Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins has a B Sc degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University and over 20 years of management and consulting experience in the African corporate world. She started her career in the mining industry with Anglo American in Zambia before coming to South Africa in 1976 to join AECI. She then worked for Afrox and the Barlow’s Group before joining the FSA Contact consulting group in1985. From 1995 to 2006 she was an Associate of Gateways Business Consultants. She now consults independently as Straight Talk.

Maureen has consulted extensively in the chemical and manufacturing sectors and in other organisations such as Telkom, SARS, Harmony Gold Mining Company and TFMC. Her current clients include Wesbank, Safmarine, Rand Air, Aberdare Cables, Ovations, Johannesburg Securities Exchange, Nedbank, Development Bank of South Africa, Gauteng Department of Health, and Multichoice.

Maureen’s experience is in management and leadership training; team building, and handling change and transition. She has trained managers extensively in performance management. The challenge of improving the quality of performance feedback given by managers to their employees lead to her interest in the field of emotional intelligence as a means of improving communication in the corporate world.

In designing the Straight Talk material she has drawn on her own experience and a broad range of resources to help people improve their communication skills in the difficult conversations they encounter in their professional and personal lives.

Monday, 02 February 2015 08:52

There’s no time

One of the strongest themes of last year was that no-one had time for anything but the essentials. There was certainly not enough of it for anyone to think carefully, plan thoughtfully, listen with their full attention, or work on developing the trust that is the foundation of good relationships.

There was rarely time to get to the bottom of problems and apply long term solutions, rather than quick fix band-aids. Functions with a longer term priority such as marketing and personal development took second place to current crises…of which there was an endless list. Almost certainly the problems of last year will recur any day now.

We’ve created work and social cultures where time is of the essence; turnaround time, lead time, manufacturing time, response time. It creates high levels of stress and frustration, especially when things do not go according to plan.

It’s unlikely to be any better in the year ahead.

Some of the pressure is not discretionary. Holding down a corporate job or running your own organisation carries an obligation to meet targets and deadlines. One source of pressure however is discretionary.

We’re drowning in data: mail, alerts, social media notifications, news, sports scores, weather forecasts, advertising; not to mention our recorded TV programs, music libraries and scores of unsorted photos. While you may not be able to do very much about the amount of data surrounding you, you can manage how you deal with it. If you don’t, it will manage you, and you will be destined to spend another year in crisis driven response mode.

While you still have breathing space and the energy that comes with the start of a new year, decide on the information that for you is essential. Plan how you will obtain, process, access and store it. Decide what you don’t need. Then clear the decks.

Wednesday, 03 December 2014 18:12

From bottom to top: Turning around the top team

There are many interesting observations and comments in this interview about the turnaround of Consumer Lifestyle sector of Philips, the Dutch technology group in response to harsh trading conditions and a lack of investment, but the phrase that stopped me in my tracks was this one about the role of an executive team.
‘…the top team—that handful of senior executives who provide the energy, inspiration, and vision for any enterprise.’

Recently I have seen top teams expend more energy politicking, competing with each other, arguing and back biting than I have seen them sending positive energy out into their organisations.

Wednesday, 05 November 2014 09:26

Don't be a victim

Many organisations are in the throes of the end of year performance review and appraisal process. It’s the big one, attached to decisions about bonus payments, salary increments and staff movements.

But it still amazes me that many people approach it as lambs to the slaughter, victims in a process to which they feel they have little input and over which they have no control.

There are three questions that performance reviews should address. The answers to questions one and two must be clear before the third question can be answered fairly.

  1. What contribution are you expected to make? When you are clear about the results and behaviour expected of you, you will understand why your job exists and why it’s important. If it’s a job that you want, this takes care of your motivation.
  2. What work are you expected to do and how well? This should be defined in tasks, priorities and the competencies you are expected to utilize, with clear standards of quality and adherence to norms of behaviour. 
  3. How are you doing? If you’ve received ongoing feedback through the year you’ll know exactly how you’re doing and the end of year review should bring no surprises. The best feedback is specific about your behaviour. It shows where you can capitalise on your strengths and where you have to change your ways.

Taking responsibility for your own performance starts when you ask the questions that elicit clear answers to these three questions. You don’t have to be a victim.

Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:59

What have you achieved?

The headlong dash to the holidays has started. It’s been another tough year. Weeks and months have gone by in a blur. You’ve dealt with more crises, more e-mails and more meetings than ever before. In the blur of busyness it’s easy to mistake activity for effectiveness, and endless processing of familiar problems as progress.
Take a moment and ponder what you have achieved this year; with three questions.

  1. How much of the time that you’ve spent being busy has contributed directly toward the goals and objectives for which you hope to be rewarded at the end of the year?
  2. How much progress have you made on your personal development goals or career plan; the important but not urgent goals that never get the attention you have to give to a problem with a major client, a plant shutdown or a software malfunction?
  3. Are you happy with the balance you’ve kept between work, family and your personal needs?

If you’ve answered ‘most of it, lots, and yes’ to the three questions, you need read no further. Clearly you’ve figured out how to thrive and be effective in today’s world.

If you haven’t, don’t delude yourself into thinking that the coming year will be any different. As the saying goes; ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’.

What can you do differently so that next year is not the same as this year has been?

