Winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked

By | Leadership, Results

I recently read about the upcoming release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. As the COO of Facebook, she talks about Mark Zuckerberg (her boss) and the advice he gave re her desire to be liked by everyone and his belief that it would hold her back in her career.

This is the second time I have heard about a leaders’ desire to be liked in a matter of weeks.  One of my female coaching clients said to me “I want to be respected, but I still want to be liked a little bit too”.

Is it possible to have respect and be liked as a leader? Will this goal hold you back from being an effective leader long-term?

My first opportunity to lead a team early in my career, presented me with the immediate challenge of winning the respect of a group all older than me.  How was I going to win them over? I started with showing them my results – facts and figures and methodologies that were black and white – I figured they couldn’t argue with achievements! It was the first step in establishing respect.

Since then, I’ve learnt other strategies leaders can use in the race to win respect, while losing the notion of being everyone’s friend:

1.You’ve already got friends– I have challenged leaders in the past who have struggled with this concept that you already have friends and work is not necessarily the place to gather more. Sure you might make friends, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus – avoid blurring the lines.

2. Relationships – I’m not saying don’t be friendly or don’t have social interaction with people. Certainly there is a human element to leadership and part of building relationships is getting to know the personal side of your staff.  BUT leaders need to show consistency, professionalism and not play favourites.

3. Deal with non-performance – a leader who gains respect, will have the courage to deal with non-performance quickly and without fuss.  Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

4. Lead by example – a leader who sits in their office, is always busy and unavailable in meetings, will not gain the respect of their team. Walk the talk, get on the phone where people can hear you, go on client visits, sit in open plan – showing you can do the job wins respect.

5. Hold people to account – being clear on what people are responsible for, give them the knowledge and tools to perform their role and then get out of the way.

6. Be clear on what you stand for – a respectful leader knows their values, is clear on what is expected and consistently inspires through communicating the vision.

7. Intuition –  go with your gut and call behaviours as you see them.  If you have a ‘feeling’ someone is going to resign, or something is up with the person who had his or her arms crossed in the meeting – don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and have a conversation – nip issues in the bud and encourage an open dialogue, don’t let unspoken issues fester.

8. Recognise & reward – catching people doing the right thing and being very specific about what they have done well goes a long way to building respect.

9. Open communication – what’s happening in the company, good, bad or indifferent shouldn’t be a secret.  If you don’t talk, people will make up their own ideas and assume – sure fire way to kill respect.

10. High standards – a respectful leader will push you outside your comfort zone and show belief in you to go further to achieve more than you think possible.  Not many leaders are willing to push hard for fear of losing approval.

During my leadership career, it has been a learning journey to earn respect, some people probably liked me and others probably didn’t. The difference is that it didn’t actually bother me. Great if you do and it doesn’t matter if you don’t. My role as an effective leader is to believe in you, coach you to top performance and support you in that journey.   There is no easy path. That journey will require moments of being uncomfortable and challenged – a respected leader doesn’t apologise for that or seek approval.

The goal as a leader should certainly be more about behaving in ways that create respect and if people to like you too – it’s a bonus, but it definitely shouldn’t be the aim. 

“Popularity is temporary, Respect is timeless”

People leave leaders…..the uncomfortable truth

By | Change, Empowerment, Leadership

Last week I went to a Women in Leadership lunch hosted by CEDA.  One of the speakers (Jane Caro) said, “we only change when it is too uncomfortable to stay the same”.  It really struck a chord with me.  It reminded me of several stages in my career, where this was the final straw and my catalyst for change.

One was a reminder, when this week, 12 months ago, I left my corporate role to start my own business.  The other was highlighted when one of my clients’ celebrated her 5th birthday in business this week.  In our session, I was genuinely excited for her. What a fabulous milestone! As a high achiever, she is still focused on being better and reaching her goals.

In that discussion, she asked me what were the major points for me in growing my last business that turned it from being a good business to that breakthrough moment when things were easier and it “just happens”.

I said there were 4 key things in my experience:

  1. Business Culture
  2. Empowering Leadership
  3. Retaining Key People
  4. Consistency of Service

BUT it was only when things were too uncomfortable to stay the same that things changed.

I remember that point like it was yesterday. I wrote two pages of frustrations (which I still have!) and all the concerns I had in the business at the time.  I felt completely overwhelmed looking at that list thinking where do I start?

One of the biggest issues that were causing emotional and financial pain was the turnover of staff. I have mentioned this before in previous posts, that in the recruitment industry this can be up to 45% and new Recruiters only last 8 months on average! I was certainly experiencing my fair share of turnover in the first few years and it was agonizing.

