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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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Shower thoughts for the New Year

For many of us, we associate showering with waking up in the morning, so it’s no surprise that some of our best ideas fresh in the day are ‘shower thoughts’. I worked for a CEO who regularly called in with her shower thoughts on her commute to the office. Most were simple, practical solutions to everyday business problems, with an occasional eureka moment… Archimedes would have been proud!

Research conducted by psychologist Dr Scott Kaufman for Hansgrohe (the bathroom hardware manufacturer) in 2014 found 72% of people have creative thoughts in the shower and “14% of people have showers with the only reason being to generate new ideas”. The study concluded “the feel of the water together with the tranquillity of the shower experience and being alone helps generate new ideas and fresh thinking”.

Literally, you can forget about having creative thoughts when you’re under the pump… a full schedule, working to a deadline, competing priorities and other disruptions all require focused thinking. Routine tasks (showering, regular exercise, gardening or even ironing) however, allow your mind to wander while you’re on autopilot. Actually these activities allow your conscious mind to process ideas that your subconscious has been problem solving in the background while you were focusing on the other tasks at hand. The scientific explanation – it’s a combination of dopamine released in a relaxed state of mind. “The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind,” explains creative thinker and social influencer Leo Widrich on his Buffer blog.

Thought leader and cultural change commentator John O. Burdett links strategic thinking and workplace culture. In his book Myth, Magic, Mindset: a template for organisational culture change, Burdett says, “Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable.” Could your organisation’s strategy benefit from some shower thoughts? What about your organisational culture… Is it healthy, does everyone in the team align with it, how could you further nurture it?

So while you’re enjoying some downtime over the holiday period, allow yourself the extra time to lay in bed, watch the sunset or sip your favourite Sav Blanc. Cast your mind to some of the strategic objectives you’ve been trying to resolve during the year. You’ll be surprised how creative thoughts will emerge and solutions will surface.

Downtime assists us tremendously with clear thinking (maybe before the Sav Blanc). Use this time to consider your business structure, your organisational culture, the approach you might take with a difficult colleague, client, or even your Board. It is also a great time to give your mind the freedom for self-reflection and reset your professional goals for the New Year.

Have a happy, safe festive season and enjoy your break. On your return, let me know if you had any shower thoughts that helped you with articulating new ideas.

 

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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Why don’t we ask RU OK every day?

Today is a day to check in with your colleagues and friends to make sure they are OK, but is one day a year really enough?

In workplaces across the country people will hear “RU OK?” today. Some may think the question is invasive, others will think the person asking is simply being a bit trite, only enquiring because someone informed them that they should. Then we’ll usually answer offhand “I’m fine, how about you?” But what about those people who are hiding their difficulties?

We’ve seen the statistics about the impact of mental health on productivity, with the ABS reporting self-harm (suicide) as the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44. Beyond Blue reports one in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition. Yet we only seem to raise the issue once or twice per year.

During my 30 year working career I have had the privilege to work in a number of countries, with some amazing people. There’s one who really sticks with me. He was a brilliant man, a world leader in his field. A father, a grandfather a loving husband who to the world around him, appeared ‘normal’.

Being engaged, enthusiastic and a contributor, appearing to be outwardly happy took a great deal of energy to maintain when he headed out the door to work each day. He often said, if workplaces were more accepting of people’s personal flaws, colleagues more empathetic and society more genuine in its desire to help others, he could have achieved so much more in his career.

So he kept his head down, became very risk averse, doing things the same old ways. Not wanting to draw the attention to himself, he kept his ideas to himself in meetings, leading others to question as his productivity dropped, whether he had any value to add to the organisation.

Unfortunately his internal demons overtook him.

One in five people suffer from a mental illness at some time during their lives. They experience self-doubt, become disengaged, unproductive and eventually isolated. Their impact on co-workers can be enormous. The Aussie attitude of showing no emotion in the workplace has resulted in a hidden epidemic that has seen us lose some of our finest minds, our friends and co-workers, mothers, fathers, children and siblings.

