Strategies to help your staff when bushfires strike  

AUSTRALIA is no stranger to natural disasters and as summer edges closer, bringing on drier, warmer days – especially in southern regions – bushfires are sure to become a more prominent risk.

As such events impact entire communities, including organisations, their employees and families, the disruption to daily life can be harrowing.

As many people may be forced to evacuate their homes and workplaces, and leave cherished possessions behind, they turn their energy towards survival.

AccessEAP clinical director, Marcela Slepica knows only too well how a tragic disaster, such as a bushfire, can have damaging and often long-lasting impacts on people.

“It is common to experience a range of intense emotions following a traumatic event like a natural disaster,” Ms Slepica said. 

“The immediate loss of control and personal safety is frightening, and can lead to severe and acute shock, distress, and anxiety.”

The risks of business leaders facing such crises are, sadly, likely to rise rather than diminish in the future. Bushfire seasons are widely believed to be lengthening and becoming more intense, and seemingly starting much earlier than usual.

Bushfires have already left families homeless this year and seen hundreds evacuated from their houses, as more than 50 fires recently burned across New South Wales and more than 15,000 hectares burned in Queensland in September, as reported in a feature article in The Conversation.

Ms Slepica said the memories and associated fear that a similar event will re-occur can be long lasting, so it is important that managers are sensitive in how they deal with staff members who have been affected.

AccessEAP has documented insights into how managers can support their employees through this difficult time, based on both research and experience, Ms Slepica said:


Welcome people back to work

Having a sense of purpose and connection is essential to recovery and often work offers this, as it provides a sense of control, routine and security. As the recovery process takes time and each individual will be coping at different speeds, with setbacks cropping up along the way, it’s important to remember to be patient and understanding.


Normalise reactions

It’s important to remember that people will be experiencing a range of emotions, and that once the event is over, it will take time to come to terms with these feelings. Outbursts of emotion, or people isolating themselves from the rest of the staff, are signs that managers should look out for. Acknowledge that all emotions are okay and that it will take time to grieve. Reassure people that intense feelings are normal, given the disaster.  


Ask ‘how can I help?’

Ask if there is anything, as a manager, that you can do to assist employees or if there is anything that they may need to help make this process easier. Flexibility will be incredibly important during the immediate aftermath of a bushfire. Staff may need to work different hours, or from home, to oversee repairs to their properties or to support loved ones. They also may need assistance with transport and getting to and from work, and with organising childcare. Catch up with senior managers to discuss what the business can do to recognise employees that may need help and put a strategy in place to meet their needs.


Encourage people to talk, but avoid probing

Curiosity is a part of human nature. However, by asking people for details of a traumatic experience, it may trigger painful emotions that they are not ready to share. Instead, gently encourage people to talk about how they are feeling and let them lead the dialogue. Some may be more eager to share than others, as there may be more important things to focus on at that time, so check in regularly.


Advise those suffering to speak with their confidential EAP service

As a manager, there are times that you can only do so much to support people, so make sure your business has other support networks in place too. An employee assistance program (EAP) can offer help in person or over the phone, offering coping strategies and counselling for any problems, without judgement.


About AccessEAP

AccessEAP is a leading employee assistance program (EAP) provider assisting companies across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia since 1989 in supporting a mentally healthy workplace. As an Australian owned not-for-profit provider, surplus profits are directed into programs to assist children at risk in the community through direct donation and via The Curran Access Children’s Foundation.


Common business mistakes that suffocate growth

By David Sharrock >>

IN MY NEIGHBOURHOOD, there are a multitude of cafes and restaurants that open their doors, following hugely expensive fit outs and massive set up costs. As the weeks turn into months, many of them just see a trickle of customers.

There is nothing wrong with their food, service or décor and ambience. The new owners stand by, ready for the rush of customers, displaying increasing anxiety and disappointment as this fails to happen.

Sadly, and all too often, their dreams turn to dust and their doors close for the last time, usually without warning. Only the shell of the shop remains.

