Ayurveda, Agra and Awakening!

By Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Belinda - Blog PhotoMany have asked about my journey to India to attend Stuart Watkin’s Awakening Yoga Retreat, as though India remains an untouched mystery.

I did not know what to expect before embarking on my journey, maybe because I hardly gave myself time to think about it let alone pack the correct attire – ladies are still required to wear loose clothing that covers their entire body. As I sat in Critical Analysis and Thought Leadership, the half way point of my MBA, questioning my personal and professional direction, I decided to book the last spot on the retreat and fly to New Delhi the next day.

The retreat was held at the Anand Prakesh Ashram in Rishekesh, a spiritual town at the foothills of the Himalayas made famous when the Beatles visited in 1968 and stayed at Maharishi’s Ashram.

Observing the rules of the Ashram, I woke daily at 5am to mediate, practice yoga, chant and attend a Hindu fire ceremony before breakfast. There was no access to wifi and we were encouraged to limit telephone calls, consumerism and observe silence between 9pm and 9am. I explored the region in my spare time, trekking to Shiva’s temple, bathing in a waterfall at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers (Devprayag) where the Ganges begins, and visiting the Taj Mahal – possibly the greatest love story of all time. The magic of India and the stories of the people I met on my journey – each searching, discovering, creating or healing gave my own life perspective and clarity.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson though was about dharma, a word that has no exact English translation. The essence of dharma is accepting your path, your duty – mine is to serve and to make a difference to people, even if that is only one person – that person may go on to change the life of many. Our teacher, Stuart used an analogy about a street sweeper in India, sweeping because it is his dharma to do so.

Immense importance is placed on food (Ayurveda is the traditional diet and medicine that includes eating seasonal produce for your body type), culture (yoga, sound healing music, dance, colourful saris) and love for the family. These are the currencies that add value to their lives. I hear that even the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) has included yoga practice at the Asana Pranayama Bandha Mudra to encourage mindfulness as part of their MBA program.

The story about dharma reassures us to keep our faith and reminds us that we are each truly on our paths to realising our “dharma.”

What is your dharma? 

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Look at the person, not the books – Thoughts on risk appetite and investment in China

By Therese Juda, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

The rapid pace of China’s industrialisation and resulting leaps in GDP has created a glut of capital. During our recent trip to China, one venture capitalist remarked that there is too much money, chasing too few quality opportunities.

Given the centrally-managed aspects of the financial system, varied accounting practises and challenges in exiting investments, here are some thoughts on how to understand attitude to risk in China.

Western rules don’t always apply

One of the guest speakers, a Professor in the Business Faculty at Fudan University, described a few of the Chinese’s Government’s regulations concerning bond issues and default.

He mentioned that default on bonds issued is not allowed by Central Planning Authorities, and that most investment opportunities are project-based, rather than whole of company. This presents a challenge for investors assessing the risk/return balance for a particular project as traditional modelling suggests the yield of an investment is largely compensation for the level of risk you’re taking on.

I appreciate the protective effect this regulation has on individual investors, but wonder if this provides a kind of perverse incentive to take on the highest return investments, without scrutinising the details of how viable the actual project is – driving up the returns companies need to offer to gain funding.

Look at the person, not the books

The question of due diligence Western-style, through analysis of financial statements and projections, was top of mind when our Venture Capitalist speaker described a failed investment he had personally made.

The speaker had invested personally in a project that failed, and lost the capital he had invested. The failed company was audited by local authorities who found that only 10% of funding the company had received made it to the company’s bank accounts.

Investors around the world know that this is not a situation unique to China, but what I was struck with was the speaker’s statement – ‘I am not a policeman; we do not check such things’.

As the speaker went on to describe how investment opportunities are sought through region-linked business and personal networks, I gained a new perspective on how the choice to invest is made.

The themes of interconnectedness and long-running relationships speak to the fabled ‘guanxi’, a Chinese term referring to deep personal connections built between business partners.

Before ‘guanxi’ is possible, the choice is whether to do business with this person, and this is assesed via ‘xin-ren’, a trust equation made up of both cognitive ‘head’ and affective ‘heart’ aspects (Read more in: Building effective business relationships in China).

The utilisation of these deep links to source investment opportunities spoke to me of the heart aspects – you are doing business with people who went to the same university, who move in similar circles and thus ‘get’ you, and are bound to deliver on their promises to you at a deeper level than simple contracts and liability limited companies command.

It might sound counter-intuitive to invest millions based on personal relationships, but any lenders reading this know that character trumps capacity when assessing loan default risk every time.

