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An interview with Business Essentials

Along with Michael Schildberger, the former ABC anchor in the 774 morning time slot, now occupied by John Fayne, Geoff Slade was a founder of the popular Business Essentials in 1984, the audio magazine which plays a role as virtual business mentor to 1000s of Australian business leaders and owners. Business Essentials recently interviewed Geoff about the truths he’s learned in business along the way. In this audio file you’ll hear about his ups, downs and lucky moments,  the rewards and challenges of business life, including the supremely important role of trust and long term meaningful relationships. He takes Heather Dawson back to the early days. It was 1967, he was 21 years old and had just opened the doors to his first employment agency. What did it look like?

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A race that will change your life

The Spartan Sprint is a 7km course that has 20 obstacles, which is a challenge for first timers and returning racers alike. The Spartan Slayers, a team comprising Diana Tanvis-Loi and Angelika Langer-Zindel from Slade Group Shared Services and Bill Sakellaris from TRANSEARCH International Australia, recently competed in the Spartan Australia Melbourne race. We spoke to the ‘Slayers after they had had time to recover and reflect on what they achieved by participating in the event.

How did you get involved in the Spartan Race?

Diana: Angelika and I were talking to Bill about our interest in Tough Mudder when Bill mentioned the Spartan Race. He had raced before and thought it would be good to do it again with us as Rookies.

Bill: Having completed two of these events previously, I was keen to participate again. The Spartan Race is mentally and physically challenging. It requires planning, preparation, training and teamwork.

What training or other preparation did you do prior to the event?

Angelika: I did more rock-climbing and tried to choose more strength base classes at gym, but I underestimated the running part, so I think I could have done better.

Bill: I trained twice a week in the gym with a weekly bike ride. The gym works on upper body strength, which is critical in the Spartan Race, and the cycling helped with my endurance.  

Diana: I hadn’t planned to customise my regular training for the Spartan Race, but it coincided with my new regime at F45, which I started in January. I’ve also been training for the 15+km course with Run for the Kids (Melbourne, 18 March). This combination definitely helped me prep for the race and I was able to do more than I normally would have been able to.

What did you find most challenging about the race?

Bill: The monkey rings, rope climb, horizontal wall scale and protruding wall were the most challenging for me. The monkey rings were particularly tough! I managed to complete ¾ of the wall, successfully climbed the rope and conquered Olympus – the protruding wall.

Diana: I have really weak arm strength so there were some obstacles that I struggled to complete. I did my best with the help of my amazing teammates. However, it was definitely a challenge for me and I found it a bit frustrating that I wasn’t able to complete every one.

Angelika: The running tired me out and did not leave me enough strength for some of the obstacles. The bucket nearly killed me, but I finished it! Next time I will follow the training instructions to be better prepared.

What surprised you about your abilities? Were you better/worse at something than you thought you would be?

Angelika: I struggled with balance and being a Yogi, wasn’t expecting that! Just because something looks easy, does not mean it really is easy!

Diana: I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was surprised most by how much strength and energy I had… I was expecting to be smashed. One obstacle that I thought would be a walk in the park for me was all about balance (think Cirque Du Soleil) and I just kept tipping over. It’s good that my dream wasn’t to be a circus performer!

Bill: Having completed the Sprint before, I knew that I could handle most of the challenges. The monkey ropes were the main issue for me in previous races and proved to be so again. This will my area of focus for the next attempt. Once I conquer this obstacle, the rest will be easy!

What did you enjoy most about the event? Would you do it again?

Diana: We completed the Sprint (rather than the Elite race), so there was less competitive pressure, which made it enjoyable. I would definitely do it again. The challenges I faced will help me target areas for improvement. I was wearing my most worn-out runners because of the mud (I threw them away after the race) but I could feel the impact that my shoes had on my performance. I won’t be making that mistake next year!

Angelika: I loved trying all the obstacles. It was really fun and I was very happy as first timer to have the option not to do the penalty burpees. Lucky me!

