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Balancing the Grind with Hiam Sakakini, Founder of The Culture Equation

Hiam Sakakini is the founder of The Culture Equation, a boutique management consulting company, supporting large organisations to develop high performing cultures.

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

I’m the founder of The Culture Equation, which I set up in early 2019. We are a boutique management consultancy, focusing on how to create the conditions necessary for high-performing teams to thrive through their culture.

We help Australian businesses to unlock their true culture potential, and we are thrilled to have recently launched the Team ReForm Program, designed to supercharge businesses by enabling them to develop high performing cultures – and to lead through any crisis. 

Before starting my own business I spent nearly a decade working at Google where my career transitioned from the business side to the people and culture side.

I learned a lot from Google, for which I will forever be grateful and which has subsequently enabled me to start my own culture-change company, helping other organisations transform their culture.

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

I’m very lucky that any day can look wildly different from the last. Each organisation we work with is unique and their path to designing their culture will be different.

In some instances we work with an in-house team, augmenting and supercharging what they are doing, while on other days we become the full transformational change team for our clients.

Recently, we were on-site with a client, piloting a Manager Development program that embeds their organisational values into manager behaviours. Getting on,site and face-to-face with teams is starting to become more normal after a year of running these kinds of sessions through Zoom – COVID-19 has a lot to answer for!

Our roles range from supporting an organisation with the diagnostic and design of their culture, to walking side-by-side with them implementing the program of work we have pulled together to help them shift their culture from A to B. We like to go deep with clients, which means our skills need to be broad. For that I rely on an amazing team.

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

Even before COVID-19 hit I had never intended to work from one place 9-5pm. Having a small team and being very in touch with new ways of working leveraging technology meant that we started with the intention of being remote first.

We meet monthly as a team to spend a full day planning, doing retrospectives and general team building. We do this at my home where I have set up a collaboration space that is geared towards the team.

Since our work is culture focused we spend a lot of time immersing ourselves within our clients workplace. We learn about their unspoken rules, norms, habits and rituals. So we are lucky to have that great birds eye view of a number of workplaces.

We notice the majority of workplaces are not snapping back to pre-COVID norms, they are offering full teams the office space on set days and people do their deep work from home. 

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

Good question! For me ‘work’ means doing what I love and what is needed in the world. Putting skills and purpose to good use. I get a huge amount of satisfaction by focusing on the soul of an organisation (culture). ‘Life’ on the other hand is family, friends, hobbies, volunteering, travel, exploring. All of which bring me joy. 

Balance for me is about sharing. My husband and I have been together for 22 years and we have never fallen into gender stereotypical roles. We share the load and that means we can both achieve what we want at home with our family and in our respective careers.

We also believe in good planning. We have a good chat once a year about what we’d like to achieve that year, a wishlist of sorts. We write it down and then we make sure we put plans in place to achieve our goals.

We also plan simple things like regular date nights or catch-ups with friends. If we don’t put the planning time in we rarely get around to what is important, the minutiae of life takes over. 

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

The past 12 months have been strange to say the least. I have definitely stayed in one place more. For me, being home more has been quite nice, I’m seeing more of my immediate family, friends and neighbours. I’m enjoying the home itself, the garden, cooking, the local shops and beach area.

Technology has played a huge role in allowing me to keep in touch with people, continue my work and also stay fit through virtual gym sessions. However I do find that with that my brain is constantly wired to wanting to check in on my devices which is not a good habit. 

My daily habits I can’t live without are my morning walks, followed by virtual gym sessions followed by a standup with my team. Somewhere in there I also have a daily coffee from my local cafe where I enjoy the banter as much as I do the coffee.

We’ve just gotten a puppy so the newest routine is snuggling up with him and my daughter on the couch in the evenings. Pure oxytocin release!

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

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

From a work perspective we can’t live without Google Suite, Asana, Slack, Zoom and Canva.

Apps: I am on some social media to keep up with friends back home. Pinterest helps me put things together and Spotify is my soundtrack to life. I’ve just started listening to books through Audible and am finding that quite nice on my walks.

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

I would like to read more stories about working fathers who may have come through COVID with a new perspective on work and family.  

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

We really are accommodating people and we hate saying no to people. It is a skill which needs to be practiced. Boundaries are good, learn to say no, without follow up excuses, just no.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.