Category Archives: Leadership

12 Career Development Tips for Public Servants (a digest of 3 IPAA articles)

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Over the last couple of months, Floreat Consulting Australia was lucky enough to contribute 3 articles to the Institute for Public Administration Australia’s (IPAA) Ignite publication. Below is all 3 articles in the one spot. If you’re a public servant, we recommend you check out Ignite – and if you’re not, you’ll no doubt find a lot of this useful for your own career too.

More on IPAA: 

IPAA is the not-for-profit professional association for the public service, their mandate is to promote the relevance, integrity, reputation and intellectual rigour of the public sector. It is the professional association for people interested in strategic issues, policy, reform and innovation in public sector management.

Connect with IPAA via: 

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IPAA NSW website 

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Networking for Public Service Success

There are three major things that struck me as I moved from the public to the private sector, back to the public service then into the not for profit sector:

  • There is an underlying pattern to the experience of working in the public service that is the result of interactions between cultural norms, formal structural influences and policy. Budgetary cycles, briefings, Question Time. It’s unlike anything else.
  • People are intelligent, well-read, and very politically aware.
  • The towering departmental hierarchies lend themselves to a focus on formalism that is a complete shock to outsiders – the minutiae of fixing margins in minutes, agonising over the tense in a sentence etc etc etc.

What does this all mean for networking? Preparation, preparation, preparation! Don’t bother approaching people for networking reasons at high stress times – be patient. And finally, find out about the written AND unwritten rules and follow them.

Ok now for some concrete, practical tips…

  1. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is really, really good….or don’t bother with it at all   

It’s hard to find data on the take-up of LinkedIn among the public sector, but you can be confident that it’s growing. While many public sector employees are “on LinkedIn”, many don’t use it actively. This presents a clear opportunity – to differentiate yourself from other people in the public sector by using LinkedIn really well. To start this process, something that everyone can do is make sure your LinkedIn profile is as good as it can be. And that doesn’t mean more information – it generally means less. Keep it succinct, interesting and to-the-point. Make sure what needs to be in capitals, is in capitals, that there are full-stops where they should be and that the text is consistent (but not necessarily the same as) with your resume. It should promote your strengths without being over the top. And put in a good profile photo (not one cropped from a photo at a wedding with your partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, arm around your neck, glass of chardonnay in hand). Using LinkedIn well gives you potential access to loads more people than if you go it alone – and even if you don’t use it as an out and out networking tool, you can get great data on who to talk to.

And while we’re on LinkedIn, it’s important to keep in mind that LinkedIn is a professional social networking site, rather than simply a social site (like Facebook). Your networking will be far more useful if you actually know the person first before you send a connection request, rather than using LinkedIn to build up the longest possible list of contacts! In particular, never send a request to someone you’ve never met – and that includes everyone from senior executives, to policy officers, to managers – the quality of your connections is what counts, not the number. When you do send a connection request, make sure to craft the message for the person. Firing off a connection request using the default message is a tell-tale sign of a LinkedIn user trying to get to 500 connections as quickly as possible.

  1. Get clear on the “direction” of your networking

If you’ve ever studied before – school, university – you would have had someone ask you, what do you want to do after you finish? For me, the answer used to change every time I was asked! And that can be the same with your career, your goals can change rapidly and can depend a lot on what opportunities you see, as well as who influences you and how you are being influenced. It’s worth thinking about though because when you’re networking for your career, people will want to know what you aim to achieve. Knowing this enables other people to help you – it makes it far easier to understand the sort of opportunities and advice that would be most useful to you.

Instead of “goals” (goal-setting itself can be a trap if you are unclear about what is really driving your goals), consider what it is about work that you really, really enjoy. Not just a bit but what are the one or two things that keep you working beyond what you really have to do. If you are clear on this, you can be flexible about what to do next. I’ll give you an example, let’s say you are currently a Policy Officer. What is it about doing this work that you enjoy above everything else? Is it the intellectual challenge? Is it about working on something meaningful? Is it about having a set routine? Is it about not having a set routine? Link all that to work and you can start talking about what you want to do in a way everyone will understand.

  1. Don’t go for the big prize straight away

Not all of us have the stomach to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of the Department. Some people can go right up to someone – no matter who they are – and just start talking. If that’s you, skip this and proceed to point no.4.

If you’re still here, you might be wanting to know, if you don’t go straight to the top, where do you go? Well, start out small. All of us have connections and everyone has, at some stage, felt “I really don’t know anyone here!” But you do – and it doesn’t matter how small your current network is, they can help you. A famous scientist once decided to study the creatures that were in her own backyard. The result was a range of completely undiscovered insects! So consider your own backyard – your current manager and every person in your team. They’re your immediate professional network and – if you haven’t brought this up with each of them yet – you are guaranteed to find one or two connections that they may offer to introduce to you.

Do you drink coffee? Most people do and find it hard to pass up someone else paying for it! Don’t underestimate the power of asking someone for a coffee. Be relaxed and flexible about it, as well as having a clear purpose (without being overly dogmatic about it).

  1. How can I help?

Don’t be a whiner, a pleader. Networking is about service. It’s not about you. Ok so this whole article is about you and your career. But in another way it’s not – it’s really about collaborating with others really, really well and purposefully. It helps us all if we do that a little better! So think about helping others. That’s the core of networking well. Help everyone.

Ok, enough preaching. The other good thing about helping people is you quickly build a good, positive reputation. That will open doors – maybe not this week or even this year, but it will at some stage. It will all come back and is well worth the investment.

  1. Get seriously up to date 

Be a nerd. Read up about what’s going on – but don’t try to read everything, you will never get there. What you need to do is read purposefully – that will mean skimming a lot of things, and then diving into detail where it’s relevant. What often impresses people is familiarity with the latest discussion paper/briefing/event that the team was responsible for. Find out what that is and bring it up in conversation – but before you do that, talk to someone in the know about it first, so it doesn’t seem like you’ve just read the title.

