Flexible work offers benefits but pitfalls as well

Appearing in IN PRACTICE magazine, April 2020


Nearly three-quarters of small and mid-sized accounting practices use flexible working arrangements, according to the recent CPA study My Firm, My Future*. Remote working is common, which can mean giving employees the option to work some or all of the time from home, employing individuals to work for a fixed period from home, or using independent contractors, especially to cope with busy periods or special projects. Such arrangements can be good for both the practice and the workers but company principals should be aware of the legal issues and the management pitfalls.

“The basic distinction between an employee and a contractor is that an employee is hired to work, usually exclusively, by one business,” says Nicola McMahon, Senior Associate in the Employment Relations and Safety team at McCullough Robertson Lawyers. “They are paid a wage, after PAYG deductions, and receive entitlements, such as annual leave and personal leave.  Independent contractors work for themselves and sell their services or expertise to one or more businesses. They are paid an agreed rate without PAYG deductions although may charge GST. They do not have paid leave entitlements.”

But there is no definitive test, and sometimes legal advice might be needed. This is important because there have been cases where a business has engaged contractors, but those individuals later argued that they were, in practice, employees, and have brought claims for unfair dismissal or unpaid entitlements.  Also, the ATO may determine that an employer should have deducted PAYG tax for someone they have treated as a contractor, when they were an employee.

“There are also serious consequences for contravening the ‘sham contracting’ provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 where an employer is found to have disguised the relationship,” McMahon notes. “There are stiff penalties if this behaviour is found to have occurred.”


Clarity needed

Dr Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, likewise emphasises that employers should be aware of their responsibilities.

“Some employers might plead ignorance about their responsibilities when it comes to remote workers, but ignorance is no excuse,” he says. “Whether you are talking about employees or contractors, employers have an obligation to know and abide by the legal standards of the relationship.”

An important step is to have a clear policy on remote working. Some large firms have policy documents but many small and mid-sized firms make it up as they go along, case by case. A written policy provides certainty as well as legal clarity to both sides. It also requires managers to consider whether remote working is really appropriate for the company and the work.

“With remote working, employers benefit from not having to provide office space and technology,” Stanford says. “They may experience less absenteeism, and they may find they are able to recruit labour at a lower cost, since the workers will take into account that they don’t have to commute to work in weighing the appeal of the wage offer. On the other hand, employers don’t have clear oversight or direct control over the worker’s activity and effort. That can undermine observed productivity and the cohesiveness of the work.

“Some remote workers may enjoy the convenience of avoiding travel time and being able to work in more flexible time blocks. The downside is the possibility that work expands to take up larger and larger portions of their overall life. Their work is embedded in their homes, which can become very oppressive.”

Relationship building

Ultimately, if an employer wants someone – whether employee or contractor – who works effectively, meets deadlines, and delivers according to the brief, it is in the employer’s interest to invest time and energy in building a positive relationship.

As a part of this, employers who engage home-based employees should also be aware of the OHS issues. They need to ensure that employees working remotely have a safe work environment and are provided with appropriate tools to do their job, which may include IT equipment, desks, and chairs.  Essentially, the OHS requirements are the same as if the employee was in the office.

“Companies should regularly contact employees who work remotely to check their mental health and satisfaction,” advises McMahon. “Working from home has its benefits but it can be socially isolating.”


To access a copy of this report go to https://www.cpaaustralia.com.au/public-practice/managing-your-practice/my-firm-my-future

The Journey Within

Appearing in Sunlight Press magazine, October 2019


The White Book

By Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Random, $12, 160 pages, ISBN 9780525573067


If you want a novel with a clear, three-act narrative and an all’s-well conclusion, then this book by Korean writer Han Kang is not for you. In fact, it does not even look like a novel, written in short and seemingly unconnected snatches of prose. It is more like an extended meditation on life and death, on what might have been and on what once was. And that is enough. More than enough.

