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  1. Why you should take stock of your transferable skills

    October 18, 2016 by Alison Hill

    It was heartbreaking to read about the despair some workers felt when car makers closed down their factories earlier this month. Workers were on average 50 years old, had spent 20 years working for one company, and felt they did not have the skills to find work elsewhere.

    While it is true that manufacturing in Australia is in decline, everybody has transferable skills – those that are developed across the lifespan in both work and non-work settings. Being able to use those skills in a different setting can open up a host of job opportunities, but first you must identify them and value them as much as a prospective employer might.

    You definitely have transferable skills

    Doing any job involves many skills over and above those required to accomplish core tasks, and some skills are useful in almost every job.  Skills are different to attributes, and the good news is that you can learn and develop them. You may have acquired transferable skills by participating in the health and safety committee in your office, or by being a member of a social committee. Putting on a great Christmas party, for example, could help you into a career in events if you are able to connect the skills you learnt to an employer’s requirements.

    Outside of work, you may have played a sport, or belonged to a school or community organisation, or be involved in a hobby. These will have given you transferable skills that you can bring to the workplace in a new role. Anybody who has kids will know that being a parent teaches many skills, such as patience, perseverance, and negotiation, to name just three. A parent returning to the workforce can name these skills to increase their likelihood of success.

    Some things you might have learnt to do, such as fixing a computer or coding your own website, are technical skills, while others are ‘soft’ skills that will always be in demand, like the ability to communicate well, delegate tasks or resolve conflicts. Whether you have learnt these on the job in another workplace or in your non-working life, they are valuable skills that will give you the edge in any job application.

    Why transferable skills matter

    Your set of transferable skills will help you in different ways at different points in your career. When you are starting out, your time as netball captain or bass player in a band can show your prospective employer that you have good team skills and can co-operate with others. Your part-time job in a supermarket demonstrates that you know about customer service, and even the hours spent playing DOTA will have taught you about teamwork and cooperation.

    For those who are looking to change careers, transferable skills are crucial. Being able to research and analyse, for example, transfers well from an academic job to a range of roles in a commercial enterprise.

    Anybody re-entering the workforce after a break will need to call on their transferable skills as many occupation-based skills will have become obsolete. Even if all the organisation’s billing is now automated or outsourced, the ability to work magic with a spreadsheet still has a range of applications.

    What are your transferable skills?

    Take some time to make a list of your transferable skills and how they can be helpful to you in your future career. Do you know a second or a third language? That can be a huge advantage in today’s globalised workplace. Are you a writer in your spare time? Or are you really good at setting goals and motivating people in your running group?

    Once you have listed them, think about how you can use them. It may be to help you write a good resume, or to identify career opportunities you hadn’t considered. Your list might reveal gaps in your skills that you could address with a short course or on-the-job training.

    When you are applying for a job, the position description will contain a list of the skills the employer is looking for. Match your transferable skills to the requirements of the position, with a specific example. If, for instance, you co-ordinated the fete at your child’s school and you are applying for a role involving project management, link the skills you used to run the event with the requirements to be able to lead a team, communicate and manage risk. Use your cover letter to explain how your transferable skills match the requirements of the job description.

    Here are some of the most in-demand transferable skills. How many do you have?

    Interpersonal skills: relate well to others • motivates others • good at resolving conflict • team player

    Organisational skills: setting and meeting goals • time management • following up • meeting deadlines • planning

    Leadership skills: team building • delegating • innovative • motivating • decision-making • strategic thinking

    Communication skills: presentation • simplifying • writing and editing • persuading • teaching

    You can work at the skills you have and learn new ones, either by informal learning in your free time or with a mentor, or by enrolling in short courses, webinars and workplace learning programs.

    Managers can support their teams by encouraging and sponsoring members to take courses in areas that will both add to their transferable skills and make them more effective team members.

    Document what you learn and how it might transfer into a different role than the one you have now. And be ready to use your transferable skills in a new setting when the time is right.

  2. Why our efforts to tackle workplace bullying are failing (and how we can do better)

    October 11, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Almost half of Australians will be bullied at work, and our attempts to deal with workplace bullying are failing. That is the finding of research conduced by the University of Wollongong for mental health charity beyondblue. Beyondblue’s CEO, Georgie Harman, explains that the tendency for  organisations to target the individuals involved in bullying, rather than the organisation as a whole, as perpetuating the problem.