Find out the context, why the work was done, who the likely stakeholders are, and what’s next. Who knows, it might be you involved in that next step!

Turbo Boost Your Public Service Career Potential

The focus of my last article was networking in the public sector – how the culture of the public service entails a different approach to networking, as well as some tried and tested techniques that can help anyone become a networking star. Maximising your career potential in the public service is a complex picture – effective networking will play a big part, but what else can you do to boost your career in this unique environment?

  1. Learn the Capability Framework NOW! 

The NSW Public Sector Capability Framework is a common foundation across the public service for developing people. Essentially, the Capability Framework describes the capabilities required for different roles across the public sector. If you have recently applied for a NSW public sector position, it is highly likely the Capability Framework was in the background – a consistent marker for assessing job applications as well as for designing the role itself. It’s also the backbone of many ‘people’ systems like training and development. Within the capabilities there are 5 levels – from Foundational to Highly Advanced. A question for you and your career now: what are the capabilities and levels that apply to your current role? If you would like to progress to a role with more responsibility, what’s the scope for doing work at a level above your current role?

The advantage of knowing the Capability Framework is that you have that common yardstick in the front of your mind when you go about your day-to-day work. It’s created a language many are now familiar with, and you can use it to look for tasks that will let you demonstrate your ability to operate at a greater level of responsibility and complexity. At the very least, this gives you the basis for compelling answers to selection criteria – how can you ignore someone who demonstrates competence against the Capability Framework! (IPAA NSW courses are searchable by category and the capabilities from the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework).

2.  What am I known for?

A friend of mine was very good at sport in university – which was lucky as he hated studying! He did very well, getting to the university’s first grade football team but was frustrated that he kept missing out on representative teams chosen from the best players in first grade teams. His coach at the time suggested something to him that I’ve never forgotten: grow your hair long. The problem wasn’t talent – he was about as good as he could be – it was recognition. The selectors saw many, many players, but some people were chosen among peers simply because they were memorable.  Now am I saying you suddenly need a personal image consultant and that will help your career in the public service? Not at all! But I am saying to spend some time thinking about what you are good at, and what you would like to be known for.

In any organisation, your currency is your reputation – this is a combination of your ability, your trustworthiness, but also how distinctive you are. The key is understanding your own abilities really well and focusing on those you really enjoy doing. This is all about differentiation so you would be well-served to focus on 2 or 3 things only. Is it developing communications for a wide range of people? Researching something rigorously in a lot of detail? Monitoring trends and conducting analysis? What could you do that shows you do this thing really well? The answer might be joining a relevant industry group, completing training in something you really enjoy, or simply getting very excited about the ‘discipline’ of your skill and how you can develop it. Think about how much better this will look when you are thinking about your next career move.

3.  Borrow, beg or steal “leadership experience”

For those who are inclined to scale the dizzying heights of public sector leadership, read on…

If you have aspirations to lead a team and are currently a team-member, the pathway to leadership can seem a difficult, even unrealistic one. Remember when you first tried to join the workforce, everyone wanted experience but how to do you get it if you don’t have any? Nearly all formally advertised leadership roles ask for leadership experience – but how do you get that experience in the first place? It’s impossible isn’t it? The answer is – informally.

If you think leadership is for you, then talk to your current manager about how you can get leadership experience. Many managers are very open to providing these opportunities. And of course if it’s in yours and your team’s best interests, all managers should be open and downright enthusiastic about the conversation.  Also, what do you currently do outside of work that demonstrates leadership experience? It might be your sporting team or your local community. Whatever it is, “leadership” is simply about creating and maintaining a group of people so they achieve goals over time. Opportunities to do this can pop up everywhere so get creative, and make sure to include it in your next job application!

4. Hold on to your own unique version of success

I cringe when I read career development articles that seem to assume what success means for all of us. Some people I have helped throughout their careers look very “successful” in a conventional sense, from the outside. But inside, they’re in complete turmoil, miserable with self-directed admonishments and regrets about the career path they’ve taken.

I met a lovely person once in the middle of the Pilbara – a beautiful, harsh desert environment in Western Australia. She was the executive assistant to the General Manager, in an organisation that had many difficult cultural challenges. It seemed to be a very tough place to work, but Raelene was one of the happiest people I’ve met. The reason? She was very well suited to her role, which gave her an incredible aura of calm. She didn’t compare herself to other people and was grateful for having a job that she enjoyed. Being very good at her work too puts her in my book as having one of the most “successful” careers I’ve come across.

Be stubborn about your own unique version of success, and forget about the versions other people have. If you do, you’ll be happier, more productive and an asset to the public service!

Left-field Career Development Tips that Work in the Public Service

In this article, I focus on just three things that you may not have considered – but that I think will help develop your career in the public sector. The ideas set out below are suggestions for taking calculated “risks”, as well as being the most likely to provoke some thinking and hopefully action. First of all though, a little warning. In December 2003, Patrick Weller gave a speech entitled “The Australian Public Service: Still Anonymous, Neutral and a Career Service?” in which he quoted a private sector guru of Margaret Thatcher who had this to say to a committee in Britain:

If you are running a business in the private sector, to be successful you have to be right more often than you’re wrong: if you’re right 51 per cent of the time, you’re just on the right side of that line; if you’re right 60 per cent of the time, you’re doing better; if you’re right 70 per cent of the time, you’re doing well; if you’re right 80 per cent of the time you’re doing brilliantly. However, in the public sector, if you’re right 98 per cent of the time, people are not interested in the 98 per cent—they’re interested in the 2 per cent of the time that you were wrong. Because the 2 per cent will be the instances that people are concerned about where things are not being done properly, or not being done the way people would like to see them being done.