White book coverIt is unknown how much of The White Book is autobiographical but it feels as if a good part of it is drawn from lived experience. Han has no lack of courage as a writer, in that she was willing to make such a departure from her previous book, The Vegetarian, which won the Booker International prize in 2016. That novel – actually three connected novellas – followed the increasing detachment of a woman from the real world when she announces she will no longer eat meat, and then eventually stops eating altogether. Significantly, we never really find out why: the three novellas are (effectively) centred on her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister.

But we know that she is on a journey that leads to the most innermost part of the soul – something we find again in The White Book, and an idea that underlies much of the dynamism of the current Korean literary scene. The narrator of the book is in search of herself through an examination of the past, reflecting the way that South Korea is itself looking for a way forward (a theme, interestingly, often taken up by Han’s novelist father, Han Seung-won). It is a culture looking for the elusive balance between past and future, retaining what is most valuable without a trace of bleary-eyed nostalgia. The path has not yet been found but there is a sense that it will be, eventually.

Make no mistake: making one’s own fate is not an easy process, just as The White Book is not an easy read, despite its apparent brevity. It requires a certain level of engagement, and the reader has to be willing to follow the twists and turns of the narrative. The story that weaves in and out of the book centres on the premature birth and death, after only two hours, of a baby that would have been Han’s older sister (eonni is the Korean term). Han imagines the heartrending scene of the mother holding the newborn close and begging: “Don’t die. Please don’t die.”

But the universe decided otherwise, and the tiny corpse is taken into the forest for burial. The white swaddling cloth became a funeral shroud. It is this image that leads Han to examine the white things that punctuate her life: rice, pills, salt, waves, a bird on the wing, an empty page where text should be. And snow, a connection that leads Han to reflect on “the city” where she lives for a while, a place where snow disguises and then reveals the past. It is Warsaw (although never identified by name), a city which, like Seoul, has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, a cycle in which Han sees an image of her departed, un-named eonni and herself.

For she eventually comes to realise that if the baby had lived then she, Han, would probably not have been born. It is a duality, a balance, that provides Han with a comfort, with a sense that things worked out as they were supposed to, as they were fated to. In the book’s final passage, Han bids her ethereal sibling farewell: “Within that white, all of those white things, I will breathe in the final breath that you released.”

There is a toughness in Han, a sense of resilience and a willingness to peel back layers to find the core of being. This book could easily have become a mawkish plea for sympathy but the restrained, poetic writing provides a sense of moving from mourning to acceptance, a completed circle. It is a limited emotional pallet but the right one. It is no surprise to learn that the book took a long time to write and almost as long a time to translate.

The White Book is not for everyone but those who accept it on its own terms will find that it offers beauty, poignancy and resonance, a knowledge of what is lost and what is gained, and how one becomes the other.

Han Kang

Teams, valuation, and tax traps

Appearing in In The Black, October 2019


The Australian Tax Pitfalls of Administering an Estate with International Connections

By Ian Raspin

BNR Partners, 80 pages, $25

Estate Tax PitfallsNearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas. The figure is increasing, with growing numbers coming from Asian countries. For finance professionals working in the estate administration area this diversity raises a host of tax issues, especially as legal liabilities can pass to the executor.

Raspin, a senior CPA and director of the specialist firm BNR Partners, knows everything there is to know about this area, and in this short, useful book he writes with the clarity of the well-organised expert. He explains residency definitions and the basics of estate taxation, and then moves onto issues regarding foreign-based assets (with a separate chapter on real estate, where some special rules apply). There can be problems when the deceased person had assets or property that was generating income which was not declared in Australia. Raspin, using a detailed case study, explains that the best course is to negotiate a settlement with the ATO. He also looks at CGT issues and includes a useful appendix on double-taxation agreements.

This book is best read with two other Raspin books, Taxation of Deceased Estates and CGT on a Deceased’s Residence. Both are currently being updated.


