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People Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

Underwood Executive takes out 9 medals & named Australia’s Executive Recruiter of The Year 2020

By | Leadership, Performance, Recruitment, Results, Success

At Underwood Executive we are delighted to announce that we have been named Executive Recruiter of the Year 2020 by HRD Magazine for the third year in a row. We have won a total of nine medals in Australia’s Top Recruiter Awards in the following categories:

  • Executive Recruitment – Gold Medal
  • Professional Services– Gold Medal
  • Banking & Financial Services – Gold medal
  • Sales & Marketing – Gold medal
  • Overall Recruiter of the Year – Silver medal
  • Healthcare – Silver medal
  • Human Resources – Silver medal
  • Construction & Engineering – Bronze medal
  • IT, Technology & Digital – Bronze medal

We are very proud to be acknowledged in these national awards. Most importantly, these awards are recognised by our clients and represent the service they receive, the results we generate and the relationships we build. It’s a genuine recognition of these peer relationships we invest in and value in our consulting practice that mirror our own ethos around culture, leadership and high performance. Awards like these are so important to our team, as they give us an opportunity to reflect and celebrate our point of difference and appreciate the impact we are having on businesses, people and their careers.

Now in our ninth year of business, Underwood Executive is consistently dedicated to the executive search market and winning gold in this category is an absolute thrill and a very proud moment for us. In the past 12 months, we have been accredited with the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants), which is an exclusive global industry profession that sets the highest quality standards in executive search and leadership consulting worldwide.

As the only recruitment firm in Adelaide with this membership, it further reinforces our commitment to providing the highest quality standards in executive search and recruitment. The executive search market demands that we become a trusted advisor to our client’s business and we work hard to find them the highest performing talent in the market – talent that they couldn’t otherwise access. We acknowledge the responsibility we have in representing our client’s businesses and how we contribute to their overall success by finding them their most important assets – their people. We are absolutely committed to the fundamental principles of search and are consistently advising our clients on the benefits of this approach – these awards reinforce that our client’s value this approach and the return on investment.

Founder & Managing Director Nicole Underwood says “With dedication, discipline and consistency. The team at UE are united, with team goals, aligned values and a high care factor about what they deliver. We are very clear about who we will and won’t do business with – there has to be an alignment in terms of people, culture and leadership. We choose to work with organisations who are dedicated to getting this formula right. When you know what you stand for, it makes it much easier to say no. From day one, I have held an unwavering dedication to building this business with that mindset; with the discipline to consistently have a ‘high touch’ relationship service with C-suite level decision makers.”

Underwood Executive is an exclusive executive search and talent management consultancy based in Adelaide specialising in sourcing C-suite, leadership and hard to fill positions. Please contact us here.

 

Employees aren’t mind readers – 6 tips for early performance intervention

By | Recruitment, Retention

ic-stock-image-432176378245429887_7392189-300x300A prospective new client told me last week that they may need our services as the person they have recently hired is a “dud” and they may need to let him go. This jolted my curiosity, as after 6 weeks in the role it sounded like they had already made their decision. This must be major. What had he done? Stolen the petty cash, spoken inappropriately to other staff, upset a client, given a false referee?

There were lots of wishy washy comments about him not being ‘strategic’, delivering a report that wasn’t up to standard, he was keeping very much to himself and overall “just not fitting in”. In all honesty, it was a verbal dump – the client was clearly letting off steam and venting frustration because they thought they had hired a star and where was the star performance they expected?

The realist in me kicked in – it’s been 6 weeks! It takes time to learn a new way of doing things. It takes time to get to know people. It takes time to build confidence in a new environment and depending on people’s personalities, it can appear to take even longer. But more than this, it takes a good leader to communicate expectations and give effective feedback.

“So how did he respond when you gave him this feedback?” I enquired, “is he willing to change his behaviour?”. This was received with more woffle and side stepping explaining that he hasn’t had a formal review as yet and what’s the point, we can see that it isn’t working! Agghh! People are not mind readers. People don’t know what you are thinking or feeling, unless you tell him! Bitching and whinging about what you are not getting is not going to change their behaviour or improve their performance. The only chance you have to improve performance is by giving feedback.

In this case, the client appeared resistant to give this feedback, as a lot of people don’t like giving bad news, especially to a new recruit. The flip side of this is actually a worse problem – having to let someone go, telling the team, the impact on morale, the headache of having to re-recruit, the time and emotional investment … the list goes on and on. Instead, having a 20-minute conversation discussing expectations and progress could turn the whole situation around. Imagine feeling clear, delighted and that you are both on the same page after all.