So I put the word “risks” in inverted commas because the culture of the public service – relatively – has a low tolerance for mistakes. You might argue that this is not a good thing, that innovation and learning comes from mistakes. The fact remains however, that the public sector deals with public resources. There are therefore many, many people and communities interested in making sure we get it right! And of course your relevant Minister would no doubt be thinking “Yes please, I want an innovative public service. Just make sure you do all that mistake stuff either before or after I’m around!”

So if you are considering implementing any of these, run them past your manager first – the last thing you want is written material that, for valid reasons, your leader doesn’t want to see made public. Your written work could become the subject of a request for information or an inquiry of some kind, so be careful that the result is something that will make a positive impact among your stakeholders.

  1. Discover and Communicate the Systemic Drivers that Will Impact Your Area

We can all get caught up in the minutiae of policy development and programme delivery – what’s often missing is the time and space to take a big step back and look at the systemic drivers that impact on your area of work. You can then feed this information back to your team in a presentation – a great development opportunity for you and a very useful piece of work for your team.

For example, say you work in an area that is responsible for workers compensation reform. The interaction between current policy settings and current stakeholders are probably well-known to you and your team, but what are the key international trends in workers compensation reform? How might changing demographics interact with policy development going forward? What impact will Australia’s changing economy have on workers compensation policy settings? There will almost certainly be work being done somewhere about this already, so your job is to find it, build on it and filter it so it’s useful for your team to use. The next time your team is asked to work on future policy, then you will have made a great start on the intellectual work required to provide the best possible response.

  1. Get Serious About Stakeholder Engagement

Every area in the public service has stakeholders. The relationship between stakeholders and the public sector is a dynamic, complex one that often takes years to fully master. Leaving mastery to one side, knowledge about stakeholders is an easier thing to gain and can be shared relatively easily with your team. Why do this? Stakeholder attitudes and behaviours are vital in the success of any approach that makes it out of your team. Good predictions about how different groups might respond, is crucial to the success or failure of any initiative.

I once asked a colleague about the success of a young, newly promoted deputy secretary when I was working for the APS in Canberra. How did she do it? I asked. He said that – above all her other talents – the individual had an excellent grasp of the stakeholders – she could almost read their thoughts and could confidently predict how each might respond to a given set of circumstances.

We’re not all like this of course, but a very useful thing to do for your team is to examine and record all your stakeholders and do some analysis on their attitudes, what action you could expect each to take in respect of various policy changes and decisions, as well as your team’s current relationship with each, and their attitude towards each other, your team and the government. A succinct matrix document often helps to present this – and it’s likely to bring to light where work needs to focus in order to improve relationships. What you are really doing is a mini-risk assessment of the social and community dynamics of policy and service delivery development in your area. Because many of us tend to focus primarily on getting the technical aspects right, the data from this type of analysis is a rare and valuable commodity, enabling better decision-making.

  1. Add Value to the Third Sector

This won’t make sense for everyone but you would be surprised at how ‘in demand’ government skills and knowledge are in the not-for-profit sector. There are many challenges faced by the not-for-profit sector – a dwindling public purse, complex regulatory obligations and greater demands on NFPs by those organisations that fund them.  Australia’s not-for-profit sector contributes at least $29.6 billion or 4.7 per cent to Australia’s GDP making it one of our largest ‘industries’ – it is likely there is a not-for-profit of some variety that would greatly value your skills and experience.

Many public servants are put off by exploring skilled volunteering opportunities because of concerns about conflicts of interest – the concern is a valid one, but conflicts are easily managed by making judicious decisions about who you might approach to help out. If you are working on social housing policy then you would of course avoid any NFP that could be funded by your organisation. But if you do know how funding works in government, those same skills are likely to be very useful to any organisation that needs money from government to survive. What is always needed is to be clear on your offering – what are the (3-4) key skills that you have that will be useful. You don’t need to go it alone though – some intermediary organisations match your skills to a NFP in need. And if you do have a particular burning passion or favourite NFP, go for a direct approach – just make sure you have your offering down-pat and be prepared to be flexible. This is a great way to contribute directly to your community, an excuse to dust off your resume and add to your skills, and an opportunity to expand your thinking and perspectives about those who are greatly affected by government decisions.

And for anyone who is a little jaded (it happens to the best of us!), sometimes the best way to re-kindle love for your work is to step outside of it for a while and discover a different perspective.

Mini Conversation Guide – Career Development for Your Team

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Imagine this… You might have 5 people reporting to you. You might have 3 or 2 or just one. Your team performs reasonably well. You have one person who you can always count on, works themselves to the bone. Although you are concerned about them burning out. You have another team member who is very, very clever. They could be doing anything they wanted. The problem is application – is their heart really in this role or somewhere else? There are lots of different varieties of people, each of us is incredibly complex. But one thing stands out as a common factor for all of us in any team working in an organisation – we all need some idea of the future. Therefore, if you manage people, you need to think very carefully about the aspirations and ability of the people in your team. If you can provide a way for people to talk about their future in a safe way, and you help people to realise at least part of that future in your organisation, you’ll be amazed at the results. The starting point is a good conversation. What you need:

  • Trust
  • A quiet and private place where there’ll be no distractions
  • A strong desire and the ability to continue supporting your team member reach their goals

Some questions that may help the conversation:

Why are we here? Make sure you are both clear on the purpose of the conversation. If you don’t believe it, neither will they. So dwell on this question – why are you bothering to do this? If you don’t have a good answer – DON’T DO IT!

