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  1. 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.



  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.’

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. The books that have made Challenge’s people learn and grow

    August 9, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Learning is an important aspect of developing people and growing an organisation, and the best organisations make it part of their everyday practice. They take access to professional development and skills training, either externally or internally, seriously. Learning is not left to chance, and a mentoring program or a buddy system guides people to the right colleague to ask when there are questions or issues.

    Reading is an important part of self-directed learning, but it can be difficult to decide what is worth the considerable investment in time a book can demand. We asked some people at Challenge Consulting to direct us to the books they have found important in their learning and that they would recommend to others.

    Jonathan Foxley, Recruitment Manager, Challenge Consulting

    ‘The book I’ve enjoyed most lately is Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson’ the former manager of Manchester United football club.

    ‘I was looking online for something that could help me with my role as the manager of the Challenge team, about how to get the best out of people and keep them inspired and motivated. This was an interesting choice for me because while I love football, Manchester United are a team I hate and I have often thought Sir Alex is a bit too arrogant.

    ‘It was a great read and getting Sir Alex’s insight into the way he managed his players to get the best out of them was really interesting.

    ‘It was good to hear how he dealt with players that caused him problems along the way. Alex Ferguson wasn’t successful in the early days of his career and it was interesting to see how he dealt with the challenges he faced when he first stepped into management. He worked hard at becoming successful and building one of the most successful teams of all time.

    ‘Being a keen sports fan, I enjoyed the way he had been engaged to share the traits that existed on the football pitch versus what we see in the corporate world. While the story made reference to players, coaches and big events that the team took part in, his approach to getting results can be translated into the environment in which we all work.’

    Bríd Murray, Recruitment Resourcer and Team Assistant, Challenge Consulting

    ‘The book I’d recommend is Images of Organisation by  Gareth Morgan. I was introduced to it in an organisational theory class I took while studying organisational psychology.
    ‘The book addresses complex ideas in a creative and relatively simple way. It suggests that images or metaphors can be used as an interpretive lens for diagnosing and understanding various organisational issues. A simple example is the comparison drawn between a bureaucratic organisation and a machine.
    ‘It’s a book that you can dip in and out of, full of thought-provoking insights. Images of Organisation goes beyond being a theoretical text and illustrates how theory can be applied and used in modern organisational life.’

    Jim Peters, Financial Controller, Challenge Consulting

     My absolute favourite is Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

    I can’t remember how I came across it, I think just browsing in a bookshop in the mid-90s.

    I related to the whole book as I was doing a lot of hockey coaching at the time, so it had a double impact, work and play. It was a huge help in working with my teenage daughters and one of them introduced the principles of the book when she was the school prefect co-ordinator.

    Key phrases or habits that I find always help me are:

    ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Simple, but so true.

    ‘Sharpen the saw.’ It’s so easy to keep going without  trying to rest and renew.

    My own favourite is  Who Touched Base in my Thought Shower? A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon by Steven Poole. I worked in an office for a while after many years as a freelancer, and it seemed as though the corporate world had learned to speak a different language.

    Soon I was used to ‘going forward’, ‘best practice’ and ‘impacting’, though at first I had to resist the urge to edit everybody as they spoke. I may even have used ‘circle back’ in a sentence myself. I began to collect the more outrageous examples of corporate-speak and try to figure out what they mean.

    So when I found this book, arranged alphabetically with a hilarious explanation of each term – I had to have it and to share it with as many people as possible.

    But I won’t open the kimono any further. Share your favourite books or blogs with us in the comments section.



