Online Education in Mental Health

#13 Spurred by tragedy to build a culture of care – Chris Murray, Managing Director, Energy Power Systems Australia (s01ep13)

Sep 23, 2021

Chris Murray, Managing Director of Energy Power Systems Australia has over 30 years of experience in the energy, renewables, and resources sectors. These are all very male-dominated workforces and often have a culture in which it can be hard for men to open up about mental health struggles. He is determined to build a caring culture and just recently launched the companies new values – SHAPE – the #1 value is - Safety and Wellbeing. First and always.
"As a middle-aged man, particularly coming up in the industry that I've grown up in, it can be seen as a weakness to show ‘softness’, so the discussions aren't easy to have. But I found that as I have more and more of those discussions, it gets easier for me and easier for the people I'm talking to."
- Chris Murray


  • The mental health challenges of FIFO work environments
  • The impact of COVID-19, and how the industry has adapted.
  • The work that still needs to be done to combat declining mental health in the mining industry.
  • Navigating the “blokey” environment that sees reaching out for help as a sign of weakness.
  • Dealing with a life-threatening illness


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Chris Murray

Graeme Cowan  00:12

Chris, it’s great to have you on the Caring CEO podcast. Welcome.

Chris Murray  00:16

Thanks Graeme, I’m looking forward to our discussion.

Graeme Cowan  02:33

Chris, what does care in workplace mean to you?

Chris Murray  02:38

Graeme, to me, it means that we’ll put the safety and well being of our team members and a broader team that our business works with first and always.

Graeme Cowan  02:49

And you’ve even incorporated that into your values, as I recall.

Chris Murray  02:54

Yeah, Graeme over the past 12 months, in fact, during COVID, we reviewed the values of our business, and we came up with a new set of values um and they go by the acronym of SHAPE. And the first one is Safety and well being first and always. And then Honesty, Accountability, Performance and Engagement. And we’re very, very, very prominent and consistent in the business of emphasizing that first value, safety and well being.

Graeme Cowan  03:23

Yeah, fantastic and just for the purpose of our listeners, can you just give a brief overview of what got you to this point in your career?

Chris Murray  03:33

That’s been quite a path, Graeme, but very briefly, I started my career as a mechanical engineer with the electricity commission of New South Wales um and I’ve continued an energy theme through that. But I ran a small consulting and contracting business for about 10 years after I left the electricity commission of New South Wales, and then decided that I really liked working with larger teams and leading people rather than doing all the calculation work myself, I think I’m a better leader and manager than I am an engineer. So I then sought out a career in larger businesses and I went to a large Australian independent power producer, Energy Developments, where I spent 11 years and then subsequently left there and went on to lead a couple of small businesses, again, associated with technology development and with renewable energy, and ended up in the role that I’m in now which is Managing Director and Dealer Principal of Energy Power Systems Australia, and we are the CAT dealer for engines and generation for Australia, the Solomon Islands in Papua New Guinea.

Graeme Cowan  04:40

And CAT has Caterpillar right, so you’re talking about large equipment used in mines and those types of areas.

Chris Murray  04:46

Yeah, CAT is a brand of caterpillar. Caterpillar Inc is based in the US a very large company turnover of 60 odd billion dollars and 100,000 people and one of their brands and the best known one is CAT. So you would be familiar with CAT bulldozers and CAT construction equipment. We actually sell the engines that go into that equipment and into other equipment and we sell generators that generate electricity. And generally it is pretty large. So we might sell a generator that that a construction company uses on a construction site, right up to a very large power station that powers an off grid mine.

Graeme Cowan  05:30

Yeah, and it’s typically an industry where there are lots of issues because people are working remotely. Often, they’re involved with FIFO and I expect that there’s, you know, some mental health challenges you experienced or come in contact with you people come in contact with, on mining sites, etc.

Chris Murray  05:48

Yeah Graeme, there’s a couple of challenges with the business and you’re right, firstly, a lot of the mining work is remote. So we would often have staff living in a mining camp and working fly in fly out (FIFO). And also our business is spread right around Australia. So we have quite a lot of branches. We’ve got 10 branches in Australia, and some of them are quite small. So it’s not easy for senior leaders to get to those branches on a regular basis and to help develop behaviors and culture. So there’s a lot of challenges and that those things will lead to the potential for mental health issues.

