2016 insights to take into 2017

One of our gifts as humans is the ability to reflect, learn and adapt. Reflecting on 2016 there’s no doubt it has been a personal and professional adventure. I left my transformation role in August, travelled around the states, started studying again and am consulting independently.

It has been a pleasure to have more time to be able to write, connect more deeply with people, and to align my passions with my career. Over the last year I have learned so much that I will take into 2017 – here are some of my insights from the year and thoughts on how they may shape my 2017.

Insight 1: Customer experience could move to customer hospitality

Customer experience has been a major 2016 buzzword. In my own work I have spent much of my year focused on building customer strategies, go-to-market models with a higher level of customer centricity, customer journey mapping, creating customer centric culture, and developing customer service standards.

During my travels to the US this year I caught up with friend who is a former hotel general manager from leading five star chains all over the world. We spent time talking about the fundamentals of customer service in the hospitality industry and the type of leadership seen in the world’s best hotels that drive customer (guest) centricity. The question occurred to me ‘how can our mainstream business models better incorporate learnings and strategies from the hospitality industry to evolve the focus on ‘customer experience’ to an even deeper level of customer hospitality?’ Imagine if we treated our customers as our guests? It was a great insight that I will explore and write about again next year.

Insight 2: Muscle in agility comes from living it

Agility and resilience are also key themes of 2016. Over the last few years I’ve worked on various projects focused on building workplaces of the future – where agility and resilience are core characteristics. Let me say that in 2016 – it is clear to me that talking about agility, resilience and coping with uncertainty is different than living it and building muscle in it. My time since leaving my role and living with less certainty has been incredibly eye opening. There is a special type of confidence and determination you need to build to hold the course and stay cool when things aren’t quite going as expected.

The two greatest strengths that have helped me build resilience during this more agile time have been patience (finally I have developed that skill!) and the ability to draw on the support of an amazing network of talented and wise people (to whom I am eternally grateful!)

With big corporates going through continuous transformation and reshaping (a nice word for restructure) and the growing gig economy there is a need to enable people to be better equipped to deal with this level of liquidity in foundations. My prediction for 2017 is that the talk has to move more into experiential development and muscle building if we really want to have impact on developing resilience.

Insight 3: Strategy and communication should be married

I have always been a huge believer in the importance of bringing people along on a strategy journey and keeping people informed on what’s happening in organisations, however, I wanted to call this out because I believe this even more given the shift in approaches to strategy we have seen this year. Good strategy is developed with people, and not just for them, and good strategy builds a narrative that galvanises people around a common purpose, not just kitsch corporate speak.

In my view, the days of ‘being the smartest person in the room’ are over. I heard a great line this year ‘the room itself is the smartest person’ because an open room provides the opportunity for a creative milieu where ideas can be brought in, considered, and built upon – which enables something something better than any single ‘smart’ person can build.

So 2017 will see my strengthened commitment to collaboration where strategy and communication are combined, tapping into the collective wisdom of teams and broader a network to create really cool stuff.

Insight 4: The humans are making a come back

Organisations operate in a social context with real people and it sometimes amazes me how we decompartmentalise our roles as people and workers.

Recently I heard the CEO of Vinomofo state ‘we are in the human era’ – leaders who are real and who get what it means to be human can create tribes of people who want to be part of something bigger. Equally important is recognising that trying to be authentic is not the same as simply just being authentic.

With so much corporate transformation going on, it is sometimes easy to take cost out in the short term but the caution to companies is that in the human era, there are much longer term risks by cutting the programs and core elements in your business that are part of the DNA of your culture. Trying to solve organisational issues as mathematical equations is not the answer – and will never lead to long-term success, in my view. We should always remember the ‘human’ part of human resources – and remember that how we treat our people is how they will treat our customers.

Insight 5: What makes you relevant is you!

Perhaps the greatest lesson for me this year has come from letting go of the identity that comes from being associated with certain roles and being a ‘busy’ person. We all get caught up in our own relevance associated with our various roles in life… but what this year has taught me yet again (and it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again for years) is that the sense of self must come from within, a sense of relevance must come not from what you do, but what’s inside you and what you stand for.

