Category: Mentoring
“It’s not Personal” – IMA’s inaugural networking event

Well, this may not have been the official title of the event, it was definitely one of the key takeaways from our guest speaker, Jane Huxley.

We set up this night, with the aim to build on the events we have been having in Melbourne over the last 12 months, getting guest speakers to speak at our company meetings, to share some insights and hopefully drop some inspiration for our Consultants. The powers that be in IMA Sydney, decided to take this idea one step further. We invited along, not only IMA staff, but their partners, clients and people from our talent pool to join us in learning, with the added benefits of some magnificent canapes, drinks and stimulating conversation.

Jane Huxley, (as of writing this) the soon to be MD of Spotify, was our headline act. In short, if you are in the position to get Jane to speak at an event of yours or you can steal her for a 30 minutes coffee, take it, take it every day and twice on Tuesdays. Jane was amazing. For someone whose background includes roles like MD at Pandora (music streaming not jewellery), CEO and Publisher at Fairfax Digital, Head of Product at Vodaphone, and a Director at Microsoft, she was so relatable to everyone in the room and really impressed everyone. As mentioned about “it’s not personal” or “INP” was a takeaway we can all learn by, when those days are getting a little long, and the meetings a little too awkward or tough. Her stories on mentorship and disruption and her strength on mind to succeed had everyone at the edge of their seats.

It was a great night, even if I didn’t get to win the Haighs chocolates, I draw comfort from the fact that a person who scrubbed my name off one of my business cards and wrote her name at the back of it did win. No commission for this little Recruiter for that transaction… unless they are in the mail of course. I hope you see this Madeline Jack

Verbal Sabotage! Talking your way out of an interview.


A job interview is not a competition to ‘win’ the conversation.

A job interview is a ‘conversation’ between a job applicant and hiring manager/employer which is conducted to evaluate whether the applicant should be hired. It’s a conversation with a ‘purpose’ and not something that can be fully covered in “The 10 Most Common Interview Questions’ that you’ve most likely found online. Performing well in a job interview requires the ability to listen and respond appropriately. It’s not about all the skills you have or all the accomplishments you’ve had throughout your entire career. It’s about that specific job and the unique skills/attributes you have that match the role. Questions will be asked that are unique to that role and many great candidates blow their chances because they never listened to what was really being asked. Instead, they’ve spent 30 minutes in a one-sided conversation and literally talked themselves out of a job.

It’s an even playing field in an interview when it comes down to listening. Someone far less experienced who listens really well and answers the questions concisely will outshine any other candidate who over talks and doesn’t answer the questions properly. And even the most manicured responses can have a major flaw – they’re just too long and the audience has drifted off.

Listening is a more powerful tool than talking

Listening isn’t the same as hearing. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. Listening requires focus and means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. It’s being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.

In a job interview, take you time to listen to what is being said. If the interviewer asks you to talk them through an example of when you’ve overcome a major challenge on a project, think about an appropriate example and answer the question concisely. Don’t take this as your cue to rattle off your well-rehearsed checklist of skills in the hope you’ll impress them before your time is up. It’s all totally irrelevant if you haven’t answered the question in the first place.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

Are you unaware or simply just nervous?

Sometimes candidates are so nervous or absorbed in their own conversation that they fail to notice the interviewer has drifted off. Here are some visual clues that you’ve lost your audience:

  • The interviewer isn’t looking at you, they’re not interjecting or contributing to the conversation. They’re preoccupied doing something else other than listening to you.
  • They don’t notice when you’ve stopped talking and you catch them by surprise when you stop talking.
  • There are long periods where the interviewer doesn’t say anything. This usually means they’ve tuned out and are most likely plotting ways to politely interrupt you. You can bet they’re also crossing their fingers under the table that the answer to “Do you have any more questions?” will be “No”.

Getting the balance right

Let’s concentrate on the basics. Firstly (and most importantly), understand the role you’re interviewing for. Secondly, learn about the company and the people who are interviewing you and thirdly, think of your strongest examples that demonstrate your suitability. The interviewer’s aim is to gauge your fit so really LISTEN to the questions they ask. Great interviewers have subtle ways of extracting details from you by asking very specific questions, usually based around some key performance criteria. If you go off track with your answers (or never actually get ON the track in the first place), it’s impossible for them to obtain the information they need to make an informed decision. You only have 30-45 minutes to showcase your suitability so take the lead from the person asking the questions. You have two ears and one mouth so the obvious balance is to “listen twice as much as you speak”.

