Career midlife crises point to an absence of purpose in lives of highflying professionals

In an article by Australian School of Business, the topic of career midlife crisis is discussed. It appears that we are now likely to have multiple crises as transitions between different career stages (e.g. learning the ropes, becoming established, making a difference, moving on) become less related to tenure, and more related to the accelerated delivery of organisational outcomes, achievement mindsets, leadership programs that encourage greater self awareness, and changing expectations.

While an interesting article in it’s own right, it lends direct/indirect weight to the following points:

  1. External motivators (money, possessions, external recognition) have limited sustained value in driving staff performance
  2. Being connected to some interest/purpose greater than yourself (your own needs/desires) is a key to personal fulfilment
  3. Taking time to reflect on a regular basis is likely to keep you on the right track
  4. Working with others in community/relationship will drive greater commitment/accountability

One of the challenges with cultural change work in organisations is that fostering greater self awareness can and does lead some nominated talent to select different paths to pursue outside their organisation. I believe this side effect can be mitigated by clearly articulating how an organisation’s vision/mission/strategy is helping address the needs of real customers/service recipients.

You can download a copy of the article at:

Rewiring the Boss – an article on changing entrenched leadership behaviour using neuroplasticity

Have a read of the attached article – key points related to behavioural change is possible, it requires time, commitment and action by the learner/executive…

Rewiring the Boss.pdf

Key aspects of the approach involve developing a long term relationship with the learner/executive, a recognition by the learner that change is required, a growing sense of self awareness in the learner, as well as ongoing experiential learning opportunities.  For example, a specific strategy involves getting the executive to change their behaviour in the context of coaching others.

Digging Deep – Well not really! – AFR Boss Magazine article on Resources Sector talent issues was disappointing with little real insight

The fact that resources bosses are desperately seeking management talent is clear. Unfortunately the AFRBoss article only repeated tired ideas from the last 10+ years around managing talent/human capital. I think the article showed the conservative and traditional nature of our Australian human capital paradigms, practices and practitioners. At no stage were my concerns around the potential cannibalising of talent/labor markets by the Resources sector from other industry sectors addressed. Nor was there any systemic or innovative thinking presented.

In order to fulfil the human capital aspects of an organisation’s strategic objectives, we need to work both sides of the talent equation – demand and supply – and we need to undertake these tasks in innovative ways. We need segment workforces, focus on critical roles and capabilities, and to create differentiated value propositions. We need to decide what aspects of our workforces must be full time, and what can be contingent. As a nation, we need to decide what we want our workforce to be known for, and what skills/capabilities we want to source from other nations.

Set expectations and get quicker results: Scientists prove importance of expectation management

Science Daily: The human brain works incredibly fast. However, visual impressions are so complex that their processing takes several hundred milliseconds before they enter our consciousness. Scientists have now shown that this delay may vary in length. When the brain possesses some prior information — that is, when it already knows what it is about to see — conscious recognition occurs faster. Until now, neuroscientists assumed that the processes leading up to conscious perception were rather rigid and that their timing did not vary. Read the full article here. 

My thoughts…

For many years, we’ve known good leadership and management involves expectation setting – but many leaders and managers just ‘expect’ their people to know. Science now confirms we can get quicker neural responses if the brain possesses some prior information about an ‘incoming stimulus’. So if we want improved outcomes from direct reports and teams, we must clearly establish expectations – both what can be expected during an experience/task/process, as well as what outcomes are expected from that experience/task/process.

Clarifying expectations reduces uncertainty, and accelerates action…

What can Australian organisations do about increasing shortages in required skills/talent? Work on demand side of equation!

Australia may have survived the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, but will it survive the skills and labor crisis which is now imminent? Both government and business seem ‘stuck’ in trying to solve the crisis primarily through ‘supply’ and/or ‘buy’ solutions. However, effectively working the ‘demand’ side of this challenge is likely to deliver more sustainable and achievable outcomes in accelerated timeframes.


Last year’s workforce effectiveness/productivity rhetoric from the government hasn’t been enough to address the issue of significant labor shortages. Action by government and business is now required quickly if are to avoid ‘running out’ of the people/skills needed to deliver a healthy and growing Australian economy. A quick sample of Australian Financial Review articles from last week highlight a range of themes which outline the imminent and significant risk faced by Australia from increasing labor shortages:

·         Peter Ruehl highlights the challenges of the ‘big Australia’ debate, the weakness of successive Australian governments to address this issue, and the damage being perpetrated to Australia’s future by a myopic, anti-immigrant minority. Over 140,000 skilled migrants remain caught in a bureaucratic logjam while Australia has more work than workers

·         Continued upward wages pressure arising from current talent shortages in the Australian economy, and its consequent impact on Australian competitiveness

·         Predictions of further reductions in Australia’s unemployment rate from 5% to 4.1% in 2011-12 (Australia is an economy approaching near full employment). Talent shortages are here to stay and will only increase in the next 2-5 years.

·         The impact that  Australia’s multispeed economy is having on increasing the negative competition for talent between different industry sectors. Over time, expect key industries to be cannibalised to meet the needs of industries with more compelling value propositions e.g. Manufacturing, Retail, Hospitality industries being used as potential labor sources by the Resources sector

·         The increasing trend to search for executive talent from overseas sources to meet Australian business demand

·         Increasing calls from business to the government that budget measures address Australia’s ability to expand capacity or enhance productivity


While the last point made by the Australian Industry Group’s, Heather Ridout, reads as a bet both ways it also highlights the need to address the two sides of the workforce management equation. In the past, ‘optimisation’ efforts have been primarily about reducing heads to reduce cost. Going forward, ‘workforce optimisation’ needs to be about reducing the demand for more talent, and maximising the output from the talent that already exists. As practitioners, we must help organisations to address the ‘demand’ side of the workforce management equation by focussing on the following:

·         Working out what is really required from an organisation’s human capital (critical roles, critical skills not able to be done through technology/other means), and revising this on an ongoing basis

·         Helping organisations to craft and deliver compelling value propositions to attract and retain the required human capital

·         Segmenting the required human capital to deliver targeted workforce management solutions/interventions

·         Improving the use of automation, processes, technology, and decision support to reduce the need for human intervention

·         Using different methods of management, organisation and motivation to minimise the need for supervision

·         Creating effective and accelerated techniques for inducting, developing and/or re-training individuals and workforces

·         Encouraging the use of outsourced/offshore resources in appropriate ways – effectively utilising ‘contingent’ workforces

·         Leveraging both formal and informal organisational networks to get work done efficiently

·         Improving knowledge and/or intellectual capital management and accessibility across an organisation


Some thoughts for consideration…