Bill: The event was challenging both physically and mentally, so just to be able to complete it was very rewarding. I successfully completed 90% of the obstacles, so my aim next year will be to complete all of them within a shorter time frame. Beyond that, our teamwork and the Slayers comradery made it fun. To get the most out of these events, I recommend the following:

  1. Be well prepared: train leading up to the event, know what to wear, what to eat before the race, plan for the event logistics
  2. Have a team plan: stick together, help each other through all the obstacles
  3. Change your roles: motivate yourself and the group leading up to and before the event, lead from the front at times, support from the back at times, coach your team through some of the more challenging obstacles
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Leading with courage

In early February 2018 Dina Pozzo, founder of insium, spoke to the Slade Group team about Organisational Courage. Here is some background to what that term means.

Sustaining organisational performance in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous[1], is challenging and falls to the leadership within an organisation. This environment has contributed to corporate scandals including that of Enron in 2001 and Lehman Brothers in 2008. Might the collapse of both of these organisations have been averted by a strong expression of courage by senior and executive employees?

Might courage at work – defined as “an intentional constructive or moral action taken by an individual in the presence of perceived personal risk and uncertainty of outcome (personal or organisational) in order to resolve or avert a workplace issue” – avert further global collapses?

Warren Bennis, described as a “renowned leadership scholar”, espouses that “courage is the ‘X’ factor that can make or break corporate America”[2]. The Australian landscape is no different.

My Master of Applied Positive Psychology Capstone paper established the case for courage as an enabler of leadership, providing argument and a framework for the development of a measurable, outcomes-based programme to build courage. This programme, Leading with Courage, was launched at the 5th World Congress of Positive Psychology in Montreal in July 2017. The objective of this programme is to ‘build courage in senior and executive leaders, which will enable leadership behaviour, with an additional positive impact on leader workplace wellbeing’.

The above definition of courage, which I developed, is the foundation for this programme which uses narrative methodology to build courage, with measures of leaders’ workplace courage, leadership and workplace wellbeing taken pre- and post-programme. See more here: leadingwithcourage.com.au

The programme combines academic theory with practitioner evidence – including my own 16 years’ experience as a practitioner in the field of leadership and organisational culture development.

While courage is not the only behaviour required of leaders, it is an essential leadership behaviour for success, and may be the one which provides most support in these challenging times.

I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about Leading with Courage. For now, think about when have you been courageous in the workplace? How do you lead with courage? What stories of courage do you share to inspire courage in others?

 


References

  1. Bennett & Lemoine, 2014
  2. Jablin, 2006, p. 102
  3. Remeikis, 2016
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Bankers aren’t all bad.

“All businesses experience growth,” says Cindy Batchelor, Executive General Manager – NAB Business. “It’s in their nature – at some stage in their life, they must grow to survive.” In the following article by Nigel Bowen, written for NAB Business View magazine, Geoff Slade credits a longstanding relationship with the bank as having an important part in the growth and success of his business enterprises over the years.

 

Fifty Years of Business Wisdom Distilled into Seven Truths

After half a century in business, Geoff Slade has learnt a thing or two. Here he shares seven truths about what it takes to make it in the business world.

Back in 1967, aged 21, Geoff Slade began his first recruitment agency. A couple of decades later he received an offer for the company he couldn’t refuse and sold it, moving on to become HR Director at Pacific Dunlop. In 1992 Geoff launched another recruitment business, Slade Group. In recent years, with the likes of Seek and LinkedIn affecting the recruitment industry, he’s adapted by moving away from commoditised services and launching business intelligence services, such as Yellow Folder Research, which harvests and sells talent intelligence. Here, the 72-year-old shares what he’s learnt after half a century of launching, building and selling businesses.

  1. Your level of success correlates with how well you understand your customers

Whether it’s recruitment or any industry, you’ll usually find that 10 to 20 per cent of companies are doing well, 50 per cent are doing okay, and the rest are on their way to going broke. What separates out the 10 to 20 per cent? I’d argue it’s that they put the effort into truly understanding what their customer wants. Of course, often the customer doesn’t fully understand what they want. That just makes it more important to spend time with them, ask them searching questions and help them formulate what their real needs are.

  1. Change is a fact of life, so concentrate on staying ahead of the game

I remember buying my first IBM golf ball typewriter and marvelling at the advanced technology! No matter what technological, economic or social changes are occurring, the two questions to keep asking yourself are: “What can I do to differentiate myself from the competition?” and “What can I do to enhance my relationship with the customer?”

