Know Thyself

By Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program


I had the opportunity to work on a gender diversity project with Andy Almenara, Lilla Kelemen-Toroczkai, and Evan Zhang in the core unit of study, Managing People and Organisations (MPO, semester 2, 2016). My interest in virtual teams was piqued by our group composition. We were the ideal team in the context of MPO. It was apt that we were working on the ‘future of work’ issue of global mobility addressing a gender diversity issue. Our team was physically dispersed and diverse in terms of gender, culture, and experience. With each of us based in a different location meant connecting via online technologies. I had previously experienced the odd conference call in the workplace but had never worked remotely with a high performing team. Working in a virtual team increased our effectiveness because we made sure we prepared for meetings and kept track of follow-up actions. Previously I had not prepared so diligently for other face-to-face team project meetings. I utilised my knowledge of the higher education sector and together we conducted the MBA Future Leaders Survey and developed a set of recommendations for our client who was pleased with the outcome.

After submitting our final report, I wanted to explore further research potential for our work. I knew our work had business relevance and wanted to gauge the interest in an academic context. In late November I submitted an abstract to attend the 10th Annual International Conference on Global Studies: Business, Economic, Political, Social and Cultural Aspects in December 2016 in Greece. I made a proposal titled “Gender Diversity, Global Mobility, and the business bottom line: the case for change”. It was accepted.

The problem we addressed, in summary, is that it is accepted in industry that future leaders are required to have international experience in order to progress in organisations and careers. Currently, females are not given equal consideration and opportunity to gain this experience. The unintended impact is that female career progression is being limited which is shrinking the talent pool required to grow diverse leadership teams. Gender Diversity in organisations has a direct correlation with better decision-making and financial performance, as well as adverse implications on the leadership talent pool if not done well. This is generating an increased motivation for organisations, particularly multinationals, to appoint and promote more female executives.

Leading up to the conference I expended energy worrying about the presentation. I was extremely nervous. Arriving at the conference I realised that most of my time would be spent listening to the other presenters, most of whom were academics from institutions from across the globe.  I had become consumed by the prospect of speaking, forgetting that listening is an important skill. The highlight, aside from presenting, was question time. Other conference attendees, some leading academics in their fields, were interested in my team’s survey results and research. Speaking to these academics, I began to understand how research can begin to influence changes in industry.

Aside from meeting the conference attendees and being exposed to other research, it was also an opportunity to participate in the conference cultural program. The most transformative experience, for me, was the visit to the site of the Oracle of Delphi. In ancient times it was consulted on important decisions throughout the ancient classical world.  When visiting the Oracle of Delphi, at the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo people were greeted with the maxim “Know Thyself”.

Visitors to the Oracle were often seeking direction, guidance, and answers prior to making significant decisions. The inscription sought to remind them of the importance of self-awareness. You may remember seeing the maxim, “Know Thyself”, above the Oracle’s door in the Matrix trilogy – some truths stand the test of time.  This maxim, “Know Thyself” resonated with me on a personal and professional level, and in the context of my presentation.   With introspection, we can have a better understanding of our capabilities and areas for development. Having just completed the first core unit, Leadership, Practice and Development (LP&D, semester 1) this sounded all too familiar. With greater self-awareness, we achieve a deeper appreciation of our strength and a better understanding of our weakness and how we can develop. I knew all of this already but at the site of the Oracle of Delphi I felt empowered.  I realised that I have everything I need to find answers and creative business solutions, including an amazing network of people, like my MPO team and the dedicated academic staff teaching in the program.

Industry can learn from academia and modern thought leaders can learn from ancient civilizations. These relationships are not Mutually Exclusive (or Collectively Exhaustive, for those playing the management consulting home game). Instead, self-awareness is a dynamic process of introspection which brings a heightened sense of self. Just as Gender Diversity in organisations has directly been correlated to better decision-making and financial performance; self-awareness has been linked to leadership effectiveness. To “Know Thyself” is the real case for change.

Posted in MBA | Leave a comment

Be Bold for Change – Striving for parity in the disability sector

Sydney Business Connect Magazine photo shootBy Emma Brown, Finance Manager at Cerebral Palsy Alliance, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

It appears widely accepted that diversity and inclusion in the workplace improve economic performance. Numerous studies confirm this with results ranging from 15% improvement in profitability for organisations with women in senior leadership roles1 to a predicted 20% increase in economic activity in Australia as a whole as a result of a gender diverse workforce2. The textbook business case for diversity seems intuitive: “Teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age and sexual orientation are more representative of clients and customers. They offer a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experiences which improves decision making and problem solving”3. Moving beyond the numbers the business case is even more compelling: Diversity and acceptance in the workplace are reported to increase happiness amongst employees which is not only beneficial from a humanitarian perspective but in turn leads to further gains in productivity4. To date every senior business person I have met claims to agree.

