Mental Health Online Training for Managers

#20- Driven by purpose – Steven Worrall , Managing Director, Microsoft Australia & New Zealand (s01ep20)

Oct 8, 2021

Steven Worral is Managing Director of Microsoft Australia and New Zealand, a corporation which was rated as a great place to work by 93% of its employees (via an independent agency). We discuss Steve’s insights into why this is the case. He also talks about why he took on a leading role in setting up Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia.
"If you truly believe that caring for your team is part and parcel of what leadership is about, then it isn't too far step to realise that the wellbeing of your team is at the centre of that equation. And that's both physical and mental health."
-Steven Worrall


  • Self-care, crew care and red-zone care
  • Corporate mental health
  • Company culture


Transcript from the interview

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Steven Worrall, Graeme Cowan


Steven Worrall  00:08

It’s a real delight to welcome Steve Worrall to the caring CEO podcast. Great to have you with us, Steve.  Thank you Graeme, great to be with you. 


Graeme Cowan  00:17

Steve, what does care in the workplace mean to you?


Steven Worrall  00:22

Care in the workplace I, for me, Graeme goes directly to a concept of empathy and leadership. And what I mean by that is that if you truly, as a business leader want to help your business achieve the best that it can, and you want to serve your customers, and you want to play the role that the institution might play in the community around you, then you follow as you migrate the very best environment that you can for your team, then your employees to play their important role. And I think over many years, the single most important element for me that comes out of that, then is the idea of empathy and connecting with each person to the extent possible. So that, the team understand that there is both a consideration of their role in serving the organization and customers, but that the institution and the leaders in that company actually have an interest in the well being, and the outcomes that are delivered for each employee. And so care is very much about the commercial construct, I think, and about the basics of any business, because employees obviously play such a vital role in delivering the product or the service that that company might be in the business of providing. In the last 18 months, we’ve had really turmoil like never before. And I will serve with lots of other organizations that mental health is greatly increased in prominence and importance. Is that your observation as well? Without doubt, I think this topic ground has been a big issue for for a long time well before the pandemic, and many, many people in many workplaces have been I’ve been thinking about it, because it’s been such a strong and present issue across our communities. But without a doubt, the pandemic has put that on steroids, right? We’ve seen a massive acceleration in people engaging digitally. And so there’s the sense of exhaustion, digital exhaustion that comes up very often in the environment where you are working in a digital construct the cost across the community, we have so many people experiencing so many different stresses and strains, strains at the moment, those in essential work those working in hospitals, that teachers and schools and the list goes on. And there’s no question mental health, and the impacts that we see all around us are only increasing as a result of this moment we find ourselves in. And how did you keep your finger on the pulse with your, you know, 2000 odd employees? And did you have regular pulses or surveys to really monitor that? We do. So there’s a regular survey that we run. But I often find it’s the anecdotal conversations that are most important. And in fact, I think even more important now because the incidental conversations you might have in the hallway, or when you get a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea between a meeting for when you simply walk into a meeting with members of your team. Yeah, those conversations that often feel in the day. And I think if you as a leader, in fact, I would say this for anyone gives you a real pulse about how people are feeling the absence of that now in reality of lockdown, and I think makes it even more important that we use those surveys and other ways in which we ask for direct feedback. But also then, we like a lot of organizations have set up more regular contacts, more disciplinary or one on ones, more frequent team meetings, more meetings that aren’t just business related, we might just get together on a Friday afternoon for a social catch up. And so that’s been very much part of our thought process because we are absolutely seeing an increase in stress and anxiety and the digital exhaustion that I mentioned earlier from the constant engagement with clients and partners over you know, over Teams and over digital platforms. You were instrumental in the formation of the Mental Health Alliance and for those that may not be aware of it, would you just explain briefly what it is and why you thought it was important to start? Look, it goes back several years Graeme I think over many years in business, I’ve have recognized or observed the importance if you go back to your first question about care. If you and empathy if you truly believe that caring for your team is part and parcel of what leadership is about, then it isn’t too far step to realize that will being all your team is at the center of that equation. And that’s both physical and mental health. So many years ago, I think I came to this realization and perhaps also because of my own mental health that there are times in my career where I felt like I’ve flourished and where I felt like I’d been at my best. And then other times when I have not been. And as I’ve sort of examined those moments, you sort of think about what was happening to me in my life, what was happening to me in terms of the environment I was working within, what were the leaders doing in that organization at the time that might have been contributing positively or negatively to my point of view. And I know I’m not alone in making, you know, all of those statements. And so several years ago, we came across the city Mental Health Alliance in the UK, which was set up following a series of suicides in the financial services and legal industries in the UK, in London. And Poppy Jaman the CEO had set that up back in 2013. And I got talking to Poppy about what she was doing and why. And I just felt that, you know, that sort of alliance with would be really relevant