Business Valuation: Theory and Practice

By Marco Fazzini

Macmillan, 227 pages

Business valuation lies at the heart of financial management but discussion often turns into a dry analysis of calculation methods. Fazzini, an academic in the valuation area, does not deny the importance of the formal processes but he argues that a true picture requires a broad consideration of the firm as well. For this he suggests an Integrated Valuation Approach, based on methods recommended by the International Valuation Standards Council, to give integrity and consistency to objective components. Fazzini emphasises the importance of looking at the firm’s financial strategy, its growth outlook, and position within its industry.Business Valuation

He does a solid job of explaining how to move between theoretical concepts and practical applications, examining the income-based method, the market-based approach, and the cost approach along the way. There is a chapter dealing with the tricky issues of valuation of intangible assets and a good discussion of when and how to apply adjustments in valuations (including control premiums and lack-of-control discounts).

The book is designed as a textbook but it would also be useful for financial managers who need to brush up on their valuation skills, as well as those working in a company looking to expand globally or considering an IPO.


Turning People into Teams: Rituals and Routines That Redesign How We Work 

By David Sherwin and Mary Sherwin

Penguin, 192 pages

There is often an assumption that a group of talented individuals will automatically produce effective team outcomes. Not so, say the Sherwins, who specialise in team training and development. In a good team the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but getting it to work takes effort and organisation. They suggest a number of rituals – 27 in all – to get the machine humming. It starts by formally identifying the skills each person brings to the table and their area of responsibility. There also needs to be an understanding about the problem to be solved, the available tools, and relevant metrics. Using a timer to ensure that no member dominates discussion can be useful.

But the real value of the book lies in the diagrams and flow-charts that can be used to formalise communication and consensus-building. (The book links to a website from which the templates can be downloaded.) For the team facilitator, this is a way to keep all members moving in the same direction, with feedback mechanisms, progress reports, and conclusion reviews built into the process. The book adds up to a useful package, with an emphasis on getting the job done in the most co-operative and efficient way possible.

Turning People Into Teams

Checking the checkers

Appearing in In The Black magazine, October 2019

Auditing faces an uncertain future

Independent auditing has long been one of the foundation-stones of business but the profession, in Australia and globally, is facing unprecedented challenges – as well as emerging opportunities. No-one can say with certainty where the path is leading but there is a sense that auditing as a profession and a process is under pressure.

Much of the current concern has been driven by events in the UK, after a series of business collapses, most notably the BHS and Carillion failures, following sign-off of the accounts by one of the Big Four audit firms – PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte. Regulators are now pushing the firms to clearly separate the audit and non-audit services they provide to clients, even to the extent of splitting off a separate company.

Speaking recently to a UK parliamentary committee, the heads of PwC, KPMG, and EY indicated that they would cease providing non-audit work for large audit clients within a year. PwC UK has been the first to make serious moves in this area, announcing in June that it will have one business to focus on external audits and another to deal with internal audits and issues such as cyber-security and technology risk. It also plans to recruit more than 500 auditors, introduce new training and technology initiatives, and increase the number of specialists in its audit quality control section. This will cost about £30 million a year, which is a good indication of the seriousness of the issues.

“Globally, the UK is leading efforts to improve Auditing 2audit quality and avoid conflicts of interest,” says Professor Ian Gow, Director of the Melbourne Centre for Corporate Governance and Regulation at the University of Melbourne, and co-author of the book The Big Four: The Curious Past and Perilous Future of the Global Accounting Monopoly*. “But in South Africa, India, and Ukraine, there have also been cases of Big Four firms being excluded from audit work due to sloppy practices.”

This raises the question of how auditing is faring in Australia, especially since the Big Four handle audits for over 90 per cent of the companies listed on the ASX. It appears that, generally, the situation does not directly compare with the UK. A survey recently released by the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board, Audit Quality in Australia: The Perspectives of Professional Investors, found that 93 per cent of respondents indicated that they saw audit quality as “average” or “above average”.

Related to this, a Financial Reporting Council survey, Audit Quality in Australia: The Perspectives of Audit Committee Chairs, revealed a high degree of satisfaction with the quality of external auditing, with 92 per cent of respondents rating them “above average” or “excellent”.

“We were very pleased to see these results but we can never be complacent,” says Matt Graham, Managing Partner, PwC Assurance. “For some time we have felt that the audit quality debate in Australia could be broader, more balanced and aided by increased transparency. This is why we released the country’s first-ever balanced scorecard on audit quality recently. That scorecard showed audit inspection results along with other key measures of audit quality such as internal inspection findings, restatement rates and adjustments to financial statements. We plan to release data like this on an annual basis.”

