Workplace Mental Health Training

#35 A pragmatic approach to people leadership – Natasha Hawker, Managing Director, Employee Matters (s02ep11)

Jun 24, 2022

As the Founder and Managing Director of Employee Matters, Natasha Hawker knows all about the issues that keep the CEOs of SMEs up at night. Having worked in HR roles in corporations, and now running her own business, she offers an interesting perspective in this week's episode of The Caring CEO.
"The key to performance is remembering that people don't leave businesses, they leave leaders, so we need to get better at this."
- Natasha Hawker


  • How having worked previously in HR roles for organisations such Accenture prepared her for now being responsible for the revenue and profit for her own organisation.
  • Really interesting perspectives about hiring, developing, and retaining great employees.
  • Running Employee Matters with her Husband and how they make that dynamic work.
  • The tried and tested ways to approach the difficult conversations needed in the workplace.


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Transcript from the interview

Disclaimer: The following transcript was generated using a specific tool. It serves as a convenient method for converting our podcasts into text and allows for easy text searches. However, we kindly ask for your understanding if any typos have inadvertently occurred as a result of the tool’s usage.


Graeme Cowan, Natasha Hawker

Graeme Cowan 0:09 

It’s a real delight to welcome Nathasha Hawker to The Caring CEO. Welcome, Nathasha.

Nathasha Hawker 0:32 

I’m very excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Graeme.

Graeme Cowan 0:35 

My pleasure. What does care in the workplace mean to you?

Nathasha Hawker 0:40 

Yeah, I think this is a really interesting one. I mean, there’s probably some reason I ended up in HR. And I like people, you know, and I like helping people. So, I, when I was reflecting on that question, I thought, you know, what, I think we need to treat everyone as human beings, and they need to bring their whole person to work. And I think in the old days, we just saw a slight slither of somebody as an individual, where now we’re much more inclined to go, you know, what, there’s a whole part of that individual, and there might be some stuff going on at home that we need to be aware of. So, for me, care in the workplace is about bringing your whole self to work, bringing your authentic self to work and be comfortable doing that. And, you know, even if we just think about some of the statistics, if you think about just relationships, for argument’s sake, you know, it’s one in three first marriages fail one in two second marriages fail, we haven’t even got to relationships. So, all of those very important life events are going on in someone’s background, and there are going to be implications for the workplace. So, for me, it’s about being a good human. And, you know, we’re going through COVID, we’re still going through COVID. And I’ll give you an example, in our workplace, we’ve had a lot of our team go down with COVID. And it’s interesting, because we’ve always been a dispersed or remote team. And it was funny, because we’re all catching. And it’s like, God, if we’d been together, you’d understand it’s all coming down with COVID. But we’ve actually been separated. But what we did was we sent care packs to them. And they had doughnuts for the kids and balloons and some bubbles for mom and dad. And it just was a surprise. And it did excite them because the kids were down because they were, you know, held up at home. And I just think it’s about saying, we miss you, we care for you. And we want you to get better as quickly as possible. And they have just been, you know, really, really well received. And just a little bit of sunshine and in what can be a pretty horrible couple of weeks, especially for families where they give it to one and then another one gets it and it’s weeks, the family sick.

Graeme Cowan 2:38 

And somebody said just before was about we got to know, we’re getting to know the whole person, and has not been accelerated with the two and a half years of COVID. You know, we’ve seen kids running through the background dogs and cats. We’ve heard lawnmowers going outside, like we’ve really been exposed to people’s whole life like we never had before, isn’t it?

Nathasha Hawker 2:58 

It’s amazing. And I think that’s a benefit for us as an organization. You know, I think I used to say, when I was recruiting, you know, we wanted women and we wanted you to have children. And I’d say how many kids do you have? And this is not a discriminatory question. It’s actually we want to know that you’ve got kids, because we want to know about your whole self. So, I think we’ve been given insights into our team members’ personal lives that I think accelerates things like trust and support and all of those sorts of things, which are really positive in the workplace.

Graeme Cowan 3:29 

Yeah, very, very much. So. Just for our listeners, can you explain what Employee Matters does?

Nathasha Hawker 3:35 

Yeah, essentially, we see ourselves as an employee relations consultancy, we help our clients in HR recruitment. And also, we have a diagnostic tool called employee metrics. We believe that a great HR doesn’t just fix or even prevent problems, great HR is your competitive advantage through your people to be more profitable, more productive, and also more sustainable as a business. So often, we go into organizations where they either lack the capability or the capacity in that HR space, or they can’t recruit, they don’t have internal recruiters and they don’t want to spend big money on agency fees. So, we come in and work with them on an ongoing basis, but transfer knowledge and upskill their managers, or sometimes a junior HR person will mentor and develop them so that everybody’s skills are rising and the clients that we’re working with.