and important in Australia. So getting together with a bunch of like minded leaders across many different organizations, we figured Yes, lets form the Alliance. And then the pandemic hit. And I suppose we were, we realized it was a really important conversation, for lots of lots of reasons, is becoming more important as a consequence of the pandemic, and already what we’ve covered in this conversation. And so just getting started, of course, but we think there’s so much that we can achieve together. And I think that’s the key of the Alliance. It’s, this is a topic that impacts all of us, you know, any organization, large or small government, private sector. And we’ve all we’ve all got so much to learn from each other. And so we hope the Alliance can provide as a focal point for that money to be shared. It reminds me a little bit in set up to the Male Champions of Change, or at least it’s called Champions of Change now, which was about really championing more women in senior leadership. And, you know, it was CEOs that were involved. And I think that is a really critical element. Did you look at that model at all, when you thought about how to launch it? Totally. And we’re involved in Champions of Change, Liz Broderick is a wonderful leader, and over the last decade or longer has helped to build the Champions of Change into such a wonderful organization with this such impact not only here in Australia, but all around the world. So definitely talk to Liz and still do today in terms of learnings and what we can, we can lift and copy to make the Alliance as impactful as possible. And, you know, over time, we hope we can make material impacts in the quality of thinking and the role that leaders play in organizations large and small across the country, because the Alliance at its heart brand is not about it’s not a membership organization in a traditional sense. Everything that we have every learning that we have every case study events that we make available, it’s all open source. And so what’s really struck me is the generosity of all other business leaders who are involved because we all want to come together to help each other and help every organization create more psychologically safe workplaces in future. Yeah. And how was it to try and bring a very desperate group of people together and agree on, you know, the plan, the measurement, the foundations? It must be a little bit of a challenge, surely. Very much. I remember the early days, I sent out emails to most of the leaders of the ASX 100. And all were interested, I think, to be fair, many, there are so many priorities going on. So in some cases, it just wasn’t the right time to engage or, you know, we quickly found those organizations who were at that point where they were ready to jump into something like this knowing that, you know, there was no alliance in place. So it wasn’t like we had a track record, we were just simply coming together to have a conversation about how can we raise the bar on the quality of psychological safety in our own organizations? And then how could we help others? We also approached a group of leaders in in the space that people actually know what we operate professionally in the mental health landscape. People like Lucy Brogdon, they’ve been so generous with their time because we also wanted to be the expert guidance, the business lead the knowledge in the important role that leaders play in creating the circumstances and the conditions for psychological safety at work. So yeah, difficult to get started. But I think and difficult to agree to everything grown to the other half of your question. But look, I think when your purpose is that is so clear, and it is so clear to each of us that we know from the early moment, that there was so much that we can gain from talking to each other and learning from each other, when the purpose is clear, and then the rest of it becomes details in terms of like if we can agree on the specific survey that we might use collectively or if we can agree exactly on what the right first topic should be for us to explore, we will compromise and work that out as and as we have in the Alliance continues to go from strength to strength. Of who from a couple of trusted sources, that you’re a gifted chair, a gifted team facilitator, and this has come from other people. So when you approach a meeting and use that as an example, we’ve got a group of CEOs, what do you; how do you prepare for it? And what do you think, the really important elements of being a good chair? Well, first of all, I think they, they may have overstated my capabilities there Graeme. Nice to hear, but I’m not sure. So I think I tried to be pragmatic. I try not to take myself too seriously. And I try to inject, as a result, a little sense of humor as we go, because we’re all busy, we’ve got very many things to do. And we all want to have the most impact that we can. And so I think I start from that basic belief that, you know, respect, the use of people’s time is the most important commodity anyone ever has to be clear on what we’re hoping to achieve. Be open to feedback and make sure that we are aligned. As I said, a moment ago, I think the establishing of the purpose, you know, we want to help raise the bar, we want to share credible practice and raise the bar for all workplaces across the country. And we want to be extra guidance and business lead pretty quickly, the business leaders they all saw that that that made sense, and because they helped construct it. And once you’ve got that alignment, I think it brings people together quickly, and then we’ve rapidly fallen into position as a group. And, you know, we’re honored to have a very eclectic mix of businesses across the country. And yet, we have this uniformity of purpose, which I think then means we can actually make progress and make progress quickly. So I think there’s some of the principles that I use. And how do you make it psychologically safe, you know, the people can contribute ideas and be themselves? Do you just do that intuitively or do you have any hints when you think about that? I go back to that word we started with, you mentioned the care. And I mentioned in response, empathy, right? I think there’s, there’s an old saying around the difference between intention and impact that is, you know, my intentions, I often will measure my impact in the world based on my intentions, right? The things that I think and believe that’s how I view my impact. But of course, my impact is measured by how you listen to these words, Graeme, and how you respond to what I’m saying, and your interpretation of how I come across is very different, can be very different to