The corporate regulator supports greater transparency and is considering whether to publish individual firm inspection results in its next public report. ASIC is also continuing work on possible additional audit quality measures to complement inspection findings. Doug Niven, ASIC’s senior executive leader, financial reporting and audit, notes that ASIC’s audit inspection report for the 18 months to 30 June 2018 found that in 24 per cent of the key audit areas that were reviewed auditors did not obtain reasonable assurance that the financial report was free of material misstatement. This is slightly better than the figure of 25 per cent for the 18-month period ended 31 December 2016.

“Sustainable improvement requires a focus on culture and talent in firms,” says Niven. “Our inspection findings suggest that further work and, in some cases, new or revised strategies are needed.”

But he is wary about splitting large accounting firms into audit-only firms, believing that it could adversely affect audit quality.

Graham notes that PwC in Australia has no plans to hive off its audit business (and none of the other big audit firms have signalled intentions to do so). He sees the business and regulatory environments in the UK and Australia as very different, and believes that the discussion in Australia should be more broadly aimed at audit quality, independence, conflicts of interest, and the needs of businesses and their shareholders.

Professor Gow is pleased to see moves like PwC’s scorecard although he wonders where it will lead. He notes that all of the Big Four firms have recently started to reveal new information. “Clearly the incentives to reveal more are stronger if your numbers look better,” he says. “I suspect that this wave of disclosure will prompt some tweaks to the inspection process to make the numbers more meaningful. An issue with the reported numbers is that audits are selected for inspection because they are perceived to be ‘risky’ audits, which makes it difficult to draw general conclusions. But overall it seems to be a healthy conversation to have.”

Focus shift

Discussions on ways to improve audit quality are important but there is an even more crucial question: in the current environment, what is auditing actually for? In an era when Big Data allows for real-time tracking of all of a company’s transactions, does the idea of checking and re-checking historical financial data make sense anymore?

Auditing 1Professional investors and audit committee chairs may be reasonably satisfied with the work of auditors but there are other stakeholders in the mix as well. There is certainly a bloc of investors who are concerned with a company’s non-financial performance as well as the traditional metrics.

While Big Data has the potential to take over many of the mechanical, repetitive tasks associated with auditing it is likely to push the profession into non-financial fields and towards predictions and business analysis.

Matt Graham says: “The industry has to evolve the audit in line with market demands, as well as engaging more effectively with stakeholders along the way. For example, should an audit include new levels of coverage such as fraud, going concern and cybersecurity? Could it provide assurance over non-financial measures such as culture, sustainability and the control environment? Should it look forward as well as back and provide comfort over forecast information?”

In this context it might be noted that the Australian Accounting Standards Board and the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board recently released a Practice Statement, Climate-related and Other Emerging Risks Disclosures: Assessing Financial Statement Materiality. The Practice Statement is not mandatory but it points auditing towards an integration of financial and non-financial data.

A key problem with this is that auditing financial statements is largely about providing assurance that the statements were prepared in accordance with accounting standards. When auditing begins to look at issues such as the environment, fraud and cyber-security there are no widely-accepted standards that can be used to assess and check performance, and even if there were it is not clear that understanding accounting standards provides a basis of relevant expertise.

“The Big Four firms are definitely trying to claim a future stake on auditing things such as sustainability, environmental risks, and even privacy,” says Professor Gow. “But skills-wise it is a real stretch. Auditors still graduate with accounting degrees that focus on standards and the like. The auditor of the future is likely to be someone who is comfortable with advanced data analytics.”

Doug Niven counsels caution about moving too quickly into the non-financial field. “Investors and other users of annual reports may benefit from independent assurance over non-financial information in an operating and financial review, integrated reporting, sustainability reporting and climate change reporting,” he says. “But at present, there are no detailed reporting frameworks to audit against and many of those promoting innovation by companies in non-financial reporting suggest that independent assurance is premature.”

