How do you think in two dimensions?

How do you think in two dimensions?

The concept of Counterbalanced Thought.

Most successful organisations are founded on clear principles, a strong culture, and an uncompromising commitment to values.

These are all critical components, and few would argue over their importance.

However, there is also a well-known saying that “too much of a good thing can be bad for you”. So, can an organisation have too much self – discipline, clarity, or commitment?

Within every principle, decision or approach lies the danger of committing or executing to the extreme. This “at all costs” or “without due consideration” mindset can be blinding to issues or specifics that can ultimately cause damage. It’s one-dimensional thinking.

To manage this risk, a concept worth considering is the system of Counterbalanced Thought.

Fundamentally, this notion allows an alternative measure to sit distant from the main agenda, to be called on when it’s recognised that the common approach, previous directive, or normal rules may not apply in certain instances.

People should understand that they carry responsibility for implementing the normal. But they become more empowered once they also recognise that in extreme situations, or abnormal circumstances, a counterbalanced view may be required. It’s a simple way of explaining how to take responsibility for not doing the normal when the normal is not appropriate.

Counterbalanced Thought can be executed across all aspects of an organisation. For example, promoting integration, but not at the expense of intimacy. Promoting variety but not to the detriment of clarity. Promoting flexibility but not to the sacrifice of structure. While the primary intent is defined, the counterbalanced alternative is identified. It’s the counterbalanced alternative that needs consideration when implementing the primary intent.

The concept of Counterbalanced Thought provides another dimension to the thought process. It changes what would be one-dimensional to two-dimensional. The next obvious question is, what makes three-dimensional thought? I’m still thinking about that. Stay tuned…

Do you Report Up or Support Down?

Do you Report Up or Support Down?

In every organisation, the approach taken in establishing levels of authority is critical to a well-structured operation.

A common methodology is to place people with the most accountability at the highest levels of authority. This makes perfect sense. What is often overlooked, or implemented without due consideration, is how these people use their authority. In most organisations, “authority” means power, influence, a mandate to make decisions, and even more-so, overturn the decisions of others.

This traditional approach is flawed in many aspects. The way people with authority act and behave is fundamental to the success of an organisation and sets the tone for everyone to follow.

Defining actions that align to someone with authority is the first aspect to resolve. It shouldn’t be, the right to overturn decisions, undermine the role of others, instruct, or demand. But unfortunately, this is often the interpretation.

In contrast, those with authority should respect the roles and responsibilities of others, respect the decisions of others, provide advice, guidance, and assistance. This leads to a far more collaborative and respectful environment.

Once there is a common understanding within the definition of “authority” and why it exists, people recognise the benefits and embrace the concept, rather than bemoaning the concept of others having more authority.

The second aspect to resolve is how authority is imparted. Usually there are two concerns of people with less authority.

One is the concern of providing negative news or highlighting poor performance. To negate this, those with higher authority must show a want and willingness to receive bad news, so that assistance can be provided, and the issue improved.

Additionally, no one should be protected. Pushing negative news down rather than raising it to a higher level, is a common protective behaviour. Resentment builds when someone entitled to the privileges of authority, refuses to be held accountable for the poor performance of others, or refuses to raise it themselves for the purpose of self-preservation. Those with authority must be authentic in their role of being accountable for outcomes.

So, the question to be answered; Do flat structures work? What does “flat” actually mean? Does everyone have the same authority in a flat structure? I’d suggest not. Is no one accountable? This would be concerning. Do those that promote flat structures really have them? They may not be top heavy, but that doesn’t mean flat.

My advice is, rather than promote flat or worse still try to achieve flat, embrace a vertical structure, because we all know it’s the only way to operate effectively. Get the balance right throughout, not too heavy, not too light, at different levels of authority. And most importantly, rather than have everyone report up, insist that everyone support down.

Can you drown in shallow thinking?

Can you drown in shallow thinking?

Even though we’ve been talking about and recognising the benefits of diversity for decades, a great deal of shallow thinking continues to govern the conversation. Most dialogue centers around gender, ethnicity, and generational differences. Quotas still drive the decisions of many organisations.  There is advocacy for work environments to reflect society, insisting minority groups, however defined, be represented at all levels of operation. I find this thinking both confusing and concerning.

There should be no question regarding the benefits of diversity. Having a deep understanding of how to identify and implement it, and how to measure its value, are the questions to be asked.

There are some fundamental principles that govern diversity. Assumption and Bias, Majority-Minority, Us and Them, Power and Privilege, and Inclusion-Exclusion. Respecting individualism while acting and thinking in a non-bias way without assumption is fundamental.

So how do we identify diversity and what are the benefits? Improving what your organisation does, and how it’s done, should be the key benefit, and most recognise diversity of thought as the crucial element. Alternative views. Different ways to consider, approach and resolve issues. Fundamentally, there is more likelihood of choosing the best outcome, on the basis that more alternatives have been considered. Once this is understood, the next question is, what do we measure to ensure the benefits are there?