Graeme Cowan  06:23

And how do you actually try to build that connection with these remote staff when it’s quite difficult to get to see them physically?

Chris Murray  06:32

Well, Graeme COVID, has really shown us how difficult it is to build culture and to care for people’s mental health when you can’t do those face to face visits. So pre COVID, we would make sure that senior leaders in the business did visit all of those remote branches and sites on a fairly regular and routine basis, and I think there’s no substitute for those personal visits. But we would also make sure that there are regular team meetings in each of the business units, we’ve got very good telecommunications or video facilities in all of our branches. So we would make sure that there’s very regular team calls and then as a corporate, we would run quarterly at the outside quarterly, all in town hall meetings to provide communication to people. During COVID, when we couldn’t get around to the sites, we tried to make all of those activities, the team calls and the corporate all in townhall calls, we tried to do them more regularly. And we also did a pretty regular email message out to all staff from the CEO. So we just upped the anti of our communications. But even with all that, Graeme, we still saw, you know an increas in mental health issues at some of those sites.

Graeme Cowan  07:49

Yeah, and we, you know, fortunate to work with your organization in terms of rolling out some programs for Champions, Mental Health Champions, across the group. And you. as you introduced it. shared something you mentioned, about three funerals that you’ve been to. Would you mind just sort of saying a little bit about that?

Chris Murray  08:13

Yeah, Graeme, one of the reasons that I’m so interested in passionate about mental health is that during my lifetime, I’ve been to the funerals of three men that committed suicide. All of those men, and the suicides had different causes. And they all had different circumstances. But there were three things that were really common amongst them. The first was that they all had families who loved them. The second was that they all had friends who cared for them. And the third thing that was common is that they all live shattered lives. And regrettably, I would say that some of the people impacted by those deaths never recovered. Yeah. So you just wonder what could have been done to prevent that?

Graeme Cowan  09:00

Yeah, it is extraordinary, isn’t it and looking from the outside, people think you know, you had everything to live for. And yet when you’re in that, despair, and I’ve had that firsthand experience of feeling that despair, you really believe there’s no hope, you really believe that um, you know, you’re almost doing your family a favour by doing this. And it’s so far from the truth. But I know from personal experience that when you’re in that place, you believe it and it is insane thinking. So how are those horrible experiences, What do you think is the key for men in Australia and particularly, men with remote places because I suspect that you have a heavily weighted male population in your organization, is that correct?

Chris Murray  09:49

It is about 75% of our workforce, a little bit more actually, are men um and it would be even higher when we talk about the remote locations and the technicians that are involved in the business.

Graeme Cowan  10:04

Yeah, and what do you think, you know, can be done to help create that sense of connection with those people that are working remotely? You’ve mentioned all the things that you’ve done and tried during COVID? And, you know, there’s obviously been some great initiatives there. Is there any other new areas that you think can be explored or expanded on that would really help to build I guess, a more of a sense of, or greater connection and greater care. Do you have any thoughts about how that could evolve furhter?

Chris Murray  10:34

Well Graeme, firstly I wish I had the perfect answer um but I don’t. As an organization, we’ve introduced a lot of things, which I’m happy to tell you about. But we’re still not perfect, we still have people that have mental health issues. So we think in our organization that really enabling conversations, in fact more facilitating those conversations, and encouraging people to have conversations with not just their leaders, but with others in the business is really important. So you mentioned the WeCare Champions program that you’ve helped us with, we had people trained by your organization to be WeCare Champions to be able to listen to people when they have mental health issues. They listen to them confidentially and they don’t act as counselors for them. But they provide them the options and they provide them a sounding board. So they can be a port of call where a person thinks that they can’t actually talk to their boss, or HR or someone else in the business. So I think that’s been a great initiative and certainly we’ve had a great uptake on that. Secondly, we just want to encourage people to reach out to their colleagues. So we’re really encouraging people in the business to take the time to reach out and check, are you okay? And we’ve participated in the RUOK initiative, which I know that you’re part of Graeme, and I think it’s fantastic. But I think it’s really important that if you know somebody in your team or in another team, that you reach out and have a discussion with them. I know personally, that you can feel much better when someone calls you and says, Look, I know you’ve had a bad day, you want to talk about it? or even just has to talk to you about the footy knowing you’ve had a bad day. So we’re trying to encourage those personal discussions. And they’re not easy to have Brian because as, as middle aged men, particularly coming up in the industry that I’ve grown up in, it can be seen as a weakness to show that sort of softness, so the discussions aren’t easy to have. But I found that as I have more and more of those discussions, it gets easier for me and easier for the people I’m talking to.