the intentions that I have. And if you if you just unpack that thought for a moment, if you realize then that we all in communication are trying to align our intent with our impact, right? We really want to make sure I will have I want to bring together a group of people around this idea of a corporate Mental Health Alliance. That’s wonderful. How do you do that? Right? How do you make sure that your words and your actions then align with that intent so that the impact of this experience is exactly as you’d like it to be? And so, you know, back to the question of how do you bring people together? And how do you then help have the intended impact, you’ve got to be thoughtful, and then I think open to that closed loop feedback, and empathy, you know, the ability, as poorly as I am able to demonstrate or to utilize empathy on any given day, as much as I tried to, I know there are gaps. But I try harder, because I think the more that I can put myself in your shoes and understand how you might be experiencing and listening and receiving this message, the more likely I am to then be able to ensure that there is alignment between my intention and how you’re receiving it. And so now empathy, I think is an often used word and expression. But it’s so vital, I think, as a leader at any time, but that’s more important now. Because if I come back to the pandemic, just for a last thought here Graeme, there’s such a Genevieve Bell said this so well, the beginning of the of the pandemic, a professor at AMU when she said that she observed you can’t totalize this moment, you know, the experiences that everyone is having. This is back in April or May Last year, and I remember reflecting at the time thinking how insightful that simple observation was because over the last 18 months, I’ve seen time and time again, how individually challenging this moment is whether peopl are living at home and allowing lockdown and feeling further isolated, where the parents are at home trying to homeschool kids. Whether whether people in our teams might have aging parents, and all that entails and I’m one of them at the moment grappling with a mother who has severely progressed dementia and has recently suffered a health event that’s made that even more complicated. So point being assigned anything’s going on for every single person that we’re engaging with, and the extent to which you can’t connect with every person at that deep personal level, of course, but the extent to which you can start from the observation that I don’t understand what’s going on in that person’s life at the moment, and then as a result, I’m not sure how exactly I’m going to come across to them. So you know, less haste, you know, and more engaging with people and connecting. That’s the way in which you start to communicate it more effectively. Yeah, and I love them. In fact, I did 7 keynote webinars on Thursday and Friday, last week around are you okay? 365, about this concept of really embedded in the culture. And I started off each one by the quote, you know, be kind everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about. And I think it’s very, very true, we’ve all been affected in different ways, by the pandemic, you know, we’ve had people that the, you know, parents that are homeschooling, which I just can’t imagine my kids are older now. And I don’t have that issue. But also, you know, there’s been weddings that have been postponed, there’s been funerals that have had to be in just 10 people it when it’s been in full lockdown. And so everyone has had just a extraordinary time. And just trying to understand what that is, is really important. One of the things I do in my webinars that people nominate what’s been most stressful about it? And it has been the uncertainty that’s nominated every single time as the is the leading element, and how do you help people at Microsoft to come to terms with the uncertainty? I’m going to answer that question, but I might ask you one just before I do, if that’s okay? Sure, no worries, How do you then connect? Given you just talked about that same thought around each person having such an individual experience And you were talking about, you know, kicking off those other webinars. So how do you create a bridge with, with any with a person or with an audience, as you keep that thought in mind that each person’s got such a very different set of experiences, and right now has a very different set of reactions to the moment we find ourselves in Well, as you know, last Thursday was R U OK? day and Friday was world Suicide Prevention Day. And I have my own lived experience of really battling with depression, and going through a very, very difficult period, I was unemployed. And on July 24 2004, I wrote this note to my family, my dear family, after four long years of battling this illness, I just can’t take any more. I feel I’ve tried everything, and just can’t see anything. But at the press future. I’d like to thank everyone for the love and care you’ve shown me, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Please don’t blame yourself in any possible way for this. As there is nothing possibly you could have done. Love always, Graeme, PS, I just can’t be a burden any longer. Now I don’t. Or I very rarely use that. But I just thought it was really, really relevant. And the reason it was relevant was that, you know, I know what it’s like to feel that there is no hope you’re 110% sure, you won’t recover it. But I have a really good and meaningful life now. And that’s why I’m so passionate about R U OK?, because I know what leads people to contemplate suicide, but I also know that you know, you just got to get through it, you know, and you can get through it if you have the right support and the right expert guidance. So and I’ve come to understand that my story is really important. So that’s how we did it last week. That’s awesome way and act of generosity to share that story as you as you did last weekend again, yeah, Graeme because that’s, that is at the heart of human connection isn’t it’s showing a little bit of vulnerability, a lot of vulnerability, and acknowledging that things aren’t perfect. And yet, as you say, oftentime certainly when we get to the topic of suicide, people contemplate permanent solutions to what turned out to have been temporary problems. I don’t use that term to diminish the sense of despair or concern that you might have been experiencing or for that matter, the many people who find themselves in similar place. But it’s proven to be the case hasn’t over so many years, and obviously, in your case that it was a time that that you needed to endure, to get through to get to the other side.