Graeme Cowan 4:29 

And as I understand it, you mainly work with small and medium enterprises. And often I guess that would be dealing with the CEO there or certainly the senior leadership team. What is the biggest challenge that they’ve had in the last two years in your view?

Nathasha Hawker 4:45 

Yeah, I, I think we did. I think that challenge is really clear. I think we did an incredible job of moving to work from home overnight. Literally, we had clients who were picking up their consoles and taking them out the front door to home. So, we did that very well. What we didn’t do was upskill, our managers to manage a team on a lengthy ongoing, continuing basis. As a remote team, I’ve run a remote team for 10 years. So, it wasn’t unusual for me. But I don’t think our managers were particularly well trained to hire, manage and exit at the basic level, pre COVID. And then you put them in a situation where they’re managing a remote or a dispersed team, what we’ve seen happen is say Fred wasn’t performing before, or Fred suddenly is not performing from home. They weren’t great at Performance Management, pre COVID, when it was face to face, they’re even worse at it. And they’ve just avoided it or ignored it, while people were remote working. So, I think we’ve got a big skills gap there. And our managers haven’t felt supported necessarily. And I think the other big one is obviously mental health. And, you know, I know we’re going to talk about that a lot more. But I think that is a real gap for us. And we’re getting better, we’ve got more acknowledgment of it, but we still got a long way to go.

Graeme Cowan 6:00 

Yeah. And, you know, there was that sort of almost like a novelty euphoria, in the first three months. So, we’re all working from home, this is don’t have to commute, don’t have to put on my you know, do my hair properly. Or if it was a lot more, a lot more relaxed. And there has been, it has been a roller coaster there hasn’t it, you know, we sort of went down to the first lockdown. Melbourne just had constant lock downs. And even Sydney had a very long one in the second year. And one of the observations that I’ve made, anecdotally, but also through the surveys, or one of my webinars is that this year, I found that managers are really struggling. You know, they’re the ones that have tried to please everyone, tried to build connection to the best of their ability. And as you say, many haven’t been trained in doing it. But I think a lot of them have done bent over backwards to try and get everyone happy and often to their own disadvantage. You said something that you’ve seen as well?

Nathasha Hawker 6:56 

Definitely, I think that you know that we the overused term, they had to pivot, and they had to pivot really quickly. And I think those ones that did it well, were able to basically try and just connect and just reach out and say, are you okay? What’s happening? Is there anything we can do to help? Which was the great first point, or first start to that, what I’ve also seen is business owners, they are at a much greater risk of burnout. And burnout is what we’re hearing a lot at the moment, you know, statistically pre COVID, I think the statistics were one in five Australian workers aged between 16 and 85, was going to suffer a mental health condition in that year, one in five, that’s a lot. Now, let’s overlay COVID over that I’m guessing, and it’s a guess, a gut feel that those numbers are going to be closer to 30 to 50%. And if it’s not your employees, it’s their family, you know, they might be holding it all together. But you know, the family’s falling apart. So those ramifications are going to keep coming for people. So, I think we need to get much better at managing mental health on an ongoing basis, reducing the stigma, having those difficult conversations, and you know, enabling our people to use products like we care, be Mental Health First responders or whatever the case may be, so that we’re supporting people to have those challenging conversations. So, we get people back to work sooner rather than later that we remove that stigma, and that we keep those very valuable employees, which in a very tough tech candidate market at the moment with the great resignation. You they’re hard to replace. So, you want to do whatever you can to retain them.

Graeme Cowan 8:33 

And he made an interesting point about young people and most of the research confirms that they really were hit hard by COVID. And you think about your own childhood and going to high school, especially the high school years was much more about friends and then very much so you know, the first couple of years a university and there’s lots of adventures that you know, people, you know, went away for holidays, secondments overseas before starting uni, they had all their variety of new clubs, people with new interests at university. But I’ve got a couple of nephews who started in that first year of COVID. And honestly, it just had a terrible was the whole thing. The whole year was remote. Any of the clubs that normally happened and progress that didn’t, that didn’t go ahead, and it also spread very much to schools as well. And teachers suddenly had to teach remotely. And, you know, probably quite logically they said, well, if we teach for six hours in the classroom, that means teaching six hours, via Zoom or via Teams or whatever. And it’s just not the case. You know, you just can’t teach in that way. And so, I think many teachers and I’ve done a few programs with teaching groups. That was a really hard part for me, they felt that they were trying to sort to have themselves and work it out. And so, there’s been industries like that, and also hospitality industries that travel industries that, you know, have been wiped out. Do you, in your role covering semi organizations and industries? What ones did you see we’re particularly challenged by the pandemic shutdowns?

