Mental Health Training for Managers

#33 The learning zone quest – Rich Hirst, CEO & Founder, Tenfold Australia (s02ep9)

May 27, 2022

Rich Hirst, CEO & Founder of Tenfold spends his days talking with local CEOs and Leadership teams of global companies including Nestle, DHL and Amazon Web Services. Tenfold provide a trusted environment for these leaders to share their biggest challenges. This puts Rich in a good position to know what works and what doesn't when it comes to leadership. In this week's episode, Rich shares some key factors for successful leadership and what is required to achieve exponential growth. We discussed the balance between caring for our team and yet still holding them accountable. This can be a tricky enough concept without the added challenge of hybrid workplaces.
"The balance between care and challenge. That's where performance happens."
- Rich Hirst


  • Looking at and addressing the organizational factors that are contributing to burnout, to mental ill health.
  • How a change in HSC marking criteria changed his career path for the better
  • The challenges with welcoming new staff during pandemic and the different tactics use to help connect and engage with them
  • The importance of teaching “Care” as early as possible – even in school.


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Transcript from the interview

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


Graeme Cowan, Rich Hirst

Graeme Cowan 0:03 

Hi, everyone, this is Graeme Cowan, and welcome to the caring CEO podcast, we create this podcast because we believe that every leader’s number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together. It is my job to interview CEOs and other Senior Leaders who value building both a culture of care and a culture of high performance. I’m very keen to understand how they do this. And I’m sure there’d be lots of insights and tips for anyone who wants to build a high performing team. To real delight to welcome Rich Hirst to the caring CEO. Welcome, Rich.

Rich Hirst 0:41 

Hi, Graeme. How are you going?

Graeme Cowan 0:43 

Very well. Thank you, very well, thank you. Rich, what does care in the workplace mean to you?

Rich Hirst 0:48 

Care. Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think it’s, it’s one of those concepts that is misunderstood, or often just, we have different definitions for it. And, and it’s also one that we need to get clear on because it’s becoming increasingly important. Surprisingly, it’s taken us this long for it to become a hot issue. But I think companies either go one way or the other, they’re too caring. And we can talk more about that in a sec. Or they’re not caring enough. And few companies seem to get that balance between having a sort of a high-performance environment, which is also high care.

Graeme Cowan 1:26 

Yeah. And it is, as you say, Rich, pretty much a balance. How do you try to balance those two things?

Rich Hirst 1:31 

Well, you know, I think there’s a growing amount of great research, we try to everything we do. So just for the context, we work with the local leaders of global companies, about 110 multinationals with operations across Australia and New Zealand. And we work primarily at the CEO level and with their top teams. And I think what we’re seeing it more and more so is that they’re obviously under enormous performance, pressure. But care is a pathway to performance. If you get that dynamic right. But if you only focus on the care, then performance can suffer. So that there is this great balance between care and challenge. And lots of people have spoken about that, people like Kim Scott, who wrote the book, ‘Radical Candor’, she talks about the balance between care and challenge. That’s where performance happens. Amy Edmondson from Harvard talks about the balance between psychological safety and accountability, you know, keeping people accountable to demanding challenges or demands. And so, again, it’s the nexus between those two things that performance happens. So, care by itself, or psychological safety by itself actually isn’t enough to create a high-performance environment. And ultimately, that’s why businesses exist, for people, for performance, and care is a key input to it, but not sufficient by itself.

Graeme Cowan 2:53 

Yeah, I really like the work of elements in that as well. And in that two-by-two matrix she has she, there’s the accountability and the psychological safety. And when the low psychological safety and high-performance pressure, that’s the anxiety zone. And in my experience, many organizations are in that because it has been just so many challenges, but where there’s high psychological safety and high performance, pressure, that’s the learnings. And that’s what you referred to, we’re trying new things, nearly 100% right. But you learn from them, you move forward quickly. And that in terms of her work, and Google’s work really seems to be the key to strong innovation, doesn’t it?

Rich Hirst 3:35 

Yeah, 100%. I like Kim Scott’s definition, similar type of matrix. But yeah, she talks about that space where it’s all challenged and demands, the sort of obnoxious aggression. And, and clearly, you don’t want to be in that space a lot. And so, if you don’t have any care, then that’s where you end up is in this obnoxious aggression, sort of category. But if you only have care, then she talks about ruinous empathy. And that’s not ideal either. So, the balance between the two is key, I think what’s happened during the pandemic is that we’ve, we’ve really leaned into the care side of things, both physical, physical care, as well as emotional care and psychological care. And that’s been really important. And I think now with the CEOs we work with, were hearing, you know, that the challenge of bringing back the chat, the demand is, is proving challenging. And so, there’s sort of, we’ve maybe over indexed on the care side and, and we’re hearing from some CEOs that we work with that, you know, there’s an entitlement mentality that’s crept in now. And they’ve sense of well you know, what I had it all sort of everything was working for me, you bent over backwards for me, and now that’s an expectation and so, so it’s quite an interesting I think talking about care right now is really important, because how do you do that in the new world of work, you know, as we sort of adopt hybrid practices and so on and so forth working sometimes from home, sometimes from anywhere, sometimes in the office, and what does care look like in that sort of context, when ultimately you’ve got a business that you’re running as well, and needs to perform?