    ‘Strategies and policies tend to target individuals, including the perpetrator and the victim, not the organisation that allows the bullying to occur,’ Harman told the ABC. ‘We need to be targeting the organisations where there is a culture of bullying and empowering employees through communication.’

    Bullying most frequently happens in the early stages of a person’s career, and young males are most likely to be victims, the research found. This correlates with the weekend’s revelations that young male police officers from Newtown police station have alleged to the NSW Civil and Administrative Review Tribunal and the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board that they have been bullied and singled out for drug testing because they are gay.

    Not only is discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, race, religion, political views, disability, family responsibilities and other grounds illegal, the Productivity Commission found in 2010 that workplace bullying costs organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.

    Tackling workplace bullying at an organisational level is challenging. A recently published book, Workplace Bullying by Vice President of the Fair Work Commission Joseph Catanzariti and clinical psychologist Keryl Egan (LexisNexis 2015) sets out the legal and psychological consequences of bullying and will help those who are dealing with education, identification and risk management in relation to bullying at work. The authors state that ‘Only those leaders that are committed to dealing with workplace bullying will be able to effect the cultural change required in the workplace to effectively combat workplace bullying.’

    After defining what constitutes bullying, and what does not, the book looks at the legal and risk aspects, including work health and safety laws and criminal and anti-discrimination laws. There is an extensive section on the Fair Work Act 2009.  Since 2014, workers have been able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for orders to stop workplace bullying. Catanzariti and Egan outline the legal arguments and the process, including explaining the ‘reasonable management action’ exception, by which managers can allocate work and give feedback on poor performance in a ‘reasonable manner that takes into account the circumstances of the case and do not leave the individual feeling (for example) victimised or humiliated.’

    The psychological explanations of bullying and the descriptions of the mechanisms bullies use are fascinating. The book argues that despite our diversity, we have a ‘shared understanding about what it is to be human and how relationships and society work’, and when people are bullied, their core sense of self is weakened at its deepest level.

    The chapter on intervention and prevention begins by stating that ‘Managing the risk of psychological injury requires a strategic decision to invest in the corporate culture with the ultimate aim of maintaining employee engagement, reducing staff turnover and preserving the reputation of the organisation as an employer of choice. Bullying is increasingly recognised as a threat to business that now approaches epidemic proportions globally.’

    The book includes an extensive reading list, a detailed description of the role of the Fair Work Commission and possible outcomes of proceedings brought before it, relevant extracts from the legislation and forms. A list of resources for the prevention of bullying will be extremely useful for hiring mangers and HR departments. It includes assessment tools, development tools, and resources to help develop communication and influencing skills. An extensive index makes it easy to find information.

    The authors express the hope that the next edition of the book will be different as workplaces improve their ability to deal with bullying. It is certainly in the best interests of companies and their workers to do so.

    The book is available in ebook format and in hard copy from LexisNexis.

  3. Learn and grow during Mental Health Month in October

    October 4, 2016 by Alison Hill

    October is Mental Health Month. Even if you are not one of the approximately 45% of Australians who will suffer from a mental health problem at some stage, you are bound to know somebody who does – very likely including a colleague.

    Work is becoming ever more complex and demanding. The scope, scale and speed of businesses is constantly accelerating, as and IBM study in late 2015 found. Over 5000 executives in 70 countries reported that work was always busy, and at times frenetic, and related this to technological disruption and radically different business models as business becomes more competitive.

    It’s no wonder that the World Health Organization describes stress as the ‘global health epidemic of the 21st century.’ Three-quarters of us report feeling moderately to highly stressed by work, according to a Global Corporate Challenge survey of over 4,500 companies, and 36% of employees said they felt ‘highly or extremely stressed at work’.

    Mental Health Month is the ideal time for organisations to focus attention on this problem. Talking about mental health issues is a great way to start, so if your organisation has not put it on the agenda, make this the month you do so. It’s proven to lower health care costs, absenteeism and turnover, and leads to higher productivity. PwC research in 2014 calculated that programs that fostered resilience and a mentally healthy workplace returned $2.30 for every dollar spent.

    Mental health organisation Wellness at Work is offering an online program, which they describe as ‘an easy and inexpensive way for people to build the fundamental skills for facing mental health challenges at work, without needing to disclose their challenges to anyone at work if they don’t wish to.’ The program runs all month, with both paid and free options for participating.

    Here’s a taste of what the program has to offer.

