Monthly Archives: July 2015

The unknown executive

The setting: Any meeting room in corporate Australia

The situation: Executive committee meeting

The room dynamics: Hearty conversations interspersed with nervous politeness

The issue: Who is that executive at the table no-one knows?

Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Welcome to the world of the repatriated expat.

Unfortunately many senior executives face challenges on return to the corporate office after years abroad leading the operations of an off-shore subsidiary or working in the overseas office of a global entity. It’s probably not surprising that nearly 90% of returning expats leave their current employer within 12 months of returning to Australia. The result is a major loss of experience, expertise, corporate knowledge and business networks that may have taken years to cultivate… not to mention the negative internal employee relations.

How can that be when the executive is offered and relishes the time to build his or her career and gain invaluable international experience? They run with the opportunity to learn new skills and develop the expertise critical to the ongoing growth of the organisation. And their family experiences a life changing experience in a different culture, education system, social environment, and diverse expat and local community.

Wind the clock forward as the executive rings up corporate head office after a few years of stellar performance in the international operations. “My time is up and I would like to discuss coming back to Australia…” pregnant pause “…we will come back to you.”

In the meantime, the executive office has been restructured, key executives have moved on or into new roles with different responsibilities, the business model has changed dramatically as new strategies start to re-shape the business, and the competitive environment has become intense. All of a sudden all the experience and expertise captured overseas no longer appears to be as valuable as previously expected. So what to do?

When that international opportunity opens up, executives can do well to consider three possible options, and plan accordingly.

  1. Three years or less: the most promising, although least likely. The executive will complete an international role, have constant contact with the corporate office and key executive sponsors, and plan a return well in advance; in a very small number of cases, plan a return before they start the international assignment.
  2. Usually longer than three years, and most likely. The executive armed with new skills, experience and expertise plans to return to Australia with a new employer and that process starts well in advance of a return (potentially 12 months in advance).
  3. The long-term assignment where the probability of a return to Australia becomes less likely after five years or more.  The executive’s thinking starts to divert to alternate employers in the country of choice or indeed other countries. Financial and family issues take on a whole new degree of planning and execution in order to fully capture the opportunity.

In conclusion, plan with the end outcome in mind and update on a regular basis and don’t be the unknown executive in the room.

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Hope I live to 100 to see how all this pans out

In that all too classic podium moment the technology went down. Without missing a beat, and even referring to the irony of the moment, Kim Williams continued with his compelling speech on technology disruption and transformation. He simply reverted to old-school print on paper as the audience remained transfixed at the VTA State Conference dinner.

If you read only one speech this year, read this one: The Incumbent’s Dilemma – “Fortune favours the bold”

Education goes hand in glove with innovation. Academics have been at the forefront of critical and scientific thinking for centuries. And now the TAFE sector, at the grass roots of higher education, is paving the way for experienced commercial leaders to begin a new knowledge partnership with private industry.

Not only is the education sector broadening its horizons through commercial focus, those institutions are actively seeking the participation of high performers from the business sphere and it’s starting at executive level. Slade Executive Education is increasingly commissioned to source talent for that difficult transformation. From a wider business perspective, it’s a global trend, which has greater implications for transforming traditionally separate candidate markets.

In the private sector, it’s a rare invitation to participate in the transformation of organisations in a non-commercial environment. I’m a non-academic, but as a major sponsor, was asked to bring my outside experience to the fore in discussions with delegates at this year’s Victorian TAFE Association State Conference. I know through these conversations that commercial KPIs, productivity measurement and ROI are of increasing interest in the education sector.

Australian education providers are experiencing unprecedented competition for students and other revenue streams, such as research grants. Globalisation now means they are not only competing with national institutions, just as a range of industries have learned to adapt after previously enjoying years of growth and prosperity in a relatively protected local market.

With the impact of the GFC still being felt, a tougher EU focusing on austerity, a stronger USD and declining demand for our commodities in Asia, the need for commercially focused leaders in education is stronger than ever.

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The noble heart of a hard-headed leader

Seeing Jeff Kennett up close and personal headlining the 2015 Deakin University David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change, is an opportunity to see a leader in action. He’s animated, engaging and at times a little embarrassing.

Speaking on professionalism in sport and its effect on workplace health, Kennett’s words are prophetic, delivered just hours ahead of the tragic events at Adelaide FC.

Kennett says we’re not well equipped to deal with the pressures of everyday life in modern society. Stress, change and anxiety can get the better of us because we haven’t been taught to deal with these issues. Despite being more connected than ever before in the digital age, social media can have the opposite effect, causing social isolation.

He talks about elite sports people living in a cocoon, out of touch with the real world, empathising with the likes of Ian Thorpe, unable to come out and reveal his true self until well into retirement.

Passing under the red and yellow beams on the Citylink freeway into Melbourne CBD, or attending a conference at the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre (colloquially known as Jeff’s Shed), you cannot help be reminded of some of the legacy infrastructure from former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett.

In government Kennett was a polarising figure, and to get ‘Jeffed’ didn’t always have positive connotations. His vision for a Greater South East State remains understandably unpopular, and in my local community we’re still hopeful for a new high school to replace Richmond Secondary College, closed by the Kennett Government in the 1990s.

I lived in Sydney for the most part of that decade and I don’t know a lot about AFL, so while Kennett’s achievements as President of the Hawthorn Football Club (including a Premiership) may qualify him to talk about sport, it’s his work as founding Chairman of beyondblue, an organisation raising awareness of mental health, which is a real crowd-puller these days.

Over the course of the David Parkin Oration, Kennett offers personal advice from the perspective of a learned professional with many years of experience at the top of his game. His universal wisdoms, in the form of parental guidance and family stories, are also put forward, which makes him authentic and even endearing. He’s certainly charming and knows how to work an audience.