We can improve the way we connect with our colleagues, families and friends by starting a meaningful conversation. Ask someone “RU OK?” every day.

 

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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The two types of trust

Being genuinely interested in everyone you meet may be second nature to those of us in the executive search business, but contrary to the popular saying, the reverse isn’t always true. In London for an AESC conference recently, I met John Niland. John is best-known as a conference speaker on doing higher value work and for the last 15 years, has been coaching others to achieve success. He has a particular passion for supporting independent professionals to adapt and thrive in today’s challenging economies. In the following article he makes some valid points about the nature of trust – applicable to all of us, no matter what business you are in.

Geoff Slade

1. Cognitive trust and Affective trust

To win wholehearted trust from another person, you need to win both their head and their heart. However, not everyone we meet places equal reliance on these two faculties.

Some people (and cultures) are primarily cognitive. When building trust, they look for evidence that is factual: e.g. evidence of credibility, track-record, process, reliability, tangible results and useful insights. If you can answer their questions specifically (or guide them to ask better questions) then you build trust.

Other people (and cultures) are primarily affective. They first decide if they like you or not, then they listen to what you have to say. Bombarding them with evidence of your credibility is unnecessary and may even be counter-productive. Their decision to trust is intuitive rather than rational … and is often uncannily accurate. They take in your body language, your attentiveness to them and a host of non-verbal cues.

While most people will use both dimensions (i.e. cognitive and affective), in practice the majority of people have a tendency to rely more heavily on one dimension than the other. For example, in large organisations, the greater the likelihood that trust-building is cognitive… at least in northern Europe. But beware of stereotypes: I have come across senior managers in finance who build trust affectively, just as many freelance professionals are as cognitive as you can find on the planet.

In a team environment, affective trust tends to win out. If team members like each other, this generally makes for greater performance and mutual support than if they simply cognitively respect each other. However, in many teams, it’s worth noting that cognitive respect plays a big part in whether one professional likes another or not. So it’s always worth considering both dimensions… not just the one that most reflects you!

2. Trusting yourself

How do your build trust? Cognitively (via the head) or affectively (via the heart)? Which is your primary mode of trust-building?

Perhaps the person that it’s most important to trust is yourself. This is usually expressed as confidence: confident people have trust in themselves. Indeed, in some languages (such as French), the same word ‘confiance’ means both trust and confidence.

If a person is not particularly confident, then they struggle to trust themselves. So they furiously prepare for meetings, feel anxious in negotiations, worry about the future, avoid difficult conversations, postpone decisions, have difficulty with business-development and often with personal relationships, too.

Most people would agree that confidence is built though action, rather than by reflection. Certainly this is likely to be true for cognitive trust-builders. By creating their own track-record in dealing with scary situations, they see increasing evidence that they can trust themselves.

However, for those who build trust affectively (or intuitively), how do they deal with low self-confidence and lack of trust in themselves? In my coaching work, I see that affective trust-builders often have a harder time overcoming a poor reputation with themselves. Unlike the cognitive trust-builders, they cannot easily grow self-confidence through affirmative action… because they don’t like themselves very much to begin with.

Self-worth is about liking ourselves – with or without the evidence. It’s not the same as self-esteem and certainly not the same as confidence. It’s a fundamental pre-requisite for career-development, for charging better fees and raising the value of our work.

 

John Niland is a Brussels based management consultant. john@vco-global.com

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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Tough nut or fair, but firm?

I’m often accused of being a ‘tough nut’. I think I’m firm but fair. I’m frustrated by underperformers, people missing targets and sloppy work practices. Sometimes I feel I’m painted as some sort of ogre, and now finally, I know why. Apparently, nearly 50% of Australian organisations feel that ‘close enough is good enough’.