Quick tips for early performance intervention:

  1. Set a regular meeting to review expectations and performance
  2. Give specific examples where behaviour isn’t where you want it to be and be clear about how it needs to look next time
  3. Give specific examples of where things are going well
  4. Ask the employee how they think they are going?
  5. Agree to required actions to review at next meeting
  6. Ask the employee what is their understanding of what is now required (this is a communication check to ensure you have been clear in your expectations)

I rang the client today to see if he needed my services to replace his ‘dud’. Funny thing is that after having a chat, it seems that things are better and he might just work out after all……

Are you worried about someone’s performance? Are you feeling frustrated a leader isn’t delivering to your expectations? Ask yourself, when was the last time you ‘checked in’ and clarified your expectations and gave specific feedback?

 

7 lessons for work-life blend

By | Success, Work Life Balance

worklifeblendLast month I spoke to an executive networking group about work/life balance. I initially felt some resistance towards the topic.

My thoughts went … really? Are we still talking about this? Are people still wanting to figure this out? Yes. Yes they are. It’s nearly always on the agenda with my executive coaching clients who balance the tightrope of working hard and achieving their definitions of success, whilst managing their own time and personal relationships to ensure ‘balance’.

As I reflected on my own journey over the past 15 yeas, I see that the way I manage time and achieve balance has certainly changed as life and priorities change.

In my early 20’s it was all about building a career, driving and working as hard as I could to achieve work success and results. In my late 20’s it was about having a family, whilst managing an executive career and proving that I can have both and in my 30’s it is very much about building a business and lifestyle where I am doing what I enjoy, I like the people I work with and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ – it is an all encompassing approach to work and life. In my view, they aren’t separate. The way of the world isn’t like that anymore with technology and accessibility and for me that’s okay; I embrace it and use it to my advantage to thrive. Everyone’s definition of balance is different and how we achieve it is also going to differ from one person to the next.

Along my journey I’ve learnt that to get to my place of harmony requires a combination of practical techniques, mindset and continual learning and reassessment.

 

  1. I’m Accessible – I don’t believe in black and white rules of turning my phone off or no work on the weekends or not checking emails on holidays. I love what I do; I’m engaged with my clients and love achieving results. So this means I can work anywhere, I can take a call at night or answer my emails when I can’t sleep and that’s okay. Being accessible gives me flexibility and balance at all times.
  1. Be present – when you commit to something – a coffee catch up, a networking event, a meeting, a phone call – whatever it is, being present is something I try really hard to do. I imagine I’m in a bubble and there is nothing else there – that there are no deadlines, no problems or worries. The only thing that matters in that moment is the person I am with and the commitment I have made to myself and them, to show up and be my best self. If you feel yourself struggling in this type of situation, then it is an opportunity to reassess what you are saying yes to and realising that saying no in some situations is going to be a better option to achieve your right blend.
  1. Outsource – for me to achieve a greater blend, I have learnt to outsource or invest in those things that someone can do better, faster or cheaper than me. From a marketing newsletter, to housework, to gardening, to helping with children, to debt collection! Whatever is taking your time, giving you a headache or where you are feeling angst – ask yourself “is there someone else better to do this for me?” Don’t feel guilt – life is too short for that – feel joy in doing something else.
  1. Organisation – it goes without saying I know, but without being organised, achieving successful work life blend is going to be difficult. A ‘to do’ list is my go to tool and it hasn’t let me down yet. Planning in advance, a diary that coordinates personal and business appointments, emailing myself reminders, leaving people voicemails that don’t require that they call me back, ringing my own voicemail while driving if I remember something are all little techniques I use to try and stay one step ahead.
  1. Evaluation & learning – like most things in life, if you want to get better at it, you need to reflect and reevaluate is this working? If not, why not? Change it, try something else, ask what others do, google it, read a book – don’t just accept the way things are. There is always a better way.
  1. Avoid W4W – I first leant about work for work’s sake (W4W) reading Tim Ferris book The 4 Hour Work Week. It is common for a lot of us (yes I’m guilty), to turn to email or social media as a habit – it’s just what you do when you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you can recognise this pattern first and then fill it with another activity to get out of the cycle. Would you believe a lot of our coaching sessions with executives involve them re-discovering hobbies and what gives them joy. I can tell you their answer certainly isn’t Facebook! W4W is an easy trap that can cause you to lose sight of your dreams and where you feel pure joy and happiness.
  1. Self-Responsibility – it is completely up to you as an individual to take responsibility for your work/life blend. That is what it means to you, how you define this success and how you will actually achieve it. You can’t blame your partner, your boss or external factors like where you live, things are too expensive, you don’t earn enough etc. First decide on your definition, realise that it will be different to other people around you and their definition and that’s okay and then get into action. The quickest way to cause any result you want is take responsibility for it right now.