    How to move from functioning to flourishing at work & in life

    Positive psychology expert Michelle McQuaid  presents this talk about how a growing body of evidence is finding that there are small, practical, excuse-proof steps you can take to improve your chances of consistently flourishing.

    Managing work intensity – how to maintain your wellbeing in a fast-paced workplace

    This one acknowledges that work can become too busy and too intense. Psychologist Nicole Plotkin will share some simple strategies for staying calm, managing your stress and keeping a clear head – even when there’s chaos all around you.

    This one looks like a winner: Difficult people made easy: how to handle challenging interpersonal situations at work.

    Hear Eleanor Shakiba, author of Difficult People Made Easy explain three simple tools for handling toxic team dynamics, challenging customer behaviours or emotionally fraught conversations.

    Psychologist, bullying expert, author and speaker Evelyn Field OAM  talks about Understanding workplace bullying… and how to deal with it. Hear why it occurs, the damage it causes to employees and organisations, and what employees, managers and organisations can do to prevent bullying and manage it respectfully when it occurs.

    Also from Wellness at Work is How to build resilience to job burnout. Adele Sinclair explains that burnout is a distinct condition, different to stress and exhaustion. In this talk, Adele will share what she has learned from her own multiple experiences of job burnout and how you can protect yourself from having similar experiences.

    See the full program at

    Of course there are many ways to learn and grow your awareness of mental health issues at work. There are many websites, books and apps that can help with stress, particularly those that present structured approaches to mindfulness.  Read Fully Present: The Art, Science and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston, or Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Danny Penman and Mark Williams. Useful apps include Headspace and Simple Habit. Find more on the Dummies website.

    The challenge is to go further than this, argues Carlo Caponecchia, Senior Lecturer in the School of Aviation at UNSW. He writes on The Conversation that ‘Workplaces need to move beyond promoting mental health awareness and start changing the way work is designed to prevent psychological harm… By all means raise awareness, support people, and show them where to get further help. But re-design a policy, consult about new supervision practices, challenge a long-held cultural belief, and maybe everyone’s mental health at work will improve just a little.’


  4. Measuring the quality of a hire: key metrics for hiring managers

    September 27, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Hiring is one of the most important thing team leaders do, yet few are trained and experienced in the hiring process. A good HR department will educate hiring managers about he importance of their role in the process and show them how to work together to recruit and retain the best people.

    Once a new hire is up and running, HR will ask the hiring manger to help assess the success of a new hire. It’s easy to know when you have hired the wrong person, but how to you know when you’ve hired the right one? And overall, how do you measure whether a hire is ‘successful’ or not?

    Clearly, it takes more than answering, ‘Is this position filled?’

    Hiring mangers must use the right recruiting metrics to understand where the process is succeeding and falling short. There are several measurements that can be used. The first step is for the organisation to agree what to measure.  Most often, performance and quality of hire are measured at six months and at 12 months from the time the person starts in the position.

    Here are some of the metrics you might be asked to use.

    Time to hire

    This is a measurement of how long it takes from the time a vacancy is advertised to the time the successful candidate starts – not acceptance of the offer, but until they are installed at their new desk. Companies with strong processes have faster hiring times than those who do not.

    Why it matters:
    As well as negatively impacting your productivity and revenue generation and possibly annoying your customers,  your competition will snap up great candidates if you are not prepared to move fast.

    Cost of hire

    Some costs, such as recruiters’ fees and advertising, are obvious and straightforward, but others are easily overlooked. How much time did the hiring manager take to interview candidates? Did they spend time in negotiation? Did they spend time on social media accounts in relation to the hire? Were there travel costs?

    Why it matters:
    Knowing the cost per hire helps to ensure that the organisation’s recruitment processes are feasible and match those of others in your industry, location and size of business.

    Retention rate

    How long do people stay at your organisation and in your team? The costs are not only those associated with the expenses associated with hiring a new person, but include loss of productivity when a person resigns or a position is open, and the costs of rehiring and retraining.

    Why it matters: The cost of replacing somebody is estimated at anywhere between 30 and 400 per cent of annual salary, so making sure you hire people who stick around is really important to the business and to your team.

    Time to productivity

    How long did it take the new hire to to get up to speed and be fully productive? How did this compare to their peers and to the person who had the role before them? Did they reach their performance targets within a reasonable time?

    Why it matters:
    Clearly there are financial and revenue implications, but this measure matters to the whole team and may reflect on the hiring manager too.

