How to define your business culture (and why it’s important to know how things are really done around here)

Posted on October 15, 2019 by Sandra Brown

I often work with clients who say that cultural fit is important. Yet, when asked to explain their culture, they find it hard to put it into words.

The understanding at Board level can vary greatly from that of the internal leadership team – which can also be an indicator that the Board is not as involved with the business as it needs to be. Equally, the executive may not be fully disclosing what is happening internally.

It is difficult for a Board to ensure it is fully aware of the real culture of a business. Its visibility is limited by the very nature of being removed from the day-to-day operations of the organisation and Board members interacting with general staff can be seen as too operational. Strategic planning sessions and independently facilitated workshops can offer an ideal opportunity to gain a collective definition of culture. Once this is established, you can define what you want the culture of the business to look like in the future and plan how to get there. Ideally this an exercise that would be conducted regularly (I recommend every 2-3 years) as culture flexes, depending on a wide range of internal and external influences.

However, more often than not, it’s only when recruiting a senior executive role that we see the definition and measurement of culture being taken into serious consideration.

Over many years, TRANSEARCH International have developed a unique set of tools that has enabled organisations to clearly articulate what they are looking for when hiring, based on a clear definition of their current culture. Using our unique methodology, we help Boards and senior leaders understand how things are really done around here, not just what we say should be done around here. In many cases the results have come as a great surprise and on occasion, have generated robust debate!

Once you have done the exercise, what do you do with it?

Working with clients to affect substantial culture change has been very rewarding. Their teams become more agile, self-directed and high performing, and it creates places where people want to work. As previously mentioned, this is generally utilised when identifying suitable replacements for senior staff. Imagine what could happen if you were already on the culture change journey…

How proactive is your organisation on measuring and managing your culture?

To find out more about the TRANSEARCH Orxestra® Methodology, please contact me or connect via LinkedIn.

Skills versus Passion. What makes a better Board?

Posted on April 5, 2019 by Sandra Brown
Article image: What makes a better board?

Traditionally Not-for-Profit boards have been largely comprised of people with a passion for the cause or a personal connection to the organisation. Manifest examples in Australia are Jeff Kennett’s work with Beyond Blue (he is the former Chair and Founder of the organisation, now chaired by former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard) or Rosie Batty of the Luke Batty Foundation. Kennett sought to bring mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicide into public conversation, which as former Victorian Premier and Hawthorn Football Club President, he championed as public health issues. Batty, who directly experienced domestic violence, was Australian of the Year in 2015 and has gone on to become a Founding Member of the Council of Australian Governments Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children and Chair the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council for the Victorian Government.

No doubt, like other similarly committed NFP Board Directors, this has resulted in them providing hours of unpaid work to supplement the executive in areas such as fundraising and planning. Depending on the size of the organisation, pro bono board members often get involved from grass roots levels, right through to preparing the financials. While any assistance is gratefully accepted, it can sometimes blur the lines between Board and Executive responsibilities, not to mention adulterating governance requirements.

Skills based boards have been common in the commercial sector for many years. More recently we are seeing For Purpose Organisations move towards this format, but there is some debate as to whether it comes at the cost of losing the organisation’s soul. So what is the right balance to ensure the mission of an organisation does not get lost?

In its guide to Good Governance for Not-for-Profit Organisations, The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) recommends a board should be comprised of a diverse group of people with an appropriate mix of skills, knowledge, professional as well as industry experience (ideally the philanthropic sector) who are aligned to the organisation’s objectives and strategic goals. It notes there is often a delicate balance to achieve when making board appointments for NFPs, because they are run by passionate people aligned with a particular cause. While it’s desirable to recruit individuals who will help promote constructive discussion and challenge any group-think behaviour, it’s important not to lose board cohesion. “The absence of a collegiate approach to decision-making can lead to highly dysfunctional outcomes, including decision paralysis.”

The AICD’s suggested skillset for NFP board appointments includes:

  • Strategic expertise (to guide and review strategy)
  • Accounting and finance knowledge (to read and understand the accounts and financial material presented to the board, as well as the organisation’s funding and business model)
  • Legal understanding (a board’s responsibility involves overseeing compliance with numerous laws, individual directors have legal duties and responsibilities)
  • Risk Management and Change Management experience
  • People Management
  • Fundraising experience
  • Specific NFP or industry sector knowledge
  • A passion for the cause

TRANSEARCH often work with clients who have this same challenge, and no one formula suits them all. While it can be argued that you don’t need to understand the service sector of the organisation to be effective at a governance level, if there is no subject matter expertise on the Board, you may not appreciate the inherent risks facing the service itself. Equally, if there is no personal attachment to the cause, will you really be passionate about achieving the best outcomes for stakeholders? A Board position is also a significant time commitment. Sometimes you’ll be required during business hours (which can be problematic, if elsewhere employed), but you can expect a lot of out-of-hours work.