It is a wonder that despite widespread appreciation of the economic benefits, diversity and equality still elude many organisations. I was lucky enough to recently attend a Discussion Forum on gender equality as part of the application process for the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship. The forum highlighted interesting ideas as to why achieving parity remains problematic across all sectors, particularly around the silos of expectation that start in education and flow through to influence our choices throughout our lives. It alerted me to my own ingrained and unconscious biases around the roles and ambitions of women that are likely holding me and countless others back.

In the disability sector women form the majority of the workforce. In terms of headcount we are extremely well represented both across the sector and in the organisation I work for. However, many of the roles are on the “sticky floor”5 .These amazing women are passionate about their work with our clients but often do not see themselves going down the path into management which, until recently, was the only route to a promotion. Due to a lack of choice over career progression we fail to recognise and reward important talents resulting in disengagement and the loss of some of the most valuable client-facing staff to competitors or, worse still, they exit the workforce altogether.

In working to address this we have introduced the idea of “specialists” in each field, moving away from a hierarchical management structure to one which celebrates a diverse range of capabilities and experience. A talented therapist can now not only be paid the same as a manager, but can also see a clear career ladder to climb should they wish. By providing a structured path of progression and self-improvement more workers, male and female, will be attracted into this rewarding industry resulting in greater gender parity at every level.

Insights gained from the discussion forum also confirmed the need for me as a manger to be mindful and emotionally intelligent when speaking with women about their ambitions, as well as when working with the senior leadership and executives teams to address any real or perceived barriers to women taking leaderships positions, given the entrenched internal and social constructs that may be stopping them from putting their hand up.

The disability sector is currently undergoing a significant change with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which gives increased power and choice to those living with a disability and, in turn, creates competition in the sector. To support clients through this transition and incorporate the new commercial demands placed upon organisations, it is critical that we are adaptable, innovative and receptive to change. The forum has reiterated the need for me, as Finance manager, to draw upon the wonderful diversity of perspectives within my own team and the wider organisation to empower staff, through authentic, effective communication and recognition of their individual value, to not only take ownership of their relevant tasks but to come up with innovative ways of working.

My position affords me a unique opportunity at a time of change both within the sector and within my organisation to make a tangible impact on women and those with a disability. It is for this reason that I have chosen to undertake the University of Sydney MBA, which I believe will provide me with the negotiation, influencing and technical skills to make the absolute most of this opportunity. Through the scholarship and involvement with the UN Women National Committee Australia I will be able to draw upon a deep pool of knowledge and experience to ensure that I have the resources to make the greatest impact I can at a critical and sector-defining time, breaking through the glass walls of the industry for future generations of workers.

I was absolutely thrilled (if not a little surprised!) to be awarded the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship. I would encourage anyone who is passionate about diversity, equality and positive social change to set self-doubt aside and apply for this scholarship. Regardless of the outcome, both the people you meet as part of the application process and involvement in the discussion forum will be truly invaluable in expanding your horizons and contributing to personal and professional growth.

Semester 2 scholarship applications opens 9 March. Find out more.

Posted in MBA | Leave a comment

Be Bold for Change – Reframing Leadership

Sydney Business Connect Magazine photo shootBy Kerryn Richardson, UN Women NC Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School Global Executive MBA.

I recently completed my first module of the Global Executive MBA, ‘Reframing Leadership’ – exploring forms of leadership through philosophy, art, music, military, political and ethical perspectives. The experience was a fascinating and creative journey and reminded me of the need to step outside the boxes we live in and explore different approaches to get the most out of diversity and inclusion.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?

Equality is a fundamental human right; diversity and inclusion in practice is manifestation of full human potential.

There is clear evidence to show that diversity and inclusion creates positive outcomes:

  • increased economic growth and productivity
  • improved business and organisational excellence
  • increased capacity for innovation, creativity and problem solving
  • cohesive cultures able to tackle issues and wicked problems
  • sustainable organisations marked by agility, resilience and prosperity.

These outcomes are benefits forward thinking, contemporary organisations and businesses strive for, to achieve success. Recognising that diversity and inclusion significantly enhances these benefits tells us it is a central driver for innovation and growth.

