Blog Archives

Shower thoughts for the New Year

For many of us, we associate showering with waking up in the morning, so it’s no surprise that some of our best ideas fresh in the day are ‘shower thoughts’. I worked for a CEO who regularly called in with her shower thoughts on her commute to the office. Most were simple, practical solutions to everyday business problems, with an occasional eureka moment… Archimedes would have been proud!

Research conducted by psychologist Dr Scott Kaufman for Hansgrohe (the bathroom hardware manufacturer) in 2014 found 72% of people have creative thoughts in the shower and “14% of people have showers with the only reason being to generate new ideas”. The study concluded “the feel of the water together with the tranquillity of the shower experience and being alone helps generate new ideas and fresh thinking”.

Literally, you can forget about having creative thoughts when you’re under the pump… a full schedule, working to a deadline, competing priorities and other disruptions all require focused thinking. Routine tasks (showering, regular exercise, gardening or even ironing) however, allow your mind to wander while you’re on autopilot. Actually these activities allow your conscious mind to process ideas that your subconscious has been problem solving in the background while you were focusing on the other tasks at hand. The scientific explanation – it’s a combination of dopamine released in a relaxed state of mind. “The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind,” explains creative thinker and social influencer Leo Widrich on his Buffer blog.

Thought leader and cultural change commentator John O. Burdett links strategic thinking and workplace culture. In his book Myth, Magic, Mindset: a template for organisational culture change, Burdett says, “Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable.” Could your organisation’s strategy benefit from some shower thoughts? What about your organisational culture… Is it healthy, does everyone in the team align with it, how could you further nurture it?

So while you’re enjoying some downtime over the holiday period, allow yourself the extra time to lay in bed, watch the sunset or sip your favourite Sav Blanc. Cast your mind to some of the strategic objectives you’ve been trying to resolve during the year. You’ll be surprised how creative thoughts will emerge and solutions will surface.

Downtime assists us tremendously with clear thinking (maybe before the Sav Blanc). Use this time to consider your business structure, your organisational culture, the approach you might take with a difficult colleague, client, or even your Board. It is also a great time to give your mind the freedom for self-reflection and reset your professional goals for the New Year.

Have a happy, safe festive season and enjoy your break. On your return, let me know if you had any shower thoughts that helped you with articulating new ideas.


This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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The 5 things keeping Senior Executives awake are not what you might think

What happens when you bring together a group of Australia’s top business leaders to consider the big issues? Current media headlines would have you think the TPP, China FTA, a lumpy economy, risk, governance, or the AUD would be front of mind.

In fact the headline challenges turn out to be multi-generational workforce management, the link between organisational culture and productivity, immigration, regional development, and security – both information and personal.

Economic growth, fresh political leadership and national security also featured in the discussion hosted by TRANSEARCH International Australia.

Less publicised issues also got a good hearing around the table; the debate from the over 50s corner heated up when the conversation focused on understanding the work expectations of the next generation: “We have a young team in their 20s… they’re so distracted by what’s on their phone!” and “Young women are driven, they are totally underestimated. They’re probably going to shock us all…” (46% of the participants at the TRANSEARCH Boardroom Lunch were women).

Are we too complacent about our security? Cyber security and bio security were perceived to be greater threats for Australia than brutal terrorism. The feeling around the boardroom table was that we are well protected but complacent.  Two CEOs with insider knowledge feel that at best we’re well protected, at worst we’re living in a fool’s paradise, blind to the Dark Side. A security expert amongst the group highlighted that executive protection is also soft in Australia: executives could be held for ransom as is common in other parts of the world. There’s also a very fine line between genuine concerns about security and those motivated by pitching fear based on xenophobia and racism.

A stable economic environment may have benefited professionals, but our group was careful to consider opportunities for those who also do a valuable job that is not ‘sexy work’. The truck drivers, process workers and administration employees who will be a necessary part of the future workforce.

Purpose and Meaning is understood to override salary and job titles, and many recognise that people need, regardless of their age “an understanding of where they fit in”. Brand, engagement and corporate culture, were some of the real reasons behind why people do what they do. We talked about creating very good ‘whys’ as a great way of attracting good people and engaging employees, regardless of generation stereotypes. The fact that some younger employees don’t worry so much about risk was also raised as a positive. It allows them to risk exploring new ventures and they are much quicker to recognise opportunities. As one participant said, “What a gift!”

On the subject of risk one executive stated, “I hold traditional values about personal privacy, but my son said to me, ‘technology has made privacy irrelevant.’”