What gives you the most energy in this role? What gives you the least? Now a lot of people will say – don’t ask that, they’ll complain about things they HAVE to do and you won’t be able to do anything about it! There are always things we have to do in our roles that we don’t like. I once had a job where I was essentially managing a small office – from processing accounts, to the website, answering the phone and booking appointments. Some of it was awful, some of it I was surprised that I enjoyed. The idea here is that you are trying to help someone be “In Flow” for as much time as possible in their role: where they are doing work that they enjoy and are challenged by (that’s not the definition of In Flow by the way – I’m paraphrasing because true “flow” can seem a bit unrealistic at work – but it’s a helpful model to help someone understand the work they enjoy in their current role).

What is your career purpose? In other words, why are you working? What’s the point? For many people this is for material reasons, for others it is about supporting other people e.g. “to help support my family”. It could be focused on career advancement in their profession, “to be the best teacher I can be”. Or it might be about broader, more esoteric objectives e.g. “to help build a strong community”. It is a revealing question – a lot of us can’t actually articulate it! Which is why having you – their manager – ask them might be just about the best thing that’s happened in their career all year. What can we do together to help you achieve your goals?

  • Hopefully, if you make some progress on “purpose” then there will be some idea of goals. In my view, goal-setting needs to be approached with extreme caution, particularly when it comes to careers. Sure, plenty of concrete, achievable things can be worthwhile goals, but a person’s career pathway can change so quickly that goals can become redundant and an irritation rather than the impetus to achieve things (which is what they’re for).
  • One way to approach this is to say “Look, these are your goals and your goals only. Even with the best intentions, some goals can become less important and new ones arise. I’d be happy to revisit any or all of these with you as we go along.” And don’t bother holding someone to account for their own goals either – they’re not your goals and you aren’t assigning them as work to do. This is about individual development in the context of work in your organisation. Don’t take all the enjoyment away by insisting they be completed. Few adults will thank you for doing that.
  • *And don’t get sucked in by “I want you (my manager) to tell me what to do” either – this might solve a few short term problems but challenging people to take responsibility for their own development is what this is all about.

Some final things to think about: What if I get an answer from my team member that I don’t like e.g. “well, I don’t actually want to be here”? If that happens, it is a good thing. Why? Because the team member you have probably been concerned about is finally opening up and telling you the truth. Now, if that conversation hadn’t happened “the truth” may have come out by that team member resigning suddenly over a holiday break, never to be seen again. You’ve now got the chance to talk about why. What’s going on for them? What can be adjusted to help take some of the pressure off (anything?). It may be a lost cause, but at least you’ll have the opportunity to learn a new perspective from a team member. A skill all leaders must cultivate!

*You might be interested in our other posts on career development across a range of topics including:

Unlocking Your Leadership Potential – Transcript of Presentation

*This is an edited version of our presentation to Hunter Young Professionals (HYP) in Newcastle, NSW on 23 July 2014. Thanks HYP for the opportunity to speak to your members! 

Vision

Floreat Consulting Australia is about helping to create organisations that are great places to work because people are engaged, challenged and happy in roles that fit them well.

How do we work?

We love using scenarios and stories to help people make sense of problems and challenges – and through that, themselves! While we do “potential profiling” we also just help people using our models without any sort of assessment. It all depends on the context and what is going to be of the most value.

One of Floreat’s most interesting challenges was helping with a construction company on their bid to build facilities for the London Olympics – helping the team predict the challenges they might face by taking them through our model for understanding complexity.

We’ve helped individual aspiring leaders discover and develop their potential for major oil company, Petronas. And we’ve helped new leaders understand organisational models and leadership potential as part of industry group Consult Australia’s Future Business Leaders Program.

We love learning through experimentation, interesting challenges and having fun.

Why should you care about potential?

  • You will become a better leader by understanding your own potential and the potential of people in your team
  • You will become a better team member by understanding your potential so you can use it confidently

The models we use are great levellers. They’re also platforms for lighting a rocket under someone’s career. We have a proud history of helping people succeed based on merit – not what school they went to, what clothes they wear, the colour of their skin, or what accent they have.

To start we’re going to go through some organisational theory because no-one’s career exists in a vacuum. All of us in this room already have or will spend time, perhaps our whole lives, working in these things we humans have created called organisations. Knowing how organisations work, is one of the keys to thriving in them and not getting too discouraged. It lets you say “ohhhh, that might be why that’s happening! It’s not just me!”

scott hyp

Imagine this…

A new coach is appointed to the Socceroos (I’m not suggesting they change coaches).

But imagine there is a new coach. The new coach starts making all the right noises – they’re turning over a new leaf for this team. My predecessor has done a great job. We have a promising group of young players.

The first game comes along and its business as usual. Same squad that the Socceroos took to the World Cup (apart from a couple of predicted retirements). Same starting line-up.

An exhibition game at home.

The team perform terribly, catastrophically. Worse than Brazil against Germany in the World Cup. They lose 11-0.

The coach makes some radical team changes.

A new striker is called up from one of the A-league teams. The problem is, he hasn’t played a game in the A-league, is injured and has a reputation for having a bad attitude. A new goalie is also brought in – but he is plucked from a local competition, is not young anymore (for a professional footballer) and is probably not the best goalie in the club comp! To cap it all off, the coach brings in a “technical expert” to help with skill development and the training program. The problem? The only sporting experience she has is playing mixed netball, and that was almost 15 years ago.

The media are outraged by these changes and when they dig a bit further, the outrage grows to epic proportions.

The striker? He knows the club chairman, he arranged to see the coach and get a personal try-out, the coach watched him go through a few drills and – with the chairman looking on eagerly – decided he was the new striker.

The new goalie? Well he is the boyfriend of the coach’s daughter and potential new son in law.

The technical expert? She prepared like there was no tomorrow, got an interview and wowed the new coach with graphs and powerpoint slides, demonstrating the year on year improvements she could make to the team. The downside? She couldn’t actually do the job. But she was great at explaining how she could do it.

This might seem like a bizarre scenario. A coach actually employing people who he knows can’t do the job as well as others. Would it ever happen? What conditions would there need to be for a coach of a sporting team to get away with this?