Nathasha Hawker 10:22 

Well, I think travel I had clients that I’ve had for 10 years, where these are guys who had run very successful businesses that literally, what seemed an overnight through no fault of their own, had dropped the business from 50 to 3 employees had lost their home had had to move their wife and three kids home to mom and dad, you know, just completely decimated, and through no fault of their own to hospitality, you know, we’ve seen that to schools, I think, you know, you and I do a lot of presenting, we love getting up on stage in front of the microphone, and then a crowd and we get energy from that. And it was really interesting, because as part of COVID, and a couple of people go, well, it’s on Zoom, you know, can I get a discount for that. And I said, I have to work way harder to deliver on Zoom to give your people value than I ever have to do when I’m in a room. Because it just, it’s a different medium. And it can be quite draining, and you’ve got to amp it up even more to deliver. You know, and I think building a construction, we’ve got a couple of clients in that that are really doing it tough at the moment. So, I think, you know, they’ve been some winners in this, that are going gangbusters and COVID has been good for them. And it’s interesting if I reflect on employee matters, when it happened, and I sort of had some insights, because my brother was a doctor and he was sort of saying to me, well, look, I think this is what’s coming, this is what’s coming. But the interesting thing was I thought it would be you know, horrendous for humanity. And it has, I think the statistics are out today 2 million lives lost that we know about in Europe, 1 million in the US. And yet it wasn’t you know, and it was quite stressful for me and the team as well. But that’s picked up since because everything COVID has employee implications. So, I think what I’ve seen though, is that it’s brought the employee to the forefront, and it’s bought doing good HR and good recruitment and good retention to the forefront. Because actually, these people are really key and we need them to one be attracted to work for us to be motivated and produce great work, and three to retain them. So that’s all very important for businesses now.

Graeme Cowan 12:24 

And what sort of qualities are employers looking for, from the leaders that, that keeps them engaged, that makes them want to stay here and enjoy it and contribute?

Nathasha Hawker 12:39 

Yeah, I have very strong views on this. People don’t leave companies, they leave leaders, your leaders are key to that attraction strategy, and to that retaining strategy. So, what we want from leaders, we want them to be authentic, I actually say to my team, I am not Superman, or Superwoman I don’t have all the answers, transparency, keeping it real, being very clear and articulating where you’re going and how your team are going to get there. And then the reward and recognition. And it doesn’t have to be just money. You know, it can be other ways of recognizing your team. So, I think those things are key. But I think what we could do as a country, our productivity as a nation is dropping, and a big gap, I feel that that’s as a result of that management team. You know, what we do when we are under financial challenges or scrutiny, we cut costs, and generally training goes, and I just don’t think we’ve invested the training that we need in our managers, because all boats rise on the tide. If your management group is great, they will lift up and bring their team members with them on that journey. And I think that’s really important.

Graeme Cowan 13:52 

Good point, very good point. And, you know, everyone I speak to is struggling to recruit quality people. And so just that extra effort to make sure your people are engaged, make, make sure they feel valuable, make sure they feel like they’re making a difference. It’s just so important, because if that person leaves, it can be a long battle to get someone equivalent, if at all, you know, if at all.

Nathasha Hawker 14:17 

I mean, one of the things I think people or businesses can do better is people are much more connected to purpose. So, we work with B1, G1 and we’re and so every time a team member has a birthday, they get to pick a project that they want their money for their birthday donated, I used to send them a bottle of wine or flowers, and we actually changed it. You know, every time it’s Christmas, my team pick, you know, because I believe that we as entrepreneurs can change the world for the better. So, I get my team involved in that and they get such a buzz when they go for my birthday, I organized bikes in Cambodia to get some kids to school. Or I organized books in Indonesia or bricks in Malawi or whatever it is. They feel that through what they’re doing is, is making a difference in other parts of the world. And I think getting connected to that is really helpful.

