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The changing face of the CEO

You may think you know what a CEO looks like – those of us who regularly work with senior people in other organisations or at a strategic level within our own – can picture some of the qualities common to those individuals who have been successful in business leadership roles. Yet it strikes me as an executive recruitment consultant who is regularly engaged in the hiring process for C-Suite roles, how the expectations for a CEO’s capability has changed in recent years.

Of course there are underlying leadership behaviours that have not changed: setting the vision, developing a daily dialogue, being clear about expectations… What I’m really talking about is the changing marketplace of the consumer – customer behaviour is forcing companies to do things differently, while evolving work styles have put pressure on CEOs to alter their tack.

Looking at trends in the C-Suite over the last 20 years, PWC reports, “Another interesting trend is that disruption is increasingly prompting boards to turn to external hires, rather than internal candidates, to fill CEO positions. They hope to capitalise on the experience and skills that these individuals bring from another organisation, or even another sector.”

While that’s good news for those of us in the recruitment business, it’s a timely reminder of the need to constantly reassess our hiring practices. Here is a sample of the types of questions that are (or should be) on the table, from my recent discussions with selection panels for senior hires:

  • Can this person build relationships with stakeholders to prioritise our key objectives for the next 12 months?
  • What digital, social media and other technology capability can this person bring to the role?
  • What exposure has this person had to gender equality and other diversity initiatives when acquiring talent and team building?
  • What global network do they have to drive capability within the organisation?
  • What recent experience does this person have in engaging, managing and motivating a high performing team?
  • How much does this person know about modern performance management processes?

In the current market, intangible qualities are increasingly highly valued. As organisational culture expert John Burdett reminded me in a seminar I attended earlier this year, successful CEOs need to be effective communicators. They must be authentic, engage the whole organisation in a meaningful way, not just report at Board level. They are storytellers who can articulate how things will be achieved in detail – jargon old or new, simply won’t cut it. Enthusiasm for the job and a sense of humour won’t go astray either.

What changes have you observed in the face of senior leadership in recent years in your world @work?

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A brand new box on the org structure

In a global survey of 500+ business leaders conducted by IIC Partners, three out of four respondents (76 percent) said they didn’t have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO). While a majority of organisations might not have a CDO, it’s becoming critical for businesses of all sizes to consider digital when recruiting any leadership roles.

Digital transformation began long ago in the corporate sector and has an even longer lead in industrial environments – just consider the history of robotics in manufacturing (circa 1955) or computer assisted design and engineering (1970s). Driven by PC, communications and database technologies, digital has successfully worked its way up the chain from IT to the back office, through administration to the front of house, via marketing.

Slade Executive is recruiting senior executives in digital right now, and we’re seeing an international trend in key digital appointments as part of the overall organisational strategy. Charting digital alongside traditional C suite roles, such as finance, operations and human resources, recognises its strategic importance. Along with information and marketing, we’ve seen that digital has the capacity to radically influence the competitiveness of an organisation in the present climate and will no doubt be essential to the survival of many industries in future.

In smaller businesses or those with more modest resources, a cross functional hybrid is the model for CDO. Agile executives who can work across a combination of digital, marketing and information technology are already highly sought after. As industry background becomes less relevant and a diverse CV looks more appealing, digital acumen is now one of the most commonly requested attributes when hiring leaders.

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A thought provoking start to 2016

For insight into the talent challenges facing businesses today and tomorrow, today’s blog is an edited excerpt from the Business Excellence interview with Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group. Business Excellence is the publication of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

A candidate who is a 70 per cent fit for a role is more effective than a perfect-on-paper candidate. “Bearing in mind that many things you learnt 10 years ago are now redundant and the majority of skills are learnt on the job, what’s important is how you’ve learnt and adapted,” Anita explains. “One of the partners at a top-tier law firm says he feels guilty inducting new graduates with the highest grades because he knows much of what they have learnt can be downloaded with the a click of a button in the form of ready-made contracts. Those applicants need to find new ways to add value; it’s about what you build around your job description that’s important,” she adds.

As degree-level qualifications become the norm, and job suitability is governed less by where you live or the schedule you work, soft skills become more important differentiators. Anita says: “We’re hearing from many organisations that graduates are theoretically and academically prepared, but face a big shock when it comes to managing their working day, which is why we like to see a range of part-time jobs on young people’s résumés.” She adds: “Businesses across all sectors are looking for employees who can use their intellect to join the dots, be creative and deliver value that cannot be outsourced.”

