How Working Outside The Box Can Accelerate Your Career

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Jul 27, 2015 |

Are you wondering if doing your MBA might accelerate your career and give it that extra boost? Have you just stopped playing your favourite sport so you can spend the next 2 years studying for an extra qualification that you believe will advance your career? Are you one of those university students who has given up all outside activities, convinced that committing yourself to studying hard for a couple of years is worth it, to get you the results that will see you land a job in one of the Big 4 accounting firms?

If this is you, then this message I’m writing here is especially for you. It is great to have all those technical skills and qualifications, but it is your non-technical skills – your Soft Skills – that can enhance and accelerate your career and often provide the X factor. These are often developed and enhanced in out- of- work activities, not in the workplace or in formal education.

Lydia Dishman wrote an inspiring article recently in Fast called Four CEOs On How Their Side Jobs Made Them Better Leaders. It’s about how the activities these CEOs engaged in outside of their work, as a firefighter, a rancher, an IT manager, and a start-up mentor, taught them much about leadership and enhanced their roles as CEOs.

The message that Dishman is communicating here is that many of the skills that make us exceptional professionals in our field are best learnt when we involve ourselves in activities that have nothing to do with our work.

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McDonald’s UK Backing Soft Skills

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Jul 19, 2015 |

In a ground-breaking research report which sees McDonald’s UK Backing Soft Skills, their value to the UK economy has been highlighted. They have statistics that demonstrate the great importance of Soft Skills in preparing people to work in the present economy, in advancing careers and growing businesses.

The report found that Soft Skills has contributed £88 billion in Gross Value Added to the UK economy every year. It is expected this will grow to £109 billion by 2020.

It also demonstrated that by 2020, 535,000 workers will be significantly disadvantaged in their efforts to gain employment or advance in their chosen professions or industry sectors unless they take seriously the development of their Soft Skills. The annual overall expected loss of production due to Soft Skills deficits is likely to be £8.4 per year by 2020.

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Changing The Performance Appraisal Conversation

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Jul 16, 2015 |

In my last blog post, I wrote about Rethinking Performance Appraisals, the ceremonial event of the year for white collar workers in post-industrial economies. I was encouraging you to rethink it and move away from making it the centrepoint of your performance management process.

This blog post follows on from that with some strategies for making the performance appraisal conversation more pro-active and helpful. The strategies you use will either dis-empower and disengage your people, or motivate, inspire and empower them to much fuller engagement and commitment.

The second half of this article – What to do in the Next Year – is about using different processes in your organisation for developing and enhancing the performance of your people, rather than using the traditional annual performance appraisal process.
When you use strategies that empower your people you are more likely to get what you want from them. Criticise them, put them down and dis-empower them and your performance appraisal conversation will back-fire. Be the coach, not the critic and learn the skills to be able to do it.

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Rethinking Performance Appraisals

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Jul 15, 2015 |

Performance appraisals are the ceremonial event of the year for white collar workers in every post-industrial economy. They cost a lot of money and produce a mountain of paper work. Managers dread them. Employees resent them.

There is no other business practice that fails so often to bring about the outcomes it sets for itself, but continues to be used year after year.

Some innovative organisations have developed different approaches. Some tinker around the edges, but for most it is fundamentally the same.

It is rare to read an article that says much positive about them, but I did find this one : How Performance Reviews Can Protect You From Unfair Dismissal Claims. I suspect this is the reason so many keep doing them – to cover their backs.

The biggest defect of performance appraisals is their tendency to focus backwards, to feed-backwards, rather than to feed-forward. Performance appraisals “force” you the leaders or managers, into the role of the critic who passes judgement on your team member’s past performance. This is what causes the tension, stress and anxiety that sees few handling it well.

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Sam Walsh, CEO, Wants More Women At Rio Tinto

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Jul 9, 2015 |

Rio Tinto is a leading global mining group with a 60,000 strong workforce across 40 countries. 82% of its workforce is male. Sam Walsh, the CEO, wants to change that. In an article in The Australian Financial Review (3/7/15) he says he wants to boost women’s ranks in his organisation. The reason this hasn’t happened to date he places firmly in the court of women themselves.

I want to come back to Sam Walsh with a question. How female friendly is his organisation where 82% of its workforce is male? Has he and Rio Tinto looked internally at what might be stopping women from taking on bigger roles within the organisation? What kind of support would there be for women in such an organisation? Would they have to be women acting like men? Is the culture of Rio Tinto very masculine? Does it enhance the pathways and opportunities for men with gold and those for women with great rocks over which they have to scramble, bruising and bleeding on the way?

