Blog Archives

The fundamental aspects of culture that schools must address to attract more teachers

A 40 per cent reduction in graduates going into teaching, coupled with the fact that about one-third of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, means there are far more fundamental cultural and societal issues at play, particularly in regards to teachers in Secondary schools.

Recent financial inducements as part of the Federal election campaign to attract more graduates into school teaching are no doubt welcome. Teachers have never been paid sufficiently and certainly not in relation to the importance and value they have towards a society’s future.

Quality teaching and quality schools add immeasurably not only to economic success, but so importantly to social harmony and a society’s progress.

In Australia, the value of teachers has never been properly valued and respected. Now, more than ever, that needs to be rectified. To advance teaching as a profession, the voice of educators and school leaders needs to be heard and respected loud and clear.

However, the greatest reward and energy quality teachers get from teaching lies in seeing and participating in the learning by their students: seeing them grow and develop in their learning and understanding, and rejoicing in helping guide those students towards exciting futures.

So, apart from the importance of societal recognition of the value of teaching, the culture within schools (like any organisation) is integral to a renewed sense of value and reward within the profession – particularly given the added pressures associated with the past two and a half years of the pandemic.

Here are four fundamental aspects of culture that I believe schools must address in the current candidate short environment:

  1. Wellbeing and support: Is the culture within the school one that provides strong wellbeing and support for teachers? Is it one that recognises the demands of the profession and puts in place wellbeing measures that are customised to the needs of individual teachers?
  2. Student care: Is there a culture within a school where each teacher feels able to support the wellbeing needs of their students, needs that were already considerable pre-pandemic and seem to have grown exponentially in recent times?
  3. Learning and development: Is there a learning culture within the school that listens to the voice of educators and other staff and provides relevant, personalised professional learning that empowers staff in their fundamental purpose – to enhance the learning by their students?
  4. Coaching and mentoring: Is there a culture of coaching and mentoring within a school so that all teachers, from relatively inexperienced to those more experienced, believe their growth and development as professionals is enhanced by collectively and collaborating working with others?

Peter Drucker was famously quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He didn’t mean strategy was unimportant, rather that an empowering culture was critical to organisational success. Strong culture in an educational environment needs great strategy, but the latter won’t work without reflection and action on key measures to support teacher wellbeing and growth.

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Posted in Diversity & Inclusion, Education, Slade Executive, The world @work

Why candidates have become a rare commodity

No doubt you’ve heard, Australia’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4% – the lowest since 2008 – and is predicted to fall even lower. SEEK recently confirmed that they are experiencing an all time high in available jobs, coupled with the lowest candidate availability since 2012. Furthermore, the recruitment website confirmed a 40% increase in jobs Australia wide, with an 80% increase in Victoria alone!

In our post-covid capital cities, let alone regional centres, candidates have become a rare commodity. A unique series of events, including continuing Covid outbreaks and mutations, lockdowns, border closures, travel restrictions, lack of migrants, students and working holiday travellers, has combined to create a perfect storm.  And there is no shortage of jobs. I will take this opportunity to send a shout out to all the human resources, hiring managers and recruiters who have displayed continued resilience after everything the last two years has thrown at us. We’ve taken yet another deep breath, dived deeper into the diminishing candidate pool, and continued to successfully place top performing talent – but it is TOUGH!

Engaging candidates (whether passive, engaged, open to a conversation etc.) is actually more than just contacting potential hires. I’m sure those of us on the recruiting frontlines have experienced the highs and lows of candidates: no-shows at interviews, ghosting, withdrawals at the last minute, accepting another role that seemingly came out of the blue, unrealistic salary demands (not so unrealistic as it turns out, when the push for higher remuneration is being met elsewhere)… I could go on! In addition to this, working from home, hybrid work and flexible working arrangements are now arguably the most import factor in determining whether a candidate is even interested in a new role.

In today’s market, understanding the motivation behind an individual’s career move is more important than ever. Whilst salary, work-life balance, career management, professional development, interesting projects and meaningful work are not particularly new concepts, taking the time to explore a candidate’s motivators is somewhat novel. It may surprise some of you to read that I have found the only way forward with candidates is to genuinely service and interact with them. Yes, it’s a return to our old school ways: over communicate, don’t make assumptions, close the conversation loop, gain commitment and follow the process.