Competition pressure

Another issue relates to competitive pressures. Professor Gow points to his current research showing that audit fees generally increase slightly over time, and then often decline markedly when a new auditor is appointed. This suggests that some audit appointments are based on price.

“This could be a concern,” he says. “I suspect that the Big Four would rather compete on quality. The problem is that audit quality is very difficult to measure, so it is hard to prove that you are adding sufficient value to justify the costs.”

There is also the possibility that competition may come from smaller, more nimble firms that can offer quasi-auditing services in non-financial areas.

So what might the future of auditing look like in Australia? In short, while financial review is likely to remain at the essential core of auditing practice it might cease to be the reliable source of revenue that it has long been for the large firms. Regulators and stakeholders are likely to demand greater division between audit and non-audit functions, although pressure for complete separation is unlikely. Auditing firms will have to go further into non-financial issues, requiring a significant change in corporate culture. At the same time, they will face increasing competition from new entrants, especially in fields such as the environment.

“One is always hesitant when trying to predict the future, as so many past predictions turned out to be wrong,” says Professor Gow. “But one thing is clear: it’s going to be a very different profession from what it is now.”


* The Big Four: The Curious Past and Perilous Future of the Global Accounting Monopoly by Stuart Kells and Ian Gow (LaTrobe University Press, 2018). This book won the 2018 Ashurst Australian Business Literature Prize. A copy of the book is available at the CPA Library.

https://www.auasb.gov.au/admin/file/content102/c3/InvestorSurveyReport.pdf [Audit Quality in Australia: The Perspectives of Professional Investors]

http://www.frc.gov.au/documents/publication/audit-quality-in-australia-the-perspectives-of-audit-committee-chairs   [Audit Quality in Australia: The Perspectives of Audit Committee Chairs]

https://download.asic.gov.au/media/4990650/rep607-published-24-january-2019.pdf [ASIC Audit inspection program report for 2017-18]

https://download.asic.gov.au/media/1338902/info184-published-19-August-2013.pdf [ASIC Information Sheet – Audit transparency reports]

https://www.auasb.gov.au/admin/file/content102/c3/AASB_AUASB_Joint_Bulletin_May2019.pdf [Australian Accounting Standards Board and Auditing and Assurance Standards Board Practice Statement]

Teams provide energy boost

Appearing on In The Black Digital website, September 2019

Red Bull carves an unorthodox path

Many companies are not gaining the efficiencies and productivity levels they hope for from their teams, because their focus and resources are not invested in the right places. Even the most advanced tools and systems tend to fail if the underlying processes do not work as designed; and even the best processes will fail if people responsible for them do not perform their work with integrity.

To avoid this common pitfall, energy drink company Red Bull has been taking inspiration from the work they do with elite athletes, and translating these learnings into “traditional” departments, such as Finance in North America.

“We are using proven methods of driving the performance of our teams and to help our colleagues be at their best every day,” says Tomasz Nowakowski, Vice President – Finance, Red Bull Distribution Company. “When we say ‘high-performance teams’ we don’t mean any special kind of structure or membership. Our approach is based on making the existing teams across the organisation as effective, efficient, and focused on achievement, as possible.”

Looking for mindsetTomasz Nowakowski

Everything starts at the recruitment stage. The company looks for what Nowakowski calls a ‘growth mindset’, a concept popularised by Dr Carol Dweck. Technical skills and relevant functional experience are important but right attitude is really the key.

“We look for diversity of thought. New ideas and approaches are crucial for responding to long-term challenges. Where we look for cohesion is around our leadership code and values, which are Professionalism, Responsibility, Passion and Focus,” he says. “We expect that everyone we hire embraces those core values. Authenticity is at the heart of our leadership code, and that facilitates people being more direct with each other.”

Team leaders are encouraged to assume positive intent and not take themselves too seriously. That reduces many misunderstandings and helps the faster resolution of internal conflicts.

Another concept embraced by Nowakowski’s team is Shin Gi Tai, which comes from Eastern philosophy and is followed by many martial arts practitioners. It represents a unity of body, mind and skill.

