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.

Good conversation has become rare.

How often have you left a conversation, bored, exhausted, and feeling like a punch bag? Or feeling that the person you were talking to had no interest or care for anything you said? How many people have you talked to over months or even years without any feeling that a relationship was developing between you? 

Whingeing about your current pet hate isn’t conversation: nor is pontificating and moralizing about your own unarguable views on everything from the terrible state of the world to the behaviour of taxi drivers. Endless dumping of your personal dramas on anyone who will listen also doesn’t make for very good conversation.  What passes for conversation is often merely storytelling: which is fine so long as the story is interesting and amusing, doesn’t contain interminable detail and is one you haven’t heard before.

Aside from the content of what we say, we’re not very good at how we say it either.

A good conversation is a two person game.

Monday, 12 August 2013 11:15

How to hold better performance appraisals

eBook: How to hold better performance appraisals

Each chapter provides guidelines on how to avoid the worst mistakes in performance appraisal discussions. 

23 pages

  • You talk and talk without getting to the real problem 
  • Conversations get into conflict almost as soon as you start 
  • You disagree over opinions and lose sight of the facts
  • Emotions take over and disagreement escalates into argument
  • You don’t know how to get people to speak up with their ideas and feelings
  • People refuse to be held to account for their performance
  • Your employees complain that you don’t listen to them 
  • You don’t obtain commitment to action, and problems are never properly resolved

Email Maureen to order the ebook on how to hold better performance appraisals for R99

Monday, 12 August 2013 10:59

How to hold better performance reviews

Once again, the end of year performance reviews are approaching. It’s the time of year when past performance catches up with staff – and with their managers. 

No-one looks forward to conversations about poor performance or bad behaviour. Most often managers skirt around difficult or sensitive issues, allocating middle of the road evaluations and modest increases in salary, so that everyone can escape back to the safety of their desks for another year…until the same conversations, with the same people, take place all over again.

When you don’t hold people to account for what they achieve and how they behave, you are effectively rewarding them for their poor performance and bad behaviour. How crazy is that?

You can create accountability in four – not always easy – steps.

  1. Be specific about what you want. Discuss and agree goals, standards, time lines and resources. The key word is specific. Most scorecards and objectives are anything but, getting the whole process off to a bad start.
  2. Catch people doing it right and give them positive feedback. This is the easy step, but the one most often overlooked. Positive feedback is a wonderful motivator and takes away any impression that all you care about are results at any cost.
  3. Take corrective action immediately you see things going off track. The key word is immediately. That way people know you’re serious about their meeting agreed goals and standards.
  4. Apply consequences: reward for those who meet expectations: sanction for those who do not: and make sure you do so consistently and fairly. The more exceptions you make, the more you undermine your own credibility and effectiveness.

Start now with step one and you needn’t ever again anticipate the end of year performance reviews with trepidation.

Click here for a how-to guide on performance appraisals and holding people to account. It includes models and dialogue for the most common and most difficult conversations around performance. 


How often do you find that you talk to the same person about the same sub- standard performance or inappropriate behaviour again and again without seeing any improvement? Eventually you give up – and put up with someone whose contribution is way below what you need. 

When you want behaviour to change you must create accountability for it to change - and to stay changed.

Click below to read the full white paper on how to hold people to account for their performance.

Cuckoo children are the young adults who for reasons of economics or preference, are living with their parents until late into their twenties or even thirties. It’s a relationship that often starts out happily but as time goes on can cause increasing irritation and frustration. At worst it can damage marriages and end when children find their suitcases packed and on the front step.

Most of the problems in getting cuckoos to take flight start when expectations are not clearly expressed and agreed up front. 

‘Ma, can I stay with you for a while when I get back from overseas’

‘Of course! We’d love to have you back.’

This hardly stands up as a clear agreement on expectations!

Agreeing what everyone expects from the relationship is a negotiation. The more detail it covers and the more honest everyone is, the less trouble there will be later on. It should cover the period of living together; payment or not for rent, food and utilities; contribution or not toward household chores; and agreements about smoking, friends, cars, noise, tidiness…all the things that are likely to cause bad feelings down the track.

This first conversation is the most important one as it lays the basis and sets a tone for all the conversations that follow.  If you stick to the Straight Talk principles you need no more than three more conversations to maintain a good relationship between you and your cuckoo child.


Friday, 05 July 2013 08:45

How to manage millennials

Millennials are the twenty somethings whose impact is starting to cause ripples in the corporate world. Confident, brash, with high expectations and higher levels of computer skills, they love to be challenged…and in return present a challenge for their colleagues and managers.

