Blog Archives

That person who knew no boundaries

Have you encountered that person? The one who, before you even know what is happening, drags you off to a bar, takes you for lunch or you find yourself unwittingly accepting an invitation to go somewhere you don’t want to be. We’ve all had a moment with a client or a colleague which made us feel a little uncomfortable.

So what do you do to be nice without damaging the working relationship in these common situations where professional boundaries can become blurred?

As a recruiter I often find myself in funny situations. Once while catching up with friends over a long weekend we had decided to call it a night around 1.00am. As I was about to lay my head on the pillow, I got a 1.30am message on Facebook. My friends having the last word after a great night out? No, it was a ‘friend’ request from a senior manager for whom I had recruited an executive assistant some time ago. I wondered was it acceptable to say “Why are you thinking about me at this hour?” It’s fair to say he does a lot of international travel so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But honestly, an email would have been more appropriate.

Working lunches, talking business over a drink or inviting a potential customer to play sport on the weekend are nothing new. We’ve been doing that for centuries. But I’m definitely from the old school where business relationships outside of work are simply a no-go zone.

I know others who see it very differently, but for me I find it easier not to overstep the boundaries when a client engages me. I listen carefully, I ask pertinent questions and enjoy a bit of lighthearted banter. Sure, I’m interested in their family, dog or holiday plans as it’s important to know a little about a person beyond their work persona; it humanises what would otherwise be a functional business transaction.

So are there any boundaries left in business these days when so many professionals have integrated their personal and professional lives via portable electronic devices, smart phones and social media? In an ‘always on’ culture, where any event, virtual or real life, is a networking opportunity, it seems both candidates and clients love to be courted anywhere, anytime.

Then there’s the overshare. Candidates who have volunteered everything from their bowel health to the most effective methods for dealing with cheating partners, when all I really needed to know was their availability to attend an interview! Add to that a vivid description from a client as to how they have climbed the corporate ladder and reports on all manner of office politics, which have increased my knowledge of workplace culture in weird and wonderful ways.

Truly there is never a dull moment in the recruitment industry, which still begs the question… when do your professional boundaries kick in?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

A line in the sand: Three scientific reasons for taking a break

Remember when you had to wait for the office to open before you could contact someone to access their services? People were more patient then and there was less sense of a need for immediate gratification. You had time to unwind after a hard day’s work, got to recharge your batteries, start afresh the next day.

In this 24/7 world it is hard to find a place where you can truly relax. Being in constant communication has blurred the line between the end of the working day and our personal time. Our smart phones are now our banks, our maps, our music libraries, even our medical records; for professionals, an extension of our workstations in the cloud. Whatever did we do without them?

In our connected lives, we’re constantly looking and listening to what’s being shared via our social networks, keeping an eye out for photo opportunities, an event to tag or a potential status update to post. Everyone knows what we are doing all the time. We are never really alone, always traceable, thanks to GPS. We leave nothing to chance, least we should get lost amongst the digital noise and a memorable moment pass us by.

Not to mention when you take a holiday (hopefully somewhere you don’t get phone reception, where WIFI is just a term that they use in town). You pack up your electronic devices and chargers, plan to check your email and text messages, arrange Skype meetings while you’re away. It’s all an effort just to keep the wheels turning when you should be taking a break… Don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just writing this!

In a recent article Why You Need to Stop Thinking You Are Too Busy to Take Breaks, Courtney Seiter draws a line in the sand. For fans of technology, here is an abridged version of Seiter’s three scientific reasons to prioritise taking breaks at work.

  1. Breaks keep us from getting bored (and thus, unfocused)
    When you’re really in the groove of a task or project, the ideas are flowing and you feel great. But it doesn’t last forever—stretch yourself just a bit beyond that productivity zone and you might feel unfocused, zoned out or even irritable… Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries).
  1. Breaks help us retain information and make connections
    Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” (which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard. You might think that the focused mode is the one to optimize for more productivity, but diffuse mode plays a big role, too… Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.
  1. Breaks help us re-evaluate our goals
    When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives.

Maybe we all need to draw a line in the sand today that says “I have had enough”, ditch the device and give ourselves some time to regenerate and approach things anew.

Should you be taking a break right now?

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Posted in The world @work

Playing from a 10.

It’s no secret Australians love mobile technology. Gizmodo reports over 97% now own smart phones. But we often forget we’re carrying the most sophisticated mobile tech of all above our neck. Using your mind in business sounds like a no-brainer, so it’s surprising to learn that our ‘necktop computers’ are often the least used.

I recently attended a networking luncheon at RogenSi, an international communications consultancy, best known for assisting the Australian Olympic Committee to successfully win the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Having the confidence to bid for an Olympic Games may be beyond the reach of most, but RogenSi Melbourne Director, James Cumming, makes an interesting point. He links confidence to attitude, a mindset for success. James calls it “Playing from a 10”.

According to James, this is what you need to do to prepare for your next business meeting, job interview or a sporting match, to get yourself in the right state of mind to be the most confident you can be: Imagine yourself at a 10. This is where you’re switched on, on the ball, bulletproof, pumped and ready to take on the world!  In this state of mind you’re going to do your best work. You’re going to give it your best shot.