Graeme Cowan  12:41

Yeah, and I think you raised some great points and examples there is having that informal support, you know, and I guess with the, you know, the WeCare Champions, they become like a mental health concierge, they can guide people, they can suggest a call EAP they can encourage them to see their GP, they can provide that sort of guidance. And, and one of the things that really opened my eyes to this informal support, was watching a TED video by an Indian psychiatrist. And he was trained as in psychiatry in the UK, and then came back to India and just knew do they didn’t have the level of Mental Health Training or even budget to do these things. But what he sought out to do was to provide just basics on how to provide support and care and he trained illiterate villagers on how to support those people around them. And I think it’s just been a fantastic example, that he now gets comparable results as highly resourced first world organizations by having these caring villages and peers that know how to support people and encourage them and, and hold on to hope sort of thing. So it was really just seeing that that really opened my eyes as potential because if you think about it, organizations are nothing more than lots and lots of little villages, you know, depending on the size, and you know, if there’s someone there that you trust and you respect, you’re much more open to be able to guide them. So I think that’s a great example of building and peer support and social connection across the group.

Chris Murray  14:32

Your Graham I think that during COVID, because a lot about three quarters, no sorry, 75% of our staff are based in Victoria. So we’ve certainly seen a great deal more difficulty in maintaining those contacts because you don’t get the contact with someone the casual conversation around the coffee machine at work. So I think that it’s it’s really important in times when you can’t get the face to face contact. to redouble your efforts to connect with people. It’s also been really difficult to build those personal relationships. Even with new staff, Graeme, we’ve got some new staff who hadn’t met their boss for a year.

Graeme Cowan  15:13


Chris Murray  15:13

So they don’t build those personal relationships. So you’ve got to really go out of your way and put the effort in to build personal relationships with people so that they feel that they can reach out and talk to you.

Graeme Cowan  15:26

Very much so and you’ve really, you know, tried to lead by example here and create up the right environment. And to the point where, you know, you’ve just identified previously that, you know, safety and health is a really important value of Energy Power. Chris, how do you balance a culture of care and a culture of high performance?

Chris Murray  17:27

Graeme, I don’t think we need to balance it, I think that if you don’t care for your staff, and if you don’t make safety and well being at the forefront of your business, then I don’t think that’ll translate into good performance. So for me, the two of those go hand in hand. And if, as leaders, we develop a good culture, which has at the start of it safety and well being about people and their stakeholders, that will drive good behaviours, which will drive good performance. So for me, they go hand in hand.

Graeme Cowan  17:59

Yeah, and when you have a, you know, with your leadership team, what do you strive for there to have the right dynamic, the right norms across the group?

Chris Murray  18:10

So Graeme I really like in my leadership team, to have people that are very transparent. So I like is to be able to share our challenges and our victories with one another on a very transparent basis. And when challenges come up, whether those challenges to be are to do with a job or to deal with stress in the business, I want to feel that my management team with me and in turn theirs with them, cannot openly discuss those issues and challenges in the business so that they don’t feel that they’re alone. So for me, that’s a key thing. I want a management team that is very open with one another, no secrets, willing to support one another.

Graeme Cowan  18:50

Yeah, and that’s often known or termed as Psychological Safety where people can, you know, be honest, share their insights, be themselves, take moderate risks have each other’s back. And yet it’s quite fragile as well, isn’t it? You know, it’s takes a long time to build up, but it can be broken down very quickly. Yeah, Graeme, it does take a lot of effort. I’ve been in the business, I mean, now for two and a half years and I really don’t think that we develop that sort of that sort of culture in the management team for about two years, there were some new people came in, you need to build relationships with them. Of course, during that period, we weren’t in the office. But now we’ve got a team that he’s very tight, where we understand enough about each other’s personal challenges, who’s got kids who may need to do home schooling, etc, that we can genuinely support each other. But early in my career, I learned that leadership based on fear and favouritism is very bad leadership and doesn’t lead to good performance. So that’s the last thing I want to say in any business that I’m associated with. When you reflect on your career, who’ve been the mentors that have really helped shape your view on leadership and high team performance?

