What attributes of a Company Culture attracts you?

We’ve been told one of the major reasons people want to work with us – they want our culture in their culture. We work hard as individuals and as a team to live our values and help each other work within our boundaries.

We came across the following post about company culture – originally posted on the McNeill Nakamoto Blog. A great 2 minute read. Enjoy!

Research shows that people who are happy at work, are better performers, have strong relationships with colleagues, and open communication with their managers. All of this leads to high employee retention, work satisfaction and a healthy corporate culture.

In a survey from Software Advice, respondents were asked what aspects of company culture would attract them to apply to a particular company. See the results in the image below.

Blog Post - Nov.

In recent years, we’ve heard job seekers claiming that they want to work in a fun office environment. ‘Fun’ may get you in the door, but will it keep you there? Honesty and transparency is the front runner in these survey results. Fun is great for recruitment, but honesty is where you will find retention.

What can companies do to attract the best talent?

Clearly define your corporate culture and values, and keep the message consistent. An engaged workforce who is committed to the company’s bottom line, and their own personal success will project a positivity that customers embrace.

When it comes to recruiting top talent, showcase your fantastic work environment, and be sure to maintain that environment consistently. Embrace an innovative culture that supports communication within teams. Employees will work hard and be proud of their company.

A healthy, honest corporate culture is essential to an organization’s success. Attract the right employees who align their values with your corporate values, and once that right fit is established, continue to nurture the health of the culture to retain the best employees.

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From the Archives: Why Your Strategic Plan is Stale and What You Can Do About It

[read time: 4 mins]

If the last time you thought about your strategic plan you couldn’t immediately recall what was in it, couldn’t remember where the binder was, and then needed to dust the binder off once you found it…my guess is your strategic plan was stale.

One of the core challenges to effective strategic planning is building in a frequent review process to ensure that your plan stays relevant, you are tracking progress and accountabilities, and there is a clear line of sight between the ongoing operations of the business and your long-term destination as an organization.

Now the word frequent means different things at different stages of your business growth. In start-up mode the shear number of shiny objects you have to choose from means a monthly review of the plan is appropriate. In our discussion we’re going to focus on established companies and organizations that are well past the start-up phase, and as a result, quarterly follow-ups to the strategic plan are appropriate.

About every three to four months changes in people, the economy, competitors, your market, the industry, customers, or technology will put pressure against your strategy to the point that your strategic plan no longer feels relevant and timely. At this point, most organizations will shelve the plan due to lack of relevance to the current situation and, inevitably, all of the hard work, energy, and enthusiasm that went into creating the annual plan falls short with 75% of the year still left to unfold.

Bringing your team together to go through your strategic plan for a few hours on a quarterly basis is the surest way I know to revitalize your plan and maintain its relevance all year. Here is a four-step process to facilitating your own quarterly strategic planning follow-up session:

Step 1 – Evaluation. Start your session by evaluating your plan using the following questions: What’s working well? What needs improvement? What’s missing from the plan? How have we been celebrating our success along the way? The answers to these four questions will provide an overarching view of the validity of your plan, where it needs to be changed, and what things need to be added that you didn’t know about when you first built the plan.

Step 2 – Review. For each of the three to seven core objectives you are focused on this year, ask the person responsible to walk the group through their action steps and to update the team on progress, delays, missed targets, unrealistic timelines, and finally, new actions. The rest of the team will provide insight, support, and feedback to help ensure that everyone understands the current status and how they can support their peer moving forward.

Step 3 – Revise. If an objective needs to be removed or reprioritized or a new objective needs to be formed based on new data, this is the time to engage the team in discussion, frame the objective, choose an owner, and build an action plan with accountabilities and timelines. If you’re not sure whether or not your objectives are properly framed, here’s a quick test: if there’s no way to measure your objective so we can throw a party to celebrate completing it, it’s not an objective. The most common framework used to test an objective is SMART: is the objective Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely?