Participants went on to talk about opening our borders and welcoming diversity at the executive table. We cannot underestimate the importance of finding the right immigration solution, they said. We need to consider populating our country with skilled and educated migrants, make resources available and provide humanitarian support to displaced refugees.

Focusing on regional centres, education was raised as a way of supporting regional growth. “Successful cities are diverse, safe educational centres. Education is something Australia does well,” it was said. Success stories, such as Deakin in Geelong and Monash in Bendigo mean more young people are making lifestyle choices to leave the big cities, or not to leave regional areas for the city.

In support of our bright young stars in Australia, we heard from one executive who was mentoring MBA students. These start-ups with their own businesses don’t have a lot of capital, but they are positive and have great ideas. Raising capital has been a problem, so where is the connection between entrepreneurs and investors? Some thought we need a Silicon Valley in Australia. All agreed employment growth will come from these new businesses, from those people who want to have a go. If we don’t support them, they will go abroad to places like the USA to get a break.

If you had any preconceptions about what’s been on the minds of our senior executives, I’m pleased to report it isn’t all negative. They do seem to be getting some sleep.

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What do a Greek coffee in the morning and an executive search consultant have in common?

It sounds like a conversation to be had over breakfast in the Mediterranean, but it actually took place on one of the chilliest Melbourne mornings in recent months, when I was invited as a guest on the 3XY Radio Hellas Proinos Kafes program (that’s Morning Coffee in Greek).

During the segment I spoke with hosts Tom Andronas and Alex Ninis about my role as Managing Director of TRANSEARCH International Australia, or chief amongst headhunters, as they like to call it.

If you’re wondering about the connection, it’s through my association with the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HACCI), a professional network I’ve been involved with for some years.

Click the audio player below to listen to the interview.

If you’d like to hear the full program, it’s available here on the HACCI Soundcloud: Proinos Kafes podcast – 26 May 2015 – Bill Sakellaris (holidays to Greece are at your own expense).

Main image: Greek Coffee by Constadinos Vito on Flickr

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Boards overboard and other broader debates

Is overboarding (being on too many Boards or holding too many Chair positions) an issue?

Everyone seems to be joining the debate about Board Directors lately. Journalists, analysts, shareholders, as well as the corporate governance industry, are all jumping on the NED (Non-Executive Director) bandwagon. What are the hotspots causing excitement? Well, it’s tenure, independence, diversity, disclosure, remuneration or even the number of Board positions held. Undoubtedly all of those concerns carry weight in the search and selection process, which simply underlines the need for those of us called upon to source independent directors to get the right people onboard.

Companies such as Crown, Telstra, and PBL have all been under scrutiny recently for the tenure of their Chairs. Ramsay Health, Sonic Healthcare and QBE have long serving directors – all over 20 years. It goes to the heart of the independence question and many commentators argue that a director on a Board for over 10 years may no longer be sufficiently removed from the performance of the company to be independent and therefore, offer unbiased advice. Remember OneTel and HIH? Directors must be able to identify irregularities and/or poor governance.

While this debate continues to rage, I prefer to focus on the value a director brings to the business, which should not be limited by their tenure. A director who brings high level expertise, judgement and dedication to the table allows a CEO to make good decisions and steer the business in a positive direction, which in turn benefits the company and therefore its shareholders. That’s bringing value.

Amongst the questions NEDs should ask themselves when committing to a Board position is: Will I have time to prepare for as well as attend meetings, factoring in the likelihood of dealing with a takeover, acquisition, shareholder revolt or the like?

The plus side of multiple or simultaneous board roles is the experience and exposure to a myriad of issues that positively contributes to a director’s performance.

The word cosy is used in the pejorative with reference to boards. Board directors need to hold each other accountable for each other’s performance and that requires experienced, objective decision-making. Again it’s not a question of the number of Board positions a director holds, rather a focus on performance.

Here’s a tricky one. Some directors hold a minimum number of shares to ensure ‘skin in the game’. Therefore, they too feel the pain (or gain) of the shareholder when making decisions at Board level for the company they have invested in. The problem with that is too great a shareholding means you end up thinking about your back pocket.

Similarly, can directors be genuinely independent (and therefore offer sage advice to a company) when the information on which they rely to make independent decisions is provided by the CEO and executive team. Paradoxical don’t you think?

I’ll examine disclosure, reference checking and remuneration in my next article, so let’s finish with some good news.