If I had a dollar for every candidate that was genuinely shocked when they were called to advise they had been unsuccessful, were given valid feedback on why they didn’t get through an interview, or had a pep talk to prepare them for an interview with the hiring organisation…  

While it may seem candidate loyalty has wavered since the days where employers held all the cards, could it be that we all had a part in driving them away from us because we stopped genuinely caring? It’s food for thought.

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Posted in Business Support, Slade Executive, The world @work

A checklist for successful onboarding, road-tested by our new GM

Thinking about how best to make your new team member feel valued from the very beginning takes little time or effort, but the impact can certainly be lasting.

I was lucky enough to take six months off in 2021 (which unfortunately coincided with yet another lockdown in Melbourne) with a view to taking part in some of the Ironman 70.3 triathlon races around Australia. Border closures soon put an end to that plan, but I got pretty fit in the process and loved being able to support my kids as they went through a couple more terms of virtual school. My wife continued to work full-time on her retail business through this time, so being able to keep things under control on the home front was a real bonus.

By September, I was starting to think about a new role, when the opportunity to join Slade Group appeared on my horizon – an exciting opportunity to work with a great team in a business with over 50 years of successful history. Having talked to clients and candidates for two years about how to prepare to onboard or be onboarded from home, I was now about to experience it for myself… I was feeling that nervous excitement, like kid about to start a new school!

First impressions with your new employer count a lot. Receiving all my paperwork and company information promptly was a good start, followed up by a friendly call to check I had received it all ok. I liked that.

The week before my start date, my technology arrived, complete with all my login details. It seems like fair expectation that this would happen. Yet, I have heard so many tales over the last 20 years from candidates who have turned up on day one to find the IT set-up had not been done, or worse still, some who had to clean their new desk! Not the best way to make someone feel welcome.

On my first day, I received a jam-packed onboarding plan covering the first few weeks. Zoom meetings had been prepopulated in my diary, and almost every minute of every day had been accounted for. I immediately felt comfortable that there was a good structure in place to introduce me to every part of the organisation and my team.

I received phone calls from others in the team (including my new boss) welcoming me on board and reassuring me that we would all get to meet in person soon. I felt included straight away; I didn’t feel like I was isolated WFH in my home office. I was given thorough training on our systems, reviewed key client information and was immediately able to put a plan together to meet (again virtually) many of our key customers. On the Thursday of week one I was able to enjoy a virtual wine tasting event with the team, led by one of the Yarra Valley’s leading winemakers. The fact that three bottles of their produce were delivered to my door in advance of the event (on my first day) was a nice touch.

My first impressions of Slade Group were good. I knew I had made the right decision to join the business.

Many organisations have given extra thought over the last few years on how to best onboard new employees given the unusual circumstances. There is no doubt that complacency has existed across parts of corporate Australia before demand for talent outstripped supply and job hunters were catapulted into the driving seat. My hope is that the greater level of care and attention we are now seeing when welcoming new starters lasts – particularly as offices reopen and start to fill up again.

Here is a minimum checklist for your own onboarding plan:

  1. Start date – Make sure you know the actual start date of your new team member and put a reminder in your diary
  2. Equipment – Ensure they have all the equipment they will need to do their job, not just a computer, and arrange delivery ahead of their start date if they will be working remotely
  3. Support – Liaise with colleagues in support roles to provide essential services well in advance
  4. Welcome pack – A welcome gift or care pack that will be appreciated
  5. Stakeholders – Engage the key stakeholders who will be working with your new team member and include them in the onboarding plan
  6. Onboarding plan – Develop a written plan covering all aspects of training, knowledge sharing and introductions that can be shared with the new employee
  7. Contact – Call or send your new employee a message before they start to let them know you’re looking forward to seeing them, even if it’s on Zoom
  8. Check-in – Regular check-ins during the first few weeks go a long way (put a note in the diary)

It is very reassuring for a new employee (at any level) to know that their first week or two have been carefully thought out. Considering there may not be any water cooler chats for a little while, it’s important to ask new starters for continual feedback. Any opportunities for improvement should always be welcomed for the next hire. And if you have done all of the above well, it shouldn’t be replacing the person you have just onboarded!

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Posted in Interchange Bench, Slade Executive, The world @work

The Great Resignation is Coming (and an invitation to you)

Australian businesses, brace yourselves. According to all the data coming out of the USA (a trend very likely to be followed here in the first half of next year), almost half the workforce are gearing up for the sort of change we have never witnessed before… the ‘Great Resignation’ is coming!

