CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Fran Connelley, CEO of Fran Connelley Culture & Communications

Fran Connelley, CEO of Fran Connelley Culture and Communications, is a NFP culture and communications specialist, author, facilitator and presenter.

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

After leaving school, I completed an economics degree. The other graduates in my year were looking for roles in banking or public service – but I knew that wasn’t for me. So I started looking at retail and secured a role as a management trainee at David Jones.

At the time, David Jones was renowned for their incredible customer experience. I found myself fascinated by anything to do with marketing and started a post grad marketing diploma in the evening.

By 26, I was the Buyer for 100 stores at Toyworld NSW. It was a huge, really exciting role, with overseas buying trips and significant financial responsibilities. Two years later I was offered the role of Group Product Manager for our largest supplier, Hasbro Toys. Here I learnt the importance of a strong brand, great storytelling and how to navigate a highly volatile operating environment.

However, a funny thing happened when I became a mum, I suddenly lost my passion for toys and wanted to work in an area that made a meaningful difference. So I started my own business supporting non-profit organisations. 

Since then I’ve been privileged to work with some wonderful clients including Landcare Australia, the Young Endeavour Youth Scheme, the Royal Hospital for Women Foundation and many more. 

But it was in the disability sector that I found the greatest need. In 2015, over 2000 organisations were facing massive disruption due to the introduction of the NDIS. Nearly 40% of providers were expected to disappear. So I wrote my first book, ‘How to Thrive under the NDIS’, which is now in its seventh reprint.

Not long after it came out, I shifted my focus to workplace culture as it became obvious that many organisations were overlooking their most important target market: their staff. 

In my workshops I found that simple marketing principles could dramatically improve teamwork and transform the employee experience. I then shared my process in a second book, ‘Workplace Culture and the NDIS’

Now, as CEO of Fran Connelley Culture and Communications, my work is all about helping great organisations achieve authentic, positive culture transformation – and I love it!

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

I usually get up at about 6.30 and go for a walk around the bay near where I live. My husband makes the best coffee so we then have breakfast and I generally plan my day sitting out on our little balcony in the sunshine listening to classical music.

If I have any writing to do, or online workshops to run, I block out time for this first thing in my morning. At about 11am the client meetings usually start. These might be individual client catch ups or interviews.

At lunchtime I will either go for a second walk or catch up on screen-free work related reading. After lunch is usually the time I use for big chunks of project work. 

About 6.30, it’s time to put on my favourite jazz playlist and wind down with a glass of bubbles. My husband is a brilliant cook (lucky me!) so he cooks dinner and I wash up – we’re a great team!  I usually hit the sack by 11.

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

Flexible and remote working has been my normal routine for nearly 20 years. In fact, it would be very difficult to return to 9-to-5 in an office environment. 

I’ve become extremely comfortable working with just my iPhone or laptop. In fact, I love the freedom of it. I’ve never had employees.  Depending on the project I might hire other consultants who are experts in their field to support me. It means that I’ve always had an extremely flexible working arrangement which I love.

After my first book came out, I had a lot of interest from organisations outside of NSW.  This meant that, before Covid, there was lots of interstate travel.  I was often away twice a month running workshops in different states around Australia. I really miss that and look forward to when I can travel again and visit my interstate clients.

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

Work-life balance is a bit of a misnomer. You can’t segment the two because we’re human beings not human ‘resources’. I bring my whole self to my work just as I bring my whole self to other parts of my life.

I think you need to be clear on your boundaries. You also need to be clear about the things in your life that give you energy and the things that might deplete you.  

This might be at work and outside work. The key is to find the balance that’s right for you and be sufficiently self-aware to notice where you might self-sabotage.

My passion is art. I love painting.  Three hours can fly by in what seems like three minutes. For me, balance means time to paint, time to exercise and, most important of all, time to connect with my family and the people I care about.

I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. However I’ve learnt that the quality of my life and my work both improve when I respect my own boundaries.  It requires a daily commitment to balance.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

Funny you should ask. In the last 12 months I spent more time painting than ever before, and my artworks have really improved.  It’s not so much a routine as a personal commitment to paint more often.

I’ve also stopped watching TV news entirely. There are better ways to obtain news and information.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

There are so many. My current favourites books are:

  • Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. This is one of the smartest marketing books I’ve ever read in my life.
  • Effortless the latest book by Greg McKeown 
  • Superengaged by Nikki Gatenby

My favourite podcasts:

I always enjoy listening to ‘Conversations’ on ABC.   

The Caring CEO by Graeme Cowan is fabulous! 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

This is probably not the answer you’re looking for, but I can’t live without a blank canvas and a good selection of acrylic paints. In fact, when Sydney was given three hours’ notice before going into lockdown, the first thing I did was order ‘emergency rations’ of my favourite paints – and a few more canvases!

I’m also enjoying Instagram. There are some fabulous Australian artists doing wonderful things on this platform. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

Greg McKeown, author of two great books, Essentialism and Effortless. The guy is such a clear thinker.

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

One of my favourite quotes is from Nelson Mandela: “It only seems impossible until it’s done.”  Too often we defeat ourselves with our own self-talk and we defeat great ideas before they’ve even had a chance.  

I’m one of these relentless goal setters, so I don’t think you can ever overestimate the importance of focusing on an end result – and then asking the obvious questions. 

I think successful innovation only comes from the dedicated pursuit of a crystal clear outcome or vision. Whether that’s a vision for how you live, work, look, play or grow.

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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.