Blog Archives

Tough nut or fair, but firm?

I’m often accused of being a ‘tough nut’. I think I’m firm but fair. I’m frustrated by underperformers, people missing targets and sloppy work practices. Sometimes I feel I’m painted as some sort of ogre, and now finally, I know why. Apparently, nearly 50% of Australian organisations feel that ‘close enough is good enough’.

The Study of Australian Leadership by the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Employment paints a rather grim picture of our workplaces, particularly the rigour we apply to measuring and meeting performance targets. It reads as though the world @work in Australia could do with a rocket up the interior.

With one in three businesses not giving employees any key performance indicators to do their job, is it any surprise that as a nation we’re slipping in performance outcomes?

Let me pose some of the questions that arose from this study.

Do you have Key Performance Indicators for every person in every role in your organisation? Are those KPIs being measured? And are those people in those roles (remember, they’re our most valuable assets), being managed and developed to meet their KPIs?

Are you providing all the leadership and management training your future senior executives need to become brilliant leaders? Or are you hoping that because they’re good in the job they currently fill, they’ll be great a step or two up?

And can we also find better ways to spend the $56 billion a year, the estimated waste in completing non-essential administrative tasks? How often are conventions retained because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’?

I’m finally having my day in the sun. Close enough is not good enough.

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Still just a country boy

Which recruitment executives have inspired you on a professional level? Recently industry news site Shortlist asked me to nominate them. Recruitment blogger Ross Clennett also devoted several articles this year to the subject, including What You May Not Know About Recruitment’s Top 16 InfluencersThe 5 Most Influential People in the Recruitment Industry in past 60 years (has it been that long?), and a who’s who of the 15 most influential people in the industry.

Common traits amongst those nominated at the top of Clennett’s lists (John Plummer, Greg Savage, Geoff Morgan & Andrew Banks, Julia Ross – and somehow I squeezed in there too) are the ability to build businesses, develop people, contribute to enhancing the industry and a vision for the future. Those same qualities I’ve observed in industry leaders in every sector, which as Clennett says, have all been recognised by their peers as “individuals that have significantly shaped our industry for the better”.

About 50 years ago, I knew nothing about recruitment. I was a country boy who started my career in an HR role at a global construction business at age 19. Then in the late 1960s I was bold (read lucky) enough to start-up a recruitment business, GW Slade and Associates, with some help in the form of a loan from my parents. This later became Slade Consulting Group and was sold in 1988 – with offices in all major cities in Australia and New Zealand. Fast forward a couple of decades, Slade Group began in 1991.

Many of today’s leaders were highly active members of our industry associations. Before the days of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA), there was the National Association of Personnel Consultants (NACP) and the Institute of Personnel Consultants (IPC), which I was heavily involved with. We later merged the two together with the appointment of Julie Mills (now at ITCRA – the Australian and New Zealand Information Technology Contract & Recruitment Association), who was fundamental in pulling it all together. I was the founding chairman of the RCSA and later its President. It was a fairly interesting time because not everyone was keen on the merger. Julie spent many years as the executive director of the RCSA, and I think without her, the industry wouldn’t be in such a strong position as it is today.

People like the aforementioned were all inspirational in one way or another. Greg Fish was an outstanding young man too who unfortunately never got to 40, but he was also an inspiration.

I’m lucky to have worked with a number of inspirational women, not the least of whom is my wife, Anita Ziemer. Certainly some of these are Louise Craw, who managed Slade Group’s Professional Support business for some 27 years and Nanette Carroll, who actually bought part of the Slade business after Blue Arrow (a UK listed Group who bought my original company) pulled out of Australia. Nanette was awarded Telstra Businesswoman of the Year in 1996. In our current business Maria Cenic, our GM Finance & Shared Services who has been with us for well over 10 years, keeps the ship on course and trims the sails appropriate to the forecast.

Work and accolades aside, I grew up in Bittern on the Western Port side of the Mornington Peninsula and still spend most weekends in the region. I’d say I’m still just a country boy.

Which executives have inspired you on a professional level in your industry?

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Melbourne to New York at the Age of 65

Sometimes it feels like you’ve run a marathon just to keep with the world @work! This year, at the age of 65, long-time Melbourne running superstar and long-serving Slade Group employee Heather McBride has qualified to run in the New York Marathon. The race takes place on Sunday, 1 November 2015 and the Slade team will be proudly supporting Heather every step of the way. To find out what it takes to go the distance (that’s 42.195 km or 26.219 miles to be exact), we asked Heather about her running history and got a few tips on her pre-race routine.

How long have you been running?
24 years – since November 1991, the day I gave up smoking.

What’s your biggest running achievement?
Running my third Melbourne Marathon in a time of 3:49:05. My second most memorable achievement was coming first in my age group last year in the Sydney Half Marathon.