Gotta roll the dice to get a shot at the big time

Hearing about the importance of the character led me to wonder – if the project does fail, will the owners be able to get funding for their next venture?

The Venture Capitalist speaker seemed surprised at this question, stating that after a failed project the owners are seen as a more attractive future prospect, as ‘you have to take risks to get a chance at the big house and dreams’.

Does this mean failure is rewarded? In the context of the amazing innovations we saw at Goodbaby, a baby goods manufacturer, I realised in reality this position supports people willing to take risks to be first.

My time in China has given me a new appreciation of how nimble a company needs to be to thrive in such a complex regulatory environment, and a completely different perspective on how to assess risk and make investment decisions.

China’s economy is now moving towards innovation to sustain its growth, and will be well supported by a risk system that favours the brave – those willing to fail, in order to create something new and be first.

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The importance of knowing and owning your story

By Timothy Castle, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Timothy-CastleRecently I have been intrigued by the number of times I have been asked ‘so tell me what’s happening?’ in relation to my career by a potential employer, mentor or advisor. I have recognised just how critically important it is to be able to articulate my story at a moment’s notice and that it’s an increasingly valuable skill to have on my tool belt.

So many times in this world we have opportunities to shine, to share details of our story with others that can elevate our careers or make transitions into new fields more seamless. A key driver of whether transformation happens is the relevance of the information we reveal and if we’re memorable.

Another thing that got me thinking was over the past couple of months I attended a raft of start-up events all geared around securing investment. One of the key takeaways I got from all of these was that during the pitching process, there is a formula for success. Keep it short, sharp and hit the highlights first. It was then the light bulb went off, could this advice from some of the world’s top investment firms be applied to my own life to serve me better on my journey? Well in fact, yes it could. If I don’t take the time to understand how to authentically and succinctly convey my own message, I run the risk of losing opportunities to connect that could further advance my career. Companies spend millions of dollars a year and dedicate countless hours on marketing all to get the right message. It’s foolish to think that I don’t need to do the same, well, minus the millions of dollars. Ultimately, it is counterintuitive to my own business objectives and my career progression.

Similarly to the start-up world, where a product is geared towards certain investors at different stages of growth, so must we apply this same agility to our own story as career minded, forward-focused achievers who adapt to appeal to the markets at different stages of our growth.

What I’ve realised is how important it is to share my vision with others, yet if I don’t dedicate adequate resource to developing and crafting my own story, then my plan is flawed. Prior to this realisation, my default answer was to begin with my job title and work backwards from there, mentioning a few key achievements.

What I have found is that knowing and owning my story is easier when it’s broken down into three areas.

Future, Job, You.

Future – By starting out describing my aspirations first (future) I allow the receiver to understand my goal for the maximum amount of time possible. Therefore, they can start to figure out how they can help. I believe there is an element of psychology to this. By getting your listener to visualise where you want to be at the start, they imagine you in that job, role or company. So you have started with the possibility that it can happen and worked backwards through the obstacles almost like a top down approach. Rather than building it from where you are now with the mindset that if you do all of this then and only then might it be possible.

Job – People need to know who you help and how. This gets you to think about the very core of your job role. Keep it short and sharp and hit the highlights.

You – make it authentic and demonstrate what makes you different.

No longer is my job title my story – it’s about being creative with what I have so it can be delivered with maximum impact.

Your story, your journey and your goals – own it and love it, for this is the tool that’s going to transport you from A to B. This is the vehicle to practise with friends, family, even the local coffee shop guy and if you have the opportunity take it. Get that practise.

So the next time someone asks you ‘so what’s been happening?’ You can start with what’s about to be happening, move through your successes and finish with the key differentiator that makes you memorable.

Remember people love a story; they just need to know where they can fit in.

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Men’s pay on my mind

By Dr Kim Johnstone, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in The University of Sydney Business School MBA

Men’s pay has been on my mind. As the recipient of the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship, this year I have spent a lot of time thinking about the under-representation of women in top leadership positions. When I applied for the scholarship, I wanted to be one of the women who account for gender equity on boards, as a CEO, and by being paid as much as the blokes.

More importantly, I wanted to make sure that the two and a half million female millennials about to enter or newly entering the workforce in Australia this year don’t experience the same crushing disappointment (and anger and frustration) I have throughout my career when they come up against bias, inequity and good old discrimination.

Last week was Australia’s Equal Pay Day, 65 days into the new financial year. This marks the number of extra days a year a woman has to work to earn the same as a man. This week I was part of a panel at an event organised by the University of Sydney’s Network of Women and Work and Organisational Studies Society to mark Equal Pay Day. The agenda was a call to practical action to address unequal pay. So women’s pay has been on my mind a lot too.

