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Motherhood Statements are not on!

Recently I attended a webinar hosted by international communications experts rogenSi, where they talked about using more persuasive language in our everyday business communications. For me, this could mean meetings with colleagues, interviews with candidates, presenting my services as an executive recruitment consultant to potential clients, or pitching for a coaching gig in my other professional capacity.

The techniques discussed (see below for some quick tips), got me thinking about the level of expertise amongst the senior leaders and executives I work with every week. While highly experienced and knowledgeable in their fields, sometimes even talented people lack sophistication in their communication style.

The webinar went on to say that frequently, business people use ‘motherhood statements’ to attempt to convince others. That is, statements which are too general, too broad or too bland to have any meaning – the words simply don’t cut through. Here are some examples of the platitudes I hear: “I’m highly motivated”; “I’m ready for a new challenge”; “I’m a people person”. When we make motherhood statements we’re not heard. It could be because the language we have used isn’t precise, we haven’t backed-up our claims with appropriate evidence, or we generalised about the subject without making a specific point.

Former Rogen International CEO, Neil Flett, also addresses the issue in his very readable book: The Pitch Doctor. He’s emphatic: “Business people should avoid too much motherhood speak.” Flett’s analysis and the rogenSi webinar concur that what you say and how you say it can be key to becoming more memorable in your professional interactions.

Try these 5 tips to avoid motherhood statements:

  1. Statistics – use meaningful stats, not just big numbers
  2. Facts – inarguable facts are persuasive
  3. Examples – paint a picture, use SAO (Situation, Action and Outcome) to describe it
  4. Case Studies – talking openly, when permissible, about a winning bid that led to a successful project and the results achieved
  5. Tell a story – storytelling is most powerful when related to your own personal experience, when it allows you to share your passion and demonstrates that you really mean it

Take my advice, by using convincing language in future, I guarantee you will be more persuasive… Did I just make a motherhood statement?

What do you hear in your world@work that’s just really blah blah blah?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Challenging questions about change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever wondered why the subject of change can provoke strong emotions?

Back in the fixed-line age of last century(!) when timed local calls were first floated by our national carrier, there was a tsunami of public rejection. Just five year later when Motorola and Nokia were offering us the new-new thing, that same ‘public’ jumped on board without questioning the fact that they would be billed on the basis of timed local calls.

I’ve heard individuals describe themselves in interviews as either good or bad at handling change. Typically it’s not as black and white as that, as we all respond to change differently, and how change per se is introduced to us, can impact our emotional and cognitive response.

  1. Do you understand your response to change?

When reflecting on your past responses to change, both in your personal and professional spheres, are you aware of what underpins your behaviour? A move interstate, a teenager pushing back, a new housing development going up next door, a relationship breakup, a new boss, a bad accident? In ‘work speak’, I’m alluding to our motivators, those forces that drive our individual and team responses to change that impact productivity.

This is a great question to ponder separately, not only when you’re interviewing a potential candidate for your organisation. Consider how you personally affect change in your organisation, how change affects your team, or broadly others in your workplace.

I often challenge candidates by asking: “When you do decide to embrace change, are you pretty loyal to that change… particularly when you are convinced it is the right decision?” I might also pose a behavioural question such as, “What is your best example of a time when you have embraced a significant change, only to discover that you might have been better off taking a more measured approach?” This is a great way of helping an individual recognise that of course, whichever way they manage change, it’s likely they handle it differently to others.

When you challenge yourself on this question, you might also find it helpful to consider how your motivations are orientated. For example, are they past, present or future orientated? What impact might that have on how you embrace change and help others embrace it as well?

  1. Talk it over or lose the advantage

When we remember that we each hold different motivators, it helps us to understand how we respond to change differently. Research such as that presented by Abraham Maslow and Deci & Ryan, also tells us that what you expect and believe are critical to your ability to embrace or reject change. Your experience, skills, knowledge and sense of self-esteem are also important factors.

Do you know what truly motivates you when it comes to change? What about your team members? Most of us think we know what motivates our behaviour and therefore, how to motivate others we work with. I wonder if we do really know, or just think we know.

Having insight into your own personality, in turn helps you to understand others, particularly on the subject of adaptability to change. At the senior leadership level it goes much deeper than personality profiling; research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan suggests personality informs approximately 30% of how we are motivated at any given moment. Context is ‘king’ when we talk about change, which means deeply exploring the situation in our conversations with candidates or colleagues.

How do others rate you and your team when it comes to leading or embracing change? What assumptions might you or others be making, and how do these impact the wider organisation?

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Posted in Slade Education, Slade Executive, The world @work

FRAGILE: Handle with care

In the world @work it’s easy to forget that people can have all sorts of other stuff going on in their life that makes them more or less vulnerable. Whether it’s financial strain, stress from their past or current workplace, contending with being made redundant or failing to make initial headway with job applications, there are myriad reasons why people might not cope well with a job interview.