    Offer: acceptance ratio

    How many offers did you have to make before you filled the role? If the candidates you choose are not ultimately coming on board, you may have a problem. They might perceive that the organisation does not meets their expectations, or a competitor may have made a more attractive offer. Track where you lose candidates and find ways to improve those areas.

    Why it matters:
    If a candidate turns down your offer, you will have to begin the process again or choose a less preferred candidate.

    Engagement and satisfaction

    Is the hiring manager satisfied with the new hire at 6 moths and at 12 months? Did the new hire have a good experience of the recruitment process? Are they happy in their role?

    Why it matters:
    Measuring engagement and performance helps not only the new employee, it also lets you make improvements to your processes as needed. None of the other things you measure will be completely effective if your new hires are not satisfied with their experience.

    There are a number of other ways to measure hiring success and all the data that is gathered from them is helpful in different ways. The important thing is to use them to improve processes by translating the measurements into strategies for action to improve the quality of your hires and make the most of your resources.



  5. Happiness at work – ideas for spreading some love

    September 20, 2016 by Alison Hill

    What makes the difference between an okay workplace and a great one? Often, it’s the cumulative effect of small things that have a big impact on the happiness of your people.

    There are the tried and tested features, such as a culture that fosters learning and development, generous benefits and a comfortable and well-equipped work space, and then there are the less tangible things that make us feel good about checking in every morning.

    You can make your office happy and spread the love a little too with a bit of thought and planning. Here are some simple ways to create a happy workplace and make the world a little better at the same time.

    Good eats

    Collaboration and teamwork benefit when there is a space set aside for relaxed working and conversation. Make it comfortable by filling it with good things that also do good.

    Most organisations would come to a standstill without the coffee machine.  Switching to a Fairtrade supplier will make sure that your beans are from source where farmers are paid fairly. And with coffee now the second-most traded commodity in the world, it makes a difference to many families in less fortunate parts of the world. Buying Fairtrade coffee is a good start and you can find plenty of suppliers at the Fairtrade website.

    You can have your biscuit from Aussie Biscuits  and help support House with No Steps, an organisation that creates employment opportunities for people with a disability and bakes superb choc chip, macadamia and Anzac biscuits

    When next you cater for an event, think about using the services of a catering company that employs new migrants and refugees in the community. Not only will you be helping people to find work, learn English and overcome isolation, you will also discover some pretty delicious cuisines from around the world. In Sydney, try Mazi Mas or Parliament on King and from 2017, ASRC catering in Sydney. This not-for-profit social enterprise of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has been running successfully in Melbourne for years.

    The bottom line

    Even office supplies as mundane as toilet paper, tissues and paper towel can do good. Social enterprise Who Gives a Crap will deliver high-quality environmentally friendly products to your office and donate half the profits to Water Aid to build toilets for those in need. They will also make you laugh with their special brand of toilet humour. Their ‘Roll model’ range is specifically for businesses.

    Who Gives a Crap use parcel delivery service Sendle  to deliver your paper. They are a cost-effective alternative to post and couriers and are Australia’s first carbon neutral delivery service. You could try them for your day-to-day deliveries.

    Create your own goodness

    Little street libraries are springing up everywhere, and the office is a great place to start one. Participants can donate favourite books, which are then shared without being checked in or out.  You simply borrow the book and bring it back when you’re done. Not only does this make for more interesting commute time, it also builds friendships  and trust as conversations happen around the library. A word of warning, though: try to set some rules and expectations around the type and condition of books that are okay so that it doesn’t become a dumping ground for books that have failed the remainder bin test.

    A friend told me about a great initiative at their office – the happiness jar. It stands in the kitchen, with paper and a pen for staff write their messages for colleagues to and staff are encouraged to anonymously thank or congratulate a colleague who has gone above and beyond for the team. They are read out at a monthly celebration and have done a lot to boost people’s sense of being appreciated. The fact that they are anonymous and given by peers adds to their impact.

    These are just a few ideas, and you can no doubt come up with those that suit the size, structure and organisational culture of your workplace. Leaders have a huge influence on the way corporate culture evolves. Strong leaders use their position to model values and set expectations for how things are done in your organisation. Why not choose a way that benefits others too? You have the power to influence your organisation’s culture for the better.

    We would love to hear from you if your workplace has great ideas that benefit the community. Share your ideas for happy offices with us.