The impact to the bottom line is significant in terms of re-recruitment, re-training, lost revenue etc, but for me it was also the emotional cost. I remember sitting down with the owner and he said to me “Nicole, people leave leaders, not jobs”.  It was cutting.  It hurt my ego more than anything. My internal story went something like I’m a good leader, I believe in my people, I want the best for them – I just have high expectations.”  So, I decided to put together a spreadsheet of all the people who had left and look at the reasons they gave.  Now of course, some people never tell you the REAL reason for leaving so I decided to be really honest with myself and acknowledge what deep down I already knew to be true.  There was a combination of culture and leadership reasons – that was consistent.

It was at that point, I realised it was too uncomfortable to continue as things were.  Things needed to change, and fast.

Business culture – to change a culture overnight is impossible.  To move from a traditional recruitment culture of “client is king”, “core hours are 8am – 6pm”, “you are available 24/7”, “you always eat lunch at your desk (if at all)” and “taking calls before and after work is normal” was going be a big shift.  It required small steps starting from the top including a shift in mindset.  I remember when I first started coming in late on Friday morning so I could attend a pilates class, how uncomfortable it felt. I would creep back in the office hoping no one would notice.  Ridiculous in hindsight – I should have been promoting it.  This was my in-built belief that hours = work ethic.  I learnt to accept that my commitment and dedication wouldn’t be any less just because my actual number of hours were less. This was a big mindset shift that had to start at the top and was slowly filtered through. (I will be presenting at the RCSA conference in Fiji in 2 weeks on how I implemented this).

Empowering leadership – the statistics prove the theory that people leave leaders.  Not all the time, but it is certainly a contributing factor in a lot of cases and it was in mine.  I engaged a business coach and learnt that people’s perception of my leadership style and their experience of working for me was reality, not what I thought I was doing.  I had to embrace their reality and move to an empowering leadership style where my fundamental values and principles were still the same around performance, expectations and outcomes, but my delivery become more cohesive, consultative and empowering.

These two changes had significant positive impact on bottom line results and other performance indicators. But just as importantly (or more importantly) the effect on my job satisfaction, the enjoyment for the team, the transparency of our communication and a re-invigorated approach.  This allowed us to achieve two things that I often find companies struggle to accomplish.  We achieved employee’s desire for flexibility, work/life blend and career satisfaction with the company’s objective of a high performing team, revenue results and profitability.

We proved that flexible arrangements and productivity can co-exist and don’t have to be at the cost of the other. It was one of the biggest lessons in becoming a high performing and profitable firm where people wanted to work and stayed long-term.

To achieve this requires being uncomfortable and only then are we truly learning and becoming better than we currently are.

*My next post will discuss the other two areas of retaining key people and consistency of service. 

Reward & recognition – the secret to reducing staff turnover

By | Leadership, Retention

When one of my Consultants resigned after 7 years I was excited for her. She was taking a leap of faith and pursuing her life long dream of becoming a paramedic. It was at her farewell when it hit me how important it is to reward staff. In her speech, she mentioned the time I invested $500 for each staff member to pursue a personal goal outside of work.  Funny isn’t it – but as she was talking I was struggling to recall the exact detail of the initiative. On the other hand, she was describing it in vivid detail and the impact it had on her in terms of pursuing a hobby (share trading), which helped her develop her relationship with her husband (he is a day trader).  She loved that I had shown an interest in her as a person beyond what she delivered at work.  Notice she didn’t rave on about her base salary or the significant monthly bonus cheques she got – she talked about several small random rewards that I gave her over the years to recognise her achievements, loyalty and contribution.

It was when I engaged a business coach to help me develop my leadership skills that I learnt the importance of praise, recognition and random reward in attracting and retaining talent.  It sounds simple in theory doesn’t it? Of course staff love to be told they are doing a great job, of course they love a gift voucher for achieving a target or getting a group email saying how wonderful they are. BUT in reality how often does this happen? And randomly? Perhaps when an important milestone comes around or someone lands a big deal, but the day-to-day successes are rarely recognised, let alone rewarded.  I was guilty as charged.

To assist me in taking action in this area and making sure I actually delivered what I knew to be right in theory, I kept a reward and recognition book.  It made me consciously recognise and record what someone did and how I rewarded it.  This could range from a personal email, to a company wide announcement, to a lunch, to a specific gift or even time off.  It didn’t matter, as long as I was consistently rewarding the desired behaviours for individuals to consistently achieve top performance. The book was an easy idea and it kept the importance front of mind as well as myself accountable to take action.