4 steps to failing your way to success

After one of those awkward lift conversations with a stranger, one of IMA’s Engagement Managers, Marty told me that I “experiment with everything”. In an attempt to improve my ad hoc conversation skills he’d seen me have a series of lift conversations, some awkward and some not, and noticed my endless fascination with giving things a go, seeing what works, changing something and trying again.

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

I’m applying scientific method to my life.

I’ve applied it to a huge range of things, including work, sport, holidays, friendships, dating, family relationships as well as awkward lift conversations. The results have been mixed, but I seem to always end up in a much better place than where I started.

I typically follow a pretty simple process.

What result did I want?

The first thing I do is that before every “measured event” is defining what success is. Funnily enough this is harder than you would expect. Why? Because you can’t expect a home run in every encounter.

In the consulting world (my business) it’s unrealistic to set a goal of winning work in a first meeting with a potential client. Do they have work? Are you even a fit for their business? Expecting a home run is focusing on things beyond your control. A better target is to find out if they have work, if you are suited to them, and if it all matches then building the relationship and scheduling a second meeting. Or in other endeavours, not everyone I meet in the lift is going to be my BFF (Best Friend Forever for those older folks), but perhaps I can make them smile and find out a little about them.

Setting realistic, progressive and measurable goals and doing it consistently is the key.

What result did I get?

Reflecting on your attempt is the next part. Once I’ve set a goal and tried to achieve it, I take a clear eyed, hard nosed, and honest assessment of the success or otherwise of my attempt.

Craig Horne (@craigthebold) used to ask me “What result did you want?” and then “What result did you get?”.

I love those two questions. They strip away excuses. You wanted result A you got result B. Nowhere to hide.

What do I need to do to get the result I want?

With the hard part done, the easiest is working out what you need to do to get a better result.

It’s easy because it’s OK not to know what to do.

In that case I usually just try something different that seems like it could work. And if I’ve run out of ideas I try something I think won’t work, but I always make sure I try something different if the result isn’t there.

The glue

What’s the glue that holds this process together? It’s you don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone is expected to be bad at first, second and third try in fact every time anyone learns a new skill.

I hate to fail, you might be that person too. Allowing myself to fail, or better yet, expecting to fail and being OK when it happens is the glue that holds this process together. It allows me to realistically assess what went wrong without making excuses. As the easiest way not to fail is not to try, expecting failure stops me avoiding failure by avoiding the situation, allowing me to jump back into the fray immediately and try again. And volume is often the best method of improving at anything (see my post on working harder not smarter).

So that’s how I am failing my way to success one awkward lift conversation at a time.

Work harder not smarter
Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

Ian, our owner and MD. Ian started IMA back in 2004 and has driven its growth ever since. Ian is always open to new ideas, and sometimes he even takes a few on!

The mistake in the work smarter not harder adage was highlighted to me by my 9 year old son.

I had been moving his music practice from 15 minutes a day to 20 and he didn’t like it.

Mr 9 works best when he has control of his life and changing the amount of practice he did took his control away. My solution was, if he couldn’t control his practice, let him control mine. He got to decide how much practice I did with my recently acquired guitar.

I suspect you can see where this is heading.

The good news, the problem was solved, Mr 9 did his 20 minutes happily and set me 20 minutes a day.

A week and a half later he decided to flex his muscles.

I did 1 hour and 20 minutes of practice that day.

The following day it was 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Then 1 hour and 20 seconds. His reign of terror had begun.

After 4 days of practice he wasn’t reducing his demands, but something unexpected had happened. Because I was practicing so much my guitar playing was improving much faster than it had. I decided I liked it and, much to the surprise of my sons, voluntarily kept to his 1 hour a day regime.

I’ve seen the same thing work in sales.

People condemn mindless activity, but I’ve found once you work smart enough, often it’s better to just increase the volume of the core activities rather than spend time tinkering to get things just a little bit better.

