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Anatomy Of Success

Business leaders will always want to understand the causes of failure, but it is also important to analyse the fundamental elements of success.

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3 min

Spotting the signposts of success

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Spotting the signposts of success

Many businesses are intrigued by failure but the same amount of time and energy should be spent evaluating success to assure sustainable, lasting results.

International MBA courses are littered with case studies of how Enron failed and what went wrong at Lehman Brothers. Closer to home, the entrails of HIH Insurance and One.Tel have been thoroughly prodded in the search for the seeds of failure.

Forensically researching the causes of failure will help us understand how not to fail, but that same investigation will not necessarily help us learn how to succeed.

Chief strategy officer for Deloitte Australia John Meacock says, “We tend to look at success at a very high level … and don’t articulate the assumptions.”

“You are less likely to be disrupted if you know your core strengths and competencies and can adjust or adapt. It really is about bringing a scalpel to strategic thinking and planning not a meat cleaver.”
– John Meacock, Chief Strategy Officer, Deloitte

Instead of patting everyone on the back because budget has been reached, it’s important, Meacock says, to check the assumptions on which the budget was built at the end of an apparently successful project. If these assumptions are flawed, then what appears to be success, could in fact be a well-disguised failure.

“If a project was linked to economic growth at say an assumed 2 per cent, but in fact the economy grew by 3 per cent, you should also readjust your expectations accordingly,” Meacock says

Meacock explains that organisations wanting sustainable success must delve deep to understand how any success was derived.

“For instance, we’ve been helping an ASX 50 company with strategy,” Meacock says. “I sat with the leadership team as they talked about a certain type of project where they are making money.”

The team’s plan was to orient the business toward more of those projects. But what appeared sensible was in fact based on incomplete analysis. Meacock says: “The team wasn’t able to pinpoint precisely why they were successful in that area. They didn’t really know if it was due to an organisational core capability or whether they had a capable individual in that area?”

If it was the latter and the company bet the business on them, it would have spelled disaster if that individual was to leave.

As managing director of Australia’s leading corporate sales and management training and coaching organisation The KONA Group, Glenn Dobson believes success has to be better measured. In doing so, it can be used to motivate, reward, recognise and reprimand staff.

 

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“A lot of Australian managers don’t measure success because they don’t feel comfortable acknowledging the successful person … They are worried about staff asking for a pay raise in this era of entitlement and empowerment.”

“The Australian culture is not as aggressively success focused as in the US or Europe,” Dobson says. “The question is, will the culture of ‘she’ll be right’ always be right?”

Meacock is clear, however, that business can’t afford to wait and see.

“My view is that the CEO or chief strategy officer has to go in at a strategic level to identify the core strength, and the board should test and challenge that,” he argues. “The CFO as part of the annual budgetary process should explain the basis for the projections – not just take last year’s budget and add some.

“It’s not easy getting to the essence of what makes us win and then embedding that in the culture and operating model. But it’s important to try. You are less likely to be disrupted if you know your core strengths and competencies and can adjust or adapt.

“It really is about bringing a scalpel to strategic thinking and planning not a meat cleaver!”

 

Sustaining success

  • Making success sustainable means understanding precisely why and how it was achieved
  • Regularly review and refresh assumptions before setting the business plan and related KPIs
  • Drill deep to understand why the business is successful in specific areas; determine whether success is the result of a core competency or is derived from having a handful of great people concentrated in one area
  • Build a culture and community that allows people to take calculated risks and accepts failure as the twin of success; regularly review the progress of projects.

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3 min

Meditation: Out of the commune and into the boardroom

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Meditation: Out of the commune and into the boardroom

Meditation provides a ream of benefits for business leaders, including boosted concentration and focus, lower stress and the ability to make better decisions by seeing situations more clearly.

The ability to focus on the task at hand is a huge advantage for anyone in business, especially senior executives. It’s a discovery David Michie made in the 1990s while working for a public relations company in London.

Beset by allergies and under high levels of stress, Michie found he was getting extraordinarily angry about things that were beyond his control. Having tried a range of cures through traditional medicine, he turned to a naturopath in an attempt to find help. The answer was not what he expected – the naturopath suggested he try meditation.

“I’m not a tree-hugging person who dropped out of society, I’m a normal corporate being,” Michie says. “But I decided to give it a go for six weeks, principally for stress management. But it achieved so much more.”

Meditation allows you to build up a protective barrier, because although you can’t control the world around you, meditation empowers you to control your response to it.
– David Michie, Author and meditation teacher

Michie began by spending 10 minutes a day following a guided meditation, and committed to doing this every day for six weeks. Although he noticed an almost immediate improvement in his moods, and capacity to focus, it wasn’t until he forgot to meditate one day that he realised the positive impact it was having.

“I was walking to work one day, and everything seemed to be going wrong. I was splashed with mud at a building site, then I had to wait too long for the train, and when it arrived it was really full, and I was just getting more and more angry about things,” Michie says. “Then I thought, why am I so upset? Why is everything making me angry today, and I realised it was because I hadn’t meditated for about three days. That’s when I realised what a positive impact it was having.”

As Michie, and other high-performing professionals, have realised meditation allows practitioners to build up a protective barrier against those aspects of life which are beyond our control.

“Although you can’t control the world around you,” Michie says. “Meditation empowers you to control your response to it.”

 

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Michie now helps other executives to integrate meditation into their daily routines to improve work performance and wellbeing. In addition to taking time out for guided mediation he suggests business people use the first ring of their phone as a cue to take a mindful breath before lifting the handset.

