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

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