Step 4 – Next Review. With the team together, now is the best time to select a date for the next quarterly review. It might seem strange to make this a step, yet in my experience without getting a date in the calendar now, the quarterly sessions can end up being semi-annual instead.

Whenever I’m asked what the number one thing a CEO can do with their team to improve the quality of their annual strategic planning process my answer is always the same: review it more frequently and at a mininum, once a quarter.

PDF of original column in BIV Oct 2010 BIV

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Carefully Curated Tips for the Great Project Manager

WP-project-manager-featuredBack in 2011, I was appointed to a new role as Program Manager for a portfolio of training programs. To say this was a steep learning would be an understatement.

I had just spent five years on the road, globetrotting and delivering Enterprise sales training. I was a facilitator through and through, not a project manager.

The sheer volume of information, requests, emails and new processes was overwhelming.  To add to this, I started when the company was launching two of the most strategic products in its history – PlayBook and the BlackBerry 7 series.

Honestly, I failed. My projects were off track and in the red. The scope and final deliverables for some of my projects were not clear and development had already started. The risk of wasted resources during this extremely delicate time for the company was a thought that made me nauseous.

I did eventually find my way and enjoyed many successes as a Program Manager after this initial learning curve. In fact, once I learned the processes and built some strong supportive relationships, I really loved my new role.

Recently I have found myself providing guidance to an up and coming Project Manager at ViRTUS. Through this coaching we have curated some tips that will help all project managers stand out and go from good to greatness, whether they are newbies or seasoned.

Tip#1: If Everything’s “Fine”, Keep Digging

I agree wholeheartedly with all of Jill Duffy’s advice written in her PC Magazine article.

The one tip that really stands out for me is that if someone says everything’s fine you should keep digging. Duffy writes, “Check-in’s are invaluable. Very often, I find a check-in meeting results in an answer of “everything’s fine.” That’s when I find digging deeper and asking follow-up questions like, “that’s great to hear, but, really, there are no issues at all?” can make you stand out, and allows you to get more valuable feedback. That follow-up question often leads to responses like, “well, yes, X has been moving along nicely, but there was this little Y that rubbed me the wrong way.” There are many people who simply don’t like to complain, so it’s up to the project manager to dig deeper.”

I lived this exact scenario. I would get a green light from everyone during my weekly status meetings, only to realize that by the following Monday one of my critical teams put my project on the backburner due to another higher priority request, languishing my project into the dreaded red zone. After this experience, I also dug deeper and asked lots of questions to understand other team’s work-load beyond what I was asking them to do.

Tip #2: Build Strong Relationships

I heard how important it was to build strong relationships ad nauseam and was always left thinking – this is kind of obvious. No matter what role you’re in, its important to have strong relationship with the people you work with so why is it so important for project managers to have strong relationships?

Here’s what I learned broken down into a little formula:

Who: A project manager needs to have great relationships with their project team, stakeholders, vendors and peers.

Why: Project Managers are the hub of information which will be coming fast and furious and from many directions (ie: from all of the people listed above). Being privy to mission critical information could save your project. When things go sideways (this is inevitable), renegotiating timelines and asking for favours will go over much better with people who like and trust you.

How: There are many great tips on how to build strong relationships in this blog post. Key takeaway: don’t start when you need something. Building relationships is just that – they need to built from the ground up and continuously nurtured. Take an interest in what other people do, be sincere, get personal but stay professional and always, always be curious and ask questions – no matter how busy you are. Be authentic and empathetic, which means putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Tip #3: Be a Performance-Based Project Leader

Brienne Armstrong, Client Ambassador, ViRTUS contributes by saying, “On any given project – the number of people involved can vary. The leadership style of a project manager can influence flow and outcome of the project tremendously. The common characteristic I’ve noticed among top tier PM’s is their ability to adapt, whether it’s to external conditions, internal re-orgs or a change with project team engagement.

By taking the time to know and lead each unique individual on my team, I’m able to get superior end results through enhanced performance, even when the tough gets going.

Knowing how to focus on each person’s strengths as well as having an awareness of their liabilities, is essential when working towards a desired outcome.

