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The nuances of effective feedback

When Robyn, a great candidate referred by a trusted source, crashed and burned in an interview, I asked if she might be open to discussing how she felt about the interview. “Yes please!” This led to a great two-way conversation. But what if I had said, “You were terrible at interview and you have to take on the feedback I’m about to give you.”?

One of the most important skills we can all acquire is the gift of masterful feedback, both giving it and receiving it.

Instructive feedback encompasses both constructive feedback and informative feedback. The most useful feedback is both mindful and effective in empowering and influencing others. It is honest, unbiased and requested, rather than being thrust upon you. When you receive effective feedback, with no personal attachments and no hint of persuasion, it is all the more credible and importantly, able to be embraced and or even acted upon.

Uninvited feedback on the other hand, resulting from a reaction or response, can interrupt thoughts, kill motivation, learning and/or be annoying or even destructive, as it erodes trust and builds barriers. It can be particularly hurtful when it is directed at the other person’s values and beliefs or their judgements.

“The only fully legitimate feedback we can give a speaker is information about the state of our own cage.” – Mackay (1994)

Uninvited feedback can come from well-meaning friends, family or work colleagues, who believe it’s somehow their duty to tell you their observations or opinions to help you. Consciously they are trying to change you or maybe even communicate something about themselves, how they feel, think or respond. Subconsciously they may also be trying to sell their ideas, their experiences or get you to like them and be influenced by them.

It’s hard to accept uninvited feedback and take stock of the messages people dish out.  Receiving effective feedback is very different.

Effective feedback is provided in the most appropriate way so other person finds it useful and beneficial. A leader coaching their team or a peer, may use effective feedback to project back a particular perception, emotion, word, or experience observed. This could simply entail repeating back a certain word or phrase using active listening and recording a conversation.

When we clarify to capture meaning it also assists in the feedback process. It’s a bit like having another set of eyes and ears to help you gauge the message behind your words, your tone and feelings. Science tells us that we tend to operate more in the subconscious mind, than our conscious mind.  It’s clear that many of us go through life not being very aware of how we are perceived, the power of our thoughts and words, or their translation by others.

Successful executive coaching is underpinned by the use of effective feedback for this very reason; it creates increased clarity, trust, confidence and support. When a leader is able to regularly engage with feedback that is positive, that’s acknowledgement. When a leader is relaying feedback that has a negative effect, this can be referred to as feedback with judgement, which can often be received as criticism.

The more you pay conscious attention to how you and others provide effective feedback (clarification and or questioning without a tone of judgement) the further you empower others and yourself in your role. When you create a positive mindset for ongoing feedback in all its forms, you create greater synergy, trust and awareness.

How are you engaging in effective feedback in your world @work?

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A milestone year for Indigenous education

Slade Group is proud to support the Cathy Freeman Foundation in their 10 year anniversary celebrations this year. Last week we hosted an art show to mark ten years of making a difference to Indigenous students, which coincides with our own 50 year anniversary celebrations. Kath Markov provides some insights on the Foundation’s achievements.

This year the Cathy Freeman Foundation will celebrate 10 years of providing educational opportunities and support to children and families of Palm Island in north Queensland.

“I never imagined that we would have the privilege to work with the beautiful and talented children of Palm Island for 10 years! I am grateful to the Palm Island community who have embraced the Foundation and its programs and I look forward to celebrating this incredible milestone,” said Cathy Freeman, Co-founder and Director of the Cathy Freeman Foundation.

The long term partnership between the Cathy Freeman Foundation and the Palm Island community is undoubtedly one of the Foundation’s greatest successes. Ruth Gorringe, Palm Island local and Community Liaison Officer for the Foundation, says “The Cathy Freeman Foundation is special because people from all over Australia donate and they want to see Indigenous education succeed. People in our community know the Foundation is here for our children’s education. We’re here for the long run and for as long as the community want us here.” Ruth has been a part of the Cathy Freeman Foundation team since 2014 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Education.

Celebrating Year 12 Achievement

More Indigenous children are completing Year 12 than ever before and whilst there is still a long way to go in closing the education gap, the Foundation is proud to celebrate and share in the achievements of students from our community partners.

Last year for the first time in Palm Island history 100% of all senior students graduated from Year 12 with a QCE. “We strongly believe that it takes a whole community to educate a child and this year we celebrated the unprecedented outcomes from working together. We recognise the significant support these students received from the Cathy Freeman Foundation on their journey towards completing Year 12,” said David O’Shea, Deputy Principal, Bwgcolman Community School (2016).

All students who graduate from Year 12 receive a personal letter from Cathy Freeman. “We want their education to go beyond school so it is very empowering for the students to receive a letter from Cathy upon completion of school. I feel really proud and emotional knowing the struggles some of them had throughout school including peer pressure and all of the other things that go with it, but they stuck it out.” said Ruth Gorringe.

If you would like to purchase artworks from the recent Slade Group – Cathy Freeman Foundation Art Show, including Wayne Quilliam’s photographs and unique paintings by Tiwi Designs, click here to view the catalogue or contact us for further information. Click here to find out more about the Foundation or to make a donation.