It’s fair to say all Boards should be made up of professionals who are personally committed to the objectives of the organisation. But if you can’t find this, which way would you lean?

Why you should be investing in developing the leadership skills of Millennials

Posted on February 12, 2018 by Sandra Brown
Article image: Investing in developing the leadership skills of Millennials

As the population ages, the profile of leaders change. After years of steady growth –  albeit with a few scares, like “the recession we had to have” – Baby Boomers are starting to retire and Gen X are filling more and more senior leadership positions with measured and meaningful skills they learnt along the way.

Boomers brought independent goal oriented and self-actualisation into the work place – not relying on others to get things done, self-made and proud of it! They adjusted the world around them to get the outcome they wanted.

Gen X bring technology and flexibility to the fore, aiming for work-life balance. Doing it their way, but retaining the traditional beliefs of home ownership and a comfortable affordable lifestyle. They are educated and have driven specialisation, creating a whole new vocabulary of work terms such as specialism and workforce to cope with specialist project and change management, moving away from the more generalist skillset.

But what about Gen Y, or as they are increasingly being referred to, Millennials? What will be their way of working and have we even considered what legacy they will leave?

Having read a number of academic papers recently, several things have come to light:

  1. The employee experience is now as important as culture and engagement, which can be defined as seeing the world through your employees’ eyes, staying connected and being aware of their major milestones. The experience is a large part of their engagement.
  2. They are very much into the sharing economy – there is an expectation that they will use share hire vehicles and not own a car. They may invest in a group owned house rather than owning their home on their own. In a bid to make things more affordable in the UK, a lot of investment has gone into “house in multiple occupation”, with individuals renting areas in the same premises on separate leases.
  3. They are highly educated, but carry large debt, which as a result eats into their income for many years after they enter the workforce.
  4. A large number are likely to leave their jobs in the next two years, as they don’t feel their leadership skills are being developed enough.

Millennials are often unkindly referred to as an entitled generation, wanting to progress before they have paid their dues, seeing themselves at the centre of the universe. But when you look at job availability, housing affordability and the high level of education debt they carry, is it really any wonder they are concerned about themselves?

The continued growth and success of your organisation depends on investing in the future generation of leaders. It may be timely to review your strategy to engage Millennials and other aspiring executives.


From steady state to embracing complexity: 12 ways leadership has changed in the last ten years

Posted on May 11, 2017 by Sandra Brown
Article image: From steady state to embracing complexity

Remember when your business plan was the holy grail on market strategy? A good strategic plan defined the best way to achieve success, which relied on superstar recruits all reporting in to a leader who represented the hierarchy, often far removed from operational activities and the culture amongst the people involved in day-to-day production and delivery of the goods or services its customers bought.

There’s an evolutionary shift taking place in leading organisations, says organisation culture expert and designer of the TRANSEARCH Orxestra© methodology, Dr John O. Burdett. He’s not just talking about a better way of approaching ‘how we do things around here’.

Discussing the effective recruitment of executives, John Burdett describes senior leaders with a different mindset about what it means to lead, an attitude which has changed dramatically over the last ten years. His observations (tabled below) can be translated into leadership competencies, which are detailed in John’s book, The A-Z of Organisation Culture, launched in Australia at our seminar series earlier this year. In fact assessing those essential dimensions of leadership including employing the head and engaging the heart, are fundamental to the Orxestra© Methodology.

12 ways leadership has changed in the last ten years

Leadership 2006 Leadership 2016
The ‘plan’ Strategic scenarios
Superstars Super teams
Strategy drives culture Culture enables strategy
The team works for the leader The leader works for the team
Structure: hierarchical Structure: network centred
Team: homogeneous Team: multicultural
The one best way Comfort with ambiguity
Expertise Speed of learning
If it aint broke, don’t fix it Introducing disruptive technologies
Change management Reframe mindsets
Enrich the tribe Build community
Steady state Embrace complexity


In the complex new world of contemporary commercial business, the stoic leader who successfully maintained the status quo – a homogeneous workforce, sustainable profits, predictable growth – has given way to leaders with agility – ones who embrace technology, are prepared for or initiate disruption, and are open-minded about diversifying their product/services and client mix.

As John Burdett says, we as talent acquisition specialists should be hiring with tomorrow’s culture in mind: Are you hiring for today, or tomorrow?


Why don’t we ask RU OK every day?

Posted on September 8, 2016 by Sandra Brown

Today is a day to check in with your colleagues and friends to make sure they are OK, but is one day a year really enough?