When I finished my first Masters degree over 20 years ago, I thought the issues of sexism and gender discrimination I learnt about while a student would be gone when my generation hit the workforce. How naïve that seems two decades on. Now I’m starting another Masters, with the express purpose of bringing my experience together in a way to make change happen.

But words and intentions are not enough. What practical things can we do to make sure this conversation is not being repeated in 2035?

A lot has been said and written about the need for leadership from the top to increase women’s representation at senior levels and therefore pay equity. These are all vitally important, and I encourage and applaud them.

But it is the everyday decisions informed by unconscious bias (and probably other types of bias) that I think will create change in our future. Not just in our workplaces, but also at home. Not just for men, but also for women. Not just in the top jobs, but across all industries and occupations. (To see how pervasive pay inequity is in Australia, see “The Glass Ceiling Index” – women out earn men in only five per cent of occupations, and even where the workforce is mostly female, males are more likely to reach the highest paying roles – even in midwifery!).

So what does bias look like? For me it has looked like working all summer on a construction crew during my undergraduate studies for a new shopping complex. Once classes resumed I got a job as part-time cleaner in the complex. Two more part-time cleaners were employed to cover the weekend roster. Both were males. Both got paid more than me because they were employed under a different award. When your job is the difference between having a job and no job, you’re not inclined to complain too loudly about inequality and unfairness.

Bias is having my position restructured out of existence while on maternity leave. This is not unusual. One of my friends was told that her newly created position had been a mistake when she found herself pregnant. Last year, a damning report by the Human Rights Commission found one in two women experienced discrimination during pregnancy or when returning to work. About 250,000 babies were born in Australia last year – that’s 125,000 women who faced discrimination.

Bias is having colleagues and managers assume that as a mother I am less available than I am. People often say, “you won’t want to stay away overnight, stay late, start early …”. It’s not hard to see that unconscious bias about the availability of a mother, or about the best way to support a parent, means fewer opportunities to perform (and be promoted, and paid more).

Bias is assuming flexibility at work is for mothers. Bias is assuming fathers don’t need flexibility (or adult children with ageing parents, or sports people training for a half marathon). My partner once had a full time, completely inflexible job where he had to be at his desk 8.30am to 5.30pm. Luckily, I had flexible work. Indeed, if my workplace had not been flexible, one of us would have had to resign. The one time I asked my partner to go to work early in order to leave early for an allied health run with our son, he got pulled into his manager’s office for what can only be described as a bollocking. And part of it was being asked, “is your wife doing her fair share at home?” [my response can’t be published].
My stories of bias are not unusual. I live them and I hear them when I talk to the men and women I work and play with. It takes very little imagination to see how one small bias builds on another until population-level inequity and discrimination is the norm. We all have bias and assumptions. The good thing about that is that we can all challenge our own bias and take action to make sure our bias doesn’t lead to discrimination.

Challenge your assumptions about how men and women work. Think about unconscious bias that may equate work place flexibility with part time work. Bias that means women’s work is judged on how she looks and talks, not what she delivers. Bias that assumes women with children won’t leave their children overnight but men will. Bias that assumes you can’t have two careers in a family.

My call to everyone, particularly today and tomorrow’s leaders, is to ensure the future looks different to the past. If you assume men and women should get the same money for the same job, then action is required. I don’t have the patience for the pace of change in relation to pay equity that I’ve seen in the past 20 years.  So talk, challenge, promote women and make women’s pay the same as men’s pay.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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Leading in the Future of Work

By Jane Counsel, Unit Coordinator, Managing People and Organisations, The University of Sydney Business School MBA program

_MG_5889finalwebEvery time I walk into a coffee shop, I observe how technology

is transforming the way people work. Once the sanctuary of the coffee snobs and the brunch brigade, Australian Cafes are the new bastions of work, where you can order a latte with a hot desk to go.

Australians enjoy some of the most reliable network coverage in the world and are among the world’s largest users of mobile devices, enabling them to work pretty much anywhere, anytime. Much of the office space consolidation now occurring in corporate Australia is driven by the fact that employees are no-longer desk-bound, with work increasingly defined as what people do, not where they spend their working day.

Technology is just one of the major global megatrends currently disrupting modern workplaces and triggering a re-imagination of how and where work is done. But what does this mean for our future leaders, and how well equipped are they to lead in the future of work?