Graeme Cowan 5:14 

Very much so and, you know, just thinking about all the demands on leaders and managers and organizations, and I’ll put some real anecdotal evidence that, you know, a number of leaders are really, really struggling now, they’ve been really working hard to try and build that connection and very challenging circumstances. But there was a study published in Bloomberg, which said that 60% of managers said that their mental health had been hurt through the pandemic. And so, self-care is very important, isn’t it as well would for leaders and staying in the right mood, right energy levels.

Rich Hirst 5:55 

Yeah, 100%. And we had a great conversation recently, with a lady called Jennifer Moss, who wrote the book, ‘The Burnout Epidemic’, and she just jagged the timing, as she was writing during the research, pre pandemic. But obviously, during the pandemic, things have gone through the roof, from a burnout perspective. And she talks a lot about self-care and how critical that is. But she also talks about the fact that it’s, again, not sufficient, we also need to look at the organizational factors that are contributing to burnout to mental ill health, and address those, if you’re in a position where you can address them and influence them, then you need to, because ultimately, again, it’s costing your company from a productivity and performance point of view. So even if you deep down really don’t care that much, you probably about people, you’d probably do care about your business. But I think most people aren’t cyborgs. Most people, you know, tend to be on the positive end of the scale in terms of sociopathy. So, so we do care. But even if you did, it just makes good sense to put in place practices, so you minimize the risk of burnout in the workplace and other issues related to mental health.

Graeme Cowan 7:13 

In terms of your formal studies, why did you choose to go down the psychology route?

Rich Hirst 7:18 

Yeah, so, it’s funny, I wanted to be a physio. So– And I just missed out on the mark. If I done the HSC, the previous year, I would have got in, so I was devastated at the time, I rang up, see the Uni and I said, what do I do? Go to a Bachelor of Science, get a distinction average and transfer across. So that was my plan. But I did psych in first year along with chemistry, physics, and math’s. And I just loved it and fell in love with the topic and then had the opportunity to do my honors. And so did jump at that. And put, you know, really by that stage physio was off the agenda, because I felt that the power of understanding firstly, my own thinking and behavior, but also that of others just I felt like this is a super skill or a superset of knowledge that everybody should have. And then I specialized in, in Organizational Psychology. And then I did, so did a master’s in that. And that was great, because it’s really all about humanity at its best went and, and then I went back and did further studies in positive psychology, which didn’t exist when I did my masters, which is, which is really about yeah, how do we grow from everything? The positive sign is around how do, how does everything we go through add to our lives. It’s not about being positive all the time, because that’s not always appropriate. But it is about how do we add to our lives from every experience, and there’s great science behind that. So, I’ve just developed this real passion and desire to sort of use the science to help individuals, particularly leaders in companies and their teams to create high performing and also very positive from a well-being perspective environment.

Graeme Cowan 9:13 

For the purpose of our listeners, could you just explain how you went from graduating and that sort of stuff to now being a co-founder of Tenfold? What was your path through to there?

Rich Hirst 9:25 

Yeah, thanks, Graeme. So, I– So I guess what you do with all psych you can, you can go into consulting as one of the areas or into private practice and, and do coaching potentially. So, there’s a few different pathways, I went into consulting and worked with Mercer around the world, in their performance and talent area, which is what it was called back in the day. And was amazing, you know, got to again go in and look at remuneration strategies that companies had in place, their performance and talent systems, competency frameworks, all those sorts of things, all of which critical to human behavior. And, and that was amazing. So had a great time working with them. And then we’re in house with Mercer in their organizational development area and really want to build a culture there across Australia, New Zealand and did some work across Asia as well. Then I went into Telco and that was really I guess, where my everything really clicked. And so, I had the opportunity to play a role at the old three mobility remember three?

Graeme Cowan 10:32 

Do they merge they with Vodafone?