  1. Be discerningly persistent

It took me seven years, living on the smell of an oily rag, to make my first profit. People seem to want things quicker these days – to reap all the rewards before putting in the hard yards. Of course, you need to make a judgement about whether the industry you’re in is growing or contracting, and whether your efforts will pay dividends. But even in the most favourable of conditions, you should accept that you’ll need to work hard for a long time.

  1. Don’t get hung up on working for yourself

I launched my first business because a job offer fell through, not because I had an issue with being an employee. After selling that business I worked for a big company for a couple of years. There are things you learn as a business owner that make you a better employee, and vice versa. For example, business owners often don’t pay enough attention to collecting and analysing financial data. A stint in a corporate role is useful for learning that discipline.

  1. Be businesslike in your attachment

I had no intention of selling my first business, but a buyer asked me to name my price. I thought of a figure, doubled it, and sold when they accepted that price. That meant I’d achieved financial security by my mid-forties. Whether it’s your company, your house or anything else, you shouldn’t be so emotionally invested that you pass on a great opportunity to sell.

  1. Focus on selling – but don’t be too eager

Two pieces of business advice have always stuck with me. The first is: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” That’s very true. The second is: “When you negotiate, you have to care, but not too much.”

  1. Don’t forget there’s more to life than business

After my first marriage ended, I realised I was guilty of not paying enough attention to my family. When I got remarried, I was determined not to make the same mistake. Thankfully, I haven’t. That’s involved decisions such as limiting the number of offices I open, which might have resulted in the business making less money than would otherwise have been the case. It also helps if you have a bank that is supportive during the tough times. I value the good relationships I now have with my children, my wife and my ex-wife. I lead a full life and have all the money I need to do what I want to do. Another $10 million, or even $100 million, isn’t going to make me any happier.

 

This article was originally published in Business View, the business magazine of NAB, Issue 24 Summer 2017.

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Overwhelmed? Gratitude as a business strategy.

Running your own business can be challenging and life itself can be overwhelming. I’ve said it here before.

Last week I was named in the Top 50 Small Business Leaders of Australia by Inside Small Business magazine. It was an absolute honour and a surprise. Females in Food is less than 6 months old and already being recognised for the problem it is solving – to empower women manufacturers of food & beverage products and associated services to pursue their creative pursuits and look after their financial well being. I was tired of seeing women (40% of single Australian women retire in poverty according to Australian Industry Super) choose either their creativity or their financial well being when really we can have both with some planning and the right support.

What running a business means, however, is long hours, often the remuneration not commensurate with the effort and a lot of juggling the development of tactical solutions with strategic thinking. The latter not a mean feat given the skill set and capacity to do both at the same time is incredibly difficult and not for the fainthearted.

Many people experience busyness, life challenges and the fretting of making the right decision, regardless of what the decision may be. Last week in amongst the recognition from the business and Females in Food community, I was still confronted by the amount I wanted to achieve. Achieve for my consulting and coaching clients, my Females in Food community, for the team that work with me, for my intimate relationship, my home and my family.

Not that different from anyone else.

The truth is, however, it really began to get me down. I was now feeling overwhelmed by my to do list. It seemed never ending and for someone like me who demands so much of myself I wondered where the light was going to get in. It reminded me of that incredibly powerful Leonard Cohen (RIP) song Anthem and the verse that says,

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen was the master of capturing the beauty in the challenges of life. He having experienced financial betrayal by one of his advisors; he rose to meet the challenge by getting back on the road and rebuilding his music business by reconnecting with his fans as he toured the world after a long hiatus.

What I started to think about in my moments of silence was how much I actually have, how much there is to be grateful for.

I could not imagine being anywhere else right now, doing anything differently and with anyone else other than the people I am doing it all with. I had a moment of saying to myself, “Hang on a minute! Look at what you have and be grateful”. Thank goodness I got it in that moment.

Gratitude made me refocus and remember the extraordinary opportunities and work afforded me.

For many of us when we complain we say, “first world problems” and we laugh it off, but I believe it is all relative and no matter what “world” we live in, the challenges we face feel very real to us and we must give them the light they command, but all in moderation. Sweeping problems under the carpet or minimising them because we live in the “first world” doesn’t work either, however, what does work is remembering how fortunate most of us are and what opportunities we have before us.