  6. Hiring new talent? Here’s how to spot a potential leader

    September 13, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Having a strong leadership pipeline is a sensible strategy for any organisation. Identifying, nurturing and retaining high potential employees at the start of their careers is a strategy that pays off handsomely.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to hire an enthusiastic young gun with the skills you need now, and then have them move up the ladder with your organisation? Ideally, you would spot a candidate with high leadership potential and then nurture them, helping them to grow into the leader whose aptitude you so astutely spotted way back. The long-term health of an organisation is much better when hiring managers can identify those with the potential to grow into a leadership role and excel at it.

    The problem is, it can be difficult to know what skills will be needed next month, let alone further into the future. As Daniel Goleman has written, ‘the only certainty about tomorrow’s business reality is that it will be ‘VUCA’: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.’ Technological change, globalisation, economic uncertainty, demographic shifts and an increasingly data-driven business environment mean that we are less likely than ever to be able to predict the future of any industry, let alone our individual businesses.

    With the help of the right recruitment tools, your organisation can identify people who have the right skills for the role and the organisation right now, and the ability to master new skills that may be needed later. Critically, you can also learn to spot the right attitudes and behaviours that identify a new hire as a potential leader.

    These are the personal characteristics to be on the look out for when you interview future leaders and when you decide what personality assessments to use in your hiring process.

    Social and emotional intelligence

    People with high social and emotional intelligence understand both themselves and others and how to manage emotions in each. They make others feel valued and can motivate them with their enthusiasm and positive attitude. They are consistent in their actions, able to show empathy and compassion, are honest and always act ethically and responsibly.

    Motivation and a degree of selflessness

    Potential leaders can inspire those around them to be their best selves. They are not egotistical or driven by self-interest, but by a genuine desire to inspire others to do their best. They know that their success always depends on the willing co-operation of others.

    Openness to feedback new experience and information, learning

    Potential leaders are curious about themselves as well as the world around them. They ask good questions and listen carefully to the answers. They look for feedback from others and learn from it and from their mistakes. They understand collaboration and can identify strengths in others that will contribute to great outcomes.


    Willingness to work towards difficult goals without giving up when things are tough, resilience to continue in the face of setbacks an to learn from failure are hallmarks of good leaders. Those with high leadership potential are able to motivate others and to keep going even when times are tough. They enjoy challenging both themselves and those around them.

    The precise mix of characteristics and how they combine with hard skills will be different for each organisation. Identifying what you need now and into the future is a complex tasks. Challenge Consulting’s suite of psychometric tests can help you to identify potential leaders to match your needs now and into the future.

    Contact Challenge’s People Solutions Team on or (02) 9221 6422.

  7. Why hot-desking is not so hot

    September 6, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Some years back, a friend who worked as team leader at one of the big consulting firms told me she had to get to work early the next morning to grab the desk she wanted. Hot-desking – regularly moving from one workstation to another instead of a dedicated desk space – had gone mainstream. It seemed like a great idea: she got the desk with a view in a quiet corner, met a range of diverse people each day and broke down some manager-worker hierarchies.

    It turns out that she hated hot-desking – and she’s by no means alone. According to recent research by organisational psychologist Dr Rachel Morrison, so do most workers. Dr Morrison, of Auckland University of Technology, asked a range of Australian workers about their experience of hot-desking. The answers surprised her. Many were quite the opposite of what the researchers expected to find.

    Rather than building more friendships and increasing collaboration and teamwork, relationships were worse. The study asked people about the demands they experienced in a shared environment (the study also covered open-plan offices). ‘We were expecting to find that people would accrue resources and perhaps make better friends and have increased supervisor support, but what we found actually was that hot-desking and open plan environments created worse quality friendships and lower supervisor support evaluations’, Morrison told ABC Radio National.

    ‘When people are feeling distracted or experiencing a lack of privacy and not enough social distance, they are responding by withdrawing, so they are trying to create their own social distance by not engaging in a friendly manner with their colleagues, by keeping their conversations quite curt, using headphones’. These are not behaviours that usually lead positive relationships. ‘There is less co-operation, less collegial behaviour when people are feeling stressed by the work environment’, says Morrison.

    Hot-desking means we are not able to personalise our working space. ‘Being able to do so fulfils some quite fundamental human need to make a space your own and feel at home there,’ explains Morrison.