Graeme Cowan 15:08 

That’s very, very much I hear that as well. And I recently interviewed, you know, Shane Elliot from A and Zed. And it was probably the biggest driver for him is really tapping into purpose. And what also made it very interesting, that was a very large organization, the purpose came from under, it was under connected with the top. And that’s what led to the articulation of purpose. And when that happens, everyone feels a stake in it, everyone feels that they can contribute to it. And, yeah, but purpose, I think is so important. And all the research shows as well as that it’s incredibly important for the Millennials and Gen Y, it’s, they want to work for an organization that does make a difference. And there was a report that came out from Atlassian and PwC, just recently called Return, Return on Impact, or Return on Action, Return and Action. And identified the most important societal issues that employees cared about. And number one was mental health, it was even above cost of living. But for the younger people, it was even higher. Overall, it was number one, but for younger people, it was even higher. And so, being able to demonstrate that purpose, being able to demonstrate how we live it, and how it becomes just the way we do things around here has just become accentual hasn’t it?

Nathasha Hawker 16:46 

Absolutely, you know, and you touched on it before with the recruitment side of things. You know, we talk about Employee Value Proposition or EVP, why? What’s in it for me to work for you. And so that has to come out in your ads and everything, you know, it’s not all about just making profit. It’s about, you know, purpose, it’s about giving back. It’s about how those individuals in that organization could contribute to the business. I used to work for a business a couple of many years ago now. And they used to give everyone an additional day leave, that they could go and work in a soup kitchen, or they could go and deliver meals on wheels, something that would give back to the community. And, you know, I think we need to get better and think about things, especially as we come out of COVID. And there’s a lot of people doing it really tough. How can we help? And how can we, you know, improve things for the greater good of everybody?

Graeme Cowan 17:38 

For the sake of our listeners, can you just explain how you came to start Employee Matters?

Nathasha Hawker 17:43 

Yeah. So, my career started actually in Banking and Finance, funnily enough, I actually wanted to be a Physiotherapist. So, there’s that help thing coming through again, I didn’t get the marks. So, I ended up going into Banking and Finance because my father was in a in, in that area. And so, I started my career there worked in dealing rooms when greed was good. It was a very interesting time; it was the late 80s. I’m showing my age now. And then I became a recruitment consultant and worked in recruitment. I know we share that background. And that’s how I learned how not to run a business. Interestingly, it was very cutthroat, the business I worked in at the time. And but it didn’t give me you know, every silver line, there’s a silver lining everywhere, I learned how to make cold calls. And when I started my business that came back to me. And then I actually got my lucky break. And I joined one of the big four consulting firms, and I was lucky enough to travel the world. And I believe I learnt HR and recruitment best practice there. And now I applied it in a way that makes commercial sense to small to medium businesses. And so that was a great opportunity, then had three kids in three years and realized that big senior corporate career probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. So, I actually had done like a lot of people did, did a couple of little consulting gigs, and then thought maybe I can start this for myself. And so that’s how I came about starting Employee Matters. It’s 10 and a half years old now, I started with a business plan from the Australian Government 57 pages, but it was really good to deep dive and think about you know, all the things you need to think about when you’re starting a business. It is I have to say, Graeme, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I used to think working for the consulting firm was tough, but it is the most rewarding. And, you know, I get a lot of satisfaction. And I often say, you know, my team is infinitely better at HR and recruitment than I am now, I’m off the tools but I love growing a business. I love that growth journey, I love, you know, business strategy and all of that sort of stuff. So that keeps me very entertained at the moment.

 Graeme Cowan 19:46 

And I have to say that you work in the business with your husband, is that right?

 Nathasha Hawker 19:51 

Yes, I do.

Graeme Cowan 19:52 

How has that been? What are the challenges of working with a spouse in the business?

Nathasha Hawker 19:57 

For the most part, it works really well. What he’s good at, I’m not. We’re very much Yin and Yang. I’m very much the visionary, the extrovert, I’m out meeting people, I connect dots I need, like, I can see, this person needs to meet this person and I connect them. Mark has got the attention to detail. He’s got the process; he sees things I don’t see. So, from a skills perspective, it’s complimentary. I’ve had a lot of people say to us, you know what, I could never, ever, ever work with my partner. And I think a lot of people feel that way. For us, we do a couple of things, you know, we, we try and get away for weekends, because I think it’s important to protect the relationship. And we joke about it, we have a swear jar, and you have to put this in the swear jar, if you go anywhere near talking about work, you know, just to keep it distinct. And I think, you know, from the same token, I think, you know, it’s been really exciting for us to watch this business as hard as it’s been, grow and evolve and get better over the years. And I could not have done it without him. I really could not have done it without him. So, it’s been fundamental, and our kids know there’s no different. You know, my youngest was 14 months when we started, you know, on this journey. So, I was reflecting, you know, before, when, you know, pre COVID, one of the kids said to me, Mom, my friends have real jobs because they actually go to work and I went, knife in the heart. But isn’t that change? Hasn’t that changed since COVID started, because we’ve all had so many more insights. And I think for my kids, they get to see mom and dad, build something and work together on something really productively, and there will be conflict, and there was some conflict today. And that happens, but you’ve got to learn to work through it and get over it pretty quickly. Because you can’t afford to, you know, waste time with grievances. So, it’s, move on.