I love Lucy Kellaway’s fresh irreverent approach to serious issues and in this article I think she puts her finger on exactly what many of us feel about the latest version of the old generation gap. If you’re a new entrant to the working world you’ll probably agree with her description of your talents and cababilities. But if you’ve been around for a while you may not be so comfortable with her view that ‘Years of drudgery and late nights in the office have a way of taking the shine off any brilliance.’

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 06:23

Keeping in touch

There are more ways than ever of keeping in touch.

It is estimated there are 6.8 billion mobile phones in a total world population of just over 7 billion people. In Hong Kong that translates to 2.36 phones per person. There are 1.317 billion monthly active Facebook users; 255 million using Twitter and 300 million on Skype.

Social media keeps families and friends in touch. Political organisations use it to generate support, spread propaganda and co-ordinate mass action. Rural famers use it to share market information and best practices on crop management. If it were not for electronic communication the corporate world would quickly grind to a standstill.

That’s a lot of people keeping in touch and it should point to an improvement in communication and understanding. Yet the levels of aggression, prejudice, polarization and misunderstanding throughout the world suggest otherwise.

Professor Sandy Pentland has been named one of the 'seven most powerful data scientists in the world’. Recently his team at MIT strapped ‘sociometric badges’ to a vast number of people to gather real-time data about their social interactions, based on their body movement, location, and sound.

The MIT team learned that the frequency of face-to-face interaction is the single human factor that most drives every measure of team and organizational performance. Simply put, the more people connect face-to-face, the better things get. The less they do, the worse things get.

Relationships work best when they’re built on trust. Intuitively we know that conversations requiring trust are best held face to face: giving encouragement, negotiating on a tough issue, conveying bad news, action planning your way out of a crisis, getting to know an important client…or getting to know your own employees. Effective leaders know that MBWA* beats any two minute U-tube video hands down.

The simplest guidelines are the best. If you wouldn’t say something face to face, don’t say it. If you can say it face to face, do just that.

*MBWA – Management By Walking Around

Monday, 15 September 2014 17:15

It is about you

When you look for iconic leaders, there are some names that define the high water mark, and some characteristics that are unmistakable. Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela come to mind most easily: that both were known for their wisdom and humility is unarguable.

In spite of the 300 or so years separating them in time, the lesson both teach is that leading isn’t about directing, driving, threatening or coercing. It’s about behaving in ways that communicate your belief that people are always more important than things. If you behave consistently and with conviction, focusing on others not on yourself, you will have followers. Only then can you call yourself a leader.

In the pressure of business it‘s a lesson we seem to have forgotten. In many workplaces leaders are modelling divide, conquer and destroy behaviours more often than they show themselves to be supportive of their followers. It’s every man and woman for themselves. Levels of stress and toxic behaviour increase constantly.

Leadership isn’t about you, but making a difference starts with you. You’re always a role model to someone, somewhere, so be a positive one.

The tone of the communication amongst your followers is set by you; what you do, and what you hold others accountable for. Each time you initiate toxic or abusive communication, respond to a toxic behaviour with similar behaviour, or fail to confront someone who is abusive, you add to the negativity. Rather work on being gracious under pressure … before graciousness is completely squeezed out of our lives.

Take responsibility for your own emotions. Even if you are pressurized, stressed and anxious, show your care for the people who work with you by not inflicting your problems on them, increasing their stress and reducing their productivity. Emotional intelligence is a set of learned skills so learn to meditate, run or kick box. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and no-one knows whose face you visualize on the punch bag.

Leadership is about finding effective ways to work with people. When the circumstances are difficult you may have to be creative.

Tuesday, 02 September 2014 14:05

How to improve your CV

This is an interesting article on Mashable about boring information included in many CVs If you want to make your CV stand out from the crowd these pointers are very helpful.

Tuesday, 02 September 2014 12:18

What people need

Many companies are cutting back on financial incentives due to pressure from economic conditions. As things look unlikely to change anytime soon, we need to become more effective in motivating people with other means. In any case, financial motivators have a depressingly short term impact. 

A recent McKinsey Quarterly survey confirmed three themes that are common in the research on how best to motivate and engage employees.
People need:

  • Praise from their immediate managers
  • Leadership attention, especially in one on one interactions
  • Opportunity to perform.


Nothing new here: it’s common knowledge. Unfortunately little of it is on display.

Praise? We still manage by catching people doing things wrong and then throwing the disciplinary book at them.

One- on- one- attention? Not much time for that in the wired world.

Opportunity? Pressure to do it right first time makes the control in DIY safer than delegating.

Yet turning all of this around to create a motivating culture is already within the power and skill set of virtually every manager and leader.

  • Focus on good work and praise or compliment people for it. 
  • Plan face-time and keep to the plan, with your mobile turned off. You don’t need much, so long as you spend it asking questions and listening. 
  • Get organised, screw up your courage and delegate. 
  • Go back to positive feedback and face-time to hold it all on track.


One of my friends is struggling to walk again after a knee op. In her words ‘It’s all in your head.’

Thursday, 21 August 2014 14:31

Teams in Trouble

When a new team comes together, or an existing team deals with change in function or membership, it can be a while before things settle down. Differences of opinion, arguments and power plays are part of the natural process and often involve emotionally charged and difficult conversations.

It’s the predictable ‘stormin and normin’ phase of team development. Many teams grow through it to become smooth running productive units. Relationships become trusting and respectful; conversations are rational and constructive. Other teams get stuck in the process and sometimes never reach their full potential.