Rich Hirst 10:34 

Exactly three is and magic number, was just such a cool brand, we had the orange brand as well, which was even more loved, I think it’s still that has the highest NPS of any Telco ever in Australia brand. And so, it was just a, and that was cool. We were building this business; it was scaling super-fast. And we went from about, I don’t know, three or 400,000 customers to about 2 million in the time that I was there. And then we merged with Vodafone, and we had suddenly had 9 million or, or so customers. And it was just it was a super exciting time. So, that was great work because again, all focused on creating this high performing, high well-being culture and, and got to work with amazing people in the company, but also from overseas. And so that was a joy to start to connect with these global thought leaders that we brought into work with us about culture and performance and, and really embedding sort of deeper personal insight and experience into the, to the leadership journey. So, we did quite a lot of deep reflective work with people like Fred Kaufman, who you might have heard of, he was at LinkedIn for a while and went on to Google, but had his own firm, excellent for a long time. Just an incredible teacher, Carolyn Taylor, who is I think the global guru in, in culture management work and, and many others, but spirits, you know, they were just too so. So again, just a real joy to sort of follow the passion, but in lots of different contexts. And then finally ended up working in this CEO forum context, joined a little company I’d never heard of, but worked with the most amazing CEOs. And over the seven years, I was with them, worked with about 1000 CEOs, again, all of whom lead the local operation of a global company. But in doing that, again, got to connect with all these global thought leaders as well as global CEOs and prime ministers and, and premiers and regulatory leaders. And so yeah, the last 10 years, I felt like a pig in mud just working with some of the smartest people on the planet with the most influence in terms of thinking and policy and business decisions. And, and, but really getting a sense of who they are. And that’s been the joy for me. I’m not a policy wonk, I’m not, you know, I I’m fascinated by politics, but I’m more fascinated by the people behind the politics. And, and, and again, that’s where the Sykes played out. And so yeah, so it’s been a really great, really interesting time. And, and so then had the opportunity to launch the current business Tenfold, Australia a couple of years ago. And, and, and it’s been a, again, a joy just to bring the psychology into that, because the Number 1 challenge I hear from almost all the CEOs I work with, are people related. And even if the housing looks like supply change issues, microchip shortages or, you know, other issues related to pricing, and how do we build in inflation? And what about brand issues that underneath all of those are people. And so, at the end of the day, everything boils down to people and is one of our old friends, Steve Vai Moss, who now runs zero, says, you know, organizations don’t change, people do. And so, this concept of the organizations are not real. It’s not real. It’s a combination of all the people that are in. And so, if you can learn how to help and support those people, then you’ll have a great organization.

Graeme Cowan 14:17 

When you set up Tenfold, you had a lot of experience in running similar things before, but you’d learn a lot on the way, what did you decide where the critical planks to offer CEOs and their teams that you thought would add the most value. 

Rich Hirst 14:34 

Yeah, again, just a wonderful opportunity to listen to what the CEOs liked and wanted over a period of time while I was working in the old international CEO forum, and then operationalize all that feedback at Tenfold. So yeah, I certainly it was it was a bit of a gift really just to have seven years to build a business model, but what we’ve heard over and over again was, you know, there is this– And it’s been, again, validated by research that we’ve been tapping into globally, that the speed of change in organizations is only getting faster. And, you know, we’re living in what some people are calling an exponential era, where change isn’t happening in a linear fashion, it’s happening exponentially. I mean, our logo, that one circle, two circles is a reflection of the start of that exponential journey where you go from one to two to four to eight, not one to two to three, and that’s your chain, things don’t change in a linear fashion anymore. And the pandemic is just the ultimate example of that in a negative sense, where things exponentially got out of hand. Fortunately, there’s a lot of positive examples of exponential change in technology is a great, great reference point there, you know, the speed of microchip processing, all those sorts of things, it’s getting faster and faster, and smaller, and smaller, and cheaper and cheaper. So, all of those things are brilliant for organizations and massive business opportunities. But in that context of exponential change, you need to learn exponentially as well. So the feedback we’ve gotten going back to your question, and the feedback that we heard for many years is, you know, how do I speed up the quality and quantity of my learning, and a lot of that has to do with not the old, you know, just not here, you know, not who, what you know, but who you know, because invariably, you’re not ever going to be able to know enough. But if you can build a really high quality network of people that are relevant and intelligent, then then they’ll know the answers to the challenges that you’re facing, or they’ll be working through similar issues, and you can crowdsource, what we’ve built is really an opportunity for people to with that are similar enough, but diverse enough so that they’re challenging and stretching each other and providing new value, where they can learn from each other. And also, we bring in them global thought leaders and national influences to stimulate the conversations as well. So yeah, the request has always been, you know, how can you help me learn faster, and, and not just me, because again, the day and age of the hero CEO, died with Jack Welsh, it’s about the team, if not the whole organization, now everyone’s a leader, but at the very least, if we can start with that most senior leadership team, and make a difference to how they’re thinking, align their thinking and behavior, through the power of great conversations with really, again, relevant and intelligent people, then then that sort of fast tracks the learning and the capability of those top teams.

Graeme Cowan 17:46 

So you mentioned a couple of things there, you know, speed of learning, collaborating together. What are some of the other foundations of really great teams, do you think?

