Author Archive

Fun = engagement. Are you having fun at work?

Almost always after a long day or busy week at Marana Consulting Group (Marana), there will be a text message or a question at the end of a conversation with Sarah, “are you having fun?” 

Even after two years now and the regular “are you having fun?” check in, I still stop, pause, and reflect – am I having fun – what does it mean to have fun at work?

Fun at work can have different meanings for different people. It can range from having a relaxed and positive work environment to engaging in activities that promote creativity and social interaction among team members. For some, it may mean having a sense of purpose and fulfilment in their work, while for others it may mean being able to have a good laugh and not take themselves too seriously. According to the Six Seconds Team Vitality Report 2022, measuring employee engagement is important because it can provide insight into an employee’s level of fun and job satisfaction. When it comes to creating fun in the workplace “Companies often conflate and confuse the material markers with human experience. Toys and perks are things; joy is an emotion.” The report goes on to make the following important points:

  • Teams that experience joy are more than 10 x as likely to be high achieving and satisfied with their work. This correlation between enjoying work and performance was revealed under the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is even more important for teams to prioritise joy. Since 2019, this correlation between JOY and RESULTS / SATISFACTION has become stronger every year.
  • Joy is one of the pulse points for effective teamwork because joy is an emotional signal of high energy and opportunity.
  • It means People Leaders are required to gain new awareness and skill in focusing on people’s moods. It’s another reason leading companies equip managers with emotional intelligence skills. Top performing leaders know to ensure every team includes people passionate about the work at hand, and not just those with technical expertise.
  • The newest neuroscientific research reveals that anxiety, frustration and boredom drive our brains to produce chemicals that reduce key capabilities to reflect and create meaning. This reduces our thinking potential.

Regardless of the specific definition, having fun at work can contribute to increased motivation, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. It can help to reduce stress and create a positive workplace culture where individuals feel valued and supported.

Employers can play a significant role in promoting fun at work by providing opportunities for social interaction, recognising and celebrating achievements, and encouraging creativity and innovation. However, it is also important for individuals to take ownership of their own happiness and find ways to incorporate fun and joy into their daily work routine. Right image: Marana Fun Day – Holy Moly Golf February 2023

To create fun at work, there are several things that individuals and teams can do. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Celebrate milestones and achievements. Recognise and celebrate team successes and individual achievements. This can be done through small gestures like a shout-out in a team meeting or a group lunch or face-to-face collaborative event.
  • Incorporate play into the workday. Incorporate games or other fun activities into the workday to break up the monotony and boost creativity. This can include things like team-building exercises or brainstorming sessions. Support knowledge transfer in the form of a fun quiz.
  • Collaborate with colleagues. Collaborate with colleagues on projects and initiatives that interest you. This can create a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that can be fun and rewarding.
  • Encourage social interaction. This can be in the form of a team event, birthday celebration, cultural celebration or a morning tea in the office in honour of a charity.

Overall, creating fun at work can help to foster a positive work environment that is conducive to individual and team success. So, take a moment to reflect on how you can bring more joy and positivity into your workday, and don’t be afraid to try something new or different to make work more enjoyable for yourself and those around you.


Driving a Customer Experience Culture

“The workshops were tailored to our business, hit the nail on the head in terms of the brief and delivered some great outcomes that helped shape some huge improvements in our service delivery, commitment to our customers and some positive change in how my leaders lead their teams.” 

Testimonial from our Local Government – Leisure and Aquatics client regarding the recent training program designed and delivered by Marana.

Our Client

Our client provides Leisure and Aquatics facilities across multiple locations in their local government area.  Visitors of all ages are welcomed and programs and services are offered including learn to swim, aquatic facilities, fitness classes, gym services and a golf course.

The Challenge

The Executive Team have a comprehensive direction and strategic plan for the Leisure and Aquatics facilities and required practical skills to support People Leaders and staff to lead and drive change. Part of the strategic direction is to have a Customer Experience Culture at the core of everything Leisure and Aquatics do.

It was identified that some staff may require assistance with adjusting to and embracing culture change including new ways of working. People Leaders needed the skills and knowledge to lead and drive change and staff would require the skills and understanding to implement this into both internal and external customer interactions.

