Using Change to Boost Your Career

Change equals opportunity… that’s concise way of describing some of the major events which have propelled successful New Zealand executives along their career paths.
Whether the change is move within the organisation, or step outside into another organisation or self-employment, those who see change as an opportunity are at distinct advantage, whatever their level in the management structure. At the highest management levels the risks can be greater, but so too are the advantages of broadening hard and soft skills, and gaining global picture of management within an organisation.
That global view is essential for anyone who might be contemplating stepping outside corporate life to establish their own company, move which two of the executives interviewed for this story found invaluable.
Jo Brosnahan, now chief executive of the Auckland Regional Council, ran her own management and transport consultancy for five years, after leaving position as commercial manager for the Northland Harbour Board. Running her own company enabled her to “view things from the other side of the fence”, developed new skills which led to her role as chief executive of the Northland Regional Council, and engendered passion for leadership.
Stig Ehnbom has recently changed direction after 25 years running his own marketing, management and training consultancy in New Zealand and Australia, to become general manager Auckland division of the New Zealand Institute of Management. His new role provides plenty of opportunities to share skills and knowledge with new audience.
For others, major change in focus occurs within the organisation.
After 10 years in human resources role within financial services organisation, Barbara Chapman changed disciplines overnight to marketing. She found the greater understanding of customer behaviour from her marketing work married well with her prior knowledge of staff behaviour, to produce balanced internal and external view of the business. Several years later she moved to the ASB Bank, where she further developed these twin roles, before recent appointment as head of retail banking and marketing.
Craig Marsh gained whole new perspective when he moved from editorial management to newspaper management role where he was charged with turning around loss-making situation. He believes the role taught him more in 12 months than he would have learned in five years in business that was already successful.
His path towards his current position as group executive officer at Wilson and Horton also involved “jumping the tracks” 14 years ago to move into advertising management. At that time this was, he says, an unheard of change, but one which gave him holistic view of the business, through exposure to commerce and actual customers.
The moves made by these executives emphasise some of the key points in how executives should manage their careers in the 21st century. Mastery of and experience in one of the ‘hard’ skills, such as financial management, is the base-line requirement. Mergers, alliances and project work also demand working knowledge of several other disciplines (marketing is key one), so that teams can quickly knit together and become productive.
The next step is developing ‘soft skills’ such as communication, leadership, coaching strategic planning and performance management, and putting these into practice. However, there is still tendency for many New Zealand organisations to promote primarily on the basis of technical skills, without giving as much consideration to identifying those who also have an aptitude for soft skills.
This is likely to be problematic when managers are working in companies which are increasingly looking to global marketplace. New Zealand companies, tiny in size compared to many of their competitors, will need to consider alliances of all sorts to get their products recognised in new markets. Strategy, leadership and project-management skills will be critical in this environment.
“The trend to project work and joint ventures also demands that managers demonstrate initiative, adaptability and persuasiveness to get work done on time by all involved. They also need to be culturally sensitive and have an understanding of personality types to bring together an effective team,” comments Linley Watson, director of Peak Performance International.
These skills are needed not only within the organisation to develop and motivate staff, but also to build better relationships with customers. Stephan Hauke, of Internet Learning and Domino International, says customers can now easily access information about competing products and services. “The seller has less power, so they must put more focus on building an ongoing relationship with the customer.”
And the final step is the ability to coach others within the organisation in these skills. This reinvestment can yield many benefits, including instilling the company brand and values in employees in practical manner, developing better performance management skills, and investing in the short-term and long-term productivity of employees.
Instilling company brand and values is often under-rated, possibly because it is seen as more abstract than hammering home sales target. Not only does productivity benefit from aligning employee and company values, but it can assist in retaining talented employees, and promote positive comment about the organisation by past employees.
Retaining both customers and staff is smart strategy in competitive environment, given the high cost of staff turnover and recruitment on the one hand, and in obtaining and holding new customers on the other.
Staff retention can become an issue when organisations undergo what seems like an endless cycle of restructuring, which frequently results in increased workloads. Many executives will see trade-off between heavier workload and the opportunity to gain broader span of responsibility and to build their skills. For this group, and those who require some assistance to effectively manage their new role, well-targeted training can confer practical skills and psychological boost in seeing the organisation reinvesting in its staff.
Coaching others in performance management is likely to bring considerable benefit to organisations. Integrating performance management into the daily and weekly routine will yield better results than treating it as quarterly or annual exercise.
It needs to be developed on several levels, says Mark Lunny, Australasian sales manager for David Forman, from getting position profiles right in the first place, through skills in conducting performance reviews, and coaching and training to improve performance. Identifying coaching and training needs also plays significant role in succession planning within the organisation.
Another benefit of refining performance management skills is the ability to better plan training and to measure its results. Companies invest sizeable sums in customised training programmes, so it is vital that they can measure the return, not only in direct dollar terms from sales, but also in behavioural change or reinforcement. Stig Ehnbom believes this is so important that he has developed methodology which he says achieves tighter match between training and the client’s own Key Performance Indicators. The methodology will initially be offered through NZIM Auckland.
Linking executive education directly to corporate change is global trend, according to recent report on executive programmes by the Economist Intelligence Unit in Great Britain. The report says executive education has to do more than just inform, it has to change the way things are done, and notes that the proportion of customised programmes has grown considerably in recent years.
According to the report, clients are seeking innovative tools to deal with uncertainty, while organisations and individuals also benefit as managerial networks are developed.
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