HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer at ELMO Software

Monica Watt is the Chief Human Resources Officer at ELMO Software, which offers a suite of cloud HR, payroll and rostering, time & attendance software solutions.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve been working since I was 15 ― my first job was at an ice-cream parlour! To say I’ve had a diverse career path would be an understatement.

I support the Australian Defence Force and believe in giving back to the community through youth development. Combining the two, I became an officer of the Australian Army Cadets 13 years ago and am currently the Officer Commanding of a unit.

As for my career, I have had 20 odd years working in service-based industries, starting in hospitality, moving into teaching, then later into human resources. My first green field project was in a not-for-profit organisation.

I moved into education and training with TAFE, before taking an international posting to open the first English speaking institute in the UAE ― an incredible experience.

After this, I returned to Australia to work in HR training as an Instructional Designer. This was my first interaction with ELMO, launching eLearning within a large Australian company. I then moved into an Industry Skills Council to write the first streamlined training package for the Resources and Infrastructure Industry.

I’ve always had a ‘compliance lens,’ so it made sense to move into compliance within the vocational education and training sector. I was offered a role to manage a RTO (registered training organisation), and I synchronously established the HR team at ELMO.

You could say ELMO was my second green field. As the Chief Human Resources Officer, I manage general HR, also IT support, facilities, administration, learning and development, talent acquisition and procurement.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

It depends on the day, however, I reflect and meditate daily as a healthy mind assists in productivity. I have one day each week dedicated to my team and going through my direct reports’ pain points, objectives and any issues they are facing.

Everyone has objectives and key results with quarterly check-ins, but weekly catch ups mean performance is aligned with business objectives and course correction can occur at an earlier stage. I like to ask a lot of questions ― this is how you end up discovering far more about your team, which I believe is essential to being a good coach.

I’m a listener, and my priority is to keep my employees and teams performing, growing and happy. It’s important to listen to their concerns and make sure I am providing the resources and environment in which they can succeed. If I achieve this, I’m doing my job well.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

In 2020, I am moving towards working from home one day a week, where possible. Flexibility has become a norm in the workplace, and I believe it should be open to everyone. It’s important to note that each team member is unique and they require different levels of engagement.

As a leader, I’ve found you need to walk the walk and demonstrate that the place won’t fall apart if somebody finishes early one day, or has to work from home to make the afternoon school pick up.

It’s about trust and allowing yourself (and your employees) to be autonomous. As long as their objectives and clients’ needs are being met, my team can work from Mars for all I care!

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

For me, it’s about using your people ― discover their strengths, find what motivates them and outsource those tasks. You can’t do everything, it’s not possible. And the worst thing is to be a jack of all trades but master of none.

As Chief of HR, I cover a full spectrum of responsibilities. Even if I’d like to get 15 to 20 things done every day, that is unrealistic and I’ll only reasonably tackle three or four of them.

It’s all about finding what your team members are good at and allowing them to create a specialisation, doing the things that bring them joy at work. As the go-to person for answers, sometimes people are surprised when I ask for help. But in order to grow, it’s important to put your hand up and ask for help occasionally.

Another trick I have learned is to block time in my calendar and aim to respect that time. Multi-tasking is ineffective ― it takes time and energy to switch between tasks, so it is important to know what your attention span is and work towards that.

Sometimes it can be hard to stay focussed but when you do get in that flow, it’s magic! I try not to berate myself when I’m not being my best or following my plan. I remind myself if I’m willing to respect another meeting for someone else, then I should give my own time the same level of respect.

My final tip is learning to say no. And, if you need to say yes, then make sure you know what the trade-off will be in terms of your own time management ― you can’t do everything!

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

In my opinion, the work-life juggle is unrealistic. There is a work and life synergy as one impacts the other: the more you give to work, the less you can give at home. My advice is to find a job that integrates into your life ― one that doesn’t feel like a chore and which adds value in support of your personal and professional goals.

I work long hours but encourage my team to take substantial holidays each year so that they can reset and perform to their best ability. We made an agreement at ELMO early on that the executive team would keep each other accountable to take holidays each year and lead by example.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Habits are hard to create and to break. I have a lot of habits, so it’s important for me to reflect on what, why, and how I am doing. Meditation and mindfulness contribute to this reflection ― I’m not perfect but I keep working on it.

I study and read a lot, plus audiobooks are my best friend on my drive to work or when travelling on a plane. I put into practice almost everything that I listen to, finding how different things fit with me personally, then how they can help me relate to and build other people.

I ask for radical candour and encourage others to do the same. I routinely ask others what they need of me and how I can improve. At times this can be challenging, but when I can see someone has no agenda other than to make me a better person, I am very grateful for their feedback.

My husband is my greatest champion so when he raises a concern it means I need to listen, evaluate what I am doing and usually take some time out. For me, listening is my best habit ― it’s the most valuable skill we have. In this crazy, frenetic world, I’ve learnt silence is valuable because you can hear and see so much more.

I prioritise my family above everything else ― we only have one and they should be cherished. My people know I love and care for them, and my peers know I will support them and deliver on our objectives. However, if my family ever needs me, I’m out the door and will work around those needs instead.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Oh, where do I start! I make a habit of reading the Australian Financial Review. I read every single day with audiobooks being my preferred learning style. You could say I have read most ranked business and personal development books out there. There are too many to list them all but these are a few that stand out.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson et al. is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

It guides my communication and interactions with others as I remove my ego and always start with the heart, making conversations safe and finding a shared pool of meaning. It’s such a great book that I have gifted it to my team and my children.

5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins is another book I often gift. I also love Brené Browne’s books ― her most recent, Dare to Dream, was a gift from one of my team members and I love it. I have read a lot of books on women as leaders and I use these as a frame of reference for what I can potentially achieve.

Two of my favourites are Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel and How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Shelly Helgesen. I also adore Susan David’s work on emotional agility, and I’ve read everything by Patrick Lencione and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

In today’s world of work where being highly productive, agile, vulnerable and courageous is important, there are three great books I would recommend: Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, and Team of Team by General Stanley McCrystal.

At the moment, I’m reading Presence by Amy Cuddy, which touches on how body language influences others and can help to convey competence and power.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

There are two things. For me personally and for my role as a people leader, the first is my morning routine. My routine is important and sets my mind for the day ― from breakfast with my husband, to the morning hellos with my team which is kind of like a song, and my coffee walk where I chat with everyone I meet.

I’m a hugger so if people want one, or I see they need one, it’s always on offer. I find these types of interactions so important as I genuinely want to know what’s happening in different peoples’ worlds. I look for changes in how my team are moving, how they are talking, and if I need to check in with them, I will.

The second thing is important for my work ― blocking out my calendar for deep-dive work, breaks, one-on-one meetings and reading time. This is essential as it enables me to focus on what is important for the day, picking up on projects and priorities as needed.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

In life, it is important to be true to yourself and what you value. Be determined and respect yourself as much as you do any another person. Trust is also the most valuable asset we have. It is important to be respectful, honest, and to never break somebody’s trust ― except for when that person is at risk.

Success comes from hard work and repetition, and you can never do it on your own. We are human and we all need connection, recognition, support and love, so always remember to say thank you when somebody shows you kindness.

Lastly, it’s a bit cliché but if you fall, fall forward. Pick yourself up and learn because it takes courage to fall, and even more courage to get back up and move onward.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.