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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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How to learn Italian… without going to school

It’s needless to say that childhood experiences shape a significant part of our adult persona, but they also help to build some of the skills and attributes that we carry with us during our working life.

While in pre-elementary (equivalent to kindergarten in Australia) and then elementary school (primary school), I, like many of my peers, revered television for its ability to entertain, educate and simply provide an escape from everyday reality. However, in Albania where I grew up, the State-run channel was pretty dry on children’s programming, with limited variety, laughably amateurish sets and substandard directing, which had little appeal to my youthful imagination. Like many others at the time, I turned to Italian TV for entertainment because it featured many cartoons for children.

The geographical proximity of the two countries (Albania is only 40 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) allowed us to receive Italian broadcasts with a simple medium-wave receiver. From age five onwards I was watching cartoons on Italian TV. I would wake up at 6am along with my brother to watch Anna Dai Capelli Rossi, Heidi, Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, which were all featured in Italian. Enraptured by the stories and delighted by the colourful images, I naturally started to interpret what was being said and my understanding of Italian improved day by day. As I grew a bit older, I progressed to watching a TV series called Amico Mio and even developed a crush on the actor who was about my age! At ten I was able to fully converse in Italian, and have been fluent in the language since then.

I went on to improve my language skills, taking Italian courses in university, where I learned to read and write besides speaking. It’s a skill that came in handy: my first job at 16 was working in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I took a Modern Italian Culture course at university in Canada and shared a house with five Italian girls for a few months in regional Victoria, when I moved to Australia. Funnily enough, I have only once set foot on Italian soil (while visiting a friend in Rome, and just for two days), nevertheless those language skills I acquired from Italian television were my trampoline to the wider world.

Tons of research demonstrates that our behaviour as adults stems from what we have experienced during our childhood. If you are afraid of dogs, it’s probably something you can trace back to your younger days. If you speak Italian in a Micky Mouse voice, you probably grew up somewhere along the Mediterranean.

What about you? Is there anything you have learned in an unconventional way?

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I could have been French President…

Growing up in France, I’ve always been interested in politics, as well as the way people communicate.

I’m now an expat, but every day is still a cultural challenge, every meeting a learning experience.

As an education specialist, currently working with schools to recruit teachers, one of the first questions I always ask candidates, regardless of their level of experience, is “Why do you teach?” I’m looking for those éléments de réponse, as we say in French: I want to hear their aspirations, understand their motivation and learn why they care about their students.

Early in my career, I studied Public and Political Communication. After graduating with a degree, I worked as a project manager for a digital company. However, it was during an internship in a web agency as a 19 year old that I realised my ability to interpret what the clients were trying to say when we sat down with them for a project briefing. Those complicated design briefs which everyone struggled with, simply made sense to me. In the same way, I find I’m able work through all the strategic plans, position descriptions and resumes to find out what my clients and candidates are really looking for when recruiting today.

As a consultant, you uncover some inspiring stories from people at various stages of their careers, which often align to the growth and development of the organisation they are with, or seeking to join.

Back in France, in 2012, I had to forgo one childhood dream (the presidency) to fulfil another. I had always wanted to travel, so I left France to explore the world.

Arriving in Australia, originally to save money to travel to South America, I found my way to Broome, ended-up living there for two years, fell in love with the country and decided to stay. Living the life of a backpacker, working as host on a luxurious boat in one of the most naturally beautiful regions in WA – it’s pretty hard to beat.

I love meeting people when I travel, so eventually I met a guy, who knew someone and one conversation led to another… I moved to Melbourne and I’m now part of the Slade Executive team.

Like me, our team is passionate. We all have different reasons why we do what we do.

In the education sector, my colleagues and I have the ability to influence the growth and development of the people and the organisations we work with. When I think about why I’m really enjoying what I’m doing right now, I’d say it’s my curiosity about people that led me to recruitment. I am constantly inspired by the stories of others – whether your goal is principal or president, it’s always interesting to know what motivates people to achieve their dreams. I hope some of mine resonates with you.

So what about you, why do you do what you do?

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‘Trump’s wall’ can’t stop talent fleeing the US

At 6:41pm Eastern Australian time on Wednesday 9 November, within half an hour of the calling of the US Presidential election result, in came an email with a request to chat from a very highly regarded Assistant Professor at a major Californian university.

“I have been quite fulfilled at (the) University,” she said, “but the results of our election have made me seriously concerned about the future of environmental science research in the US. I now want to consider something new and somewhere new.”

In our tightly interconnected world we are vulnerable to global shockwaves: the prospect of a Trump presidency may seem ominous for the global economy, but it could also throw up opportunities. We expected that Brexit would see some international professionals seeking opportunities in Australia to the benefit of business and universities here, but this week’s US election result could have an even bigger impact.

I have been recruiting academic roles for a major Australian GO8 University of late and our search for three of that University’s schools has involved contacting academic leaders all around the world. A number have been interested to talk further, and perhaps will apply, but most prospective candidates were happy where they are.