“I was first introduced to it when we had a training session at Machida Karate Academy in Los Angeles,” he explains. “We learned that having the highest level of skill or the best technique is usually not enough to win consistently. Our body needs to be taken care of well. The competitor must be healthy and adequately conditioned in order to be able to use their skills. In the end it is strong mind and spirit that will drive the fighter to keep pushing and never give up.”

Translating this into the workplace means showing employees how to take care of their health and physical wellbeing. Nowakowski connects this to the strong mind, grit and mindset that the company seeks and expects from its people. These qualities are also fostered through the company’s senior management, who are expected to lead by example.

Dealing with adversity

Of course, there are always unexpected setbacks. The issue is how the organisation and its people respond to them.

There is an important concept Nowakowski learned from one of world’s leading experts in this field, Dr Eric Potterat, called ‘adversity tolerance tactics’. Human beings often respond to setbacks or highly stressful situations with our primal ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. This makes them lose conscious control over their performance.

Everyone has a way of dealing with adversity but there is no single method that can guarantee that people can continue performing at a high level after a major reversal. Nowakowski says: “I learned from Potterat that high-performing teams, such as special forces and professional sports teams, tend to use sets of multiple tactics. These range from pre- performance and post-performance routines, meditation, and visualisation, to more advanced tools such as compartmentalisation and a very high degree of self-awareness.”

He believes that by knowing, combining and understanding these tactics, people can begin to incorporate them into their personal battles, which will improve performance, step by step.

Results on the board

Nowakowski believes that the company’s approach to team-building underpins the speed with which it has been able to take over energy drink sales and distribution in a new markets in the US.

“Many of our expansions would not be remotely possible in the timeline they happened in if our teams did not operate with growth mindset. It’s almost in our DNA right now,” he emphasises.

“Red Bull is not just a consumer packaged goods company but a powerful brand involved in the media world and in various global sports, including football, Formula 1, Moto GP, World Rally Championship and many others. The brand is our asset, and it has been our teams and the culture we have developed that have driven it forward.”


10 great TED Talks on careers

Appearing on In The Black Digital site, June 2019

Kavi Guppta presenting his TED talk, The Remote Work Revolution.

Kavi Guppta presenting his TED talk, The Remote Work Revolution.


Yes, you can find work that is fulfilling and inspiring, but rethinking your approach is sometimes the best way to get there. The speakers in these 10 inspiring TED Talks share their thoughts on how to have a great career.

1. Scott Dinsmore: How to Find Work You Love

In an era when so many people dislike their jobs, Dinsmore argues that it is possible to find work that will inspire you, if you can determine your true values and goals. He offers a framework for personal discovery through incremental steps and considered risks, pointing to the need to make connections with other people who share your passions, priorities and interests. He says the fundamental question you have to ask yourself is, “What work can you not do?”

2. Marie Claire Lim Moore: Why Asia Needs More Tiger Women – TEDxWanChai

Why are there so few Asian women in senior management positions in most Asian countries when so many do well in university? Marie Claire Lim Moore believes that the key reason is the belief that women’s primary role should be that of mother and wife, coupled with the reluctance of many companies to hire women after a career break.

She looks at the Philippines, which has a high proportion of women in senior roles, as an example of how to change expectations and attitudes.

3. Nigel Marsh: How to Make Work-life Balance Work

The author of Fat, Forty and Fired examines the concept of work-life balance, emphasising that success should be about how you live your life. A good life requires intellectual, emotional and spiritual fulfilment, all of which are unlikely to be achieved by “working long hours to earn money to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like”.

Each person must find balance for themselves and be aware of “the little things” that can, together, make for a full and happy life.

4. Larry Smith: Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career

Economist Smith examines the many excuses that people offer for not pursuing the passions that will lead to great careers, such as the excuse that great careers are only for eccentric, lucky or highly gifted people.

Smith dissects and dismisses the range of excuses, arguing that any individual can create and develop a great career. It requires courage, self-awareness, hard work and single-minded commitment, but great careers are the means to make the world a better place.

5. Kavi Guppta: The Remote Work Revolution – TEDxUWA

Guppta believes that technology has made remote work viable as a career option in many areas of activity. He advises that people trying to find work on this basis should emphasise their ability to organise themselves, work autonomously, and communicate across cultures.

