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.

Survival depends on how well we change our behaviour to adapt and thrive as circumstances change.

And they do change! We have to adapt to our always- on work culture, before both our productivity and our sanity are threatened. Leadership styles have to adapt to Generation X and Millennial employees. You risk alienating your children if you discipline them the way your parents disciplined you. If you value your health, eating fast foods on the run is not a good adaptation to a busy schedule.

We’re not actually very good at changing behaviour. Most of us have a history of diet plans that haven’t made us thin and gym memberships that haven’t made us fitter. We’ve given up smoking time and again, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t keep work and life in balance.

The corporate world is little better. Failed change initiatives litter the corridors. Each crisis brings a new organisation structure, but people carry on behaving as they’ve always done.

There is a methodology based on extensive evidence and supported by laboratory research that brings all the factors that have been shown to influence behaviour change together into a cohesive strategy.* It helps you change behaviour and keep it changed.

It’s not a silver bullet…or another magic potion. It requires hard work. But if you stick to it, it works.

If you’re serious about changing behaviour, I’d like to talk to you. I offer personal coaching, in house training and public workshops.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014 13:43

Are you becoming irrelevant?

Three centuries ago Goethe wrote elegantly, Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

22 years ago Steven Covey was more direct when he said that if you don’t spend enough time on your personal goals and priorities, your life becomes irrelevant.
Personal effectiveness depends on the ability to make choices, take decisions, and act on them. The extent to which we do so is a measure of integrity and the value we place on ourselves.

We allocate time to things based on our assessment of their urgency and importance. Urgent matters are usually in our faces, demanding attention: we react to them. Importance has to do with goals and results. They’re important but rarely urgent.

While intelligent technology and smart tools continue to accelerate the pace of life, the principles remain unchanged.

In practice many of us are chasing problems and crises all day, every day. Every waking moment is consumed by meetings, e-mail and phone calls. The only thinking we do is on our feet. We’re almost permanently in reactive mode applying well-worn solutions to what we assume are familiar problems.

We claim to have goals and objectives in customer service, innovation, development of talent, quality improvement and resource utilization ... not to mention personal and family priorities. But from day to day, we spend relatively little productive time on activities that lead to results in these areas. Keep a daily record of how you spend your time in a week and check this for yourself.

You can break the cycle.
1. Start by choosing one or two goals that are most important to you at the present time. Don’t over commit.
2. Learn to say no and use that skill to avoid things that don’t contribute to your priorities.
3. Give up your control freak habits and start delegating.

Then take the time you’ve gained and spend it where it will add value. In principle it’s simple: in practice not so. But the alternative is to become irrelevant.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:44

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Monday, 21 July 2014 14:31

What’s holding you back?

Some people tick all the boxes. They have all the intelligence, education, skill and experience they need. Their colleagues enjoy working with them and their teams are happy high performers.

Some people tick some of the boxes. They’re smart, skilled and experienced. But they behave in ways that make them difficult to work with or work for. Maybe they always need to have the last word, or they don’t listen, or are given to outbursts of anger. Some don’t take responsibility, or ever apologise.

Sometimes our flaws are mere quirky eccentricities that lend us character: sometimes they’re annoying habits that people around us learn to tolerate. But they often get in the way of careers and relationships and it’s hard to find successful people who exhibit very many of them.

In the senior levels of any organisation, everyone is smart and technically skilled. It’s your people skills; the way you interact and communicate with your employees, colleagues and senior managers, that determine whether you will be a high flier or an also-ran. You’re probably only too aware of the annoying habits of your coworkers, but few of us are similarly aware of our own flaws; and until you are, you won’t be able to change.

See if you recognise any of your co-workers in the descriptions below.

1. Always needs to win: to be first, to put forward better ideas, to have his or her arguments win the day.
2. Doesn’t listen.
3. Finds fault or objects to any idea put forward by someone else.
4. Doesn’t communicate properly because he or she is distracted and disorganized.
5. Remembered more for temper tantrums than for calm collected behaviour.
6. Puts others down with sarcastic, hurtful comments.
7. Clings to the past with comments like ‘When I was…’ or ‘I used to…’ or ‘I can remember when…’
8. Opinionated and right about everything.
9. Criticises easily but rarely gives praise for things done well.
10. Tends to take credit for work done by others.
11. TMI: Too Much Information. Loses the plot in the detail.
12. Perfectionist style is hard to work with.
13. Quick to offer excuses when things go wrong.
14. Excuses his or her behaviour with, ‘I can’t help it; that’s just me’.
15. Hardly ever apologises, even when in the wrong.
16. Vents wrath on the bringers of bad news.
17. Blames others for his or her mistakes.
18. Allows personal stress to create collateral damage to others.

Now consider whether any of these behaviours might be holding you back.

If you’d like help in improving leadership skills or building more successful relationships, contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Need help with a tough conversation? See the new downloads.

Wednesday, 09 July 2014 09:09

Garbage in … garbage out

It’s hard to believe that in another couple of months Christmas goods will be in the shops and most companies will be in the throes of end of year performance appraisals.

Performance appraisals still arouse strong emotions: expectations and disappointment over salary increases and bonuses; alarm at the time they require; apprehension that interviews will go badly and end up in argument; frustration amongst employees whose managers are out of touch with what they’ve been doing; and equal frustration amongst managers when people still aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

Do your homework. Gather the facts about the performance of each person you appraise so you aren’t relying on impressions and generalisations. If you’re wise you’ve been keeping close to people during the year so the end of it brings no surprises.

Balance your feedback. One of the most effective, and most underutilized, ways of motivating people is to acknowledge them for what they’ve done well. Waiting until you catch them doing wrong and criticizing is so old school.