The role of a recruiter may have changed dramatically in the last 20 years as companies moved away from hiring homogenous groups of people. “The key qualities of a good hire almost never change in that No. 1 is being passionate about the role and No. 2 is sharing the values of the organisation,” says Slade Group’s Anita Ziemer. “But in this fast-changing environment, flexibility and adaptability are also very important traits,” she adds. “It’s out of date to say ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’; you have to be able to work with ambiguity, within a fluid workplace and fluid job description.”

Technical operations, construction, education and healthcare employers are among those keeping Slade Group’s recruiters busy for the foreseeable future. Anita says nursing, a profession that requires nurturing skills, may be one of the more reliable occupations to be in and recruit for, while automation and the globalisation of the workforce is redefining the meaning of talent in many sectors. “It is still common for the education system to push students towards so-called middle-class security roles in accounting, medicine and the law, but much of that can be offshored,” she suggests. “So back-end accounting goes to the Philippines, low-level legal work goes to India and – it’s a scary thought – if a surgeon has conducted a routine procedure hundreds of times why does your operation need to happen in Australia?”

On the positive side for jobseekers who are able to upskill or cross-skill, new and more interesting roles can be created in this flux. Anita points out: “People talk about manufacturing flattening out but the flip side is that we’re seeing new roles in the bespoke side of the market. A tailored approach to manufacturing continues to be something that Australia and particularly Victoria does well, which is why to lose those manufacturing skills would be a tragedy.”

The prerequisite for all of today’s recruits is digital expertise, as revealed in the results of Slade Group’s Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015. Anita explains: “The survey of 150 organisations showed that rather than looking for single candidates with a broad digital skill set, employers are expecting all staff to have the digital expertise related to their role. While 70 per cent believe a digital skills gap is taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business, a quarter said they find it difficult to source digital employees and attribute this to a lack of talent.” The survey results also indicated, however, that internal human resources teams are ill-equipped to accurately assess the digital skills of applicants and are relying too heavily on existing employee feedback to identify areas requiring development.

Another core attribute of the ideal hire, says Anita, is a “broad view of the world”. Professional services firms in particular are placing increased emphasis on cross-cultural awareness and communication as the business world becomes borderless. “Not having a broad view of the world is why some academically successful employees find themselves confined to the backroom technology roles while those who can engage, network and create strong links climb the ladder,” she adds.

In contrast to popular representations of millennials as entitled narcissists, Anita insists aptitude for hard work is just as likely to exist in a twentysomething as a baby boomer. She says: “Some argue there’s a trend among millennials to expect reward and promotion almost immediately, but maybe that has always been the case and people just sucked it up because workplaces were so regimented and hierarchical.” She adds that employers should not beat themselves up when an employee in their 20s moves on after a year, but should nevertheless review the opportunities they offer for internal progression to meet the craving of today’s employees for lifelong learning.

Of course there is no single, correct approach to recruitment, as reflected in Slade Group’s own workforce of experienced recruitment consultants and sector specialists who have retrained for a second career in recruitment. The layers of candidate assessment undertaken by TRANSEARCH International, the Group’s executive search division, take into account far more than a job description can encapsulate to help businesses meet their future talent needs.

One of the key growth areas for the company is in temporary staffing, and Anita sees this trend as far from the nightmare painted by some social commentators who see us all becoming lonely, disenfranchised contractors. “Casualisation makes sense for both employers and employees, in that the former can work with fixed costs and employees can work across their portfolio of interests,” she says.

“About 15 years ago I remember broadcaster Phillip Adams talking about how by the end of the century the employment model will have flipped and 70 per cent of us will not be in full-time work, leaving society with the challenge of how to occupy its citizens,” she continues. “But while it’s likely that teams will look very different in the future than they do now, we’re still social animals and want to learn from each other – you only need to look at the growth of co-working.”

As for emerging occupations that businesses are expected to need recruitment support for, Anita says digital security looms large. “One of the great opportunities we see is in the technological dark arts, in that employers are going to want to hire the 22-year-old boffins who can hack their system and know how to test the integrity of software, but those are the people who fly under the radar and are hard to find,” she explains.

While employers are busy embedding innovation into day-to-day operations, a fresh perspective on the personalities and skill sets that your team needs to power its success is perhaps something that only an external recruiter can provide.

Anita says: “Experts say we’re still 40 years away from artificial intelligence in its truest form so the human overlay of recruitment experience is still much needed; an algorithm cannot do this yet.”

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Are you a badger or a fox?

There’s no way to dodge the digital evolution. Like winter, it’s a’coming. Our foxes know a little about a lot and badgers know a lot about a little. As organisations riding the tsunami wave of digital integration, we need badgers and foxes onboard. Those solid badgers with their deep knowledge and the agile foxes with the run of the landscape make for a healthy workplace environment.