Preparation can be procrastination.

The funny thing with the increased activity is if you are alert, think about what you’re doing and assess for improvements, the increased volume means increased opportunities to learn. So by working harder you end up working smarter as well.

I didn’t forget to thank my son.

Does a Project Manager need to have industry experience?
Raymond Tye

For the past 15 years Ray has enjoyed the challenge of stepping in to pinpoint issues, provide independent health checks, recover and successfully manage large-scale and transformational business and IT programs and projects.
Having worked with blue-chip banking and financial services and global-scaled enterprises, Ray bring to each engagement strong management experience, project delivery, P&L responsibility and excellent stakeholder management.
During Ray’s personal time, Ray enjoys cricket and playing with his two kids.

How much knowledge and experience does a Project Manager need to have to start a project? It is a question that has perplexed me for a while now, as being a successful Project Manager; I have regularly been engaged in fields that I have very little background in.

Clearly going from a Project manager in IT to a Project Manager in the construction industry isn’t going to work.  Some experience in the core field is necessary, however can an IT Project Manager in Finance transition to Telecommunications or the Health Industry?  Why do organisations ask for mandatory experience in specific applications when the application is clearly unique to that organisation?  Is it really a process of advertising a job that has been customised for a specific individual?

Is it a hindrance, or an advantage having industry and business knowledge?   It is often considered that a good Project Manager is the person that progresses through the organisation from one position to another until they land as the Project Manager. Their experience in the business is seen as the advantage for a successful project.  However, often in these cases, the incumbent Project Manager has little training and experience and will get into the micro detail at the cost of not seeing the bigger picture. This is because they have been previously trained to focus on the detail and aren’t able to remove themselves from this level to operate at the project level.

I was once contacted to undertake a review of an Anti Money Laundering (AML) compliance project. The sponsor was concerned over the projects overall status, as perception was that it was not progressing.  The organisation as a whole had moved into the final phase of testing, while this subsidiary was, after 18 months, still locking down their requirements. The compliance date was rapidly approaching, and the client was rightly concerned if they were going to achieve it.  The consequences of failing were significantly high.

The health check resulted in some interesting findings.  One finding was that the Project Manager allocated for this initiative had very little project management training.  The Project Manager had progressed through a succession of successful engagements as a lawyer, and had been originally allocated as the AML legal counsel.  With several successful AML deliveries, and the resolution of the compliance act, the organisation felt that a Project Manager with AML and business knowledge would be best suited for their AML compliance project.

The Project Manager was caught up in the detailed review of all documentation, and became the bottleneck for their delivery.  The requirements were bouncing back and forth with the Business Analysts on specific wording, requirements, and details that were causing lengthy delays.  Another issue was how AML was changing the organisations process and what they could do to minimise the business impact, it was the PM that was addressing this issue.  The overall project delivery was compromised by the Project Manager, with their knowledge and understandings of the business, being stuck at the detail and overlooking the wider perspective.

Should a good Project Manager be able to transition across industries?  Here is what I believe; with the experience the Project Manager has garnered, and with support from the client, an effective and experienced Project Manager will be able to quickly identify what needs to be done and by whom.  A good Project Manager will surround themselves with the team that understands the details and provide them with the information they need.  The team will have the Subject Matter Experts and designers to provide the solutions, delivery and the detailed information.

In my opinion, it all comes down to the PM.  Some are able to easily transition to a variety of projects and industries, and others will struggle.  The question that I believe needs to be addressed is what qualities and attributes do the Project Managers have that can transition between industries, to those that find it more challenging?

Why Buzzwords lose their value
Ally Lancaster

Working in the recruitment department, Ally is one of our most recent additions to the IMA family. She is a self-confessed perfectionist that has recently formed an addiction to LinkedIn. Ally is eager to learn and is always ready to take on new challenges in and out of the office.

Let me state this right up front.  I am not against buzzwords.

Often they are the most accurate and efficient way of communicating a message. As a leader you need the ability to break things down, simplify and be to the point. Buzzwords, when used correctly do exactly that. They understand that your time is important, and seek to inform and educate you in a precise and powerful manner. Yet as a society we have waged a war against buzzwords. We roll our eyes at ‘strategy’, tune out at ‘synergy’ and stop reading at ‘leadership‘… Still here? The problem does not lie within the words themselves but in the way that we use and receive them.