….

What conditions would there need to be for someone to get away with this?

….

Now think about organisations that you’ve worked in. Have you ever seen a situation like this before? Someone’s able to climb into a managerial position because they know the boss or his family? Someone who is able to ace an interview but can’t actually do the job?

Of course you do. Because this is what many modern organisations are like.

Some hard truths and then some good news.

Decisions made about people are of course not made purely on the basis of performance. They are often about all sorts of other things – decisions don’t always get made on the basis of merit – they get made because of prevailing beliefs, trends, culture, prejudices.

  • People are not always promoted because they are good at their jobs.
  • Potential is generally not uncovered and developed rigorously.
  • The good and best people don’t always succeed.

This is what drives us at Floreat. To do our bit so that talented people know they have talent and can be the best they can possibly be.

Working in organisations can be hard work. In fact, in a lot of organisations, getting by is THE hardest work. It’s not processing accounts, dealing with customers, writing marketing copy, making calculations, designing things, making good coffee. It’s just being able to get by and survive the politics, the social environment, the distractions.

It’s likely that no-one will ever tell you how an organisation really works. But it’s not magic – organisations are explainable. A way that works for me is to look at how a successful sporting team works. Then you try to figure out why organisations almost never turn out like that.

The first question all really great organisations (including sporting teams) can answer for their people is:

What am I expected to do and why? (my role and work)

The second is:

How am I going? (my performance)

The third is:

What’s my future? (my opportunities, potential & current capability)

It’s answering the third question that is perhaps the most challenging. (*The 3 questions about work are from an excellent body of knowledge known as Systems Leadership Theory. A link to the book Systems Leadership, Creating Positive Organisations is here.)  

The goal? The right people, in the right roles, doing the right sort of work, at the right time. And all these questions answered for individuals consistently and well – even if the answer is disappointing. Especially if the answer to the individual is disappointing. In other words, an organisation is going well if people working there have a generally held view that the decisions made by the organisation, and the decisions and behaviour of its leaders are generally fair, honest and courageous.

So what do we mean by this term “leadership?”

Leadership to us means influencing a group of people so that they achieve objectives and continue to do so over time. A big part of that – of course – is leading through answering these 3 questions for your team.

There are some distinct capabilities needed for a leader to do their work well. They must be able to understand how people make judgements and value behaviour. They need to understand people and how they work in organisations, how beliefs can arise and how positive beliefs about themselves and the organisation can be brought about (this, to us is the essence of “culture”). They need a good idea of where they want to take their team. Oh and it would be good if they also make good decisions and act in accordance with their stated idea of what they are trying to create.

Ok, potential.

We are going to show you a model (2 actually) – that we use at Floreat – to help individuals understand their own potential so they can look at their goals, change them if they need to, and achieve them. We hope you can use this too – not only for your own development, but also for other things in the future and explaining some things that you may have seen or have happened to you that could have been mystifying.

In any organisation, work varies in complexity (by that I mean, the time horizon for different tasks varies, there are a different number of variables and those variables relate to one another differently over time) – and we all have a varying degree of capacity to deal with this complexity.

Say I joined a bank as a junior customer service officer. My focus in that role would be on resolving customer problems as they come to me on a daily basis. Let’s say I’m enjoying that and developing in the role over a few years, and I’m now put in charge of a team of junior customer service officers. We’re all doing valuable work (there’s no doubt, where would a bank be without people helping customers directly?) but as the manager of the team, I’m now thinking of a longer timeframe and more variables that impact on my own and the team’s performance. I may need to think about how to fill a roster over a 6 month period, how to resolve tricky customer problems that cross over into the work of a few different teams and even questions about who might be the next to fill my shoes.

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My proposition is that (and I’m not alone), we all have different levels of ability and comfort with complexity. And that’s fine. The good thing is, all levels are valuable and not all are necessary (smaller organisations don’t necessarily need Zone 6 or even Zone 5 thinking). And plenty of “smart” people aren’t comfortable at those higher zones because that’s just not where their ability lies. (For example, brain surgeons don’t need Zone 6 thinking ability in our model).

This is about complexity in organisations – not complexity everywhere. In my role as a junior customer service officer, I could have enjoyed dealing with the daily customer queries for a long period of time, but I might be starting to get bored seeing the same thing over and over. I might be wondering what my manager does all day up there. I could even be wondering, do I have what it takes to be successful in another role if I do get promoted?

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This is important, because what organisations should value a great deal more than they do, is the ability of people not only to understand complexity, but also to make good judgments and act productively in relation to complexity. It’s not enough to just “get it”, we generally get paid in roles to make judgements on things and take action.

In the bank, I might be wondering, I think we should change the way contact our customers. I might then be thinking, how can I actually put this into practice. What would I need to think about? How could this new system be designed? What hurdles can I see? Who might support it? Who might be against it?

In short, organisations should take a lot of notice of who can make that transition successfully. Who can put the ability to understand complexity together with the ability to manage – people and tasks – well.

And what sort of challenges do we come up against as soon as we want to turn our ideas into reality? People – both individuals and groups of people who’ll be affected by our decisions. That holds true for a lot of the smallest, most seemingly minor decision to major ones affecting many people.

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Let’s use an example. Say you’re in charge of a vehicle manufacturing plant. You know that the economic fundamentals are not in your favour – people are demanding smaller, cheaper and higher quality. Unfortunately you’ve just discovered that the transmission system in your new line of vehicles is faulty.

Analysis – Creativity

In this case, analysis is about looking into why the transmission system might be faulty – was there an error in the production line? Industrial sabotage? Is it really a fault or was it caused by something the after-sales repairs are doing? In terms of creativity, what can be done about this problem – can it be isolated? Could there be a win-win there somehow?