Companies that want to use remote workers should start small and build up a network over time. While remote working is not for everyone, the number of people who want to take up the option is very likely to increase.

6. Carol Fishman Cohen: How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break

Returning to work after an extended break can be a challenge. Cohen offers a wealth of suggestions for “relaunchers”, from networking to find a job to updating working skills, especially in relation to technology.

She also looks at the intern-like options that some companies are offering to people returning to the workforce. A “testing-out period” can minimise the perceived risk that some employers attach to a returning worker. There can be substantial long-term benefits for both the worker and the company.

7. Jason Shen: When Looking for a Job Highlight Your Ability Not Your Experience

Shen notes that very few people hold jobs that line up directly with their experiences or their academic studies. But he believes that this is not necessarily a problem, if a job applicant can demonstrate relevant and high-level abilities, such as a special mode of problem-solving.

Equally, employers have to be willing to look past traditional metrics to identify people who are a good fit with the company and can bring innovative ways of working and thinking.

8. Susan Colantuono: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Many women who want to move into senior corporate positions find themselves stuck in middle management, despite excellent peer reviews and relevant training. Colantuono believes that the missing piece is connecting professional strengths to the company’s strategic goals.

Most career advice that women receive, she says, focuses on personal development. Closing the gender gap at the top will require training and mentoring that make the need for alignment explicit, so that talented people can compete on a level playing field.

9. Susan Redden Makatoa: Flexible Working Should Be the Norm for Everyone – TEDxMacquarieUniversity

In her examination of flexible working, Makatoa notes that Australian legislation theoretically provides the right to flexible work to everyone but in practice it is mainly utilised by working mothers with young families.

This imbalance has created a feeling that this group has special privileges, leading to resentment from others. What is needed, says Makatoa, is a change of mindset so that flexible work rights are utilised by all. Some companies that have done this already have seen productivity enhancements and improvements in employee satisfaction.

10. Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Duckworth has conducted extensive research on why some people succeed where others fail and concludes that grit – the view that life should be approached as a challenging marathon rather than a sprint – is the determining factor.

Innately talented people often do not follow through on initiatives and fail to reach their objectives. People with grit are more likely to accept occasional failure as the price of learning, a process which often translates into long-term, sustainable career success.


Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die

Though not officially a Ted Talk, Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford University students examines how to see opportunities in setbacks, how to connect apparently disparate events of life, and how to find a career that can be a personal passion.

His concluding message is, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

Good questions, boss management

Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2019


Questions Are the Answer

By Hal Gregersen

Harper Business, $27, 336 pages

Questions are the AnswerAs Director of the MIT Leadership Center, Gregersen has a special interest in why some business leaders are exceptionally successful. After conducting over 200 interviews he reached the conclusion that they ask the right questions. They do not ask many but they are good ones, capable of dissolving barriers to creative thinking and guiding the pursuit of new solutions. Drawing on this research, he explains how questions  can be structured to get to the core of an issue while pointing the way to clear action. A good question is a paradox: completely surprising yet entirely obvious.

While the research dealt with senior people Gregersen emphasises that active questioning is effective at any level of leadership. He examines the idea of the “question burst”, a team meeting centred around asking questions about an emerging challenge. The process usually leads to some innovative thinking and at least a few ideas worth further development.

The best questioners make an effort to find information and views outside their comfort zone. Breaking out of the bubble requires an effort but is needed for a fresh perspective. Good questions also require humility. Finding the right question, after all, is about accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know.


Cybersecurity Program Development for Businesses

By Chris Moschovitis

Wiley, $71, 225 pages

This book is written for business owners and executives whose education did not include cybersecurity, and as a result they do not know how to communicate with the company specialists. Moschovitis clearly knows a great deal about the field but he also knows how to explain the issues without undue techno-babble. He emphasises that there is no silver-bullet cybersecurity defence; the point is how to make good business decisions about what can be done to minimise risks and mitigate damage. He guides the reader through basic concepts without talking down to them, steadily progressing to risk evaluation and asset protection. He also explains what should be in an incident response plan and offers advice on cybersecurity training for employees and managers. Cybersecurity Program Development

The later chapters deal with cyber threats affecting machine learning, cloud computing and blockchain. There is also an important section on trends in regulation, essential from both governance and decision-making perspectives.