Buzzwords lose their value when they are used in the wrong context. Knowing your audience is essential for good communication. There is no point throwing in the word of the day if it’s not the right type of language for with whom you’re speaking. Understand the meaning of your chosen word and how it will resonate with your audience.  Choose your words appropriately.

Buzzwords lose their value when they are used without substance. Too often, words are thrown into documents or presentations without good reason. It’s a form of exaggeration, which has unfortunately become commonplace. Exaggeration is a practice that actually devalues our language and makes people less likely to listen to us. If buzzwords are used without substance behind them then there is little point in using them at all. It is essential to make sure your communication is purposeful. Choose your words wisely.

When used correctly, buzzwords effectively communicate meaningful messages but we have become so accustomed to the inappropriate use of them, that we immediately disregard those who use them. I think its time to give buzzwords another chance.

So, for the buzzword user

Ensure you know your audience and pick your words accordingly. Have purpose behind the use of your buzzwords and a sound understanding of their meanings.

And for the buzzword receiver

Before immediately disregarding anyone who uses them, assess whether that word was used in the correct context, and ask yourself if it added value and clarity to their message. You can then thank them for their effective and time saving communication!

Why Buzz Words Aren't So Bad


10 Great tips to a better mentoring experience.
Rena Leigh - IMA

Rena’ is an experienced Senior Business Analyst with extensive experience across multiple industries. Rena is always open to a chat and is happy to give her opinion on anything.

I’ve been a mentor in both formal and informal settings.  I’ve mentored people in business and people in personal settings.  I find it a rich and rewarding way of encouraging mutual learning and appreciating the value of people at all stages of life.  I enjoy networking with other mentors as well and learning about their journey as a mentor.

I’ve had a number of mentors myself in my working career and personal life.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.  However I find that there is a lot of misunderstanding of what mentors are and are not as well as how mentoring is designed to work.

First, it’s true that anyone at any age can be a mentor.  This is because mentors are not intended to be seen as founts of wisdom, waiting to fill the head of mentees with a never ending stream of knowledge.  Guru’s dispense wisdom, not mentors.

Primarily a mentor is a skilled facilitator who has a certain amount of knowledge in a certain area.  So the core skills of a mentor centre around NOT BEING THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.

A lot of people don’t understand this.  They see mentoring as taking the hand of someone and guiding them along the path they think is best, giving mentees knowledge, information and advice. But the role of a good mentor is more subtle than that.

A good mentor spends a lot of time finding out what their mentee wants.  What are their goals?  What do they want?  What do they need?  If mentees don’t know how to set goals, a mentor can give some advice or may point the mentee in the direction of discovering how to do this themselves.  At the heart of it, mentors are people who are helping others become more skilled in specific areas of life.

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.  We are here to teach people to fish.

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to mentoring.  There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to being a mentee.  I believe some of the most important things to remember are these:

  • The mentoring relationship takes time on both sides.  Respect that with each other.
  • Mentoring means asking a lot of questions so that one can understand the mentee’s perspective, needs and desires. Be comfortable with that.
  • It doesn’t mean giving a lot of answers but rather helping a mentee find answers for themselves, thereby growing and practicing this skill.
  • It doesn’t mean close friendship.  In fact, most professional mentorships discourage too close a relationship.  Mentors are meant to retain their objectivity.
  • Mentors are not there to solve life problems.  They are there to help with focused, objective oriented needs centred on a certain area of life.  They aren’t life counselors or psychologists.
  • If you find strong personality conflicts, politely disengage but don’t get discouraged.  It just means you haven’t found the right partner to explore this with.
  • Mentees are not the only ones who learn and grow from the relationship.  This is one of the great things mentors get out of it.
  • Growth means change.  Change can be challenging for both mentors and mentees.  Learn to embrace it.
  • If you really want to get the most out of it, mentee or mentor, don’t stay inside your comfort zone.  Use the opportunity to push outside normal boundaries.
  • Most importantly, keep things interesting.  Focus on your passion.  Stay engaged.  And have fun!