You can probably pick the badgers from the foxes, but even the experts struggle to define digital and what qualifies subject matter experts varies greatly between organisations. The digital enabled workplace is here for you whether you’re a talented specialist with deep technical expertise or the generalist with a broad view of all areas of your organisation.

This week Slade Group brought business leaders together for a boardroom lunch to discuss Our Workplace and this Digital Economy. We presented the findings of The Australian Slade Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015, which was the result of a year-long process conducted by Sweeney Research and involved 150 business from a broad range of sectors. At our table, executives representing banking & finance, consumer, education, professional services, marketing & advertising, news media, software development, and industrial provided some amazing insights on the digital knowledge and capability of Australian’s at work.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by new technology, take heart. We heard even the experts find it hard to keep up. In fact business is struggling to keep up with consumers, who are ahead of the game in entertainment, buying behaviours and their social networks, often at home with multiple devices watching TV, shopping online, and interacting via social media all at once! Is getting up at 5am every day or working 80 hours per week the answer? It’s ironic that the technology designed to simplify our lives has made it infinitely more complicated, while we’re drowning in electronic noise.

The Slade survey clearly indicates a digital skills shortage will affect the competitiveness of Australian companies if we don’t act now. While others play catch up, some businesses are sourcing talent from overseas. An increasingly agile global workforce presents further challenges. Taking an open door approach is one solution to higher mobile amongst technical specialists. It’s better to train someone who leaves, than not train someone who stays.  Innovative approaches, such as encouraging employees to pursue overseas opportunities, remaining connected to alumni and fostering a culture where ‘boomerang’ hires are actively pursued are some of the solutions our participants explored.

Education and upskilling is certainly required to keep pace. Typically this is occurring organically in SMEs, who have less resources available for training. Opinion in our boardroom was changing job descriptions and roles titles are make recruiting digital talent difficult. Universities cannot change course content quick enough to capture the latest digital trends. Meanwhile, the new generation of digital natives need to be nurtured from school towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) if we want to improve capability as well as see diversity in our organisations in the future.

When you’re building your digital team, let alone general teams, you need to be sure you’re hiring the right people. You’ll need some badgers and a few foxes. Making sure you have the right tools to assess digital talent also takes a subject matter expert.

How is your executive addressing the digital gap? What about your Board? What strategies have you implemented to future-proof your business?

Please contact me, Sally Powell, to find out more about Slade’s research and to receive a copy of The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey Report.

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9 chilling facts about your workplace and this digital economy

You’re not alone – we’re all alert and slightly alarmed. Just take a look at the summary findings from The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015, and our original article below.

Where digital skills fall short:

  • 80% of managers describe staff as being weak in some or several areas of digital expertise; 70% believe a digital skills gap is taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business.
  • Even though over two thirds of respondents say it’s critical that new employees are able to demonstrate digital expertise, only 12% conduct internal or external testing during recruiting.
  • Only 9% think recent university graduates are equipped to undertake digital role requirements.
  • A quarter (25%) of the 150 businesses surveyed find it difficult to source digital employees because they believe not enough talent is available.
  • Respondents believe that 40% of senior managers in their organisations have ‘only a moderate understanding of the importance of digital skills’ while 20% had ‘little understanding’ at all.
  • Over 30% of respondents have brought in digital staff from overseas and will do so again, despite higher costs associated with sponsorship and relocation. Another 26% will consider it.
  • Over half (56%) of businesses surveyed anticipated hiring more digital specialists over the coming 12 months.
  • Mobile devices took over PCs for the first time in 20141, but only 9% of organisations believe they are ahead of the competition in mobile/SMS marketing today.
  • 98% of respondents feel it’s important to continually train their digital staff, yet over 60% rely on employee feedback and ‘observation’ to identify areas requiring development.

Since last month when we reported Digital Skills Fall Short the news media is all over it too.

We’ve linked the current commentary for your interest:

What are implications for us in the new digital economy, if “Australian businesses lag behind US and UK in competitive digital skills,” as International Business Times says? Locally, a skills crunch is a threat. It’s confirmed by a report in The Australian. And addressing that skills gap will be a challenge.

We’re not making it easy for ourselves either. CMO Magazine highlights a common conundrum: “Australian employers under-invest in skill development even as they struggle to find talent.”

The recruitment and training industries concur. According to training.com.au, “Australian businesses are struggling to match digital business needs with adequately skilled employees.”

Shortlist observes it’s “funding issues, not skills shortages”, which “stymie digital recruitment”, endorsing our prediction that the demand for digitally savvy executives will grow.

For a full copy of the report, please contact Slade Executive Recruitment on +613 9235 5100.

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