Chris Murray  20:03

So Graeme there’s a few that have shaped it by showing me I think what not to do, I mentioned that I’d had some leaders that really relied on fear and favouritism. And what I found there, even though I’m a fairly confident person was that that reduced my confidence, that reduce my ability to lead my team. So I realized that that’s not a leadership style that I like. But I’ve also worked with some leaders who were really clear with the objectives that we had to achieve and did want to hold me to account for those objectives. But that said, they were very supportive. So I always felt that I could take challenges and issues to them. They were also leaders that were focused on me helping develop my career. So I was lucky enough, in one of my roles, where my manager who was the Managing Director, was happy for me to be sponsored to go to an Advanced Management Program in the US. And that was a huge commitment for the company. But he was showing that he had faith in what I could do, and that he would back me to increase my leadership abilities.

Graeme Cowan  21:07

Yeah, I think that was at Harvard Business School, right? Yeah, it was it was the Advanced Management Program at Harvard. I did it in 2008. It was a great experience. And what did you take away from that? What did you bring back that you didn’t really have before? Ah look, I think the the program gives you a great toolkit to use in any business situation. Firstly, you meet some fantastic colleagues, there was 70 or 80 people on the course from all around the world. So you meet a lot of people and you’ll learn from them. But but it does give you a lot of tools that you can use. Some of them are analytical. Some of them are more leadership. In fact, a big focus was leadership. Tools that you can use and it gives you a quiet confidence that you can actually deal with any situation that comes up. Yeah, yep and it works very much on case studies, as I understand that each day he’s doing a new case study, different industry, but there’s a I guess, a process you move through to help address it is that is that how it works?

Chris Murray  22:06

Yeah, Graeme it is. The first week is covering the basics. Covers accounting 101, and a few other principles. But then the remaining seven weeks of that course, similar, actually to a Harvard MBA are based on case studies. And they weren’t, they’re run by professors who generally have great industry experience. So it’s very intense, you, you spend a lot of time every day researching for the case studies, because they’ll cold call you during the during the lectures to see if you’ve read the case study the night before. So you need to put a lot of effort in but it’s very rewarding. And I think having those actual case studies based on real life examples brings the learning to life. They also, you know, it was a privilege also because they would bring in some of the leaders of the businesses that the case studies were written about. So it was a real privilege to hear those senior leaders and very successful business people speaking about the case studies that have been written about them.

Graeme Cowan  23:06

Yeah, one of my previous interviewees, Emma Hogan, she’s the secretary, aka CEO of the New South Wales Department of Customer Service, she did that course as well and she described it as very transformative. She’d previously focused on senior HR roles and customer experience roles. But, you know, she said for just being part of that really helped you to have a mindset that, you know, you could apply principles to different industries and also take on that senior role or step up from, you know, a functional role to a CEO or Managing Director role. So well, it does sound like it’s an extraordinary opportunity to have that and I can see how that would make quite a difference to your career.

Yeah Graeme, it did. The course is designed really to take senior managers in the business and equip them to take on really senior leadership roles. That’s the basis of the course. So people that attended have already got a reasonable amount of management experience. But it does open your eyes to the fact that you don’t have to know everything yourself. You can use other people in your organization, providing you’re leading them, you can use them to leverage the organization, you don’t have to do it all yourself. So there’s a lot of great lessons I took out of the out of the course. Just moving on to a different subject now,

Chris, I noticed that you’re a or have been a non executive director of the Leukemia foundation. What led to you being involved with that?

Oh Graeme, I was very keen to get involved in a in a health not for profit. I was lucky enough to have a gap year in 2013, where I took a year off work um and one of my objectives during that year was to get involved in not for profit. The reason that I focused on health, not for profit was because In 2006, I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and I was lucky enough that not many years before a drug had been developed, which prohibits the spread of chronic myeloid leukemia, and can actually put you in remission. And I still take that drug today, and I’m still in remission, thankfully. So I realized that there was so much work to be done with, with health and organizations like the Leukemia foundation do such a great job in supporting people that are diagnosed with blood cancers. So I really wanted to get involved in a health health not for profit, I felt it was a bit of giving back because I’d been so lucky that the work of people in Leukemia Foundation and research organizations had developed this drug and and got it on the Australian PBT. And I felt I wanted to give back and I guess a lot of people go into not for profits for that. But I actually found that I got a lot more from it than I gave to it, it was a fantastic experience, meeting people with blood cancers and their families and meeting the wonderful staff at the Leukemia foundation who care for them. So I really had a passion about health. And I was lucky enough to get in on the board of the Leukemia Foundation, and which had a direct personal effect for me.

