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How to follow your passion and be successful: 7 wise words from a former Olympian

It was sensational to have triple Olympic Gold and multiple world swimming champion, Australia’s own Grant Hackett, join us for a Slade breakfast recently. Grant shared some of his personal journey as an Olympian and his thoughts about what creates high performance behaviours.

Here are my seven takeaways from Grant’s talk with our team:

  1. Goals: As a young teenager, aiming for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Grant started writing down his goals on the bedroom wall, spelling out what he wanted to achieve across all his main swimming events.
    Takeaway: Think and ink your goals

  2. Purpose: A strong sense of purpose will help you find true meaning in what you do.
    Takeaway: Be really clear within yourself about why you are doing, whatever it is that you do, particularly when planning your career

  3. Benchmark: Grant recorded and gauged his performances against the then world king of the 1500 freestyle, Kieren Perkins (coincidentally his team mate). He compared Kieran’s achievements at various milestones, including age, distances, times and winning results, analysed them against his own performance and set himself targets.
    Takeaway: Compare yourself to the best in your field and set approachable goals

  4. Passion: Doing something you are passionate about involves pushing yourself beyond the ordinary boundaries, sometimes suffering, not always enjoying it and can often lead to disappointment. When you absolutely love something, you will want to be successful, no matter what.
    Takeaway: Passion is what gets you through the challenges

  5. Success: What would success (or failure) look like for you? For Grant, qualifying to wear an Olympic blazer wasn’t enough, he had to win gold, to be number one. While we can’t all be world leaders, we can certainly model others’ successful behaviours at work.
    Takeaway: With clarity over your objectives, you determine your own success

  6. Sportsmanship: Competing with the same people internationally, year-round, Grant made lasting friendships with some of his team mates, as well as his competitors.
    Takeaway: While competition is healthy, developing collegiate relationships with your coworkers, customers and competitors also helps bring out the best in you

  7. Self-talk: It’s the talk that you have with yourself, that voice inside your head, which can be more hinderance than help. Paradoxically, winners sometimes have more negative self-talk than others.
    Takeaway: Some self-doubt is normal, so take stock of yourself and the situation, then get on with it

As a specialist recruiter in Leisure & Sport, I have seen many former athletes go on to leadership roles, where these behaviours translate to business and career success. Grant is continuing to apply his learnings in his current role as CEO of Generation Development Group, where he is building a team with a high performance culture. Use our world class takeaways to get you started and go for gold!

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Just a couple of life lessons from Cadel

One of the very few Australians recognisable by their first name (no, it’s not you Eddie, Elle or Kylie), Cadel Evans has the honour of being the only Australian to have ever won the Tour de France (he came second in the Tour in 2007, 2008, both by less than 60 seconds, finally winning the race in 2011). For an Aussie on the world stage, it doesn’t get much bigger than that… come on Ricciardo, get that Renault firing!

Last week’s David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change at Deakin Edge in Federation Square brought me face to face with Cadel, and reignited one of my early childhood passions – cycling. I’m not a weekend warrior or part of the lycra set, but I love the sport of cycling.

Cadel was on the couch with sports broadcaster, Gerard Whateley, and talked about just how far a bike has taken him. It was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with a cycling great, but what I heard for just on an hour was an unbelievably humble, focussed and self-driven individual.

If you’re looking for the gold, here are my quick takeaways from Cadel’s chat:

  1. Don’t ever doubt yourself
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of motivation and consistency
  3. Learn to stay calm and absorb enormous pressure in races and competition

Forget eat/sleep/rave/repeat. Cadel’s teenage routine was solely: ride/school/eat/sleep. People told him he’d never be a cycling champ. No Aussie had ever won the Tour, but he was out to prove them wrong. It’s no surprise that Cadel is very single-minded; it took an incredibly focussed individual to achieve what many others (including himself) had had within their grasp numerous times, retaining the elusive yellow jersey.