Tip #4: The Triple Constraint (cost, schedule, scope/quality) is a conversation, not a straight jacket

We love the “the triple constraint” tip from Dorian Prior, Manager, Employee Development, Fortis BC.  He learned that cost, schedule and scope / quality in project management is a conversation, not a straight jacket.

Prior says, “When you are new to project management there is so much focus on managing scope, and delivering the project on time and on budget.”

He adds, “While those things are important, it’s even more important to remember the purpose of a project manager is to add business value – sometimes that means keeping the project on a tight schedule, on a tight budget, and to a very specific scope, and sometimes it means recognizing that holding on too tightly to the triple constraints can result in delivering a product that has very little business value.”


AmandaPAmanda Prelazzi is an Instructional Designer at ViRTUS

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From the Archives: How Do I Turn My Managers Into Leaders?

The key to helping turn managers into leaders is to ensure the process you use is simple and easy to implement; you can always layer on complexity later. Here’s a five-step approach for starting down the path of developing your managers into leaders:

Mentors – ask your managers which mentors or leaders in their life have inspired them to grow beyond what they thought was possible. What were the characteristics these mentors or leaders displayed?

Legacy – considering the characteristics of the inspiring leaders in their lives, ask the managers what legacy they would like to leave behind a leader.

360 – using your company’s survey tool, complete a 360 degree review of the managers. If you don’t have a tool in place you can use Survey Monkey to ask these three simple questions: what does the manager do too much of? Not enough off? What do they do just the right amount of?

Gaps – taking the legacy description and the results of the 360, work with the managers to uncover their blind spots and gaps in their leadership abilities. These become the target areas for improvement.

Development – this is the most critical step. Provide the managers development opportunities in the form of special projects, leadership development programs, books and courses tied to their development needs, and coaching and mentoring, in support of the gaps and blind spots they need to develop.

Starting with the end in mind and then working out a personalized plan for each manager which deals directly with the areas they most need to improve on ensures that they are receiving the right tools at the right time to help them grow from managers to leaders.

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Creating game-changing organizational cultures using POS

Culture_POSI was recently chatting with a colleague about one of my favorite topics, Organizational Culture; what it is? How does it form? What elements make some stand out against others? How does it bring out the best in people? Or how might it limit people’s potential? To me, the culture is the soul of the organization; it encompasses how we do the things that we do, the things we say, the pictures on the walls, the ceremonies and rituals we engage in, the processes we follow, the processes we don’t follow, the gratitude and appreciation we give and receive, the feeling we get when we walk into the space, the stories we tell…I could go on and on.

If done right, it allows us to be who we are within the walls of workplace and draws on the strengths of the people to take both them and the organization to new levels of excellence together. Win.

If done wrong, things can turn pretty scary, pretty quickly (read: hating your job, never feeling like yourself at work, distrust, burnout, gossip, conflict etc.).

Human behavior fascinates me to no end and while traditional psychology has focused mostly on what is wrong with individuals, which carries with it the inherent assumption that individuals are lacking in some way, Positive Psychology focuses on strengths and building the best life possible, it looks at what’s needed to take individuals from good to amazing in all areas of their life, to find and nurture genius and talent.

SO, the question that has been on my mind for quite a while is: How do we create and foster the principles of Positive Psychology in the workplace and is there a term to describe it? Ask and she shall receive: The answer lies in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). POS is all about studying excellence and ways in which organizations and the people in them prosper in extraordinary ways. There is actually a Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship in Michigan, and they outline (in this video) four powerful questions that POS asks to shift our thinking:

Question 1: What result do I want to create?  This question puts us in a fundamentally different state of “I’m going to create something that doesn’t exist”, which means I have to go to the edge of my abilities and knowledge to create what I want to.

Question 2: Am I internally directed? What are my values? What would I do if I had 2% more courage in this situation? I might do all kinds of things…

Question 3: Am I other focused? Do I know what others really feel? What their needs and interests are?