    However, despite the disadvantages, the trend continues, and Morrison doesn’t see it changing any time soon. ‘It makes financial sense to be able to use space flexibly. Real estate and office space are a really expensive resource for a lot of organisations, so any time you can save money and use the same space several times in a day or for several people when people aren’t there all the time it does certainly save on cost.’

    So if you are hot-desking in an open-plan office and feeling irritable and unsociable, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for dealing with this modern workplace reality.

    1. Create activity-based workspaces

    Rather than devoting the entire office space to hot-desking, create different spaces for different purposes. Make a quiet space for quiet work, breakout rooms for team meetings and dedicated places for small group conversations and co-working sessions. One company has small, private ‘call rooms’ with a desk, lamp and whiteboard for quiet work and phone calls.

    1. Create ‘I’m busy’ and ‘I’m available’ signals in the workplace

    These could be actual physical signs for each work station, or a shared understanding of signals such as that wearing headphones means do not disturb. This is easy to do and you need not even be listening to anything on your noise-cancelling headphones for others to get the message.

    1. Use a mixture of fixed workstations, hot desks and working remotely

    Those who are in the office five days a week for most of the day get a fixed space; those who work two or three days, or who spend significant time away from the office, use hot-desking. Have a policy that those who need to get work done that needs a significant stretch of time requiring focused attention can work from home for most of the day or part of the week, depending on the length of the project.

    1. Communicate

    Some honest, polite discussion with your neighbours about noise levels or interruptions may be all it takes to keep the open-plan office working. Rather than moaning about them behind their back, have a conversation about what each of you needs. It may lead to exactly the creative shared solution that hot-desking and the open-plan office were designed to achieve.

    So what is the future of hot-desking?

    ‘There are good reasons to have activity-based workspaces’, Morrison concedes, ‘for example, places where people can go to do particular types of work like collaborative work or work that involves high levels of cooperation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to work closely with others.’

    Morrison’s research found that where people are working closely with others in order to do their jobs, all of the negative impacts of hot-desking and open-plan working disappeared. ‘It was when people were working closely beside others but not with them that it became an issue’, she explains.

    ‘Thoughtfully designed offices that include hot-desking but that also include other breakout places or the ability to book a room when you do need privacy is a good way of having the advantage of both. That will probably be the move that organisations will have to make in the future.’

  8. Why a structured learning program wins when preparing leaders for the next level

    August 30, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Leaders at all levels can be daunted by the thought of moving from their present level to the next rung of the leadership level. Whether they are going to be leading a team for the first time, making the transition to mid-level management, or stepping up to lead a business unit, transitioning leaders can easily feel overwhelmed by the challenges they face.

    Structured programs that address development needs at each level are the best way to address this. A leadership transition program includes hands-on learning, coaching and formal learning. Surprisingly, only 37% of organisations have a structured program to ensure smooth leadership transitions, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2051 by DDI and The Conference Board.

    As well as increasing engagement and retention and improving the quality of future and current leaders, structured transition programs across all levels of the leadership ladder have a very significant effect on financial performance. The study found that companies with a leadership transition program performed 13% better than average.

    We’ve taken a look at what helps to smooth the leadership transition. Some key findings are:

    • Learning to lead must be handled differently for each level. First-level leaders, mid-level leaders and senior-level each require a unique approach.
    • Hands-on learning in the workplace through setting tough challenges, with plenty of face-to-face contact, is preferred by 90% of transitioning leaders over technology-based and online learning, whether it is instructor lead or self-directed.

    What does this mean for organisations that are developing structured first-level leadership programs?

    Those who are going to lead teams for the first time do best when their leadership transition program involves three key elements:

    • Developmental assignments
    • Formal training
    • Coaching

    Developmental assignments are rated as the most effective method of growing new leaders. This involves the first-level leader taking on challenges such as handling new or different responsibilities, starting a new project or making strategic changes to an existing one,

    Formal training in the hard skills and process capabilities, such monitoring, target setting and applying incentives is absolutely essential.  Mastering hard skills, whether through academic study or workplace learning,  is the most important factor in performance, according to the Study of Australian Leadership. As they put it, ‘Workplaces with better fundamental management systems and practices experience improved workplace performance and employee outcomes, above and beyond other leadership factors.’

    Many institutions offer great courses in leadership, from managing staff in a small business to MBA-level learning in developing to senior management roles. Take a look at the AIM website for a wide range of leadership training options for each level, or Kaplan Professional’s aspiring and emerging leaders’ courses. There are plenty more too.