Graeme Cowan  20:50

Yeah, and you know, where I met, Gavin Larken the founder of R U OK?, back in 2009, I just really resonated with it, because I knew that, you know, having the support of those around you was a really, really important element. And I remember about two weeks after that suicide attempt, I was in the kitchen with my mother feeling very sorry for myself saying, Why me? Why me? Why me? And she fixed me with one of those real mother stares and said, I believe you use this experience to help other people. And to be honest, I thought that was crazy at the time, but it did really sow a seed. And, you know, I did start to come out of it and write several books in the ‘Back from the Brink’ range. And, and yeah, you know, it is just you talking before about the purpose of the corporate Mental Health Alliance and the same without you, okay, whose purpose is a conversation could change your life. And it’s a brilliant tagline, because everyone can relate to a title 


Steven Worrall  22:00

in my, as a quick aside, my wife works for Lifeline. There are three steps that they, they they talk about, helpless, hopeless and alone. Those where those conditions exist all three at the same time, they can often lead to crisis. And so it just connects again, very directly with that idea of a conversation changing a life or connection between each of us and the power of storytelling, and how a little bit of vulnerability can break down some of the barriers that might otherwise exist, so that we can actually have a real conversation. Again, good on you for your role modeling and how you are sharing your story to help others. 


Graeme Cowan  22:44

Yeah, thank you. Earlier this year, I lost my father. He was 91 he had a good life. But it was a big, big shock. And not a big shock wasn’t a shock, but it was just quite profound. You know, having someone in your life who was no longer there. And I know you lost your father was it last year?