What’s the best part of being a runner?
The love of running, for the sense of achievement after each and every run. It can be gruelling, especially when doing the long runs; however, the euphoria is worth it… The friendships I have formed with other runners, the common ground we share although from very diverse backgrounds… The knowledge that it provides me with good health and wellbeing. Whenever I’m feeling down, a good run will work wonders. I suppose I have to admit that it becomes an addiction, but what an addiction to have!

What is the hardest part?
I don’t think there is a hard part, except when injury gets in the way.

Do you have a weekly training schedule?
I run four times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday). I also like to walk on my off days.

What’s your routine prior to an event?
A big pasta meal two nights before the big day, and get lots of sleep in the week prior to the race. I eat a lot of carbohydrates as part of my normal diet, which I find is of enormous help.

Do you have any superstitions before a race?
I am not at all superstitious and I very rarely get nervous before a run – although New York will probably be the exception. I am feeling nervous already!

Any food just prior to a run?
I don’t normally eat before a training run, except for long runs. On the morning of a marathon (or half marathon) I will have a banana, toast with jam and a cup of strong coffee (caffeine gives you a lift). It is important during a marathon to keep the fluids up and also to have a couple of power gels in your pocket.

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Why everyone needs a Geek in the family

It used to be said that ideally every family needs a doctor, lawyer, plumber and chef in their ranks. I can’t say we have any of those, but we do have a particularly handy builder, a couple of digital media and marketing kids and a geek. Hey, who’s not proud of their kids? The Slade gang are on their way, on various rungs of their career ladder or starting out on their own.

Let me cover off Jack the Geek in this blog as he’s related to our world @work. Jack is building Procurious for his enterprising employer, Tania Seary in London.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Procurious is the vertical professional network for those working in procurement. There is a growing trend to create specialist verticals, away from the world mass of LinkedIn, towards meaningful, niche sector verticals. Sites like Doximity for physicians and healthcare professionals, Spiceworks for the ICT industry and Rallypoint for the military.

The lad has had a stellar two years taking Tania’s global procurement e-concept to reality and has learned how to build and translate a product strategy through to execution. Take a look at it here: procurious.com.au

In the meantime he runs his own e-passion at night, not in the garage, but on the couch at home; Boss Hunting was an idea he acted on while he was still at University.

What do you mean Boss Hunting, is that about looking for a good boss?” I asked at the time.

No you fossil, Boss means cool. They are hunting for what’s cool.”

This year he’s taken the Facebook page to a full content website at bosshunting.com.au. Its target audience is 16 – 34 year old males, with the odd proud mother thrown in to skew the data. 250,000 followers isn’t bad, and I’m pleased to share one link that talks about how early career professionals can approach job hunting: 12 Tips to Help You Get That Dream Job.  This generation of millennials are doing far more interesting things than I did, and they feel much more inclined to create their own opportunities, either in the way they negotiate their own world @work or create their own working world.

What advice would you give to young twentysomethings about the world @work?

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Shooting myself in the foot

I have a big birthday coming up and it’s not my 50th.  Well and truly a Baby Boomer, the world @work in 2020 is not going to feature me because the immediate future lies with Gen X. I’ve got five Gen Xers leading our individual business units and they run rings around me. But that’s not my dilemma.

My dilemma is the dilemma of clients voiced weekly. ‘We need a changing of the guard, we want the next generation to lead the organisation in complex times. We don’t want to discriminate on age but ideally our future leader is younger not older’.

Where are you Gen X? We know from researching CEO appointments going back decades that the most common age bracket for appointed CEOs is 38 – 48 years of age. Ten years ago, these were today’s Baby Boomers. But today this bracket of senior leaders is missing in action and Slade Group is finding it much harder to identify more than one or two Gen Xers in any CEO shortlist.

I’m waiting to hear the Gen X Ambulance riding through the streets crowded with Baby Boomer leaders, sirens wailing ‘stand aside, stand aside and at least offer me the opportunity to take a single point of responsibility and accountability for one major piece of the organisation so that I’m CEO-ready when the call comes’.

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Who dares an open conversation?

Some folks are scared to ask the next question. The one that drills down just that bit further. I’m passing on the essence of an article I had considerable empathy with, by Belgian management consultant John Niland.

“It takes both courage and energy to have real conversations: to ask questions, to state what we are OK with… or not OK with. Dialogue can be a thrilling adventure or a tedious necessity. Whether the conversation is with a client, a partner, a friend or a colleague, our conversation can be a window or a wall.

Such conversations win credibility when conducted with calm respect. All too often, alas, they land as whining complaint, neediness or anxious self-preoccupation. A lot depends on how the conversation begins, as well as the language and tone used. Even more depends on the mindset of the initiator: are you seeking an ideal outcome for your client/team or simply pursuing your own convenience? Are you being heard? As we arrive at the mid-point of the decade, are you having the conversations with clients, colleagues and friends that you want to be having?