Question 4:  Am I externally open? This is the heart of how to get there – If I’m externally open I can now learn what I need to do to get to where we need to go.

There’s obviously so much more to POS but this is a start.

Currently, there are organizations out there that get it and I call them Game-Changers and most of them are on this GameChangers500 list. These organizations focus on what the possibilities are, they focus on strengths, they replace control with trust, and they practice gratitude and develop authentic global leaders. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t negate what’s not working, it’s extremely important to, but it’s easy to get caught in a damage control state where all we focus on is what’s not working instead of what the possibilities are and how we can unlock our people’s potential to help us get there.

The coolest thing is that POS, at its core, asks the same fundamental questions that shake individuals into understanding what makes them come alive, as it does of organizations:

For organizations: Who are we? What are our strengths? What’s our purpose/why do we exist? What do we want to create? What legacy do we want to leave?

For individuals: Who am I? What are my strengths?  What’s my purpose/why do I exist? What do I want to create? What legacy do I want to leave?

Because individuals are the basic unit of organizational change, shifting the way we think (and do) individually to become better leaders of our own lives can have a massive ripple effect where the outcome is an organization that embraces authenticity and greatness. Just imagine the possibilities of that kind of entity…

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of POS and that we will be seeing much much more of its principles and application in organizations popping up, as the views of leadership, work and purpose continue to shift and fuse….and I’m delighted and grateful to be apart of an organization that just…gets it.


krystal-blog picAs Solutions Engineer for ViRTUS, Krystal operates in a business development capacity with a focus on client solutions and strategic growth. Her sweet spot is being a connector of people, ideas and strategies.


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Living the Mindful Life

We’d like to highlight ViRTUS Mentor Ray Williams and the incredible work he is doing around mindfulness and meditation and how it can help you in business and in life.

“If you focus on the present moment, always ask yourself the question, ‘What can I do about that now? What is the next step today?’ If you do that, you’ll remain in the present.”

Enjoy this beautiful video Ray created with the help of on how to live the mindful life.



raywRay Williams is a Mentor at ViRTUS specializing in leadership development, mentoring and C-Suite coaching.  Ray is committed to helping clients make transformational changes in life and work and is known as one of Canada’s top CEO Coaches.

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Why Don’t My Positive Affirmations Work?

“I am successful,” “I am a wonderful person,” “I will find love again,” and many other similar phrases that students, the broken-hearted and unfulfilled may repeat to themselves over and over again, hoping to change their lives. Self-help books through the ages, from Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking all the way to the latest, The Secret, have encouraged people with low self-esteem to make positive self-statements or affirmations. Research suggests it may do more harm than good to many people.

Canadian researcher, Dr. Joanne Wood at the University of Waterloo and her colleagues at the University of New Brunswick who have recently published their research in the Journal of Psychological Science, concluded “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

The researchers asked people with low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.” They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves. The low-esteem group felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not. However, people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive affirmation–but only slightly. The psychologists then asked the participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves. They found, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.

The researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, the researchers argue, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable, for example, find that saying that are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it.

These findings were supported by previous research published in 1994 in the Journal of Social Psychology, showing that when people get feedback that they believe is overly positive, they actually feel worse, not better.

Dr. Wood goes even further. In her Psychology Today blog, she says that most self-help books advocating positive affirmations may be based on good intentions or personal experience, but they are rarely based on even one iota of scientific evidence. She cites psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness as an exception.

Does that mean positive affirmations are of absolutely no value? Not according to Dr. Wood and her co-researchers. They say that positive affirmations can help when they are part of a broader program of intervention. That intervention can take place in a number of forms such as cognitive psychotherapy or working with a coach who has expertise in the behavioral sciences. What kind of intervention is best to use to make positive affirmations most effective?

That’s where we encounter even more controversy.

Traditional cognitive psychotherapy may not be the best intervention according to Dr. Steven Hayes, a renowned psychotherapist, and author of Getting Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Hayes has been setting the world of psychotherapy on its ear by advocating a totally different approach.