Life is busy. It can be hard at times. But this week I was reminded of Steve Job’s quote that the most important tool he used was to remember that he would be dead soon. This thought alone gave him perspective and helped him make the biggest choices in life. So yes we have demands and juggles, but it’s so crucial to enjoy, don’t take things so seriously and amongst the appointments, meetings, emails and expectations, be inspired and enjoy the present moment with those around you.

Is your job draining your spirit? 4 ways to see the light

By | Career, Recruitment

light“I hate my job”, “My boss is a control freak”, “I don’t feel valued”, “The moment I see my perfect job advertised, I’m out of here”……

The start of a new year can be an emotional time …. There has been the pressure of getting end of year work finished, the obligation and expectation of Christmas and families and then the burden of setting new goals and getting revved up for the year ahead. I find through our coaching practice, that January is actually one of the hardest months of the year for people to get their mojo back and feel inspired to make changes. It is usually easier to have a whinge, stay stuck in a rut and leave things the way they are.

So far, this year has been no different. We’ve had people in tears describing how much they hate their jobs and their boss, the frustration of there being limited opportunities in the market and we’ve heard every excuse under the sun of why this year will be no different!

Let me ask you this – are you unhappy in your job? Did you get emotional at the very thought of going to work today? Or does the concept of working for your boss for another 12 months make you want to crawl under a large boulder? Yes? Okay here’s the good news – you don’t have a problem. You have an opportunity.

You can A. stay and play the victim, continue to not take responsibility for your unfavourable employment situation and continue to bitch and complain to any person willing to listen or B. you can take charge and do something about it.

Step 1:  What’s really wrong?

Get crystal clear on what is really upsetting you. What is it specifically you don’t like? What are three examples in the past month where you haven’t got the outcome you were wanting at work? Did your boss or colleague rob you of an opportunity? Did you encounter a challenging conflict? Were you unsupported or feel like you your values were compromised? Until you can be really specific about the situations where you felt frustrated, angry or helpless, it is going to be difficult to work out a plan of attack.

Step 2:  Are you prepared to do something about it?

In my experience, the difference between successful people and those who just coast through with complacency is action. Successful people are prepared to take action and know the price – being uncomfortable. This week, I said to a coachee who is extremely unhappy in her job – “do you want this situation to change?”. “Of course!”, she pleaded. “But are you prepared to be outside your comfort zone to get there?”. She got clarity that the responsibility is hers and her’s alone and the journey of change is going to be uncomfortable and certainly at times difficult and emotional.

Step 3:  Knowing what it will take

Once you have accepted the challenge and ditched the ‘victim’ mentality, you will need a specific strategy on what you are going to do. Will you give your boss constructive feedback? Are you going to communicate directly and more effectively when you are feeling unhappy or unsupported? Will you brave enough to ask for what you want? Will you put a plan in place to get your desired outcome?

Step 4:  Action junkie

Just do it! Don’t over-think things, don’t make it harder that it needs to be, don’t get bogged down in the “what if’s”. Day in day out, give yourself the permission and commitment to do something about it. Wise words were once given to me that propelled me into action – life is too short to work with dickheads!

You only have one life! If you are consistently having those days where you are unfilled and wondering what you are doing, that you are not learning or growing in your current work situation or you find yourself dreading every interaction with your leader – it’s a sign that things could be better. When you’re brave enough to make that step, you will not only inspire yourself, but others around you to follow your lead and not accept the status quo. Sometimes it’s just time to move on – go on, do something about it, no-one else will do it for you!

 

Starting a new leadership role? 4 ways to gain respect quickly

By | Leadership

SuperKidI was talking to a leader this week about starting in a new role and how they were winning over their new team. It all sounded like it was going to plan until she explained an exercise where her team were all given a task and a deadline.   The outcome was that only 50% of the team completed the task on time and only one person completed the task successfully and on time. What did you do? I asked. “Oh I just moved the deadline and gave them some extra time to complete the task” she said.  Warning! This is dangerous ground for any leader and especially for a new leader. It speaks volumes about the teams understanding (or lack of) accountability and also could be the beginning of the end, in terms of gaining respect for their leader.