Rich Hirst 17:55 

Yeah, it’s it’s a fantastic question. And I, one of– One of the in the workshops I run, and I love sharing this little clip from Monty Python, which, which is so old, it’s super grainy, but you might remember it, Graeme, it’s the race for people with no sense of direction. Do you remember that little suitcase, it’s the crack? So, there’s all the guys lined up on the track. And they were all guys back. Anyway, I digress. But yeah, they’re all lined up on the track, they’ve got all their gear on, and the star has gone goes up and he goes, ready, set. And then the gun goes, and everyone just raises off in totally different directions. And it’s kind of like, that’s often how leadership teams’ work. They’re all prepared, they’ve got the right gear on, they’re even on the right track. But they don’t have that clarity of direction. And so, they ran off in not necessarily entirely different directions. But that energy, even if you know, across the team of eight or 10, they’re, they’re sort of going forward, but with a radius of, I don’t know, 45 degrees or something, there’s a lot of energy to bring them back in and get them aligned. So, I reckon one of the biggest things is alignment. And, and for that you require a really good sense of two things. One is where are we starting from? And secondly, where do we want to get to. A lot of companies focus on where we want to get to, but don’t spend enough time talking about well, where are we starting from? And I had a funny experience back at school I was in cadets and that was a night navigation activity. And I was on a checkpoint, so you know, I was a sergeant at the time so they all the, all these recruits were running around the bush in the middle of the night, it was freezing cold it was fantastic. Anyway one, one guy came through and he lost his compass so I said you can have my compass, I took that direction and then lined up some trees so I knew which way to go without the compass, you know, a few hours way that when I would come to check out. And anyway, that was fine, the kid went off, he got back to base and all the rest, and it was about 1am in the morning, and I thought I better go back in, and I was freezing really cold by that stage, anyway, got my bearings and headed off and then got totally lost. And this is really embarrassing, because I’m supposed to be like an expert at this context. Here, I was calling up, say, I had a radio fortunately, say I’m lost. It’s like, two o’clock in the morning by this stage, what had happened was I’d actually got my bearing right, like the direction was right. So, I knew, you know, the, the trajectory that I was going on was correct. What I actually got wrong was where I start from. And so, as a result, I ended up in a different place to where I wanted to get. Then I say, again, these are these sorts of variables, where are you starting from? Where do you want to get to then line up the trajectory that you’re going to, you know, the pathway to get there. And those sorts of three reference points are really critical for every team. And again, too often, they just focus on where they want to get to and, and set off not having had the conversation about where we’re starting from. And so that’s a sort of key thing for the whole team to discuss together, as the CEO might have a different perspective of where they’re starting from to the rest of the business, or the rest of their team, at the very least. And if that’s the case, it’s going to cause a whole lot of issues.

Graeme Cowan 21:29 

When I do my workshops, you know, there’s no doubt that, you know, direction and sense of purpose and mission is really, really important. But I asked people to reflect on a really great team they’ve been part of, you know, could have been now could we when you worked at McDonald’s, or you went and played footy or netball, and what was it that was unique about that team, what made it different. And the two things they talk about, the two that come up, there’s about eight different options, but to come up, one and two, every time. And one of those, we have each other’s back. And we enjoyed ourselves. And I think those two things, especially in COVID, where there has been just so much change is really important as well, isn’t it?

Rich Hirst 22:14 

Most definitely. Yeah, it’s interesting in the Gallup research around having a best friend at work, it always stands out to me. But it’s something similar into what you just saying there about the joy side of things. And just being in a space where it’s there is fun there is it’s not enough, but it sure is hard to create a high performing environment without it. Another one of my favorite discussions I’ve had in the last little while with sort of these global thought leaders was with a lady called Lindsay McGregor, who, who is the Co-CEO of the of a company called Vega Factor in New York. And she wrote this great book called ‘Primed to Perform’. And what Lindsay found was that there are three P’s that contribute to performance. The first one is what you’re talking about, which is Play. And by play, it’s not necessarily you know, having a ping pong table and whatever at work, it’s actually not that at all, it’s, it’s, it’s more around this space, just to try things and experiment and but have some fun in it as well, you know, work a place where people do tap into their joy. And, and so and look, it may be ping pong is relevant in that context. But it’s more than just that. And, and so plays really important. You mentioned Purpose, the second P. And that’s obviously a key thing, a lot of companies are doubling down on that with our company is a, its name is a reflection of our purpose, we sort of believe that principle so much that you’ve got to be purpose driven. And there’s an enormous number of benefits to that. But yeah, Tenfold Australia’s impact for our Better World is purpose. And then we thought, well, if we believe it that much, that’s called the company. So that’s where Tenfold Australia came about. And then the third P is Potential. So potential again is super important. You are your people able to realize their potential, and or feel like they’re contributing to creating potential, realizing potential in society. That’s good. And so good can be defined in lots of different ways. But again, to not just think about purpose, but to think about play and potential. And what Lindsay’s research has found is that plays actually even more important than purpose, which is even more important than potential, so how do you create that environment for play? And she’s one of the only Vega Factor one of the only groups I know that are talking about play in a way that’s really performance oriented. And because it can sound a little bit well that’s not very business-see, but it’s the research is very much about business performance in play purpose and potential are critical to that.