Cadel says hard work opens up other opportunities and sport can be an awesome agent for change. Growing up near Katherine NT in the small Aboriginal community of Barunga made him realise what a woeful job Australia has done with addressing the treatment of its indigenous people. Sport has a privileged position to influence attitudes about social issues, such as racism, eating disorders, alcohol, violence towards women, gender equality and homophobia. It can also fall prey to its own issues.

When cycling was clouded by performance enhancing drug-taking, Cadel praised those individuals and organisations that provided him with a good moral compass: his mum (Helen Cox), his coaches, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), his teams and team mates. I think Italy holds a special place in his heart, probably due to Prof. Aldo Sassi – his Italian coach and mentor.

Cadel would love to see more Aussie school children ride their bikes to school. I’d like to see more people back themselves too. Don’t underestimate your ability to motivate yourself – strive for consistency.

Deakin University’s annual David Parkin Oration is always a great opportunity to hear from inspiring people in sport. Who has inspired you recently through learning or achievement in your world @work?

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The agony and the ecstasy

It’s the last week in September – one of the most eagerly awaited weeks in the Australian sports calendar… AFL finals fever is palpable! Recently Slade Group and the Interchange Bench were fortunate enough to get our own Aussie Rules footy fix, hosting well-known football journalist Caroline Wilson, CEO of Geelong Football Club, Brian Cook and Marc Murphy, Captain of Carlton FC at our annual Footy Lunch.

Our panel (with me as MC) rapidly covered off: Who can beat Richmond this year? (Collingwood); Can the West Coast Eagles win at the MCG? (I think so); How long will it take Carlton FC to make the final eight? (About 3-4 years!); And why are players leaving the Suns? (Global warming??)

Seriously though, what was most interesting about our panel discussion was Marc Murphy’s take on the current state of player welfare.

Back in the 80s, when I was playing, the big question was how do we get into Chasers nightclub and the Underground (without queuing, and a drink card would be nice too, thanks)? Innocent times in comparison.

Seriously though, Marc got everyone’s attention when he identified health and wellbeing as the top issue facing current AFL players. As someone who works in the people capital business, I was really interested.  Let’s talk about them here:

Mental Health

This is a massive issue, so much so that the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) has established a specialised in house Mental Health and Wellbeing team to provide counselling to current and past players. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that up to one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – AFL players are no different.

Stress

All of us have work pressures – present stressors that can lead to mental health issues. However as AFLPA Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Brent Hedley wrote, the current stressors for players include: performance anxiety, public scrutiny, media attention, injury and being away from the family. The public spotlight simply magnifies these stressors.

General Health and Wellbeing

Other common health issues amongst AFL players may include: depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and gambling, side effects from injuries such as concussion, not to mention a whole range of other physical injuries related to contact sport. They may appear to be super human on the field, but often spend more time off field recovering.

Social Media

Social media can be a frenemy, especially for high profile footballers. Hedley’s advice is “Social media can be a confronting environment for players and cause significant stress, but it can also be one that gives players a chance to express themselves and show their human side.” This highlights the importance for players in having a strong network away from their sporting identities, which can support them when football is causing them stress.

Our Footy Lunch was a great event – we even picked a winner for Saturday (that’s right, your tip’s the one)! Yet Marc’s comments really hit a nerve with me. Footy players are like you and me (well, perhaps a bit more like me)… They win, they lose, they struggle, they laugh and they cry. The major difference is for a sports star, it’s all played out on an open stage for everyone to see. Players need help in the workplace from time to time, just like us. I think it’s great to see through the AFLPA that they’re getting it.

How do you manage stress and other pressures in your workplace? What are some of the strategies you have used to help improve the health and wellbeing of others @work?

 

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A case of a Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Only last Saturday, I was settling in to read the weekend paper while sipping a long black at my local cafe, when I was again reminded of the world famous BFO principle… that’s a case of the Blinding Flash of the Obvious!