You mentioned you got more from it than you gave what were some of the things that you received through that involvement?

I just recall being with staff members of the Leukemia Foundation, when they were talking to people that had blood cancer and their families, and just seeing how they could put their own feelings aside. And they could just be so empathetic with that person and provide such support to them. And a lot of that was just talking to them, just hearing about the challenges they had with their kids, they had to leave the job to get the treatment and so forth. I just learned that listening and caring for people is so powerful when people are in a really vulnerable situation.

Yeah and you also, I guess, had that personal experience where you know, you receive that diagnosis and that must have been very, very confronting, I’m sure and what was what did you learn through that experience? I guess you sort of confront your mortality. What else did you learn through going through that experience?

Well, the first thing I learned Graeme was don’t rely on Dr. Google. After after consulting Dr. Google, I was diagnosed on a Friday, but didn’t see the specialist till the Monday. So over the weekend, I decided that I was going to be dead in a week. I learned not to do that. And one of my advice when I speak to people now, which I still do, who will recently diagnosed is is not rely on Dr. Google. It’s, as people know, that have faced a potentially fatal disease, it really makes you reassess the priorities that you have in your life, and I was no different. But one of the things that I did learn through that process, and then after getting involved in the Leukemia Foundation, was that it’s so helpful to be able to talk to people that have been in a similar situation. So during my journey, I had a very, very supportive family, my wife and my children and my broader family were incredibly supportive, as were my work colleagues um and took a real personal interest for me, particularly my boss and other work colleagues and I reflect on that and know how helpful that was for me at the time. But when I look back, it would have been good if I’d have been able to talk to people who are recently diagnosed. So that’s something that Leukemia Foundation does is connect to people that are recently diagnosed with blood cancer with others that have been in a similar situation, because it’s really great to talk to someone who’s going well, when they’re on the same treatment you’re about to have. That is a great concept, isn’t it just to speak with someone who’s traveled a path a bit in front of you, but it also just really shares hope as well and I was involved in when I was going through a tough time in similar health groups in the mental health area and it was the same sort of concept that, you know, people who’ve been through it, we’re sharing insights to those that were in the thick of it. And it was a very, very hopeful thing and very credible thing, when someone who’s been there, you know, says that there is another side, there is another possibility, but there’s many, many great outcomes that would come from it. Yeah, there’s nothing better than seeing somebody that who is who is recovered from the disease that you’ve got. So, on a number of occasions, over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of talking to people who have been recently diagnosed with either the same blood cancer that I had, or indeed with other cancers and sharing my journey with them and it’s been a real privilege to be able to help them in a small way. It’s something that I enjoy doing.  Yeah. Wonderful. What do you do for your own self care? Maybe if you ask my wife, she’d say not enough, Graeme. The things that are our children are in their, in their 20s. They’re adults, that the things that we really enjoy and that I that helped me balance my life is certainly spending time with family, we’re lucky enough that our daughters are still happy to go on holidays with us, we just had a week in Tasmania with them. So that is something that’s a real joy to my life, and that I really count as a privilege to spend time with them as adults. And obviously our broader family, but we also like food and wine and we like traveling with great friends to visit good food and wine areas and to enjoy that. So they’re the sort of things that we do. That’s been a challenge during COVID Graham and I found that that’s had an impact on on me personally, in terms of managing the stress of work is not being able to get those releases of going with some great friends to a great restaurant or to a new wine area um so we’re really looking forward to getting back into that. 

Yeah, I’m sure like a lot of other people where did you go to in Tasmania?

We did a bit of a whirlwind tour Graeme. So we got the Spirit of Tasmania over, which was fantastic. spent a bit of time in Launceston, Cradle Mountain, down to Hobart and then up the East Coast. Wineglass Bay in the Bay of Fires. It was that was a great week. Yeah, I’m a, quite a keen walker and I’ve done a couple of walks down there, this new three capes walk, which is just stunning and it’s relatively close to Hobart and I think it was December 2019 before the COVID. began, we did with with four of the mates, we did the overland track from Cradle Mountain, you know, right down to the bottom there. So it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous state. Isn’t it beautiful? Actually, we did the three capes walk in February 2020, just as COVID was starting. And it was absolutely fantastic. It’s a beautiful part of the world. It really is, really is.