Lynda Gratton, author of “The Shift, The Future of Work is Already Here” and a globally-recognised authority on future of work trends, says the changes workplaces are currently experiencing are as significant as the Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

In fact, Gratton and her International Future of Work Consortium, have identified five key Future of Work trends – disruptive technology, globalisation, demographic change and longevity, societal expectations and scarcity of natural resources.

By 2025, Gratton predicts these trends will generate five generations in the workforce, 5 billion people connected by hand-held devices, India and China as Global powerhouses, workplace flexibility and non-traditional career paths as the norm, while a scarcity of natural resources will be firmly at the centre of the workplace agenda.

So what qualities are critical for leaders in the future of work?

In a globally connected world there is nowhere to hide, so authentic leadership becomes critical as leaders are judged on their ability to be inclusive of difference as they increasing manage diverse and global teams.

Leaders will also be judged on their ability to lead through influence and inspiration as traditional leadership status symbols, such as hierarchy and a command and control management style, become less relevant.

An agile management style with the ability to navigate complexity and ambiguity will also be important to manage the unprecedented rate of change and disruption predicted. Leaders will also need to be connected and not just via their social media groups as globalisation drives a global war for talent and resources.

In the new world of work, knowledge will also be a crucial commodity where the truly great leaders will be defined by their ability to conceptualise knowledge by turning complex issues into innovative solutions.

So how ready are Australian leaders for this new world of work?

In my opinion, I think many leaders are at risk of failing to capitalise on the future of work megatrends due to a historical culture of presenteeism in Australian workplaces and a prospensity to hire in their shadow, which often limits innovation and productivity.

Australia’s next major economic boom will be driven by the services industry and our ability to reap the rewards of this will largely depend upon the degree of progressive change occurring in our society and more broadly in the culture and fabric of our organisations.

However, it is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.  Critical mass creates momentum for diversity but the critical mass must be given the chance to form in the first place.

The more progressive organisations are those that are aware of the megatrends and understand the business imperative for change and are proactively addressing the gaps in their workforce when it comes to women in leadership, culturally diverse leaders, flexible workers, LGBTI inclusion and intergenerational teams.

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Getting study fit and the reward of gaining new frames of reference

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient 

Getting fit is hard. Harder still is “getting back into it.” Such is particularly the case when the alarm sounds for a 5:30am run on a rainy, grey morning. However, when you muster the resolve to get out, the rewards are abundant. It may be in catching an early morning sunrise, or finding space in the peace and quiet that an early morning brings, and of course, you edge ever closer to the original objective of acquiring fitness and well-being.

Over the past 8 months, I have been adjusting to a life that, after a period of many years, once again includes study. With an already busy life it was not without trepidation that I took on the challenge of introducing the MBA. But it wasn’t only nervousness around the additional demand on my time – rather apprehension around developing my “study fitness”. After a break from the books, I was well and truly unaccustomed to the mental exercise and challenge that formal and institutional learning brings. Did I have the energy to take it on? Could I retrain myself? With the desire to expand my thinking, I let go of my fears and with some confidence I asked the question – why not?

How thankful I am that I posed that question. While the learning journey thus far has indeed been challenging, day-by-day it gets easier. Like the benefits an early morning run provides, as does the world of learning and the MBA. The rewards have been gifted through new frames of reference and new ways of thinking. It has been a lifting of the veil and a chance to realise my unconscious incompetence; or rather, I have been witness to the realisation of just how much I really didn’t know. Indeed, I can’t help but admit I have asked myself the question of just how I have come so far without being aware of the issues, knowledge and skills I have been privileged to gain through this journey so far.

But the reward has not just been in the learning of new information and new skills, but rather, it has been by being equipped with techniques to view the status quo with a renewed vigor. My existing work and life environment represents a new landscape, a place where old problems become fixable, and previously invisible barriers reveal themselves, but not without a methodology to tackle and resolve them. The MBA environment has afforded a luxury to test out different ideas, styles of engagement and learning without consequence; and done so surrounded by strong and intelligent peers, who provide thoughtful, articulate and considered advice and feedback.

The journey to being study fit is ongoing, and I’ll admit the journey so far has been challenging, but it has been equal parts rewarding. I am so far outside my comfort zone – nothing is easy; all of what we are learning is totally new to me and absolutely doesn’t come naturally. But, what an incredible place to be, expanding thinking, pushing limits, being uncomfortable, gaining new frames of reference – and doing so surrounded by collegiate peers who are also swimming at these depths. So while on this journey, when I again ask that question to myself of “why”, I remind myself why not and of all that stands to be accomplished. Being uncomfortable is the best and most exciting place to be.