I then muse about where those owners have ended up and am concerned about their financial and emotional state, having been forced to walk away. I can only imagine their heartache, pain and trauma. 


It is frightening to think that any business can fail at any time, for any reason. Whenever a business opens its doors, it needs to grow in order to survive.

In fact, mere survival is not an option because this means that the business will simply atrophy and eventually close its doors. The aim is for the business to thrive, preferably by growth that is sure, steady and manageable. 

When a business fails, be it start-up or established, there is only one person responsible: the business leader. He or she has faced a multitude of issues and has made mistakes in deciding what to do or what not to do, causing stymied business growth. This is the hard truth.


The good news is that business failure might well be averted if the business leader addresses the following common mistakes:

Struggling personally with emotional, physical, inner well-being or relationship issues which have a negative impact in the workplace;

Finding it hard to face and overcome problems in your business, just wanting to give up;

Running the business by the ‘seat of my pants’, flying from one issue to the next, highly stressed, and never quite sure about who is doing what;

The business lacks vision for its preferred future;

There are no articulated values or the values mean nothing, with internal behaviour unpredictable and random;

Workplace culture is toxic, dysfunctional or less than ideal;

Leadership skills are lacking;

The business does not have the right people on your team with the right attributes, tolerates problem team members and suffers mediocre performance;

The business primarily exists to get what it can from customers and to sell, sell, sell;

No new ideas, failing to innovate with new and different products and services;

No new business opportunities and gets no return from advertising and marketing;

Dated, inadequate equipment and infrastructure;

A haphazard strategy at best, with little to no effective planning for the future;

Operating in the red, struggling to pay suppliers, a lot of slow paying or defaulting customers, and marginal profit.


As the business leader, instead of making such mistakes, what might you do to facilitate business growth and see your business thrive?

Undertake a candid self-appraisal of every aspect of your personal life, getting help to overcome personal struggles while forging life-giving relationships;

Develop resilience whenever facing problems or adversity, characterised by persistence, determination, courage, steadfastness and sheer indefatigability;

Establish a business system, with your whole team working to the system for the sake of consistent best practice;

Create and cast an inspiring vision of the future;

Ensure that values become prominent so that behaviour is consistent with core beliefs;

Introduce a vibrant workplace culture by tackling and replacing wrong behaviours, attitudes,  communication, relationships and decision-making;

Learn the skills necessary to become a highly effective leader;

Recruit for potential to build a high-performance team while showing the door to problem team members;

Ensure the business becomes obsessively customer centric at each customer touch point;

Become more entrepreneurial, creative and innovative, coaching for those traits in your team;

Discover and create new business initiatives galore;

Gradually improve and update equipment and infrastructure needs, starting with the most important for greater efficiency and effectiveness;

Set a strategic direction for your business and work to a detailed strategic plan;

Consolidate debt, tighten credit control processes and seek professional guidance about profitability and pricing.

The responsibility for minimising or preventing mistakes in any business is that of the business leader who must accept that responsibility and take action.

The very survival of your business is at stake.


About the author

David Sharrock is the managing principal of Sharrock Pitman Legal, a Melbourne based, boutique commercial law practice. He is an accredited business law specialist, an accredited mediator, public speaker, and author of a new business workbook titled Fighting for Enterprise Success: through the eye of the tiger.    


Conduct your business like a maestro: with purpose

By James Lee >>

WHEN A BUSINESS organises its activities around shared, motivating ideals, the effect can be as galvanising as a baton in the steady hand of a conductor leading a symphony orchestra.

One need look no further than Arturo Toscanini, the celebrated maestro and champion of human rights, to see the close connection between inspired leadership and indelible purpose.

Not perhaps since Cicero has an exile received such fanfare upon his triumphant homecoming to the Italian peninsula. When Toscanini took centre stage in 1946 at Italy’s premier opera house after eight years living abroad, he lifted not only his baton but also the hopes and aspirations of a war-torn nation.