Analysis is about understanding the facts and causes of things – as well as, perhaps, the implications of some things happening now off into the future. Creativity is coming up with ideas on what to do about it. If you prefer analysis, you’re not alone. Most people do! Knowing your preferences helps you know when you might need help at work and what sort of help you could need.

People – Task

If you decide to check out the production process, how would you go about it? Which groups will be affected? How will you communicate with them, what different messages do different people need to get? On tasks, what work needs to be done? How should it get done? What are the priorities?

When we talk about “People and task” focus, we’re talking about the world of action.

Direction – Purpose

Sense of direction is making judgements about what needs to be done. The point at which you need to commit to a plan. Purpose is being able to adapt that plan depending on prevailing impacts of people and task.

If you can manage a problem across all these things, you’re doing really well. The ability required of really strong leaders is being able to do these things at increasing levels of complexity – and the complexity I’m talking about is the complexity you have to deal with in your work.

The variables, the unexpected, ambiguity. Things like the economy, our competitors, changing customer habits, government policy.

The good part is, we all have potential and there are ways of working out what your potential looks like – you can even have a good guess at your own potential based on what you know now.

Ok, I hope you’ve got a broad idea of leadership potential and how you might recognise it in yourself and others. But what about the practical stuff? What steps could you actually take to develop your career as a young professional?

  1. Get to know your manager and organisation

If you are looking to get ahead in your career, then getting support for your career goals from your current boss should be at the top of your agenda.

A practical thing that many people don’t appreciate is the importance of establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with their boss. As I’m sure you know, at times this can be easy to do and other times it isn’t. For example, if you already have a negative relationship, clearly you will find it more difficult. But regardless of how easy it is to do, right now it should be your priority. Some things that we have found useful to help create a positive relationship with your boss are:

Show an interest in them as a person

Showing an interest in someone is essential to building a positive relationship. It is important that you don’t just view them as someone that calls the shots or makes your work life difficult. Having a negative perception of them can inadvertently make your work life tough through how you unconsciously interact with each other.

Your manager has their own goals, dreams and challenges and more often than not will have their own boss, just like you.  You could ask about what they do outside of work, their family and career goals. Remember the things they tell you and bring them up in future conversations. Obviously, the strength of your current relationship will depend on how personal these discussions get, be careful not to overstep the mark.

Establish a mentoring relationship

Having your boss as a mentor can be great for your career. You can learn plenty and it is an excellent way to gain an advocate for your career progression. First of all show some curiosity and thirst for the things you can learn from them, ask about their career and how they got to where they are now.

Think about areas of expertise they have that you are interested in then direct conversations toward those topics. You’ll be amazed how people enjoy sharing and passing knowledge onto others, especially when they are passionate about the subject. Through these conversations you’ll be creating the basis of an informal mentoring relationship, which in turn will give you the confidence to ask your boss to formalise the relationship.  When formalising a relationship like this be mindful not to overdo the formalities, paperwork or unnecessary bureaucracy, making it minimum sufficient to achieve the purpose is the best way to go.

It’s a two way street – How can you support them?

A key part of any strong, rewarding relationship is that interest and support goes both ways. Being on the lookout for ways you can support your boss, whether it is little things around the office or asking specifically to support them with something will increase the likelihood of them supporting you.  The way you behave with them, as well as how you talk about them with others is important. If you are on the lookout to promote their best interests there is a good chance they will do the same for you. Who knows? Maybe one day your boss will get a promotion and you will be the perfect person to progress into their role.

Try to see what they see

One final and very important thing to remember that will help get the most out of any relationship is to see the world from their perspective. If you spend time reflecting through the lens of your boss and let that inform your behaviour you will be amazed at the positive impact it will have.

  1. Get to know how potential works

We’ve given some advice on how potential works in a technical sense. But I’m going to take you through some practical tips that we’ve learned from looking at potential in the field.

“Professionalism”

Leadership potential is not about “professionalism”. I mentally vomit every time I hear that word. Being “professional” is a means-nothing word, and often a values-laden and confusing term that serves to divide people of different cultural groups. When we profile people, we don’t care about the bells and whistles – how people are dressed, how well they do small talk, who they’re friends with. Potential can be found in the most unlikely places (and we have!) – the well-educated and wealthy, non-educated and poor. It doesn’t matter and there is no correlation. Forget professionalism.

Language

It IS about language – not in the sense of breadth of vocabulary – but in the sense that the way someone uses language, in the right setting, is a window into how they think about things. DANGER! This doesn’t mean you get points for talking about a great “strategy”, how you are addressing “stakeholder interests”, how something might be “ubiquitous”, whether someone works “in that space” (shudder….uurgghhh). It is about being able to come up with new ideas and the ability to link those ideas together in new and interesting ways with other interrelated ideas.

Thinking > Action

Potential is not just thinking about things. What is really interesting (and part of why I do this work) is that the potential we assess is the ability to think, plan and do. It’s about being able to analyse a situation, come up with some creative solutions, make a plan, implement it effectively, adapt it if need be (and it will nearly always need to change) when the situation changes, learn from all that and then repeat it again. And of course the drive to keep going despite adversity and see it succeed.

Balance

It’s also all about balance. Have you ever met someone who is amazing at thinking about things but can never quite bring themselves to do anything with it? Ever? That’s a sign that the person favours what we call “pure thinking” over “applied thinking”. An excellent and fine quality to have if you are in an analytical, advice-giving role. Not so great for a project manager. Those people who are able to balance the thinking and doing aspects – and do that at a level of complexity that matches their work (number and type of variables as well as ambiguity into time and space) – are more likely to be successful leaders.

