Archive for the ‘PEOPLE’ Category

LIVE from TEDx Sydney 2011

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Business21C Weekly’s Kirsten Lees and Gabriella Lahti will be interviewing speakers LIVE from the conference with updates and audio clips posted directly to the blog.

Craig Reucassel speaks to Kirsten Lees


Wrapping up TEDxSydney 2011. Kirsten Speaks to Craig Reucassel, writer and performer. Click above to listen.

Drew Berry speaks to Kirsten Lees


Kirsten speaks to Drew Berry, biomedical animator. Click above to listen.

Right now: Kirsten is interviewing Alexander Lotersztain, designer.

Alexander Lotersztain speaks to Kirsten Lees


Josh Wakely speaks to Kirsten Lees


Josh Wakely, director and screenwriter, Talks to Kirsten Lees. Click above to listen.

Right now at CarriageWorks:

Saul Griffiths speaks to Kirsten Lees


Dr Saul Griffiths, inventor and renewable energy innovator, speaks to Kirsten Lees about his passions: energy production and efficiency. Click above to listen.

Veena Sahajwalla speaks to Kirsten Lees


Veena Sahajwalla, sustainability scientist, speaks to Kirsten Lees. Click above to listen.

The foyer at CarriageWorks.

Richard Gill spreaks to Kirsten Lees


Richard Gill, conductor and educator, sings a little song and talks to Kirsten Lees. Click above to listen.

Richard Cotton speaks to Kirsten Lees


Richard Cotton, geneticist, speaks to Kirsten Lees. Click above to listen.

Inside CarriageWorks, Sydney.

Bottled scents of Sydney.

Right now: backstage at TEDxSydney.

David Chalmers speaks to Kirsten Lees


Kirsten talks to David Chalmers. Click above to listen.

Genevieve Bell speaks to Kirsten Lees


Kirsten talks to Genevieve Bell. Click above to listen.

Gabriella Lahti, Business21C

Main title graphic:
Yeah Design Group

Main title image:
Courtesy of Jean-Jacques Halans, CreativeCommons

What makes collaboration work?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The reality of corporate collaboration is that almost every second alliance fails. Yet some organisations are spectacularly successful at developing alliance cultures. Dr Jochen Schweitzer explains how leadership and governance are key to successful collaboration.

Collaboration is important for many organisations because it gives them access to resources that they would otherwise not have. While executives like the idea of minimising risks through collaboration, they are also attracted to the advantages that they can gain by having access to their partners’ knowledge and experience. With the learning that comes through combining and developing capabilities with external partners, alliances now contribute significantly to developing competitive advantages and achieving strategic objectives for all involved.

Alliancing has many obvious strategic and operational advantages, but the unpleasant reality of corporate collaboration in the last 25 years has been that almost every second alliance fails to achieve the anticipated outcomes. Although the wide spectrum of alliances has been intensively researched, it is not yet clear what really makes collaboration work and what doesn’t.

In my research I’ve been focussing on the issues of alliance governance, the role of alliance leadership and how innovation capabilities develop within alliance teams. In general, success often depends on to what extent the leadership team is able to agree and implement suitable governance structures and engage with the team to foster desired behaviours and work cultures.

Governance mechanisms like organisational structures, roles and responsibilities, decision-making processes or reward systems create work culture. Too often alliances fail because partners are unable to agree on governance to match their individual and joint work cultures. What’s more, organisations often have only limited ways of capturing the knowledge that is created and developing it into competitive advantages for the organisation.

I surveyed more than 400 alliances around the world, asking particularly about how they structure and govern their alliances, and how they perceive the leadership within their alliances. The focus in that study was on finding those factors that would make alliances achieve innovation and allow them to create capabilities that enable them to compete better in their markets. I looked at characteristics like innovativeness and proactiveness of people within the alliances, their ability to work with each other, the extent to which they learned from the alliance, and the extent to which they captured and advanced knowledge.

I also looked at the governance, the actual management structure and the mechanisms that were used to organise the partnership, as well as the leadership behaviour within the alliance.

In alliances as much as in any other type of organisation, leadership behaviour occurs on a continuum: At one end of the continuum we observe transformational (charismatic and inspirational) leaders, who motivate teams often based on their strong vision and outstanding personality. At the other end of the spectrum we have transactional leaders, who base their relationship with the team on the fact that they give people a reward for a certain type of work.

One might assume that a more charismatic leader would help an alliance create more entrepreneurial or innovative abilities, while on the other hand, the transactional leader would be less likely to create innovation. But in fact both types of behaviour are very important to create innovation-type capabilities. The more the leadership team in the alliance is able to show both of these types of behaviour, the more the alliance will innovate.

Alliances fail when they do not achieve the objectives that the partnering organisations agreed upon. Sometimes organisations agree to part ways when they realise this, and other times they stick to it, even though they realise it’s not going to go anywhere. Unsurprisingly it’s difficult to find data about alliances that have failed – it’s a lot easier to find examples of organisations that do really well: Organisations like IBM, Cisco or Hewlett Packard are known for their ability to collaborate at multiple levels with multiple organisations.

