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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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Posted in The world @work

Bright young old things!

“To be a genius, think like a 94-year-old.”

If you’ve ever worried about your declining IQ, take heart from this fascinating profile of 94 year old John Goodenough who, together with his team at University of Texas, has filed a patent application on a cheap, lightweight and safe battery to revolutionise cars.

How does a man born in the 1920s outsmart the millennials?

The masterful application of knowledge and problem solving is behind Goodenough’s patent. And there’s a name for it – it’s called Crystallized Intelligence. The good news: as we age Crystallized Intelligence continues to increase (whilst our IQ shows a gradual decline). Crystallized Intelligence is accumulated information and vocabulary acquired from school and everyday life. It encompasses the application of skills and knowledge to solving problems.

Fluid Intelligence (also called native mental ability) is the information processing system. It refers to the ability to think and reason. It includes the speed with which information can be analysed, and also includes attention and memory capacity.

Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggest that the details on our mental acuity are far more complex than previously thought. The researchers gathered data from nearly 50,000 subjects and found a very clear picture showing that each cognitive skill they were testing peaked at a different age.

There’s little doubt that aptitude testing is prized in profiling new hires. What is less clear is the weighting we should apply to Crystallised and Fluid Intelligence for various roles, different industry sectors and on a hierarchy of leadership.

What’s becoming evident:

  • IQ peaks between 25 and 29 years old, then drifts down through the working years, with decline becoming more steep after age 70.
  • If you’re Under 25 – you should be feted for your raw speed in processing information, logic, numeric and verbal reasoning.
  • Until around age of 25, short-term memory continues to improve, when it levels off and then begins to drop around age 35.
  • Different components of fluid intelligence peak at different ages, some as late as age 40.
  • For the ability to evaluate other people’s emotional states, the peak occurred much later, in the 40s or 50s.
  • While data from the Weschler IQ tests suggested that vocabulary peaks in the late 40s, the new data showed a later peak, in the late 60s or early 70s.

Professor John Goodenough refers to himself as a ‘turtle’ who has kept on walking and meandering through life looking and picking up clues along the way. There was no ‘Big Bang’ moment for him, even though at 30 he was probably an intellectual giant. Rather, the collected wisdom and observations over his turtle life have led to that new battery patent.

“Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, ‘You no longer worry about keeping your job.'”

Where do you think Crystallised Intelligence fits into your world @work?

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Attitude’s the biggest threat to the world economy?

Experts at the World Economic Forum release yearly updates assessing the biggest dangers facing the world economy. Environmental concerns have jumped up the list and now global warming tops economists’ concerns.

Last month I attended an Australian Credit Conference hosted by a large global credit rating agency. The event was well represented by investors and large business organisations. With a number of questions put to the audience, everyone had an opportunity to vote on the topics offered. The popular choice was along the lines of: “What do you think is the biggest threat to the Australian economy today, the cost of carbon reduction or the environmental issues associated with greenhouse gas pollution?”

At the risk of being controversial, it was shocking to me that the business community, as represented at the event, thought changing our (dirty) energy habits would be more disastrous economically than climate change. I was quite surprised that the majority of attendees felt our biggest economic threat is the effect of carbon reduction measures. Surprised, because I assumed those in attendance to be well-informed people with access to plentiful resources about current environmental concerns.

While our business leaders need a crash course in environmental awareness – I’d like them to sit through Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood – I was left wondering whether the majority of Australians in the world @work can see the effects of climate change as it is happening right now? Polls show increasing support from people at grass roots level on a range of environmental issues, including a carbon tax and green energy, but change begins with positive leadership, agitation and support from the community at large.

The potential cost of doing nothing to halt the damage to our planet is incalculable. However, it seems obvious that funding for renewables and other innovative carbon reduction energy solutions is being stalled by vested interests. It took a tweet from Tesla’s Elon Musk (who has famously offered to solve South Australia’s power problems with battery technology in 100 days) to fire-up the State Government and engage the Federal Government in the conversation. It was encouraging to see expressions of interest from local competitors in the battery market, but it’s going to take more than an ex Vice President, a Hollywood actor and an entrepreneur to kick-start a (much needed) renewables boom.

The World Economic Forum says failing to mitigate climate change will likely have a bigger impact globally than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, mass involuntary migration, predicted water crises and a severe energy price shock – Australian consumers have experienced significant energy cost increases year on year, abolishing the Clean Energy Act notwithstanding. Instead of funding massive foreign owned coal mines, as the Queensland Government-Adani partnership proposes, or championing newer but less responsible energy sources, such as coal-seam gas (fracking was recently banned in Victoria), let’s invest in the industries where local businesses and communities also have a future. I’d love to see our manufacturers of solar panels, wind farms, battery cells and other alternative innovations receive most of those investment dollars.

