Episode 59: Just Get On With It with Lisa Mulligan

I'm Shivani Gupta, and welcome to the Ask Shivani podcast. I believe that one of the best presents that you can give yourself is time to be able to sit down and ask yourself some questions. I believe that the quality of the question that you ask yourself will determine the quality of your life.


Hi everyone and welcome to the AskShivani podcast. I am really delighted to have Lisa Mulligan today, who is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Walley, which is a global engineering and project management company. She is very passionate about issues around diversity, equity and inclusion. And she's also the host of the very popular podcast adult called Diversity, which we will find out a little bit more about her. In her last 20 years of experience in HR and organizational development, and diversity and inclusion. She has worked in global companies. She's also worked across retail and distribution, insurance, engineering services, and the list goes on, her real passion and focuses in developing people and particularly leaders in organizations to help them create effective and organizational cultures. She's got qualifications and Applied Sciences business, a master's in organizational coaching from Sydney University. Welcome, Lisa.


Thank you so much. Shivani. That was a massive mouthful.


I think I cut out three paragraphs there, you have done achieved a lot in the last 20 years, I wanted to at least you, the listeners in the audience a little bit about you. Now, one of the first things I always want to know, Lisa is you know, there's this thing that we always talk about journey, the journey is never linear. So, we wanted, I wanted to find out kind of your big highs and some of your big lows, that have got you to where you have today. Tell me a little bit about that.


Sure. Um, so I might go back a little bit, it probably took me a little while to work out that I wanted to work in human resources and with people and I guess generally making organizations better. And I started down that path living in Brisbane. And then I moved to Sydney, very early in my career, for two reasons, one to follow a man, as is often the case, who is now my husband. And the second was to really be able to work for some bigger organizations in HR. And, you know, at the time in Brisbane, they weren't bigger organizations established there. I think I think there are now and, and I guess moving to Sydney, I had in my head that I wanted to work for global business, I don't really know why.

But, that first role I got after moving to Sydney was definitely a global business. And it really opened my eyes to different cultures and different ways of doing things. And I've really never looked back from that, I think it was such a valuable experience. So, I guess one of those first things that was really fantastic was just working for a global company and being able to travel globally, if anyone remembers what travel is. So that was really great.

And, you know, I probably I think I lived and worked in Sydney for about 12 years before I got the opportunity to move to Singapore with my job. And, you know, that was one of those things that I, I made a suggestion to the company I worked for, and it was it kind of came off, and I didn't think it was going to and I had always wanted to live and work overseas and so coming to Singapore was my first opportunity to do that. So that was a fantastic highlight. And I can remember moving here and thinking, you know, maybe, you know, I was a I was now a small cog in a very big part of the world where there was lots of growth and lots of things happening and, you know, learned so much about how to work with different cultures and how to get the best out of them particularly being a pretty loud mouth Australian, which often doesn't translate in Southeast Asia. So that was a really good learning.

Possibly, another highlight was we also moved to the UK. So, we came to Singapore for two years. And then I got a promotion and move to the UK. That probably turned out to be one of the worst decisions in my career and not really something I look back on with a lot of happiness. It was it was one of those things where I didn't want to go, I had this awful gut feeling about it. I can remember waking in the middle of the night and having panic attacks. But you know, on the surface in the broad daylight, it seemed like a great opportunity I would get to develop my career across Europe and understand, you know, HR and people in that part of the world. But I moved my whole family there we packed up a 40-foot container. My husband and my two kids and my mum and dad even came to live with us in the UK. They wanted to retire and they looked after our kids while we could work and I had been there two months and my role was made redundant and we're stuck in a country where that I couldn't then work, my husband couldn't work. And so, we had to turn around within six months. And we came back to Singapore.

So, you know, and often people say to you are, you learn so much from things when they go wrong, but that's the one thing I could have really done without, you know, that, you know, putting kids in schools twice in six months packing up your whole life twice in six months, it wasn't great. But yeah, I guess coming back to Singapore has been really fantastic. And we've been back for probably five and a half years. So yeah, I'll stop there.


That's, that's fantastic. And I love you so very openly, and transparently share that, because I think sometimes, you know, people often when we talk about journeys, we'll talk about the points that got them to their rather than the bits that didn't work. And I think it's great. So that you go well, not sure I learned a lot out of that. It was really, really challenging time and a lot. Yeah, yeah. But it's for you back to where you love as well.