This is something I have experienced personally and also observed in friends, clients and colleagues either as they have changed roles, had circumstances change unexpectedly, or have considered retirement. The question of what makes us relevant as individuals seems universal.

So into 2017 I take strength from the experiences of this year and the many many conversations I’ve had – from those with strangers to the closest of friends – that while enjoyment and success comes from many awesome facets of life – the real answer of relevancy comes from within.

No doubt I have learned many more things this year, but these are the most salient that stand out for me. Thanks for reading! And I’d love to hear your reflections of what are your personal and professional insights from 2016.

About the author

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. 

http://www.heidisundin.com

Distributed teams: The growth strategy used by the savviest startups

By Heidi Sundin and Nina Sochon

Growing an amazing business requires strategy and breakthrough thinking. In this article we propose an approach you may not have thought of to address one of your key challenges: building your team.

For many small businesses seeking growth, there are some essential elements required for your growth strategy.

Whilst it is important to have a good understanding of your current state – ‘where are we now?’ –  and your desired state – ‘where are we going? -’ having clear objectives is not enough.

Clarification is required around your target market, size of the addressable market, and your tailored value proposition for selected markets. One of the challenges for startups and SMEs is building the right skill sets within the business to be able scale and rise to the growth challenge.

Growing a small business or start up can often raise the chicken or egg question, should we wait until we have locked in revenue before hiring or shall we invest in recruiting essential resources and skill sets to generate leads, sales and ensure delivery capability?

In many cases entrepreneurs or small business founders play multiple roles (leader, owner, manager, operator, marketer). The catch is, in order to scale, there is a need to delegate parts (or entire functions) of these roles by bringing in more capacity and skill sets, both on the delivery side as well as in support services. Those skill sets enable more leads and conversion of sales, management of workflow, administration and people issues, as well as efficient procurement or supply chain management and logistics.

Of course recruiting full-time office based resources involves risk, especially at these early stages. The thing is, as a small business you know there is a sizable market to tap into and you know you need to improve your marketing capabilities, workflow management, delivery capability and technology resourcing, but you also know this is adding fixed costs before increased sales are made.

Adding to the conundrum, there are considerations around having more or too many direct reports, finding the right talent, integrating new staff members into the team, ensuring the right cultural fit, and investing the time it takes to get team members inducted and up and running and ultimately adding value.

Breakthrough approach

One option is to think differently about how you bring in talent to help your business grow. Recruiting full-time office based staff is clearly not the only option. Alternatives may include part-time staff, hiring consultants or utilising contractors.

Start ups experience a real breakthrough when they expand their thinking beyond consideration of only their local area. Specifically, there is a huge difference between the size of the talent pool in the commutable area around your office and the talent available nationally and internationally. What this means for your business could be huge.

Distributed teams enable you to recruit the best in your industry. Quiip is Australia’s most experienced community management firm. Talking about their completely remote work arrangement, Julie Delaforce, General Manager says, “It really helps us attract the best talent”.

One distributed team Nina recently worked with faced the enviable challenge of choosing between too many high quality candidates for a recent position. They shortlisted 30 high quality candidates after advertising the position as a remote working position.

Frederic Chanut, Managing Director and founder of In Marketing We Trust, a medium-sized marketing firm, looked outside Sydney to find contractors he could afford. Buying that labour in Sydney was simply out of budget.

Ultimately, there are multiple benefits of building a distributed team if your SME is in a growth phase: avoid locked and fixed full-time employee costs; tap into a broader talent pool, who may be based interstate or internationally; access a greater diversity of skill sets; and avoid the need to take on additional office space costs. Successful distributed teams can create a more agile cost base while bringing in talent to accelerate progress.

A distributed team is a unique arrangement. Whether your team consists of part-time workers, contractors, consultants or full-time staff, the challenge is to achieve strong team communication, performance and culture while working across distances.