In an article in Time magazine, John Cloud describes Hayes’ work. Hayes and researchers Marsha Linehan and Robert Kohlenberg at the University of Washington, and Zindel Segal at the University of Toronto, what we could call “Third Wave Psychologists” are focusing less on how to manipulate the content of our thoughts (a focus on cognitive psychotherapy) and more on how to change their context–to modify the way we see thoughts and feelings so they can’t control our behavior. Whereas cognitive therapists speak of “cognitive errors” and “distorted interpretation,” Hayes and his colleagues encourage mindfulness, the meditation-inspired practice of observing thoughts without getting entangled by them–imagine the thoughts being a leaf or canoe floating down the stream.

These Third Wave Psychologists would argue that trying to correct negative thoughts can paradoxically actually intensify them. As NLP trained coaches would say, telling someone to “not think about a blue tree,” actually focuses their mind on a blue tree. The Third Wave Psychologists methodology is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which says that we should acknowledge that negative thoughts recur throughout our life and instead of challenging or fighting with them, we should concentrate on identifying and committing to our values in life. Hayes would argue that once we are willing to feel our negative emotions, we’d find it easier to commit ourselves to what we want in life.

This approach may come as a surprise to many, because the traditional cognitive model permeates our culture and the media as reflected in the Dr. Phil show. The essence of the conflict between traditional cognitive psychologists and psychotherapists is to engage in a process of analyzing your way out your problems, or the Third Wave approach which says, accept that you have negative beliefs, thinking and problems and focus on what you want. Third Wave Psychologists and coaches acknowledge that we have pain, but rather than trying to push it away, they say trying to push it away or deny it just gives it more energy and strength.

Third Wave Psychologists and coaches focus on acceptance and commitment which comes with a variety of strategies to help people including such things as writing your epitaph (what’s going to be your legacy), clarifying your values and committing your behavior to them.

It’s interesting that that The Third Wave Psychologists approach comes along at a time when more and more people are looking for answer outside of the traditional medical model (which psychiatry and traditional psychotherapy represent). Just look at a 2002 study in Prevention and Treatment, which found that 80% people tested who took the six most popular antidepressants of the 1990′s got the same results when they took a sugar pill placebo.

The Third Wave Psychologists approaches are very consistent with much of the training and approach that many life coaches receive, inclusive of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and many spiritual approaches to behavioral changes reflected in ancient Buddhist teachings and the more modern version exemplified by Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now). The focus of those approaches reinforces the concepts of acceptance of negative emotions and thoughts, and rather than giving them energy and fighting with them, focus on mindfulness, and a commitment to an alignment of values and behavior.

So what can we learn from all this? Two things–first, just engaging in positive affirmations by themselves, can do harm to people with low self-esteem, and provide only little benefit for those with high-esteem, if those affirmations are not part of a comprehensive program of self-growth, preferably with a knowledgeable professional; and second, the traditional cognitive psychotherapeutic approach of trying to change people’s negative thinking through logical processes may actually be counterproductive, compared to an approach that has people accept their thoughts, not resist them and give more energy to them by thinking about them, but rather engage in positive behaviours.


raywRay Williams is a Mentor at ViRTUS specializing in leadership development, mentoring and C-Suite coaching.  Ray is committed to helping clients make transformational changes in life and work and is known as one of Canada’s top CEO Coaches.




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Flexible Work Options. Are You Brave Enough?

Eight years ago, before I came to work at ViRTUS, I fell into an exciting job. The head office is in Waterloo, Ontario and I live in Vancouver. They needed a facilitator on the West Coast and so I had the much coveted clause in my contract, “work from home”.

Working from home has changed the way I look at work. Earlier in my career, I experienced what I call the “optics trap”. Feeling like I needed to be the first one in and the last one out for my manager to perceive me as a hard worker. Ugh!