People are the greatest asset in any business. People enable delivery of outcomes through skills, thinking and creativity, connection and relatedness, to name a few important traits. It follows that business growth is linked to diversity of people. Inclusiveness enables teams to produce the best outcomes. Or to turn a phrase, ‘to serve the market one must employ the market’.

Foremost, I am committed to developing myself as a person and a leader. It is my vision to utilise my career to help people and the planet. The UN Women NC Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship accelerates my ability to serve better outcomes.

I will be exposed to a new learning environment, people and experiences to fully drive diversity and inclusion in practice as well as other efforts in designing action to create benefits in my workplace, using a full spectrum of as many tools as I can acquire.

I will use the experience to:

  • gain insight into my current leadership style
  • improve my presence in the moment to be available to others
  • link this learning to innovative business outcomes via a collaborative approach
  • learn to drive a business model based on diversity and inclusion, collaboration, facilitating positive and productive organisational cultures
  • assist other women in the workplace to unlock their own potential.

I believe it’s an exciting time to be a female leader. The 2017 International Women’s Day theme, ‘Be bold for change’, couldn’t be more appropriate. As leaders, we must be committed to development of new organisational styles that create the space for evolution to occur, and equity across roles and positions of leadership to become the norm.

Posted in MBA | Leave a comment

Women in the workplace – from little things, big things grow

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

5124 MBA StudentsDoing an MBA is one of those things that will develop my skills and my career. What I have been less prepared for is the wider impact of what I am doing.

In the second semester last year, I did a unit called Managing People and Organisations. It focused on diversity and the future of work. The unit’s main group project was to identify a diversity goal for an organisation and propose a plan to achieve it. My group focused on my workplace and how it could increase gender diversity in its pipeline to senior management.

Currently, there is gender equity in the most senior positions (three out of its six top executives are women, including the boss), and there is about 40 per cent representation of women at middle management level. But in between, in the talent pool from which the future senior executives will be drawn, only one in five positions are filled by women. My group’s project targeted this talent pipeline, and proposed recommendations on how to get more women into it.

After delivering the project, I did not give it much thought. But then in February I was asked if I could present the report’s findings to a meeting of one of the diversity committees. A week later I was asked to present it to the senior human resources group at work. And then I was invited to a meeting with the boss to talk about the project and its recommendations.

In addition to my presentation, the women’s network at work was re-established. A women’s committee was set up, chaired by one of our women deputies, and a draft women’s plan was developed, drawing heavily on the recommendations in the MBA project.

For me there has been some great benefits. The MBA project got me in front of the most senior people in the organisation. I have become a sounding board within HR for the women’s plan, and play a lead role on the women’s committee.

What’s more important for me is the ripple effect across the organisation. When I did my project last year, the women I worked with were saying that while we had a woman at the top, we did not talk about women in leadership. A year later, the women’s plan is being finalised and is about to launch. There is a budget being set up for actions within the women’s plan. The senior executive is talking about the diversity pipeline. And my agency has agreed to be a project partner for current students doing the Managing People and Organisations unit.

It is hard to measure the impact of last year’s MBA project. At the very least we can say that the agency I work for is now talking about women in leadership. While I expect more to come as the women’s plan is implemented, the ripple effect of conversations about diversity and leadership should not be underestimated. As a famous song in Australia about Aboriginal land rights goes, “from little things, big things grow”.

Originally published by The Financial Times Limited 2017 MBA Blog on November 25, 2016.
Posted in MBA | Leave a comment

Solving big problems with bold empathetic solutions

By Kristy Bartlett, current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

So often we find solutions to society’s biggest challenges, that are localised and small scale or before adequately understanding the complexities in which they exist. Through the University of Sydney Business School MBA program, I recently had the chance to consider both challenges in the context of social entrepreneurship in India.

For the MBA Social Enterprise module, I spent two weeks in Bangalore exploring some of the challenges, risks, opportunities and characteristics of social enterprises. Central to the learning experience was our partner organisation, 40K –  a pioneering Australian social enterprise, delivering English language education to children in regional villages. Without these critical English skills, students have less opportunity for further education, employment and mobility. Our core challenge during the program, was to explore how 40K could scale and further commercialise their enterprise to continue to reduce this inequality of opportunity globally.

Before leaving Australia I was curious about what I might learn in India that I could apply to the social enterprise sector on my return. The reality of being in India however, immersed in a culture and environment so different to what I had experienced before, was overwhelming. In less than two weeks, I developed an appreciation for the country I hadn’t expected (and a determination to return) and a list of insights, learnings and ideas that could be applied in so many ways to my work and life more broadly.

The two things that struck me most from this experience though, were the need for scale and the value of an empathetic learning mindset to solve complex problems.