Steven Worrall  23:01

There’s actually a few years ago was 2016. So yeah, it was it was a big moment in my life. Love of Packers. Yeah. And what what do you think were some of the key lessons you learned from your father? A couple. One, and you know, there’s my dark sense of humor coming out Graeme but in in dense without going into all the gory details that suffered from cancer and was a two year process where he was in a slow decline. As sad as that is to say, that was the that was the path that he followed. And I remember at one stage during that period, probably halfway through, he made a request to myself and my two brothers that he wanted to die at home to establish palliative care and for us to organize that for him at home. And at the time, like any dutiful son, I think you’re right on Dad, I’ll give it we’ll do that. Not having any clue whatsoever on what was the appropriate thing to do. That set off a chain of events that created a range of tensions and pressures and issues in our lives as a family, you know, my brothers and mine. And I reflect on that because I learned a lot from that period about the first lesson about you know, again learning because I could have been and perhaps should have asked around to find out a little bit more about what I was committing us to and exactly how that would play out. There are lots of people around who are very happy to help because guess what, we’ve all got parents and we’ve many of us have been through this before. So you know, again, sharing and you know, just actually reaching out to other people. I also learned and I’ve shared this in other conversations, Graeme. Something I’m not proud of but there was a very selfish reaction that I had, at that time, I had been a Microsoft actually, I’ve just joined a couple of years earlier, I was trying to, you know, play my role at work. And I think this is something that many people can relate to, you’ve got that sense of duty or sense responsibility that you’ve got to show up and be play your role, you know, in a work environment, and try to pretend that you’re not an emotional being or a son or a father or the other roles that you play at the same time. And I, my selfish reaction was, I almost begrudge, in the end, the demands that I you know, I was under because I had work demands, I had family demands, I, you know, wife and three kids. And then, you know, I’m trying to provide 24 by 7 care with my brothers to my father, and, you know, in an apartment in Balgowlah. So, and quite obviously, I wasn’t doing it all, and I was doing it badly. falling behind failing under pressure. And then, yeah, begrudging that situation I was in so this sort of selfish reaction that I’m not proud of, but I absolutely remember, and it still stings me today, to think back on that time. More positively, you know, dead, dad taught me everything about how to be a man, a husband, a son, I owe him everything that I have. And so that sense of duty was, you know, very strong, and rightfully so. And, you know, I’ve now I think, reached a point where I can put a few of the lessons in perspective and, you know, acknowledge my own failings, quite frankly, and reflect on what a wonderful father he was in so many ways, and how much I’ve learned as a result of the experience that I hope in some way Graeme I can share with my children, because I know, I won’t be asking that same question to my kids. It’d be one of the things that I did, which worked really well as us had the, I guess, the privilege of delivering the eulogy. And so reached out to 35 people knew Dad best, both in his personal life and, and work and asked him to put three words together formed a word cloud, and the biggest message is they were, you know, generosity, you know, care, cheeky. And it really formed, I guess, the great framework for, you know, for the message, and, you know, it is wonderful to think. And I’ve got, you know, picturing up here, right beside me now, just the just I guess, to be very grateful of having a great partner, like, it sounds like you’d as well, because, as I’ve learned, and I’m sure you have this many that don’t have that. And it’s obviously much more challenging. When it comes to self care, what sort of things do you do to keep your own fuel tank full? I think I years and years ago, I realized, and perhaps this is a lesson from my mother, actually, about the importance of physical health than just physical activity. So I have always from a self care point of view, being focused on whether it’s physical activity, exercise, sport, you know, having fun outdoors. And so I still do that today. And I find it’s a massive boost and relief, both physically because if you feel after you’ve been for a run, or go to the gym, or go for a paddle, you feel the sense of exertion,  but it’s a positive sense. But also the, I think later on in my life, I’ve come to realize the connection between the mind and the body. And the very direct benefits and has from a mental point of view as well, because I can go for a run or go for a title and come back and be much clearer. And I can, the differences are so stark in terms of my ability to focus, my ability to be creative, to come up with answers to problems that I might be grappling with. And just to be more balanced. I think really to deal with whatever comes along in the day. We’re not doing that we are not exercising and not paying attention to those things and not being focused on that mental clarity and creating a space. I get short tempered, grumpy and don’t think as clearly and aren’t as creative. And so it’s great to realize that now I wish I realized that about two years ago. Better late than never a bit late than never. I’ve heard you nominate Buddha in blue jeans is a really important book that you’ve read. Can you tell us a little bit about that book and why it really resonated with you?  It’s an awesome book and I’ve read several variations of the theme on What is it? And what why, why is it Why is it resonated so much with me and why that book, it’s because as I became interested in this intersection between physical health and mental health, I also became aware then of the connection with the spiritual side. And that can be religion, it can be a simple belief in something bigger than yourself, or whatever definition that you might use for that third aspect of spiritual health. And as I certainly explore that, or get interested in that, I read as many books as I could find, but the principles of Buddhism I resonate with very much, because obviously, over 1000s of years, they’ve proven to be proven their worth. And I want to just for a moment that I’m adhering to Buddhist principles, but the idea that life is much about suffering, and it is about pain that you experience through your life. But that suffering comes about as a consequence of craving for other things, always looking for that next positive hit, whether it’s physical or mental. The idea of craving for something else, always looking for the next thing. It didn’t take me too long to realize that, yes, that could be apart of why we experienced pain. And