Loudspeakers atop buildings and lampposts amplified the concert through the streets of Milan, heralding the return of civilisation itself to a beleaguered continent — and bringing Italians to their feet in a thunderous crescendo of applause and renewed spirit. 

As a concert pianist and classical music aficionado, I suspect the world may never again witness a conductor as consequential as Toscanini.

But as the chief operations officer of SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass — the premier global business networks for the procurement of goods and services, respectively — I recognise in the maestro’s legacy an ethos of conscience and purpose that lives on.

It is a legacy we all can emulate. For technology makes it easier today than ever before to align values with actions, particularly in the commercial sphere.


In operations management, the objective is much the same whether conducting an orchestra or running a cloud software business: ensure harmony among disparate yet complementary participants, minimise risk to synchronised production, and maintain the flexibility necessary to accommodate shifting customer demand.

But Toscanini understood that these structural fundamentals were insufficient to create beautiful music.

The woodwinds and strings may be perfectly attuned. The brass and percussion may echo a flawless counterpoint. The musicians’ technique may be first-rate. But what if there’s no passion? What if the orchestra lacks a unifying, uplifting purpose?

The absence of passion — the ambiguity of purpose — can sully any worthwhile endeavour, whether in music, business or human relationships.

Musicians infuse passion into their playing by summoning their deepest emotions. Similarly, businesses instill purpose into their operations by embracing the brand values held dear by their customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders.

But can purpose be measured? Fortunately for business leaders, it can. 


Digital networks provide precisely the mechanism they require, particularly when seeking to gauge the ethical, sustainable business practices of their trading partners. Aided by cognitive technologies, these networks are transforming business-to-business commerce, lending newfound transparency to the interconnected operations of buyers and suppliers.

At the same time, operations leaders are harnessing the power of data to gain visibility not only into traditional business metrics such as inventory turns, cycle times and utilisation rates, but also into socially pressing questions such as:

Does a potential trading partner keep its supply chain clear of forced labor? 

Has it established a record of responsible stewardship of the environment?

To what extent does the company award business to firms owned by historically underrepresented groups?

How consistently does it uphold humane working conditions in the various parts of the world in which it operates?

The transparency afforded by cloud-based networks answers these and dozens of other compliance-related questions. Meanwhile, this same visibility enables trading partners to collaborate in real time, extend competitive advantage, and innovate to create mutual value, even when the value chain stretches to far-flung corners of the globe.

No matter the physical distance it spans, a digital network — not unlike an orchestra conductor — marshals the precision, intricacy and capabilities of participants to create value far greater than the sum of the constituent parts.

Best of all, digital networks, unlike business leaders or musicians, never deviate from the task at hand.

Toscanini once observed, “After conducting a concert in a small town, I received the following note from a farmer who had attended the performance: ‘Dear sir, I wish to inform you that the man who played the long thing you pull in and out only did so during the brief periods you were looking at him.’” 

Visibility, whether across an orchestra’s musicians or a digital network’s millions of buyers and suppliers, is essential for any leader to produce consistent, harmonious, purpose-driven results.

When it comes to connected commerce, real orchestration is required to lend enterprises the digital capabilities necessary to broaden their insights and achieve superior outcomes.

Now that’s conducting digital business at a whole new tempo.

James Lee is chief operating officer for SAP Ariba, the world’s largest business network, linking together buyers and suppliers from 3.6 million companies in 190 countries, and SAP Fieldglass, a longstanding leader in external talent management and services procurement used by organisations in more than 180 countries. He is also an accomplished concert pianist. SAP Fieldglass describes is role as being ‘ to find, engage and manage all types of flexible resources’. 



Climate change is ‘risky business’ for your supply chain

By Paul May >>

THE ENVIRONMENTAL cost of natural disasters is now an almost daily feature on the news agenda, yet many businesses are still doing little to address their own vulnerability.

It’s not difficult to see why natural disaster management often falls by the wayside. By its very nature, an unpredictable event is not something your business can control. In the face of more pressing issues and the next earnings season, it’s easy for events like natural disasters to be relegated to the end of a ‘to do’ list.

