What’s your strategy for the gig economy? 10 questions to ask

Constant change is here to stay and this is particularly true in today’s workplace. One of the most significant trends we are experiencing now, and one that we will see more of in the future, is the shifting of traditional organisational boundaries to encompass the gig economy.

The firm, once the most cost effective way of contracting, is now just one way of connecting those who demand with those who supply. Digital marketplaces, coupled with the work preferences of new generations entering the workplace, are breaking down the once impenetrable theory of the firm.

One noticeable effect is how, with the gathering momentum of the gig economy, team members are shifting away from their nine-to-five work week — a hangover from the industrial age — to a more flexible and agile way of working.

As with any trend, there is a typical adoption curve. It takes time for industry to become aware of and understand changes in the business environment, at which point, some leaders deny them, some try to wait them out, and of course some embrace them!

To retain competitive advantage, organisational strategy must adapt and respond to environmental changes. Leaders cannot rest on their laurels; their positions are constantly under threat, so they must cultivate a challenger mindset.

10 Questions to ask

To understand the implications that embracing the gig economy will have on your corporate strategy and your business structure, you need to ask your leadership team these questions:

  1. Are we aware of the growing trends of the gig economy, and do you understand the opportunity for our business?
  2. Is our cost base agile enough to respond to sudden disruptions or convergence in our industry?
  3. Do we have a high-performing and diverse workforce?
  4. Do we know how to find, select and on-board flexible talent?
  5. Do our leaders and managers know how to manage high performance within flexible talent teams?
  6. Do we have performance management processes in place for when things go wrong with our flexible ‘gig’ talent?
  7. If using flexible talent for client-facing work:
    • Does our flexible talent share common values and represent our brand well
    • Have we developed our fee structure to incorporate flexible talent costs and margins?
  8. Do our HR processes incorporate the issues unique to managing flexible talent, e.g. workplace health and safety, talent management and gender equality?
  9. Do we have communication channels in place to share appropriate organisational communications with flexible teams, and also protect IP and confidentiality as required?
  10. Do our plans around organisational structure and restructuring incorporate ways to leverage the gig economy by bringing in talent and reducing fixed cost base?

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no’, you may be missing critically important opportunities.

The traditional purpose and boundaries of the firm are being challenged, presenting exciting ways in which to engage members of the gig economy. Instant access to brilliant, flexible, dynamic, tailored and cost effective talent is a shining example of one of the benefits of embracing the gig economy. Another is the increased productivity that can be expected from engaged and motivated workers who are experts in their area, and who are held accountable for their performance.

Platforms like Expert360, Freelancer and Airtasker connect businesses with flexible top talent, effectively delivering expertise and support on tap. The service these platforms provide enables businesses to craft high-powered, surgically tailored and flexible teams to match project needs, on short-term, cost effective contracts.

It is clear that the gig economy, already powerful in many countries around the world, is gathering force in Australia. Companies will have to embrace this labour trend to be competitive as the business environment demands ever more exceptional talent and specialist skills to ensure success — which are exactly what the gig economy provides.


Heidi Sundin is the Director of The Agenda Agency — a boutique consulting firm specialising in corporate strategy, SME growth and gender strategy. She works with organisations to drive growth, innovation and gender diversity. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer-centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. Check out theagendaagency.com


Bridging gender equality and the gig economy

Does your gender equality strategy factor the unique gender issues related to the gig economy?

Australian organisations are at different stages of the gender equality journey and the good news is that most recent data from the WGEA shows that over 70% of organisations have a gender equality strategy or policy in some form. While the extent to which those strategies cover the full suite of gender equality issues is unknown, many of the core issues of targets, workforce composition, pay equity, flexibility and sex-based harassment are considered.

Achieving gender equality in the workplace is challenging – and there is so much work that still needs to be done to ensure that the lived experience for employees is actually consistent with what the policies and strategies aim to achieve – but while we focus on getting our house in order – the workplace itself is changing. To remain employers of choice, gender equality strategies could be refreshed to ensure they take into account the unique gender issues associated with the gig economy.

