We sat down with Kris from Let’s Talk Career to discuss how she finds value in people, the importance of accurate data and how it can be lonely at the top, but only if you want it to be.
TBS: Kris, can you please tell the TBS audience a bit about your journey so far that has led you to become the CEO of Let’s Talk Career?
Kris: I graduated with an Arts degree in the early 1990s as Australia headed into recession, so finding work was difficult. My first job after graduating was as a casual employee at The Herald and Weekly Times, counting the number of people who went up and down in the elevators.
After a week I was called into the HR Manager’s office to explain why my numbers going up didn’t match my numbers going down! My data, based on my (inaccurate) counting, suggested there was a hell of an all night party going on on the top floor! The HR Manager told me I was a terrible ‘liftcounter’ but that he thought I would do well in HR and offered me a job on the spot. So my career as an ‘evaluator capacity data management supervisor’ was unceremoniously killed off and my HR career was born.Since that rather unillustrious start to my career, I have worked in many organisations in senior HR leadership roles, participating as a member of the executive team. Since the age of 29, I have been on senior executive teams and had a seat ay the executive table.
I think my success in the HR space was largely driven by my straightforward, straight shooting, straight talking approach. It’s fair to say that my style is not your ‘usual’ play it safe and somewhat conservative HR one. My strength and interest has always has been in understanding people and what drives them: utilised developing and championing individuals, forming authentic relationships and helping others succeed within the organisational context. I’ve always held the belief that organisational success is correlated to the people in it – their talents and strength utilised, their motivation and engagement being high and their performance barriers being removed.
Throughout my career, I have always been sought out for coffees because folks wanted a sounding board, a reflection partner, a person they could constructively work through their frustrations, goals and challenges with, and importantly a person they could trust. I enjoyed helping people identify their career blockers and barriers to success, and put in place actions to address them. I was affectionately known as ‘the vault’ at the last place I worked, as your ‘secrets’ were known to be safe with me. You could talk openly and honestly and have an experienced, mature and trustworthy person who understood organisations work with you.
In 2012 I launched Let’s Talk Career with this in mind. What if executives had their own career success coach working with, and for them? It would be like their own private HR person, with no agenda but to see them succeed: someone to help them reflect on situations, prepare for challenging ones, and hold them accountable for their goals and objectives. It’s executive coaching, it’s strategic career counselling, it’s success coaching, it’s tailored HR and organisational development all rolled up into one.
Many organisations have brilliant HR executives in them. But typically due to lack of time and resources, organisational politics or conflicts of interest, it is difficult for them to fulfill this function internally.
I’m really committed to this space, because I know that it works in both the interests of individuals and the organisations they work for. Our outcomes are more focused, committed, engaged and energetic executives, who are doing what is in the best interests of themselves and their employers.
Since 2012 I have identified other fabulous executive and executive level career coaches to work with us and so we have a national footprint with over 30 coaches in the team. All have HR backgrounds and have the real life practical experience of having worked in organisations like those of our clients.
Let’s Talk Career offers executive coaching, career transition/outplacement/career counselling and career development services to organisations and individuals.
TBS: Where do you think the one weak area is for most companies when it comes to managing their Human Resources?
Kris: I’ve worked in Human Resources across a range of diverse industries including financial services, professional services, not for profits, retail and manufacturing and there are 3 common themes that come up in employee opinion surveys, exit interviews and organisational culture surveys: remuneration, learning and development and career opportunities. Staff almost always feel they should be compensated more, have more development opportunities and want clear career paths and progression.
Given my early career failings at counting folks in elevators, I have always stayed away from the remuneration department and numbers.
Let’s Talk Career works one on one with individuals on their soft skills, emotional intelligence, leadership and people management development through our executive coaching program. As a separate service, we also work closely with organisations, assisting them to strategise career development, career pathing and career growth programs for their employees. Lastly, we work with individuals transitioning out of their organisation via our outplacement services. All of these services partner with organisations and individuals to help them grow professionally and align their career aspirations with their reality.
TBS: Let’s Talk Career discusses the need for personality tests and psychometric assessments to truly understand what it takes to develop and retain staff. Why should this methodology be so crucial to an enterprise’s leadership team?
Kris: At Let’s Talk Career we are accredited in a wide range of team, work preference, personality, IQ (abilities testing), strengths based, emotional intelligence and 360 degree leadership assessments.
These kinds of assessments are often viewed suspiciously and cynically.They shouldn’t be: they are a tool, like any other. They provide some insight but never the total answer.
They provide information that can be reflected on and explored to help people know more about themselves, their management style and their team cohesion. It identifies their likes/dislikes, where they may have natural strengths, where they may have blind spots, what is likely to make them happy and satisfied and what is likely to stress them.