Quick ideas to take action:

  1. Public acknowledgement – giving someone praise in a public forum (team meeting, group email etc) is a great way to pump someone up in front of their teammates.  It is also an opportunity to reinforce company-desired behaviours. I would always share positive client feedback in our sales meeting on a Monday, with any five star ratings receiving a Freddo Frog.
  2. Small rewards, big impact – I know you are thinking chocolate – come on Nicole, no one is going to be aiming for that! Small rewards can often have a big impact – it is often not the gift itself, but the acknowledgement of the performance.
  3. Be specific – how often have you been given something as a thank you that you didn’t like? Maybe you got red wine and you don’t drink red wine, maybe it was flowers that make your sneeze or a subscription to a magazine you don’t read? I developed a $5 – $500 chart for each staff member where they listed rewards in that range that they would value and appreciate. This way the reward was personal to them and well received rather than a generic gift.
  4. All staff recognised – don’t forget non-revenue generating roles! Administration staff were always included in recognising their contribution to the team.  This could be the way they resolve a client query through to their phone manner or going beyond the call of duty.
  5. Random – don’t wait for only the big milestones to say well done and don’t reward the same people and actions all the time.  Your team will get pretty sick of seeing the same rewards, you will lose impact and you could be accused of playing favourites.

Overall, my aim was to be specific with the reward.  What was the behaviour they demonstrated that I wanted to see demonstrated again in the future? Don’t lose the meaning of recognition by just saying well done. Be specific about what the reward is for.  This is important not only for the individual, but also for the rest of the team to hear the right message.

Don’t wait for someone to crack their budget or out-perform last’s year’s record – reward people now for the action they take, the small steps they make and the lessons they learn.  It’s never to late to let your staff know that you appreciate what they do, to say thank you or to publicly reward action and effort rather than just outcomes and revenue.  Random recognition and rewards will win you loyalty and trust as well as assisting to reduce unnecessary staff turnover due to feeling valued and acknowledged.  Human nature tells us we like to feel appreciated and we want to do a good job – so go on, look for the successes, go and say thank you, be specific and randomly reward a team member today.

Nicole Underwood understands what it takes to create, build and grow a successful business. As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, Nicole consults and coaches individuals and organisations to improve their results through effective leadership and attracting and retaining top talent.

 This article was written for Lifestyle Elements – a great way to reward your staff with their own personal concierge.  

“We need to talk”……ensure you are heard as a leader

By | Communication, Leadership

This week I got a bill from my Accountant – who I’ve had a long term relationship with (nearly 15 years) that got me rather annoyed and frustrated. I had been charged extra for “email advice” on a “range of issues”.  Did that make my blood boil!  Not because I had been charged – I understand they make money from their knowledge and expertise – but history had told me that this advice from time to time was part of building our relationship.   Now since merging with one of the larger firms, I feel the rules have changed. Again, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but where is the communication? At no point has anyone communicated that this ‘casual’ dialogue was in fact being ‘billed’.  If the rules are going to change in any relationship, I am a big believer in setting the expectations upfront about how it is going to be going forward to ensure both parties are clear and there aren’t any grey areas.  Communication is key.

It got reinforced to me when a client said his staff surveys revealed that they still want more communication from the top.  He says this issue comes up every year, yet he feels he communicates all the time!

Communication is a constant issue for all leaders. I clearly remember one of my mentors telling me early in my leadership career – communicate everything or risk others communicating on your behalf. That is, in the absence of information, staff will just assume and make it up.  That’s how gossip starts and ‘poison’ can infect a culture.

As a leader, I learnt to communicate often and share information.  I believe this was one of the key factors in building a high performance culture and trust in my last organisation.  In some recruitment companies, no financial results are shared – team or individual.  This ‘confidential’ information is kept under lock and key and protects those who are potentially having a ‘bad month’ or in non-performance.  I take the opposite approach – share the budget, the goals, the business top line results, individual results including sales leader boards, industry benchmarks – the more information and data the better.  It builds trust, gets buy-in, will explain why some decisions are made and increases performance and accountability.  I felt I could never communicate too much.

Communication starts from the top and the leader sets the tone.  Decide what is and isn’t acceptable, what methods and forums are suitable for what messages and then be consistent.  For example, I’ll never forget the day I received a text message giving me a salary increase! Good news? Sure. Appropriate device?  Probably not given the importance and sensitivity of the message.

