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Born in 1967, still growing up: Slade Group celebrates 50 years

In the following article by Maggie Chen, which appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Business Excellence magazine, Slade Group Chairman Geoff Slade shares his story and the insights he has developed over decades in business, in an industry he is proud to be a part of.

Geoff Slade began GW Slade & Associates 50 years ago, in a small office in Melbourne’s CBD. Before that, he worked as an assistant HR manager at an oil refinery at Western Point Bay. After almost taking up a job in consulting, at the age of 21, he decided to start his own employment agency in 1967.

His father had doubts, but his mother took a leap of faith and lent him $300 – all the money she had in the bank. It just covered his first month’s rent. “I had to make a placement in the first month; otherwise I couldn’t have paid the second month’s rent,” Slade recalled.

That he did, and for about 21 years, he built the business – by then called Slade Consulting Group –  to be, by 1988, “the biggest executive recruitment company in the country”, spanning seven cities in Australia and New Zealand.

A UK-based multinational approached Geoff and bought the business from him. In 1989, he commenced a two-year stint as HR Director at Pacific Dunlop.

When the multinational exited the Australian market a few years later, Slade re-established Slade Group in 1992. This time, as a 43-year old with four kids, he decided he would only have offices in Melbourne and Sydney so that he could spend more time with his children and less on planes.

Starting from scratch again at Slade Group was “great”, he said. Pacific Dunlop, which at one stage had 45,000 employees, retained him as a preferred supplier for over 20 years.

Secrets to longevity

How did Slade manage to build and maintain such a successful recruitment company that has already outlived most businesses?

Building trust is crucial, according to Slade. “Companies don’t build long-term relationships with you unless they perceive you’re doing the right thing by them and they trust you,” he said. “The same goes with candidates. I’ve had candidates who I didn’t place, who came back to us to give us work when they were hiring, because we built a significant trusting relationship.”

Secondly, he suggests that persistence really does pay off. Recruitment is an industry with plenty of ups and downs. “When the economy’s going well, business can be very good. When it’s not going well, you can really struggle. And a lot of people bail out when things start to get tough.”

Thirdly, for a long-term business in HR, you need to really understand customer needs. “You have to understand what their culture is like to provide them with quality people that will fit into that culture,” said Slade.

Finally, for business sustainability, it’s important to stay in touch – and that means some ‘face time’. One issue Slade sees today is that young people tend to communicate by email or text and don’t actually go out to meet the customer and really get to know them.

The recruitment industry has faced some challenging times. Seek and LinkedIn both changed the game, as did the global financial crisis, said Slade. A lot of work went to internal recruitment teams. In the face of this, he set up a company with Julian Doherty called Yellow Folder Research, which sells information on talent.

Slade’s wife, Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group, took over running the Slade business about five years ago, when Slade became Chairman of the group. He says this allowed him to spend more time developing Yellow Folder Research, which now provides research to public companies and multinationals around Australia. It has also freed him up to focus on the Slade Group-affiliated executive search practice TRANSEARCH International Australia, which is part of a global practice. Slade points out that particularly in the case of senior positions, you really need to understand your client and their needs, and the personalised filtering services that recruitment companies can provide can be invaluable.

Slade is keen to mention his wife and family. He “wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for them”, he said.

A healthier era

Slade has seen attitudes to health and wellbeing in the workplace change significantly over the decades. “As late as the 1980s, we would regularly walk into offices where there were ashtrays on desks, smoke in the air and meetings held amongst cigarette smoking executives,” he recalls. “Now, of course, you’ll be hung, drawn and quartered if you’re caught smoking on the forecourt.”

At Slade Group, there have been many individuals who have been proud and passionate about their sporting and athletic pursuits. And since early last year, they’ve been taking steps, led by General Manager Chris Cheesman, to create a company-wide healthy culture, Slade said. “We’ve had people in to give us talks and information emphasising a holistic approach: the value of good sleep, e-downtime, and agile work practices. We’ve introduced standing desks, removed the soft drink vending machine, encouraged walking meetings and provide bi-weekly healthy breakfasts.”

Finally, Slade adds, “A healthy workplace is more than just the physical and mental – it’s also the emotional connections and working relationships built on camaraderie.”

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Posted in The world @work

Would you want to work part-time if you could?

A client recently asked me to find a Senior BDM for their boutique funds management business. Nothing unusual about that; however, my client only required someone on a part-time basis, three days per week (or equivalent). They were more than happy to provide flexible work hours to accommodate responsibility for kids or a carer’s needs, for example.