Can you think of a time when you’ve asked someone? Are you okay? And it made a real difference?

Yeah, Graeme, I can I can think of a couple I’m just thinking about the best examples. We’ve had a couple of people in our business who went through some difficult times with personal health. Men, and they came to work and put on a brave front and I knew from my own experience, that of having done that, as well as they might have not have been okay. And I was able to build a relationship with those people, and help them get through in a small way, Graeme, but help them get through and certainly be a sounding board for them to talk to. As I said earlier, it’s not easy to ask that first question. Are you okay? Particularly when you know that the answer is that they might not be. But I would say it’s really worthwhile. It doesn’t always mean the person will get a better outcome, but you’re giving them the opportunity to talk to you and to open up about whether they really are okay or not. Yeah, there’s the old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” I think it’s very true. It really is, you know, you can create these scenarios in your own mind that aren’t really that great. But somehow through talking it through with someone else who can make a real difference. I think it really helps you balance in your own mind, what the real issues are, when you can talk a problem through with somebody and they may have a different perspective. But just talking it through with someone that may not be your direct family, I think can be a real help, Graeme. It really helps you put it in perspective, because sometimes you get things out of perspective in your own mind.  Yeah. And can you think of a time when someone asked you Are you okay? And it made a real difference? I can when I was first diagnosed with blood cancer. I lived in Brisbane and my neighbour, Mark, had been through some health challenges himself. And I just started my treatment and he, we were very good friends. But one day, he came over and said, Chris, Are you really okay? And I opened up to him about the things I was feeling. So he didn’t ask it as you would in the straight way, say How you going? He said, Chris, Are you really okay? And that made a big difference to me at that stage in my life. So I can just see the effect that can have on people.

Yeah, it’s quite a simple concept. But I think one of the reasons that RUOK? has really grown is that it is so powerful if it’s asked, you know, in a genuine way and deep with a mindset of care and compassion that really makes a massive difference. You know, for example, when I went through my long term, horrific, depressive episode, you know, just having my parents support and, you know, also reminding me of, you know, times in the past when I was really great, and it’s also nice to be reminded of that, because when you are in a bad place, just tend to think and recall everything that’s not great.

Yeah, it’s very, it’s very easy when you get to that point, isn’t it Graeme to to not focus on the on the good things in life and on the great future that’s ahead. So, again, I think I saw what a difference that made for me having people that do genuinely care and that’s something that I hope that we, as an organization, we can promote, is having those conversations with our colleagues to make sure they are okay. Yeah, it’s a, it is just so important. When you think about the introvert / extrovert, you know, scale for is not saying black and white, but what side of the of the spectrum would you see yourself on that extrovert/introvert scale? So I would say I’d say myself on the introvert, side, random, it’s not always easy for me to have a conversation with new people and sometimes a challenge. But again, in my role, and if you want to say, Are you okay, you’ve got to get over those, those fears and you’ve got to just ask the questions.

Yeah, definitely. How has that impacted the way that you lead? You know, being more on the introverted side of things, where do you get your insights from? Where do you get knowledge about new trends? How do you keep, you know, ahead of the curve?

Um, Graeme that that’s a challenge, it’s easy to get busy and to not focus on leadership and keeping ahead of the curve. So I try and read fairly widely, whether that’s reading the press to stay ahead of what’s happening generally in business, but also industry and other publications um and also read publications from people like Harvard on leadership. So I try and stay ahead there, don’t always do a good job of it. I try in terms of my style to be authentic, and fairly, fairly humble. I’m sure I get that right all the time. I also try and keep people really focused on objectives. But one of the other things that I do Graeme is, is talk on a regular basis to a small group of people that I’ve built up professional friendships with over the years, and we have regular phone calls um they’re people I know, I can always pick up the phone to, they know where I’m at in their career, in my career, and personally, and I know about them. So they’re people I can ring up, and they will give me their perspective on things. I can ask them about a problem that I’ve got, they’re not associated with my workplace, so I can ask that without any fear. But I can call those people up and seek their advice or their council or sometimes being barrier about a problem I’ve got, I think that’s a really important way, to help you look outside of what you’re seeing in your own workplace. It’s really like your own little personal board of directors. That’s exactly that’s exactly right. That’s how I see it can, you can talk to them about, and I do this quite regularly in fact, a couple of them, I have a regular every couple of weeks phone call with sometimes it’s only five minutes, sometimes it’s an hour, but I find that very helpful. Particularly when you’re in a leadership role. Sometimes you can ask those questions or share those concerns with your peers. So it’s great to have some outside people that you can do that with. It’s a really great example and I’ve done similar things as well in my life. And, you know, just having a group of people around that have the right mindset, and they really want to, you know, help each other and to be helped.