Regardless of situation – whether it is in business, our personal lives, or buying a product or service, the key to having a favourable experience is one where the communication is clear, your expectations are met and when you feel you have been heard and responded to.  Perhaps we never master communication perfectly and perhaps we can always improve and get better.  The solution is having awareness and then checking in with our audience to ensure that we are on the right rack and are being perceived correctly. Ask your staff – “are you clear in what we are trying to achieve?” Ask in an interview “does that answer your question, is that what you were looking for?” Ask your support staff “what’s your understanding of my request?” This technique allows you to gain feedback on your delivery and to see if your message has been interpreted correctly.

Communicate often, communicate verbally, communicate expectations and regularly check-in to ensure you are being effective in your delivery.  Communication is rarely perfect – but I can guarantee you can’t be criticised for telling too much, too often or for asking for too much feedback.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. You can accomplish nothing unless you can communicate effectively.”

“Part-time is a dirty word” & why it needs to change

By | Leadership, Recruitment, Women in Leadership

Last week in Adelaide, there was controversy and speculation after the CEO of the SA Tourism Commission was sacked with 9 months left to go on his contract.  This was the leading news story of the night, but it wasn’t that so much that got my attention; it was the newsreader’s description on the ad break.  She said something along the lines of “…and tonight the sacking of….and how he will be re-placed by a part-timer!” The inflection in her voice suggested how could such an important role be part-time, how absurd, can you believe it, how prospertious! The insinuation that a part-time person was not capable of doing a CEO role made my blood boil.  Now, I didn’t see the full news bulletin to see if this was their point, which I’m sure it wasn’t, but the newsbreak certainly created the drama.

It raises the question “can a part-timer be successful in a senior leadership role”? And what if the best person for the job is a part-timer?

I know when I returned to my general management role part-time in early 2008, I was met with a few challenges in terms of negotiating my new conditions and proving my contribution wouldn’t be any less just because my hours in the office had decreased. I had the support of my team who certainly weren’t concerned and I was positive, as I didn’t see that what I was doing was any less or that it was going to lessen my contribution.

The truth is there is still a stigma around part-time. There I’ve said it. Even if you, your boss and your team are all supportive and encouraging of such arrangements, you are constantly surrounded by other opinions, judgments and sometimes-even envy of being part-time. “Oh you’re part time” can often be the response, as if what you do is less significant and that you aren’t contributing as meaningfully as your full time counterparts. In this day and age, you would think the actual hours you are paid would be irrelevant as we embrace blending work-life balance and structure our businesses to ensure all employees have flexibility to achieve their goals inside and outside of work.

Last week someone in my network was on the look out to fill a mid-level role and I knew of someone with the right industry experience, degree qualifications, who lived close by (important for this role & location) and had the strong intrinsic motivation for the position.  However, this person wanted part-time.  The client dismissed it almost immediately. “No, we need a full-timer for this position”.  Well, no, you need someone to perform in the role, produce results and contribute to the company’s overall revenue.  The immediate assumption was that a part-timer could not achieve the objectives of this role.

Funny isn’t it, because the most successful financial year on record when I was in my leadership role, I was part-time and nearly half of my workforce were under some type of flexible work arrangement.  These agreements grew loyalty, increased retention and ultimately delivered higher results.

Looking at the flip side, sometimes people returning part-time don’t want to continue at the same level or want the same pressures or responsibility. A good friend of mine who is in a senior marketing role with a global business is going through this right now. In 3 days per week she is still expected to do a full time load plus some and it’s taking a toll. With two small children under the age of 5 and a husband who has an executive role involving lots of travel, she wakes every day at 5am to get herself and the household ready before doing 2-drop offs and getting to work herself.  To keep on top of her workload she often works into the late hours of evening to ensure her contribution, performance and achievements continue at the level that they were when she was full-time. Like many women in similar situations, she doesn’t want her performance to suffer due to fewer hours in the office.  The cost of this is less time with the family, no time for herself and even health consequences due to constantly being rushed and running on adrenalin.  It came to a head this week where she has said enough – we need to reduce the workload or I have to go, as this is not sustainable.  As senior talent she is pegged for a directorship and of course they don’t want to lose her so a compromise is being made.  I think she did the right thing speaking up, but too often part-timers suffer in silence not wanting to appear weak or incapable because “aren’t they lucky” to have a part-time role especially at an executive level.

Until we stop measuring performance and success by job title, status and hours and focus more on contribution, achievements and outcomes, the stigma of part-time will continue to exist. When considering suitable candidates for roles – the focus should be on skills and experience and more importantly competencies and motivational fit because the best candidate for the job just might be part-time.  Let’s lose the negative connotations of part-time and focus on the right person in the right role every time.