Graeme Cowan 21:59 

I really like the idea of having that $10 job when someone talks work, because I, my brother and sister-in-law they work together in a business for I think it was 10 or 11 years. And it was a very successful business that did really well. But that was one of the biggest challenges about not talking work at home. And so that jar with the inherent penalty is a good incentive to try and think about other things to talk about.

Nathasha Hawker 22:24 


Graeme Cowan 22:27 

What happened to your business, when COVID struck? And all your consultants, what was, what were the themes that came through?

Nathasha Hawker 22:34 

Yeah. Look, I could see what was happening. And I think what we did was take action really quickly, you know, looked at all of our costs, what can we get rid of, you know, when you’ve got all those subscriptions you forget about and you go, we don’t need that we don’t need that. But my team was a really big one for me, you know, how do we protect our team. But then at the same token, there was a massive sort of demand initially from clients, because they were trying to grapple with it as well. So, trying to manage all of that. And then you know, what was starting to happen with some of those bills weren’t getting paid on time, and all of that, and you’re trying to get your head around vaccine mandates and job keeper and so on, and so forth. So, it was a time of really having to get around a lot of content, add an enormously quick pace, and then make decisions, there wasn’t a lot of time to, you know, consider reflect, you know, you had to move fast. For my team, they were going through a lot as well, a lot of them, I’ve mentioned the mums. And they were then suddenly homeschooling, and we had two that it literally incredibly strong, capable women, it virtually broke them. So, we had a couple that pull back. And so therefore we lost some time from them, which then, you know, added challenges elsewhere in the business. But they got through it and came back. And that was brilliant to have them back. So interestingly, we’ve gone through all of that in front, probably about September 2020. It’s really taken off. As I mentioned before, everything COVID has employee implications. So, we are getting more and more involved in our business, in our clients and their businesses, because their people are their assets. And they’re absolutely key to their success. And I think they’re realizing that as a result of COVID. So that’s what we’re seeing at the moment.

Graeme Cowan 24:25 

What do you do when some of that works for you? Disappoints you know, The Caring CEO is about having well-being and care and performance balancing and it’s always a constant balance. So, what approach you do when someone’s let you down that works for you?

Nathasha Hawker 24:42 

Yeah, I think we need to have the conversation. And often those conversations are difficult and challenging, and I think you need to listen. One of the best skills that I’ve learned is actually negotiation skills. And through doing that being more of an empathetic listener. And so, in facilitating a conversation that brings more information out so that you can find common ground. Most people want to do the right thing, I think Graeme, you know, there’s genuinely a reason why something’s happened. And you know, we’re all human, at some point people are going to disappoint you. But I truly, truly believe that if trust begets trust, and if you begin with trust in mind, the vast majority of your people will go above and beyond for you, there might be one or two that let you down either. You know, not intentionally, it’s just stuff that’s going on in their background. Or sometimes it can be intentional. But I think the upside of, you know, leading with trust, and leading with being transparent and genuine far outweighs that.

Graeme Cowan 25:50 

I previously interviewed Bob Chapman, who’s the author of ‘Everybody Matters’, and has also built a successful business in Barry Wehmiller. It’s a manufacturing company in the US. And he said that people don’t know how to care, they have to know how to care. And he said that he first thought it was about, you know, talking to people. But he discovered eventually that it was empathetic listening, that was not just needed at home, but also very much at work. And so, they put together will still have now a three-day empathetic listening course that anyone, anyone does elitism. And the interesting thing is, is that the benefits for the people have been just as much at home as the workplace.

Nathasha Hawker 26:38 

I use it with my teenagers.

Graeme Cowan 26:44 

And how does that help? Can you give an example about where you apply that to your teenager?