The gig economy is the move away from 9-5 full time work to a system of engaging with organisations on a project-by-project ‘gig’ basis. Independent consultants or contingent workers may be engaged on a short-term basis individually, to supplement a team, or as part of a larger team of gig workers.

From a gender diversity point of view, the gig economy presents a lot of opportunity to bring in talent that otherwise may inaccessible to the organisation. For example, male dominated industries may find it hard to attract women for long-term roles, and gig work enables women to contribute on multiple short-term projects – to bring fresh and different perspectives into the organisation, which in turns helps to shift the culture.

For organisations the specific gender issues related to freelance consultants or contingent workers are: potential exposure to sex based harassment or discrimination in the organisation, gender bias in consultant selection and pay decisions, potential inequities with full-time employers resenting freelancers flexibility.

Here’s a quick checklist to evaluate your gender strategy (or diversity and inclusion strategy) against:

  • Does your gender strategy specifically reference freelancers, contingent workers, independent consultants and contractors?
  • Have you done an analysis to identify the unique gender related issues for your independent consultants and freelancers?
  • Are you maximising the benefits of diverse talent available in the gig economy?
  • Do you have processes in place to ensure the removal of gender bias from freelance consultants recruitment and selection process?
  • Do you have gender targets for the engagement of independent consultants and freelancers?
  • Do you consider the gender composition of small consulting teams you build from members of the gig economy?
  • Is there a process in place for ensuring independent consultants and freelance consultants are aware of the sex based harassment policy?
  • Do you include independent consultants and freelancers in your pay equity analysis (particularly for like-for-like roles)?
  • Do you provide your employees with similar flexibility arrangements to your independent consultants and freelance consultants?
  • Do you have the appropriate technology and communication channels in place to enable contact between freelance members of the team?
  • Do your leaders and managers know how manage flexible teams, independent consultants and freelance consultants?

As the gig economy grows so too will the need for organisations to adapt organisational structures, policies and management styles. Incorporating specific gender issues for freelancers into your gender strategy will ensure that you attract the best freelancer talent and that you are able to maximise their contribution by creating a high performance environment for them.

Heidi Sundin is the Founder of the Agenda Agency a management consultancy working with organisations to drive growth, innovation and gender diversity. The Agenda Agency collaborates with leaders and teams to develop tailored solutions. Heidi’s experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. Check out http://www.theagendaagency.com

How to stay sane when you work solo

A conversation between Heidi Sundin and Emma Petroulas

Last year I started consulting independently, and yes I love it!  I am able to work with great clients on interesting projects, focus on delivering quality outcomes, and have the desired level of workspace flexibility. I get a kick out of helping people and seeing their businesses succeed – it’s what drives me – so it barely feels like work at all. But the independent path would not have lightness without a shadow to provide some contrast and a new set of ‘learning experiences’.

I love collaborating with people and most of the organisations that I’ve worked for in the past have had teams and specialists whose expertise I could draw on as needed. Working solo changes that readily available on-hand pool of knowledge and talent to be able to test ideas with. In addition, finding the right balance between building the business and delivering projects requires a different level of discipline, patience and calmness. The level of uncertainty is heightened when you have a small business – and further development of the agility skill set is required.

I know I’m not alone in these start-up and independent consulting experiences – so I thought I’d share a few things to think about in solving some of the challenges we tend to experience in setting things up and working largely solo. For instance, I have more or less established my own virtual team – trusted friends and colleagues who I team up with for advice, collaboration, and specialist skills to draw on and bring to my clients as required. They are fellow consultants and small business owners who share and solve similar issues.

One of those amazing people in my virtual team is Emma Petroulas, co-founder & coo at itchy baby co.

‘I have an online retail business, and spend half the week working in our warehouse with production and dispatch happening during these times, and the other half of the week working from home. When I’m in our warehouse with the team around me, there can be a buzz from orders going out and supplies coming in, however whilst I love my ‘home days’ with no distractions, it can end up being quite lonely’.