A couple of times recently I’ve interviewed candidates who had good resumes and phone screened well, but at interview it was clear that all was not well in their world. Despite the usual nerves, there were some concerning signs that included being anxious, insecure and defensive; they were clearly people who were in desperate need of work.

These are always tricky situations that call on our professionalism, emotional intelligence and compassion.

As recruiters or hiring managers we spend a lot of time interviewing and we are generally very comfortable with the conversations we have with candidates. Before gathering information about their background, skills and work experience, we aim to put people at ease with some small talk and outline what it is we want to discuss. Sometimes it can feel like speed dating. Even when done well, it can feel a little invasive.

I’m sure I am not alone when I admit that I have struggled with my own job applications at various times in my career. You know how it goes, the contact person was elusive, the interview didn’t run smoothly or I brought a negative work experience to the table that didn’t add value to the discussion. I too have been frustrated because I thought my age or some time out of the workforce was a barrier to making progress. All of those emotions are best left outside the door when we apply for jobs.

Most times a skilled interviewer will put people at ease, overcome their interview anxiety and uncover the value they can bring to an employer. On those occasions when we can’t help a candidate further, we’re guided by respect for the person and our primary objective – to find the right person for the job.

Let’s be mindful that when hiring we are in a position to help or harm and everyone – every one – deserves respect. Take a few minutes to listen to Sting and Stevie Wonder perform Fragile in this video, which prompted me to pause and reflect.

How have you handled a fragile situation in a business context? What did you learn from the experience?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

C’mon folks

When a Southern Belle interviewed for a Financial Planner’s role in Dallas, Texas, and addressed the interview panel with ‘Y’awl’, no one raised an eyebrow. But when one of our candidates in Sydney was on final interview with a new employer, and dropped the ‘Y bomb’ (Youse), she was shown the door within 10 minutes. We were forced to find a palatable excuse for why she wasn’t successful, when we knew that she was simply ‘not one of their tribe’.

Consequently it was with great interest that we were interviewed by Fiona Smith for an article in The Guardian about Blind Recruitment: Blind recruitment aims to stamp out bias, but can it prevent discrimination? This is a growing trend amongst sophisticated employers who want to bring in capable people based on merit – not by where they went to school, which university they attended, or by gender or whether their name is pronounceable by mono-linguists.

We wave the flag for anti-discrimination every day of the year. When we did pure phone screening interviews for one role, we were delighted to hear that the candidate who was successful was in a wheelchair – we had no idea and it made not an iota of difference to his ability to perform in the role. We were aghast when one of our own beautifully spoken consultants, an Indian by birth, was told by a client ‘don’t send me any Indians’. We continue to push back when briefed by certain employers (particularly for entry level to mid-career roles) that a particular birthright will mean a good culture fit.

On the other hand, we are completely onside with employers who want good written and spoken English as part of the selection criteria. So much in life comes down to good communications, but we don’t buy into accent free or the ‘tribal’ norms as our Financial Planner experienced. Instead, when faced with real or perceived discrimination, we encourage the delicate conversations: For example, someone could have generously told that high performing candidate ‘Our business has a slightly different client base than your previous company. Would you mind not saying ‘Youse’, as we don’t want our clients making the wrong assumptions about you, when we know you’re very good at your job?’

Too easy.

What’s your experience of ‘blind recruitment’ in your world @work?

Featured image: See Beyond Race was a VicHealth community-based social marketing campaign that tackled race-based discrimination by featuring local people from diverse cultural backgrounds and their real-life interests.

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Posted in The world @work

3 seconds is all it takes

Can it really be true that you can win or lose an audience in just three seconds? More on that later, but first here is my checklist for an engaging professional presentation:

  • Strategy – be prepared and have an agenda
  • Energy level – show interest in what you’re presenting, be animated, make it come alive
  • Key message – don’t fluff around, get the message out loud and proud
  • Sell yourself – don’t be shy to talk about your strengths
  • Voice – consider volume and your tone, are you being heard?
  • Non-verbal – think about your eye contact, hand gestures, facial expression, dress, movement, and body language
  • Wrap up – bring the presentation to a logical and timely conclusion

Recently I attended a committee meeting in Melbourne, where a well-known top tier law firm was presenting its services. I’ve often been impressed by switched-on business people who present strongly to an audience. They approach their subject matter positively, use appropriate language and the energy level in the room is high. They are also aware of their body language and dress appropriately.

In a news article about Natalie McKenna, Director of Regeneration Unlimited Communications and researcher in Public Relations at RMIT University, it’s said that “In just three seconds your business meeting could be over, with the business decision already made.”

Well, the lawyers’ presentations were woeful… boring, lifeless, forgettable… definitely over in the three seconds it took me to reach that conclusion!

When McKenna says all it takes is three seconds for someone to make a decision about you, that’s pretty tough. However, it doesn’t take long to lose your audience, and first impressions certainly do matter.