If read from cover to cover the book provides a comprehensive overview. However, it is structured so that readers can choose what is most relevant to them (although the first third is for everyone). It allows executives to not only know what questions to ask but to understand the answers as well.


Manage Your Boss

By Jonathan Vehar

Centre For Creative Leadership, $31 (e-book), 55 pages

This e-book is a short read but a pithy one, explaining how to manage upwards to minimise misunderstandings and friction. Vehar specialises in the design of business education programs and he believes that it is up to the person in the subordinate position to actively manage the relationship. This means finding out the preferred communication methods of the boss, how closely they want to oversee their reports, their methods for resource allocation, and how much information they wish to share. In each case it is up to the subordinate to adjust their working methods accordingly, although Vehar suggests ways to communicate to the boss when more direction or assistance is needed. It is generally more effective to approach the boss with a clear list of suggestions rather than vague open-ended questions.

Manage Your BossThere are numerous checklists that can help define, guide and develop the relationship, as well as interesting anecdotes. Along the way Vehar notes that your boss is usually obliged to look upwards to their own boss. The concluding chapter provides a four-step framework for discussions: pluses, opportunities, issues and new thinking. It is a straightforward, practical system, and a good way to build the trust that the relationship requires.




Downloadable research

A guide from Deloitte, Forecasting in a Digital World, underlines the extent to which advanced maths and machine learning have changed forecasting. The guide explains the basics of algorithmic forecasting and examines cases where the new tools have provided predictions that have been more accurate and timelier than traditional methods of data compilation and spreadsheet analysis.

forecastingThe key figure is the CFO, who is responsible for assembling and leading a team of people who understand both the business environment and the technology. The CFO also has the task of integrating the forecasts with the company’s strategic processes, including at the board level.

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In a TED Talk that mixes insight with humour, entrepreneur Chieh Huang explains how micromanagement leads to exhausted, dissatisfied employees and kills innovation. In fact, most senior managers are aware, when questioned, that micromanagement is counter-productive. Their attempts to do it usually stem from a desire to re-engage with ‘real’ work rather than managing managers.

He explains how managers have to understand their role, and step away from their instinct to micromanage. This entails an acceptance that employees might occasionally fail. Any short-term costs, however, are certain to be outweighed by increases in productivity and innovation.

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A new report by McKinsey, Megadeals: How Data and Analytics Can Dramatically Boost Success, discusses how business analytics can be used in large, complex deals. There is often a reluctance to apply data-based methods to big deals but the report authors believe that by drawing on multiple data sources – customer-relationship management, enterprise resource planning, sales reporting, and external data – it is possible to create rich datasets that can provide important insights.

Analytics can also provide early warning of possible problems and enhance risk management. Although the report focuses on large deals the authors believe that the processes can be used on deals of any type and scale.

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Hays Specialist Recruitment has released its Jobs Report for the period to June 2019, looking at the trends of skills in demand within the areas of commerce, professional practice and the public sector. While there is considerable diversity across the areas a common theme is an increasing demand for an understanding of analytics and cloud computing.

Graduate job applicants with these skills should provide details of their qualifications, and people who are seeking promotion or to change jobs should emphasise any upskilling they have done in these areas. This is to show that that they are both competent with the new fields and are willing to undertake continuous improvement.

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The Australian Cyber Security Centre has released the Australian Government cybersecurityInformation Security Manual to help organisations protect their information, networks and systems from cyber threats. The guidelines within the ISM are based on the experiences of the Centre and the Australian Signals Directorate.

The ISM is aimed at Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, cyber security professionals and IT managers. The guidelines discuss both governance and technical concepts, with chapters on equipment management, database management, system hardening, outsourcing and data transfers. The entire document can be downloaded or individual chapters can be selected. A useful Security Assessment Aid is also available.

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