The trick with these tools is to make sure you use the right one for the situation and that it is used ethically and responsibly.They are not all the same. They have different purposes, uses and outcomes.Unfortunately, all too often I see a hammer being used when it should be a spanner, and all it does is ‘cock it up’ and leave people feeling psychometric tools aren’t valuable.
Psychometric tools can be used for recruitment, learning and development purposes, particularly self awareness and leadership development and team dynamics and can add enormous objective value to the process.
Robust research shows that using psychometric tools can enhance the accuracy of decision-making. If we are making more accurate decisions about our staff, then we are more likely to place them in the right roles and situations for them.
TBS: Looking at companies such as Uber, and much of the issues with their culture and HR that are publicly discussed, what lessons can Australian businesses take away from such controversies?
Kris: I could write a book on my views on this (of which there are many), but unfortunately, it would probably only support the Uber Board Chairman’s point of view that women talk a lot! (insert cynicism here). So I will try and be brief, and summarise my general position.
Sexual harassment is not OK for individuals and not in the best interests of the organisations they work for. A culture or environment where people feel they are unsafe and threatened does not bring out the best in people. It doesn’t make good business sense. It’s also not acceptable that organisations tolerate environments that can do considerable psychological and emotional harm to their people. Uber’s failure to deal with harassment claims when they were raised led them into hot water. Australian business can learn from that – don’t stick your head in the sand and hope it will go away. Manage such claims professionally.
While harassment isn’t only confined to women, in many cases it is women who are negatively impacted. We have a long way to go before there is true gender equality in corporate life in Uber, the US and Australia. In Oz, women continue overall to be paid less than men for the same work while many organisations fail to create enough flexibility for women to be able to manage their multiple roles AND utilise their level of skill and expertise.
It is the organisation itself, women, men and families who suffer when we treat 50% of our society less favourably. Like I said, I’m a straight talking, straight shooter and when my 8-year-old daughter wants to understand why there is a ‘blonde jokes’ thing and a ‘women paid less thing’ I struggle to answer, except to say ‘sometimes things in the world are just dumb hun’, and these are two of them.
(Sidenote – I have no doubt in a closed door meeting room somewhere in the Uber Boardroom, the Uber Chairman’s remark was explained away as an (albeit stereotypical and flippant) off the cuff joke and meant no offence. There will be folks shaking their heads at over-sensitivity and political correctness gone mad. I hear all that and, to a degree, understand it. But it is no excuse for this sort of unprofessional conduct in the senior ranks of an organisation that has reinvented an industry!).
TBS: When approaching a potential new client, what do you ‘discuss or focus on’ to open their mind on what you can bring to the table?
Kris: With potential new clients, our goal is to ensure they understand how we work together. Coaching should be an empowering and enlightening process. We ask our prospective clients what ‘coaching success’ looks like? If they work with us, what do they want to feel, know, do, have insight into, to feel that the sessions were worthwhile and successful in their eyes. We ask them what their coaching goals might be by explaining their situation and ensuring we all have clarity about what needs to be achieved.
TBS: In your experience what is the Number 1 thing that still holds business back from retaining quality staff?
Kris: Employees can leave organisations for a variety of reasons – career advancement, more pay, relocation, greater flexibility, and of course there is the old chestnut – leadership, or more specifically, lack of leadership.Executive coaching can assist with organisationsin developing career paths internally and develop leadership capability.
TBS: Can you explain how Let’s Talk Career approaches Outplacement, and how that fits across Executive Coaching strategies?
Kris: Individuals who have been made redundant from their organisationscome to us with a set of skills, knowledge and experience in job search already. They got their last job!
By using an executive coaching methodology, we are able to start where the individual ‘is at’ and go from there. We do not have a set program which we run everyone through, whether they need it or not. All our sessions are one on one and highly tailored for the individual. We partner with them to develop their job search competency so that they find the right role for them next.
I just think this is the respectful and right way to provide career transition support to professionals. Job loss is a difficult time for people. They don’t need to be treated like a ‘number’ or an imbecile by their outplacement or career transition provider.
TBS: On a personal level, what do you think it is about your own leadership that has enabled Let’s Talk Career to thrive at the level it has around Australia?
Kris: I have a Masters Degree in Leadership from a leading Australian university. I know the textbook theory stuff well. I also think a lot of it is ‘hogwash’. (I’m surely educated enough to say that right?). There are fads and flavours, buzz words and new things all the time in the leadership industry.
Fundamentally though, I believe every person in the world wants to be happy and well, be valued and appreciated, and add value to the level they’re operating at without undue strain or stress. That’s it. My leadership style allows people to bring their strengths to the table and I give them the autonomy to ‘go and do it’. I hire people who are better than me, and so I have no intention of getting in their way and stopping them deliver.
TBS: And finally, what advice would you give to anyone who is leading a company or is interested in starting their own company?
Kris: It can be lonely at the top. It doesn’t have to be: find yourself a good executive coach and benefit from the experience. It will make you a better CEO/Senior Manager/Business Owner.