The Study of Australian Leadership by the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Employment paints a rather grim picture of our workplaces, particularly the rigour we apply to measuring and meeting performance targets. It reads as though the world @work in Australia could do with a rocket up the interior.

With one in three businesses not giving employees any key performance indicators to do their job, is it any surprise that as a nation we’re slipping in performance outcomes?

Let me pose some of the questions that arose from this study.

Do you have Key Performance Indicators for every person in every role in your organisation? Are those KPIs being measured? And are those people in those roles (remember, they’re our most valuable assets), being managed and developed to meet their KPIs?

Are you providing all the leadership and management training your future senior executives need to become brilliant leaders? Or are you hoping that because they’re good in the job they currently fill, they’ll be great a step or two up?

And can we also find better ways to spend the $56 billion a year, the estimated waste in completing non-essential administrative tasks? How often are conventions retained because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’?

I’m finally having my day in the sun. Close enough is not good enough.

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When filling a CEO position seems like a call out to Mars

How do you find a CEO to head up a privately owned organisation, operating from a remote part of a former Eastern Bloc country, where there is no local entity, no information about the organisation in English and the Directors and the Owners do not speak your language?

For a TRANSEARCH consultant, it’s another exciting opportunity. In fact, early in the process we had to retain a local linguist with technical and sector knowledge to ensure we communicated effectively.

Here are my 6 Top Strategies for securing an executive for a parent company from a rare region:

Have respect for the client’s homegrown reputation, differing work practices and local regulatory standards.

Cultural and language barriers are sometimes the least of a client’s challenges: when they start mapping out audacious targets for their new hire, take time to allow them a reality check as you start sharing the local market realities.

Global accreditations and reputation is one thing, but building a local presence and distribution for products or services is another. As you’re learning about their region, help them understand a little about yours. In this case my client, a major international player with just over 50% market share in the sector in their own country, was seeking to expand their business in the Asia Pacific region. With a strong presence in Europe, they had recently launched in North America and were looking for a base in Sydney or Melbourne. Locally they would be up against established competitors with sizeable market shares.

Set realistic time frames. In this instance, searching the APAC region for a CEO with demonstrable startup experience in sectors supplying specialist FMCG products through omnichannel distribution routes was never going to be a simple task.

Attention to detail and high levels of candidate care will ultimately pay off.

Risk management is always a high priority in executive appointments and the new executive will need further support through the onboarding period and building their local team post hire.

Complicated by communication difficulties, I was fortunate that a few of our client’s senior executives had an intermediate level of English and a translator was available for our discussions. Over the course of my research for the assignment, I developed a deep understanding of the client, their business and its culture. On a broader scale, I was immersed in the business culture of another country, learning firsthand about how it thinks, works, behaves professionally and measures success.

Following this appointment, we continue to meet with the client and the CEO; I am pleased to hear their market entry initiatives are going well. We are already discussing the next mandate!

Have you procured goods or services internationally, provided or sought professional services across language and cultural boundaries or supplied emerging export markets? What are some of the challenges you experience in conducting international business in the not so obvious global markets?

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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How the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is far more exciting than its name implies

Yesterday I had the pleasure of touring the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) building in Parkville as an invited guest of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Our hosts from Grocon and Plenary Health showed us around selected areas that were very impressive – not what you may expect of a cancer service!

On entering the 13 story building the stunning internal atrium towers all the way to the roof top garden… a striking feature, but I’ll talk about that later. Still undergoing final touches before the moving in day, the building has three zones: health service delivery, research and back of house (administration). Colour coding is a feature of its leading approach to way-finding through the Centre.

With 160 overnight inpatient beds, a 42-bed capacity intensive care unit and 110 same-day beds, the majority of patients enjoy natural light and some of the best views of Melbourne.

There are also a number of outdoor areas – remember the roof top garden I mentioned earlier? It is one of the largest in Melbourne and features mature trees, a BBQ area and spots for quiet contemplation. All are within easy access to a cafe giving patients and families the opportunity to take in some fresh air and sunshine.