Being grateful for what we do have, and when times are overwhelming perhaps just remembering to be grateful for the small things afforded to us each day can be helpful, even if it just may be that the sun came up today.

In some of my training I refer to a well known psychologist who works in the field of relationships, Dr. John Gottman, of The Gottman Institute. Dr. Gottman refers to relationships that work well as “masters” and those that don’t as “disasters”. The key difference that I like to refer to is the notion that the “masters” are always recognising what they have whilst the “disasters” tend to focus on what is lacking.

A practice that many find helpful is to write a gratitude list.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or challenged, take a moment and write down a list of all the things you may be grateful for, and as I said, it may just be that the sun came up today. Here’s my list for today;

  • I am living on purpose
  • I have awesome clients
  • I am supporting an inspiring community
  • I witness the profile and confidence of women I work with grow, and I get so much more than I give
  • I have an amazing support crew
  • I have a lovely home in a great neighbourhood
  • I had a refreshing swim at one of my favourite Sydney harbourside beaches yesterday.

 

Chelsea Ford is presenting at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017 at 5:30pm. Click here for full event details. 

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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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How sports coaches use world class leadership to create winning teams

Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make… I’m an ex senior AFL player, now a football coach and more recently, a professional recruiter.

To outsiders, a senior coach is the face of their club, much like a hiring manager is a window to their organisation. They are engaging and genuinely passionate, or as cold as stone.

The strengths of a good coach are universal, but let’s tackle the sport I’m most familiar with – AFL football. Consider the 2016 reigning premiership coach, Western Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge.

Beveridge walks the fine line between instilling confidence in his players, and holding them accountable for their actions and behaviours.  All the while, he demands exceptional on-field performance.

It is well documented that since commencing his tenure as Senior Coach he has focussed on open and honest communication. He’s built strong relationships with the players, the club, its supporters and a wide range of people associated with the sport, including commentators, the media, and sponsors. These are not unlike the types of relationships we aim for in business when interacting with our clients or customers (who for me in recruitment are candidates), colleagues, suppliers and even competitors in our professional networks.

Much like recruitment, in professional sport, and AFL football in particular, nearly every transaction includes working with the uncontrollable elements inherent in dealing with people. In sport and recruitment alike, those without the qualifications or the requisite experience to pass judgement, often shout the loudest and voice the most criticism.

For Beveridge his clients are predominantly made up of both existing and potential club sponsors and members. These clients have made financial commitments and naturally want to see a return on their investments. In this context a winning performance as a coach could mean a cohesive team, with high levels of morale amongst players, who have the motivation to attend training and associated club events, and are well supported by family. It may translate to increased membership, a higher media profile, greater sponsorship and other opportunities. A winning team is more than match winning performances – think of the otherwise poor practices of the West Coast Eagles circa their 2006 Premiership.

High level sport, in some aspects, is not much different to the corporate sector. We’re juggling all manner of expectations from various parties. There are set timeframes (seasons) with efficiency targets (statistics). In business and sport, we all have to consider best process and methodology. Importantly, just has Beveridge does, we have to establish a culture and live the values, brand and standards of our organisation. Sound familiar?

Some players, as with corporate talent at the top of their game, are hot property.

In other cases some candidates are like promising young players; potential but struggling with form, gaining experience but not quite good enough – yet. How Beveridge manages the pool of talent in his playing group is his greatest challenge, because although he understands the industry and his client demands, his players output and abilities will often predicate game results.

So, would Luke Beveridge be the sort of manager you’d like to have in your organisation? Based on the attributes we’ve explored, I think so. His stakeholder management skills and ability to communicate with a broad range of people and personalities would be a strength. He has the proven experience in implementing a game plan, follows process, allowing him to work efficiently and consistently. Lastly, and I think most importantly, it would be his character and the impact he has on his organisation’s culture. His confident and engaging personality, combined with his strategic thinking, willingness to provide feedback and people management skills would make him successful in a non-sport leadership role. I’d like to recruit him.

Which qualities do you value in a manager? Who would you like to recruit to for your team?

