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A salute to my early career

Rather than following my friends to University when I left school, I took an alternative route into the workforce by joining the New Zealand Army – not exactly the most obvious career choice for a female with a short and slim build who grew up as a ballet dancer!

This time 19 years ago I had just completed my three months basic training with the NZ Army and had started my trade training as an Administration Clerk. With Anzac Day occurring this week I reflected on how my experiences within the Defence Force have shaped and contributed to my career and the person I am today.

What initially attracted me to the Defence Force were the recruitment officers who attended our career days at high school. The thought of being part of a well-known organisation who promoted the benefits of a variety of career options excited me… I wanted to do that! This is also where my passion for recruitment started.

Joining the Army as a nearly 18 year old taught me many fundamental work habits that are still with me today:

  1. Timing is everything. It’s called 5 minutes place of parade. You cannot be late in the Army, and in fact if you are not 5 minutes early, then you are late as well. In my work life I am very rarely late for a meeting. It has been drilled into me that whether you are an attendee or the meeting organiser, it’s your duty to commit to the appointment you have made and show courtesy to the others who are giving up their time to attend. I have become a great timekeeper and loyal to appointments.
  1. Presenting yourself well. Although there are no uniform checks in the civilian world, it is still important that you present yourself well in business. In the Army you are taught how to iron your shirts right down to putting creases in your PT shorts. Ironing wasn’t my forte (and still isn’t, so let’s say there are no creases in my shorts). One thing that has stuck with me is when I am wearing shirt and pants, I still check to make sure my buttons are in line with my pants zip.
  1. Ongoing training. Training is part of Army life; you are always upskilling and attending courses as part of your soldier and trade development. Self-development, whether it be for work, upskilling or personal enhancement, is important to keep yourself relevant in the changing workforce where nothing stays the same.

While these days I’m recruiting executives, I would still recommend the Defence Force for the many different career options they offer. It is not all about being a front line soldier; you are able to learn a trade and complete a university degree while working. I made friends for life – it’s an experience I will never forget.

How did your first job shape you? What still resonates with you from your early career?

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Posted in Slade Executive

Cure the Sunday afternoon blues

“It generally started about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, irrespective of rain, hail or shine and the activity or people I was with at that time. I’d start thinking of the next day and my shoulders would instantly tense up, I’d start snapping at my kids and/or wife and increasingly become more taciturn and grumpy as the day progressed. This would happen every Sunday and started to have a real impact on my quality of life, family relationships, and started to limit the activities I would do Sunday afternoon and evenings.”

Sound familiar? It’s an unfortunately common situation for highly pressured executives. A candidate once shared this personal story with me, which fortunately became a wake-up call to consider a career change.

I recognise that it’s rare to find individuals who bound out of bed on Monday mornings – naturally most people would prefer to be at leisure than go to work. Of course our level of motivation varies with the demands of our role, our clients or customers, and our employer. However, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs that can affect your job enjoyment, intense and sustained angst about work is not normal. Left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage to our health, including stress, pressure on relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and a reduced work/life balance.

On the surface this individual seemed to be in the ideal work situation: he was in a key leadership position within a successful global blue chip organisation, earning an impressive wage, on a fast-track path to further success and growth – but it was just not right for him.

I appreciate that it’s not a simple matter to change jobs. Financial considerations, geographical location, time available to job seek, or your personal situation can be constraints.  If this sounds like you, consider these alternative strategies:

  • Speak up. Have an honest discussion with your manager and/or HR about revisiting the aspects of your job that cause you angst. Do these need to be delegated or shared with others in the team? Is your workload achievable within the resources and parameters provided? Do you need further training and mentoring to help you perform your job?
  • A sideways step could be an option if you like your company, but the role or your direct manager is not a good fit. Is there any opportunity to move to another role or division within the company?
  • If your employer and/or company culture does not align, but you enjoy your role, network across your industry through LinkedIn, industry forums and seminars, even former colleagues who have left to join competitors. Make yourself known throughout the sector, whilst maintaining your professionalism and remaining discreet about your intentions. This could lead to a direct approach to you to consider a job should an appropriate role arise.
  • Consider investing in additional training and/or studies that will further your professional development and enhance your employability to other organisations. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to pursue a field outside your current area of expertise. It also serves to demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and continuous development.
  • Have a confidential discussion with a recruitment firm who specialise in your sector/job of choice. Whilst this should be implicit, emphasise the need for the recruiter to respect your confidentiality and ensure your resume is only sent out to prospective employers with your approval.