There are plenty of people who want flexibility too. Yet, working through the long list of BDM contacts that I have, I was surprised to find very few of the candidates who were ideally suited were seeking a part-time role. The most common responses to my approach were: “That sounds interesting, do you think it could lead to a full-time role for the right candidate?” or “I would love to work part-time, but I can’t afford to take a pay cut.”

From an executive point of view, part-time workers aren’t traditionally associated with highly remunerated roles. Yet, as reported in The Huffington Post last year, a growing number of executives are actively seeking the flexibility of a part-time role, while busting the myth that a top level job can only be accomplished successfully on a full-time basis. As Management Today Deputy Editor Andrew Saunders says, “there are very few jobs – no matter how senior or client-facing – which cannot be done on a part-time basis.”

Similarly, working flexibly shouldn’t be associated with a loss in productivity. Simon Allport is a Managing Partner at Ernst & Young who chose a flexible work model to spend time more time with his family. “At EY, we find offering flexibility makes for a happier, more engaged and more productive team,” he says.

Whilst part-time employment is ideal for many, economic or other realities can still make it unviable for some. In my experience contract roles are often extended beyond their initial term, and working part-time often does lead to a permanent position. Candidates who have that extra level of flexibility can use the opportunity to network within an organisation to further their aspirations.

As it turns out the successful candidate was someone within my network who I have known for many years. Her children are now school age and the part-time role was a perfect fit.

Are flexible working arrangements a perfect fit for you?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

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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We’re all just contractors, really.

Seen any long-term employees lately? Workers with over ten years tenure are becoming a rare breed. Many will never qualify for long service leave. Jobs for life? Unlikely for aspirational professionals in today’s workforce.

Traditional employment paradigms are slowly disappearing from the vernacular. They’re being replaced by concepts such as the agile work environment, activity based workplaces and a contingent workforce, which better describe the current landscape. Employee tenure is also decreasing over the years, with McCrindle Research finding that employees are changing their jobs as many as 17 times, with five career changes now the average.

What’s causing this shift? A challenge to the long held perception that retaining an employee in a permanent full-time role is imperative to protect the IP of an organisation.

So why wouldn’t workforce flexibility be attractive to employers? Engaging contractors provides many benefits: The ability to ‘right size’ your team, engage technical experts for specific projects, or inject fresh ideas from people with broader industry experience. Less can also bring more: Short-term specialist staff can help to refine best practice methodology in a company.

Despite performing well locally, some Australian multinationals faced a headcount freeze during the GFC. Contracting executives proved an effective solution. Mitigating long-term risk, while ensuring the required outputs were achieved, contractors gave these organisations the ability to engage mission critical staff, without the need to negotiate with their overseas parent for appointment approval.

Whilst the ratio of contractors to permanent employees varies across sectors and companies, generally we are seeing an increased willingness from organisations to consider a contractor as a worthwhile alternative to the traditional permanent employee, which is backed-up by an overall increase in contractor ratios.

What does this mean for employees? To succeed within this new paradigm, the ability to continuously improve, develop your skills and experience, while adapting to different working environments in all types of organisations will be the challenge. An attitudinal shift is already in play, with more recent entrants into the workforce already adopting a flexible, agile perspective to their career. For these individuals, a long-term role is not even a consideration and may not even be a preference.

Accompanying this agile workforce will be a greater emphasis on performance based management and key performance indicators (KPIs). Employees will need to collaborate and engage with an ever-changing team who may increasingly be based remotely and not be accessible within traditional office hours or a corporate environment. Similarly, employers will need to adjust their thinking and recognise that traditional ‘line of sight’ management is also a thing of the past.

For executives, cultural fit is always imperative. With contractors progressively performing roles that were previously held by staff under permanent employment arrangements, it’s more important now than ever before. Executive contractors are also being assessed for their contribution to the organisational culture, not just their skills and expertise, even for short term contracts.

When you’re recruiting, don’t place limitations on the talent available to you by thinking only in terms of engagement. A contemporary shift in workplace attitudes, ongoing technological advances that allow for flexible working practices and the reduced need for staff to be present in traditional workplaces means better options for employers and employees too. In the meantime it will be interesting to review workplace statistics in 2020 to see whether this trend continues on its current trajectory.

What workforce trends have you observed in your industry? How have contractors positively contributed to your organisation?

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