Looking at the latest McKinsey Quarterly report “more than 15 million US workers have quit their jobs and counting, since April last year” and many are unlikely to return, as the pandemic brings about a new realisation of what is really important in their lives.

When this is combined with the fact that most employers don’t really understand why their people are planning to resign or leaving in the first place, it adds up to a talent shortage like we have never seen before.

The research tells us that employees are tired and many are grieving, most of them are seeking a renewed sense of purpose, and a need to feel valued by their employers. In other words, employers have to connect with the “hearts and minds” of their employees – not just treat them as expendable or transactional. Those that fail to do so, will find themselves on the wrong end of this great resignation in my view.

If companies don’t make a concerted effort to better understand why employees are leaving, and take meaningful action to retain them (and no, it’s not just about money), then I’m afraid they will be the big losers.

It doesn’t have to be this way though, and much will depend on the quality of management in most companies. Those who recognise the problem and do something about fixing it, have a unique opportunity to gain an edge in the race to attract, develop, and retain the talent they need in order to thrive.

I recently had the privilege of listening to a couple of extraordinary Australian Leadership Consultants: Michelle Rushton from People of Influence, and Anthony Sork of SORK HC, both of whom had interesting points of view,  somewhat different but overlapping, and in my opinion, provided very sound advice on life and leadership post pandemic.

Michelle talked about how all of us have the opportunity to lift ourselves into a leadership role within our organisations, whether that is formally recognised or not, and how that adds enjoyment and interest to the job you do, as well as to the company.

Anthony focussed on how employers need to create an attachment to their staff – by building trust, value, acceptance, and a feeling of belonging – and how these perceptions are influenced by their direct managers.

We at Slade Group and TRANSEARCH Australia have invited both Michelle Rushton and Anthony Sork to speak to our own staff, and our clients, as part of our Breakfast Zoom series of HR webinars. If you are interested in attending, please call Fiona Lewis-Gray on 03 9235 5116 to register your interest. 

Event dates:

Michelle Rushton
Thursday, 28 October 2021
8.00am – 9.30am
Online via Zoom

Anthony Sork
Thursday, 25 November 2021
8.00am – 9.30am
Online via Zoom

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

I’m also Covid collateral.

Remember 2019? It was late that year when I took the Melbourne-based role of General Manager for Slade Group and the Interchange Bench. I’d come fresh off an extended break, including giving myself the time to do the Camino De Santiago Trail, to find some ‘me time’ for reflection after 25 years working full time, living in Perth and raising a family of three girls, now young women.

At that stage I had every intention of travelling regularly back to Perth where my young adult children live. That was pre-Covid, when people travelled freely within Australia, often part of any national role.  Our old world @work seems like an alternate universe, with remote working, remote meetings and WFH all part of the 2021 nomenclature.  

With Melbourne and Sydney both in ongoing lockdowns, and continuing border restrictions in place between States, it became very difficult to catch up in person with colleagues, clients and candidates. While I certainly missed those professional relationship building opportunities, on a personal level the relationships I cherish with family and friends suffered the most. While as an organisation, Slade pivoted to a hybrid working model and adapted well to the online environment, it’s a whole other ball game to be separated for long periods from your loved ones.

Imagine having to factor in two weeks of quarantine for a one weekend flying visit! And that’s ONLY if very lucky in the timing to even be granted a travel pass.

From the get-go my dream job had challenges and achievements I had never imagined. Early in 2020, having just begun working on business improvements, we caught a whiff of a new virus, and then in March COVID-19 hit us hard. The important thing at that point was to ensure we minimised costs with a staffing level that was sustainable. The Board and senior management were vital in this journey. We all worked hard, which was very rewarding, developing a strong team focus that saw us through some really tough times. Fortunately, a well-established company with 50+ years in business, a diverse temporary and permanent client portfolio (including essential workers) and risk spread across commercial and government contracts held us in good stead for the remainder of the hardest years on record. Thank you also to the powers that be in Canberra for JobKeeper which kept us going through the darkest months.

But I was unable to make easy trips back and forth to Perth see ‘my girls’.