And it’s wonderful to get that, you know, fresh insights. In fact, I have a ritual each month. I have all mate Ted, we’ve worked together, since we worked in Johnson&Johnson over 20 years ago, and once a month we catch up and go through a bushwalk, which he did this morning. And it’s just wonderful way to be out in nature, but also to talk about some of the things that are bothering us. And to get that informal feedback. It’s, it’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

Yeah, Graeme, I agree. I think it’s I think it’s really important, particularly as your take on senior roles to have close confidence outside of your workplace that you can talk to.

Very much. So when you think about you know, whether it’s books or videos or people that you’ve seen or read about, is there a particular thought leader or author that’s had a real impact on you in terms of how you run a business?

Graeme, there’s no one in particular, there’s quite a range. And of course, the course I did at Harvard gave me a lot of insights into how different leaders work. But certainly I like a lot of Jim Collins principles in Good to Great. I apply a lot of them particularly, particularly focusing on building the right team around you, which I think is the most important role you face when you start a new role. But also I’m quite keen on some other authors and I like reading autobiographies or biographies about people that have done really interesting things. So Shackleton’s Way is a book that I really enjoyed the story of how they, how he brought those 14 people out of what seemed like just an impossible position, how did he have the resilience to do that? So I really quite enjoyed biographies or autobiographies or stories about how people have overcome great challenges. And that just shows me how important resilience is.  Yeah, you raised Shackleton. It’s the most extraordinary stories and I’ve also read, you know, what, I’m not sure if it’s the same book, but a book about that whole predicament, you know, with, stuck in the ice, going through winter and have their their ship be crushed by the ice and essentially sink. And, you know, when you actually read about the various components, so that is quite extraordinary, isn’t it? How they got out of it. It’s an amazing story and I love the bits about how they, you know, he realized important things to keep the men’s morale up, like making sure they had tobacco. So they managed to ration their tobacco for that whole period, that they’re away and ration the alcohol. So it’s just amazing that he managed to keep those people alive during that time and not just because of the difficult climatic conditions, but just from a morale point of view. How did he do that? So there’s, there’s just some great lessons to be learn when you read about some of those stories. Yeah something slse I thought was fantastic, because  he kept the negative people in his own tent. So he really, you know, kept, you know, cut down the negative talk by having them so close to him. And I thought that was very interesting, because it be very tempting, I think they had them a long way away from you. He chose to do the opposite with great results. There was just come great leadership stories there. When we, when you think about, you know, people in the past, and you’ve mentioned, Shackleton, are the real people that you’d really love to have a dinner party with. They may have died already, but you’ve been really inspired by their lifes and the lessons. Yeah, there has been there’s, there’s a few people, I’d love to have dinner with my maternal grandfather. He was quite a successful businessman, but died before I really got going in my career. So I never had many good conversations with him about business. And he was also a man that was a very, big philanthropist in terms of giving his own time and money to causes that he valued. So I’d love to talk to him and ask him some questions. I’d also love the talk to Nelson Mandela, Mandela again, resilience, how did he have the resilience to survive all those years and then come out of prison and become the leader that he became and not seem to have the bitterness that you would think you would have? That’s just incredible. I’d also love to have dinner with one of those men whose funerals I attended and just ask them what more could have been done? Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s very, very tragic and I’ve also had been close to some people that have died unnecessarily and you often do think about that. It is quite significant and having gone through those who have personal experiences myself, on one hand, I do understand that but on the other, it just is such a waste. And, you know, I guess one of the things that they say about those sort of circumstances is to say, you know, a permanent action to a temporary problem. But the issue is that those people, and as I say I speak from firsthand experience, don’t believe it’s temporary. That’s the thing, you think it’s going to go forever. Yes, Graeme, that’s right. And you’re relating your own personal experience just highlights the fact that you can get into a place where there seems to be no other solution, but we’ve got to do our best to give people the opportunity to talk to us and to find another solution.  Yeah and that is why I’m just so passionate about RUOK? and also our WeCare business because I it is just fundamental to human well being is that we do feel a sense of connection and belonging to those around us and I actually shared some research this week earlier this week, on LinkedIn about the incredible power of belonging, having that sense of belonging where there is connection, there is care, there is psychological safety. And it was a Havard article which actually showed that if you can have a strong sense of belonging in individuals in a team, it increases the results in job performance by 56%, versus those that don’t feel they belong. So what used to be considered as soft skills really is hard skills in this, you know, very uncertain climate we now face ourselves with as we emerge from the pandemic, but the rate of change isn’t going to slow, is it? No Graeme, I don’t, I don’t think it is. One of the things that’s been highlighted in our business, through our staff opinion surveys, is the difficulty in providing recognition to people so that they do feel valued and part of the team. It’s been quite hard again during COVID, but we can’t use it as an excuse, because you don’t get to pop into someone’s office and say, Job well done. And it’s been a consistent theme in our staff feedback that we don’t provide enough recognition. By way of example, you finish your project and it’s been a tough project that might not have even made money, but you should go out of your way to thank the people that have stuck with it and got it completed. So we’re actually starting now In fact, it’s our first month a formal recognition program in the business, whereby any team member can nominate another team member or a team within the business for recognition and when they do that, their manager and their relevant General Manager, we’ll give them a phone call, and thank them for what they’ve done. And then each month, the leadership team in the business will select a number of people to get a formal recognition award and then we’ll have each year we’ll have a Recognition Award for each of our SHAPE values. So we’ll then do that as a real celebration of great compliance and great exercise of our values and their behaviors on a yearly basis. So we’re bringing in a formal mechanism to encourage people to recognize one another and they’re the sort of things that I think we need to do Graham to make sure that we do keep people engaged. Yeah, very much. And that recognition, it can often be forgotten, as you’ve just highlighted, but one of the books that really gave me some insight on that was a book called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile, who is who’s also a Harvard psychologist and professor and she really looked at the things that had an impact on people, both positively and negatively in the book, and then was able to then deconstruct it. And she found her conclusion was the most motivating thing for information workers is knowing they’re making progress on meaningful work. Number one, and and, and, you know, of course, the big things have an impact, but that is just the little things as well, little acknowledgments, micro acknowledgments have a massive impact as well, when, you know, you could have had a, you know, a tough day, but one thing was really good about it, and you get that recognition. So that’s a great thing to to really recognize and try to put into place.