In and around Bangalore, we saw what innovation at the base of the pyramid looked like -from a hundred-year-old open-air laundry to an enterprise making bags from recycled tetra-packs in order to create employment for women in the local slums.

Travelling around the city visiting these social enterprises, it became blatantly obvious that no government could address the breadth and depth of challenges faced in such a fast changing environment by engaging with the array of localised, small scale social enterprises, charities and organisations that existed. The most effective way for the government to make in-roads into its infinite list of priorities would be to find providers who offered significant solutions to broad problem areas, effectively taking a problem off their plate completely.

We saw this in the Karnataka governments willingness to negotiate with a provider who could deliver a service to 4,000 villages and indifference towards one currently reaching 14 villages. It wasn’t that the smaller operator didn’t have a highly impactful proposition; it was just simply more feasible and impactful to work with one supplier instead of 285 different suppliers that were all tackling the issue in a different way

Innovation in social enterprise we heard, is often about innovating within constraints. In this case, I quickly learned that scale was a critical constraint to add to our innovation framework. To create a compelling offering for the government, we needed to design a solution that would reach 5,000 villages, not 50.

During an overnight stay in one of the villages 40K operated in, we also had the chance to speak with locals about business, education and the future. I expected to feel compelled to give to the local community charity. Instead, I felt driven to find ways to create equal access to opportunities, but not charity. I expected to see opportunities for productivity, instead I saw the benefit and opportunity within dispersed networked micro-enterprises. I expected to rely on solutions from the world I knew, instead I found better solutions by observing and learning about what already existed in the villages.

After spending two and a half years doing an MBA, I was looking forward to the opportunity to apply all the knowledge I had accumulated to a real social challenge. In the end though, the most important ingredients to finding new pathways to scale for 40K lay simply in having an open mind, a desire to learn and absorb as much as we could from as many new sources of inspiration as possible, and to empathise with our stakeholders.

The social enterprise module in Bangalore exposed us to incredible diversity. From extreme wealth to extreme poverty, from the fastest to slowest pace of change I have witnessed, from empowered women start-ups taking on global giants to subsistence micro farmers, content with making just enough for their family to survive. To experience all of this, in such a short amount of time was both energising and overwhelming. I left inspired by the immense opportunity to effect change and humbled by the incredible complexity of the ecosystem I had only just scratched the surface of.

India has given me much to contemplate at the end of what was already an incredibly thought provoking MBA journey. It was a unique experience that epitomises the University of Sydney’s commitment to experiential learning. I know many of my fellow students will value the learning experience as much as I did and I thoroughly look forward to the many conversations and actions it sparks on and off campus in the future.

Posted in MBA | Leave a comment

Innovation by constraint

koureas_myrophoraBy Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

I first heard of ‘innovation by constraint’ during a pre-departure information session for the India Pilot Program as part of my MBA. The premise sounded straightforward, doing more with less. In preparation for our project work with 40K, I began researching this very foreign concept.

Developed in India, ‘Jugaad Innovation’, also referred to as ‘Frugal Innovation’, is reminding the West that constraint leads to innovative solutions.  According to Professor Jaideep Prabhu, a frugal, inclusive and flexible approach to problem solving leads to innovative solutions. The idea of being frugal, although straightforward, was difficult for me to comprehend because typically one of my first questions when presented with a challenge or project is ‘what’s our budget?’

Arriving in Bangalore, I was quickly struck by the extremes and contrasts. The obvious being extreme poverty juxtaposed with obscene wealth. For less than a cup of coffee in Sydney, 40K is delivering technology enabled English classes to students in rural India. That’s the monthly cost per student for 75 minute classes after school. All while an ex-minister hosts his daughter’s wedding and foots the $5 billion rupee bill.

Then there is the technical versus the manual. Although Bangalore is the tech hub of India, whole businesses have remained untouched by technological advancement. One such example is the dhobi ghat in Malleswaram, otherwise known as the Washerman’s Village, where laundry has been washed by hand for the past 100 years. There is a real sophistication in the simplicity of operations management there. The system depends on the people and there are no complex processes to track inventory or deliveries. The dhobi ghat delivers a superior service similar to the Mumbai’s dabbawalas, for anyone who’s seen The Lunchbox.

Spending time in the villages, interacting with 40K PLUS teachers, students and their families helped me understand the way the program is transforming lives. The parents and grandparents were clear, that by learning English their children would be able to access a range of opportunities not otherwise available to them. Recently, 40K won the 2016 SEA Social Enterprise Innovation Award. The 40K PLUS program, having overcome challenges with internet connectivity, electricity and pricing, uses technology to achieve educational access in rural areas. The 40K PLUS innovation is frugal but the social impact it achieves is not.