But these assumptions, like the weather, are changing as extreme events make the threat increasingly impossible to ignore. Just this year there’s been a mass fish death, floods in Townsville, bushfires across Tasmania and we recorded the hottest month in our national history. 

Some of our biggest local brands are already factoring in this risk. Telstra is preparing for the impact of bushfires on phone towers, Crown is flood-proofing its casinos and BHP is protecting itself against cyclones that could seriously disrupt its iron ore exports.

The rising number and severity of extreme weather events looks sure to continue. According to the CSIRO’s 2018 State of the Climate report, Australia will see more extreme flooding caused by rising sea levels, wind and rain damage from tropical cyclones and increased bushfires thanks to drier weather.

Climate change is no longer just a political talking point – it’s a business reality. Mitigating the potential impact means tackling it head on.


The increased risk of natural disasters caused by climate change isn’t limited to Australia’s borders. Thanks to the global nature of supply chains, those risks spread across the region and around the world regardless of the industry your business operates in.

Given its proximity, Asia plays a key role in many Australian supply chains, particularly when it comes to low-cost manufacturing. This region encompasses some of the most disaster-prone areas on the planet – from typhoons in Hong Kong to flooding in Thailand.

While they impact every part of a business, the extended supply chain is not always the first thought when it comes to climate risk mitigation.

But it should be.

The potential financial and economic implications of natural catastrophes include a long-term negative impact on your business growth, financial security and even brand reputation.


The onus is on your business to assess natural disaster risk and ensure adequate resilience. This responsibility usually rests on the shoulders of executive directors and, as climate change risk becomes more obvious, this liability is fast becoming more personal.

In a landmark opinion, Sydney-based senior counsel Noel Hutley and barrister Sebastian Hartford Davis have written that there are now “significant and well-publicised risks associated with climate change and global warming that would be regarded by a court as foreseeable … large-scale firms would be expected to invest seriously in capabilities to monitor, manage and respond to climate change risks”.

They further argue that individual directors could be exposed to climate change litigation if they’re not appropriately managing risk.

It will also impact business more generally. There has been an increase in shareholder activism, where groups of advocates pressure businesses to change their approach to climate risk.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility and other groups have called for Australia’s biggest banks, utilities, insurers and miners to improve disclosure and improve risk management.


With this growing liability, how should your business manage the increased risk posed by climate change? Rigorous analysis is key.

Understanding the vulnerabilities means decision-makers know where to act. Loss prevention measures taken proactively as part of capital allocation decisions help to futureproof your business.

Tools will come in handy here, including FM Global’s Global Flood Map. This provides a worldwide view of moderate and high-hazard flood zones but, rather than using historical and statistical data, it is based on scientific fact using parameters such as rainfall, evaporation, snowmelt and terrain.

These considerations are increasingly important as natural disasters caused by climate change continue to grow in both frequency and ferocity. As the world moves into a new era of risk, your business directors have a responsibility to ensure they’re managing it appropriately.

The likelihood of natural disasters impacting your business has never been higher. It’s time to be prepared.

Paul May is the operations engineering manager for FM Global, an international insurance group that focuses specifically on commercial and industrial property insurance and assists its client businesses to become more resilient and better prepared for natural disasters and business interruptions.


Customer experience – CX – is the key to business success

By Leon Gettler >>

THE BIG buzzword in business is customer experience, or CX. How to attract them and keep them coming back.

Unfortunately, most businesses struggle with it. They don’t understand what it means.

Enter Tom Uhlhorn, who runs the Melbourne based Customer Experience consultancy Tiny CX. It has launched the first practical online CX course, known as the CX Academy.

It offers online and face to face services for customers. The mix of offerings includes small group workshops for start-ups and services to upskill marketing, product or cross discipline team from larger enterprises. 

Mr Uhlhorn said most businesses did not know where to begin and his academy was there to show them how to manage it.