For businesses going down the path of building a distributed team, here are some suggestions to kick things off:

  • Determine the areas of the business, activities or projects where you need additional expertise, but don’t have the budget for full-time or even part-time resources
  • Determine the overall budget available for additional resources
  • Put the call out for assistance – social media channels such as linkedin or new platforms such as Expert 360, Freelancer and Airtasker, can be useful
  • Look for people with deep experience of working remotely, don’t assume that people with a strong skill base in other areas have developed the skill of working effectively as a remote worker
  • Before working together with your remote team members, define the ‘rules of engagement’ for your distributed team. Successful distributed teams often implement a team charter, which outlines team members’ agreement on how they will communicate.
  • Use technology to your advantage by including videoconferencing. Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom are free and easy to use. Other collaboration tools should complement video: document sharing, screen sharing and instant messaging.
  • Replicate the water cooler. Social conversations don’t ‘just happen’ in remote teams, a dedicated channel is needed.

Distributed teams are a powerful way to grow your startup. Why limit your growth strategy with traditional thinking, when a global talent pool is at your fingertips!

Nina Sochon creates distributed teams that outperform co-located teams by up to 22%. Nina led a cutting edge strategy team that delivered on the Australian Government’s goal to double the number of people working from home. She shows organisations how to rethink flexible work styles to succeed both here and now and in the future of work. Her flexible work framework is considered leading practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors.

Career choices: a linear path or add a little colour?

By Heidi Sundin

Looking for a role is a challenging process. As I’ve looked for roles at different points in my career I’ve often had the feedback ‘you’re very colourful’, ‘I don’t know how to place you as you’ve done lots of different things’, ‘you need to pick one path to go down’.

A linear career path takes more of a straight line with fewer twists and turns into related or different fields. There are loads of benefits to taking a more linear approach such as incredible depth of knowledge in one subject matter area or skill set, networks specific to your subject matter, building a portfolio of demonstrated success in an area, developing heuristics to create short cut solutions when familiar problems arise, and clear next steps in your career.

It is always a delicate balance to strike between working on something that you love and are passionate about, making money, and making ‘sensible’ choices that enhance your CV. For many people the linear path will be aligned with their passions and that’s wonderful, but for many others the steps in their career can take a more meandering path.

The advice one receives in making these choices is often conflicting, with “helpful comments” such as:

  • ‘There’s no such thing as a linear career path – don’t let anyone tell you that’
  • ‘Follow your passions’
  • ‘Life’s too short – love what you do’
  • ‘You need depth – stick with it even if you hate it’
  • ‘Choose a career based on the characteristics that are important to you’
  • ‘Keep moving – if you stay still too long you get overtaken’

Mostly in my career have taken a path that is winding. There are common themes and principles in my choices – I find really interesting and complex problems to solve where I believe I’m best placed to make a real and tangible difference through a strategic, engaging and collaborative approach, with disciplined project management and execution.

The question of whether to take a more linear career path or to follow your passions that may take you in different directions is a personal one to answer and comes down to what’s right and authentic for you.

One of my favourite books is Sideways To The Top by Norah Breekeldt. The book follows the paths of 10 exceptional women who have become leaders in their field – either CEOs or owners of their own firms. Breekeldt explores the concept that the path to the top is not linear and rather may require sideways moves. The sideways moves that these women have taken shows how they built their breath of skills, experiences and networks necessary for the CEO role – and got to the top in non-linear and unpredictable ways.

What makes you exceptional through your non-linear path?

As a non-linear candidate you can provide great benefits to teams and organisations – that are not always obvious from reading your CV. So if you’re like me and you’ve chosen a path that’s the road less travelled here are some of the great things that give you an edge to add to your narrative.

High level of comfort with uncertainty and agility: In today’s organisations with so much change, transformation, disruption and convergence of industries – if you’ve worked in lots of different environments it can often mean you are more comfortable with change and can adjust to restructures more easily. The fact that you have moved outside comfort zones could mean that you are more comfortable taking risks and going hard after opportunities.

Depth in variety: A non-linear path may also mean that you have depth in variety – you know about a lot of things. You may not be the subject matter expert on every topic but you know about how to bring the right people to the table, how to read situations and how to get things done regardless of the circumstances that you are presented with. You can figure out how to solve most problems – because you’ve worked in lots of different areas and usually have a diverse network that you can draw on.