The key aspect for an organisation that is looking for innovation through alliances is to gain access to resources within another organisation that it wouldn’t have otherwise. From there on it is all about aligning governance mechanisms for the partnership, work culture and leadership styles with the strategic intention for the alliance.

If a firm is after innovation, there are certain mechanisms and leadership behaviours that work towards innovation. It really is about finding the right combination. Take decision-making. The partnering organisations could agree upon leaving all decisions with the alliance team (a decentralised approach). If the alliance team is flexible and open, there is a greater chance for them to be innovative and come up with solutions. On the other hand, if you leave all decision-making with the partnering organisations and force this mechanism upon the alliance, there is less flexibility, which leads to less innovation within the alliance.

If you then combine that with the type of leadership that you implement, by choosing a predominantly transformational or transactional type of leader for the organisation or the alliance, that again would influence the extent to which innovation takes place or not.

Organisations increasingly seek alliances to achieve innovation objectives and in doing so, they need ways to do it better than they did in the past. That’s why it is important to do the research to find the mechanisms that really make them work.

Getting the most from next generation workers (part 2)

Friday, February 18th, 2011

In part one, Kelly Bayer-Rosmarin from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia presented two strategies for getting the best from NextGen workers: treating everyone as individuals, and keeping the job interesting and fresh. Here she raises two equally important challenges: creating a fast track, and giving quality performance feedback.

Create a Fast Track

Non-NextGens remember a world where gratification could be delayed. They may remember writing physical letters that were sometimes sent via ship overseas, using telephones with cords and dials and spending hours in the public library to find books and look up facts. In that world, supermarkets were closed on Saturday afternoons as well as Sundays and public holidays, homework was hand-written, and there was no internet, no text messaging, no Twitter.

We all recognise the world has sped up, and NextGens simply do not understand the need for things to take time. Email, mobile phones, Facebook, the internet, extended shopping hours, etc. all provide for a world where the pace of life is not constrained.

Add to that a belief that ability, not tenure, is what adds value to an organisation, and you get a generation of workers who expect to be fast-tracked if they perform. The traditional notion of putting in your time and being rewarded for tenure is just not something appreciated by NextGens; in their world meritocracy is what prevails, and all ideas are equal, whether they come from the senior most or junior most person; those whose ideas and performance merits it, should be rewarded, regardless of their tenure.

So, create a fast track. Deliberately steer high-potential employees towards a greater diversity or depth of experience than others and make it clear they are being fast-tracked. Also make it clear what the expectations are and what they will need to demonstrate in each of their fast-track moves to retain that status and fast-track momentum. The combination of clarity of performance measurement, expectation setting, and orchestration of the set of experiences should help foster great talent for the organisation! And because you are clear about the criteria, it will be a fair system even though some are fast-tracked and others are not.

There are definitely jobs where experience is highly valued and where career milestones may still be appropriate after fixed timeframes (e.g. two years as an analyst before becoming an associate, two years as an associate before becoming a manager, etc). We all know that in reality, some people will soak up what they learn and be highly competent in two years, and others could work there for five years and never be ready for the next step.

So, another way to structure this is to more clearly define the competencies and experiences that should be acquired in the job before moving up. This will provide a framework for directing people’s learning and attention to the key elements of mastering their role, as well as give them interim milestones to achieve along the journey, thus helping the NextGens feel they are making progress.

Figure 1: Fixed timeframes for career progression

Click to enlarge

Figure 2: Progression based on experience / competencies

Click to enlarge

Regular Feedback

Another side effect of the modern culture of instant gratification is that NextGen employees expect immediate feedback (and lots of feedback). Gone are the days of the annual performance review. And that’s probably a good thing. Regular, constructive, clear feedback is critical for developing top talent (as any professional athlete will attest to) and so the onus is on managers to make time to notice what is working and not working and to provide feedback as they observe something, and otherwise in regular one on one meetings. Performance reviews should confirm the items that have been raised and monitor progress, not become meetings where issues are surfaced for the first time.

Most people appreciate praise, and this can certainly be done publicly. Criticism is harder and so I would advise all managers to arm up on the latest techniques (there are numerous ones) for how to provide feedback, coaching, mentoring, and constructive criticism as well as develop action plans. Having a range of techniques in this arena is simply good management, and NextGen managers will become very skilled in using these for their employees. The key is to provide the feedback in a way that the person understands it, is able to effectively respond and takes action to improve.


NextGen staff are highly desirable and can make a difference in your team and organisation. To help them thrive and get the most from their efforts, I have suggested four practical tips:

  • Treat each person in your team in a tailored individual way
  • Keep work fresh and interesting for your staff
  • Create clear expectations of what constitutes outstanding performance and facilitate a fast-track for those who meet those expectations
  • Provide regular high quality feedback for people so they can learn from their job and achieve their full potential

Finally, the best overarching advice is to try to enjoy managing NextGen teams. It is an experience that can challenge you, help you see new ways of working and develop your repertoire of management skills. And I believe those who master NextGen management will be poised to be terrific leaders for the future.