Working from home makes me feel trusted by my leaders to get the job done wherever and whenever I like. This is incredible freedom and a huge motivator for me. I completely agree with Richard Branson’s point of view. “The key for me is that in today’s world I do not think it is effective or productive to force your employees one way or another. Choice empowers people and makes for a more content workforce.” Source:

April BlogIn spite of the mounting evidence to support flexible work options, we still aren’t seeing a rapid decline of bricks and mortar. Yahoo and Best Buy’s decision to revoke their flexible work options last year begged the question, does this really work”? And so the debate drones on. Sigh.

“Establishing the correct culture is not easy – that is why those organisations that get it right stand out. And as a leader, you need to really empower and trust your team. You need to build an honest environment where communication is paramount, feedback is continuous and two-way.  And where you are brave enough to offer flexibility and choice, it means you do not have to see your team to know if they are doing a great job.” Carla Stent, “Rise and Fall of the Flexible Workplace Series”

In my experience, I had a lot of support and encouragement from my leaders to maintain my productive work from home status. My leaders always found a way to foster team work and camaraderie in spite of the fact that we were a five-hour plane ride away from each other. I was always patched in through video chat for weekly team meetings and was really touched by the creative virtual baby shower my manager and colleagues planned for me before I went away on maternity leave. It became clear to me that almost everything could be done in some way virtually; it just required support and a little out-of-the-box thinking.

In some ways I worked harder than my colleagues to stay connected and be part of the team. I worked to Eastern hours, picked up the phone and used video chat as much as possible. I was diligent about blocking off time for one-on-one meetings with leaders or decision makers almost daily and for sure weekly.

Five months ago, I found myself embarking on a new career transition. Finding something that allowed me to work from home was at the top of my criteria list – even above salary. Enter ViRTUS. This company used to have an office in the heart of Vancouver’s hipster area Yaletown. After a few short years they gave up the space and went virtual.

Mike Desjardins, Driver & CEO at ViRTUS admits the hardest part of transitioning from an office to going virtual was, “Feeling like another shoe was going to drop and there was something critical we had missed. The reality was things got easier and faster. The hardest part was something completely unexpected. The team lost some of their personal wellness because we didn’t set up boundaries around work/life and ended up working a lot more.”

Mike continues by saying that, “The biggest rewards have been implementing fantastic social technology such as Yammer, our Wiki, our virtual world in AvayaLive (see Laura Mack’s post below from January for more on this!) and Basecamp. We also spend more time together “in-person” as we use Skype video or WebEx to communicate during the day. The virtual world we have set up in AvayaLive helps us “level the playing field” between Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, simulating an experience that feels like we’re all in the same place.

Mike agrees that properly executing flexible work options comes down to leadership. He advises leaders to, “Set your team free to work wherever they feel most productive. All they need is a laptop, a smartphone and a quiet place to work.”

Hopefully this has helped ease some anxieties over the thought of letting your staff go, or maybe this has confirmed beliefs you already have on the subject. Either way, I know this is where we are headed in the future. Now, the question I have for you is, “Are you brave enough to offer your employees a choice on where they work?”


 AmandaPAmanda Prelazzi is an Instructional Designer at ViRTUS

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Self-Managing – How not to Snap!

BlogMarchThink back to a time when you reacted to a situation in a way that you thought afterwards “I wish I wouldn’t have behaved like that”.

It could have been when you were at a job interview and you panicked and got confused so the potential employers didn’t get to see you at your best.  Or when you made a mistake with your sister and she got upset and yelled at you.  Or when your friend gossiped about you and when you heard about it you snapped, and yelled at him.  Or when you took your learners test for driving (for the first time), and fear and anxiousness lead you to failing it.

How do you not snap?

How do you stop yourself?  What can you do?  You can see it happening in the moment and yet it’s like a movie – you can’t seem to do anything about it and once it’s over you feel ashamed. There’s good news and bad news (well just sort of bad news).

The good news is there is a way forward – there is hope.  The bad news is that it takes time and practice and a willingness to get a bit vulnerable. Learning to self-manage is the key.


What is it?  Essentially it’s the ability to change an unhelpful habit by overriding your impulse in the moment.  It means that you are able to manage what is occurring for you internally and to have more choice about how you behave.