What we shouldn’t do, is pick a specific characteristic, (let’s say gender) use this as the measure and then assume if we have balanced representation, diversity of thought will be addressed.

Is there evidence that people with different characteristics think differently? Absolutely. There’s clear logic in that. However, equal numbers of males and females doesn’t guarantee diversity of thought. Furthermore, by assuming this, your assessment of each person’s characteristics is fundamentally bias. This is where shallow thinking is concerning. This is why trying to reflect society is flawed.

How can an organisation whose purpose is very specific, perform better if it reflects society when the characteristics of society are so general? The decision of who we choose to work in our organisations and the roles they play, must be based on something. It can’t be random, nor should it be based on a formula or specific number.

Addressing diversity by reflecting society, suggests to me a lack of understanding. For those that don’t have deeper regard, maybe this is the only option. The result? Rather than organisations rising to the top, they will drown in shallow thinking.

How and to whom should you be accountable?

How and to whom should you be accountable?

When it comes to leadership, a sound understanding of accountability is paramount. In senior roles, clear accountability is critical to organisational structure and performance.

Most organisations hold people accountable by having them report to someone more senior. I’m a strong believer in an alternative view. In my mind, the highest performing organisations allow people to hold themselves accountable. More so, the very best leaders are those who can hold themselves accountable and draw confirmation from those around them, rather than those more senior.  Accountability is something that must sit with someone. It’s something people carry. It’s not transferable, nor can it be effectively managed through someone else’s oversight.

The way people behave is very much driven by the way they are assessed. Creating an environment where people act in a way that satisfies those more senior, to whom they report, drives negative behaviour. Often these behaviours are isolating, confining, and focused towards satisfying one individual or small group. It forces people to protect or hide problems, filtering only positive information upwards, and influences people to behave based on how someone more senior would behave.

The alternative, and far more effective approach, is allowing leaders to be accountable to themselves by gaining confirmation from those around them. This removes the stigma of worrying about how something will be received or interpreted by those more senior. It encourages people to take responsibility for decisions, acting authentically to the problem, without fear of being judged. It brings problems more readily to the surface, for resolution rather than avoidance.

Many organisations talk positively about delegating responsibility. This alone is not enough. It’s how you deal with accountability that either restricts an organisation or allows it to prosper. The ultimate benefit in allowing accountability to sit with someone, is the gain in trust that results, and how it can empower people. The concept of reporting upward to someone is flawed. Having a more senior person holding someone else accountable, is undermining and erodes trust.

So, to all the aspiring leaders, I offer simple advice. Be comfortable carrying accountability, and don’t expect anyone else to hold you accountable for it.

Podcast: Horizons by Engineers Australia

Podcast: Horizons by Engineers Australia

Arthur Psaltis on Horizons – In depth interviews from well known and respected leaders from across industry.

After completing vacation work with Pritchard Francis, Arthur accepted a job offer as a graduate engineer. He left the firm after a few years to work for a large international practice, returning three years later as an Associate Director in 1994. By 1996 Arthur became a Director and in 1998 became Managing Director, with the firm comprising 8 people. Today, Pritchard Francis is 100+ people strong, with four offices in WA and NT. It is one of the larger consulting practices in WA and one of the most highly regarded practices in Australia.

In this episode you’ll follow Arthur’s career journey with Pritchard Francis from graduate engineer through to CEO, and shares his insight on lessons learnt along the way.

Listen now on EA OnDemand at the link below. Engineers Australia members can watch the interview for free. There is a small cost for non-members.

Fools, Rules and Tools

Fools, Rules and Tools

How do you maintain consistency without too much constraint?

As organisations grow, one of the greatest concerns faced by leaders is losing consistency. Be it quality, service, or decision making. Irrespective of size, recognising that more people are responsible for more things without suitable supervision, suitable process, or suitable review, leads to fear that consistency suffers. And consistency directly impacts brand reputation.

Different businesses deal with this dilemma in different ways, be it manufacturing, processing or service industries. Professional services are slightly different, primarily on the basis that the product isn’t the same every time, and a multitude of unique decisions need to be made along the way to produce a positive outcome.

Some organisations fall into the trap of implementing a manufacturing style solution to maintain consistency. Freedom to deviate is restricted, decision making is limited to as few as possible and procedures are designed to constrain alternative approaches. All these mechanisms work effectively if the same product is produced over and over. However, these same mechanisms stifle innovation, diversity of thought, and creativity, the exact attributes needed in professional services.

So how do you produce consistency without constraint? It starts with a clear understanding of your product and service, and what makes it recognisable in the market. It is then imperative to define these things as non-negotiable items. Ensure all within the organisation understand these critical aspects and feel responsible for maintaining them.

Once these are defined, everything else should become optional, provided the non-negotiables aren’t compromised. Decision making can be delegated, alternatives can be contemplated, and approaches can be challenged.

With this environment identified, people within the organisation will either be empowered by this philosophy or avoid it. Those that challenge themselves and others, thrive with responsibility, and enjoy the freedom to make decisions, will flourish.

Establishing the right environment and matching the people to suit that environment then allows you to maintain consistency, without the negative consequences of constraint.