See the linkages and make connections: You can connect the dots which is important for general management and leadership, work across multiple disciplines and speak the language of the disciplines that your people and teams are specialists in. You may see convergence opportunities – because you can draw on different industries and identify how they could fit together. This has the benefit for bringing new ideas and ways of looking at things to an organisation that may be doing the same things in the same ways.

Empathy and consensus building: Getting things done requires seeing the world from another person’s perspective, getting behind the language that a certain discipline may use, and really listening to what someone is saying. Personally I have worked for government, non-profit, academia, professional services and corporate – so I have the ability to try to put myself in the shoes of the person I’m negotiating with to understand what they are really trying to say. The non-linear path can often give you a deeper empathetic understanding that the linear may not.

In my view good organisations will build teams with a combination of employees and leaders with linear and non-linear backgrounds – as this provides a wonderful opportunity to bring new ideas, approaches and viewpoints to deep knowledge and experience.

My tips for the colourful

A couple of hints to make sure that you are able to keep moving forward, sideways, upside-down or which ever direction you would like:

Listen to feedback: Feedback is a gift and while sometimes the feedback you may receive during the recruitment process can be uncomfortable – it is very useful to understand how best to pitch your skill set and experience. Thank you to those recruiters who have taken the time to provide such frank and constructive feedback to me and other candidates.

Listen to yourself: Ultimately you’re the person who has to wake up every day and find inspiration to work on something – so listen to others but most importantly listen to yourself – choose a path that is not just about success but also about fulfilment.

Know your narrative: Since you may not always be the obvious choice it is important that you are well equipped to speak to your strengths, passions and the value that you can bring to an organisation. Make it easy for people to see why you’re the right choice, not necessarily the obvious one.

And finally a tip from Dominic Moore, specialist in search and recruitment:

Keep your networks fresh: Those who know you best know how to use your varied and complex skills to their fullest. Applying for roles when you are colourful can be difficult so be prepared to dig a bit deeper into the ‘hidden’ market to find the opportunities that make the most of who you are and what you do best.

I’d love to hear your stories on how you’ve made choices in your career. What has been some of the feedback, advice, comments you’ve received?

heidisundin.com

Fair go, but she’ll be right – Taking steps to address gender related pay gaps in your organisation

By Heidi Sundin

I’m often asked about the reality of the gender pay gap in organisations – people always seemed shocked that these gaps occur and question whether they are gender related.

So here’s the first thing I always say – it’s great to ask questions about gender pay gaps and be open to a discussion.

The kinds of questions usually asked are

  • Aren’t the pay gaps just related to women who work part-time?
  • How can it be commercial for small businesses to address gender pay gaps?
  • Aren’t pay gaps just about the national average, which is more about participation in the workforce?
  • How do I know if my business has gaps?
  • What can I do if I find any gaps?

These questions are totally understandable because what we often hear reported in the media is the national gender pay gap – which can be harder for individuals to then understand how gender gaps may relate to their own role and organisation.

For you to take action, focus on organisational gender pay gaps

For individuals to feel they can take meaningful action on pay gaps within their organisation, it is more useful to focus on the three types of gaps that typically arise in organisations:

  • Organisation-wide gender pay gap
  • By-level gender pay gaps
  • Like-for-like gender pay gaps

The strategies to address each of these types of pay gaps are different and I’m going to focus on how best to address like-for-like gender pay gaps (same job, same performance rating, different pay) – as these are the gaps that  are primarily related to conscious and unconscious gender bias in recruitment, promotion, pay and performance decisions.

Identifying like-for-like gender pay gaps – they are real

Like-for-like gaps are pay gaps between women and men undertaking work of equal or comparable value (comparing jobs at the same performance standard), for example, comparing two senior management consultants in the same organisation who perform at the same level.