Chris Murray  48:08

Graeme, one of the things that has been fed back to me in my 360 reviews is that I don’t provide enough positive feedback to my own team. Sometimes it’s easy to think the absence of negative feedback is positive feedback in its own right. So that’s something that I really work on. But I was discussing it with one of my friends who runs a retail business with a lot of staff, you know, how do you recognize those staff and he said that he would make 20 phone calls a week, to staff to recognize them for a job well done, it might have been that they’d won the store sales competition for the week or for the day or exhibit a great values. So I think they’re the sort of things that we need to do to recognize people and make them feel part of a team. And that was a that was a great example to me that I need to do more.

Graeme Cowan  48:52

Yeah, wonderful. Well, it’s been just fantastic catching up, Chris, I really, you really walk the talk on creating that culture of care. And, you know, to the fact that you’ve, you know, relaunch values to make it focus number one in terms of the S for safety and health so wonderful to see how you put it into action. One final question, if you,  knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 20 year old self, you had the chance to go back and share what you’ve come to know and believe?

Chris Murray  49:27

Graeme, I think that I would say trust your instincts better Chris. Move more quickly to get the right people around you and then care for them.

Graeme Cowan  49:42

A wonderful reflection. It’s been an absolute pleasure to catch up to today, Chris, I really appreciate your time. And, and, and the fact that you’re walking the talk on having this culture of care and the culture of high performance. Thanks very much.

Chris Murray  50:00

Pleasure Graeme, thank you.

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