Nathasha Hawker 26:48 

Yeah, so um, I think it comes from, the technique I use is, is trying to identify how they’re feeling. So, it looks like you’re cross with me, or it looks like you’ve had a rough day, or it seems like I’ve upset you, or it feels like I got that wrong. And then the secret, and this is the really tough thing, especially for me, you have to shut up. And let them feel that silence with information. And empathetic listening is really hard work. It’s exhausting. But I find if you work on that skill, and I’ll even do it in with cab drivers, I was practicing with cab drivers when I was trying to learn the technique, and so on. But if you do that you get, you solicit information that’s really helpful to come to some sort of common ground rather than make assumptions. I think when we’re time poor and busy, and I am all of those, you know, sometimes I want to fix it, I just want to go straight to solution. But that can end up being a far, slower process than actually stepping back. And then just asking some really good questions and then shutting up and listening to the answers. And then sort of saying, would it be a problem if you know, starting to use that different starting to try and come to it from I want to work out a solution here, how can we move forward?

Graeme Cowan 28:09 

Yeah, it’s, you know, it can be easy to get with family members can’t, you know, if you’re on the best behavior at work, and you’re trying to be at home as well. But if you got to let your hair down and lose some of your emotional regulation that often happens at home rather than the workplace, though. What, what other skills do you think that CEOs need to learn right now apart from empathetic listening, to put their organization on the right path for the next sort of 6to 12 months?

Nathasha Hawker 28:48 

That’s a great question. I think they need to be aware of at a minimum mental health, I think they need to have EAP programs in place, I need– I think they need to train their team. So, we have a multi-pronged approach to mental health. I think we need to get much clearer. I talk a lot about, you know, employees, when I started in HR, you know, way back, way back. You know, it wasn’t really given its credit, and it didn’t feel like it was, it was a financial drain rather than an asset to the business. I think there are a whole lot of measurements that we’re not doing in the people space, time to hire, engagement scores. Engagement is the measure discretionary effort, what will make someone go above and beyond for you, not because you’re paying them, but because they’re bought into what you’re doing? What is your NPS score as a business? You know, how long does it take to get something resolved? All of these types of things, you know, what’s it costing you to have attrition? So, I think we need to get numbers, our numbers better around understanding of our financial implications of our people to. We need to be authentic. I think we need to be open to change. So, if you are a very traditional CEO or manager. And it’s always been that way. And I think we’re seeing this massively now with the return to work. So, what that meant was people got very comfortable sitting at home for two years, and they quite like it. Some of them can’t wait to get back to the office. But we had a client who said, I want everyone back in the office. And he said, and I was sure everyone would come, and no one turned up, they actually voted with their feet, they didn’t come back. So, we’ve got to get better. I think that hybrid world of work is here to stay where some will work from the office, some will work from home, I think there are advantages of that, there is a massive talent pool that you’re going to be able to tap into anywhere in Australia or in the world that you wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to tap into pre COVID. But I think we need to work better on how we get our teams to collaborate. And I think innovation and working agile are all going to be important skills, because that pace of change has just kicked up. And you know, if you keep doing things the same way, you’re gonna get the same or worse results. We need to make sure we’re doing things better and better and better. And, you know, reflect, are we doing it the best way that we can, but I think productivity, and a focus on that is really, really important in every business, because we have to do something about the stats.

Graeme Cowan 31:14 

Yeah. And it’s interesting that groups like Google, they’ve had a reputation for innovation, all that sort of stuff. You know, I’ve done some really rigorous research to understand what works best in terms of high performing teams. And the number one factor is psychological safety. And that is, you know, exactly what you just described, it’s where people feel they can be their authentic self, they know that they have each other’s back when things go wrong. And they also are on a learning journey. And that happens through people having been empowered to take some risks, no more at risk. And if it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we learn from us and quickly move forward. But Amy Edmondson at Harvard has been really big about this and saying, you know, you want, you want teams in the workplace that have real accountability and performance accountability and psychological safety. But where they have high performance accountability, if the psychological safety is low, there in the anxiety zone, the psychological safety is high there in the learning zone. And that is a 100%, where you need to be right now, because we’ve never seen the rate of change that we’ve had in the last two years. And honestly, no leader has all the answers, no leader does, they need to tap into, you know, the, the, the intellect, the EQ of those around us. And, you know, there’s a very successful hedge fund owner called Ray Dalio, and he’s got a TED talk. And the TED Talks called how to have a culture where the best ideas win. And that’s a really brilliant mindset about the benefits of having this performance and psychological safety focus.