Those times you’re feeling flat, disinterested, lazy, or uninspired? You’re not playing at your best, you’re playing from a 1. It’s an unproductive state of mind.

The numbers make sense to me. Of course in the real world, we can’t always be a perfect 10, but let me share a few tips from James to help bring you closer to 10 than 1.

  1. Your mind’s a ‘video vault’. To access your video memory bank, think about your past successes. That could be a great interview, a positive meeting or a sales pitch that went well in the past. Replay your mind’s video, remembering how you felt engaged at the time. Accessing that confident feeling from your mind’s video library brings it to your present. World champion athletes have been using visualisation for years. It’s a trick of the mind, and it works.
  1. Think about your non-verbal communication – the way you are using your voice, your body language, your facial expressions. Engage all of these non-verbals when speaking and you’ll present with confidence, passion and be in the right state of mind, whether it’s a business or personal conversation.
  1. Don’t forget your necktop computer. It’s better than any phone, tablet or watch.

I’ve tried these techniques myself and they really work. Don’t be afraid to try them yourself. Before your next business appointment, a job interview or a footy match, make sure your necktop computer is plugged in, turned on and you’ll be playing from a 10!

What techniques have you found useful to be confident in your business and personal dealings? What puts you in a productive, resourceful mindset?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Digital skills fall short

Australia is facing a major digital skills-shortage.

A new study suggests Australian employers are under-investing in the skills development of current employees, as well as struggling to find new digital talent. With the growing importance of digital in today’s business landscape, a lag in digital expertise in Australia is a major concern – one that has the potential to hinder the ability for growth and innovation.

First alert of a digital skills shortfall, highlighted in Quizzed About Digital on The Slade Report, came when we reported the findings of a US survey of 750 Fortune 500 and ad agency execs, The State of Digital Marketing Talent conducted by The Online Marketing Institute. The US report found that when asked about the expertise in their digital teams, company executives revealed that only 8% were strong across all digital areas.

Commissioned in response to the US study, The Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey, undertaken by Sweeney Research for the Slade Group Digital Practice and NET:101, was conducted across 150 small to large Australian businesses from a range of sectors.

We know the need for digital talent in Australia is widespread. Now it’s revealed that Australian companies find it difficult to identify and develop talent because of both subjectivity in the hiring process and the lack of on-going training and development.

So how did we compare with the US? Amongst brands and agencies alike, there appears to be insufficient focus on grooming talent, training and formally assessing skills. In the US study 75% of companies relied on referrals from their peers to meet their hiring needs. Comparatively, in Australia only 66% of respondents relied on employee referrals. Considering formal assessment during the recruitment process, just 10% of US respondents used some form of testing to measure employee’s skills or knowledge, compared to Australia’s marginally improved 12%.

The study also reveals leading companies digitise more business practices and processes. Therefore, opportunities for investment in digital specific skill-based assessment and training represent a significant opportunity for external providers to provide high-level education to the workforce.

Other key survey findings were:

  • A quarter of the businesses surveyed found it difficult to source digital employees because they thought not enough talent was available (25%); they could not compete with high salaries offered elsewhere (22%); or they lacked the funds and specialist recruitment expertise to source the right candidate (18%).
  • Just over 30% of respondents had brought in digital staff from overseas and would do so again, despite higher costs associated with sponsorship and relocation. Another 26% would consider it.
  • Over half (56%) of businesses surveyed anticipated hiring more digital specialists over the coming 12 months.
  • Whilst over two thirds of respondents said it was critical that new employees were able to demonstrate digital expertise, only 12% conducted internal or external testing during recruiting.
  • Only 9% thought recent university graduates were equipped to undertake digital role requirements.
  • 80% of managers described staff as being weak in some or several areas of digital expertise; 70% thought a digital skills gap was taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business.
  • Mobile devices took over PCs for the first time in 20141, but only 9% of organisations believed they were ahead of the competition in mobile/SMS marketing today.
  • 98% of respondents thought it was important to continually train their digital staff, yet over 60% relied on employee feedback and ‘observation’ to identify areas requiring development.
  • Respondents believed that 40% of senior managers in their organisations had ‘only a moderate understanding of the importance of digital skills’ while 20% had ‘little understanding’ at all.

The majority of comments that emerged from the survey focused on the urgent need for increased staff training, however the skills gap is magnified by the inability of businesses to source the talent they need from the talent pool. Alarmingly, very few in industry currently use digital skills assessments as part of the recruitment process and on-going training, leading to the downward spiral of digital skills.

High competition for good digital professionals has seen 22% of respondents indicate that they unable to compete with the cash incentives of larger companies – they’re missing out on talent as a result. A quarter (25%) believe there is not enough experience and skill in the market, and 18% feel they are not equipped with the expertise to find the right candidate. Australian organisations should heed these figures; there is an opportunity for talent finders.

If you would like to receive a copy of the full survey report, please contact Slade Executive Recruitment on (03) 9235 5100.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work