    Coaching from the current manager is another effective way that first-level leaders learn, according to respondents in the Global Leadership Forecast, with coaching by others in the organisation and coaching from external coaches seen as less relevant at this level.

    Identifying those with the potential to be leaders is vital. They can be identified using objective measures, such as those offered by Psychometric assessment team at Challenge People Services.

    Identifying readiness to step up to a new level of responsibility is important as well, and is not the same as identifying potential. Simulations that present challenges that the high-potential might face in their new role give organisations the opportunity to measure whether they might be able to meet the demands of the new role within a shortened period of time.

    Developing leaders at every level who are capable of taking the organisation on the strategic journey it has identified is at the core of business success. We have looked at what works best for first-level leaders: developmental assignments, formal learning and coaching. Future posts will look at what works for mid-level and senior-level leaders.

  9. What Australia needs to do better

    August 23, 2016 by Alison Hill

    The Olympics are over, and Australia didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. The post-mortem has begun and the leadership is being blamed. Chef de mission Kitty Chiller was too controlling, had ‘muddled team ideals’ and made policy on the run, says the Guardian. Former head swim coach Bill Sweetenham says the entire swimming hierarchy must step down. The recriminations will go on.

    Sport seems not to be the only area in which Australia is falling behind – a recent leadership study finds significant weaknesses in business leadership and management that are hurting our future performance and prosperity. The Study of Australian Leadership was conducted by Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne and reported its findings in May. The SAL says we have reason to be concerned about the state of leadership and management in Australia, and that we are in danger of being unable to address future challenges.

    SAL highlighted seven areas of concern. The gaps and weaknesses we believe are most worrying for Challenge clients are these four.

    1. Many Australian organisations do not get the basics right

    Management fundamentals are not up to scratch, the survey found. Performance monitoring, target setting and using incentives were found to be lacking, and the survey rated these as more important than leadership capabilities and self-efficacy (a leader’s belief in their ability to lead). The good news is that these are skills that can be taught and learnt.

    The study showed that investment in leadership capability pays off in better performance and more innovation. Workplaces with a range of leadership development activities not only have more capable leaders, they also believe in their capacity to excel.

    This leads us to the next important finding.

    1. Too many Australian organisations underinvest in leadership development, especially at the frontline

    When organisations do spend on leadership development, they are focusing on the wrong places. The SAL showed that for every $10 spent on training for senior leaders, only  $1 is spent on frontline and workplace leaders. Yet training for frontline and workplace leaders improved performance and drove innovation more than training for senior leaders did.

    The study found too that many leaders are not well trained for the job, with one in four senior leaders in the private sector having no formal training beyond secondary school. While it concedes that formal qualifications are not everything, it points out that formal training provides a basis for many of the necessary skills, from technical too problem-solving and change management.

    This could be related to the next finding.

    1. Leadership in Australian organisations does not reflect wider social diversity

    It is still dominated by older men form English-speaking backgrounds, according to the study, with women, younger people and those from Non-English speaking backgrounds underrepresented. It points out that diversity is good for business performance, leading to greater creativity and innovation and higher commitment and engagement at work. Since a key finding was that innovation is driven by quality leadership and management and is a critical source of productivity growth and competitiveness, this matters at more than only an ethical or social level.

    1. Many senior leaders do not draw on strategic advice in making decisions about the future

    The study identifies three levels of leadership: senior organisational, workplace level and frontline leadership. At the most senior level, leaders must scan the external environment, interpreting the myriad factors that will influence the competitive position of their organisation. Yet few senior leaders are turning to associations, consultants, experts and the insight of other senior leaders for advice. The study points out that leaders need many sources of insight and information, they cannot make sense of how external challenges will influence their organisation in isolation. Not drawing on strategic advice leaves them vulnerable to poor decision-making, especially in a climate of uncertainty and disruption as we are experiencing now.

    Australian sport and Australian business both have a lot to learn about leadership, it seems, before we can truly be winners. Anthony Mitchell, co-founder of strategic leadership firm Bendelta, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald put it this way: ‘We are now smart enough to recognise that the most important driver of business success – the quality of leadership – requires a level of science proportionate to its impact.’ More on that next time.

  10. How to create and deliver a presentation that is worth sitting through

    August 16, 2016 by Alison Hill

    A friend in the financial services industry told me about a webinar she signed up for, and what a waste of time it was. I’m sure you can relate: after about 20 minutes she took a break and made herself a coffee. When she came back, the same slide was on her screen and the presentation had hardly moved along. She gave up and went back to her work.