“It’s the vibe of the thing”……can you explain your culture?

By | Culture, Leadership, Results

Last week I spoke at a boardroom breakfast to a group of leaders from infrastructure, mining, legal and local government.  The topic was on my blog “technical competence without people skills –  what is it costing you”? I was a little apprehensive prior to the presentation knowing that most of the people in the room were technical experts and here I was about to tell them that they needed to develop their leadership skills!  I shouldn’t have been concerned.  The input, debate and discussion was encouraging.

There was one question that came up about three quarters through my presentation “you’ve spoken a lot about culture today…. what is culture anyway?”.  As a public speaker, there is always a small sense of dread getting a question that you may not have an immediate answer to…. but this one, this one I could talk about for a whole other session!

My immediate response was that culture is the values that guide internal behavior and action within an organisation.  Someone else in the room quoted the movie The Castle saying, “it’s the vibe of the place”, another said, “It is the unspoken expectations of how things are”; another said, “It determines whether you fit it in or not”.  It is such an intangible element, yet the most important aspect of an organisation.  A cohesive work culture is a powerful retention advantage and an organisation that stands by its values in everything it does – action, behavior and consequence is important to staff.

It is the number one question I get asked at interviews about a potential new employer “what’s the culture like?”. This can sometimes be hard to articulate and to describe to a third party – but it is an essential step in winning over a prospective employee.  Why should they leave their current role to join your company? In this day age, it has to be more than the job description and the pay because you can be assured there is a comparable job down the road. Culture is the differentiator – it is the intangible ‘something’ that can get a star candidate across the line.

I had a marketing executive call from Melbourne this week wanting to discuss the Adelaide market and potential opportunities.  He understands that finding a similar level role and remuneration may be difficult, but he is more interested in the right ‘cultural fit’ and returning to his home state.  He will only move if this match is right.  He is representative of a large proportion of the ‘passive’ market that is open to change and opportunities, but still need to be ‘sold’ on culture and an employer’s value proposition.  The problem is that so many companies still can’t successfully articulate this offer.

I know recruiting for myself; it was only when I could confidently communicate the culture at interview stage that my rate of hiring the right people and keeping them skyrocketed.  I didn’t do the big sales pitch – just here it is, warts and all. I learnt what were the two things about our culture that made people thrive and stay and they were also the two things that made people leave. It was not uncommon to get to the end of the interview and agree that it wasn’t the right match for either of us. Better now than later I say.

The same with clients. I was recruiting for the mining industry last year and I had a technically competent candidate who ticked all the boxes in terms of skills and experience.  After an hour and a half, I knew that there wasn’t a cultural match – he was motivated by flexibility and being able to blend his work life with family life.  For this particular organisation and role, the culture required strong achievement drive and a commitment to long hours and travel.  That’s okay of course; it just wasn’t the right fit.

The hardest part for recruiters as well as companies recruiting themselves is to be able to articulate the internal workings and behaviors of the company without being apologetic about it, in an honest and compelling way. Then sticking to it – even when you know it’s a great candidate in front of you, being able to walk away because ultimately you have different values and ways of operating is critical to long term retention.

Not sure how do you articulate your culture? Ask your staff!  They will tell you and usually come up with better descriptions and examples – especially about the unspoken culture.  My first week at Recruitment Solutions back in the late 90’s, I went to head office wearing a pantsuit.  The girls in the Sydney office looked me up and down, took me to lunch and told me that women weren’t allowed to wear pants! What? That wasn’t in the manual! I had been through induction that covered values, behaviours, standards etc, there was nothing about not being able to wear pants! Internal culture – you won’t always find the answers in the training manual.

Remember that in the race to recruit and retain the best and brightest means being able to convey your culture – what is so great about working here? Include this in your recruitment process – at the end of the interview have a 5-minute spiel about culture, expectations and values. Save yourself and the individual a lot of time, money and emotion by getting the culture fit right upfront.

Culture is everything. It is still one of the most important elements to attract (and keep) the best people to your organisation. Get a jump-start on your competition and recognise that at the core of what makes good companies great is a strong organisational culture.

Of course for those that don’t have a great culture…don’t worry about trying to articulate it….perhaps we should get together and discuss how to improve it?

Earth to CEO’s….are you missing the link between talent acquisition & HR process?

By | Leadership, Talent

The balance between utilising internal HR and external recruiters to find the right person for a vacancy is a fine line.  There is a time and place for both in my opinion. The key is having the CEO or Leader take an interest and making talent attraction and acquisition a priority rather than a process.

