

Were you wondering if you need to write different cover letters for each role? The answer is YES…..Andnotice that there is a formula to this. Your introduction and conclusion will rarely change (except for the title and organization). Your strengths and skills don’t really change. What changes with each cover letter is the selection criteria to which you are responding. So, if you have the introduction and conclusion ready to go, and you have strengths/skills paragraphs that you can switch in and out, you have a template ready to go! 

Phew- suddenly it isn’t quite as scary, or as hard. Now go write a cover letter! And if you need a hand, you know who to call.

Until next week,

The candidate experience

It’s been an interesting week at RARE HQ. Some of my career coaching clients have been on the receiving end of some bad behavior from prospective employers. Today, I am going to share a little about their experience, so that you as a leader can learn what NOT to do when hiring people, and instead how to show up with respect for candidates during a job search.  

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Here are two examples of candidate experiences from my career coaching clients. 

One client had a telephone interview and then was called in for a second interview. It went well and my client followed up with a thank you note. They hadn’t heard back from the company a week later, so they followed up with an email. Crickets. They followed up with a phone call – left a voicemail. Three weeks later, they still haven’t heard back. I think this is what the young people call ghosting. 

Another made it to the last round of interviews, was in the final 2, thought everything was going very well, even met the CEO and executive team. And then received an automated email saying they were unsuccessful. 

Cue me slowly banging my head against the wall…  


This kind of thing is just not okIt’s poor form, disrespectful, and ultimately, bad for business.

When I am working on employment branding for my business clients, we pay very close attention to the candidate experience during the recruitment process. The hiring process actual serves 2 purposesYes, you are looking to find the best person for the role. AND it’s an employment branding exercise – telling the market about what it is like to work in your business. The aim is to leave every candidate wanting to work with you. Regardless of whether they land the role. 

Remember friends, the recruitment process is a two-way street, and candidates are interviewing your business as much as you them.  So, to keep a healthy talent pool, you need for each candidate to be willing to apply for roles with your business in the future. It is part of positioning your business as an employer of choice. And key to it all, is treating candidates with respect. 

There are many different tools, strategies and interventions we can use to help clients improve their candidate experience. But my baseline, non-negotiable rule for any recruitment process is this:
If you have conducted any interview with a candidate – on the phone, via Zoom, in person – and they are not moving on to the next stage, this information needs to be shared in a phone call. And the person making the call needs to be the person who interviewed them. Period.

You can follow up with an email of course, but a phone conversation is a simple mark of respect. And it costs NOTHING! 

Here’s the thing about having that phone conversation: it can be uncomfortable. For many of us, telling someone that they are not moving on to the next phase can be hard. I get it! Especially when you have met them. We worry about hurting people’s feelings. But the kindest and most respectful thing you can do is to be clear and have the conversation. Being willing to have these tricky conversations shows candidates that you respect them, that you value their time and that the culture of the workplace is one where people are valued.  The tricky conversation is very important in making sure that every candidate leaves the process still wanting to work in your organization. 

Shameless plug alert: I just announced a people whispering masterclass called Tackling Tricky Conversations with Your Team. If you are interested in learning more about tricky conversations and practice getting comfortable with those uncomfortable moments, this workshop is for you. You can find out more about it here. 

Now, back to the experience that my career coaching clients had. I am biased, for sure, but my clients are extremely talented, smart, emotionally intelligent and hard working. And you know that birds of the feather thing, right? My clients tend to mix with other people who are also talented, smart, have high EQ and are hard working.  And this experience which they have probably shared with their friends, has left a bad taste in their mouth. So not only will these talented clients never apply for a role at those organizations againNEITHER WILL THEIR TALENTED FRIENDS! 

These businesses just shrunk their future talent pool, my clients are feeling like they dodged a bullet, and it all could have been different with a simple phone conversation 

Until next week,

Day One

So, you have found your perfect new hire! And after some negotiations, they have said yes to your job offer. Congratulations! It’s such an exciting time, for you and for them. So much possibility.    