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Developing Internal Consultants in Our Organisations.

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | May 18, 2015 |

We all know what consultants are. They come into organisations to provide advice and information on a wide range of issues affecting the growth and development of the organisation. Sometimes they are then engaged to also act on that information and affect the change that the consultation has recommended.

But what are “internal consultants” you may well be asking?

These are the people who work in your organisation who have either accumulated or are currently developing experience and/or expertise in areas that impact the growth and development of the organisation.

Often this experience and expertise is not recognised at the top and its value to the organisation is not obvious. It often becomes obvious when particular people resign or retire, taking that invisible expertise with them. What was taken for granted is then sorely missed.

There may not be a forum in the organisation for the expertise of your “internal consultants” to be shared or be made known. CEOs are far more ready to put out large sums of money to bring in “external consultants” to advise on issues and make recommendations when there is often a wealth of expertise within the organisation that has not been drawn upon.

One of the best ways of engaging people in the organisation is to use them as “internal consultants”. It’s a way to value their opinions and ideas and to let them know that you want to meet their needs and aspirations, and to let them know they can make a difference to the organisation.

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Your VIPs, Your Middle Managers

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | May 17, 2015 |

We don’t often hear middle managers called VIPs. If you stop and think about it, however, that’s just what they are. They are the people who can make or break an organisation.

They are the people who implement the vision of the organisation and who motivate and inspire their teams to work with them to make it happen. They build culture. They determine how engaged employees are in the organisation, how much discretionary effort they are willing to put in.

If we know this, then why is so little attention paid to their professional development.

You would have heard that comment by one senior executive discussing the value of investing in them:
But, what if we train them and they leave? Then the reply by another: Yes, but what if we don’t and they stay?

Too many organisations take the risk of not training them. The managers stay, because they are where they want to be, but the talented people under them leave.

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Motivate Employees For High Performance

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | May 4, 2015 |

44% of managers do not know what motivates their employees,


70% of employee engagement is determined by employees’ managers.

So what does this all mean? It means that managers do not know their employees very well and therefore cannot bring out the best in them.

The performance of your people either makes or breaks an organisation and having those skills to motivate employees for high performance, to get them to work WITH you not just FOR you and to give you 150% will position you as a highly sought after manager. The skills you need to be able to do this are the soft leadership skills. Many managers do not feel comfortable with this soft side of management and they certainly haven’t been “trained” in them.. Yet these are the skills that are now being recognised as an essential complement to your technical and industry specific skills.

If this is you, if this is happening in your organisation, you need to come to my workshop in Melbourne on Tuesday, 23rd June, 2015.

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Make Soft Leadership Skills Workshops Work For You.

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | May 3, 2015 |

Why would people register for a Time Management workshop and then arrive late for it? You may say the answer is obvious – they need some time management skills. But then, you wouldn’t think they would want to make it so blatantly obvious to their participating professional peer group that they are so lacking.

Or what about the up and coming leader who phones me telling me he wants to enhance his networking skills and is coming to my workshop on Growing Your Career Through Networking. He enters the room where everyone is having pre-workshop coffee and stands by himself against the far wall. I go and get him and bring him across and introduce him to people. He shakes their hands but doesn’t contribute to the conversation. At morning tea, he gets his coffee and slice and goes and sits back at his table by himself.

So What Is Happening Here?

There is certainly a big disconnect.

There is a Zen saying: To know and not to do is not yet to know.

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Kaileigh Fryer – A Gen Y Story To Inspire and Motivate Us.

By Maree Harris, Ph.D. | Apr 23, 2015 |

How often do we critique Gen Y for not being more like we are – we being the Baby Boomers? How often do we hold the critique inside us, but fear the direction they are taking their lives? How often do we have those deep and meaningful, all well-intended, conversations with our friends about their decision-making?

Lots of times. And in my professional development workshops, concerns about the attitudes, behaviour and mindsets of Gen Y are a constant source of discussion and comment with leaders and managers – again usually Baby Boomers.

How little faith we have in these young people we have created? How little ability we have to get out of our own way and see them through their eyes, see what motivates and inspires them? How easily we have forgotten what it was like to be their age? And why do we find it so difficult to understand that the world that we grew up in is not the world they are living in?

Out there are hundreds of Gen Ys doing amazing and inspiring things. Kaileigh Fryer was one of those.

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