My first week back for 2012 turned out to be an exercise in frustration purely based on the fact that many leaders aren’t taking the topic of talent and recruitment as a serious priority in their business. I returned full of energy and excitement – specifically around some amazing people in my network who have decided to put their feelers out in the new year.  Not active talent scanning job boards and the paper – individuals who are happy for me, as someone in the game to keep an eye out, to represent them and to make a match. They want a recommendation of an employer of choice – to sell them an opportunity so they aren’t just randomly floating in the market hoping to get it right.

Let’s just remember for a moment that there is a skills shortage.  Top talent is hard to find. The BEST person for your vacancy is more than likely to still be sitting in 90% of the passive market completely unaware your position exists.  Greg Savage, Australia’s recruitment king said last week that it is time to “increase innovation and time on talent acquisition”.  I tend to think many businesses still have their head stuck in the sand running their administrative processes, convinced this will give them the right candidate.  I agree that often these processes will place the job, but will it deliver the very best the market has to offer? I doubt it.

So keeping all this in mind, when I was doing my market research last week, I noticed an opportunity with an organisation, who’s CEO I am connected to on LinkedIn. After reading their requirements, I instantly thought of someone in my talent network working in a similar organisation with the skill set required.  This person is highly motivated, a top performer and is only interested in hearing about real opportunities with organisations that value contributions and support ongoing learning.  He is not an active candidate. He does not read the job advertisements in the paper and he certainly doesn’t scan job sites.  Is he open to a new opportunity? Of course, everyone is available for a change.

I approached the CEO with good intent – to offer him the potential of someone who he won’t find through other methods.  I had a return call from the HR person.  The typical spiel goes “we are running our own process, we aren’t engaging any agencies and will not be accepting resumes from recruiters”.  We’ve all heard it.  So you’re not interested in seeing a high performing candidate who is doing a similar role in a competitor organisation? You’re not open to viewing the details of a candidate who could hit the ground running right now and potentially start delivering results for you in the next 3 months? You want to wait 4 – 6 weeks to run a process with a risk of finding no one of this calibre because “it’s policy”.  Pleeeassssee! Spare me.

This is where I think some leaders have it all wrong.  You don’t need to outsource your entire recruitment process.  If you have capable, forward thinking HR people in your team – great, utilise them, but don’t have tunnel vision that restricts opportunities and potentially the best individuals joining your organisation. There is a balance.  A balance between internal HR and using external consultants who specialise in finding the untapped potential in the market can be a winning combination.  This is the difference between just running a process and being innovative and getting ahead of the game, using all resources, networks, tools and connections to ensure your hire the best person every time.  After all, surely that’s the goal to have the very best people working for you in your organisation?

On the other side of the coin, I know a dynamic entrepreneur 3 years into his business and he is kicking some serious goals.  He is winning contracts here and overseas, hiring some of the best people in the market and has already had several offers from the big boys around town to buy-him out.  What is his approach? Not to palm off the process to HR that’s for sure.  He networks, he is open to opportunities, he speaks, he connects people and the results are he is winning the race for top talent.  He has hired 3 executives in the last 2 months that were not on the market, working for larger competitors and guess what? They weren’t reading advertisements in the paper and they certainly didn’t have seek alerts in their inbox.  He has advocates selling his story, he always makes time for a new introduction and he knows that the right people in the right jobs are the key to his business success.

There is a whole un-tapped market of passive candidates who are open to conversations.  They are open to new opportunities IF asked, IF engaged in a conversation and IF a forward-thinking leader is open to the possibility, without the fear of not sticking to process, standard advertisements and standard recruitment methodologies.  You don’t find passive candidates by your HR department running a standard process.

The next time your phone rings, you get a LinkedIn request or an email recommending someone who is interested in your business – count yourself lucky, be open to the opportunity and for goodness sake clear 20 minutes in your diary to at least consider the possibility. As highlighted by Ross Clennett, the PWC global CEO survey supports my concern by stating that two-thirds of CEOs believing they’re facing a limited supply of skilled candidates, but what action are leaders taking? Make it a priority! After all what could be more important than growing and improving your business through recruiting talented high performers?


Head in the sand or action junkie ….what’s your mantra?

By | Leadership, Performance, Recruitment

I recently read the book “100 Things What’s on Your List” by Sebastian Terry.  I was attracted to the cover initially because I saw the Camp Quality symbol and I have volunteered with Camp Quality in the past and I was intrigued by the concept of having a 100 goals to achieve (plus the good looking Aussie on the front cover didn’t hurt either)! Within a few chapters, I was addicted.  This guy essentially has taken the exact opposite approach to most – at 28 years of age instead of settling down, building a career, buying a house and accumulating assets – he has embarked on a journey of taking action – the where/who/how considerations all thrown out the window, with a commitment to just making things happen.

