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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

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

It’s networking, but not what you think!

Jenny comes from a disadvantaged family in Asia. She had to work to help her single mum with living costs so she could afford to send her to school. Jenny will never forget a primary teacher who paid for her school fees. Jenny loved school and this teacher inspired her to become a teacher herself.

This was just one of the many stories shared at our first Teachers Meetup of the year, which Andrew Barr and I hosted early in March.

Slade Teachers MeetupTeacher Meetups provide an opportunity for teachers to get together outside of the school environment, share their experiences and yes, network with their peers. As recruiters we focus on candidates when they need a new challenge, but we also care about experience in their current roles, their previous positions and the journey they take as their career in education progresses.

Here are some of the stories that we heard (names have been changed):

Laura’s parents were teachers. Like many children, she had initially resisted following in her parent’s footsteps. Later in life she came to realise that learning was integral to her upbringing and teaching was in her blood.

Eric is a former teacher. It can be a tough job and his years of teaching were physically and mentally demanding. He wanted to share his story with others in the profession to help teachers take care of their personal wellbeing and prevent burnout.

Claire became a teacher because she loved the French language (I can’t blame her for that). No matter how much you enjoy teaching, it takes a lot of energy. It wasn’t long before her passion for the subject was equalled by her care for the students.

Networking therefore, can simply be sharing a moment.

One reason I push myself to go to networking events is because, as you’ve just read, sharing your experiences with others is empowering. It boosts your confidence, nurtures affinity with peers, and makes you feel less isolated. As a former Principal, Andrew highlighted the collaborative and supportive actions of peers and colleagues as essential to teaching. In a teacher’s world, networking is about learning from each other to improve your ability to help students along on their learning journey.

After the meetup a few teachers went for dinner together to celebrate a recent VIT (Victorian Institute of Teaching) registration amongst the group.

What about you, why should you network?

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

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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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Are you hiring to fit today or tomorrow?

When you see candidates, do you imagine the possibilities and give them scope to realise their potential?

In recent weeks leading universities have advocated strongly for the removal of the traditional means by which students are selected for tertiary places – the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), describing the existing process as “out-of-date”, “irrelevant” and “meaningless”[1].

As the Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University, Professor Linda Kristjanson, said this week, universities are very experienced at assessing student potential. Indeed it is the potential for learning and developing in a chosen field of endeavour that is so important to nurture and encourage in a young person (or a mature aged student); rankings only provide a narrow assessment of a student’s capability.

Of course for higher education providers, an assessment of academic ability is necessary, but it should be accompanied by evaluating a broader set of needs. In business, hiring organisations are most interested in an individual’s potential for growth.

Undertaking tertiary study is just as important and as potentially exciting as beginning a new career (or a new position within a chosen career), so why be restricted by a narrow measure of suitability? To encourage people to be successful, institutions should be supporting them through coaching and mentoring, nurturing their passions. As they advance, they need to display a humble willingness and desire for ongoing learning, while honing an industry sector, role or technical specialisation that’s appropriate to the workplace and aligned to the future employment market.

Universities, and employers, have always looked for motivation, sound communication skills and evidence from applicants that they can look beyond themselves to positively contribute to the wider community. Candidates, therefore, need to be able to show initiative, adaptability, creativity and teamwork. These indicators of a person’s potential are certainly assessable from a recruitment perspective, but not by some narrow measure.

While universities continue to debate the assessment of students, recruiters and hiring managers recognise a close fit between the needs of an organisation and the potential of a candidate is vitally important. For employers to achieve a more productive, dynamic workforce and be competitive in the international marketplace, a focus on potential as well as ongoing collaborative learning for all employees is required.

High-performing organisations will always emphasise professional development and executive recruitment should reflect that too. When you see candidates, imagine the possibilities and give them scope to realise their potential.

Is your organisation looking to the future in this way?

  1. ATARs are irrelevant, vice-chancellors say‘, The Age, 8 February 2016
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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Hope I live to 100 to see how all this pans out

In that all too classic podium moment the technology went down. Without missing a beat, and even referring to the irony of the moment, Kim Williams continued with his compelling speech on technology disruption and transformation. He simply reverted to old-school print on paper as the audience remained transfixed at the VTA State Conference dinner.

If you read only one speech this year, read this one: The Incumbent’s Dilemma – “Fortune favours the bold”

Education goes hand in glove with innovation. Academics have been at the forefront of critical and scientific thinking for centuries. And now the TAFE sector, at the grass roots of higher education, is paving the way for experienced commercial leaders to begin a new knowledge partnership with private industry.

Not only is the education sector broadening its horizons through commercial focus, those institutions are actively seeking the participation of high performers from the business sphere and it’s starting at executive level. Slade Executive Education is increasingly commissioned to source talent for that difficult transformation. From a wider business perspective, it’s a global trend, which has greater implications for transforming traditionally separate candidate markets.

In the private sector, it’s a rare invitation to participate in the transformation of organisations in a non-commercial environment. I’m a non-academic, but as a major sponsor, was asked to bring my outside experience to the fore in discussions with delegates at this year’s Victorian TAFE Association State Conference. I know through these conversations that commercial KPIs, productivity measurement and ROI are of increasing interest in the education sector.

Australian education providers are experiencing unprecedented competition for students and other revenue streams, such as research grants. Globalisation now means they are not only competing with national institutions, just as a range of industries have learned to adapt after previously enjoying years of growth and prosperity in a relatively protected local market.

With the impact of the GFC still being felt, a tougher EU focusing on austerity, a stronger USD and declining demand for our commodities in Asia, the need for commercially focused leaders in education is stronger than ever.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work