To summarise, don’t control things by just setting rules for everyone to follow. Achieve consistency by having the right people in the right environment. Deploy the right people with effective tools, rather than employ fools to follow rules.

Podcast: Crushing It In Construction

Podcast: Crushing It In Construction

Arthur Psaltis on Crushing It In Construction – Revolutionising the Onboarding Process

Since reading architectural journals at just five years old, it seems Arthur has always been destined for a career in construction – building on formative years as a graduate with Pritchard Francis, leaving to gain experience as a consultant and then returning to a directorial position and working his way to CEO.

With the company expanding fifteenfold since he took charge, Arthur has mastered the art of management and instilled values in his team that have led to incredible success.

In this episode Arthur shares his journey, the ins and outs of an employee-owned ethos and why he puts so much emphasis on welcoming new employees.

Listen now on Crushing It In Construction at the link below:

#45 Revolutionising The Onboarding Process With Arthur Psaltis (

The four ‘ings’ of work

The four ‘ings’ of work

My children often ask me “what do you actually do at work Dad?” and to be honest, over the years I have struggled to answer the question with any level of clarity or conviction. For self-assurance, more than anything, I have tried to resolve this question in my own mind.

In principle, there are four aspects to peoples’ work, and as you evolve into varying roles, the weighting of these elements changes significantly.

We all usually start with doing. Because this is where we start, and it is normally how we and others measure our performance, it is easy to place too much weight on its importance as we grow. In fact, it can hinder our growth. While it is critical initially, as we evolve, we realise that doing can be limiting.

The second aspect of our work that is encouraged is thinking. There are two components to this. Thinking about how we can work more effectively ourselves, and hence improve the doing, and thinking about how we can improve other things around us. This element is very rewarding. We recognise our own value more, we see the positive influence on others and our environment, and this realisation leads into the third aspect.

We start to utilise our feelings. We want to feel valued and appreciated. We place more importance on relationships and trust. We want to influence the feelings of others. We start to recognise the importance of feelings and how directly relatable they are to performance and wellbeing.

And finally, once we have travelled this journey, we start sharing. We share our experiences, we pass on our knowledge, we educate and inform, we provide guidance, and through this sharing, we utilise the talents of others to replicate all the above.

In summary, do-ing is about achievement. Think-ing is about improvement. Feel-ing is about development and share-ing is about fulfillment.

So, what do I do at work? Not much doing, a bit of thinking, lots of feeling, and I am flat out sharing. How cool is that!

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

Performance measures for leaders. Learn how to teach.

A close friend of mine is a primary school principal. I had the privilege of working with him for a number of years as chair on the school board. Recently, he mentioned something that resonated with me. He said “Arthur, they say the most important person in the classroom is the teacher, however they become the most important by ensuring everyone else in the room is more important.”

This statement captures so much of what many define as good leadership. It recognises that a role is more important than a title. Its message is focused on the performance of others, rather than the individual. It highlights the value of humility, of sharing and empowering. It identifies the importance of transferring knowledge and experience onto others.

When leaders consider their own performance, it is important to keep measures in perspective. Is the performance of a leader more important or less important than the group? Sometimes leaders become too focused on their own performance. It is relatively clear the performance of the group must be the true measure, not the individual.

Leadership phrases such as “make yourself redundant” or “make sure you’re the weakest link or the least capable” all carry similar messaging; however, the classroom phrase is more profound. It implies that for those in leadership roles, ultimate performance is achieved through the performance of others, and we should measure leaders who have wisdom, knowledge and experience by how willing they are to develop others around them, without need for recognition.

So, why do the best classroom teachers act this way? They only have students for one year generally, and then pass them onto the next teacher. The answer lies in what motivates people. Do they gain satisfaction and self-reward through their own performance or through the performance of others? Good teachers, as with good leaders, are motivated to see others develop, improve, and perform to their highest ability.

If leaders need direction on how to improve culture, and how to develop high performing teams, they should look no further than this classroom reference. It is no coincidence that my close friend has been a highly successful and respected principal for most of his career.

Podcast: Constructing You with Elinor Moshe

Podcast: Constructing You with Elinor Moshe

Arthur Psaltis on Constructing You – Excellence, Courage, Collaboration, Accountability, Integrity, Humility

Arthur is the Chief Executive Officer of engineering consultants, Pritchard Francis.

Although the better part of his career has been with Pritchard Francis, Arthur has had a dynamic work life. Today Pritchard Frances is 90 people strong, with 4 offices in WA and the NT, and is one of the largest consulting practices in WA and one of the most highly regarding practices in Australia.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • How to commit and display excellence
  • Why most people lack courage
  • The essence of collaboration
  • Developing a corporate culture with a positive association with accountability
  • How to assess your real integrity
  • Having humility in the face of growth; How to have a fulfilling career within an organisation
  • Triple E leadership lessons

Listen now on Constructing You at the link below.

Constructing You: Arthur Psaltis on Constructing You – Excellence, Courage, Collaboration, Accountability, Integrity, Humility on Apple Podcasts