the idea that pain is a natural part of life, we all we all experienced that we just talked about our fathers, we were born we live, and we don’t, and that’s the natural part of it, that’s a natural way of things. But the idea that much of the suffering that we experience on a day to day, you know, disappointment that we didn’t get that promotion or disappointment that someone didn’t return our phone call, or I’m engaging in negotiation with the client, the client doesn’t see it exactly the same way that I do. Those moments of suffering as small as those examples might be all the way up to very big moments of suffering. In many cases, I think, if not every case, can be can be drawn back to our desire for something else, and lack of appreciation for the moment that we have right now. And so you and I are having this wonderful conversation, this is the only thing that matters right now, Graeme, because we’re here to like, run out having, looking at each other through and obviously recording this podcast. That’s the moment that we’re in, and the appreciation of that moment. And the fact that we had that moment, and we were lucky to have it. It was lucky, okay, our fathers were lucky to have having the upbringing we’ve had, we’re lacking so many things. That changes the mindset that you might have, then in terms of how you address the challenges that come along. And so this third thought after, you know, life is about suffering. And that suffering comes from craving is then the idea of developing their more awareness. And this is where being mindful and focusing on the moment we’re in, breathing, right? I mean, as simple as that sounds, when I first first came across this, I thought how, how hard is it that someone’s going to talk about the importance of breathing? Of course, we will. We don’t, but mass majority is don’t breathe well. And what does that mean? It means we don’t breathe deeply. And we don’t use that breath, to center us, to acknowledge the moment we’re in to be thankful for who we are where we are. And to then choose to use that to create a sense of equanimity that can then allow us to deal with the next moment, which may not be that positive, might be a good one might be a bad one. The way we’re going to deal with it, and then I will pass and the next one will be with us. And so that’s where my investigation exploration to Buddhism stops, because I haven’t been gone on to the eight steps of enlightenment, maybe later in my career, I’ll have time to go further. But yeah, I think I’ve learned so much from thinking about those topics, and Budda and blue jeans, I recommend it to anyone. And the concept of mindfulness, you know, everyone can understand the benefit of it, but it’s quite hard to actually do isn’t and do you have any practices in place, which helps you to, you know, just be centered during the day? You know, I’m a poor practitioner, I’ll acknowledge, but I have learned the power of slowing down and and breathing. And, again, as odd as that someone listening to this will be saying how weird does that sound. But if I have a performance moment, it can be a simple example Graeme where I’m presenting or maybe chairing a meeting of the Alliance. And I obviously want to make sure I come across well and that we have a positive discussion before the meeting starts where even as the meeting is starting on I’m centering myself, I’m consciously thinking about slowing my pulse down, I’m consciously thinking about my breath, as I am right now talking to you. And I’m consciously thinking about where I want to direct my attention. And as easy as that sounds, it is very hard to do. But if you practice, you can get to a point and as its own imperfect data, but you can get to a point where the argument that you might have just had with your spouse, or the argument you might have just had with your child about studying for an exam, I’m just picking a couple of recent examples for me, or the fact that you use the last of the milk as you came up to sit down for this me. Some of the things happened this morning, Graeme that you, you can put those to the side, and you can center yourself on on, on now talking with a group of people who aren’t aware of any of that, and really don’t want to be aware of any of that. And I don’t want it to be in fact, how I come across. So you know, back to that we talked about intent and impact. My intent in my conversation is to be fully present with you today Graeme because I like to like to have this wonderful discussion and this great exchange, but I can’t do that, if I’m thinking about the note that I just use all the argument or the next thing that’s coming up the next week. So I think it’s practice, I buy most things in my life. I’ve just practiced and whatever I’ve whatever skills I built good, bad or indifferent. But are the consequences of good, bad or indifferent practice? I think. Yeah. And is meditation part of that as well, regular meditation or not really? Yeah, I mean, it has been, but I won’t, won’t suggest that I’m a regular or a great meditator,those that are will talk about their practice, every day and multiple times a day, they’ll engage in meditative state. And that’s not me. I’ve this is where I fall down. I often find other other excuses other reasons not to make that time. But, then I’ve also developed the capability or the ability, when I’m exercising, I find this almost meditation for me, when I’m pedaling, or I’m running, or I’m in the gym. There’s a sense of calm that I have either cultivated or the life issue at a mental level. I really love being active. And that’s a privilege, right during any day to have that time to go and do something that I personally love doing. And whether it is a run or, or a paddle, or a swim or going sailing or take your kid, or taking the dogs for a walk, there’s this sense of connection with something that I really love. And it’s almost like meditation for me, because I will come back from whatever that is, and I will absolutely feel mentally refreshed. So I think identifying that finding out what has worked for me, because I know I used to I used to have a routine where I would try and get up every day and meditate and it wasn’t working for me, Graeme. And so I’ve had to find other ways that fit with my lifestyle, but also give me you know, the most efficient way of achieving at least a semblance of balance and calm that I hope to exude on any given day. Yeah, that’s great, great insight, really, is I just I guess to segway back to the company, again, I saw on the great places to work website that 93% of Microsoft employees believe it’s a great place to work. How did you go about achieving that, that’s a pretty remarkable result because, by contrast, the average is 55% of employees believe it’s a great place work. That’s a big difference. What do you think contributes to that key difference in school? Look, I think, first of all the courses were privileged space grant, I mean, a wonderful tech company. At this time, in particular, I mean, we privileges is called on top of privilege, right? Where work has always been the thing