I was reading Greg Callaghan’s entertaining piece in The Saturday Age #GoodWeekend Magazine where he interviewed Sydney psychologist Dr Tim Sharp, an adjunct professor at both UTS and RMIT University, about “the importance of small, daily face-to-face interactions”.

What a timely reminder. These exchanges contribute to people’s overall wellbeing, longevity, and even improve mental health.

Here in the Southern Hemisphere, as we bunker down for what is predicted to be a long  winter with endemic colds and flu, it’s been scientifically proven we can actually draw a lot of energy – and in fact warmth, by reaching out to others. Getting out of your headspace and talking to friends, family, colleagues or even strangers on the street, releases endorphins – your wellness hormone, which can actually be good for you.

Dr Sharp, who is also the founder of the Happiness Institute in Sydney, went on to say that, “Brief, micro interactions on a daily basis can have amazing benefits, leading to even reduced rates of depression.” Who would have thought?

While this may have been going on since Moses walked the Earth, I challenge you this week have a chat and reach out to someone new. Whether it’s at your next business meeting, a job interview, the train station, on the street corner or at your local… You can tell them I sent you!

Social media doesn’t count. No Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or texting… You gotta go live.

Experts call it positive wellbeing. Others may say it’s a BFO. Whatever, I think it’s fantastic and those little interactions really work. Everyone’s a winner, if you’re up for it. Just use your judgement when approaching others, keep it safe.

Let me know what happens when you have a ‘small talk’ with someone new.

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7 business and life lessons we can draw from Roger Federer’s #20grandslamwin

I’ve done a quick survey around the office and the streets at home, and guess what? I can honestly say I can’t find anyone who doesn’t love Roger Federer (or who isn’t pleased he just won the Australian Open last weekend). Can the Swiss tennis maestro do no wrong?

Federer’s probably the best known sportsman in the world right now. He’s just won three of the five last grand slams aged 36, which contradicts those who assume he should be too old, too slow, or simply past it. No way!

Who knows what has led to the incredible renaissance of this elite superstar? If we wind the (Swiss) clock back a little, Federer had a four year drought up until last January (2017), where he didn’t win one major at all… zero, nada, niente.

Well, this got me thinking… What can we learn from the great man’s rebirth over the past twelve months, and can these learnings have a place in the office and our lives generally?

Working in the ‘people business’ – I am an executive recruitment consultant, and a communications coach, trainer and facilitator – I’m constantly observing behaviours. Here are my observations on Roger Federer:

  1. Federer has a rock solid self-belief system. Experts say sport is played 70% above the neck. Federer’s self-talk must be awesomely positive. What do you say to yourself about yourself at work?
  2. Maintaining fitness (and winning) at 36 years of age in international sport is a massive achievement. Mentally and physically Federer works so hard. I’m told the dictionary is the only place where success comes before work. What do you need to be doing more of in your life?
  3. Federer surrounds himself with family and has a great team to train and support him. We can’t do it all by ourselves. Who have you chosen to be on your team, in your inner circle, both at work and socially?
  4. Even with #20grandslamwins, Federer still has a coach (Ivan Ljubicic). Why? He never stops learning. You could seek out a couple of wise heads to act as your business mentors or engage professional coaches.
  5. Be Smart. Federer won’t be playing every ATP tournament anymore. His body just can’t handle it. Are you making smart choices when prioritising the time you spend with clients, colleagues, family and friends?
  6. Plan B. You must have one. Federer could have crashed out after Cilic steamrolled him in the fourth set. But no, he switched it around with a better serve and a few different shots to win the fifth set. Last year against Nadal he was down a service break. Again he had to switch things around. Have you got a Plan B (or C) for when something important isn’t working for you? Think “change it up”.
  7. In post-match interviews Federer joked with commentator Jim Courier and enjoyed a laugh with comedian Will Ferrell. He said when he’s having fun, he plays better. Allowing yourself some light stress relief can enable you to keep winning – try that in the office. “Keep it classy” though!