After building two successful online businesses, Emma has built up a wealth of experience in staying sane while working solo which she shared with me – and I’d like to share with you. Her candour is insightful and generous – making her advice even more helpful.

Here are Emma’s top tips:

#1: Spend $3 on that morning coffee

I know everyone always says to exercise in the morning because it clears the head, but it’s just not me. I keep active by walking just about everywhere, but you’ll never see me at a gym in the morning. I find it really hard to wake up in the morning and get straight into demanding physical exercise, but I also find I can’t wake up and start working straight away without leaving the house first. So, walking to the shops and picking up my morning coffee helps put me in the right frame of mind to start my day.

#2: Wear comfortable clothes but don’t stay in trackies all day

When I started my very first small business at the age of 26, I would spend the day in tracksuit pants and a hoodie. However I found that dressing in trackies made me develop a bit of a lazy attitude. It’s important to be comfortable but still be in a work frame of mind. Even though some days working from home I might not see anyone, I still put on a good pair of jeans and pop on some lip gloss.

#3: Try (as hard as you can) to not let your business become your life and your life become your business

I made this mistake with my very first business. I’m one of those people that can become so focused on work that I find it hard to separate work from anything else in my life. I can start working in the morning and stay completely focused until late into the night when I’m trying to get through a task list or solve a problem. I learnt the lesson the hard way with my first business, as it led to a lot of breakdown in friendships and relationships because I didn’t make time for them or prioritise them, and I often found that all my thoughts were consumed entirely by my business. I’ve now learnt how important it is to try and separate business from the rest of my life, and make sure that you still make time for friends and family because they’re actually a lot more important than your business and anything else in your life.

#4: Have a routine and schedule in social events

Start your day by writing a list of tasks which need to get done during the day and when you are going to do them. As part of this, make sure you make time for having fun. Working very independently can get quite lonely, so it is important to schedule in social events with friends and family so you can keep sane. Most of my weeknights are generally filled with catch-ups with friends. Dinners out each night can often be expensive (especially in Sydney), so it doesn’t always need to be a catch up which costs money. I live close to the beach so often my friends will come past after work and we’ll walk to the beach for a swim and chat before everyone parts ways for the night.

#5: Find other small business owners to engage with

Quite a lot of my friends run their own startups and small businesses and I find it really helps chatting to them about their business – it can often help you realise that you’re not navigating the business maze alone, and you can often help each other out with business problems and scenarios.

#6: Check in with your business partner/ co-founder daily (if you have one)

I check-in with my co-founder and CEO multiple times during the day, either by phone or mainly by chat apps like google hangouts. Just getting an update on what she’s working on and running through what I’ve been doing can really help keep us both focused and accountable.   

And mine…

Similar to Emma I have started to build my own weekly routine – which combines a fairly disciplined approach to delivering for my clients, managing my own business, and investing in professional development and personal wellbeing. I generally do start the day with a long walk (and a double shot of coffee) which I use for reflections or to get inspired by listening to podcasts,  audible books, and music, and sometimes I walk and try to be really observant of what’s going on in the city (this is something I never did when I was ‘busy’ running from one thing to another). This is valuable time for thinking, processing and mulling over a client’s challenge or how to approach a situation.

I commit to reading something new every day (an article, an insight, a book). One of the benefits of organised workplaces is often internal commitments to professional development and industry insights. Working solo can sometimes mean you’re out of that world of constant stimulation coming from the workplace. So create it for yourself – interesting newsletters, blogs, free sites, industry trends or check out different podcasts or Audible if reading is not your thing.

Know thyself is one of the biggest lessons – I know I need time alone when I’m writing, creating, and planning; and I know I need to be with people when I’m trying to solve problems or push an idea to the next level. So I strike the balance between working from home or private spaces and working at client sites or in co-working offices. Having a strong network of trusted colleagues (even if is not within the traditional organisational boundaries) is essential.