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Posted in Professional Support

How to learn Italian… without going to school

It’s needless to say that childhood experiences shape a significant part of our adult persona, but they also help to build some of the skills and attributes that we carry with us during our working life.

While in pre-elementary (equivalent to kindergarten in Australia) and then elementary school (primary school), I, like many of my peers, revered television for its ability to entertain, educate and simply provide an escape from everyday reality. However, in Albania where I grew up, the State-run channel was pretty dry on children’s programming, with limited variety, laughably amateurish sets and substandard directing, which had little appeal to my youthful imagination. Like many others at the time, I turned to Italian TV for entertainment because it featured many cartoons for children.

The geographical proximity of the two countries (Albania is only 40 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) allowed us to receive Italian broadcasts with a simple medium-wave receiver. From age five onwards I was watching cartoons on Italian TV. I would wake up at 6am along with my brother to watch Anna Dai Capelli Rossi, Heidi, Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, which were all featured in Italian. Enraptured by the stories and delighted by the colourful images, I naturally started to interpret what was being said and my understanding of Italian improved day by day. As I grew a bit older, I progressed to watching a TV series called Amico Mio and even developed a crush on the actor who was about my age! At ten I was able to fully converse in Italian, and have been fluent in the language since then.

I went on to improve my language skills, taking Italian courses in university, where I learned to read and write besides speaking. It’s a skill that came in handy: my first job at 16 was working in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I took a Modern Italian Culture course at university in Canada and shared a house with five Italian girls for a few months in regional Victoria, when I moved to Australia. Funnily enough, I have only once set foot on Italian soil (while visiting a friend in Rome, and just for two days), nevertheless those language skills I acquired from Italian television were my trampoline to the wider world.

Tons of research demonstrates that our behaviour as adults stems from what we have experienced during our childhood. If you are afraid of dogs, it’s probably something you can trace back to your younger days. If you speak Italian in a Micky Mouse voice, you probably grew up somewhere along the Mediterranean.

What about you? Is there anything you have learned in an unconventional way?

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Shift happens… Drift happens…

Last week the Financial Review invited me to their two day top-tier business summit – possibly because it was on International Women’s Day and last year they included me in their Top 100 Women of Influence.

As I headed home on the Manly ferry, I reviewed my notes from the array of presentations. Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood had kicked off proceedings, commenting that “no one has the luxury of being passengers on the plane” in our world of constant disruption.

As ferry passengers, we found ourselves amidst disruption of a different kind when the gear box broke and we drifted for about the same amount of time it would take to fly to New Zealand!

This provided more than ample time to reflect on the two days of information. Indeed – shift happens! As drift happened and day turned to night, this baby boomer became somewhat cynical of the rhetoric that had been espoused by the Prime Minister, other political leaders and CEOs of established corporations about infrastructure, and I longed for innovations championed by those in the new economy only hours earlier…

  • David Rohrsheim, CEO of Uber ANZ, quoted that 25% of people under 25 in Victoria don’t have a driver’s licence and prefer a simple click to get a car to take them from A to B. He also undoubtedly thought about Uber afloat, as two strangers and I considered collectively calling a water taxi, but of course there was no safe way to exit the large ferry. Driverless cars – and boats – aren’t far off.
  • Don Meij, CEO of Domino’s pizza, spoke of drone delivery. I spoke at their conference a couple of years ago and emailed him that he might also consider a captive market on stranded ferries.
  • Tim Fung of Air Tasker might have been able to more quickly send a tradesman with the necessary spare parts to repair the ferry malfunction.
  • Michael Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian and Adrian Turner of CSIRO, both with a no-nonsense approach, predicted that 40% of jobs won’t exist in the future, but new ones would emerge.

So rather than vent on Sydney Ferries for a poor contingency plan on this occasion (and to be fair, they’re usually pretty good) we’ll likely only have some nameless/faceless programmer to blame in future.

Ironically, when speaking at a conference to one of the world’s leading technology companies only the day before in a presentation titled “Shift Happens – Seize the Adventure”, I’d cited the need to combine high tech with high touch… old fashioned communication and listening while we surf the waves – or surf the web.

Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same, so that’s why organisations need to do more than pay lip service to educating and empowering their human capital. Other information that may be of interest:

  • Jennifer Westacott, Chair of the Business Council – “100,000 Chinese visitors in 2000 and 1.2 million last year” (the two who threw up on the ferry won’t likely return).
  • Angus Grigg, Financial Review correspondent – China is tackling corruption and their leader may soon be more powerful than Chairman Mao. Companies wishing to do business there shouldn’t be seduced by the size of the market or social media, but need to build long term relationships. “Rather than be overwhelmed by 1.3 billion customers there, stick to quality and test market on the local Chinese community here.”
  • Anthony Pratt, Chair of Visy, is the largest Australian employer in the USA and sells boxes to Amazon because they were ready with recycled materials at about the same time as the documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released and businesses had to meet eco standards. He said success wasn’t that complicated: “Look after your best customers. Look after your best people. Make a profit. Collect debt. Be persistent. Listen to the man on the street.” After talking with his factory workers in Ohio, he placed a $100,000 bet on Trump to win weeks before the election and more than quadrupled his money. Hmm, I’m not advocating that, but what I also found interesting about his presentation was that he had hand written notes rather than the slick PowerPoint of many of the major corporates – maybe that’s a difference between a private and a public company in terms of risk taking and speech making.

After three hours on the ferry, most devices had flat batteries, so passengers actually spoke to each other.

Likewise, my key takeaway from the event was a couple of meaningful conversations at breaks, rather than those superficial encounters when someone simply launches into their elevator pitch and thrusts a business card at you like conference confetti.

I missed an 8PM teleconference with Singapore, even though another passenger kindly offered me his phone, of course all contact details were in mine. When it recharged two hours later, the first text was from my bank saying my credit card had been hacked, so they cancelled it, and the auto debit for my WiFi provider was due at midnight, so it was about to be cut off.

Even my Fitbit battery gave up the ghost on the ferry, so by this stage, I wasn’t even sure I still had a pulse!

As my head finally hit the pillow, I recalled a speaker from CSIRO saying they were on the cusp of being able to slow down the ageing process – by turning off a gene – and wondered if maybe we could all, regardless of age, simply slow down… just a little.

Shift happens… Drift happens… Keep your spirits afloat in the turbulent waters of change.

Featured image: Jonathon Hall‏, twitter.com/jon_hall79

 

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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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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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Hashtag fear less

We ALL fear change and that’s OK, says Marty Wilson. I was recently lucky enough to hear Marty speak at Mental Health in the Workplace, part of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce People in Business series. He gave an inspiring talk on change and the fear that comes along with it. It’s a theme that often comes up in the workplace when you are faced with organisational change or are considering a career change, but what I couldn’t help think is how do we learn to embrace change and see it for the good that it can be?

As if we were linked via telepathy, Marty turned to me (I am sure at this point he was speaking DIRECTLY to me) and provided some answers to the questions I was contemplating.

First he looked at the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word life:

The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change [my bold] preceding death.

Did you see what I saw? Yep, you guessed it. Continual change is a part of Life.

At this point I was thinking to myself, I’m good with change… right? I realised, not only was Marty talking to me (directly to me, again), he was talking about me. Yep, I’m not afraid to put my hand up and say, “My name is Candice and I FEAR change!”

Recognising your fears are part of the solution, Marty gave me a few tips on how to deal with them:

  1. Life is change
  2. Trust your instincts
  3. Be grateful for tough times
  4. Take more risks
  5. Make more mistakes
  6. Lighten-up

Marty followed-up with this gem:

“Imagine if you could choose to become someone who welcomes change and disruption as a normal and exciting part of business and life.” – Marty Wilson

So here’s what am I going to do: I’m going to stop imagining and start changing, change and innovation will now be my middle names. I am going to let go of the past and take a fresh approach, to work and life in general.

If I’m going to tackle the elephant in the room in my workplace, it’s our database. It’s a pretty large elephant, lives in the cloud, has a few wrinkles… I’m sure most offices have a database/system/process/technology elephant lurking about. It’s that shiny new technology that will help us to work smarter, not harder, but often feels like it’s programmed the other way around. So from now on, in my role as Operations Manager, I’m going to focus on what the technology can do for us, not what it can’t do (although a few magic tricks wouldn’t go astray).

Applying #FearLess in a broader sense, I am going to embrace all of the curve balls life throws at me, which are by dictionary definition, part and parcel with change. I am going to fear less about the doing and dive right into change. I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but that’s OK. I started last week by changing my commute from the 75 to the 48 tram. Big mistake, constantly overcrowded, can never get on, changing back today… Yep, I am all about the change now!

What changes are you going to make?

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