Quickly gaining the respect of a new team is critical to leadership success and very few leaders consistently achieve it through an ultimate desire to please, or reverting to management by fear, or by having unclear boundaries and expectations.

To earn respect and create clear accountability a leader needs to:

  1. Communicate clearly – how have you communicated your requests? Verbally, via email, in a group meeting or one on one? Have you been clear about what the task is, what the outcome looks like and the timeframe you expect? Often employees miss deadlines not because they disrespect their manager, but because the manager has not been clear in communicating the task upfront. A good technique here is to “check back” with your staff – ‘what is your understanding of this request?’. Always walk away being clear that you have the same understanding and agreement about the what, why and when.  This way there can be no excuses or misunderstandings when deadlines aren’t met.
  1. Stick to the original plan – like the new leader I mentioned, how many times have you diverted from an original deadline with your team because it’s just easier to do so? You can’t be bothered having the conversation and hearing the excuses about why they haven’t done what they said they would do. Easier right? Wrong! You are actually making it harder for yourself and creating future problems as you are essentially saying ‘don’t worry, ignore my deadlines as I will just give you an extension and it will be okay”. This response will guarantee that your team won’t ever take your deadlines seriously as they know you won’t hold them to account and are ok for things to slide.
  1. Consequences – are your team clear what happens if they do miss a deadline you have set? What are the consequences? Are there any? You are in very dangerous territory in terms of gaining respect and developing accountability if there isn’t any. Do they need to stay back late, do they miss out on the opportunity to be involved, do you lock the door once a meeting starts? I had a client last month who needed a 1 page contribution from every team member for a presentation. She continued to chase, nag and demand from the one team member who missed the deadline and finally got it the night before, which meant she had to stay up late and collate and modify the presentation to ensure it was included. I challenged her – why did you do this? Why didn’t you just leave his contribution out? She stared at me shocked – I couldn’t do that she said. Why not? Then he would be left out – exactly! A consequence! How would that make him feel I asked? She considered this – embarrassed and left out. Sometimes, people need to feel the consequences and cost of their behavior to change and you as the leader need to be strong enough to enforce it.
  1. Coaching – my preference is to coach people ‘up’ to gain the desired behaviour rather than the big stick approach of when something goes wrong. This means taking the time as a leader to address the situation and behaviour i.e.: deadlines being missed or ignored. Sit down with your employee and really explore, with good intent, the HOW they missed the deadline. This can be a very interesting conversation where you will learn where their system of meeting deadlines is actually ineffective. Did they not understand the original request (a communication check for you)? Did they not know what to do? Did they not have the skills or knowledge to complete the request ie: is it a training issue? Or was it that they aren’t using a to do list to prioritise their workload? In my experience, people don’t miss deadlines on purpose. Ultimately people want to perform and do a good job, so it is an opportunity for you as a leader to help improve their performance and lift the bar of their success. A powerful conversation where you both benefit – they gain a new system to help improve their performance and you are the inspiring leader who is assisting them to get there (added benefit for you is no more nagging!).

There is no easy road to gaining respect – you can’t demand it, and you can’t ask for it.  You can only create it through clear communication, discipline and holding people to account.  This does not make you a nag, nor does it mean you are demanding  – you are simply being clear in your expectations and being consistent with what you say  – a true leader. Don’t miss such a valuable opportunity as when you are starting a new role with a new team – get it right from day one and you will create a team of high achieving and engaged employees who know where they stand.

“Leaders get the team they deserve”

Rejected because of your email address …….. the harsh reality of selection criteria

By | Recruitment, Retention, Talent

SelectionIt seems everything I read this month features Ruslan Kogan …… At age 31, a ‘rich lister’ worth more than $300 million. He sparked my interest in a recent Financial Review article and now again as I read the Virgin Australia Voyeur magazine on my way over to the RCSA conference in New Zealand. It seems Kogan and I have a few things in common – we both started businesses at age 23, we believe in recruiting for culture, openly giving people feedback and that you need stringent selection criteria to hire the best people.

Kogan was interviewed by the Fin Review on his “hiring secrets” and what criteria he uses to screen “in” or “out” new innovators into his technology business, where he employs 150 staff.  Now, anyone who has built a successful business like his, I like to think must have learnt a thing or two about hiring ‘A’ players and retaining talent to ensure long-term and sustainable results.