  1. Work on your career goals (and get some help if you need it – you probably will!)

You need to do your homework. Working on the answers to these questions is great preparation for your career plan and for your conversation with your manager to enlist their support:

  • What exactly are my career goals for the short, medium and long term? Are my goals aligned with supporting my company’s purpose?  You need to think hard about what motivating things you can achieve; they should be challenging goals without creating too much unhelpful pressure.
  • Is my behaviour and output at work in line with what is expected of high achieving employees? Some honest self-reflection is helpful here. If you think you can improve your performance by better applying your capability make a conscious decision to fix this now.
  • Am I capable to do the work of my current role and do I have the potential to progress to my desired role? Having a clear understanding of your current capability and future potential is important to get the balance right when setting goals. It can also be very motivating.

Conclusion

Let’s return to our sporting analogy.

Part of the reason this doesn’t happen in good sporting teams but happens a lot in organisations is that concepts like potential, authority, leadership and accountability are confused and undefined. People are not generally held to account for their work, and people are not generally promoted because it is thought they would make a better leader than others.

But if you understand what these concepts mean and how they apply to you, you can achieve a lot in a very short space of time.

We could be here all day on other reasons why organisations end up like they do – and there is plenty that’s particular to specific organisations – what I would say is it is enormously useful knowing:

  1. Your manager and organisation (and getting along well with them)
  2. Your leadership potential
  3. Your career goals and how you can achieve them

If you’d like to know more, check out our website www.floreatconsultingaustralia.com.au and get in touch. We’ll also be around for a little while after this talk.

We would like to thank you all very much for coming along on this cold morning!

The part of my job I seriously LOVE – writing Talentfinder cases from scratch

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I guess it’s the part of me that longs to be a writer, tapping on a typewriter, holed up in a log cabin somewhere with snow outside, a wood fire inside and just my deep thoughts to keep me company. (The reality is a bit different – I spent most of a recent train trip trying to ignore broken air conditioning and screaming kids while writing parts of my last case!)

So what is a Talentfinder case?

At Floreat, one of the key ways we help people is through individual potential profiling using a scenario-based technique called Talentfinder. Essentially we give someone a written scenario and ask for responses about what that person sees in the scenario, and then in a role play, we ask about what action they would take to address certain challenges that are presented. This is all done in a one-on-one conversation. We have lots of scenarios covering many different industry sectors and challenges a person could expect working in an organisation – Floreat has been doing this for over 20 years so there is a substantial library we can draw on. And we are constantly looking for new ways to support and challenge our clients and so are always in need of more scenarios.

A typical scenario might involve a candidate as a general manager of a car manufacturer. At first the scenario could involve having to deal with faulty parts from a supplier. As things get more complex, you may have to deal with problems in a whole product line and then even further along, you might be asked to re-design the whole direction of the business. A mini-scenario we’ve published about a venture capital business in the mining sector is here.

I love writing Talentfinder cases for a couple of different reasons:

  • It helps me connect with the people who actually go through a Talentfinder profile – writing a scenario is not just about coming up with a realistic-sounding story. We are looking for indications of how someone thinks and acts – and to do this, we need to provide opportunities to shine, while not leading people to certain answers. So the writing process is definitely one of…if this was me being profiled, how might I react? Am I prescribing anything or am I opening up creative opportunities? Is there too much of my thinking in this? Does it give someone who thinks completely differently, a genuine opportunity to do well?
  • It constantly reminds me that there is no one way. We are all different and think differently about the same set of facts. But there are some things that work better than others and what is really important – besides thinking well about things – is making decisions, and taking responsibility for the outcome of your decision.

But most of all, I’ve discovered that writing cases is a bit like leadership itself. You need to give others enough direction to succeed, but not too much so there is no room to think. You also need a dignified way to allow stepping back and re-grouping if the work gets too tough. There will always be lots of ‘right’ ways – and plenty of dead ends. The trick in developing good leaders is to understand the fundamentals of good thinking and productive action and how to spot them.

If you’re a leader, we recommend that you look for that ability, support it and facilitate it. Come to think of it, there are plenty of ‘right’ ways to do that too!

Australian Institute of Management presentation: How to Unlock the Leadership Potential of Future Leaders

We’re excited to be presenting at the Australian Institute of Management Open House on Monday 3 November! Please find the link to the event here.

Join Sam Robinson from Floreat Consulting Australia for a session on uncovering and developing leadership potential. Discover the importance of assessing the potential of younger employees and the value this creates for both organisations and individuals.

Why law firms need better leaders (and what to do about it)

Back when I was studying to be a lawyer, I was generally surrounded by people who wanted to get ahead. Generally, get ahead of each other – it was a very competitive environment. When it came time in 4th year to apply for clerkship positions with the major law firms, the competitive tension became even more pronounced and explicit. Often, people would be quite desperate to beat everyone else, leading to bullying and out and out aggression, as well as anxiety and depression. For young lawyers, this is the proving ground for the next phase – the law firm.

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Most lawyers can apply the law to facts. But can they all lead others?

Law firms by their nature are strange beasts. People are hired almost exclusively for their technical skill (and I don’t care what the top tier firm websites and glossy marketing guff say), get promoted for such skill and then generally find themselves out of their depth when promoted into leadership positions.

Why?

Often it’s because being really good at the books doesn’t translate into working well in the commercial world. At least not initially. For me, I was out of home and had to support myself by working while I was at university – in fact, I probably enjoyed working more than studying. Some of my fellow students lived at home and devoted their entire lives for those 5 years to study. I was always beaten on marks but was forever resentful of the playing field. Not all this was justified of course, but the recruitment process of most firms exacerbates this bias even further. (In my mind, this makes the first cull based on academic results a fairly arbitrary process).

But probably more importantly, many senior lawyers are not great at understanding and developing human capability over time. (If you are a lawyer and find a boss who is, stick with them!) This I think is because the competitive environment doesn’t value good people skills – in my view, the hardest skill set of them all.