Lisa, when it comes to challenges, I'm always fascinated by people in terms of, you know, you get personal challenges, you get kids challenges, parenting challenges, obviously, big business ones as well. You know, I know, you've got your own really great podcast as well. So, when challenges come your way? Do you have a like a way of a mindset or a process or a system? Like how do you address it when things come your way? Are they all different today? Do you approach them in a similar way? Like how do you go about working through their challenge to come up with a solution or even processor?


That's a really good question. Yeah, and I think, I think the way that I've dealt with it in the past, is, just get on with it. And, you know, I grew up on a dairy farm. So up until I was about 10 years old, and I, you know, I, I've learned more recently about that experience, and that when you're when you run a farm, you can't, you can't be sick, you can't just say I can't cope with this, I'm not going to do it, you have to get up and feed the animals, you have to milk the cows, you have to fix the fences, right? So, part of the reason I think I've been successful in my career is that I, you know, I just work really hard. And when a challenge comes along, I kind of work through it. And you know, and get on with it. And you know, that really, you know, you've got to get up and get out of bed and do your job. And, I think many of us do that. And it wasn't until I came back from the UK back to Singapore, after I'd moved our whole life there for two months, and then lost my job.

You know, I went and spoke to someone about it, because it was such an awful time. I didn't know how to process it. And you know, it was it felt like such a failure in my career. And the psychologist was like, okay, well tell me about your upbringing. And I'm like, I don't, I don't want to go into this kind of therapy and talk about my childhood. But, talking about that upbringing, in that, that value around working hard, and even when things are tough, and maybe even when they you should walk away, and you should stop doing that thing. You know, like, she kind of made me realize that maybe not everything in life has to be that way. I've certainly learned more recently with COVID that, you know, I don't have to work all the hours under the sun. When it first hit in Singapore, I thought I was gonna lose my job. I was awake at 3am every night thinking about, I'm going to lose my job.And, you know, so I was working really hard to try and show my company that I shouldn't lose my job. And you know, it wasn't healthy. It wasn't healthy. I mean, I think I've dealt with lots of challenges, and some of them probably in more healthy ways than others. But I have taken that approach, I'll just get on with it. Whereas this year, I've tried to not be so insane about that. So, if I've, if I've had enough at work, and it's 4:30 or five o'clock, I'm going to walk away from the computer and go do something else. So, I think I've gotten better, hopefully.


Yeah, that's great. Some people have gone the other way this year. And I think it's great. And I just also loved the way that you sort of said, yeah, when some support like there was some stuff that I wasn't coping with. And I think sometimes people particularly in all the roles that you've had in your career, people kind of think oh, yeah, that woman she's so good together and it's so good to be able to go yes, I have got it together but also need some support around processing some of that. Yeah.


I’m not even sure I've got it together, but depends on the day.


And when you look, you're not only just your career list, but also your, your personal life. Like, do you have future aspirations in terms of and you know, sometimes that outlook is a year for people. And sometimes it's 20 years like. Yeah, that's what I want to do over the next few years. So, what, what are some of the things in the future that you want to do, whether they be in business, whether they be with your podcast, whether they be with you? So personally, I know we were talking about travel a little bit earlier, what are some of the things that come to your mind you go, I really want to do that I really want to work on that in the future.


Ah, so much. Like so much like, I'm always writing notes, or I want to do that, I want to do that. But apart partly, I think, like many people, the pandemic has made me really think about what's important. I'm not sure I want to continue a corporate career. You know, I do want to possibly do something a bit different, and, you know, expand the work I'm doing on my podcast, you know, and still help organisations, be better places to be, but maybe in a different format. Maybe not working full time, maybe working four days, maybe I don't know, from still I'm hoping to have some time over Christmas to really think that through. But, just being able to be I think, more creative with that stuff. And

yeah, I'm not sure yet. I think I'm at sort of a turning point of like, where do I go next? And what do I do? So? Yeah, yeah. Great.


And just exploring some of that for the future as well. Yeah, definitely. I'm exactly doing that as my it's my team. People rethink their values and rethink how they want to leave and who they want to be. Yeah. And, you know, certainly we've made some changes in our family in the last 12 months. And then we've been saying, well, okay, so how do we build upon better? What do we ask, do we need to let go? So we just keep cleaning stuff up as we go.