Graeme Cowan 25:04 

If you believe like we do the leaders number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together, you may be interested in these three free resources, we’ve provided that our website, The first one is the ‘We Care’ credo poster. And this contains the mindset and values of teams that prize, self-care, crew care, and red zone care. The second resource is a poster called ‘How to support a teammate in distress?’ And this provides easy to follow instructions on how to identify someone who’s struggling, how to have the ‘Are you okay?’ conversation with empathy, and how to guide them to the help that they need. And the third resource is a building a mentally healthy culture checklist. And this provides items to think about before you launch an initiative, how you do a great launch. And then thirdly, how to keep the momentum going following the launch. These three free resources can be found that

In your role, you’ve had an opportunity to see how lots of organizations have gone through these times this very tumultuous time, what was some of the really good ideas or tactics that you saw some of your clients employ to build that sense of connection and by definition, that sense of belonging?

Rich Hirst 26:37 

Excellent, so one of the best examples, which again, is so simple, because a lot of this stuff isn’t complicated or difficult, you just need to do it. But connection, as you say, was a real, real challenge for all companies, but especially companies that were rolling, and bringing new people into the business who never had– Who weren’t having an opportunity to meet anybody. And so, one thing that Amazon Web Services did, who were one of our first founding clients, they set up hubs around Sydney, so restaurants at the time, were still open. And so, they identified about five different locations around Sydney, where their people were all were within 10Ks or so of. And then they booked out a restaurant and have everybody who lived in that area made up. And so, an event. And the best thing about that idea, which was sounds so simple, was that you, it was totally unrelated to level or function, it was just related to where you lived. And so, people were meeting, you know, the CEOs or the VPs, or this or that or whoever, the person in the mailroom, it didn’t really matter, it was just about where you live. And, and it didn’t matter what function you’re in either. And so, there was this really great opportunity or tenure as well. So, people that had been at AWS for ages, were having lunch with people that were brand new. And as you know, Amazon’s famous for its culture, and whether you’re in AWS or Audible or Amazon Alexa, the culture of Amazon pervades across all those different entities. So, trying to find a way to preserve it was really important. And that was just a very simple but great idea. Yes, it cost some money. But how much does it cost when you lose someone because they join an organization, and they don’t really connect? And so, the cost was nothing compared to the potential cost when, when out people leaving? So, it was just a great little simple tactic.

Graeme Cowan 28:41 

Yeah, I heard that KPMG did the same thing. They shared postcodes, you know, just so every person was in a certain postcode knew everyone else there. And there lots of great examples of people just, you know, walking together and never met McCarthy. It’s very clever. Just very clever to, you know, to build that and create, you know, web across the organization. Yeah. Any other, any other good ideas you heard, Rich?

Rich Hirst 29:06 

Yeah, I mean, there’s so many tactical things people were doing. I mean, there’s, and this again, goes back to the burnout research. So, the Jennifer Moss has produced, she– because a lot of people were focusing on hampers and sort of perks and things like that, which are all helpful somewhat, but can actually be detrimental if you’re not doing the deeper work. And so that’s where, again, these tactics that people are quick to share because they’re easy stories to share. If you don’t get that balanced with really understanding the organizational drivers of either wellbeing or burnout or mental ill health, then you can be doing yourself a disservice and wasting a whole lot of money. And so just very briefly that you know there are sort of six key areas that companies need to be thinking about when it comes to contribution to burnout and workload is the first one, it’s a big one. But during this time, you know, how were you managing workload? Because normally, you can see if people are in the office to all hours, but we didn’t have that opportunity over the last couple of years. And we weren’t going forward necessarily. And you know, I’ve struggled with this, it’s hard to know, who’s my team? Are they fully productive? Or are they you know, are they, am I? Are they getting burnt out? Is there too much? Or is there too little, it’s just hard to tell. So really, building systems to, and having clear expectations around performance. And, and then really strong feedback loops is a critical pathway to manage burnout, to manage workload. But a couple of other things, you know, lack of control, if people perceive that they can’t control their environment, and obviously, with COVID, there were a whole lot of environmental factors which we couldn’t control. So, at work, you almost needed to double down on that sense of control. So how do you do that with your people give them more. And that’s where the play bit I mentioned before comes in giving people a bit more autonomy, to decide how they work, when they work, where they work, these are all, these are all variables of control, which are really relevant, and help to decrease the potential of burnout. Number 3 was the lack of recognition. And so, burnout again, often occurs when people don’t feel valued. So how simple is that as a leader to address, you know, understanding, providing feedback, recognizing what they’re doing, not just what they’re achieving, but also how they’re working in a very complex and sort of ambiguous, ambiguous environment. Number 4 was poor relationships. So again, where relationships tend to break down, that’s the Gallup research about having a best friend at work, that’s where people start to feel burnt out. So how do you build relationships and make sure that that’s like the AWS example people are connecting, even if they’re not always working together, lack of fairness is Number 5. So, if people feel like someone’s getting treated differently to them, you know, that just exacerbates any underlying issues. And finally, 6 was values and skills mismatch. So, if people and again, this is harder, when you’re working remotely, if people don’t feel like, the job they’ve got is sort of aligned with the skills and values that they have, then that’ll pretty quickly contribute to burnout as well. So, all of these things, they’re just a little sort of watch out. So little cues, in helping people to it as a leader, things you can be looking to and thinking about, in in considering what’s going to make a real difference to my people. During this time, over and above the perks, the yoga, the mindfulness apps, and all those sorts of things. These are real organizational variables that you can be doing something about every day.