Being out of depth seems to be the default state of any young lawyer – perhaps even mid-career lawyers. I don’t know a practicing lawyer who hasn’t reported this feeling to me. And I know plenty. In that way, there is plenty of intentional social Darwinism that’s at least tolerated if not actively encouraged.

I think this is counter-productive for two reasons:

  • People perform better when they are not stressed to the eye-balls. In a competitive environment under great stress (like a situation where you have far fewer job openings than possible candidates), the great don’t always rise to the top. Those who can adapt to this situation, do. And they aren’t always the same people you want working for you. Look no further than the financial crisis and those lawyers and bankers who perpetuated it.
  • The capability to be a good lawyer is not the same – in fact, it’s almost never the same – as the capability needed to be a good leader in a law firm.

So law firms are problematic from an organisational point of view. What’s the answer? Unsurprisingly, the answer is complex, determined by each firm’s context and works on a number of levels. But a good start for every law firm is to:

  1. Articulate what good leadership in your firm looks like with the same energy as you would articulate what makes a good piece of advice.
  2. Explicitly and actively recognise the value of good leadership through action (forget for now writing nice motherhood stuff on the website).
  3. Understand the individual building blocks of good leadership potential among your lawyers and how that potential might be recognised consistently.
  4. Work to develop that leadership potential rigorously (alongside – of course – identifying and developing technical skills).

People aren’t machines – they have beliefs, ideas, motivations and quirks: this is hard work. And it’s one of the reasons why leadership in law firms is often overlooked. But be persistent – you’ll be rewarded.

Quality Leadership – What does it take?

So what is it that makes a great leader?

If you do a quick online search some answers that pop up are an ability to delegate, communication, ability to analyse, people skills, confidence, sound judgment, commitment to task, positive attitude, positive behaviour, creativity, intuition and ability to inspire to name a few.

All of these qualities and more are great for a leader to have, some of these are skills that can be learnt over time through experience and practice while others are related to cognitive thinking capacity which is something that is much more difficult to develop.  In fact, some people are of the opinion that cognitive thinking capacity will remain relatively stable once someone reaches early adulthood.  I don’t intend to get into that argument in this piece but I will be touching on some of the leadership qualities that are closely related to cognitive thinking capacity, how they are applied in practice and what the relationship is to a great leader, which can be the difference between total disaster and success for an organisation.

To set the scene let’s look at a fictitious scenario that a leader might have to deal with:

You are the General Manager of a beer brewing company that distributes products across Australia and internationally.  Over the past couple of months there have been issues relating to the quality of some of your products when they reach the consumer, such as off taste, smell and discolouration of the beer. When these issues came to light you removed the offending batch of products from sale, increased quality control measures and implemented a major internal investigation to determine the cause of the bad quality product.  The cause of the issue has yet to be identified however no more bad quality products have been found during the increased quality control process.

Weeks later you are watching the news at home when a breaking story is aired about two related deaths from an unknown cause at a pub that your company is a major supplier to.  A shiver runs down your spine and then your phone rings, with trepidation you take the call.  On the phone is the chief of police in charge of investigating the mysterious deaths and he informs you that it appears both people had been drinking your company’s beer at the time of death and initial tests have shown the beer contained cyanide. The chief tells you he is on route to your house and will arrive in 5 minutes to discuss the crisis with you.

So let’s image you are in the General Manager’s role and now have 4 minutes until the chief of police knocks on your door. What are your first thoughts? How would you handle the crisis? What are the critical things to consider?

A proposition I’ll put to you is that first of all you will need to analyse the situation to understand what is happening, not much of relevance can be achieved without sound analysis to determine the possible causes, implications and knock on effects of the crisis.  Once you’ve analysed the situation and have an understanding of what is happening your mind will then start trying to come up with ideas to solve the issues, this is where your creativity is needed if you are to successfully direct the crisis to the most satisfactory outcome possible.

Now of course to successfully navigate a crisis like this you will need to consider how to apply your analysis and creativity (known as Pure Thinking) in practical terms.  For example who are the people that will be affected by the crisis and the ideas you’ve come up with to solve it, both immediately and into the future?  And what are the things (tasks) that need to be done to achieve the best outcome for your company and all the other people involved?  These are complex issues that we all naturally will think differently about. Careful judgement needs to be used when a leader’s Pure Thinking is practically applied to a critical situation at a moment’s notice.

The Qualities of Leadership

Qualities of Leadership

The balance of Pure Thinking qualities (analysis and creativity) and the Applied Thinking qualities (people and task focus) of a leader along with the judgments they make in a moment of extreme crisis can be the difference between organisations and empires toppling or surviving to fight another day.

Now let’s think about how important it is to have balanced leadership qualities.

What might happen if you have great analysis of the crisis but poor creativity?  Or focus too much on tasks to the detriment of the many people involved?

If this was the case I imagine that your conversation with the chief of police could be catastrophic.  You would be able to understand and articulate what is going on but wouldn’t be able to come up with ideas to control or manage the situation to a positive outcome.  Also, you may overlook or not consider some of the people connected to the crisis even though your plan will impact them both immediately and into the future. Your conversation with the chief may not go well: you would be pushed for a course of action on the spot but struggle to come up with an appropriate plan. In the heat of the moment, you may not consider the various people connected to the crisis, which would have an irretrievably negative impact on many people, including the future of your organisation.

On the other hand, if you have balanced Pure Thinking qualities and can handle the complexity of the situation you could immediately start to navigate the issues to the most positive possible outcome for all involved.

There are people out there that can handle dealing with amazingly complex challenges in a balanced way at a moment’s notice. They might even be working in your organisation already, waiting to be identified and given the right opportunities to develop.

The Qualities of Leadership model and Floreat’s related talent identification methodology Talentfinder has been developed by Floreat Consulting through years of studying successful leaders in large organisations and practical application to identify people with the potential to succeed at the highest levels in a variety of different roles.