My view is that far from requiring any new management or leadership style, millennials demand that we apply exactly the same principles that we have known for decades.  Every management textbook exhorts managers to:

  • tell people what you expect of them, and why. Then allow them freedom to work out how to do it. 
  • encourage them with positive feedback. When they stray off course, provide constructive feedback as soon as possible to get them back on track.
  • engage with employees. Tap into their ideas and creativity. Don’t think that you have all the answers.
  • find out what motivates people and reward them accordingly.

Sounds familiar? It should. We’ve known these principles for decades but have seldom used them effectively. Now we have to do it right. Millennials are impatient. They expect the best from their jobs and from their managers. 

They require that we stop limiting our communication to giving instructions, criticising and assuming we know what’s right. They want us to ask for their ideas, listen to what they have to say, give them positive feedback and find out what really motivates them.

If your young people feel their needs are not being met, they will use their skills to move on and network themselves right out of your workplace. 

Whether or not you’re a millennial, it makes sense to appreciate your talents and to be aware of any weak spots. Are you as good as you think you are? Take the quiz

Thursday, 04 July 2013 08:06

Are you as good as you think you are?

People with talent sometimes find careers that allow them to fly. They enjoy what they do, they’re very good at doing it, and they’re rewarded handsomely. Other equally talented people never seem to find the right niche or the right opportunity and their careers come to a standstill long before they should.

You need more than education, business skills or luck to create a successful career. Lack of emotional intelligence is the most common career stopper, whatever your particular position or discipline.  

How do you measure up? You could rate yourself on a 1-5 scale and if you think you’re a high flyer, few of your scores should be less than 3.

1.Give a competent presentation to a large group of senior people.

2.Persuade a group to buy into a proposal or an idea.

3.Present an opinion clearly, succinctly and persuasively to a group.

4.Present a credible and confident image to senior colleagues or clients.

5.Show sensitivity in your approach to different groups of people, from senior management to shop floor workers.

6.Write projects and business reports logically and concisely in appropriate business English.

7.Run meetings that stay on point and finish on time.

8.Run meetings in which all relevant opinions are given air time.

9.Disagree or offer an alternative opinion in a constructive manner.

10.Give critical feedback in a way that does not damage relationships.

11.Show empathy appropriately in sensitive situations.

12.Deal with poor performance issues promptly and effectively.

13.Offer positive feedback appropriately and generously.

14.Speak clearly and confidently on the telephone. 

15.Manage time so that you handle priorities and maintain a balance of other activities.

16.Balance your personal life in a way that is constructive for yourself and family.

17.Take responsibility for the direction and progress of your career.

18.Develop a network of family, friends and business colleagues that provides support, interaction and relaxation opportunities.

19.Actively manage personal stress with effective stress management techniques.

20.Manage your personal boundaries by saying no appropriately.

Straight Talk has a comprehensive coaching and skills development process for individuals or groups. It starts with analysis and assessment, then follows a structured coaching and training plan tailored for each individual.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 11:22

Do you measure up?

You’ll be familiar with portfolios of evidence as a means of tracking the performance of children at school. It’s quite likely that some of you have been co-opted into helping in their preparation for the end of year exams. If there were a parenting exam at the end of the year, how would your portfolio of evidence measure up?

There are many criteria for good parenting. The six below are offered as thought starters.

  • Do you have evidence that when you talk to your children you balance the times you share your wisdom with them with the amount you encourage them to think things through for themselves? The best evidence here would be feedback from children.
  • Can you show that you have been wisely protective of your children with regard to their use of the internet and social networking sites? Or have you allowed them freedom that might put them at risk? The evidence could be family ground rules you have agreed to and how well you have ensured that everyone sticks to them.
  • Have you shown up at school related or social events to support your children, or have you been guilty at times of letting them down? Being reliable in doing what you undertake to do is the most important indicator.
  • Can you show that you are interested in what your children are learning and how they are progressing, by regularly checking homework and talking about the subjects they are doing? Do you know exactly what subjects they are being examined on at the end of the year? Have you been available to older children to talk about career choices and further education?
  • Through the year, have you organized regular family time that is protected from work and cell phone interruptions? It’s more about the quality of time than the amount of time you spend, and the extent to which it brings you together.
  • Even when your own life is pressurized have you remained accessible and approachable to your children so that you are one of the first people they come to for help and advice? The best evidence would be feedback from children themselves.

Exams can be tough. A parenting exam would one of the toughest.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013 09:46

How is the quality of your conversations

Relationships develop conversation by conversation; and the quality of your relationships depends on the quality of your conversations. 