    Mostly we’re not able to clock out of boring presentations. Either we need the information to do our jobs properly, or we are stuck in a meeting room with no way out. Most of us will be on the other side of the audience at some time, and have to present to others in the workplace. Knowledge-sharing is a vital part of work these days, and most of us will be called on to give a talk or slide presentation, or to create a webinar or instructional video at some time.

    Whatever method you use, here are some guidelines to follow and some handy resources to help you.

    1. Get straight to the point, preferably with a good story

    So many presentations – particularly webinars – have long introductions that add nothing to the experience. Hook your audience early with a pithy introduction and preferably with a good story that makes them care. There’s nothing like a human angle to get the audience involved. My financial adviser friend recalled the story of a retailer with no business interruption insurance. A car went through the shopfront, smashing the glass and ruining expensive equipment, which was covered, and closing the shop for a month, which was not. That got her attention much more than a statistic about lost trading revenue could ever have.

    1. Know who your audience is

    Actually, this should have been point one. You can’t deliver a good presentation if you don’t know who you are talking to. It affects everything from what technical terms to use (see point 4) to how long you will talk for and what visuals you will use. Take a page from the marketing playbook and create a ‘persona’ representing your typical audience member. How old are they? What do they do in their spare time? What do they already know about your subject? Why do they need to know about your topic? Do some research before you make the presentation, and then tailor what you have to say to that persona.

    A word of warning: it’s annoying to poll the audience at the start of your session and then not act on what you find. Countless webinars ‘poll’ the audience and then do squat to adapt the content to suit those findings. Either be prepared to adapt your talk, or don’t ask. Your audience will only feel ignored and tune out if you fail to respond to their needs.

    1. Don’t overcrowd your presentation with bullet points and endless slides

    Death by PowerPoint – we’ve all been there. There is no point in putting up slides filled with endless bullet points and reading them to the audience; not in person, and not online. Your audience will read your slides rather than listen to you, and they can read faster than you can speak. Use slide presentations to highlight the main points you will talk to and make sure they are interesting. We couldn’t say it any better than in this presentation about great PowerPoint presentations by designer Damon Nofar.

    1. Don’t use excessively technical jargon or in-house terms

    My finance professional told me how she attended a seminar dealing with legal issues in financial advice. ‘When the presenter used terms I didn’t know, I felt really out of touch. I felt dumb until I looked around the room and saw nearly everybody else looking awkward, and realised it wasn’t just me.’ The lesson is that if you have to use technical terms, explain them clearly in words that match the knowledge and experience of your audience.

    1. Use your ordinary speaking voice and put your self into the presentation

    Most of the time, presentations do not need to sound like a formal oration. It’s not the school debating society, nor the Gettysburg address. Put your true self out there and you will be much more likely to connect with the audience.

    1. Mind your professional manners

    My financial friend told me how at an industry event she attended, presenters had cracked ‘jokes’ about their competition in the industry, naming the organisations. Far from making her feel more positive about the presenter’s organisation, she was shocked by their lack of professional manners. Whether you are presenting internally or externally, slagging off the competition, be it another company or another team, adds nothing to your presentation. Bad jokes, in-jokes and snide remarks reflect badly on your professionalism.

    1. Create a strategy to deal with questions

    Think about your pace and how to engage your audience. Reading slides out in a monotone is not going to do it. Giving the audience a chance to ask questions, stopping to ask or answer questions yourself and periodically checking the audience’s understanding helps to keep people tuned in.

    Questions and answers need to be controlled, however. We’ve all been in a presentation where an audience member takes up the group’s time with questions that are not relevant to the rest of us. ‘I was impressed by a presenter who could deflect unhelpful questions’, my financial adviser friend told me. ‘He offered to collect all the questions and answer them at the end if his presentation hadn’t answered them, and dealt with important ones as he went along. He struck a good balance between being engaging and taking up too much time with things that were not interesting to most of us.’

    1. Call on the professionals

    Challenge Consulting’s People Services runs Presenting with Impact workshops on presentation skills, as well as a presentation skills test for candidates.

    Copyright-free images to use in your slides are available on many sites, including Pixabay.  Easy-to-use graphic design site Canva helps with images and infographics. Both can be used for free. Prezi is a great alternative to PowerPoint. There are plenty more learning resources and tools out there. Use them to make your presentations sing.

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