Nathasha Hawker 33:09 

Absolutely, totally agree. I think for managers, you know, a lot of them, you know, a lot of people say, look, you know, where’s the balance between culture of caring, culture of performance actually think you can’t have one without the other, as you say, so accurately, you know, so being psychologically safe, being able to bring your whole authentic self to the workplace is really important. We have made some progress definitely, since I worked in Banking and Finance in the like, late 90s, we’ve definitely made some progress there. But you know, we need to support and encourage our team members to be the best that they can be, you know, in terms of their performance, in terms of their mental health, in terms of their productivity. And I think, you know, upskilling our managers to be able to do that is really important. You know and being facilitating a conversation where you’re worried about someone is really important that you can do that. So, for me, culture is the secret sauce. And, you know, the key to performance is remembering that people don’t leave businesses, they leave leaders, so we need to get better at this.

Graeme Cowan 34:14 

Has anyone asked you, are you okay? And it was the right thing to ask. And it made a big difference through someone asking and really caring.

Nathasha Hawker 34:24 

Yes. So, you asked me before about COVID. What were the implications to Employee Matters? I can remember a couple of times, but I remember one day in particular, and you know, when you’re the leader of the business, yes, you’ve got a team around you, but you can’t help but feel that ultimately, the buck stops with you. There’s a reason why you have the CEO or the MD hat. And I had been, you know, felt like I’d been fighting fires all morning. I was really worried about the team. I was worried that this business again, through no fault of my own, but because of this sinkhole COVID was going to fall over. And I’d have to start again after 10 years and, and I could feel myself getting worked up. And, and it was really interesting because Mark actually turned around to me at that time. And he said, now enough about everyone else and how everyone else is doing. Are you okay? And I went, you know what, actually, I’m not, I could feel that my breathing was getting funny. I could feel like I was getting anxious. And so, I said, you know what, I’m actually going to go and lie down, and I’m going to try and meditate. I meditate regularly, but I’m going to try and just calm the brain. And, and I did, and it helped. It gave me enough that I did that. And then I was able to get back and, you know, keep going. So, I think, you know, and we touched on it earlier, you know, managers are taking a lot of the burden, we’re seeing a lot of burnouts. That seems to be the big thing I’m hearing from our EAP providers at the moment burnout, burnout, burnout, and business owners, you know, they’ve been fighting fires for two years now. And that takes its toll. And I think, you know, physically, you and I were chatting before I’ve had an illness for a couple of weeks now. That’s unheard of for me. I’m normally two, three days, and I’m back on, you know, and it doesn’t stop me. So, it makes me question, why is that happening? And I think there’s a whole lot of people who are tired, you know, and so some of those illnesses that they would ordinarily brush off, are having a longer impact than they would have otherwise.

Graeme Cowan 36:28 

Yeah. If someone came to you, and they had done really good job as being a team member, and they were just promoted for the first time to a management role, and they were seeking your advice about how to do that? What would you say?

Nathasha Hawker 36:48 

Great question, I think I would say is, you’re never gonna get it 100% right. It’s about learning. So, I’m all about continuous improvement. So, you need to surround yourself with people who are better than you are. And so, as a manager, a newly appointed manager, I would encourage them to seek out somebody, and it may be one or two people that give them different aspects, that they can mentor, help mentor and develop them, that they have a safe place to go and say, this is what I’m dealing with. This is how I’m thinking of handling it. You know, what do you think about that? I think that’s really important. And I think sometimes it is interesting. I have seen in some organizations, people get to a certain level, and they’re like, I’m done now. I don’t need any training. I’ve got it all covered. My title says I miss, I think that’s a really dangerous thing. You know, I have spent a small fortune on my professional development over the last 6, 7, 8 years. And I’m always learning, and I think, you know, having that that mindset of it’s never done, and continuous improvement will see a manager in a much better light over their long-term career. And the other thing is to sit back and reflect, if something doesn’t go, we’ll have a thought, what could I have done well? Where did that go wrong? Why didn’t that work out like I thought I would? So, and keep a little journal, you know, of how you’re feeling and how things because you forget over time.

Graeme Cowan 38:14 

Yeah, yeah, I really like that. And there’s a lovely phrase that I, that I’ve heard that says that good learners should be learn alls, not know alls.

Nathasha Hawker 38:24 

Yes. I think that’s true.

Graeme Cowan 38:26 

You know, and I reflect back to the saying by Henry Ford, that doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 80. If you stop learning, you’re old. And it’s so true in this environment we’re in now.

Nathasha Hawker 38:39 

Yeah. And it’s going to keep happening. It is going to keep happening, we’ll have to change a lot.