Many of us are unaware of our behaviour in conversations and how it can have disastrous effects on our relationships with people who are important to us such as our children, life partners and colleagues at work.

Do you hog the air space? Some people always have more difficult problems, more interesting stories or more dramatic dramas than anyone else. Are you one of them? Do people around you take on a slightly glazed stare when you get going on a topic, nodding and smiling at you mechanically? A conversation is a two person game; not a time to pontificate on something that’s of importance mainly to you. 

How well do you listen? Good listening is a rare skill which communicates your respect and consideration for others. It is especially important when you’re talking to someone whose views or arguments are different from your own. When people feel they’re not being heard they quickly shut down. Many relationships founder on misunderstandings and ignorance of needs and feelings that come from poor listening.

Do you tell others what to do? Even when you think you have the right answer to someone’s problem, no-one enjoys being told what to do. If you need their commitment to action, you need to involve them in deciding what to do. When you don’t listen carefully and you tell others what to do, you can switch people off completely.

Hogging airspace, poor listening and telling others what to do, all reflect a degree of self-centeredness that does not bode well for building good relationships. 

Friday, 24 May 2013 15:40

Dealing with deadlines

It’s said that a goal without a deadline is merely a dream. All businesses have goals and an integral part of goal setting is setting deadlines. Meeting goals and objectives, and doing so on time, is the way you build your reputation. People who care about deadlines build reputations for professionalism and dependability. You might do great work; but if you don’t turn it in on time, you won’t get much credit for it. 

You keep clients happy when you meet delivery deadlines for products and projects. It’s the only way to obtain repeat business. When you meet payment deadlines you increase your ability to borrow money and to attract investors. Paying vendors on time builds good relationships with them and helps maintain a constant supply of services and materials. It might also help you obtain credit in tough times. When internal deadlines are met a professional business culture is created that keeps the company's productivity on track. 

Meeting deadlines, is as they say, a no brainer. So get it right.

Work out how long the job will take. It’s far better to under promise so you can over deliver than to set unrealistic deadlines that you have no hope of reaching. Unreasonable deadlines are demotivating and leave you searching for excuses for non-delivery. Negotiate deadlines with the people who are responsible for getting the work done so that you can be sure plans are realistic. Promises of deliveries made by salespeople without reference to production capability are notoriously unrealistic.

Negotiate deadlines with clients too. Sometimes people throw out deadlines arbitrarily. Have you ever worked through the night to deliver a report that is due ‘by Friday’ only to discover the client left early for the weekend and won’t see your hard work until Monday morning at the earliest?

Draw up contingency plans to deal with potential derailments and alternative courses of action you can take. A problem isn’t such a crisis when you have previously thought through your options.

Identify the super priorities. We seldom have the luxury of pursuing only one deadline. There are lots of balls to keep in the air. But some are only plastic balls. If you drop one it will bounce…over to a renegotiated deadline. Other deadlines are crystal balls: drop one of these at your peril. When you are clear about which of your balls are the crystal balls, you will understand what your priorities are. 

Don’t overcommit. If you want to create a reputation as someone who meets deadlines, you have to learn to say no. Better a no upfront than a commitment you can’t meet that takes your stress level off the scale and leaves you with a disappointed, or worse still, an angry client.

Develop a timeline for each deadline with a start and completion date for each step. Time lines are the basis for roadmaps and milestones so you can measure progress. When you keep a constant check on progress you won’t have any nasty last minute surprises about deadlines that can’t be met.

Break the total job into steps and estimate a time for each step. Build in a small cushion of time at each step, then add it all up to find the total time the job will take with a realistic allowance built in for holdups.

Work step by step. Don’t stress about the total job; concentrate on what is at hand. If you encounter a hold up, try going onto the next step, perhaps by collecting data or holding some preparatory meetings. So long as you keep moving forward, you’ll get there.

Block off time for important steps and those that require your full concentration. Treat this time that you’ll spend on your own concentrating on a piece of work just like you would treat an important appointment with a client or your boss. It’s not negotiable. Do you work in an open plan office? Put a sign on the front of your desk, ‘My door is closed.’ It has humour, will get attention, and all you have to do is keep to the rule you have put in place. No exceptions! Multi-skilling? Forget it. All the research shows is that if you work on several tasks at once, you will perform each of them poorly and overall you will take longer.

Last resort. If you’re really up against a deadline, start early, and if you must, work late. Important deadlines carry your personal reputation for reliability and professionalism. You can’t afford to drop those crystal balls.