In business we’re often highly absorbed in talking about our product, our service, ourselves (the lawyers could show some passion for their profession here), without being really mindful of our audience. From my experience as a consultant with Slade Executive Recruitment and through my observations with global communications group rogenSi, I know how important it is to engage with others. The same principles apply whether it’s an information session, a sales pitch, a business meeting or a job interview.

What communication techniques have you found useful in your business?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Waving the Magic Wand

“If I could wave a magic wand to create a perfect career opportunity for you, what would it look like?” It’s a great question, isn’t it? A former colleague of mine used it in all her hiring interviews.

Open ended questions literally allow people to open up. You bring out a range of answers, which can sometimes be quite surprising. In recruitment, typical responses are: job stability, career progression, management style and company culture. Very rarely does money come up in this conversation.

One of the best responses that I have had in a job interview was from a return to work Mum who had applied for a full-time Sales Rep position in the Architecture & Design market – a role notoriously difficult to recruit for.  I asked her a magic wand question, only to discover that all she really wanted was flexibility. Her ideal wish? To divide three days in the office and on the road, then spend two days working from home, which would help achieve a balanced life with her little one.

We discussed the mutual benefits of a flexible approach and I presented this working arrangement to the prospective employer. My client was open to the concept, my candidate secured the role and now two years later, she has readjusted her schedule (how fast life changes!) to work four days a week and continues to exceed her targets.

If I had never asked my candidate an open question, I would never had known which options to explore with my client. Using open questions in interviews or even business in general, opens up opportunities to explore others’ needs when they may not otherwise be obvious.

As a recruiter I find it’s valuable to ask my candidates about their aspirations, rather than just look at their past experience and make an assumption. You get so much more insight about a person’s genuine motivators.

If you get a magic wand question and an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, just respond with a smile and take it on notice: “That’s a really good question.” You’ve kept the option to explore it further during the conversation and can continue in a non-confrontational way.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Nobody likes a pouting recruiter

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”

– Dale Carnegie

Once, early in my career, I accepted a new role despite my misgivings about the position. The recruiter talked me into it. Female engineers were quite a rare find in the late 90s and recruiters were constantly approaching me with engineering opportunities. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t stay in the position for long and in hindsight, I should’ve backed my instincts and walked away from the opportunity.

The ‘hard sell’ is rarely effective in the long term (particularly within an executive search context). I’ve seen it at work in business, as well as that personal experience working as an engineer. I don’t blame the recruiter for the outcome by the way – it was my choice to take the job against my better judgement, but the experience has shaped my approach to recruiting as an executive search consultant.

As a hiring manager, you may have observed that candidates who were subjected to a hard sell, more often than not, withdraw at some stage of the recruitment process. They’ll find an excuse to pull out, accept a counter-offer or won’t be a long-term hire if they do join the company. It’s not a great result for anyone: HR, the hiring manager, the recruiter or the candidate – not to mention the significant cost to the business in beginning the whole process again. Ethical and professional recruiters seek to add value to their clients on a long-term basis and are not simply seeking short-term commercial gain.

Passive candidates, who form a major part of the executive search process, may express a little hesitation and reluctance on first approach. This is completely normal and does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in discussing the role further. However, there’s a big difference between informing a candidate about an opportunity and delivering a sales pitch.

My approach includes fostering dialogue with a prospective candidate and providing them with as much information as possible on the role. Once it is established that their skills, culture fit, remuneration and career goals are a good match, I encourage them to participate in a discussion with my client, as position descriptions are no substitute for a face-to-face meeting and the insights that are obtained through that discussion.

Should the candidate then decide that the opportunity is not one they wish to pursue, I respect their decision, thank them for considering the role and do not press the matter further. This approach has allowed me to forge trusting and long term relationships with my candidates; they understand that I will respect their views, will listen and am not purely driven by commercial considerations. Similarly, my clients have confidence that I’m representing them in the market in a professional way and respecting all candidates throughout the process.

Personally, I still suffer from the inevitable disappointment when an ideal candidate decides not to proceed with a role. It’s particularly hard if I feel that the opportunity meets their expressed goals and would provide them with a chance to further grow and develop professionally. However, nobody likes a pouting recruiter and it’s futile – not to mention unprofessional – to let that shape your behaviour or treatment of the candidate.

It’s important to remember that there are usually other factors involved that may be guiding a candidate’s decision (which they may not feel comfortable disclosing), and it’s not possible to address every contingency. In fact some of these individuals have returned to me in later years, when I have had the pleasure of placing them in their next role, whilst others have engaged me as a consultant.

It’s risky changing jobs. Candidates are acutely aware of the need to perform in the role within a new organisation and team, long after an executive search consultant has moved on to their next assignment. So forget the hard sell and take my advice: Behaving professionally, respectfully, ethically and with complete transparency always yields positive results in the long term.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work