Yes, Federer reminded me that the little things done well, done often, can get you there in the final set. As for the other big question, why does everyone love him so much? You will have to help me to explain that one (I bet he stole a block of chocolate when he was ten, but no one’s fessing up back in Switzerland)!

What have you seen when you were watching Roger Federer play? How can you apply your observations to the world @work?

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Can I make it? I should know.

I often get asked by people who are looking for their next challenge, Can I make it?  As an executive recruitment consultant, candidates approach me for all sorts of reasons: seeking career inspiration, to reinforce their self-belief, knowing I’m well networked and as a champion of diversity or, in the likelihood I can provide a fresh job opportunity.

How should I know if you can make it? Well, several years ago I made the decision to alter my own journey by embarking on a new career. In the past I had enjoyed successes as an executive in the Consumer & Retail market, as well as performing at the top of my game in hockey as an elite sportsperson and Olympic athlete. I have coached others, but hadn’t taken time out to reassess my own goals and priorities.

I think we reach a stage in our lives where something is missing – it could be your current vocation, work-life balance or that the culture of the environment you work in is no longer fulfilling. People talk about wanting more… More time to spend doing what we love… More authentic personal connections… More opportunity to make a real difference… More than just the status quo…

Aspiring to more can be challenging, but also leads you on a path to finding internal satisfaction.

Due to my love of making personal connections and coaching, a consulting role had immediate appeal. It’s one of the reasons I began sports coaching, because the relationships you make overseeing an athlete’s daily routine become quite personal. Professional development mixed with my sales achievement orientation in business seemed to resonate.

When the time was right to make my next career move I was still scared, unsure and hesitant, but also excited, curious and focused. The result – well, here I am alive and blogging!

So now a few tips for those looking for more in their careers:

  1. Be adaptable – how can you apply your skills and experience?
  2. Be open-minded – opportunities may come from left field
  3. Learn more about yourself – what drives you, what makes you tick?
  4. Come with something to offer – your unique value to a prospective employer
  5. Take ownership – it’s up to you to be the driver of change

Allowing yourself the space to breath, think, focus and act will bring results. It did for me.

If you’d like to explore more, let me know.

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Motherhood Statements are not on!

Recently I attended a webinar hosted by international communications experts rogenSi, where they talked about using more persuasive language in our everyday business communications. For me, this could mean meetings with colleagues, interviews with candidates, presenting my services as an executive recruitment consultant to potential clients, or pitching for a coaching gig in my other professional capacity.

The techniques discussed (see below for some quick tips), got me thinking about the level of expertise amongst the senior leaders and executives I work with every week. While highly experienced and knowledgeable in their fields, sometimes even talented people lack sophistication in their communication style.

The webinar went on to say that frequently, business people use ‘motherhood statements’ to attempt to convince others. That is, statements which are too general, too broad or too bland to have any meaning – the words simply don’t cut through. Here are some examples of the platitudes I hear: “I’m highly motivated”; “I’m ready for a new challenge”; “I’m a people person”. When we make motherhood statements we’re not heard. It could be because the language we have used isn’t precise, we haven’t backed-up our claims with appropriate evidence, or we generalised about the subject without making a specific point.

Former Rogen International CEO, Neil Flett, also addresses the issue in his very readable book: The Pitch Doctor. He’s emphatic: “Business people should avoid too much motherhood speak.” Flett’s analysis and the rogenSi webinar concur that what you say and how you say it can be key to becoming more memorable in your professional interactions.