It’s not surprising. Given the new President’s comments on climate change in the lead up to the election, further concerted action on climate change appears unlikely in the US. But what really struck me was that this academic was ready to act on her convictions and back her professional experience, to up stakes and head to ‘warmer’ climes that hopefully (we’ve also seen some of our leading scientific minds looking abroad for a more welcoming political climate) will be more compassionate and supportive of her work.

Not everyone can move countries at will of course. The Assistant Professor is fortunate that there are career pathways within her professional community that facilitate knowledge sharing amongst academics. If she is able to continue her work here, her research will lead to a better understanding of climate impacts, from changes to wetlands, arid and other landscapes (highly relevant considering the environmental challenges we face in this country), then we will all benefit from her expertise.

So while some nations are talking about building walls that may prevent workforce mobility, Australia could be holding a winning hand if we maintain open-minded policies. From an executive search perspective and as a regular international traveller for senior appointments, I’d love to be able to refer more talent both ways.

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Teaching our students, schools and the Universities how to adapt with change

Have we made any progress in understanding the needs of graduates?

A growing development across the University sector has been the search for leaders who have the vision for an improved learning experience for students. From the start of their entry into university, through to graduation and beyond, there is finally a push for a greater understanding and acceptance of the importance of experiential learning within courses, for all students. This might be through effective internships and industry placements; we are now seeing many faculties and whole Universities searching for leaders who can develop and guide such programs.

Schools have recognised the benefits of a transdisciplinary approach, educating students across traditional faculty boundaries with what is known as project-based learning – learning that is based on real-world experiences. This education model encourages curiosity and creativity, while developing communication abilities.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, wrote an opinion piece in The Australian recently, suggesting that it is time society recognised “it is not a failure to progress to a job that has no obvious link to one’s degree”. Finkel said that it was our “capacity to pivot” that was probably the most reliable predictor of success in career development. Finkel described how he had successfully ‘pivoted’ professionally from one opportunity to the next on several occasions through his career. It was made possible through the mastery of multiple disciplines and drew on experience that went way beyond traditional industry sector boundaries.

Two leading school Principals, Allan Shaw at The Knox School in Melbourne, and Dr Paul Browning of St Paul’s School in Brisbane, have written about programs for entrepreneurial skills and business enterprise developed in their schools. These initiatives, and the practical skills students gain, extend well beyond the boundaries of a traditional discipline or subject area.

As Allan Shaw has reflected, the deep knowledge in a discipline developed through university education remains a significant component for career success. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being understood that there is so much more that is necessary to equip students with the skills for an ever changing future: complex problem-solving ability, critical thinking, communications skills, teamwork, people management and good decision-making are some of the key competencies.

Times are a-changin’ and the ability to pivot (ie. adapt to change) is increasingly important, not only for individuals, but for institutions as well.

Have you pivoted between industries or sector specialisations or adapted your technical skills to a different role during your career? What programs have you been involved with to address change in your world @work?

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Our prized skills in education are an export opportunity

The announcement of the world’s biggest education prize, worth more than $A12 million, offered by a Chinese tech billionaire, is symbolic of the surging wave of education for next gen China.

Working with a group of schools myself in China recently, I have seen firsthand there’s a great desire for change. Support for a broadening of the educational curriculum, processes and pedagogy to embrace such change has been furthered by a serious degree of investment growth in education both from the public and private sectors, parents and students themselves.

The Yidan Prize, named after its initiator, Charles Chen Yidan, will recognise outstanding individuals, such as teachers, or teams of people working in education, providing them with substantial investment to fund their projects. According to the Times Educational Supplement, the award aims to become the Nobel Prize for education. Yidan says one of the aims for the prize is to support “agents of change” in education.

The Chinese desire to bring big ideas to education is obvious. Encouraging creativity and innovation amongst students as well as the teaching profession broadly reflects their desire to be internationally competitive. Too often elsewhere, pressure to maintain high scores in assessments such as PISA tests (the OCED’s international tests in Maths, Science and Reading) are often seen at odds with the pursuit of creativity and imaginative thinking. Interestingly, PISA tests are soon to include “global skills” and cultural awareness for their next round of tests in 2018. Considering that in many parts of China, the results in those PISA scores are 30 per cent higher than those of Australian children in the same age group, there’s much our two countries could learn from each other.

On my recent visit to Beijing, Chongqing and Hong Kong, I saw wonderful opportunities for Australian educators and all others with specialist abilities associated with education. Working overseas for a period of time in any profession is an opportunity to gain experiences that shape and enhance your world view, with flow-on benefits to the development of your industry, both locally and abroad. But it’s not only our teachers who can realise these opportunities. In the education sector in China, associated technical professionals such as the architects who design school buildings and the engineers who construct them are also keenly sought after.

Australian investment in China and other rapidly developing nations in South East Asia means we are well placed to help lead innovation and drive ongoing change. Education is one area where we enjoy a high reputation internationally, with a strong track record in teaching and learning, as well as a growing export market for our skills and experience in the field.

What opportunities have you seen in the domestic or global market for your organisation that could advocate for positive change?

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