Diversity on Boards is up. Rising from 18% to 20% (female representation) as of December 2014 for the ASX Top 100 and lifting another one percent from 16% to 17%  for all listed companies. This modest improvement in gender diversity on Australian Boards supports better performance, as evidence shows that gender equity on Boards makes for better performing companies. Good  governance results in prudent decision making and investments.

Have you held or are you currently in an NED role? What’s your Point of View on Australian Boards?

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Excellence on repeat

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation… We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit… Aristotle 322 BC

What makes a business relationship successful? Aristotle was onto something when he identified excellence as a learned behaviour. Attracting and recruiting new talent for your business may be cause for philosophical discussion, but relationships developed with candidates as a result of an approach to market can greatly impact an organisation’s future: Identifying exceptional executives can significantly improve the performance of the company as a whole, while providing opportunity to further the career of the successful candidate.

Last month I presented at the TRANSEARCH International convention in Cape Town, South Africa. No matter the location, it’s always interesting to see what happens when you bring together a diverse group of business people, in this case a global contingent of 70 executive search consultants from 40 different countries in one room. The topic of my presentation, Building Successful Relationships, with candidates in particular, is widely acknowledged as a common concern – one that resonates with hiring managers, human resources and recruitment professionals all over the world. For an issue that transcends geography, culture and industry, and one that everyone acknowledges is important, it may be surprising to learn that few do this consistently well every time. Those textbook examples where candidate expectations are managed to the letter are, as Aristotle says, the books we need to keep rereading and letters we should be rewriting.

I recounted a story about a client I’d known for quite some time. In fact over the years I recruited his whole senior Business Development team. He was at an industry conference, not unlike this one, when his biggest client came to him and said, “Michael, congratulations, you have the best and most professional team in the industry!” My client was so delighted, he called me to let me know. “I’ve just been given the best feedback I could possibly receive and wanted to congratulate you for helping me assemble my team,” he said. Needless to say I felt great – such acknowledgement is one of the reasons I am still in the industry after 20 years.

As is often the case, Michael’s career progressed and our relationship evolved from client to candidate. Unfortunately I was unable to place him in his next position. Nevertheless, I did take time to see him, suggested improvements on his CV and provided career advice. Although I had given Michael some tough love, he appreciated it nonetheless. The executive search consultant who had placed him in his new role could reasonably expect reciprocal business. Sadly Michael felt used and abused throughout the process. He describes his experience with the other firm: “It felt like a one night stand.” Perhaps they lost sight of their candidate relationship while focusing on securing the appointment? We’ll never know – Michael hasn’t used them since. He continues to work with me as client today in his capacity as a hiring manager on search assignments.

I’m sure many of those responsible for talent acquisition in the corporate sector, as well as recruitment industry professionals, have observed good candidate management and been rewarded in the long term. My personal philosophy is simple: Treat candidates fairly and you’ll receive positive engagement and referrals; Candidates treated discourteously (or simply ignored) result in lost opportunities. For an industry that’s in the business of saying no to 99% of its applicants, my motto is regardless of outcome the experience must be positive. Keep reminding yourself of that during every candidate encounter and you’ll achieve it. Business relationships are self-perpetuating. The cycle may begin with someone like Michael.

Whether you are hiring directly or using executive search services, here are my top five tips for building better candidate relationships:

  1. Make time to meet high calibre candidates, not just when you have a need
  2. Be professional with every encounter, make the total experience positive
  3. Communicate frequently, follow-up and provide timely and constructive feedback
  4. Provide career advice and be open to knowledge sharing
  5. Include prospective candidates as part of your social media strategy and invite them to networking events

Featured image: The School of Athens by edlimphoto, Creative Commons licence and copyright

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The art of new world leadership

High performing leaders share a number of common traits. With only small shifts over time, it’s interesting to observe a recent move in the number one attribute.

Virginia Mansell, Executive Chairman of Stephenson Mansell Executive Coaching, says “For the vast majority of organisations, change has become the new norm. This means we need leaders who are agile, flexible and able to manage through ambiguity. They also need to be courageous enough to take risks.

Stephenson Mansell’s The Art of Leadership study found the top five leadership competencies we need to develop for this ‘new world order’ are:

  1. Agility to manage complexity
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Communication skills
  4. Influencing skills
  5. Ability to lead and develop talent

Through our Search assignments across all industry sectors we have seen the same trend emerging in the profile for high performing talent.

What’s your Point of View?

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