Try these 5 tips to avoid motherhood statements:

  1. Statistics – use meaningful stats, not just big numbers
  2. Facts – inarguable facts are persuasive
  3. Examples – paint a picture, use SAO (Situation, Action and Outcome) to describe it
  4. Case Studies – talking openly, when permissible, about a winning bid that led to a successful project and the results achieved
  5. Tell a story – storytelling is most powerful when related to your own personal experience, when it allows you to share your passion and demonstrates that you really mean it

Take my advice, by using convincing language in future, I guarantee you will be more persuasive… Did I just make a motherhood statement?

What do you hear in your world@work that’s just really blah blah blah?

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Degrees for unicorns… where are all the category management experts?

I’ve been told I’m a “unicorn”. At first I didn’t get it (I actually had to google what it could have meant?). Then as years passed by, I’ve become acutely aware that I’m not a mythical creature, and that people with my unique combination of skills, qualifications and experience do actually exist. If that sounds arrogant, it’s not my intention. It can be lonely being a rarity in the market at times. But rest assured there is a small unicorn population out there, just like me… we’re called category management experts.

What is category management?

Category management is a collaborative process adopted by retailers and suppliers in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) to help drive business performance, by better understanding how to deliver value to customers [1].

In a nutshell, this means selling products by category rather than by brand. There is a functional and logistical element to the process, and there also is a relational and human side to the process. The PhD I’m currently undertaking is exploring these dynamics from both a qualitative and quantitative research perspective, with the aim of trying to understand competitive retail environments. Ideally category management can be a win/win for suppliers, retailers and customers, but if that turns out to be unachievable, at least I’ll discover through my research why it’s not possible.

Learning about category management

Considering the Australian retail sector makes the highest employment contribution to the Australian economy, with 1.3 million people and 11% of the workforce[2], you may expect there would be a focus on category management as part of many popular courses studied. While I completed three degrees through one of Australia’s leading universities (in business and psychology), I didn’t learn a single thing about category management or market insights through any of them! Everything I’ve learned has been either on the job (working inside a retailer, supplier, agency and now a private consultancy), or through presentations by industry partners.

My PhD results

Four years into a six year part-time PhD journey whilst juggling two companies and a family, it’s safe to assume that achieving work/life balance is not my area of expertise (try me again in two years). However I can vouch for this: if you’re passionate about finding out the why behind something, a PhD is a pretty good vehicle to help you achieve that.

Wearing my supplier hat, I want to know why the retailers aren’t accepting our new products in development (NPD)? The generic answers provided just aren’t constructive enough. As a retailer, I question why suppliers aren’t sharing holistic category insights, instead of a tunnel-vision brand-driven sales pitch. The conversation can’t be strategic or collaborative, and simply shows they aren’t on the same page. As a research consultant I want to know why both retailers and suppliers trust me more than they trust each other? The undercurrent of past politics can block all hope for future joint business planning and innovation.

The results thus far have been fascinating, if not a little concerning for the future of our retail economy. I’m still in the midst of analysing the data, but if you’re interested in learning more when I’m able to share, send me a message on LinkedIn. Until all is revealed, here are my thoughts on what we need to do in the category management and the insights space.

A unicorn’s guide to the future of category management and customer insights

  1. Bridge the current gap between academia and industry
  2. Even better, educate our young graduates before they go into industry
  3. Better still, train and support the rare skillset of CM managers and analysts on the job
  4. Rebuild the bridge between retailers and suppliers to encourage collaboration
  5. Upskill the entire industry on category management and insights
  6. Teach the value (and difference) between big data and actionable insights
  7. Identify who to hire – are they a unicorn or just a horse with a carrot?
  8. Work together on solving this industry problem.

Soon I’ll be able to tell you the why… my next job is to figure out how.

 

Rebecca Rees presented at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017. Contact Stuart Carruthers, Practice Leader Consumer, Retail & Sport at Slade Executive for further information about our events, if you need assistance when hiring in these sectors or are seeking career advice.


References

  1. Gooner, Morgan & Perreault, 2011; Blattberg, Fox & Purk, 1995.
  2. ABS 2015-16, cat. no. 8155.0

 

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