When the market improved, our brands’ strength really shone. We saw the benefit flow through job orders, whilst also attracting quality consulting talent. Covid fluctuations aside, our attention to building longstanding client and candidate relationships meant we were there for employers when the market for talent opened up again. The culture at Slade Group is mature and results oriented. The people are great to work with – diligent, smart, and they value themselves and each other. And through the tough Covid year(s) now we also had fun. Behind the scenes I had the support of Maria Cenic, our wonderful GM of Finance and Shared Services, together with her incredibly dedicated team, and my senior colleagues and a Board who are forward thinking and growth oriented. 

And now at the end of my Melbourne Camino Trail, I’ve reflected and dug deep to make the right decision: I have decided to return to Perth because in the end, without close family and friends there’s a gaping hole in my heart which just can’t be filled by the joy and satisfaction of work. Melbourne, I loved every minute!

And so, for the future record when someone reads Samantha Cotgrave, Reason for Leaving: Covid.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Building trust to achieve maximum potential: A 6-point framework for high performance at work

I see trust as a currency. Each one of us starts with a certain amount when we initiate a professional relationship. Whether it be with colleagues or customers, you either build on it or lose it. And building trust requires consistent effort. Any gains in efficiency can be decimated if you lose trust. Focusing on the dynamic between employer and employee, building the relationship is a two-way activity, but the onus falls on the employer if they want to achieve the high levels of engagement, productivity and retention that are characteristics of successful organisations.

Being a consistent performer at work not only achieves great outcomes for your employer. It’s deeply satisfying when we know we’re on top of our game. However, working to your full potential relies on your ability to perform at a level that results in a feeling of achievement. It is self-driven and allows us to move faster across our ‘to-do’ list, and attain quantifiable and positive outcomes for the organisation. Since it is self-driven, everyone has different motivators specific to their needs. An overarching critical factor that precedes all others is trust. The more I talk about it, the more I think people relate to it. Every possible factor of influence on performance spans from a level of trust. 

Now that we know trust is a key variable and a direct relationship exists with performance levels, I have developed a 6-point high-level framework that employers and employees can use together to build trust, increase performance and achieve positive outcomes.

  1. Financial – An employer needs to provide an opportunity for a stable future and advancement, without causing unwarranted economic stress to the employee; an employee needs to be trusted to look for the best financial outcomes and revenue opportunities for the business.
  2. Emotional and mental wellbeing – A feeling of positivity is extremely important amongst the people in a company. This helps foster camaraderie with all of the teams and individuals that interact with them at work.
  3. Physical – A positive mental and emotional state supports good physical health. Additional perks such as end of trip facilities for cyclists, discounted gym memberships, etc materially help to maintain a state of wellbeing.
  4. Social – A positive mental state supplements a sense of belonging, inclusion and an ability to build relationships beyond work. All of which play a key role in building trust.
  5. A sense of purpose – Making a positive difference is beyond just making profits or fulfilling the needs of oneself. Emotional fulfilment derived from purposefulness increases trust in the organisation and drives the people to be better.
  6. Employable – Enabling and assisting employees to build in-demand capabilities and skills to advance in their careers also builds trust. Professional development rewards employers by upskilling their workforce and nurturing innovation.  

Here some practical ideas for employers and employees to help implement this framework:

  • Policies and processes – support workforce well-being, foster equality and diversity & inclusion.
  • Openness and transparency – be accountable, take part in intentional conversations, adopt an open and transparent approach by default, use a merit-based decision-making process, involve everyone in the business.
  • Technology and innovation – flexible working, enabling technology, nurture creativity, bring together hybrid and dispersed workforces. This usually unleashes the best performance from people.
  • Information sharing – real-time data where it matters, empower employees at the frontline, thinking not from top to bottom, but from grassroots up.
  • Open and continuous learning – access to the citadels of industries and specialisations, ongoing professional development, a future-ready workforce that can shift at scale.

While all the 6 points are critical, finding the right balance depends on the nature of the people within the organisation. Identifying distinct groups, understanding their motivations and required trust level, then building standard policies with tangible benefits is key to building trust. These work wonders on performance.

Which business practices would you establish using my 6-point framework?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Unravelling the Spaghetti Matriciana (aka the crazy labour market)

Three steps to hiring the best talent and at the right price.