Courageous conversations win respect. When conducted with an attitude of value, initiated at an appropriate time and followed-up reliably, conversations distinguish a professional. January has started with a week of great conversations, resulting in a strong sense of purpose for the year ahead. How is 2015 opening for you?

A new year is an opportunity for new dialogue. It’s an opportunity to assert where we stand, what we are willing to do and also what we are not willing to do. Here are some of the sentences that I found myself using over the last week:

Before we spend time on this, can I ask a couple of questions first?

Of all of these objectives, which are most important to you?

I’m feeling somewhat frustrated that…

No, I wouldn’t be happy with that.

Who defined these priorities?”

Let me know how it goes for you in 2015 when you find the courage to ask the next question.

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Fireworks to really light up the joint

Back in Bittern when I was growing up, penny bungers were the fireworks of choice on New Year’s Eve. I had more fun setting off and running away from my small stash of crackers than being a passive spectator to the brilliance of News Year’s Eves at Times Square and on Sydney Harbour.

So, welcome in 2015 and here’s my fuse – can someone light the match?

Sometimes you need to completely change the existing state of affairs, and in Australia right now, one of those affairs are our Labour Laws. Not the efforts against bullying, harassment and improvements in safe workplaces, but our minimum wage conditions and penalty rates.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if we took just one State and made it the ‘test case’ for re-jigging wage conditions? I’m nominating South Australia. Why? Because if you’re up the creek without a paddle, you might as well install a propeller.

South Australia might just make for brilliant laboratory conditions: The suburb of Elizabeth in Adelaide has the highest inner-city jobless rate in Australia with 32.4 per cent of locals unemployed. Overall ABS youth unemployment is at 15% and I’m suggesting there is some smoke and mirrors in that number. Holden is pulling out in 2017, Mitsubishi withdrew in 2008, the naval shipbuilding industry is under threat, BHP has put a hold on Olympic Dam. It seems hope may well be missing in action.

Would the Federal Government in cahoots with the South Australian Government be prepared to run a 12 month trial whereby enterprises would be encouraged to trial labour hungry ventures with the lure of lower minimum wage? Of course I haven’t had the actuaries run the numbers or the analysts model the outcomes, but what if…

…the minimum wage wasn’t $640.90/week but $450.00/week, the minimum hourly rate wasn’t $16.87/hour but $10.00/hour? South Australia has lower cost of housing, lower rentals and lower overall cost of living. Work is about so much more than money. It’s about giving people a purpose, it’s about learning how groups of people can collaborate for a better results, it’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning, about building self-esteem through a sense of achievement. It’s having a sense that you’re part of a high functioning community. That’s just on the employee side of the balance sheet.

On the employer side, South Australia should attract offshoots of interstate businesses, it would lure start-ups, it would encourage further intake of job numbers, it would enable more expenditure on training and development.

What more could South Australia lose? And maybe the rest of Australia could learn something too.

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I’m passionate about work, and I feel everyone should have the privilege of working.

What’s your point of view?

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What lies ahead?

From manufacturing to superannuation, VECCI invited ten members from a diverse cross-section of industries to share their expectations for business and their sectors in 2015. Slade Group Chairman, Geoff Slade, responds.

The canary in the coal mine may not be singing, but it’s certainly not fallen off its perch. Slade Group is a good measure of the employment market with our ears to the ground in Melbourne and Sydney and our international executive search coverage.

If you are hiring staff, you may be disappointed to learn that good talent is just as hard to find as always. The fact is that high performing employees on any rung of their career ladder can make a compound effect in productivity and organisational performance. And that’s the candidate profile almost every employer wants.

The ABS mid-year data which was re-jigged to take into account non-seasonal variations, was no surprise to Slade Group. There has been a noticeable improvement in hiring sentiment and businesses are finally feeling more confident about stable market conditions. That intangible level of confidence which we can sense and which the economist accurately measure is by far the greatest determinant of labour movement. When confidence is low, staff stay put and organisations make do with headcount. Once confidence lifts, employers embrace the opportunity for growth and start hiring; in parallel, employees are more open to taking ‘a chance’ on a career move.

In our TRANSEARCH global executive search business, Europe, the UK, the USA and parts of Asia have all seen swings upwards in the past 12 months of between 7-10 per cent in hiring activity. Australia is lagging at around two per cent growth, but that’s a vast improvement on the negative territory of the last few years. In the temporary staffing arena, employers are again putting their toe in the water and taking on temporary and contract employees as their workforce is stretched and the nature of temporary staffing allows for flexibility and ease of managing fixed costs.

For the moment the recruitment mine has clean oxygen and high grade content. Two months ago we would have been very bullish about 2015. However, but as I pen this article late in October, we’re again faced with uncertainty and will wait to see what happens with our currency, stabilised government policy, property prices, interest rates, Middle East threats, the Ebola virus, labour costs, our manufacturing industry and so on.

This article was originally published in the Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) Business Excellence magazine Summer 2014-15 edition.

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