I’ve always loved and lived by this concept in business – successful people take more action.

So often I hear “you’re so lucky” or “luck plays a huge part in success” and that annoys me.  In my experience, it isn’t luck that allows people to achieve great success and happiness in their lives.  It is their ability to create and commit to doing things (taking action) that allow them to achieve this.  It isn’t by accident that success happens for some and not others.

For example, working in recruitment is a hard job to crack and it is only a rare percentage who become really successful at it.  There is a lot of ups and downs, lots of rejection, lots of being outside your comfort zone and dealing with people, emotions and circumstances outside your control.  Being successful in this industry takes incredible persistence and a strong commitment to action.

Over the years I have seen more fail than succeed and there have been two clearly defining factors – coachability & commitment to action.

One Senior Consultant who worked for me was textbook ‘perfect’ for a Consultant role – she had completed the training with a national recruitment firm, had worked in corporate HR, was degree qualified, was extremely polished in presentation and communication and had the knowledge and experience about the market.  After her first year she billed $250K – a solid performance back in 2005.  I have to say most Recruitment Managers and Consultants would be content with this performance and hope to increase the following year by 10-15%.  To me however, she had all the attributes of being a much higher performing consultant – significantly better than the average.  What was holding her back from being in the top quartile of recruiters?

On closer examination, observation and discussions – we identified that there were a few factors.  She disliked prospecting for new business and felt that clients didn’t want to hear from her (that she was being annoying), her communication lacked a specific agenda (often waffled) and thirdly there wasn’t the burning desire to be or do anymore (where was the benefit?).

Overcoming these areas of improvement required a significant commitment by both of us.  It meant we were going to be treading new ground by pushing her outside her comfort zone where she currently was and it was a nice place to be and was genuinely producing good results.  The sweet spot was finding out what was going to motivate her to push ahead (see previous blog staff mojo….how to plant the seeds of motivation).  The transformation over the course of the next twelve months was amazing. This Consultant truly realised her potential and moved from a competent well performing consultant to a trusted advisor that clients honestly saw as an extension of their business. The financial results followed with her billing $430K the following year – which allowed her to achieve some of her tangible goals, but it was the intangible benefits that she didn’t expect that really inspired her.  Being an expert, mentoring others to achieve similar results, her professional learning and growth, the recognition and delivering better results for her clients.

It was a methodology that I took forward with many Consultants and of course it didn’t produce the same results every time.  However, when those two factors were present – coachability and commitment to action – the results, confidence and satisfaction skyrocketed.

This discovery taught me over the years that most people fall into one of two categories – either you’re a head in the sand person and like to be average or like Sebastian Terry you like to test the limits, take more action and be outside your comfort zone.  This exclusive club of action junkies know the benefits far outweigh the complacency of being mediocre. The challenge of course is making the commitment to action – once you get a taste of what’s possible, you rarely turn back.


successful people take more action


Women in leadership – can we “have it all”?

By | Leadership, Women in Leadership, Work Life Balance

I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader.  She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review.  In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?

Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.

In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.

I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have.  My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker.  I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.

Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.

Quick tips to make it work:

  1. Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail.  The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity.  Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
  2.  Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”.  As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative.  However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people.  Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
  3. Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”.  This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both.  In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
  4. An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved.  Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
  5. Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals.  The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home.  I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.

To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different.  Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.

Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible.  The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.

Weekly meetings like groundhog day? 10 tips to spice them up

By | Leadership, Results

Running an effective one on one meeting with staff is no easy task.  It is a leadership essential that has managers of people second-guessing their importance, relevance and benefit.  I know CEO’s who don’t even do them – leaving it to their direct reports to schedule time in their diaries if there is an ‘issue’ to discuss. Others cancel them on a regular basis, especially at the last minute, discarding their importance.  Then there are the ones who do conduct them weekly – but with no real benefit for either party. It can leave everyone frustrated and wondering what is the point?

I know for me it was a struggle to get in right – when to hold a meeting, what the agenda would be and ultimately what was the purpose.  Over time, I would change them when I felt they weren’t achieving anything significant. I remember moving them to fortnightly sessions. The results were terrible.