Graeme Cowan 29:27 

Not only this morning, he posted on LinkedIn about the huge costs to businesses around, you know, mental health issues, and I think it was a Productivity Commission, right? And they said it was $200 billion, is, it seems it’s a massive number, isn’t it?

Rich Hirst 33:16 

Yeah, for poor mental health in the nation, $200 billion over that, per annum. And that was researched the Productivity Commission did in 2020. So, you know, the cost of that might be even greater now. And, and it makes sense. I mean, I know when I’m, when I’m feeling pretty flat, I, I tend to my work rate is totally different. And it’s just and it takes many forms. And so, I think that, that, yeah, it’s just one of those variables that it is a productivity issue, it is a performance issue. And, and we need to, at the very least, for those reasons, address it, but it’s a human issue as well.

Graeme Cowan 33:59 

And it’s close to the heart of so many people, you know, it was at Atlassian and PwC, shared a report that report is called ‘Return on Action’. And so that the mental health was the number one issue that employees care about number one society issue. And so, it has really grown importance hasn’t the last two years in particular?

Rich Hirst 34:22 

Yeah, and it’s, it’s surprising, isn’t it? It’s kind of like why, why is it you know, why has it taken so long? It seems crazy. But you know, one of the we support about 65 not for profits as part of our program. We’ve got like a matching program, you know, Toms Shoes, where you buy a pair of shoes and someone in the third world gets a pair of shoes like we were inspired by that ID. And so we thought well every multinational client that we have been nominated charity that gets access and so that’s been a real joy to support charities that often don’t develop their leadership capability, but arguably would run a more effective charity if they did, so, so we’re trying to help out in that way, which is, which is really exciting for us and very purpose oriented, and, you know, really taps into our purpose. My charity that I nominated is Gotcha for Life, and Gotcha for Life, Gus, he and I went to school together and is, is a good mate of my brothers. And, and, but I love the focus there, you know, I mean, Gus, had a dear friend of his commit suicide, and just thought what the hell’s going on here? You know, we need to do, we need to address this when especially men, we need to be talking about it three times the number of men commit suicide every day to women, six men to women every day in Australia. And we have to be one of the best nations on the planet in terms of lifestyle, education, you know, all those variables, which you would think are indicators of the risk of suicide, yet, we’ve got one of the highest rates in the world, and it’s one of the highest killers for, for men between fought, I think it is the highest killer of men between 15 and 44. It’s it mean, it’s just crazy. Why is this the case? And so, and I think, again, added in an organizational capacity, we have the opportunity to address a lot of the symptoms, or the contributors, I don’t think, yeah, the workplace can be the major contributor, but often it’s, it’s something that just adds to the scenario that the person’s facing. And but the flip side of that is, it’s also the one of the best places that could be helping because there’s, it provides people with purpose, play potential, those concepts we talked about before, and that they are, they’re all things that get people out of bed, if we get leadership and management, right. And, and so I’m excited about the role of the workplace in helping to reduce that, that level of suicide. But obviously, suicide is just one variable and terrible statistic. But there’s a whole lot of things that can happen preceding that, that we need to address as well. And organizations are a great place to do that.

Graeme Cowan 37:07 

How do you practice self-care? What are the important elements of for you to keep yourself in a positive mood and positive energy, say?