These like-for-like gender pay gaps are caused by*:

  • Inequality in commencement salaries
  • Bias in performance ratings
  • Bias in performance management system
  • Inequality in access to discretionary pay
  • Negative impact when women negotiate (because either women negotiate less or because there is often a gender backlash when women do negotiate)
  • Cumulative effects of pay inequality
  • Impact of long term leave
  • Impact of part-time employment
  • Discrimination (conscious and unconscious)

And yes these are real, with evidence and anecdotes from both the employee and employer side. Many employers who I have worked with over the years initially could not believe they had like-for-like gender pay gaps and it was only  after conducting a payroll analysis they identified these gaps were occurring.

I have been contacted by numerous women since working in the field of gender equality who have shared reasons given by employers for receiving lower pay than their male colleagues in the same role such as ‘well he has a family to look after’ and ‘he has financial commitments’. To be clear remuneration needs to be based on the role and responsibilities, performance and outcomes. Personal circumstances are irrelevant in determining how much an employee is paid.

And what can you do about it?

It is important is to recognise that like-for-like gender pays gaps are rarely intentional and may have been the result of a range of pay and performance decisions. Addressing these gaps is not about placing blame or pointing fingers – it is about looking objectively at the data to understand if there are issues and tailoring solutions to addressing them. Here’s some simple steps that both large and small organisations can do:

  • Become aware of the issues, what causes gender pay gaps and the business case for addressing these issues
  • Ensure commitment from the top level of leadership to address pay equity
  • Conduct a payroll analysis (there’s great resources you can download for free to do this)
  • Develop a strategy and action plan specific to the issues you find
  • Continue to review and monitor gaps

Detailed resources on specific pay equity strategies and actions can be found on the WGEA website here.

It is a core value of Australians that everyone deserves a fair go, but we also have the approach that ‘she’ll be right’ – we want fairness, but we often assume it or passively support it, often ignoring the issues when they arise rather than being proactive.

Sometimes we have to stare at the cold hard reality of data, if you conduct a gender payroll analysis and find no like-for-like gaps, that’s awesome, keep it up, but if you do – then it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that you are serious about addressing the issue and promoting a truly fair, merit and performance based workplace by taking real action.

I’d love to hear your questions and experiences related to addressing gender pay gaps within organisations.

*Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Guide to gender pay equity, Practical steps to improve pay equity between women and men in your organisation (available at https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Pay_Equity_Toolkit_Main.pdf)

heidisundin.com

 

When one teaches two learn – tops tips to be a good mentor

By: Heidi Sundin

Over my career I have been fortunate enough to benefit from many great mentors, and I feel it is important to play that same role for others just starting out in their career or aiming to advance.

There are many benefits to being a mentor. For me, my greatest satisfaction comes from seeing others succeed. There are other surprising benefits as well. As your mentees start to develop in their career and become more senior they can often move out of the mentee role and into trusted friends and colleagues. Recently I had the experience where two of my former students reverse mentored me acting as a sounding board to provide a different perspective. I am also truly inspired by many of my mentees and former students, they often go in different paths that you could never have imagined and show talents and creativity that challenge your own assumptions.

In addition the simple process of routinely checking-in with someone and focusing on professional development shines a light on your own development. It keeps oneself in check – one of my favorite sayings is ‘when one teaches, two learn’ and this is very true when you’re mentoring.

So, what do you do when someone asks you to be his or her mentor?

Typically the mentoring arrangements as falling into three main categories: informal, formal self-managed, formal program.

Recently a colleague asked if I could mentor a staff member of his. She and I met and she expressed that she had never worked with a female manager before and had very few senior professional female role models. I thought I would share my top tips in how I approach being a mentor in a more formalised way.

Make sure the chemistry is right

In taking on a regular mentoring commitment you are going to invest time and energy into another person’s career development. It is important that the there is a ‘fit’ between you and your mentee. So before you make the commitment ensure that you have a good rapport, do some research on your mentee, and ask for some recommendations if possible.

Be clear upfront what your mentee is looking for

At your first meeting it is important to clarify what your mentee is looking for. Do they want a formal or informal arrangement? How often do they want to meet? Ensure that you set the expectations early on around these items and that you talk through how to set up meetings, how to reach you, your expectations in terms of your mentee’s meeting preparation and follow up, etc.

There are no hard or fast rules on this, tailor these expectations depending on what your mentor is looking for. Some mentees I meet fortnightly, others every two months and some once a year.