  9. What makes a good mentor?

    August 2, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Mentoring is a buzzword in today’s workplace, with over 70 per cent of Fortune 500 companies offering their employees professional mentoring programs. The concept is ancient, however – the term ‘mentor’ comes from Homer’s Odyssey, which dates back to the end of the eighth century BC.
    Mentor was left in charge of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, when Odysseus left for the Trojan war, and later, the goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor and encouraged Telemachus to stand up to his mother’s suitors and go searching for his father, who had not returned from the Trojan War. (Yes, it’s complicated. Reading the whole work is a deeply rewarding experience and is highly recommended.)
    Mentoring is not the same as coaching, which we wrote about here. It is also not the same as training, which is formal and structured, and designed to teach particular skills and competencies.
    Dr John Kenworthy of Leadership AdvantEdge defines mentoring as: ‘A working relational experience through which one person empowers and enables another by sharing their wisdom and resources’.
    At a recent session at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) mentoring trainer Toni Greenwood said that the best mentors know about the specific company, the industry it operates within and the big-picture issues of strategic importance to both. They have a range of great interpersonal skills, including active listening, the ability to give good feedback and the courage to have difficult conversations – and then let the issue go. They will be good at challenging the person who is being mentored and reframing the issue they are facing to allow them to find their own solution. Emotional intelligence is crucial; they must show empathy, resilience and the ability to read emotions in others.
    Let’s turn again to the Odyssey for some ideas about what a mentor does.
    1. A mentor is a more experienced person who shares their wisdom with a less experienced person.
    As Mentor did for Telemachus, a mentoring relationship provides a safe space for the person who is being mentored to share the issues that are holding them back with somebody whose experience is greater. Creating a long-term relationship over time, so that both people can learn about one another, build trust and feel secure, is a foundation of the mentoring process. While there is no perfect time for the mentoring relationship to last, generally around a year is recommended. In Deloitte’s Emerging Leaders Development Program, mentoring relationships last at least two years.
    A connection with a mentor can help a high-potential employee to learn from a leader, making them ready to take on a leadership position in the organisation more quickly, and with more organisation-specific knowledge than if only skills training or coaching were offered.
    2. A mentor works alongside the person who is being mentored.
    A mentoring relationship may start out with specific goals and set competencies to achieve, but its scope usually grows beyond the initial issues to encompass anything that impacts success, such as dealing with work–life balance or developing self-confidence. Nevertheless, agreeing on areas of focus, adopting a mentoring model and the all-important business of choosing a mentor are vital in setting up the relationship and deciding on its strategic purpose.
    3. A mentor encourages the person being mentored to step outside their comfort level
    Because an important part of the mentoring relationship is directed at the person’s future in the company and not only for the immediate job, it is different to the role of manager. Companies use mentoring programs to develop leaders and to keep star performers engaged, increasing retention rates. The mentoring relationship is most productive when it is separate to the manager–employee relationship (unlike in the coaching relationship where the manager can play a more direct role).
    Just as Mentor became Telemachus’ teacher, coach, counsellor and protector, developing a relationship based on affection and trust, organisations can adopt mentoring programs to build leaders and create organisations that engage and retain top talent.

  10. How constructive criticism helps us thrive

    July 26, 2016 by Alison Hill

    So much of what we do at work, from giving and receiving performance reviews to learning to be a leader and coach, rests on being able to give and receive feedback. Although it can be scary, people actually thrive on criticism when it is constructive.

    Good feedback is the quickest way to learn do things better and to change our behaviour. Yet we fear and avoid it, for good reasons to do with the way the human mind works. We find it threatening both to give and to receive criticism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    A colleague recently participated in a writing workshop and told me how much she had benefited from what others had said about the work she’d presented. ‘Well you’re good, so of course they would say so,’ I told her. ‘No, it was when they told me the things I hadn’t done well that I really learnt something’, she said.  ‘It hurt, and some of the group were pretty harsh, yet when I thought about it later, I was grateful. I reworked my story and it was a lot better.’ Then she told me how hard it had been to give constructive criticism, especially to people she didn’t like much or when she felt the work had few redeeming features.

    I reminded her about using the ‘sandwich’ method we’d learnt in parenting classes: positioning a slice of negative criticism ‘cheese’ between two pieces of positive feedback ‘bread’. ‘I did that, and I felt like a fake’, she told me. ‘I could see they were just waiting for me to get to the bad bit, and didn’t really hear the good news. I was uncomfortable because I knew I still had to say that their dialogue was unnatural and their grammar was all wrong, and my unease made them uncomfortable too.’ It seemed the conventional wisdom wasn’t working.

    She then shared with me how the group had agreed to a better method after that first awkward session. They decided to be transparent about how constructive feedback would be given, and all agreed to follow a process. My friend described how much better she felt about giving and receiving feedback when the emphasis shifted to making shared, informed choices about how to improve. Of course, sharing creative writing in a group setting is not quite the same as having a one-on-one conversation about workplace performance, but the principles still apply.

    Giving criticism: the criticism sandwich v the transparent approach

    Instead of: ‘The report is well written and interesting. However, there’s not enough detail. You’d better find the figures and add them in before the presentation at three. I love the layout though’.

    Describe what you see, and agree on the facts

    ‘I’m concerned about the lack of detail in this report and how that might have affected our business case. I’d like to go through some details and see if you see the same things. I’m open to the possibility that I’ve missed something or that I’ve not explained what’s needed. Once we agree on the size of the problem, let’s decide what we can do.

    Decide how the work could be improved

    ‘So you agree there should be more data and explained that you needed more time to do the research. I’ll have Tom cover your client calls for today and you will find the data and add it to the report before the presentation.’

    Commit to implementing the feedback where appropriate and sharing the results

    You’ll get the revised report to me by two, so that I can check the figures. Next time I’ll be more realistic with timeframes and you’ll be clearer about your process and ask for help if you need it, so there are no last-minute surprises in future.’

    How did implementing this transparent approach work in my colleague’s writing workshop? And how can we apply what she has learnt to the workplace?

    She now feels more genuine in the feedback she gives, and less defensive about receiving it in return. The group as a whole feels confident and comfortable about sharing the good and the bad aspects of each other’s work. She’s preparing her manuscript for a publisher – a step she said she would never have taken without the constructive and transparent criticism of her peers.

    Managers have to give criticism regularly, and it can be tough. Employees are bound to receive it, and in a healthy workplace giving and receiving feedback from peers can present growth opportunities too. Practicing good feedback techniques will stand us in good stead no matter where we are. So describe what you see, negotiate a mutual solution and commit to implementing good feedback.

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