Graeme Cowan 38:45 

Has there been any particular leader or book or TED talk or anything that’s had influence in the way that you operate?

Nathasha Hawker 38:54 

Not a particular leader, I think, you know, if it’s interesting, I didn’t think, I don’t think I can point to one particular individual, because I learned from lots of people. And as I said, I’ve tried to surround myself with people who are better than I am. But for me, being a good leader is about asking the dumb questions, and I’ll clarify that there is no dumb question. It’s the right question. If you don’t have the answer, you’ve got to ask the question. And I don’t mind putting myself out there being vulnerable and say, Actually, I don’t understand. Can you talk me through that again, because that’s the only way you can learn? So, I think the other thing from a leadership perspective, is putting yourself in new and challenging situations. So, for example, a number of years ago, I want to took nine friends sailing in Croatia, and on a 52-foot Beneteau. And I went and did my skipper’s ticket. So, I did the education bit of it. And I thought, yep, and most of these people were older than me that I took that none of them had been one had any sailing experience, and I rocked up there and the interesting thing was that I hadn’t learned Croatian, in that experience, and all the maps and all the radio skits were in Croatia. So, what that meant was, I was suddenly out of my league. So, I had to go back to gut. So, I had to use my instincts of growing up on boats to read, try and read the weather, try and understand what was happening, try to guess the depths of the water, and so on. So sometimes you do have to go with the gut. And I think, you know, it’s really important that we, we learn, and we try and learn, but you know, ultimately, sometimes your guts gonna give you the right answer, and you got to go with that.

Graeme Cowan 40:34 

Yeah. Is there a message that you would love to share with the world?

Nathasha Hawker 40:39 

What a great question. The message that I would love to– Your people matter. I actually think for so long, employees have been given short shrift. And when it comes to their valuation in a business. And you know, I talk about often we hire them, we go through all this drama to hire them, then we sit them in a desk and expect them to learn by osmosis. Just get on with it, and then wonder why they don’t perform. I think we need to do way, way, way more than what we are. And that the benefits of doing that and investing in your people and your training and your management will far outweigh any costs.

Graeme Cowan 41:22 

Yeah, that’s a very, very good message. And not just for workplaces, but also for families. Your your people matter. Definitely. Definitely.

Nathasha Hawker 41:31 


Graeme Cowan 41:33 

It’s been wonderful. Catching up today, Nathasha really enjoyed our chat. If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, knowing what you know, now, after all, your, you know, development, personal development, business development, lots of interaction with people, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Nathasha Hawker 41:53 

It’s a long time ago, now I have to say. Look at 20, I had just returned from Europe where I worked as a nanny, and I’d been traveling. And I’d started my career in Banking and Finance and I came back, and economic times weren’t great, and there weren’t a lot of options. So, I went back to what I knew. And I went back to banking and finance. And so, it wasn’t something I was particularly passionate about. It wasn’t something I was particularly good at. I got some good friends out of it. But I think, you know, if I could talk to my 20-year-old self, I actually started a business in my 40s. Because I was never brave enough to do it before then. And it’s interesting, when I think about growing up, I was never one of those people. If you told me, I’m catching up with some girlfriends for lunch tomorrow that have known me since I was 12. I never grew up; I was never one of those people. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m going to be a business owner. That was what I was going to be. I think the leadership thing has stayed there. Because I’ve always had that leadership, identity, I was school captain and stuff like that. But if I had to give myself some advice, it would be to back myself, and to be brave. And to maybe you started this gig a little bit earlier, because, you know, you need a lot of energy and effort. But I think you also need to have the confidence to know, or you know, my husband always jokes, we’ve run this business, as if it was, you know, Macquarie Bank, or, you know, someone at that level, because that’s our, that’s our background or our pedigree, we, he’s executes in the UK. So, we’ve always come to it with that philosophy. And I think that’s put us in good stead because we, I think clients think we’re bigger than what we are, you know, and that we turn up and behave in that way. So, I think it’s to back yourself.

Graeme Cowan 43:36 

That’s a wonderful reflection. And honestly, it is amazing how many successful people I’ve interviewed on here, who’ve done amazing work and risen to real heights. But that’s a very, very common thing they would tell themselves. So, for all the younger people out there who are listening in, just really take that in, and there’s no, there’s no shame in trying. There’s no shame in going wrong the first time just be on that learning path. Thanks so much for a wonderful chat, Nathasha. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the show.

Nathasha Hawker 44:11 

My pleasure. Thanks for having me and all the best to ever honor the listeners.

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