What are you doing? What some of the changes you've done in your family?


Oh, good question. You're a good podcast person.


Yeah, I'm really curious.


Last year, Scott, my husband and I sat down. And we talked about the fact that he is in corporate, he's in HR as well. And it's been in sort of pretty big corporate roles. And he's always been on the road for two to three days a week for the last 10 years. And we have an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old. And we were talking about how the last decade sort of flown by and we'd like to think we're a couple that actually like each other and want to spend some time together. And so, we started to say we're comfortable fully in alignment we've taken these certain roles on and I run three different businesses. And we've taken all of this stuff on but we kind of haven't consciously thought about, is this how we want to live in the future? Is this what we want to really do. So, we made some changes at the end of the last year, where he's now taken still on the national HR role, but has taken where it's not at the pace, but also when the world eventually returns to normal, whatever that will be. We won't go back onto planes and things at the same ferocity that we were before. So, we've certainly done that. 

And it was also very easy as the world started to open up to fill up your diaries with social calendars and stuff, particularly at this time of year. So one of the core decisions that we've made is to say, actually, it's still been a fairly challenging here. My father in law passed away and stock was stuck across the border despite being fully vaccinated. So we couldn't get in home for last two months, and I broke my first bone ever in my late 40s. Like, when does that happen? Never broken a bone and synonymous in a moment. So we were going, Yeah, look, let's just really slow it down at the end of this year, and we're going to take about a month I'm going to take about a month off with the kids. In small business, you never get your way. So you can you get lots of flexibility. And I love that saying it says you work 24/7 Because you don't want to work nine to five. And so there's always a little bit to do in your own business, but hopefully not at the same pace.

I'm going to take a better part of the month, sort of from late next week till about the third week of Jan, and just yeah, kind of just be and do a little bit of travel wherever we can squeeze them in and and then just have some time to be and think about next year.


Yeah. Do you know I'm hearing that? I follow a lot of, I guess entrepreneurs on podcasts, and they're all talking about for the first time ever. We're taking like a month off and it's just. Yes. So nice. So nice.


Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Lisa, you've worked in some pretty big jobs and you would come across lots of leadership principles and philosophies and can you send us a phrase that really rings true to you that you try, neither abide by or sleep by. What are the things that are really important to you when it comes to philosophies, whether they're leadership philosophies or other philosophies?


Yeah. You know, it's such a big question because I think leadership is one of the topics that so many people write books about and talk about. But I couldn't have, like for me, it was really simple. And I certainly had to learn it coming to Asia where people are, they want to be spoken to differently, they might have different aspirations things. Sometimes, what's important to people in Indonesia or Singapore, is different to what's important to people in Australia. So for me, I think the most important thing for me is being able to manage individuals. And so not treating a whole team the same but having individual one on ones and really understanding that person and working with that person.

Because you can't, you can't lead groups, you have to lead individuals and people. And I think we've seen much more of that during COVID that people have to be led and connected with individually. So I think that's the most important thing for me to get to know people. It's not a big leadership kind of strategy. It's just like, we have to work with people like their people. And we have to know what concerns them and what is important to them. Yeah, so that's my thing.


Yeah. And, you know, sometimes people go, Oh, I know a lot of different entrepreneurs, I'm coming across the line, you can't do one on one staff, you've got to batch it up. I've certainly had mentors in the past, you know, you've got to batch it up. That's how you get volume, that's how you get revenue, etc. But when I hear you speaking, it's almost the opposite. It's almost going back to that individualized approach and connecting with people that are human. And so why it's almost like counterintuitive, though, isn't it? Because people are telling us to get more efficient, but then at the same time, you're like, that's what I really value. So do you find that difficult at times to go? Wow, because I work in such a large, I've got all these? If I want to really get to know people that's quite time consuming at the same? Yeah, fine. And how do you daily.


It's really inefficient to do it that way. And I think the things you can batch, you know, their processes and software, and, you know, that's the stuff you batch, you don't batch the people bit. And you also you can't manage more than a certain number of people, I can’t you know, if you have more than six or seven or eight people that you're managing directly, like it's too many, you just, you cannot, you cannot do it.