Rich Hirst 37:16 

Yes, it’s funny, I, I’ve had a bit of a journey with that. And it’s part of the reason why I’m really passionate about this topic of well-being because I, until I was about 40. I, I was, you know, I, for example, I left, when I left one of my organizations to go to another job. They gave me a little sort of hamper of things. And it was like the Mr. Happy mug, the Mr. Happy book, you know, it was all the stuff about me being Mr. Happy and that’s who I was up until about 39. Yeah, a few of my closest friends said, we thought, when we first met you, we thought you were fake, because it was like, all the time so positive, we thought no one can be that happy all the time. Anyway, it turns out that what right because I had a really tough period, my, my triggered by my dad’s death. And, and for three years, I was in a state of, you know, very much just post-traumatic stress, not because of his death bit triggered by his death, and a whole lot of unresolved sorts of trauma that had happened earlier in my life came to the surface, three different events all at the same time as though they happen yesterday. And that, you know, I was a psychologist who had done all this work on sort of well-being and a lot of self-work. And it just blindsided me. And so, I went from Mr. Happy to very much Mr. Grumpy for three years, and I joke about it now, I can but it wasn’t funny at the time. It was incredibly challenging. And but it gave me a huge appreciation for the fact that it’s a slippery slope, this mental health. And we can be in an amazing place one day, and the next day, it can feel like the worlds sort of turning in on itself. And the interesting thing for me was I kind of buried myself in work, it was my escape, it was a place I could go to get away from the sort of the noise in my head that was very toxic. And, and so I was performing. But I was not functional emotionally. And again. So, there’s a nuance which we don’t talk a lot about which in psychology we do, which is high functioning people that are high functioning with mental illness. Now often we focus on the people that sort of down and out and see low effect and don’t come to work or when they are at work, they just don’t engage and they’re that sort of that’s a huge part of this population that is dealing with mental illness that we know is up to 20% of the population at any point in time. But there’s a bunch of people that you working with that you may not have any idea are struggling emotionally and psychologically because they seem to be performing actually really well. And even worse than that, sometimes we reward those people and promote them because they are performing so well because they’re using the workplace as an escape from the, from the noise or the distraction or whatever else is going on for them psychologically. So, I’m very tuned into that and working with high performers and coaching CEOs and working closely with high performers in organizational context of just where they are at and how are they going and is, you know, because it is a slippery slope, and you might think you’re bulletproof. But nobody is. But I can tell you as well, once you’ve taken a few, fair bit of shrapnel and, and I did for three years, I feel like I’m a better person for it. And I have a much greater appreciation for this topic and supporting people that are going through it as well. 

Graeme Cowan 41:00 

And it’s also all this rapid change in work and life. This puts a real change or strain, rather on relationships and marriage and that sort of thing. And you mentioned when we previously met, that you and your wife run marriage courses, and just really interested about why you went in that road? And what do you think of the really important elements for a strong marriage or a strong relationship for that matter?

Rich Hirst 41:31 

Yeah, that’s right. And again, it’s about the life partnership. That’s what, that’s what this course is really about. And I think whatever form that takes, it’s so critical, I guess, the argument for it is, is sort of just the cost of when it doesn’t work. And that cost is you can measure in a million different ways. Financially, certainly, there’s a very real cost life partnerships breaking down, but equally, just the emotional toll on the individuals. But then if there are children involved, clearly them and the friendships, you know, that the fractured as a result, there’s and the time that goes into it, and now, you know, again, the stats are close to 50-50 of these life partnerships working out long term. And you could argue, well, you know, when the idea of marriage was created, we, we only lived to 36 things. So surely, it’s an archaic sort of concept in today’s day and age with life spans being what they are, I don’t know, but I do know that for, for, you know, I think there’s something really powerful in the diversity of thought that a partnership brings about and, and if you can make that partnership work for a long time, then you can, there’s a safety that comes from that and a, and a foundation that enables you to sort of go out and, and back yourself and be a better version of yourself. So, I’m passionate about that, what makes it what makes a great partnership work. You know, obviously there’s things like communication, it’s not dissimilar to actually some of the some of the frameworks and material from the marriage course that we run I have used in a corporate setting because it’s so, so relevant, it’s whether the partnerships or work one or life one, it’s, it’s very similar stuff obviously, there’s a few exceptions. I hope there’s a few exceptions. But that’s the listening for example, you know, we talk a lot about listening and, and really being a great communicator. You know, we talk a lot about influences from the past, you know, how your, how you were raised and the roles that your parents played and how they play out in your marriage now based on the expectations you have, we talk about love languages. So that’s a really great topic. Have you come across love languages because that’s–?

Graeme Cowan 44:00

Yeah, I have. Very, very interesting to see how different people perceive different things as being loved very, very insightful.

Rich Hirst 44:08 

Exactly just realized, man hang on. I’ve been serving you service is one of the love languages so I mow the lawn, I cook the dinner, I do all these things and, and you never say thank you or you never and because words are another love language and, and so if you’re too love languages of service and words and your partner never does anything for you, or says anything, when you do something for them, then you’re not going to feel the love whereas, or your partner might want us to spend time with you. And that time is another love language, or they might just want you to occasionally write them a little note or buy them some flowers because gifts for them is their love language. So, sort of tokens of your love is what the gifts time is all about. And so again, just learning your love languages that’s kind of one eye one for any relationship and then touches the 5th love language, which can be just from, you know, just a hug to whatever else. But again, some people are all about that’s really important that touches in the, in that dynamic. And for other people, it’s not relevant. And so, if we’re speaking different languages, then it makes it hard in the relationship to realize that that’s okay, they’re just different languages. And the more we can learn to speak each other’s languages, the better the relationship will be.

Graeme Cowan 45:28 

Yeah, fantastic insight. That’s been a really wonderful chat, Rich, just a couple more questions. I’d be interested in getting your thoughts about a person just been promoted to manager for the first time. What advice would you give them?