Edition 38 – An Australian in South Korea

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Business21C Weekly is now available through the iTunes Podcast directory. To subscribe directly via iTunes, go to the Advanced menu in iTunes and select Subscribe to Podcast. Then paste in the following URL:

Business21C Weekly is broadcast on Sydney’s 2SER 107.3 fm radio station at 9:00 am each Monday morning.

Summer Stories for Business21C Weekly continues this week with a conversation from an Australian living in South Korea. Marley Pulbrook decided to move to Seoul over a year ago to teach English. He has now established a comfortable life as an expat Australian. What are the major differences between lifestyles in South Korea and Australia? How difficult was the adjustment? Does the tension between the North and South peninsulas affect daily life?  Marley speaks to  Gabriella Lahti about cultural differences, the business dynamic and how he has adjusted to life in Asia.

San Pancho: A perfect Third World community town?

Friday, January 7th, 2011

San Pancho is a tiny beach town nestled on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, along the Mexican Pacific coast. It is here where I will be wrapping up my 40 day Latin American sojourn and volunteering with the local community.

The city itself is remarkable; back in the 1970s, president Luis Echeverria of Mexico (1970-1976) had a vision to create the perfect Third World community town. Shortly after his visit, large amounts of funds and resources were poured into San Pancho. It didn’t take long before cobblestone streets, fruit processing plants, new housing and even a university dotted the landscape of this remote fishing village.

In a bid to fulfill the ideal of the perfect Third World community hub, the town’s main street  and alleyways have attracted a very special eclectic and international group of residents and visitors in sharing their own skills and knowledge. San Pancho now boasts several grassroots projects with artistic and creative bents, most of which adopt an environmental approach.

I have been based at EntreAmigos, a community NGO founded by Nicole Swedlow in 2006. The organization adopts a different approach in educating children, further emphasizing the role of arts in education. At EntreAmigos, children, teenagers and adults alike can come in at anytime during the day to take part in activities or scour the library / art space for some inspiration. This immediately reminded me of a sentence quoted by the great Sir Ken Robinson, during one of his talks:

“Why do we group children according to their date of manufacture instead of their capabilities and abilities?”

Over the past week some of the activities I have taken part in include:

The festival de la piñata: which saw an environmentally friendly approach to this special folkloric Mexican tradition with an emphasis on zero-waste. The piñatas were fashioned using papier-mâché from the local newspapers and cardboard boxes from the supermarket stuffed with delectable locally produced Christmas candy.

Sinergia Arte: the annual arts festival bringing together individuals from all around the county to celebrate diversity and creativity was officially launched with EntreAmigos’ children’s parade. Crowds converged to the street to witness kids in animal clothing parading through town, proudly sporting masks and dresses they had made themselves.

President Echeverria may have had his own personal or political motives in investing in this project, but it seems that San Pancho’s development has taken a path of its own, escaping mass-market investments. The locals have proliferated to establish their own customs with the new international residents. Lack of government funding doesn’t seem to have posed any issue; and the town now offers free oral and dental hygiene, as well as some of the best rates for education and health services in Mexico.

With eager anticipation for 2011, it is revitalizing to watch such small-scale projects having big impacts, and I’m sure this just the beginning of a great new era for that side of the Pacific.

Happy New Year!

Edition 34: Best of 2010 – Young entrepreneurs

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Business21C Weekly is now available through the iTunes Podcast directory. To subscribe directly via iTunes, go to the Advanced menu in iTunes and select Subscribe to Podcast. Then paste in the following URL:

Business21C Weekly is broadcast on Sydney’s 2SER 107.3 fm radio station at 9:00 am each Monday morning.

For this summer edition we are going to play a best of 2010 for Business21C Weekly, starting with a repeat of our discussion on young entrepreneurs:

Take a young person with a great idea, add a desk, broadband connection, printer and access to a kettle. Set them to work in a room full of people who think like them, and stir in mentorship, business coaching and a heap of networking. What can’t such a group of young dynamic business, arts and social entrepreneurs come up with? This is what business start-up incubator, Vibewire, is all about. And Mary Nguyen is passionate about it.

She joins us at Business21C Weekly to talk about young entrepreneurs. Mary Nguyen is on the board at Vibewire, a non-profit organisation that supports young people to shape their world through media, arts and entrepreneurial opportunities.

We also are also joined by Alfred Lo. Alfred is entrepreneurship in action. As co-founder and director of, in partnership with Jin Liew, Alfred has just launched a social platform for real time geolocation messaging and discovery. What? It’s an app that lets you know what is going on in venues and businesses around where you are, now and its coming to an iPhone near you, soon. Alfred takes us through some of the highs and hurdles of life in a tech start-up; a life Alfred clearly loves.