that we do, not a place that we go and the ability to work through lockdown for the vast majority of our teams, was something that we were doing before the pandemic. And so I think there’s a deep acknowledgement of that in the company. And I know that’s part of why people think it’s a great place to work because we have very flexible work practices that we are able to offer because of the position we’re in. Many companies are not right. And so I don’t for a moment underestimate. You know, the fortune that we have as a result of what we do and who we are. Second thought would be, this is where leadership really matters. Satya Nadella, our CEO, to the extent you’ve read or heard anything of Satya is at the heart of what Microsoft is all about today or the company that we have evolved to become, and are still evolving as we look forward, but the heart of Satya, and his story is an Indian immigrant who became the CEO of Microsoft, now the second largest company on the planet, and famously will be remembered as the person that more than anyone else helped to reposition the company given we work going back to 2014, when he was appointed. And so I think he has created an environment for us all, where we talk openly about connecting our personal passion with the platform that is Microsoft. Yeah, our mission to empower every organization and every person on the planet to achieve more is a beautiful collection of words. But what does it mean? It means that if I am passionate about mental health, then as you know, I talked to him about this three years ago when he was out here. And I was talking to him about the Alliance. And I’m like, Well, I’m going to use the company’s resources, I’m going to use my time I’m going to, you know, bring together some clients. There’s no direct payback for Microsoft out of this, are you okay for me to do it? He looked at me and said, Well, why are you asking? Of cause, go. And so that’s one example. But every person in the company and this is my role, the locally is encouraged to do the same what’s your personal passion, what it what do you what’s important to you, and it’s rarely, you know, I want to be a better sales person, or I want to hit my quota. As important as that is, right. That’s rarely the thing that really gets any individual out of bed in the morning, it’s usually something else, something that’s not really directly connected with, you know, the formal role they might be, but in many cases, it might be something else, they, you know, they want to contribute to mental health, or they want to contribute to helping people get jobs in the industry, or education or health care, or, you know, 53,000 other things. And so my job here is to make sure that we afford that opportunity to every person. And I know, again, that will be part of the reason why 93% of the team suggested it’s a great place to work, because that’s not surprisingly, you know, growing for you, for all of us, that’s what we care about one of the things that that really matter. And if I can bring that to work, and I can talk openly about it, and the company’s gonna support me to pursue it in a meaningful way. That’s pretty awesome. And the only ones that offer that opportunity, I know, but equally now, it’s a big reason why people love working at Microsoft, and certainly why I love being here. Yeah, I’ve seen his speech when he first became CEO. And it was very powerful, because he talked about two of his kids having learning difficulties and tapping into, you know, the assets of technology and artificial intelligence to help improve it. And, you know, obviously now has become core to the DNA of the organization. And it’s a very, very interesting story, because, you know, he wasn’t brought in from the outside to, you know, really to run the company, he been a long term very successful employer, I think his previous role was in charge of the cloud division. But, how do you think he was able to effect this huge change, even though I’ve been in the company a long time? I think he is, you might expect me to say this, but it’s genuinely meant that he’s perhaps the best role model of all the things we’ve just been talking about. Not earlier about vulnerability, right? Sharing what’s going on in your life, so that and in order to better connect with those around you, it’s quite extraordinary, right? In the early days of his tenure as CEO, he wrote a book get refreshed and went out to all of the employees across the company, and is obviously available publicly, where he declared some very, very personal aspects, including, you know, what you’ve just shared with you to his children with severe learning challenges. And, you know, guess what, he’s role modeling what it means to connect personal passion with the platform, because he said, genuine technology is doing some really wonderful things, why don’t we help direct it to do a better job of allowing those with a short or long term disability to better connect in the world around them? You bet. And yeah, for the for the one in five Australians on grime and obviously the same statistic around the world, that there are hundreds of millions of people that that could better connect with the world around them if technology was more usable and was more directed at those with a visual impairment or learning impairment or a sight impairment. And so role modeling that I think is opened everyone’s eyes to well, okay if the boss thinks that’s is going to do that, then any encouraging us to do the same, then we should follow his lead. The other thought that I should mention is that early on, he also shared. He’s a prolific reader. And we shared a book that he read called mindset by Carol Dweck going back many years now. And Carol Dweck, very famous for her work on growth mindset, fixed mindset. And the other theme that he popularized alongside the idea of empathy, truly connecting with the customers and the partners in the market, the world you want to serve, demonstrate more empathy, develop empathy, so that you can truly understand what the customers are looking for. That’s one thing. The second thing is then the importance of growth mindset, which is, you know, if you feel like you’re, you have a complete understanding of all of the issues at play, then you clearly on the wrong track, we should aspire to be landlords, not, not nobles. And again, it’s a pithy statement. But what does it mean? It means a little bit of humility goes a long way, a little bit of acknowledgment that we can’t ever truly understand what the other person is experiencing, we can try by being empathetic. But the best way is across the US, our ears and mouth in proportion, stop telling and start listening. Yeah, these are, again, easy things to say. But when when you role model, so effectively, it is amazing the impact that one person has had and continues to have on 150,000 employees all around the globe. It is remarkable. And one thing that struck me in the book, hit refresh, which I really, really enjoyed. Was his statement that it’s it’s a leaders job to find stuff going right, when you’re going through