Rich Hirst 45:48 

I would certainly, I’d love to talk to them before they got there just to ask them do, they really want it is kind of where my brain first went. But the way you phrased the question, they’ve already got it. Why I say that is because I, you know, I think I remember hearing a great CEO, he was, he used to run the Elders, and, and he said, you know, be careful what you wish for with promotions. Because you might end up in a role where you’re working a lot longer hours under more pressure in a space that you’re not actually so good at, because you’ve gone from maybe some sort of technical specialist to suddenly managing people, and you might get a promotion. But when you work out the extra hours, sorry, in pay, but when you work out the hours you’re doing in this new job with greater responsibility, you might be actually getting a pay decrease, not an increase. And so just be careful what you wish for don’t, don’t be too quick to rush it. And that, he was a very seasoned CEO. And I really hit me between the eyes when I heard him say that. But assuming that you got the gig, and you’re a manager, I loved the guy Rosso. He came back from running McDonald’s in China to look after and turn Kmart around and did an amazing job of that anyone that’s been in a Kmart, you know, recently or in the last five years compared to before that, it knows just how much he transformed that business. And, and he shared a story with us that, you know, what he did was a listening tour. So, when he first came back in all he did for the first 6, 3-6 months was listen, again, listening has come through a few times today in marriages and partnerships. And now, but it was like, just listen, you know, you manager, go out, spend time with your people spend time that you’re leading, spend time with the people that you’re serving, and ask lots of questions, and guiding make any big decisions about Kmart until he’d had that listening to her. And that wasn’t just with his team around Australia. It was also with customers and suppliers and providers. And he just wanted to understand before he made any decisions, and I thought, yeah, that’s super heat and guys and amazing CEO.

Graeme Cowan 48:13 

Yeah, just great advice, because that underpins everything, doesn’t it? And when we previously interviewed Bob Chapman, the author of Everybody Matters. And it’s his contention that people don’t really know how to care. And they need to learn how to care by learning, empathetic listening. And they actually have a 3-day course dedicated to empathetic listening. So, you know, it’s really coming through is that is a very, very important skill for a manager or anyone quite frankly, to be good at.

Rich Hirst 48:46 

It’s a huge life skill. And again, we don’t teach that at school. We don’t teach the psychology stuff, we’ve been talking about today at school, we don’t teach care at school, but I think we’re missing something. You know, I’d love to, I’d love to sort of love the work you’re doing Graeme as part of these podcasts and the broader work and work at ‘Are you okay’, it’s so critical. And I just feel like yeah, if if we could get into schools earlier, the earlier the better. And that’s, that’s a hope, I guess that we can, we can work on together maybe.

Graeme Cowan 49:24 

Yeah, sounds great. Sounds great. And final question, Rich, which I always asked and that is knowing what you know now, and all you experienced now what advice would you give your twenty one year old self order raise your word that just came through out of your psychology degree, what advice would you give yourself?

Rich Hirst 49:46 

It’s such a great question, and I often ask it to other people, but I haven’t anyone asked me this one before. I, I think, I think I had a concept I like is, and I don’t know where I heard it from, but it’s this concept of trust the process. And what does that mean? I do believe again, both spiritually, but also psychologically, that we’re, we’re sort of, were built to grow from trial and trauma. And we know that, you know, you go to the gym, you tear muscles to build them up. And then importantly, the muscles don’t build when you’re at the gym they build when you’re recovering. And so, recovery is a key part of that as well. So, we know physically how growth works. Same applies emotionally and psychologically. And, and so I think, again, when I’ve been going through these really hard times, I’d love to go back to my 21-year-old self and go Rich, you know, there’s gonna be some crappy stuff coming. It’s, it’s inevitable, because we live in a world that’s, that’s not all, you know, bells and whistles, it’s, it’s, it’s their challenges. We’re very fortunate in this nation, but there’s still stuff that happens. And that’s inevitable, but trust that you will grow from it. Trust that there will be opportunity in this field and know yourself better to become a better version of yourself and be able to serve others at a higher level as a result of this. And that the darkest moments. So, guess of my 3 years of post-traumatic stress, there was this, that’s kind of I kind of held on to that, that this will not just get better, but I’ll be better for this. And, and I think you know that sometimes that’s all you can hold on to is that, that there’s got to be some, some greater sort of purpose and contribution that this trial will bring about. And if I look backwards, I feel like every single trial I’ve been through, that’s always been the case.

Graeme Cowan 51:54 

Yeah. What a great message to finish on, Rich. It’s been wonderful having you on the show, and thanks for supporting The Caring CEO.

 Rich Hirst 52:02 

Thanks, Graeme for the opportunity.

Graeme Cowan 52:06 

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today, please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us, it helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you’re interested in seeing details about our scalable weekend mental health training programs, please visit us at Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical, and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview, please email details to Thanks for joining us.


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