Question: do you have an on-boarding plan and/or process? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: showing them their workspace and closing the door isn’t going to cut it! To retain this wonderful new hire, you need to have a plan.  

A good on-boarding process will help get your new hire up to speed, increasing their productivity and effectiveness. Depending on your organization and the role, the on-boarding process can take anywhere from 90 days to a whole year. What the first days/weeks/months will look like will vary depending on your circumstances. But the first 30 days are CRITICAL. They are make or break in terms of employee engagement and retention. If things have not gone well in this crucial period, your new hire will likely be plotting their exit.  

So today, I want to focus on my non-negotiables for day one. The things that absolutely MUST be in place – to get things off on the right foot – both in terms of productivity and effectiveness, but more importantly, to retain this precious new hire. And it’s pretty simple.  

You as the hiring manager and supervisor need to be there on their first day. First week really. And you get to be in control of that! When deciding on your new hire’s first day, make sure that it is a day that you are available (ie not a day full of meetings or when you are on vacation). And when you are arranging their start time for their first day, make sure it is a time WELL after you usually get in. You don’t want your new hire to arrive before you (think running late/stuck in traffic situations).Make sure they know where they should come on that first day, and if it is the reception desk, let the receptionist know that a new hire is arriving at xxx time.    

When your new hire arrives, show them to their work space and then show them around the work environment. Make sure they know where the restrooms are. Introduce them to the team. They probably won’t remember everyone on the first day and that’s ok. Having a chart that shows who is who in the zoo will help with this. And if you are in a shift work environment or have a remote workforce, send out a ‘welcome to xxx” email to the entire team.  

Make sure your new hire’s work area, desk, computer, email addressare up and running. This is really importantBonus points for having things like name badges and business cards ready to goTheir work area needs to be ready for them.

You want everything about that first day to say: welcome, you are wanted, you are needed, we are excited to have you, you matter, this is going to be great. It’s the first step in an effective on-boarding plan. A plan that gets your new hire up to speed, increases their productivity and effectiveness, and crucially, increases the likelihood of retaining them.  

Because you went to great lengths to find the right person for the role, your team, your organization. And getting the first day right is critical, and also pretty simple.

Until next week,

Position descriptions – the why.

This week, I released my Position Description Workbook. It’s a free tool that will help you get clear on the responsibilities, tasks and key stakeholders for each role in your organization. If you haven’t already, email info@raremgmt.net to get your copy. 

Today, in true Helen fashion, I wanted to share the why. Or at least one of the reasons why. Why having clear position descriptions that place each role into the context of your organization and its mission, is critical to a healthy and collaborative work environment.  

So here we go.  

When your people know where their role starts and ends, when it is clear who is responsible for what, your team can work together to achieve common goals. Because each person knows their role and can play their part. The rules of engagement are clear. 

In contrast, when there is a blurring of responsibilities, when it is unclear who is responsible for a task, a project or an outcome, when your people do not know what role they need to play to achieve the common goal, well nothing much gets done.  And the stuff that does get done is less innovative, creative, efficient and productive.  

Because when there is a blurring of responsibilities something really interesting happens: people start to grab onto the things they can control. And they hold on super tight. People may not trust that others will get things done. People may not trust that they will get recognition for their work because it is unclear who is responsible for it. Lack of trust = alarm bells. Hello toxic work culture. And now collaboration becomes impossible.  

It’s counter intuitive I know, but I have seen it over and over again. Business leaders have excellent intentions. They want to create a culture where everyone is willing and able to help each other out. Where no one will feel “too good” or “too important” for a task. Where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They want flexibility. And so, they resist position descriptions. Too prescriptive, they say.

But in not having clearly defined roles, they are depriving each of their people of the opportunity to do their thing, do it really well, and collaborate with others who are doing their thing really well, and then together producing something wonderful. 

So, what to do?  

Be super clear with each of your people about what their role is. Have position descriptions. And make sure that the descriptions place each role into the context of your organization and mission.  

And if you need a hand, give me a shout. That’s why you have a people whisperer in your life. 

Until next week,