It turns out one of Kogan’s biggest selection criteria is dependent on the email address you use. Yes, your email address! If it is Hotmail and not Gmail, you will get a “no thanks” letter based on that alone. Too harsh? His justification is around the technology his company uses and he wants to attract people who are just as passionate and savvy about technology as they are – which means Gmail’s functionality and speed is superior to Hotmail and as a “technology boffin” you would know this. In a market where we are becoming flooded with responses and he is quoted as saying they get over 250 applications per role, is it no wonder that such criteria is being used? Fair? Maybe not. Efficient? Absolutely. Proven to be a precise assessment? Well that’s debatable. He admits it isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s pretty close.

It got me thinking about the other selection criteria used to “screen down” the volume of applications to roles and you may be surprised to know some of the other criteria that is going on behind the scenes including:

  1. Calling before you apply – anyone who calls prior to applying for a job gets a big tick in my book. It shows me that you are keen, see the process as a two-way street and aren’t just applying for any old job out there. You may want more information to ensure we aren’t wasting each other’s time or you may be opportunistic and get your 5 minutes to make a great first impression. Either way – it takes effort to pick up the phone these days and have a phone conversation vs. flicking off an email and resume.
  1. Initiative – sometimes recruiter’s advertisements don’t reveal who the employer is, which I acknowledge makes it harder to write a specific cover letter saying why you want to work for that company.  Again get creative – call, ask some questions, try and obtain any extra information that is going to allow you to tailor your cover letter and stand out from the crowd.  The generic “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir” will likely see your application automatically in the ‘no’ pile.
  1. Social media presence – there are more and more roles that require you to be a ‘thought leader’ in your field, to be the ‘face’ of the organisation, or to be a successful networker and influencer.  When this criteria is high on the agenda, don’t think it is only your application being reviewed. Google searches, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds and Facebook searches are all being utilised to present a three-dimensional view. If your on-line presence isn’t projecting the level of influence and credibility required for the role, you may be screened out before a face-to-face interview opportunity, over other candidates who do.
  1. No cover letter – if a job advertisement asks for a cover letter and all you do is click ‘apply’ and send your resume, this could be the criteria that knocks you out.  It shows that you aren’t following instructions and potentially tells the hiring company that you aren’t that interested in their specific opportunity, more that you are happy to flick your CV for any role you see advertised and hope for the best.
  1. Motivation – if your cover letter does not clearly articulate why you are passionate about this role and this company and it becomes more a sales statement about how great you are in general, it might be the criteria that tips you over to the “no” edge.  Companies want to see a link and a real connection to their opportunity.
  1. Location – if you are ever applying for a role that is different from your home base or local area, please be clear and address this in your cover letter and email.  Why are you attracted to work in this area? How did you hear about the role? What connection do you have to this location? Will you relocate? It is much better to address this up front rather than letting the hiring manager make up their own mind, which might be an incorrect assumption and one that again lands you in the ‘no’ pile.
  1. Voicemail messages – I have been known to count someone out purely based on their voicemail message. I detest those leave a 10 second message and it will be sent as a text….do they actually work? Will you receive my message accurately? Or the voicemails with the funny music over the top, or the ones that just say “yeh you missed me, leave your number”. All of these examples do not create a great first professional impression and will be considered in the selection process.
  1. Phone manner – the way you answer the phone, the way you hold a conversation and the way you answer particular questions are all factors helping us to assess applications.  The other week, I was screening candidates via the phone and I said to this one person “can you talk freely right now?”, he asked me to hang on and after a minute of silence as he walked out of his open plan area, he then returned to the phone and simply said “shoot!”. This wasn’t exactly the most professional response I was expecting.

It’s a friendly reminder that every step in a selection and recruitment process is a test.  A test to determine long-term suitability and cultural fit for the job role and company.  I don’t believe anyone should apologise for having harsh or restricting criteria to find the best people for their organisation. Decisions need to be made and you don’t always get it right. I am sure some will read Kogan’s approach and think it is unrealistic, but you know what? It doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that he gets his formula right, is consistent in his approach and he knows the best people that fit his organisation and the method to find them. I don’t necessarily agree with all his theories, but I will give him the kudos for knowing how to recruit the best people for his business. That in itself is one of the hardest lessons to learn in any successful business.

 

 

Stop talking! 4 ways to reduce your communication intensity

By | Communication, Leadership

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We are all aware that openness and transparency is on the desirable list for a leader and that employees generally demand even greater communication and honesty in today’s leader.

However………..Are you an over-sharer? Do you talk as you think? Have you got so many thoughts running through your head, that you assume your team must know everything that is going on?