In workplaces across the country people will hear “RU OK?” today. Some may think the question is invasive, others will think the person asking is simply being a bit trite, only enquiring because someone informed them that they should. Then we’ll usually answer offhand “I’m fine, how about you?” But what about those people who are hiding their difficulties?

We’ve seen the statistics about the impact of mental health on productivity, with the ABS reporting self-harm (suicide) as the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44. Beyond Blue reports one in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition. Yet we only seem to raise the issue once or twice per year.

During my 30 year working career I have had the privilege to work in a number of countries, with some amazing people. There’s one who really sticks with me. He was a brilliant man, a world leader in his field. A father, a grandfather a loving husband who to the world around him, appeared ‘normal’.

Being engaged, enthusiastic and a contributor, appearing to be outwardly happy took a great deal of energy to maintain when he headed out the door to work each day. He often said, if workplaces were more accepting of people’s personal flaws, colleagues more empathetic and society more genuine in its desire to help others, he could have achieved so much more in his career.

So he kept his head down, became very risk averse, doing things the same old ways. Not wanting to draw the attention to himself, he kept his ideas to himself in meetings, leading others to question as his productivity dropped, whether he had any value to add to the organisation.

Unfortunately his internal demons overtook him.

One in five people suffer from a mental illness at some time during their lives. They experience self-doubt, become disengaged, unproductive and eventually isolated. Their impact on co-workers can be enormous. The Aussie attitude of showing no emotion in the workplace has resulted in a hidden epidemic that has seen us lose some of our finest minds, our friends and co-workers, mothers, fathers, children and siblings.

We can improve the way we connect with our colleagues, families and friends by starting a meaningful conversation. Ask someone “RU OK?” every day.

How the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is far more exciting than its name implies

Posted on February 18, 2016 by Sandra Brown

Yesterday I had the pleasure of touring the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) building in Parkville as an invited guest of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Our hosts from Grocon and Plenary Health showed us around selected areas that were very impressive – not what you may expect of a cancer service!

On entering the 13 story building the stunning internal atrium towers all the way to the roof top garden… a striking feature, but I’ll talk about that later. Still undergoing final touches before the moving in day, the building has three zones: health service delivery, research and back of house (administration). Colour coding is a feature of its leading approach to way-finding through the Centre.

With 160 overnight inpatient beds, a 42-bed capacity intensive care unit and 110 same-day beds, the majority of patients enjoy natural light and some of the best views of Melbourne.

There are also a number of outdoor areas – remember the roof top garden I mentioned earlier? It is one of the largest in Melbourne and features mature trees, a BBQ area and spots for quiet contemplation. All are within easy access to a cafe giving patients and families the opportunity to take in some fresh air and sunshine.

The Centre is a collaborative partnership between Peter Mac, Melbourne Heath, Melbourne University, Plenary Health, VCCC, the Australian and Victorian Governments, and looks to be setting the bar high for facilities combining health research and delivery. True to the aim of architects DesignInc to make ‘a positive difference to the health and happiness of people’s lives,’ the design has been created to encourage knowledge sharing, impacting on breakthroughs to deliver next generation cancer treatments.

VCCC is not only a model for health services of the future. It’s a great example of how more workplaces could be.

Cultural Capital – The New HR

Posted on December 3, 2015 by Sandra Brown

Debate has raged for years about the value of the Human Resources department. Is it deserving of a seat on the Executive or just an administrative function that provides staff with the warm and fuzzies? Often maligned as the go-to place when things go wrong, both organisations and the people working in them could benefit from readjusting their view of HR to the place to go to get things right.

Recent discussions about Behavioural Capital highlight that the way you relate to and act with different markets, such as B2B and B2C, will impact your bottom line. There are a plethora of articles and writings that highlight the importance of behavioural capital, but few that actually quantify it. Have a look at A Cognitive Theory of the Firm: Learning, Governance and Dynamic Capabilities by Bart Nooteboom or read Praxis Towards Sustainable Empowering Learning Environments in South Africa edited by Dennis Francis, Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Milton Nkoan for example.

What if we were to extrapolate the concept to include how you act internally with colleagues? Interestingly, the experts also point out that while many organisations believe they understand their culture, when questioned, they are likely to describe their aspired culture.

So let’s imagine a motivated and aligned workforce who were all working towards the same goal… Let me introduce Cultural Capital. A better title for a new relationship with Human Resources.

In Cultural Capital, HR is a key driver. It partners with the Executive, develops a culture map, then works across the organisation to embed it throughout the employee lifecycle. Imagine the savings: improved productivity, less sick leave and fewer disciplinary issues. Not to mention the value added to your brand when your business becomes a true employer of choice. Prospective candidates will be beating a path to your door. What a difference a word can make!