Especially in, I guess more knowledge-based industries. So if it's, you know, call centers, maybe your span of control can be bigger, but you still got, you know, people that you need to connect with, but

yeah, look, it's time consuming. And I think when I was the head of HR for Southeast Asia for Wally, and I had probably had about that six or seven or eight people. Yeah, I spend a lot of time might be couple of hours, every week with each person, just listening and learning and, you know, trying to support them. So yeah, it's hugely time consuming. But that's leadership. 

You know, it's not they're standing up in front of people and doing big town halls and updating, you know, your financial results. Of course, that's a little part of it. But that's communication. That's not leadership, leadership is working with people in life.


It's always refreshing really to hear, you know, like a leader saying, actually, I do a lot of individual listening and talking and getting to know them and guiding them and mentoring them all the different words that might come in their, to our conversation that you would have, yeah. Awesome.

And then what about your own wellness? Like, you obviously have to give a lot of yourself out, you know, to your family, to your work, all the different challenges that we were speaking about earlier? So do you have whether they're daily or quarterly or yearly prep for rituals or practices? What are some of the things well, again, it's, you know, not often just physical, but it might be mental, or it might be psychological. And so, what are some of the things around your own wellness and rituals that you do to take care of you?


Yeah, you know, I realized maybe five or 10 years ago, I was much better at planning that stuff, like sitting down and going, thinking about my physical health and my mental health and yeah, and kind of having a bit of a plan of attack for that stuff. And I've fallen out of the routine. It's not to say I don't do stuff. So when we went into the pandemic, I was training for triathlon I was running and cycling and swimming so badly. I don't know why I picked a sport that I'm so terrible at. Because honestly you do it and you feel you feel shitty doing it because you're not good at it, there's no satisfying, honestly, there's no satisfaction I'm just shoot at it right.

And I was exhausted all the time because when you're training for triathlons, you've got to do it's like you've done triathlon training, Shivani. Like every day you got to be doing something, it's just shit and so then during the pandemic, I a little bit managed to keep up cycling a bit. And then I completely lost my way with that. And for the last 12 months I've been mainly what I call lifting heavy shit. So weightlifting but like Olympic weightlifting, not little tiny one kilo weights like proper, you know, I can back squat 100 kilos now so like proper lifting.

And I love walking and I try to every few days go for a walk. And there's some beautiful areas in Singapore, which are very leafy and green and do that kind of that Japanese concept of forest bathing, just being in nature. And I've been torturing my family actually, during the whole of the pandemic, often on a Sunday. I'll be right around, alright, get the shoes on, we're going out we're going to go walking somewhere. So a bit of that. But, you know, your question has made me think I need to get back into thinking about that a bit more. I love yoga. I haven't done that for probably two years. You know, there's lots of things I've gotten out of the habit of doing and yeah, that I need to get a handle on.


Yeah, I mean triathlon, doesn't matter if you're doing a shitty job at it. You're still doing a triathlon. Like, I'm not. I’m listening to a guy. Yeah, I think, Lisa, I think you’re underplaying the fact that if you've done triathlon no matter how shitty, you've done it, you're actually doing the three different types of exercise to compete.


Yeah. Yeah. But you know, when you do things that you just love, and you just get like, when I was living in Sydney, I'd go to the Sydney dance company and they have like adult dance classes. We go do jazz ballet, or you could do classical, or you could do modern. And I loved that because I just loved dancing. But no, I don't love triathlon. It just feels like a chore. And it feels like yeah, when you don't, you don't improve that much when you're not great at it.


Yeah, fair enough. And Lisa, if people want to know more about you or the work that you're doing and also that you flip cars, what are some of the best places to find you?


So the best best place is LinkedIn. Because I post, I write, and I put my podcast there. I am on Instagram so you can contact me there @LisaMulligan and I'm also on Facebook. But probably LinkedIn is the best spot I would say.


That is awesome. I could probably spend another hour and a half at least talking to you but I'm so grateful. Thank you for coming on today.


No problem, it was absolute pleasure.

I'm Shivani Gupta. And you've been listening to the Ask Shivani podcast where I'd like to ask some questions. Thank you so much for listening. Please follow Ask Shivani on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. And if you haven't done so, please go to the Apple podcasts and subscribe rate and review this podcast. It would mean a lot. Thank you.