My visit to India has inspired me to find ways to do more with less. Rather than complex process engineering, I am now more than ever interested in the role of people in service delivery and I’ve replaced questions about on-budget delivery with the impact to be achieved.



Posted in MBA | 1 Comment

… But Aren’t All Great Leaders Self-Aware?

By Douglas Foster – Current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and ‘Leadership Practice and Development’ unit coach.

doug-no3-1-of-1One of my favourite cartoons was in a newspaper several years ago. It’s of a CEO standing around his team of managers declaring, “What we’re lacking is street smarts. Does anyone here not have an MBA?”

The irony is not lost on me that 6 years later I am a fully-fledged MBA student at the University of Sydney Business School. How my life has changed.

What is perhaps changing less is the perception of what an MBA delivers. Last week the AFR released an article with the results of a survey on prospective MBA students around the world and what they wanted out of an MBA. From a list of 17 desired skills, students identified Leadership, Critical Thinking, Entrepreneurialism, Negotiation, and Communication as the top five they wanted to develop. Self-Awareness was 17th.

At first it’s not hard to see why. Each one of the top five above would be considered fundamental to a range of jobs and careers that an MBA graduate might aspire to. And very few organisations would have Self-Awareness as part of a PD or as a KPI. Yet ranking Self-Awareness as 17 out of 17 desired skills seems to me to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of skills and how they are developed.

In Leadership Practice and Development (LP&D), the first unit of the University of Sydney MBA, we learnt that there are two fundamentally different parts to skill development. There’s cognition and then there’s interaction. Cognition is about theory and concepts: objective truth. It’s developed through knowledge transfer: lectures, books, videos. But the moment you transition from understanding (eg. analyzing solutions to a strategy problem) to interacting (eg. attempting to persuade others to your way of seeing the world), influencing is involved and having an acute understanding of your tendencies, strengths and areas for development becomes critical to achieving the outcome you want. Self-Awareness.

Leadership, Critical Thinking, Entrepreneurialism, Negotiation and Communication all have best practice cognitive elements that are important to know. But unless you’re locked away in a reaseach lab, isolated from other people, getting stuff done requires leveraging that knowledge in an interactive setting. This depends on your ability to influence, which is massively impacted by your individual personal style.

Self-Awareness can often be overlooked in the same way building core strength is not an obvious essential to building arm muscle and leg muscle strength. Without a strong core, stability during an exercise can be poor, and muscle development is inefficient or leads to injury due to poor technique. No professional gymnast begins by jumping on rings without building their core strength.

Leadership is much the same. Like the core, self-awareness combines with your conceptual understanding of leadership theory to develop your leadership effectiveness. Just focusing on knowledge would have your leadership effectiveness remain a concept. So just as all great gymnasts develop great core strength, all great leaders develop their self-awareness.

LP&D, facilitated by Professor Mike Jenner, leads with Self-Awareness. Incoming students are exposed to a raft of personality instruments (Myers Briggs, Gallup StrengthsFinder, Belbin Team Roles) even before they start class. What really sets LP&D apart though, is that for more than half of class time, students are in action, individually and in teams, engaging in influencing behaviours with each other.

Through the coaches in the unit, students get immediate personalised feedback, not just about the individual skills being coached, but also about how they are being in the interaction: body language, tone, assertiveness, expression. The course requires students to notice what they do, how they do it, and how it lands for others. For some students the opportunity to be a more influential leader is through increased assertiveness, for others through increased connectedness. Without Self-Awareness, you don’t have a map.

Even after LP&D, every course within the University of Sydney MBA contains some element of team work. The Financial Management unit will teach you everything from accounting principles to how to analyse the financial performance of a company but you’ll still complete a team project with classmates to test your ability to influence the financial outcome. Not even a CFO can implement a financial strategy without influencing the Managing Director, CEO and senior managers.

And because the University of Sydney MBA is part time, catering to full time professionals, everything learned at night or on the weekend can be immediately taken back into the workplace to engage in real life Action Learning.

If you’re thinking about an MBA, it’s important to know what you want to get out of it. Find the right university that caters to what you want and what you don’t want, and what educational approaches are going to help you develop your career. I chose the University of Sydney because I know that as all great gymnasts develop their core strength, all great leaders develop their self-awareness. And thanks in large part to LP&D, University of Sydney MBA graduates rarely ‘lack street smarts’.

Posted in MBA, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment