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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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EOFY – trivia, observations and reflections

I’ve just finished an interview with an accountant… (insert your joke or comment of choice)… for a Financial Controller role. Actually it’s a great opportunity with a small private investment company.

I generally start an interview with an easy general question like, “How’s work?” In this case the response was, “Flat-out! I’m super busy because of EOFY (End of Financial Year).” Makes sense and I’m sure there are thousands of accountants around Australia who are saying the same thing.

According to that font of all modern wisdom, Wikipedia, Australia is one of only a small list of countries that use 1 July to 30 June as the financial year. Others include New Zealand, Japan and Egypt. In comparison the US use 1 January to 31 December and the UK is more unusual, being 1 April to 31 March for government. UK businesses can choose any 12 month period.

Given that much of Australian law and business practices have British origins, you might expect that we would have a similar EOFY. Some sources suggest that our reverse seasons compared to the Northern Hemisphere mean more Australians are on holiday in January and at work in the winter months. I’m not a Mythbuster, so I’ll just say that is plausible.

In my patch of the recruitment world, financial services, three out of four major Australian banks have changed to 30 September as their EOFY. Most other financial services organisations that I work with ie. industry superannuation funds, fund managers, smaller banks, investment consultants and private wealth managers, use 30 June as EOFY.

What I’ve seen in the last few months is lots of strategic planning for next financial year and establishment of budgets. Generally I’d say recruitment intentions are quite positive.

For many of us EOFY is a busy time, trying to complete work. Now is a chance for a quick spot of reflection and strategy refinement: What worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

OK reflection done, there’s calls to be made!

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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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Daniel Goleman explains why Eco-intelligence is a thing

There’s EQ, there’s IQ, and now there’s Eco Intelligence. Except the ‘now’ is 10 years old and I’m late to the party.

How did I even hear about this? A few weeks ago, a bunch of us were rabbiting on about the relative EQ and IQ of a recent senior appointment, and our visiting international expert added, “And of course you’d have taken into account their Eco-Intelligence.

I nodded in zealous agreement, Yes, of course, Eco-Intelligence, at the same time my mind was shooting blanks.

Since then, I’ve done my homework. If like me you didn’t know Eco-intelligence was a thing, then let me bring you up to speed in 2 minutes.

The term, first coined by Daniel Goldman is the title of his 2009 book Ecological Intelligence. It has gained traction through consumer action, apps and websites such as GoodGuide. Where it has still to gain traction is in the hiring of senior managers who can embed eco values and an eco-culture.

Explaining it in his compelling straightforward style, Goleman has a 90 second video that’s worth viewing.

Daniel Goleman Connects Emotional and Ecological Intelligence

Daniel Goleman explains Ecological Intelligence

In it, he explains the rapport we build with other humans is ‘I-to-You’. Or we might fail to build mutual rapport because we use a command and demand approach, which is ‘I-to-It’. And that’s how we can also understand Eco-intelligence. Namely, if we are mindful of our rapport with the earth, respectful and open to giving and taking, then that’s high Eco-Intelligence. If we strip the earth of its potential, command, demand, and show no respect, then that’s low Eco-intelligence.

At a consumer level, Eco Intelligence has been brought to life with Apps and websites such as GoodGuide. GoodGuide’s mission is to provide consumers with the information they need to make better shopping decisions. Consumers can choose products that contain ingredients with fewer health concerns, while it gives retailers and manufacturers compelling incentives to make and sell better products. There are also environmental impact assessment tools too that help corporates and individuals assess their production, distribution and consumption decisions.

How do you create eco values at your world @work, and how do you embed Eco intelligence in your decision making?

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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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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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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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Resourcing the new Infrastructure State. A challenge for Victoria?

Victoria – The Infrastructure State. It could be a number plate. The Melbourne Metro Rail project is underway, level crossings are being replaced, plans for ‘sky rail’ continue to cause controversy and an airport train could be back on the agenda. For roads, the Tulla freeway is being widened, the West Gate and Bolte will get improvements, and the Victorian Government is considering a proposal to build the ‘missing link’ Western Distributor.

Last December at the Engineers Australia Transport Year in Review, I listened with interest to Corey Hannett, Coordinator General, Major Transport Infrastructure Program on the current infrastructure program of works scheduled for Victoria. From a project resourcing point of view, the Government’s main concern is the lack of skilled project leaders to deliver this ambitious program of works.

Key themes presented were:

  • Ensuring the right balance between public and private resources to manage multiple, overlapping projects within optimum timelines
  • Sourcing skilled project leaders across different disciplines, including CEOs, Project Directors, and Senior Project Managers
  • Diversity in the Construction sector

From an executive recruitment perspective, these concerns certainly mirror our experience when consulting with organisations in building, construction and engineering over the last 12 months: Demand for experienced, diverse and specialist talent is at a premium. As the momentum for construction work Australia-wide continues to gather pace, the question remains how do we address this to help the immediate needs of Victoria?

There are serious concerns about poaching staff being felt across the sector, which is experiencing significant problems with retention (a fact that’s not lost on us when headhunting). Here are three points that were raised to consider when hiring, which also resonated with me:

  • When considering a candidate’s abilities, look for transferable skills, taking the time to consider all of their work history, not just the first page of the CV
  • You don’t need someone who has done the exact same job, you need someone who can do the job
  • Victorian employers may benefit from staff attrition with the completion of major projects interstate or could source talent from other sectors where demand has subsided, such as mining (particularly in WA and QLD)

I will be a keen observer over the next few years to see whether we have the appetite to meet the talent demands of the Infrastructure State.

What measures do you think are needed to address talent shortages for major infrastructure projects in your state? Share your point of view to continue the conversation.

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