The Centre is a collaborative partnership between Peter Mac, Melbourne Heath, Melbourne University, Plenary Health, VCCC, the Australian and Victorian Governments, and looks to be setting the bar high for facilities combining health research and delivery. True to the aim of architects DesignInc to make ‘a positive difference to the health and happiness of people’s lives,’ the design has been created to encourage knowledge sharing, impacting on breakthroughs to deliver next generation cancer treatments.

VCCC is not only a model for health services of the future. It’s a great example of how more workplaces could be.

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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The 5 things keeping Senior Executives awake are not what you might think

What happens when you bring together a group of Australia’s top business leaders to consider the big issues? Current media headlines would have you think the TPP, China FTA, a lumpy economy, risk, governance, or the AUD would be front of mind.

In fact the headline challenges turn out to be multi-generational workforce management, the link between organisational culture and productivity, immigration, regional development, and security – both information and personal.

Economic growth, fresh political leadership and national security also featured in the discussion hosted by TRANSEARCH International Australia.

Less publicised issues also got a good hearing around the table; the debate from the over 50s corner heated up when the conversation focused on understanding the work expectations of the next generation: “We have a young team in their 20s… they’re so distracted by what’s on their phone!” and “Young women are driven, they are totally underestimated. They’re probably going to shock us all…” (46% of the participants at the TRANSEARCH Boardroom Lunch were women).

Are we too complacent about our security? Cyber security and bio security were perceived to be greater threats for Australia than brutal terrorism. The feeling around the boardroom table was that we are well protected but complacent.  Two CEOs with insider knowledge feel that at best we’re well protected, at worst we’re living in a fool’s paradise, blind to the Dark Side. A security expert amongst the group highlighted that executive protection is also soft in Australia: executives could be held for ransom as is common in other parts of the world. There’s also a very fine line between genuine concerns about security and those motivated by pitching fear based on xenophobia and racism.

A stable economic environment may have benefited professionals, but our group was careful to consider opportunities for those who also do a valuable job that is not ‘sexy work’. The truck drivers, process workers and administration employees who will be a necessary part of the future workforce.

Purpose and Meaning is understood to override salary and job titles, and many recognise that people need, regardless of their age “an understanding of where they fit in”. Brand, engagement and corporate culture, were some of the real reasons behind why people do what they do. We talked about creating very good ‘whys’ as a great way of attracting good people and engaging employees, regardless of generation stereotypes. The fact that some younger employees don’t worry so much about risk was also raised as a positive. It allows them to risk exploring new ventures and they are much quicker to recognise opportunities. As one participant said, “What a gift!”

On the subject of risk one executive stated, “I hold traditional values about personal privacy, but my son said to me, ‘technology has made privacy irrelevant.’”

Participants went on to talk about opening our borders and welcoming diversity at the executive table. We cannot underestimate the importance of finding the right immigration solution, they said. We need to consider populating our country with skilled and educated migrants, make resources available and provide humanitarian support to displaced refugees.

Focusing on regional centres, education was raised as a way of supporting regional growth. “Successful cities are diverse, safe educational centres. Education is something Australia does well,” it was said. Success stories, such as Deakin in Geelong and Monash in Bendigo mean more young people are making lifestyle choices to leave the big cities, or not to leave regional areas for the city.

In support of our bright young stars in Australia, we heard from one executive who was mentoring MBA students. These start-ups with their own businesses don’t have a lot of capital, but they are positive and have great ideas. Raising capital has been a problem, so where is the connection between entrepreneurs and investors? Some thought we need a Silicon Valley in Australia. All agreed employment growth will come from these new businesses, from those people who want to have a go. If we don’t support them, they will go abroad to places like the USA to get a break.

If you had any preconceptions about what’s been on the minds of our senior executives, I’m pleased to report it isn’t all negative. They do seem to be getting some sleep.

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