Some of the key challenges were:

  • Mystery Shopper survey results revealed that customers wanted staff to be able to assist with their enquiries at the first instance.  Staff were accustomed to helping only with enquiries for their section, and weren’t working as a whole team across the Aquatics and Leisure Team.
  • Staff understanding the importance of taking ownership for consistent service delivery and how their interactions reflect the Council as a whole.  It is important to promote that Leisure and Aquatics are not separate to Council, they are Council.
  • People Leaders required the practical skills and knowledge to create, develop and maintain a Customer Experience Culture. This includes being able to facilitate difficult conversations with staff when actions or behaviour were not in line with agreed expectations.
  • Staff required understanding of how Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) fit in with the bigger picture and People Leaders required skills to measure the quality of customer experience / service and how to effectively use measures to support a positive customer experience culture.
  • The Customer Experience Charter was identified as outdated and required revising to underpin the Customer Experience Culture change.

The Solution

For People Leaders this consisted of a two-day Leading a Customer Experience Culture program that was designed to support participants to lead, champion, develop and maintain a customer experience culture.

During the program People Leaders developed skills in identifying customer expectations and linking these to the Customer Service Charter, working with and measuring KPIs, understanding change management, skills to praise and recognise staff as well as how to provide redirection when standards are not being met.  It also included the importance of being detailed and specific when providing feedback related to service delivery.

For staff, this consisted of 3 x half-day Living a Customer Experience Culture workshops in a series that were delivered two weeks apart to allow for the application of skills and reflection in the workplace. 

The staff sessions were designed to equip staff to deliver consistently high levels of customer service and to effectively manage difficult customer situations. Participants were provided with the time and space within the workshops to practice applying methods to practical experiences they would likely encounter in their role. They were also provided with an understanding of change and strategies to deal with and drive change.

The Result

All participant outputs were captured and provided to our client to inform the new Customer Experience Charter. Staff felt valued that their input would be included in the development of a new charter. The engagement of participants in the workshop within the Leisure and Aquatics Team fostered a “One Team” approach and provided a valuable collaborative learning opportunity.

Our client has provided the following testimonial regarding the assignment:

Sarah, Mary and the team from Marana are incredible at what they do. I have never worked with consultants when it comes to training and development, that have put so much time and effort into understanding our business to tailor training and workshops to get the best possible outcomes. Sarah delivered some engaging, interactive and specialised workshops for my leadership team and frontline staff in the areas of customer experience and change management, and the team members that participated are still talking about and referring to what they learnt in the session’s months down the track. 

The workshops were tailored to our business, hit the nail on the head in terms of the brief and delivered some great outcomes that helped shape some huge improvements in our service delivery, commitment to our customers and some positive change in how my leaders lead their teams. 

The workshops were tailored to our business, hit the nail on the head in terms of the brief and delivered some great outcomes that helped shape some huge improvements in our service delivery, commitment to our customers and some positive change in how my leaders lead their teams. 

Manager Leisure and Aquatics

Meeting free Mondays … Tuesdays and Wednesdays …

Over the last 24 months we have experienced so many rapid changes in the workplace. Flexible working, pandemic, jabs, RAT testing, and social distancing have all become part of our everyday life and vocabulary. These changes have highlighted the importance of skills such as empathy, adaptability, resilience, and the newest contender – welcome Hybrid.

According to Michael Brennan, Commission Chair of the Productivity Commission, the Commission found that after lockdowns and working from home “a hybrid model is tending to emerge as the model that many workplaces are gravitating towards because it combines the best of a bit of physical interaction with some of the flexibility from working from home some of the time.”

So, what does the hybrid working model mean for our leaders and what are the new challenges they face? 

Pre-pandemic, hybrid leadership was defined as a style of management that blends the best of traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ leadership styles. It focused on developing leaders’ emotional intelligence alongside their business acumen.

In response to the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the workplace, hybrid leadership has evolved to encompass an even more diverse range of attributes to help managers get the most from employees in remote, in-person, and hybrid teams. In short, hybrid leadership requires a new range of tools and skills for our leaders to effectively manage dispersed teams.