This is a lesson Adele Beachley learned while looking for techniques to combat stress-related insomnia. Beachley, who held senior roles in IT and telecommunication companies throughout the Asia-Pacific region since 2004, began meditation along with a range of other techniques, in order to combat stress and improve her sleep.

“The challenge as a high-power executive is that you’ve got so much going on it can be difficult to drill down into the most relevant details in order to make the right decision,” Beachley says.

“Meditation makes it possible to clear your mind and think with clarity. That’s why it helps you make the right decisions.”

Beachley has gone so far as to attend meditation retreats where participants spend 10 days in silence and wake at 4am to meditate.

“It’s amazing what happens in this 10-day cycle, where you don’t have contact with anybody from the outside world,” Beachley says. “It lets you carve out a space in your mind and think more clearly in other areas as well.”

Michie went on to author a number of books on the benefits of meditation, including Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate. He says the benefits of meditation for busy corporate people are manifold.

“We all have thoughts that are not actually facts, and through meditation it’s possible to become less wedded to those thoughts, so we can begin to cut through and gain a more accurate view of the situation,” Michie says. “This leads to improvements in happiness, emotional resilience, lowering of blood – pressure, so the impact is physical as well as emotional.”

 

Discovering mindfulness

David Michie says there are a couple of simple techniques that provide easy access to the physical and emotional benefits of meditation. These benefits include:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Easing anxiety
  • Treating tension headaches
  • Improving pain tolerance
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Gaining mental clarity
  • Balancing emotional responses

There are a number of free guided meditation downloads available through Michie’s website which can be integrated into a workday.

 

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2 min

Pay it forward

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Pay it forward

Telstra’s Pay it Forward program gives employees with outstanding customer service the chance to volunteer with exciting and worthwhile projects.

A week in the middle of the desert in very basic conditions and labouring in the scorching sun doesn’t sound like a typical corporate reward. But for Telstra’s Bridgit English, it was “a life-changing experience” – and one she would not hesitate to repeat.

English, who is Telstra’s group manager, customer care, strategic accounts, won a place in the company’s Pay it Forward program. This program, which recognises outstanding customer advocacy, sends employees to volunteer on projects in Australia or overseas.

 

Transformed by experience

English, one of a group of 20, travelled to Birriliburu, in Western Australia’s Central Western Desert, to help the Martu people build some basic infrastructure on their lands. The Martu elders wanted to be able to take their young people out into their land and teach them traditional culture and stories. The facilities were also to serve Aboriginal rangers looking after country.

En route to the extremely remote spot, a five-hour drive from the township of Wiluna, English got a taste of what lay ahead. “We got off the air-conditioned bus to eat our sandwiches, and the bread went hard in my hand, it was that hot and dry,” she says.

At Birriliburu, the Telstra team mostly slept under the stars. They worked long, hard hours, building a picnic area with barbecues, a shed with a run-off roof for water tanks, and a lavatory.

“Being out there with the Aboriginal people and their elders, it created such an emotional connection,” English recalls. “It completely changed my way of thinking. I’m a member of Recognise [the campaign for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples], and a big supporter of Aboriginal rights.”

Other Telstra teams have spent time in Cambodia and the Philippines, working with international non-government organisation Habitat for Humanity to build homes for disadvantaged people.

“Telstra is not only investing in the community, but using its talented people to support that community and create incredible memories and moments in their lives.”
– Bridgit English, group manager, customer care, strategic accounts, Telstra

Program supports talent

The manager of Telstra’s reward and recognition program, Craig McDonald, says Pay it Forward not only dovetails with the company’s corporate social responsibility and sustainability goals, but also helps Telstra to retain its best talent.

As English sees it: “Telstra is not only investing in the community, but using its talented people to support that community and create incredible memories and moments in their lives.”

Of her own customer service philosophy, she says: “The most important thing is to care about the customer, to genuinely and authentically have their best interests at heart, to listen to them and understand what they need and what they want.

“It’s important to be honest, and never create an expectation that you can’t deliver, and absolutely always deliver on your promise. And it’s absolutely key to always keep people informed.”

At Telstra, English has also enjoyed more conventional rewards – under the Extreme program for high achievers, she recently had an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. While it was a wonderful experience, she says, “if I were given a choice, I’d go back to the desert tomorrow”.

 

Telstra's Pay it Forward program:

  • rewards staff who put the customer at the centre of everything they do
  • creates an opportunity for Telstra to give back to the community
  • shows that business is about more than just revenue and sales
  • is prized by Telstra staff who rate the program higher than conventional rewards such as all-expenses-paid trips
  • has strong support from C-level executives
  • creates an opportunity for Telstra teams to come together from different parts of the company.

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1 min

Seeing the future of Sydney's water needs

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Seeing the future of Sydney's water needs

Sydney Catchment Authority predicts water requirements using a cloud computing solution from Telstra.

Predicting Sydney’s long-term water requirements is a critical and highly complex task for the Sydney Catchment Authority. It requires a combination of weather, rainfall, population data and highly complex algorithms.

These complex computing needs are now met by a Telstra cloud computing system, which can be dialled up and down as needed, making it ideal for projects with periodical high demand.

Sydney’s long-term water needs can now be predicted accurately decades into the future.

“The Sydney Catchment Authority’s role is to manage and protect more than 16,000 square kilometres of drinking water catchments across greater Sydney. They need to plan for Sydney’s water supply, spanning many decades into the future – ensuring water sustainability.”
- Fiona Smith – Executive General Manager, Sydney Catchment Authority

 

 

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