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Tackling issues pre-emptively: seven needed conversations

Dan Purves



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Executives should have seven conversations to pre-emptively address issues within their super fund and ensure the organisation, the team and they themselves are able to flourish in the long term.

To this end, the Fund Executives Association Ltd (FEAL) in association with T. Rowe Price have been running a three-year course on resilience, as well as offering a scholarship for a one-day intensive workshop, to give executives the skills to quickly and effectively have these conversations and increase resilience.

“Our ability to be resilient will predict our success in our personal and professional lives,” says Joanna Davison, chief executive of FEAL. “And in our case resilient organisations means better results for members and improved dignity in retirement.”

“[But] as I look around the industry I see colleagues and friends who look, quite frankly, exhausted. For some it due to the increased pressures of a hectic work schedule, for others it is due to personal challenges, such as relationship breakdowns, work deadlines and redundancies.”

She adds in order for fund executives to be successful in leading their organisations and providing dignity for their members in retirement, they themselves have to be in a good place.

As such, the FEAL program is built around three pillars: personal resilience, team resilience and organisational resilience.

“We work closely with the [executive] team to identify areas of focus and go very deep on one or two of those areas,” says Kamal Sarma, chief executive of Rezilium, the strategic leadership development firm FEAL is using to run the course

“So what we do is talk about giving them a toolbox on how to address issues pre-emptively, and give them a skill set so that whatever issues are at play we can get them to deconstruct the issues before they become a problem.”

Sarma has a unique background of being a high-performing McKinsey consultant, as well as a strategist in asset management, but has also been taught by monks and benefits from the experience of both Eastern and Western teachings.

“And what we’ve done is identify seven conversations teams need to have, and have effectively.”

These seven conversations are on capabilities, gratitude, expectations, why-we-do-what-we-do, accountability and responsibility (the who), and the direction the team is moving (the where).

“We rank them by order. You need to start with the capabilities and weakness conversation and they build upon one another,” Sarma says.

Geoff Brooks, executive officer of strategic marketing and communication at Equip, went through the intensive one-day workshop as the fund was last year’s scholarship winner.

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    For him, one of the more interesting aspects of the course was how to have win-win conversations (in part by using techniques such as not overtalking and leaving a void so the other person could fill it with their ideas), as around half of employees and leaders would rather leave an organisation than have awkward conversations.

    “That was useful because, if we are honest, most people would rather avoid a confrontational type topic than actually deal with it,” Brooks says.

    “You don’t have to go into conversations or negotiation with a winner-take-all approach, but actually try to explore pathways with the other party, and find ways of accommodating that so everyone feels like they’ve won.

    “It sounds a bit ‘nirvana’ and ‘kumbaya’, but the sentiment behind it was good.”

    He adds that the most is got out of the course by thinking of instances where you’ve breached the correct approach to things.

    “Kamal is not overbearing and doesn’t try to overlay his own beliefs and philosophies on you too much; what he talks more about is techniques for doing that deep diving yourself and understanding your organisation and you own individual personalities and behaviours.”