He said customer experience stands on the shoulders of marketing and “provides a much more human centred approach to marketing and affiliated services”.

“Part of the problem is companies don’t know how to do it which is why we are feeling there is a very significant gap in the strategy and research piece,” Mr Uhlhorn told Talking Business.

“We focus on five key areas: we have brand experience, intimate understanding of customer, systems, processes and people, accountability and incorporating that into a systematic feedback loop to ensure your business remains customer centric as your business changes.”


Mr Uhlhorn said this focus on the five key areas was the framework his company had put together as companies transition into what he called the “experience economy”.

He said the mid-market was the CX Academy’s sweet spot. It will work with challenged brands.

“We won’t work with the big four banks, we’ll work with the fifth,” Mr Uhlhorn said.

He said his company looked at sectors where there was no clear market leader and businesses had a single digit percentage of market share. This allows companies to come in and learn how to differentiate themselves in the market.

The CX Academy also attracts a lot of start-ups.

Mr Uhlhorn said a quarter of the time is spent working with start-ups, including bootstrap start-ups. 

“We don’t make money doing that,’’ he said.

“We do it because it keeps our ear to the ground in terms of the most effective way to shake the market up. We treat that as an R&D exercise.”

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at

Warning: the most counter-productive budget you can cut

By Margie Hartley >>

WITHOUT QUESTION corporate Australia is currently collectively belt tightening and, with that, spending on the non-essentials like ‘leadership development’ and ‘team offsites’ are often the first to be cut.

Team days can have a poor reputation as either boring ‘love-ins’ or as one government sector client claimed, “a chance to run around with ice buckets on our heads”.

To be honest, when these team off-sites are done badly this is in fact an accurate, cynical yet honest assessment. So, it would seem obvious and even sensible to cut team days from the budget or at least limit the time we spend on them when times are tight. 

In fact, we should be doing the complete opposite.

To succeed in a changing and competitive global economy, organisations and their leadership teams must have a deadly clear purpose and a crisply defined ambition for their team. They need agreed values and behaviours and ways of getting things done as well as a collective agreement of the goals and priorities. They need to communicate with respectful challenge constantly and be deliberate in every move.

This is a lot to ask of a group of people who have been placed together by an organisation and who inevitably have different working styles, personal values and ways of achieving results.

To help people perform at their best together it is important to prioritise with time, discipline and money, the deliberate development of teams.

Evidence shows that when done well, team off-sites will give the greatest uplift in your team’s collective performance and if it is the most senior leadership team then it will have a dramatic improved impact on the organisation’s bottom line.

But how? To excel in a complex and uncertain business environment, people need to both achieve and learn together. For a team to be effective they need to work on two important components, clarity and connection.


Teams must have clarity on their ambition, purpose, goals and priorities. They need to know:

  • Why they come together;
  • What they are there to do and;
  • How they do it together.

Great teams consistently strive for clarity even though some ambiguity always exists.

As Google discovered in their five year quest for the perfect team with Project Aristotle, perhaps the most important clarity is how we work and behave together. This is the fundamental heartbeat of a team.

Finding your norms cannot be done in isolation or via email. It requires a structured and professional approach.

Nor will it happen overnight. The process is as important as the result.

Developing the heartbeat of the team takes time and effort and should be revisited often and with a critical eye.


With advanced technology, flexible working arrangements, speed of work and geographically dispersed teams, disconnection in teams can occur very quickly. When teams don’t connect they often start to look like federated silos of individuals who only come together occasionally under the guise of a ‘meeting’.

Connection is so much more than coming together in a meeting environment. It’s clear and consistent communication, knowledge sharing, collaboration, genuine care and peer coaching.

Connection is about having quality conversations that promote optimal functioning.

So let me ask you ... are you clear on how and when you connect as a team? Are you trading off team connection for budget and time savings? Are you deliberate in the way you maintain the relationships across your team?

Clarity and connection are two simple to remember, yet very powerful elements to achieving a high performance team.