Build a roadmap to see where you are going

I generally start by understanding where my mentee is in his or her career and where they see themselves in different time horizons. While they may not have thought about it before and may not know what they want to do, we will often focus more on the characteristics of what a great professional future looks like, rather than a specific role.

This helps to identify how you might best help them, what skills to help them develop and how you might be use your network to connect them. The roadmap should be clear, but flexible and individualised for each of your mentees.

Be purposeful with your meetings

I always start every meeting with the question ‘what would you like to get out of today’s meeting’. Even if I have in mind what I think we should focus on, ultimately the mentees should drive the agenda and their own development. This builds a habit of the mentee being independent and self-driven which then filters into other parts of their career. Encourage your mentee to come with one to two items of focus in each meeting. Work through these items and at the end of the meeting check in that the mentee feels you have covered those items.

I usually set ‘homework’ for my mentees, usually one or two questions to reflect on and talk to at the next meeting, and check in with this at the beginning of the following meeting.

Make a lot of notes and as these notes build over time, you can recap with your mentee how far they have come.

Share your experiences and draw on resources

In my view time with your mentee is about them so be considered in how you share your experiences and advice. Focus more on helping your mentee approach and solve issues (how to think – not what to think). In terms of skills and experience development – draw on your networks and the many freely available resources. I often steer people towards interesting books, articles, TED talks and MOOCs (freely available online courses) where there is a skill gap.

I’m always happy to have a coffee with someone and do some informal mentoring, but more recently I prefer a slightly more formalised arrangement because I find it makes the most out of the time together. But it is not for everyone – so pick the mentoring arrangement that works best for you and make the best contribution that you feel is right for you and your mentee.

Share your experience of how you work with your mentees.

How an executive coach can help you

By: Heidi Sundin

Much is written about the importance of mentoring and sponsorship to ensure women reach the higher levels of management. I also recommend working with an executive coach as you enter into executive roles.

Many people find themselves as managers and executives because they have shown exceptional technical skill and achievement. Through their technical success they have been promoted to higher levels in an organisation and find that they are taking on management and executive roles. Often this can happen without much consideration or training for the skills required to manage and lead – which are very different from the technical skills they have mastered.

As I have moved into senior management roles over the last few years I have worked with three executive coaches, and met many others, and I wanted to share some of my experiences working with an executive coach for those who many be considering working with a coach.

Focusing on your own values and what you stand for

Have you ever sat down and purposefully thought through your values? Or articulated with great clarity what you stand for? When I first started working with a coach I thought our sessions would immediately jump right into aspects of decision-making, negotiation, people management, etc. To my surprise our first sessions focused much more gaining a deeper understanding of my values, level of confidence, and what I stand for. As a leader much of what is going on inside affects what is happening outside and it is important to gain a handle on this before working on the more advanced management skills.

Flexibility in leadership and management style is critical

We all have our own way of interacting with others and first time managers often rely on their natural ability and talents. This is great and can work in many situations. What I have found as I have worked in different types of organisations with different organisations cultures, however, is that not all styles work in all situations. Working with an executive coach will help you understand what your style is and how to develop some more flexibility in the styles you have available. This means you are better able to read a situation and draw on a variety of communication, management or leadership style and tools that may be more effective in any given situation.

Work on different skills at different times

Initially starting out with the coach, the focus was to understand more about myself and the kind of leader I aspire to be. This is an important step. As your confidence as a leader develops and is grounded in your values, you can move to focus on other development areas such as presence and influence skills, advanced negotiation, how to be more effective in executive meetings, delegation techniques and delivering impactful speeches and presentations.

Working with a coach is different to having a mentor. Your executive coach will often have deep corporate and executive experience and be well trained in coaching, communications, management and behavioral sciences. As your relationship with your coach develops you may also find yourself working through specific scenarios that are happening at work, with your team or with your colleagues. Using your coach as a sounding board with these situations can often help give a confidential and independent perspective leading to a more positive outcome.

Coaching is an investment and in my experience – one well worth making to become a better leader.

Share your experiences of working with a coach or the questions you have about working with a coach.