Confused? It’s not just you. Right now the whole labour market is like a bowl of starchy spaghetti and you need to be super dextrous to unravel the threads to sate your appetite. You want the talent, but you and countless others can’t afford the premium. In this blog, we’re setting out the three fundamental steps to beating the competition in order to hire the talent you need. We suggest you don’t even try and make sense of the macro data – we’ve been listening to the economists too and none of them has nutted out the strange equation of the current Australian labour market.

Step 1.

Understand the value of high performing and high potential talent.

These two categories of employees are gold. Make sure you identify what you are looking for in a new hire – do you want this person to perform in the same capacity for ever after, or step up in the future? High performers are shown to deliver up to 4x the productivity of your lower average performers, but will your organisation be able to create the culture for a repeat of that high performance, or to bring out the high potential in an almost there candidate? Sort this out so you know what gap you’re filling.

  Low Potential High Potential
High Performers Regularly exceed benchmarks
Lack skills to perform at a higher level
Set standard of behavioural excellence
Model leadership and cultural values
Low Performers Little-to-no aptitude
Repeatedly fail to deliver
Have above-average aptitude
Show inconsistent performance

Step 2.

As we’re back in the war for talent, have a co-ordinated hiring (attack) strategy agreed and set.

Take it from the troops on the ground – too many hiring organisations are losing out on good talent because of one simple fact – disorganised, muddled hiring processes. Hope and winging it will not land you high performing talent. Time delays, poorly prepared interviewers, managers who don’t understand the current labour market, and poor engagement will set you back in the bunker time and time again while the good talent is signed up to your competition. Take extra time up front to prepare your approach and timeline. If you’re the Commander, bring your internal Officers in on your approach early, and then make military-style moves.

Step 3.

The salary package you have on offer is important but for some organisations, top quartile compensation isn’t an option. What to do? Our advice is have the remuneration and benefits conversations early on – it saves time, money and heart-ache when late on in a negotiation it’s a deal breaker. And again, salary is only one part of the equation – make sure you’ve identified all the attractive benefits of working with your organisation – some of which you may take for granted, but which are great attractors. What else do you offer? Extra paid leave days, a good workplace and amenities, tailored professional development, culture and values alignment, wellness benefits, clear career paths, flexibly work schedule, recognition and rewards etc. Write them down and share with enthusiasm.

Bring them in and they will build!

What is your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Tough. Love. Tough Love or Tough, Love.

Why leading with empathy is so important.

In Slade Group’s Core Strength research about most sought-after employee attributes through COVID-19, empathy took a back seat to ‘here and now survival’ skills.

Make no mistake, empathy has jumped back into the driver’s seat in 2021.

Daniel Goleman in his recent article, speaks to the importance of self-awareness. This includes a highly developed sense of empathy that allows you to see a situation from the other person’s point of view; this enables you to present your position in a way that makes a person feel heard, or that speaks to their own interests.

Post COVID in Australia, organisations need managers and leaders who can respond to the changed work environment with competencies beyond those traditionally sought. It is now recognised that one of those skills is empathy: successful leaders will have the ability to engage and work with people across a broad spectrum of skills, backgrounds and cultures.

It is important to recognise that there are three different kinds of empathy, and each resides in different parts of the brain.

  1. Cognitive: I know how you think
  2. Emotional: I know how you feel
  3. Concern: I care about you

There are managers who are very good at the first two, but not the third, without which they can be easily used to manipulate people. We see this in many overachieving bosses in command-and-control cultures who tend to be pacesetters – often promoted because they have very high personal standards of excellence. They are great at pushing people to make short-term targets; they communicate well because of the cognitive empathy and know their words will carry weight with their employees because of their emotional empathy. However, because they lack empathetic concern, they care little about the human costs of their actions. This can lead to staff suffering emotional exhaustion and burnout.

How can a manager demonstrate empathy in the workplace?

  1. In this post COVID environment, recognise signs of overwork before burnout becomes an issue; many people are finding it difficult to separate work from home life. Spend some time each week checking in.
  2. Take time to understand the needs and goals of staff, who are more likely to be more engaged if their manager is seen as taking a sincere interest in them.
  3. Keep open lines of communication, encourage transparency and demonstrate a willingness to help an employee with personal problems.
  4. Show compassion, genuine connections and friendships at work matter; act empathetically and let your people know they are supported.  

Fortunately, like all Emotional Intelligence competencies, empathy can be learned and managers can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching and training and by organisations encouraging a more empathetic workplace.

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Posted in Slade Executive, Technical & Operations, The world @work