Whilst it might be a work in progress, you will find that the simple act of taking control of your work situation can improve your outlook and with this perspective, allow you to enjoy your whole weekend.

As for the candidate mentioned previously? After taking a leap of faith, he did change jobs and has continued to progress his career with another organisation better suited to his style. He has also joined that rare group of individuals who look forward to Mondays.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Transitioning from Executive to the Boardroom – 6 key factors to consider

In my regular meetings with business leaders from the financial services sector, we nearly always discuss their ongoing challenges for the recruitment and retention of key staff. In this context it can seem inappropriate to discuss their own career plans in the same conversation, especially if it means leaving their current employer.

So, when I invited those same executives to discuss adding ‘Board Director’ to their career accomplishments at a Slade Executive Boardroom Lunch, I wasn’t surprised that spaces at the table filled quickly.

Led by experienced Director and Boardroom consultant, Nicholas Barnett, we discussed Australian boardrooms now and moving into the future.

While Boards are still heavily populated with older white males who have been approached directly through their own network, we are definitely seeing changes to this long established practice. More progressive Boards are recognising the value of greater diversity amongst Directors, challenging gender, generational and sociocultural norms. Nor are successful companies promoting diversity simply to achieve compliance or a feel good factor. Numerous studies have shown that best results are achieved where there is greater diversity in the Board of Directors and Executive team. The Australian Institute of Company Directors publishes regular research and reports on board diversity.

Board recruitment processes are changing too. Nicholas, through his company InSync, is regularly being engaged by Board Chairs to undertake Board reviews to identify strengths and capability gaps. From these reviews new Directors are being appointed. Yes, the traditional networks are still prevalent, however, we’re encouraged to see that the trend towards a structured and independent recruitment process for Board positions, facilitated by engaging external consultants such as an Executive Search firm, is becoming standard practice.

If you’re considering adding a board role to your executive responsibilities or transitioning your career to the Boardroom, here are the key factors to consider:

 

  • Board positions are highly competitive. According to Nicholas, the number of people interested in joining a Board has increased significantly, whilst the number of roles has remained largely unchanged over the last ten years. Therefore, you must be able to articulate what you can bring to the Boardroom and how you can make a positive contribution.

 

 

  • As in any role you’ve had in your career, you will be more engaged within an industry or company that you are passionate about. Your network or an Executive Search consultant can help you to identify suitable organisations that align with your interests, as well as your knowledge and experience.

 

 

  • Do your due diligence. You want to be part of an effective Board, and Boardroom culture is often set by the Chairperson. Insist on meeting other directors, as well as the Chair, to evaluate whether others are engaged.

 

 

  • A Board position involves a significant time commitment – can you fit it in with your other responsibilities?

 

 

  • If it’s your first time looking for a Board role, consider Not-For-Profits or unpaid roles, keeping in mind that many NFPs have high profile Board members who have a number of Directorships. Over time, opportunities to be considered for Corporate Board positions may present through this wider network.

 

 

  • Don’t leave it until you are at the end of your executive career. Consider your first Board appointment in parallel with your current role to see if it’s really for you. While establishing a track record as a Director, you’ll build a network of fellow Directors, which can lead to a growing portfolio of Directorships as you wind down your executive career.

 

What are your key considerations for a boardroom position?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

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.

 

    1. 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).

 

  1. 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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Posted in The world @work