Hold people to account. If you don’t create consequences for poor performance or bad behaviour, it will never change.

Talk less. Employees consistently say that managers still do most of the talking in appraisal interviews. There’s no end to the questions you can ask; detail about what people have been doing, would like to do and how they would like to do it. Ask for feedback on what you’ve been doing, on your management style and what you could do differently.

No matter how sophisticated your performance management system, its effectiveness rests on the data you input. Garbage in…garbage out.

Contact me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for help in improving how you run performance appraisals this year end.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014 10:02

EDI’s … Are you guilty?

I learned a new TLA recently; EDI, Electronic Displays of Insensitivity.

In recent research by the Vitalsmarts group, 90% of people agreed you should not answer text messages or check social media in public. But over 60% of them reported that they experience EDIs frequently in meetings, at the dinner table and in customer service interactions.

Meetings cannot be effective when people are distracted and disengaged, surreptitiously multitasking with their smart phones. Information that is shared is not properly considered or understood. Afterwards people may even claim it was not presented. Decisions have to be revisited because people who were not paying attention, later claim that they were not consulted.

Norms of behaviour change all the time. If no-one speaks up even though a change is inappropriate, it quickly becomes entrenched. Confronting inappropriate behaviour constructively involves a number of steps: describing the facts of the behaviour and its consequences, inviting others to share their views, proposing and obtaining commitment to a solution, then tracking and reviewing how behaviour changes and holding those who don’t change, to account; or agreeing on a compromise.

When problems are brushed under the carpet and issues are allowed to become un-discussable, nothing changes…except that people take whatever evasive action they can and quietly fume on the sidelines.

With a little competence and some courage you needn’t default to the EDIs.

Call me on 082 601 2807 or mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you’d like to learn how to speak up safely.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 10:11

Start now before it’s too late

The executive’s response to the presentation on the computerized performance management process seemed positive. ‘This looks very good’ he said. ‘Now I won’t have to spend so much time on performance appraisals’.

I think he missed the point.

While managers are drowning in e-mail and meetings, performance problems aren’t solving themselves and edgy relationships are descending deeper into backbiting and cat-fighting. We bemoan the country’s low productivity but we’re making it worse.

In most studies of how to motivate and engage people in ways other than cash, three themes recur constantly. These are: praise from immediate managers, leadership attention, in one-on-one conversations for example, and a chance to lead projects or task forces.

These non-financial motivators are critical in helping people feel that their companies value them, take their well-being seriously, and offer opportunities for career growth. Using them requires management and leadership attention.

By the time our current all-consuming focus on financial targets, budgeting, cost cutting, and doing it all faster, catches up with us, the damage will have been done. We need to pay attention now to developing people, and sorting out toxic patterns of poor performance and bad behaviour.

Acknowledge and motivate people with praise: it takes a moment. Eliminate problems of poor performance with immediate, constructive feedback. Improve the focus and productivity of your team overnight by holding people to account.

Start now before it’s too late.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 10:55

How to hold people to account

In the corporate world and in society generally, we show great unwillingness - and great inability – to hold people to account for what they should be doing and for what they said they would do.

The consequence is that at work we allow people to underperform for decades, while they collect full salaries. We accept that they attend costly training and development programs but don’t apply their learning afterwards. We tolerate those whose toxic behaviour causes widespread stress and unhappiness. In our personal relationships we put up with abusive, inconsiderate and unreliable behaviour in many forms. We’re surrounded by people who drive us crazy; when often all it takes is one conversation to reverse the situation.

I’d hoped I’d never hear it again. I certainly didn’t expect to hear it from a young ‘High Potential Leader’ on completion of an expensive year’s leadership development program.

I truly think we continue to spend immense amounts of time and money on leadership and other learning and development inputs without seeing any corresponding change in attitudes or behaviour and other supposed ‘soft skills’.

A wise colleague many years ago, when I was starting to be frustrated with the ineptness of our behaviour change efforts in interpersonal skills, said to me, ‘Don’t worry. The good guys will always get better.’ And they do. But they are the positive deviants; the people who thrive no matter what the circumstances, and often in spite of it. They create their own success; formal development programs can claim little of the kudos.

The problem isn’t to do with the learning process itself.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 14:42

Stayin’ alive

For financial and other reasons, many people today are continuing to work into their late sixties and seventies. What is most interesting, and hardly surprising, is that better educated older people work longer, and earn more. It’s another version of the gap between the haves and the have-nots, but at least with this one you have some control over the side you land on.

Manage three aspects of your life and you can raise the odds that you will have a long and a satisfying one.

Live healthily. There’s almost nothing we don’t already know about health, exercise and nutrition. But obesity, substance abuse and stress levels continue unabated. Which aspects of your health could you start taking more care of?

Plan your career. Start with the best education you can get; then add to it. Continuing Professional Development isn’t a nice to do, it’s essential for your future. Don’t sit in a dead end job, no matter how well you’re paid. Change the job, ask for a transfer, or get out. You can’t afford to go brain dead. Own your career plan through to your sixties and beyond. It’s far too important to be left to your employer.

Manage your relationships. Couples used to celebrate 50 years of marriage; soon it could be 70 or more. If you’re living in mutual misery consider that the happiest couples are those who have learned how to argue without using criticism, defensiveness, or contempt and who don’t retreat into silence. Constructive arguing takes skill that almost anyone can learn. Is there something you could work on?

Stayin’ alive is a full-time job…so get to work.

In my coaching practice I help people change the behaviours that hold them back at work and in their personal relationships. If you’d like to talk, contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.