Neglecting the health of teams is simply not worth the perceived budget savings. Great leaders are never tempted to neglect their teams because they know the health of their organisation is at stake. 


Executive coach and founder of Gram Consulting Group, Margie Hartley, has launched a 14-part podcast series called Fast Track: Career Conversations with Margie Hartley. As an executive coach to 11 of the top 20 ASX-listed companies, Ms Hartley’s latest podcast focuses on the realities of career progression and includes career insights from some of Australia’s top CEOs and business leaders on how to overcome challenges and fast track your career. A new short-and-sharp 15-20 minute episode will drop each Tuesday. Visit


Encouraging staff to channel their specialist skills to boost productivity and innovation.

By Bruce Stronge >>

HIRE good people and place them in roles that play to their skills and strengths. Sounds like common sense, right? Bakers bake; designers design; and fitness trainers train.

Far too often, though, staff find themselves shoehorned into positions that don’t fit, placed on career paths that don’t lead to their end goal and tasked with jobs that fall outside their areas of specialisation.

Take, as an example, the successful 12RND fitness franchise.

Business is booming and they’re welcoming new franchisees at a growing rate.

Even with the support afforded by a franchise model, it can still feel daunting to build a new business from scratch.

12RND acknowledges this and uses Outfit to pull together launch kits with all the marketing and branding material new franchisees need.

Most of these franchisees are fitness instructors and personal trainers with little idea of how to engage a marketing agency or produce their own campaigns from scratch. 

12RND automates everything – it now takes only 10 minutes to launch the marketing for a new franchise – so owners can focus on what they’re talented in and that’s fitness and training.

When you look at the DNA of successful small businesses – be it a local gym or a tech startup with a global footprint – you’ll see the importance placed on organising teams and implementing frameworks so staff can self-manage and play to their strengths.

On this last point, there are incredible gains to be made when businesses let good people apply their unique know-how and follow their passions to investigate and innovate.

Staff should be encouraged to experiment and to trial new and better ways to do things, even if this occasionally ends in failure.

Sometimes the only outcome from experimentation is the absolute assurance that something can’t be done, but even that can be spun as a positive result.


Innovation needs to come from the top down and business leaders and owners need to lead by example.

The idea for Outfit – a cloud-based platform to automate the production of digital and print marketing materials – was conceived at a ‘hack day’ I held at my software consulting business, NetEngine.

It was the result of letting good people tap into their specialist skill set to innovate, create and experiment over beers on a Friday.

Outfit, in turn, lets design teams focus on designing, creating and innovating by removing the need for menial, monotonous and repetitive tasks.

Like 12RND and its team of talented trainers, so many businesses employ smart, talented designers and then, by necessity, have them spend most of their day on Photoshop, resizing images rather than focusing on the thing they are trained and talented in, and that’s being creative.

That ethos flows into the reason we built Outfit: to help employers reap the benefits of encouraging and channelling staff into their areas of speciality.

Often, business owners feel overwhelmed by the work they think is needed to transform their business, the budget required to innovate, and the time needed to structure teams so every member is playing to their individual strengths.

It doesn’t have to be a daunting task and sharing a company’s vision and business goals with staff is a sure-fire way to inspire them: transparency engenders trust and loyalty.

From an employer’s perspective, share plans and visions, thoughts and ideas, even business costs and revenue details with staff.

In turn, encourage team members to share their own passions, interests and ultimate career goals and empower them to suggest how they can best utilise their skills and specialities.

Even if now is not the optimum time to experiment or take a risk, make innovation and evolution a priority and share ideas with your team so they realise its importance and are perhaps inspired to develop their own ideas and solutions.

Sometimes they’ll surprise you!

Bruce Stronge is the founder and CEO of Outfit, the brand automation and marketing production platform transforming how businesses and agencies large and small create, collaborate, localise and distribute brand assets. More than 1,200 clients from across 40 countries use Outfit to reduce production costs, streamline workflow, allow for better team collaboration and accelerate campaign launches while guaranteeing brand consistency.

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