Deakin University awarded Kennett an honorary Doctor of Laws for distinguished services to business and the community, so it’s fitting that he’s a strong advocate for education as one strategy to meet life’s challenges. In fact he’s equally passionate about education and sport, suggesting ongoing learning as a pathway to equip young people for life after professional sport.

But what Kennett said that really hit home with me was this: “Professionalism does not yet recognise the human frailty of those in a profession.”

In our pursuit of professionalism, to excel in our career and to be the best that we can in our field of expertise, too often we lose sight of our humanity. There’s a body, without which there’s no brain. Athletes are reminded by injury. In the corporate sector, often we’ll wait until it’s too late to take care of our physical and mental health.

To be capable of great things, we need to play fair with ourselves too. Kennett says the second most important function of any leadership group, after good governance, is health and wellbeing of its members. This month beyondblue launches a series of projects aimed to reduce stigma around mental health conditions in men. It’s a timely reminder for professionals to check in with our team mates on and off the field.

What lessons can business leaders learn from professional sport? What’s your game plan for a healthy body and mind?

Featured image: Jeff Kennett by Craig Sillitoe Photography, Creative Commons Attribution

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A call out to all the great Union Leaders! Who are you? Where are you?

In the June 20 edition of the UK Financial Times I read the third article that week covering the plight of Uber drivers. No one knows how their new ‘co-dependent employee’ label came about, but travelling across the US, UK and Europe, I could see a clearly accelerating legal discourse on the impact of the shared economy on the labour market. A week earlier, the plight of Silicon Valley wunderkinds and their concerns about being pawns in a race to the top between their masterful employers was all over the US media.

In contrast, the week I got back to Australia, Kathy Jackson and her blatant rorting of the Health Services Union was front and centre of the news.

What an extraordinary contrast in focus. The realities facing the new labour market vs the archaic model of traditional union operations.

We’re undoubtedly grateful for the past hardships endured by workers in their battles for better conditions and for the legacy value that Unions negotiated on our behalf such as the 8 hour work day. But where is the leadership thinking in Unions today?

The market is seemingly light years ahead and has left them behind. And what informs the union leadership of today? In fact, what is the profile of professionals employed by the unions? Where are the Bob Hawkes, the Rhodes scholars, the best and the brightest? Or is the fast pace of industry in this new century just so much more tantalising than old school union organisations? And given that the union movement has traditionally offered a vital pool of talent for future ALP candidates, what does that say about the forthcoming political talent on the left?

Step up union leaders! Re-create your relevance in a shared economy. The world has changed and so has the agile, flexible and fluid expectations of a large share of the labour market. Smart organisations and their employees, the strategists, academics, scientists, technology experts and educationalists are recreating the future world of work.

Are unions futilely fighting a rising tide, or can they spot a good swell and redirect their efforts in order to be relevant in the rapidly changing world of work?

What’s your view of unions in our present world@work?

Featured image: Vintage Tobacciana Advertising – Union Leader Smoking Tobacco by Joe Haupt, Creative Commons licence and copyright

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Procrastination: Productivity killer or silent achiever?

Who hasn’t been guilty of being a bit tardy at work occasionally? Leaving a task to the last minute or putting the same job in the too hard basket for no good reason. In fact isn’t that how most of us got through school or university? I remember many late night cramming sessions, starting assignments at last minute… I’ll put my hand up now and say I am still a little guilty of procrastination. It’s a simple, human trait so pervasive that I bet you’re putting off something else while reading this.

Procrastination in the workplace is not only common, it’s part of our daily routine. It can be walking around the office with no specific purpose, having a casual chat with a colleague, getting a coffee you didn’t really need. Over the course of writing this article I will have checked my emails, called clients and spoken with candidates at the end of almost every sentence – that’s a lot of calls, not to mention a lot of cups of coffee!

So if this is a phenomenon that everyone engages in, is it really a problem? Well, a recent article published on an online business blog estimates that procrastination costs UK businesses over £76 billion (AUD $155 billion) per year. To put this into perspective, IBISWorld reports the entire banking industry in Australia has an annual revenue of AUD $168 billion. It seems like procrastination is a HUGE issue for business and the economy as a whole.

But before you leap to the conclusion that procrastination must be costing your company big bucks, spare a thought for those “lazy, useless, unproductive bunch of social parasites” the Brits at London Loves Business are referring to, wonderfully parodied by Ricky Gervais in The Office. How about those times you stay back late, or the hours you put in after work or on the weekend? I’d argue that the flexibility afforded by a few minutes here and there is much more valuable. Consider too the positive impact of reprioritising our ‘less important’ tasks (while stalling on this blog, I’ve been otherwise very productive).

Ever wondered where the time has gone when you’re hard-pressed to complete an urgent task? Deadlines stretched to the limit could be because you put off completing work when you knew you had the opportunity to do it, or simply because you stopped to listen to someone who needed your ear. Logically we tell ourselves that had we avoided those timewasting traps, we would have got through our ‘important’ work.

Naturally your decisions impact your team, the division, in fact the whole organisation. As a manager I can see the less tangible benefits of some internal PR with a colleague or getting some fresh air to refocus. If you’re looking for harder evidence, see our recent post on Three Scientific Reasons for Taking a Break.

Finally, before I get back to other work, here are five proven methods for beating procrastination courtesy of Business Insider:

  1. Start with easy tasks to build momentum
  2. Know your work style and preferences
  3. Break down complex tasks
  4. Find a reason to give your tasks purpose
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself

You found time to read my article, you may like to watch their video. In the meantime I’ll just grab another coffee.

What are some of your tips to avoid the traps of procrastination? What else have you achieved while procrastinating?

Mark Fischer

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