Whilst during Covid-19 lockdowns, we saw workplaces where all / most staff worked from home for the entire working week, a hybrid workplace is likely to be one where employers and employees choose when and where they work with some employees co-located in an office whilst others are working remotely from home. This can create an ‘us versus them’ attitude, creating challenges for leaders when it comes to communication, team dynamics, engagement and coordination. 

Hybrid working can also impact company culture. Doug Palladini, Global Brand President at global sports lifestyle brand – Vans recently discussed the impact of hybrid working on his organisation. He said that his company has lost something by being run through videoconference and written notes. Palladini said that before Covid-19, the company’s in-person culture was palpable and effusive. Everyone could feel the energy. “When you’re on Zoom, you cannot. It is not the same thing. The feeling of separation from the company culture, has been the biggest loss.” 

Our leaders in this new hybrid world will need to be able to drive performance without close monitoring and supervision – this requires clear expectations setting and trust. Communication is key and incorporates new communication tools such as Slack, Trello and Teams that can be updated at any time and encourage clear communication and collaboration in teams without having to rely on team meetings. 

In a hybrid world, meetings may be considered an antiquated concept, meetings will only happen when there is a strategic reason for them and some organisations may introduce ‘no meeting days’, encouraging employees to embrace communications tools such as Teams and Slack.  No meetings days prevent heads-down work from being disrupted. Recent research undertaken by MITSloan uncovered that the optimum number of meeting-free days is three days in a week, leaving two days per week available for meetings; for two important reasons only; maintaining social connections and managing weekly schedules. Data showed that by having 3 meeting-free days per week, Employees were 73% more productive and 57% less stressed – statistics which are simply too significant to ignore.

In recent research on hybrid leadership in the USA, leaders highlighted a ‘hybrid paradox’. While in-person connection is becoming less frequent in a hybrid workplace, people skills are becoming more important than ever. The best leaders listen, show empathy, allocate more leadership time to team management and coaching, enabling people versus control, and invest more in building a culture that reaches out of the traditional office and into people’s homes.

As the workplace continues to evolve in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so must our leaders. It is important that they are equipped with the right skills and tools to provide effective leadership in this new hybrid world.

Marana has recently been working with a number of clients providing leadership skills for the Hybrid Workplace. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you.

Making Flexible Working Arrangements Work

Working Flexibly

Over the past few years there has been a growing demand for more flexible work arrangements – and then came Covid-19.  Very quickly most of us had to work from home full-time and adapt to remote working.  Now with people increasingly returning to the office, it is clear flexible working has become the new “normal” and it is a huge incentive to attract talent and maintain the workforce.

At Marana we adopted flexible working practices a number of years ago and along the way we have learned how to make it work for us.  We are now working with clients to make their adoption of flexible work practices a success for staff, teams and the organisation and its customers and/or clients.

To start with, it is important for organisations to meet the legal requirements.  The Fair Work Ombudsman outlines these on their website

Beyond complying with legal issues, our recent experiences with clients suggests the following approaches make flexible working positive for everyone.

1.  Decide which flexible options the organisation and its work can support and then develop a Flexible Working Policy and communicate it to staff.  For many organisations, it may not be possible to have everyone work from home all the time and it’s unlikely you cannot have some of your staff work flexibly.  It is important the Policy outlines who can apply for flexible work and what arrangements can be adopted, how to apply, what the decision-making process for an application will be and how it will be monitored and reviewed.  The Policy helps managers and staff understand the process and the reasoning behind decisions made and assists in achieving a consistent approach.

2.  Have a transparent flexible work assessment system that can review which parts of the job can be performed remotely and which in the office or workplace.  It will be important to consider the deliverables or outputs of people’s work and the customer’s or client’s needs in this. It is essential for you to have coverage for client-facing work.

3.  Check whether you have the systems and technology to support the arrangements you want, including methods for knowledge transfer and training.  Staff may need additional hardware for working remotely and some may require additional strategies and support when poor internet connection impacts productivity.  This is especially the case for some parts of regional NSW – staff often tell us about their “technology rage”!

4.  Ensure staff have a remote workspace that is ergonomic and fit for purpose.  We have heard stories of people in share accommodation working whilst perched on the end of the bed.  In other cases, clients are telling us about muscle tension and hip pain as a result of sitting for extended periods of time.  Develop a checklist of what is required for safe effective working and discuss with staff what set-up they have and what you are prepared to provide.

5.  Ensure that you have a Work-from-Home Security Policy that clearly outlines the rules regarding the use of devices and internet security guidelines. Importantly, the Work-from-Home Security Policy should provide guidance on how to work in a home environment that may be shared with others. We have heard about clients where the nature of the work is very sensitive requiring careful consideration of what can be seen on a screen and/or overheard in terms of conversations.  One client has told us when working and discussing something in a public venue, they were approached by a member of the public saying “you shouldn’t be discussing that type of thing here!”

6.  Good people management skills are critical.  Flexible working requires managers to have strong facilitation skills, being able to coach and delegate effectively, give feedback, communicate through multiple media, and focus on outcomes and performance measures rather than on time spent in the office.  This may require some management training or coaching so that People Leaders are confident in their ability to manage and/or supervise the team working remotely.

7.  Trust and empower staff to do their work without constant monitoring.  If people understand the organisation’s goals and have clear performance expectations, where they work is less important.  This does, however, require People Leaders to set and/or clarify expectations, facilitate regular feedback and encourage staff to perform at their best, which creates a high performance team culture.

8.  Ensure you have role model leaders at all levels who work flexibly and show it can work.

9.  Ensure staff don’t miss out on knowledge transfer opportunities whether it be training, coaching and job opportunities just because they are not in the office or workplace 5 days a week. Where you wish to address any performance issues, it is vital to keep in touch to build skills and confidence.  Regular coaching and one-on-ones can be conducted live online using tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom.  Miscommunication and misinterpretation are more common online and it is important to recognise the value of making the time to travel and engage in face-to-face dialogue.

10.  Create opportunities for the team to all come together in one place and ensure time spent together is efficient. Some staff may have to alter their normal arrangements, say for child-care or drop off and pick-up of children, to come in for a team meeting, so ensure it is productive and their effort in changing their routine is worthwhile.   Discuss and agree what type of team social activities can work for people.

11.  Agree on your team methods of communication and how you will know where people are, say in case of a problem needing their input or an emergency.  The use of shared calendars and/or online tools can be great for this.  What are the boundaries around people being contacted – when is it too late or too early?  What constitutes “time pollution” or “over-working”?  Agree service standards for how quickly emails or texts might be answered to avoid frustration and misunderstandings.

Marana has been supporting clients with “Working Flexibly for People Leaders” and “Working Flexibly for Teams” workshops delivered face-to-face and Live Online.  We’ve seen that when flexible arrangements are in place and work well, everyone benefits.

Other sites for reference:

Stephen Bevan of Lancaster University did research as part of ‘Work After Lockdown’ in the UK and discusses his findings, He found among other things that 90% of people reported the same productivity in lockdown as before, however there were some mental health impacts of working remotely which will need addressing. (Remote working: why some people are less productive at home than others – new research (

2020 Round Up with Sarah Barlow – Director of Marana Consulting Group


Sarah Barlow 2020

What have been the main issues organisations have had to manage in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Most organisations were able to adapt to the challenges exceptionally well.  This was, in the most part, attributed to collaborative leadership and a willingness from staff to learn and adapt quickly.  In the early days of the pandemic, we received some calls from clients, checking in and we were a sounding board for some.  Hearing how they were facing the challenges was inspiring especially in regional areas of NSW, where clients were in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of bushfires and floods.

Leading up to COVID-19, some State Government clients were moving towards flexible ways of working in agile shared spaces and were negotiating the hurdles that this change presented.  COVID-19 created some sense of urgency facilitating a faster transition.  A positive outcome for organisations and their staff.

We work with organisations who have staff predominantly working in the front-line interacting with customers.  At an organisational level, clients were having to navigate the government guidelines which were changing regularly.  Staff were then having to quickly adapt their interactions to ensure both physical and psychological safety, whilst also having to enforce regulations, deal with non-compliance issues and manage customer expectations.

Whilst everyone was digging deep, the challenges were more evident around October.  People Leaders were expressing their concerns that they and their staff were exhausted.  Then in December, with the second wave, lockdown and restrictions, people had to cancel much needed holiday breaks.  This has presented some challenges in early 2021.  Some staff are still very fatigued and are finding it hard to “switch-off” in a constant “switched-on” culture.

What advice do you have in terms of skills needed by employees to thrive in the current work environment?

Policy and process development will be important for organisations to develop comprehensive strategies to define what flexible and or agile working tangibly looks like.  Clear policies and guidelines on the options available to staff are essential.  It is important that People Leaders collaborate and facilitate how to make flexible working conditions support the needs of the team and the individual.  It will also be important for staff to be clear about performance expectations and what over servicing / working might look like to support staff well-being.

This is especially important for some organisations, where I’ve seen that if flexible working is not available, then high calibre staff and job candidates will move to other organisations where flexible working conditions are available.  Research suggests that we will not return to pre COVID-19 working conditions and the flexibility of working from home in some form is here to stay.  For this to work, it is important for leaders to have strong facilitation skills, demonstrate emotional intelligence competencies and embrace coaching as a leadership and communication style.  Adopting a truly collaborative style in place of an old school hierarchy command and control approach is essential and it is vital for this to be role modelled at all levels of an organisation especially at the director and executive levels.

Well-being and mental health continue to be areas of importance in 2021.  Employees working from home have to confront the lack of practical boundary between work and personal time.  Most work/life balance survival tactics come back to the basics and People Leaders will be required to actively take responsibility, be empathetic, support accountability and check in with staff well-being as an integral part of their role.  Some senior leaders have commented to me about “returning to normal” in the context of productivity.  COVID-19 has been a catalyst in helping some people realise that the pace they were operating at pre COVID-19 was unsustainable.  It is going to be important for people to be permitted to establish boundaries and find time for both work and family and friends.  People are pulling back from just what is profitable and focusing on what is worthwhile.

As Director of a small business, what did you do in 2020?

On a personal level and as a director of the business in 2020, I was very mindful of focusing on my physical and mental well-being.  I ensured that I got into nature, exercised, walked, reached out to my support network and gave myself the headspace to be able to work  through the challenges ahead.

It was important to be patient and process what was going on and what direction Marana needed to take to best assist our clients.  Having the headspace to think strategically was important and if I needed this, I thought that some of our clients may value this too.  Our first step was to reach out to all our clients, to let them know that we were there for them when they needed us.  Many clients also appreciated the space while they navigated the challenges ahead.

I also used the time as an opportunity to work on my own development.  I participated in some courses that had been in “Quadrant 2 (Important and Not-Urgent)” for a while.  I spent a lot of time reading, researching, developing Live Online content and joining international forums (at all hours of the evening) to collaborate with the learning and development community and find out how global organisations were moving forward in a COVID-19 world. It has been great to be able to share this information with leaders and participants in Australian organisations as they navigate this new world.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

My biggest passion outside of work is skiing – particularly in Japan.  It’s been heart-breaking not to be able to ski this year.  I promised myself that I would not look at the snow report and I failed!  Travel restrictions have encouraged me to continue to explore NSW and over the last year I have enjoyed everything to do with getting outdoors whether it be hiking in the Blue Mountains, swimming down on the South Coast, panning for gold at Trunkey Creek and exploring our beautiful regional towns.

I also love cooking and most recently I have enjoyed experimenting with food over fire.  I’m partial to an open flame and my Instagram feed is dominated by food enthusiasts!  At the end of a busy week, my ideal night is spent with friends enjoying a good meal and a glass of Pinot Noir.

Tell us something about yourself that we may not know?

I’m an avid Landline-ABC watcher. On a Sunday, you might find me glued to this show.  Sometimes, living in the city, we can feel removed from what is happening in regional Australia which is why I love Landline.  I grew up in the countryside and I enjoy hearing about what is happening in regional Australia especially related to agriculture and primary industries.  I think it appeals to my inner country ‘Akubra’ wearing self!