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much when it comes to communication and this of course can be confusing when leaders are constantly told to communicate more often, with greater transparency and in a variety of ways.  Use of social media, targeted emails, company wide communications, tele-conferences, sending a group text, use of company newsletter etc. Aren’t we communicating enough?

I recently conducted some coaching with a leader on the back of some feedback he had received relating to his communication effectiveness.  It turned out he was an over-communicator. Examples included sending emails and demanding action during meetings – where his directive would continue to change through-out the meeting as the emails were ‘pinging’ into inboxes all around the office.  His behaviour would also involve significant verbal communication in the hallway and informal designated ‘catch up’s’ rather than sticking to official one on one meetings.

So what? He likes to communicate – better than no information and a closed-door right?

Here’s the problem. When you over-communicate and overload people with your verbal diarrohea and a barrage of emails, what happens? Your team can feel distracted, micro-managed, overwhelmed, unsure of the direction you want them to take, confused and that you are being authoritarian in your approach. Ultimately, your message is lost – no matter how good your intent.

Here are 4 ways you can positively reduce your communication intensity:

  1. Stop and reflect before you speak – what is it that you want to communicate? Start with your intent or what you want to happen/achieve.  Never leave this to the end of your communication. People will be actively listening when they know what is expected of them upfront and the context of your message.
  1. Delivery – what is the best mode of delivery for this message? Is it verbal? Email? Face to face? Group? If you are giving someone feedback or any piece of communication that could be construed negatively or where the meaning could be misinterpreted, face to face is best. Email is good for instructions or re-confirming deadlines or verbal agreements.
  1. Impact – before you blurt out what is on your mind, consider the other person.  What impact is your message going to have? Consider your delivery – how you are going to say it? You can communicate the same message and meaning without being so direct and blunt that you catch the other person off guard and put them on the defensive.
  1. Pause power – actually pausing, allowing you to take a breath, before you open your mouth, is a real opportunity to get clarity. Maria Shriver said “Sometimes when you pause, you will realise you’re going to have to hold yourself back from acting out on your ego and first impulse”.

I agree that we need honesty in communication – the more transparent we can be, the more we keep things simple and we can learn a lot from ourselves and each other by having these honest conversations.  It’s when our communication is rushed, too frequent and full of loaded emotion that it can become distracting and overwhelming for those around us, especially those who look to us for leadership and direction.

So for the over-communicators out there, I will leave you with this: Consider your message, pause, use delivery with good intent and consider a shorter version in our time-poor lives, as succinctness is the key to more effective communication.

Fear, Lies & Leadership….How to have honest conversations

By | Communication, Leadership

UntitledWouldn’t leadership be easy if you could just have a frank conversation? Just say what you think and not worry too much about the delivery or consequences? Here it is – this is what I think – take it or leave it.

I met with a new business owner this week who reflected on a culture he had created in the early 90’s where candid conversations were the norm – none of this skirting around the issues and constant worry about upsetting people or legal consequences.  He reflected on the types of conversations that he’d had, “James, it’s just not working out. Not for you. Not for me. We can go through performance plans and recording these conversations or we can just agree it isn’t a fit for either of us”. He saw this as refreshing, effortless and talking straight.

This frankness and boldness is not the norm in what I observe in most organisations today.  I see many leaders through our coaching programs avoiding difficult conversations, making them harder than they need to be or avoiding the real issues, so  team members walk away feeling more confused and unsure about what they need to do to keep the boss happy.  The answer? Leaders need to let go of the lies and embrace the fear of having an honest and direct conversation.

I did this today, as I had to tell a candidate they were unsuccessful for a Chief Executive role. I could have said the other candidate had more experience, that you performed well, but you were just pipped at the post. I could have softened the blow to make them feel better and avoid upsetting their feelings. But in this case, it wouldn’t have been honest or direct. And it certainly wouldn’t have helped that person move forward and achieve their career goals. Instead, I told the candidate where they performed well and was straight in explaining it was his limited examples demonstrating strategic thinking and developing teams, which let him down in the process. Yes he was disappointed, but he was thankful for the feedback to improve his interview performance for next time.

In my experience, when leaders think they are being clear, often the team member hears a completely different message. Why? Because the manager is trying to ‘soften’ the blow, rather than being straight. I’m sure you have seen it, tried it or been on the receiving end of it.

If you really care about your people and want them to perform, succeed and grow, you owe it to them to deliver feedback (no matter how difficult) in a straight manner. Most people can handle constructive criticism as long as it is honest, delivered straight and comes from a place of good intent.