We figured out why entrepreneurs wear jeans and a t-shirt – you do your best work when you’re comfortable – just leave the trackies behind!

About the authors

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. www.heidisundin.com

Emma Petroulas  has co-founded two online businesses, one which she successfully sold after two years in operation. Prior to that, she spent 8 years working in strategy, finance and also as a university lecturer.

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. 


Distributed teams: The growth strategy used by the savviest startups

By Heidi Sundin and Nina Sochon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note first published on http://www.totusideation.com 


Making collaboration magic

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

For centuries we believed ‘knowledge is power’.  In the 21st century the belief is shifting to recognise that ‘collaboration is power’.

Isn’t it ironic that it has taken until the 21st century for a term which is derived from Latin to rise to such prominence. We have finally moved into an era where there is growing understanding of the magic that collaboration can bring in creating ideas, actions and momentum to solve issues, large and small.

Collaboration is more than an alliance, relationship, network or a partnership. Meaningful collaboration arises from the coming together of people with greatly differing experiences and views, united by a common mindset and goal.

Hamish and I have both worked in many different types of collaborations and in our experience the coming together of different knowledge sets, organisations, groups and individuals enables a process of discovery that spans disciplinary divides; and ultimately one that creates something unique. So, we thought we’d share with you our views on the key ingredients to making collaborations successful.

Common purpose

From the outset it is important to be really clear about the common purpose the collaboration is working towards. Of course individual parties may have specific goals and interests in participating in collaborative efforts, but we believe there needs to be an overarching common goal.

There may be times in collaborative processes where the different interests of participants are in conflict, so having clarity over ‘why’ you are collaborating and your common purpose can break down impasses, and bring discussions back to the reason you’re all there.

Rules of engagement

Collaborations often involve different organisations, groups or people who come together to share IP, ideas, and engage in various ideation processes. To ensure there is mutual benefit from the collaboration (in whatever form that benefit takes) it is essential that you determine the rules or key principles of engagement.

What we’ve found works well for us is to adopt the principles: ‘openness’ ‘curiosity’ and a ‘high level of debate’.  As collaborators we acknowledge that from open and rigorous debate better solutions will emerge. Part of signing up to these principles is that debate is always about the interrogation of ideas not about the person putting them forward.

Being open

If we wanted to get to an answer that we already ‘kind of knew’ there would be little point in collaborating. For collaborations to be successful, the people within them must be genuinely open to pushing the boundaries – committed to discovery and the belief that through sharing they will arrive at an answer they never could have in isolation.

Trust in your collaborators

Sharing brings some vulnerability. There are different types of trust: contractual trust, competence trust and goodwill trust. In collaborations, a higher reliance on competence trust (trust that the individual / collaborator has the abilities to perform the task) and goodwill trust (trust that the individual has the intent to perform the task) will more likely lead to better outcomes as they provide a platform for more open and creative engagement.

Trust in the process

The process of discovery and invention can take you down uncomfortable paths that you may not have arrived at alone. To uncover the gold that comes from collaboration, give yourself over to the process, rather than fixate on the immediate solutions and outcomes.

Utilise new tools available

Collaboration is not just a talk fest, and it’s important to capture the thoughts, ideas and decisions as you go. If you cannot get into the same room, there are many online cloud based collaboration tools that can be used to bring your teams together in a virtual space and record the process. Consider using tools such as: Stormboard,  Confluence, Trello and Google Drive – these tools allow the collaborative team to brainstorm, organize, prioritize ideas, create a shared workspace to chat, share documents, work on documents together and move things along.

Bringing it together

Collaboration is magical. By working together collaborations provides us a powerful process of discovery to take knowledge and creativity to a new place.

Those who do not believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Collaboration is about achieving something purposeful – be it a specific outcome, open innovation, or the skill of collaboration itself – but for long lasting collaborations we believe that a large part of it should also be fun! So, above all else, we encourage you to incorporate fun, joy, and energy into your collaborations.

Note first published on http://www.totusideation.com 

About the authors

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. 

Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development.

Is marketing wagging your strategy? Top tips for ensuring strategic alignment of your marketing strategy

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

Irrespective of the industry you work in, or the size of your organisation we believe it is critical that your go-to-market and indeed your marketing strategy, plans and initiatives are aligned with your business strategy.

Recently we’ve observed a number of clients and organisations present with a similar challenge – they are keen to build a new marketing strategy or go-to-market strategy, yet they wish to do so without having clarity on what they are trying to achieve as a business.

Why is this an issue?

Building a marketing strategy without taking the time to develop clarity on your business objectives, strategy and plans can lead to a number of issues, particularly for organisations in a growth phase. Some of the issues that result from this void of an overall business strategy when developing a marketing strategy are:

The risk of becoming master of none: When focused on growth it can be exciting to see so many opportunities – different customers, new product and service lines, and new markets and adjacencies to move into. Yet trying to be all things to all customers, when resources are limited due to management bandwidth, capital constraints, access to talent and the ability to recruit at the pace of growth can create significant issues. Making courageous strategic choices to prioritise opportunities and be selective in defining who you are, what you stand for, and which customers & markets you serve will allow you to be more deliberate and targeted with your marketing strategy.

Confusing your customers: With your business strategy missing in action the related risk that arises is the sending of mixed messages to your customers or perhaps worse – not reaching them because the channels you’re using are not suited to where your customers are. Without a clear customer segmentation strategy – you risk not understanding their needs, meaning it is more challenging to tailor and deliver your value proposition to them.

Confusing your teams: Creating an outstanding customer experience requires collaboration across all areas of the business. Alignment is key. Across the business; sales and marketing, operations departments, accounts and finance, IT and innovation, human resources all need to work together to ensure that the internal culture and all customer touch points are consistent in providing an excellent brand-true experience.

Often called omni-channel marketing, it is no longer the remit of the marketing team alone to implement this seamless customer experience, rather, it is the role of the marketing team to create demand and then provide internal support and education across the business. An overarching and aligned business strategy enabling the focus on customer related processes, systems and culture initiatives is also required.

Resources across the organisations, not only in marketing, need to be aligned to what your organisation is trying to achieve overall – otherwise you will see various teams across the business all running in different directions and potentially working against each other. Greater alignment will allow your teams to all work towards providing your targeted customers with your promised value and experience.

Missing your goals: Measuring the success of marketing initiatives should be focused on whether they are helping to achieve your business goals? How do you know if the strategy is successful if your goals have not been clearly defined?

Building a marketing strategy with your business strategy missing is like the tail wagging the dog – marketing has to ask the questions that the overall business strategy should be clarifying.

Our top tips for strategic marketing alignment

Here are our top tips to bring better strategic alignment for the development of your successful marketing strategy.

Make it a two-way street: If your organisation has a strategy team or consultant – ask to meet with them to gain a central view as to what the organisation is aiming to achieve in the long run and the other core business priorities currently underway. Not all organisations will have a dedicated strategy team, particularly small to medium businesses – so in this case, talk to the MD or General Manager to understand what the priorities are. As a marketing professional your role is also to engage your leadership and colleagues on what the latest trends are – you can play a role in helping the leadership to stay focused on the market, be across the trends and provide data to help make some of these critical strategic decisions.

Know your industry and influence strategic choices: Marketing plays a key role in not only supporting the business strategy, but also informing it. By using data insights, customer feedback and research marketing should play an active role in advising the leadership or strategy team on key markets and customer segments. Key questions to raise with the leadership may be: Is Pareto’s law at play? Should you refine your targeting? Where are the areas of highest growth and profitability? What is the lifecycle of the industry? Where are the knowledge gaps – what does your market not know they don’t know? The strategic marketing imperative lies not in telling the audience what the business wants them to know, but rather in realising what the market needs to know (which they do not currently) and delivering to it.