How do you do it?  Check out this infographic on the ABC’s of Self-Managing.  It outlines how to do it, and is one skill that everyone on the planet could benefit from practicing.


What are the benefits?  The biggest benefit is that you get to be your authentic self (who you are at your best) and behave in a way you choose, rather than a way you have learned.  You get to be intentional and choiceful about your response rather than reacting using an old, often unhelpful, automatic pattern.

Let’s take PinkShirtDay, which was on Feb 26th. The focus is on reducing bullying.  There are 2 roles in a bullying situation and there are self-managing strategies for both:  Stand up (for the person being bullied) and Stand down (for the person doing the bullying).

Stand up – Some people have personality types where their automatic or default pattern is to lash out and “fight” (one of 3 patterns that occur when your emotions get hijacked by your amygdala and your body goes into to fight, flight or freeze).  The person being bullied may have a pattern of “flight or freeze” and can learn to self-manage and practice watching their tone and body language, standing confidently and setting a boundary with the bully.

Stand down – the person doing the bullying can practice overriding the impulse to be aggressive and be empathetic to the other person.  They can then choose a more effective behaviour in the moment.  Even if they want to change their behaviour, they may not know how.

Here’s a great video about calming the amygdala to reduce anxiety and self-manage.

2 factors that must be present:

The stakes have to be high enough that the person wants to change their behaviour, and

They have to be willing to get vulnerable and try out new practices and behaviours.

Self-managing can be helpful in a wide range of situations where we want to learn to behave more effectively in the moment.

Self-managing is also helpful in the following:

  • When you want to be supportive of a child or teen and want them to make their own decisions, and in this case you may not agree with their decision,
  • Staying focused by overriding the impulse to constantly check your smartphone,
  • When you want to give a colleague constructive feedback about their unhelpful behaviours at the office,
  • When you want to stop shutting down your significant other’s ideas and to support them to feel heard, and

To stop back-seat driving when the fear is really your issue. (Find more about how to self-manage in my book Awaken Your Authentic Leadership in Chapter Six:  Action).

Imagine the inner peace that builds when you can choose your responses and override unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, that have got in your way till this point in your life.

All you have to do is start!


Tana_HeminsleyTana Heminsley is a Mentor and Executive Coach at ViRTUS, specializing in emotional intelligence, authentic leadership, strategic planning, change management, leadership development, and executive coaching.

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Life as an Avatar- Why Virtual Leadership Development Works

av·a·tar ˈavəˌtär/noun- Computing – an icon or figure representing a particular person in computer games, Internet forums, etc.

Had you told me five years ago that I would be facilitating leadership development programs as a virtual ‘avatar’ in a 3-D gaming environment, I would have been amused and likely a bit confused. But, here I am, doing exactly that.

For the past 3 years, ViRTUS has been working with a major international company to “onboard” newly hired managers and deliver leadership development learning opportunities. Our experience has been that interactive virtual learning really works – the courses we run have been getting highly positive feedback from participants.

That being said, not everyone – clients and facilitators included – is totally onboard with virtual learning, with many still preferring live face-to-face meetings to virtual delivery. Each approach has its pros and cons.

But, the reality is that we are living and working in an increasingly virtual world so tapping into today’s virtual tools and technologies and leveraging them for your organization makes sense for a number of reasons:

Financial Savings. Virtual offerings wipe out costs of travel, meeting venue, packing & shipping materials and displays.

Increased Productivity. The time that meeting participants aren’t traveling can be spent on productive activities.

Reduced Stress.  Talk to any busy business traveler and they will tell you that the glamour of biz travel wears thin after a while. Over-crowded planes, long line-ups for security, delayed flights, lost luggage and awful airline food.  Air travel has become a major source of stress. Driving in big cities is little better.   Avoiding these hassles reduces stress and frustration.

Corporate Social Responsibility. Cutting air travel and car journeys doesn’t just reduce cost and stress, it also helps reduce harmful carbon emissions thereby reducing the negative impact of climate change.