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Born in 1967, still growing up: Slade Group celebrates 50 years

In the following article by Maggie Chen, which appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Business Excellence magazine, Slade Group Chairman Geoff Slade shares his story and the insights he has developed over decades in business, in an industry he is proud to be a part of.

Geoff Slade began GW Slade & Associates 50 years ago, in a small office in Melbourne’s CBD. Before that, he worked as an assistant HR manager at an oil refinery at Western Point Bay. After almost taking up a job in consulting, at the age of 21, he decided to start his own employment agency in 1967.

His father had doubts, but his mother took a leap of faith and lent him $300 – all the money she had in the bank. It just covered his first month’s rent. “I had to make a placement in the first month; otherwise I couldn’t have paid the second month’s rent,” Slade recalled.

That he did, and for about 21 years, he built the business – by then called Slade Consulting Group –  to be, by 1988, “the biggest executive recruitment company in the country”, spanning seven cities in Australia and New Zealand.

A UK-based multinational approached Geoff and bought the business from him. In 1989, he commenced a two-year stint as HR Director at Pacific Dunlop.

When the multinational exited the Australian market a few years later, Slade re-established Slade Group in 1992. This time, as a 43-year old with four kids, he decided he would only have offices in Melbourne and Sydney so that he could spend more time with his children and less on planes.

Starting from scratch again at Slade Group was “great”, he said. Pacific Dunlop, which at one stage had 45,000 employees, retained him as a preferred supplier for over 20 years.

Secrets to longevity

How did Slade manage to build and maintain such a successful recruitment company that has already outlived most businesses?

Building trust is crucial, according to Slade. “Companies don’t build long-term relationships with you unless they perceive you’re doing the right thing by them and they trust you,” he said. “The same goes with candidates. I’ve had candidates who I didn’t place, who came back to us to give us work when they were hiring, because we built a significant trusting relationship.”

Secondly, he suggests that persistence really does pay off. Recruitment is an industry with plenty of ups and downs. “When the economy’s going well, business can be very good. When it’s not going well, you can really struggle. And a lot of people bail out when things start to get tough.”

Thirdly, for a long-term business in HR, you need to really understand customer needs. “You have to understand what their culture is like to provide them with quality people that will fit into that culture,” said Slade.

Finally, for business sustainability, it’s important to stay in touch – and that means some ‘face time’. One issue Slade sees today is that young people tend to communicate by email or text and don’t actually go out to meet the customer and really get to know them.

The recruitment industry has faced some challenging times. Seek and LinkedIn both changed the game, as did the global financial crisis, said Slade. A lot of work went to internal recruitment teams. In the face of this, he set up a company with Julian Doherty called Yellow Folder Research, which sells information on talent.

Slade’s wife, Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group, took over running the Slade business about five years ago, when Slade became Chairman of the group. He says this allowed him to spend more time developing Yellow Folder Research, which now provides research to public companies and multinationals around Australia. It has also freed him up to focus on the Slade Group-affiliated executive search practice TRANSEARCH International Australia, which is part of a global practice. Slade points out that particularly in the case of senior positions, you really need to understand your client and their needs, and the personalised filtering services that recruitment companies can provide can be invaluable.

Slade is keen to mention his wife and family. He “wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for them”, he said.

A healthier era

Slade has seen attitudes to health and wellbeing in the workplace change significantly over the decades. “As late as the 1980s, we would regularly walk into offices where there were ashtrays on desks, smoke in the air and meetings held amongst cigarette smoking executives,” he recalls. “Now, of course, you’ll be hung, drawn and quartered if you’re caught smoking on the forecourt.”

At Slade Group, there have been many individuals who have been proud and passionate about their sporting and athletic pursuits. And since early last year, they’ve been taking steps, led by General Manager Chris Cheesman, to create a company-wide healthy culture, Slade said. “We’ve had people in to give us talks and information emphasising a holistic approach: the value of good sleep, e-downtime, and agile work practices. We’ve introduced standing desks, removed the soft drink vending machine, encouraged walking meetings and provide bi-weekly healthy breakfasts.”

Finally, Slade adds, “A healthy workplace is more than just the physical and mental – it’s also the emotional connections and working relationships built on camaraderie.”

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