Tackling tough conversations is one of the most feared things to deal with by many leaders. At a recent CEO panel interview, we asked a candidate to discuss one of the most difficult negotiations he had been involved in. We didn’t hear about a contract negotiation, a legal dispute or a financial matter – it was the ‘people stuff’ that he admitted to still getting ‘butterflies’ in his stomach when addressing difficult situations. It’s not easy, but these conversations are critical to ensure that you are on the same page and communication is clear and direct.

Quick reminders to deliver honest conversations effectively:

  1. Good intent – you are doing the right thing by an individual to share constructive feedback that will assist them to improve, grow and perform.
  2. Direct communication – be straight and don’t ‘soften’ or confuse your message with more words and dialogue than is necessary. Deliver your message and then stop. Don’t be afraid of the pause.
  3. Avoid personalisation and emotion – this is not about someone’s personality or traits, this is about behaviours.
  4. Be specific – use real and immediate observations, not what you’ve heard second-hand on the grapevine.
  5. Action – what is the behaviour you want to see, or a system put in place, to ensure the desired behaviour is implemented going forward?

One of the greatest things I have learnt as a leader and as a coach is to have open, straight, frank and often difficult conversations face to face. It is never easy when dealing with people and their emotions – but you can really change someone’s experience and perspective in a positive way when you deliver your message succinctly and with good intent.

Be tough on performance, never on the person and don’t hang on to things – openness and honesty is the basis for long-term leadership success.

 

nicoleunderwood pty ltd is an executive search and consulting firm with a holistic approach to talent management. We deliver executive coaching programs where we work one on one with leaders and leadership teams to further improve leadership and communication skills. You can find out more here.

 

Are you ignoring staff issues? 4 ways to get your head out of the sand

By | Communication, Leadership, Performance

ignoreThis week a friend of mine told me he quit his job after being head hunted for a new opportunity (closer to home, more money, leading a bigger team and better long-term career prospects). I was pleased for him and wondered why he didn’t seem that excited.  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “My current boss hasn’t spoken to me for over a week since I resigned”. Sorry? Your boss is ignoring you? Yep. Pretty much since the meeting where he resigned, his boss has been so ‘disappointed’ that he has decided to give him the “silent treatment”.  Not exactly your classic successful leadership technique!

It appears this “bury your head in the sand” technique is not isolated to just this leader either.

In another example, a client was telling me about a problem employee who despite ongoing feedback, remained unreceptive to improving his performance. Interestingly, he had not yet responded to a meeting request from this employee from a week ago, telling me he couldn’t be bothered and that he was over investing any more time and energy in the situation.

Now, I get it. I do. As a leader you can often spend hours coaching, supporting and providing advice to help develop your team members and there are days it can feel like a thankless job.  However, I challenge you to look at your own behaviour. Are you setting the tone? Are you leading by example? Are you perpetuating the undesired behaviour inadvertently?

4 ways to turn it around:

1.    Don’t bury your head in the stand

Like my client, there are many days where as a leader you probably feel like mimicking my 4-year-old by putting your fingers in your ears saying “I can’t hear you …. La la la”. But ignoring something or pretending that a situation with your staff member is going to improve, disappear or fix itself is just plain stupid.

Ignoring what’s happening will never make a situation better. A real leader will address the situation head on, openly discuss the problem (without blame or emotion) and together encourage a solution.

2.    Make a decision – imagine the perfect scenario

When I was frustrated with employee issues it always became worse or the problem was enhanced when I thought about it, talked about it with others, analysed it, worried about it – but things only ever changed or improved when I actually made a decision.

A great way to obtain clarity is to imagine in 3 months time that the person has improved and the performance problem is solved – how does it make you feel? Positive? Then you can commit to moving things in the right direction. Can’t image that situation or it still feels ‘off’? Chances are you have a cultural mis-alignment and even if the performance improves, this person is not the right match for you and your team.

3.    Manage the performance up or out  

Once you have committed to addressing the problem head on, it’s time for the conversation where you discuss where the employee’s current level of performance is and where you would like it to be.  This discussion should highlight several areas as to where the employee needs to improve and the action steps they are going to take to develop. Ultimately, this should result in someone stepping up or off – either way; it’s a better result than the current situation of non-performance.

4.    Communicate with good intent

To give the employee (and you) the best chance of success, you need to operate and speak with good intent. You can’t fake this. Be authentic. Demonstrate  that you want to see this person succeed in their role and that you are here to support them in reaching the desired behaviours/objectives.  This means showing strong belief and using positive language in your conversations.