My personal experience, and a lot of research, tells me that virtual learning can be highly effective and have a huge impact. However, there are some things to think about before you make the leap from face-to-face to virtual to make the experience as effective as possible. It is after all – literally – a different world.

Here are my Top 3 best practices when moving into virtual learning:

Research & choose your technology wisely. Creatively designed and engaging virtual environments make a huge difference to the participant experience.  For over 3 years I’ve worked as an avatar in an Avayalive Engage environment and the experience of working with a team to transition onboarding training from a fairly static LiveMeeting environment to Avaya’s highly interactive, engaging and fun 3-D virtual environment has been incredible. Presenters and participants each access the 3-D environment from their own computers—either from home or the office.

In the environment they transform themselves into an ‘avatar’—an online persona they create to represent themselves (or a chosen alter-ego). They choose their own appearance—height and weight, hair colour and style, casual or business attire. Presenter and participants can freely ‘walk’ through the virtual environment, speak and be heard, text, and use other modes of communication.

Whichever virtual tool you choose – and there is wide choice—remember, the more interactive the environment is, the more engaged the participants will be.  Don’t be shy about mixing up different modes of communication – slide and video presentations, chat, texting between participants as well as with presenter, polling and white-boarding.

And don’t fear the fun factor. In my experience bringing fun activities into virtual learning opportunities or meetings increases participant engagement and learning. Though sometimes the fun can be a little bit too engaging. In Avayalive, for example, getting the more adventurous avatars to stop trying to climb up the building walls in the environment is sometimes a challenge!


Design for the environment. Relying on the classic face-to-face presentation format in a virtual environment is really a waste of resources. The reality is, virtual participants can far more readily multi-task than they can in a face-to-face meeting – plus it’s a great way to keep them fully engaged.

Another tip for enhancing engagement is to reduce long slabs of delivered content, by increasing opportunities for discussion and other forms of interaction. In the Avayalive Engage environment, participants can move from place to place and from one mode of communication to another.

When bringing Power Point presentations into the environment, I have found that less text and more graphics increase participant engagement.  Great graphics, large font, less text—more engagement—is the way to go.

Don’t assume knowledge but don’t underestimate the smarts of participants either. Presenters learn from participants as well as vice versa. Above all, be endlessly curious about how to generate more engagement – your participants will thank you.

Prepare participants for working in a non-traditional learning environment. Provide a thorough introduction to the new tools they will be using, preferably a day or a few days before the learning session. This will allow first-time participants to focus on the learning session, rather than dealing with basic technical and procedural glitches. Trouble-shooting can consume a lot of in-session time if participants haven’t been prepared.

Moving into this new way of meeting and learning may feel difficult at first, but once you make the move, stick with it! Don’t give up after one or two meetings where participants experience audio or other technical issues. Deal with the issues, help people be as prepared as possible and keep trying.

Many of the participants of the programs I facilitate are already working virtually; many more will be over the next few years. And for more than three years I have been part of this growing trend.

My work environment is the compact fore-cabin of the liveaboard Gulfstar trawler yacht where my husband and I live in Spruce Harbour Marina in the park-lined south side of Vancouvers’ False creek.

Going to work involves carrying a cup of coffee from the galley into the fore-cabin and cautioning the dog not to bark. When the workday is done I don’t have to catch a bus, or sit in traffic in the car, or line up to go through security at the airport. I just close my laptop, call the impatient dog and head out in for a walk along the seawall.

We often meet in "ViRTUS Live" for our team meetings, strategic planning sessions, CSP's etc. Click here to check out our environment. Just type in your name, no password required: Have fun!

We often meet in “ViRTUS Live” for our team meetings, strategic planning sessions, CSP’s etc. Click on the picture to check out our environment. Just type in your name, no password required. Have fun!


lauramackLaura Mack is a Conductor with ViRTUS, specializing in emotional intelligence, authentic leadership, strategic planning, leadership development and volunteers with the North Shore Restorative Justice Society as a facilitator of restorative justice.


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