transformation, because it’s easy to look at things going wrong, but to find things going right. Is that something you tried to adopt as well? Absolutely try to actually knowledge, another deficit or area for improvement. For me, but my professional life, Graeme, I think are not unlike many others, is all about trying to close gaps, right? I mean, as a professional manager, I’ve always worked in large companies, you know, you run a business and you perpetually focused on the things that aren’t where they need to be and how you’re going to close that gap. And that’s how it should be right to get the best performance, you want to focus on the things that aren’t working, try to drive them to closure. And yet, if that’s your mindset, and if you’re unconscious, that that’s your mindset. Then guess where you attend to what you what you talk about what you focus on how you can communicate with your team, don’t mention an impact, your intention is I want this business to be really successful. But the impact is Stephens just talking about the things aren’t working again. And he’s talking about how the gaps and all the things we haven’t doing well just yet. So I think it’s absolutely vital. And Satya is spot on as usual. And it’s something I’m continuing to work on. As we all are, can you think of a time when you’ve asked someone, Are you okay? And it made a real difference? I’ve asked the question a lot. And over the years and of course last week for R U OK? day where it’s made a big difference on regard remember a situation years ago with a mate of mine, funny thing about maybe Australian males Graeme, and I’m not going to give a psychological assessment of the Australian population here. But there is this thing about you know, we don’t like to share. I’m generalizing here, and I’m sure many people will disagree with me, which is cool. But I unbalanced, I’d suggest my experience at any rate is we certainly males typically generally want to share a lot of emotional content. It’s more about getting together, sharing some stories, a few laughs and perhaps enjoying an activity together, whether that’s, you know, sporting or other. And I remember a situation a few years ago, where I just just paused for a moment to actually really ask him if he was okay and was surprised to discover that he really wasn’t. And that went to a really interesting and positive conversation that reaffirmed for me the important role that you know, that I had to play at that moment. And also opened my eyes to the thought I wonder how many of those moments I’ve missed with other mates? So yeah, I think for all the reasons we’ve been through pausing, this is back to mindfulness in a way isn’t it because the triggers are often there all the signals are often there it’s just that we don’t see them because we’re too wound up in what’s going on in our heads in our minds that we don’t stop for a moment and don’t run model what empathy really means, which is put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is what they’re saying, because they’re giving you the triggers, and then pick up on them and ask a couple of questions. And can you recall time when you’ve been asked, Are you okay? And it was really appreciated and really, really helped.  Yeah, just last week, actually. I think I’ve learned that , sharing a bit more of what’s going on in my personal life is valuable to create connection. And I mentioned earlier, my mother had a recent health event, which was just last week, actually. And so I was out of action for a little while. And the team missed a few meetings with the team. And I was we had a team meeting earlier this week, and I shared that with the team what had happened. And I’ve had several of the team actually, independently now. Asked me, am I okay, how am I going, which, I guess, in a way, has been much appreciated, but also reinforces, you know, the importance of stopping and connecting with each each team member because, again, how often I reflect when a personal sharing has occurred in the team meeting from someone else had I really stopped, and then have I followed up afterwards, the day later or a week later, whatever to ask that person if they’re okay. I’d like to think so. I have, but I’m, but I’m imperfect. And so it caused me to reflect on, you know, making sure that I look out for my team as much as they’re looking out for me. Yeah. It’s been an absolutely fantastic discussion, Steven, I’ve really enjoyed it. Just a couple more questions. Five years from now, how do we know if the corporate Mental Health Alliance has been successful? I think we all know, it’s been successful if the conversation that we’re having is going beyond the observation of the issue, and the messy impact that poor mental health is having in the workplace, to a normalized conversation where you it is regular talk about someone going to work and coming home from work safely. But we’ve talked about physical safety ground for decades, right? It’s just an observer and no one would question that going to work and coming home from work is a good thing for workplace they open sure all that if someone had a broken arm or a broken leg and 10 up to work tomorrow, you might ask them, well, what did you do? How’d you do that? That is as normal as that conversation as it is in terms of their psychological safety, and then every business for you. Maybe we won’t get there in five years. But I’d like to think most business leaders, certainly our largest organizations across the country, are more proficient in the topic and leading an effort that is more substantive than what we see across the board today, as much progress as no is being made. This is a massive issue. The Productivity Commission will tell us from a productivity point of view, how big it is. lawyers will tell us the liabilities that leaders have if they don’t get this right. And so I’d love to think in five years time that we are normalize the conversation. And that workplace mental health psychological safety, psychosocial health is a topic of conversation that is regular as Yes. How are you feeling today? And did you get over there cold? Or is that broken arm healed? Yeah. And so you had the opportunity to go back, knowing what you know now, go back to your 18 year old self and just give some guidance or tips. What would that be? Yeah, look, I we talked about my father, my achievement index is perhaps my competitive streak and my achievement indexes on that sort of upper end of the range. I think if I think back over both my sporting and career exploits, and I think my advice to my 18 year old self would be to be less focused on climbing up that ladder and more focused on the skills and experiences that I’m having along the way.


What great advice. Thanks so much, Steve. It’s been a wonderful chat.  


Thank you Graeme.

Thanks for listening … or perhaps for reading our very lengthy transcript! You did well to get this far down the page :-). From all of us at The Caring CEO and the WeCARE team, keep listening, keep caring and lead with your heart.


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