Don’t forget as the leader, you are always on show and every interaction – positive, negative or otherwise is being observed and often recreated somewhere else in the business. If you are not feeling “in the zone” or you can’t project the vibe you want to create – best to take some time out, close the door or reschedule that team meeting – people can spot a fake a mile away! Whether you like it or not – the leader sets the tone.

 

 

 

 

2 years, 10 reflections….what I’ve learnt from striking out on my own

By | Business, Leadership, Results

 

8403f4cd7065ebac2b1e75374500b3e2This month I reached the 2-year milestone of running my own business. The day came and went with a team lunch, congratulatory messages and thoughts of wow that went fast. Other than that, it was a normal day and business as usual.

I was made to reflect on this achievement this week when I interviewed an executive who is at a crossroad.  He is deciding between pursuing a leadership career path to CEO or to continue as a sought after expert in the management consulting space.  I made a suggestion of a third choice “you could build your own business empire” and he laughed and said “I respect people who put their own homes on the line to build a business – but that’s not for me!” It hit me in that moment; I was included in that reference. I made that decision 2 years ago to back myself with a vision of creating something great. That optimism in my DNA kicked in and I never considered that it wouldn’t be a success or the depth of risk, if it went pear-shaped. This is not egotistical. It’s encompassed belief, capitalising on opportunities and a desire to make a difference.

Before you jump and put it “all on the line”, here’s 10 things I’ve learnt from taking the leap 2 years ago:

1. It’s up to you – I find being in control and 100% accountable for direction and results thrilling and motivating, but understand that this sort of risk and accountability might scare the bejesus out of you. There is no regular monthly pay, or leave provisions, if you like being the master of your destiny; you can put a tick here.

2. Do what you love – waking up excited about what the day may hold, who I’ll met and be inspired by is a rare commodity for the majority of the population (I know through many interviews!).  You want to be sure that you are dedicating your energy to something you know you are passionate about. You can’t fake a love for what you do.

3. Conservative growth – I read an article in the first month of being on my own that said entrepreneurs should not hire any staff in the first 12 months – only when you are desperate for more hands. I was tempted many times – but only hired my first team member 6 months ago.  The benefit was getting my hands dirty in every aspect of the business, defining the business strategy, knowing the pipeline was full and having clarity about who I wanted to work with day in and day out.

4. Vision – I didn’t take the plunge of starting my own business for a long time because I could not get crystal clear on the vision of what I wanted the business to look like. Let a vision evolve, just start doing because being in action allows the cream to come to the top. Sometimes it’s okay to not know all the details (take note control freaks!).

5. Culture – in my experience, culture drives everything in a business. The type of people who work with you, the type of clients you attract, the business decisions you make and the behaviours you demonstrate.  Know your own values – do a personality profile and don’t try and be something you’re not.

6. Clients – without them, I don’t have a business.  I make developing my connections and relationships a priority. I know at the core, these relationships are everything.  If you don’t have the discipline to “walk the walk” as well as converse with people, building a business is going to be incredibly difficult. In 2 years, it gives me a buzz to be working with some exciting, innovative and generous business people who are like-minded in the quest for finding and keeping executive talent.

7. External support – I was able to identify fairly early on that I wasn’t able to do everything on my own.  Outsourcing, asking for help and paying for expertise has been a great investment.  I have learnt many business lessons from listening to others – ongoing learning is an essential success ingredient.

8. Brand – you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do need to stand out from the crowd. I met a brand expert recently who told me that your brand could only be world-class in one of three areas – excellence, reliability or innovation. Having this focus means your brand brings something others don’t and then you have to leverage that. The past 2 years I have consistently been told our brand is authentic, relationship focused and progressive.

9. Be healthy! When you run your own business, there is no calling in sick and asking someone else to cover for you. Being top of your game and staying healthy across all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally is critical to staying optimistic in the tough moments!

10. Reward & enjoyment – no point waiting for a rainy day to enjoy the business success – whether that’s an indulgent purchase, time out or just doing the things you love most.  A very clever friend of mine said “pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success and it is essential to do things that make you feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.” I’m slowly learning to embrace this!

Since leaving my corporate role 2 years ago, I have consistently been told “you’ll build an empire again”, “it’s who you are”, “it’s in your blood”. I wasn’t so sure, but I can say it’s been a ride and the best is yet to come. I feel like I’m only half way up the mountain and I’m keen to see the view from the top.