Know your why: Make marketing meaningful. You can’t be everything to everyone, clarity of what markets you are playing in and why is critical to avoid confusion with your customers and ensure targeted key messages. If your business or leadership have not clearly articulated your why – suggest a workshop or other activities to help crystallise the broader ‘why’. The ‘why’ of the organisation then becomes central to your messaging to customers.

Know what you mean by success: Define how marketing campaigns and other initiatives success supports organisational success. If the two functions are moving independently of each other, success will be accidental at best. Ensure the business is also set up to support marketing success. It is integral that you define what success looks like above and beyond the obvious – spiked sales, improved ROI, lower acquisition costs etc. It is just as important to mitigate negative ramifications from “success”. Consider things such as the safeguards you have or need to build in to ensure delivery times remain constant, or that customer service does not suffer due to increased demand.

In many ways it surprises us that strategy can sometimes forget the customer, just as marketing strategies can be developed in isolation of a business strategy. For true success we encourage you to take a deliberate approach to ensuring alignment.

Let us know what else you do to ensure strategic alignment of your marketing strategy.

Note first published on http://www.totusideation.com 

About the authors

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. 

Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development.

5 things to look for when choosing an employer that supports gender equality

Many organisations have still simply not embraced gender equality or other forms of diversity and the advantages that it brings.

This week the Workplace Gender Equality Agency released Australia’s 2016 gender equality scorecard showing the state of play of gender equality in our workplaces. Some of the key insights indicate that women make up half of the nation’s workforce but earn only 77 per cent of men’s average full-time income, and women remain under-represented in leadership roles: holding just 16.3 per cent of CEO and 37.4 per cent of all manager roles.

Women may find themselves in the position of wanting to advance their career and seniority, but face challenges within the organisational structure. This may be due to a lack of flexibile work arrangements, discovering that pay inequities exists between men and women or they have been overlooked for a promotion because they have kids or are at childbearing age.

If you are in this position and are considering alternatives here are some things to look for when investigating prospective new employers:

1.Are they an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation holder?

The Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation is awarded to leading organisations in gender equality. To receive this citation employers must have a gender equality policy or strategy, conduct a payroll analysis and address gender equality in a number of other ways.  The full list of the EOCGE citation holders can be found here.

2. Check the narrative around women and diversity

It is also worthwhile to read through the organisations website, annual reports and other materials to see if there are specific mentions of gender equality programs or diversity initiatives. I have done this, comparing the narrative of companies within different industries and it can show a clear distinction between the companies that are trying to attract women and those that have overlooked this issue.

Of course what is written is not always reality so ask about these initiatives in more detail during your interview and ask people who work for the organisation what their experience is.

3. Does the employer offer different flexibility options?

Flexibility is a key enabler for the advancement of women into leadership roles so it is important to check if the organisation offers different forms of flexibility, that flexibility has formal arrangements around it (i.e. not just reliant on individual managers), and that flexibility is offered to everyone (both women and men).

4. Does the employer pay women and men equally?

Women and men should receive equal pay for equal work! Because we don’t have a system of pay transparency in Australia, it is often difficult to know if you will be paid on par to your male counterparts within organisations. By reviewing the organisation’s public WGEA report what you can check is whether the organisation undertakes a payroll analysis and that the employer takes action on pay equity.

5. Access the public report to the WGEA

Each year non-public sector organisations over 100 employees are required to submit a report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency which covers gender equality performance on a range of reporting matters (covering gender composition, governance, pay equity, flexibility, consultation and sex based harassment and discrimination). Many organisations make this report available on their website or you can access reports here. These reports provide a good indication of what the employer is doing in terms of gender equality strategies and initiatives.

Change on these issues comes from many sources. As individuals we can vote with our feet and select employers that are proactive in creating employee experiences that are fair and equal regardless of gender. Share your experience of what else you look for when selecting prospective employers to ensure they support both women and men in the workplace.

For more information on the latest stats download Australia’s 2016 gender equality scorecard.

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

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 world we are seeing uncertainty and unpredictable global events. Our organisations are experiencing 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?


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

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)