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Insights from Shanghai and its innovation ecosystem

By Stevie-Ann Dovico, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

stevie pic 2015China’s development over the last 30 years has been amazing. The speed in which things can happen in this country, the paper thin margins, global focus and move towards world class innovation signals it is destined for further growth. Here are a few of my key insights following the MBA international module in China:

There are over 300 policies from across all levels of government to encourage mass entrepreneurship and innovation in China, as well as over $8.2m USD granted to these areas. This includes the provision of land and facilities (Innoparks), managing and backing incubators, angel investors and venture capital institutions, tax benefits and talent policies like the 1116 Plan, which financially compensates talented Chinese nationals from around the globe who return to work in Shanghai.

Looking at incubators specifically, there are over 1800 in China and 198 in Shanghai. Many of these incubators actually started as property development companies that recognised the saturation of the industry and moved into innovation to diversify their assets. If we compare these numbers to Australia, where we have roughly 25 incubators/accelerators nationally, the gap is huge.

Easy access to capital, lack of quality projects and talent
Government and speculative funding in China has created easy access to money, while quality talent, particularly in business entrepreneurship, remains a key challenge. This is where synergies form with Australia. We surely have the talent, with great innovation coming out of our country. Startups like Atlassian, Freelancer, Kogan, Wotif have all achieved significant scale and success in a relatively short amount of time. However, Australia has some of the lowest VC funding in the world, and a relatively small market, so increasingly we are seeing these businesses leave the market for overseas. With China having both the market and the capital, this presents a significant opportunity.

Generally speaking, there is a strong desire to adopt Western business models in the Chinese innovation space, although we found that there is a huge variation in business practice depending on the type of organisation.

Some companies we visited like iSpace and their partner incubators in the tech innovation space were more innovative in their practices.

One incubator cited that they believed the success of Silicon Valley was due to ‘freedom of thought’, which bolsters creativity and innovation. This was really interesting and in my view, very progressive given how controlled communication is within China. We also saw more of the Google style modern offices, with foosball, “hangout areas”, table tennis and bean bags. This signals to me that Shanghai is really embracing a ‘new way’ of working.

Other businesses we spent time with cited more traditional ways of working and highlighted key issues stemming from bureaucratic processes. For example, at a one global manufacturer we visited, we found it took over 36 process approvals just to make a hat. Employees were apprehensive to share information between departments, causing massive inefficiencies.

In the pre-departure ‘bootcamp’, we sat through lectures warning us about the importance of hierarchical seating arrangements and the way to give business cards. I found it a little unnerving to be honest, as Australia is more of an egalitarian culture and this kind of formality is not general practice.

However in reality, we went to over 30 meetings in 3 days and in the majority  of our meetings, we didn’t sit in these traditional hierarchical positionings. We were actually told by the companies not to make things formal and that meetings were casual and this was a relaxed environment. Additionally, rather than swapping business cards, we swapped ‘Wechat’ QR codes.

The proliferation of social media in the Chinese market and the breadth of capability of apps, which are essentially platforms for all sorts of capability, amazed me. Studying cases like Wechat and Alibaba was really interesting, as these applications are multiplatform, dynamic and integrate many needs into one place. A truly human-centred application of software development.

Conversely, the impact of public policy on employment runs deep. As a consequence of the 1 child policy, millennials in China have a different work ethic to those of the earlier generations. They stand to inherit the fortunes of their parents and grandparents solely, and this has a huge impact on truancy in the workforce. This spurs a further issue around a lack of employee training. Many employers do not feel the need to invest in training and their employee value proposition, because turnover is high. This vicious cycle perpetuates the lack of employee engagement and is detrimental to the sustainability of businesses.

Even the exit process was cited as merely handing back a name badge. Which suggests to me that employers may not be willing to listen to feedback. Perhaps it’s a “saving face” thing, where the employer doesn’t encourage a feedback rich environment? Perhaps its even a matter of the fact that culturally, employees are not willing to be critical of their company and superiors openly?

Hukou: In order to limit mass rural migration, the Hukou policy was introduced. This means that having citizenship in China doesn’t automatically give you citizenship into Shanghai. This has an impact on working families. If a parent applies and is granted citizenship for Shanghai, and they have children, unless their children are also granted citizenship, their children must leave and go back to their parent’s hometown. This affects employee retention. Citizenship for Shanghai is almost as difficult to get as getting country based citizenship.

Overall, China is a really interesting place; the more I learned, the more I was confused, and the more I realised I had to learn. Its complexity runs deep, but its potential is huge. What an amazing journey!

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