I was happy on one hand that I had more ‘time’ and my week wasn’t full of meetings.  However, what essentially happened was I lost touch with details and I just filled my ‘extra’ time with more “stuff” that wasn’t as important as being face to face with my team. I believed I was giving them more time to do their jobs and more responsibility to make results happen, without being a micromanager. What I missed was the golden leadership opportunity to regularly listen, praise, give feedback, share stories and bring people together. The moment I realised this – I reverted back to weekly meetings instantly and the benefits flowed.  Here’s some tips to getting the most out of one on one meetings with your staff:

  1. Weekly agenda – having a regular agenda is critical for consistency and ensuring that both parties are clear on what is going to be discussed.  Ultimately the meeting should focus on the person’s key achievements, outcomes they have produced and the activity and goals in their pipeline. I had it written on the white board in the office so we could follow it along and if we got lost or sidetracked, it gave us a clear structure to revert to.
  2. Purpose – every weekly meeting should be approached with good intent, especially if there are difficult issues to discuss.  As a leader, our role is to bring out the best in people and lift their performance to levels they didn’t even think possible.  This message can only be heard when you approach all discussions with good intent – the intent to help them perform better.
  3. Help – in all one on one meetings there should be an opportunity for the staff member to discuss any issues they feel strongly about, without it becoming a whinge fest.  It can be tricky to manage and it can be tricky to be heard without sounding like a whinger, or weak or a ‘drama queen’.  The truth is there are problems that do require a leader to listen and help you solve. However, most leaders aren’t that good at solving them – often dismissing the concern, brushing it under the carpet and hoping it will go away.  Do this too often and your people will ultimately stop talking to you.
  4. Connect to the vision – in all jobs, sometimes staff members lose their way. They forget the bigger picture of why they are doing what they are doing or how it contributes to the vision and values of the organisation.  A weekly one on one meeting is prime time to demonstrate and invigorate a staff member about their individual contribution.
  5. Commit to action together – the real magic of leadership happens in action.  When you are in the field, with a client, in a negotiation – somewhere where staff members can look up to you and learn one new thing that might enhance their own performance.  In a one on one meeting take the opportunity right then and there to book a client meeting together in the diary, book a time to have lunch together or a 20 minute coaching session for later in the week on an area your staff member is struggling with. Don’t talk about what you should do – just do it.
  6. Inspiration – the most effective one on one meetings are the ones where people walk out inspired to conquer their day, to accomplish a task that perhaps they were dreading or to make a difference somehow with someone.  This is an intangible something that great leaders know how to do – through asking the right questions, praising specific behavior or encouraging them to achieve.  The quick test – ask yourself how you feel when your staff member has left? In my experience, if you feel a bit unsure that the meeting was effective, your staff member probably feels the same way. If you feel happy and that you contributed something insightful – again they probably feel that too.
  7. Just talk – an important element to all relationship building, especially with your employees is the opportunity and interest to talk on a personal level.  This has to be authentic. You can’t fake interest.  All employees want to know their boss is human too and talking about your lives outside of work, is a well-rounding element to strengthen a relationship.
  8. Share a story – your team wants to know that you have been in their shoes.  They want to hear that you too struggled, made a mistake, hated prospecting new clients or simply weren’t perfect.  Sharing these examples will go a long way to earning respect as well as sharing ways to solve problems.
  9. Be present – if you knew the outcome of your meeting could be the difference between missing or making your budget, winning a new client or making someone’s day – would you suddenly sit up and be a bit more interested? My advice – don’t dread the weekly meeting and stop wasting time thinking about what else you have on your agenda that day. Be in the moment to make an impact.
  10. No hidden agendas – there is nothing worse than being in a meeting and knowing that something isn’t quite right.  I am a big believer in honesty about observations and sharing with good intent.  The critical piece is the delivery around how they can perform better at work and what specifically they can start or stop doing to achieve that. It’s not a game – straight conversations are critical to an effective meeting.

What I have learnt is that every employee is different and whilst the agenda gives the guide, the person must drive the tone and style so it works for them. I had one employee who was highly structured – came in all prepared – graphs, figures, pipeline activity right down to the specific questions she wanted to ask.  Then I had another who always wanted to talk about the weekend before getting into the heavy detail of her results.  Both were successful in achieving their goals to perform at a higher level, the difference was in the format and style.

If you are feeling that your meetings are lacking the impact or that you need to change it up a bit, try changing the location.  One of my clients who works in the sporting arena will take a corporate box overlooking the oval to talk to her team, another takes them to their favouriate coffee shop – or do what I did once a month – sit at their desk, in their space, on their territory. It is all about your people after all and the difference they can make to your business by being a high performing employee.

At the end of the day, if you won’t spend an hour a week with your most important asset – your people, perhaps you’re in the wrong job?