Be Open to Opportunity
Michelle is a leadership and change expert, and the author of “Step Up: How to build your influence at work”. She works with executives and global organisations to help them accelerate progress in complex environments.
Michelle is passionate about helping people and teams identify the possibilities, recognise unseen opportunities and find the courage to make congruent choices. All essential elements to thrive in today’s complex world.
With more than twenty years’ senior executive experience across multiple industries she knows how to help people succeed in different personal and organisational contexts.
“To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often.” Michelle Gibbings' improved from Winston Churchill.
I had a relatively non-eventful childhood growing up as the youngest of four in the warm weather of Brisbane. Upon completing high-school, like most students, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was fortunate that a close friend of mine suggested that I take a course simply titled ‘Communications’. It ended up being a course that I enjoyed and which I was quite good at.
Upon completing my degree, I decided to make the move to Melbourne. The decision to move was partly driven by my need to find my feet as a young woman about to enter the career world. My family was quite well known in Brisbane amongst certain social circles so the move also allowed me to move away from this and to discover my own sense of identity. I secured a job working for a member of parliament which involved traveling between Melbourne and Canberra; policy researching, writing speeches and the like. Unfortunately, the member of parliament I was working for lost her seat at the next election, and when your member loses their seat, as a staffer you of course lose your job. I considered applying to work for another member but I knew I didn’t want to be a staffer forever, and while I had an interest in parliament, I wasn’t a member of any parties.
I decided to return to Brisbane and found a job in the mining sector where I worked in a public affairs based role for 6 years, it was time again for another change. This time change found me, I was headhunted for a role which took me out to a different mining company in Mt Isa. Much to my father’s horror I went out to Mt Isa, a mining driven town, as a young single woman. It was interesting that upon meeting people, their first assumption would always be that I must have moved to the town because my partner was working in the mine. I learnt a lot in this role from the CEO of the Company, however after 2 years in the role a new CEO took over, who was a great guy but who I did not feel like I could learn from in the same way.
I was on the move again, this time I found myself in Sydney working in public affairs for the ANZ before shortly moving to Melbourne to work as an ANZ spokesperson. While being a spokesperson was a great role in terms of getting to understand how the bank worked and learning how to build relationships with stakeholders, it wasn’t a role that I particularly liked. I was good at it but I didn’t enjoy it.
This time my travels took me overseas, to Asia, where I was involved in a project for the ANZ. Upon the completion of this project, I then became involved in a change implementation project with the ANZ for the next two years. Change found me once again, I returned to Melbourne after being headhunted by the NAB where I remained for almost 10 years. I stayed at the NAB for as long as I did because of the variety of roles that I was involved in, I worked in a corporate affairs role, as head of compliance, as advisor to the CEO and more. Eventually, I left the NAB to work as the Project Manager for a change and transformation program for AMP back in Sydney.
After some rather executive positions in some major banks and corporate companies, I decided it was time to use my experience and skills to start my own business, which I have now been doing for 3 years. In deciding to start my own I had to work out what it was I wanted that business to do, I had to not only consider what my core skill set was but also what it was that I really enjoyed doing. The best piece of advice that I received early on from a colleague was, when you open up a business you need to be open to the opportunity, you will see what will come. The business helps people deal with complexity, it helps people to make better decisions. But I knew the purpose or the message of the business could not be too broad in its approach. It was important to be clear on my value proposition early in the business’s development and what exactly it is we were offering, to make broad statements invites scepticism, people are weary of those who promise too much without providing the specifics.
I see your network as an asset, it is about gaining a competitive advantage by developing relationships with the right people. Often people do not think about their network in terms of what they are going to give into their network, you have to give something in order to get something in return, it needs to be more than a mere association or a connection on Linkedin. When I was a corporate I would carve out time everyday to think about my network, to identify gaps and to catch up with those people already in it.
In running my own business this has become even more important and we are lucky that it is amuch easier process today with tools such as Linkedin. Personally, I spend a lot of time on Linkedin, I blog every week, I share a lot of content and actively seek out new cnnections as part of my netwrokign strategy. I am also very clear in having a conversation or in reaching out to someone what my purpose is, I don’t believe in networking for the purpose of boosting your numbers. There needs to be a clear purpose, a clear idea of what you want out of this connection and why are you reaching out.
What we would consider today as an ‘old fashioned’ approach of networking such as going to functions is still very important. But you need to get more out of it than simply working the room, handing out as many business cards as possible. At one particular event, I was handed a business card by a gentleman who I intended to catch up with for a coffee within the coming days. Less than 48 hours later I received a generic email informing me that while it was great to meet at the function, he did not have the time to catch up with all those who he had met but had taken the liberty of signing us all up for his newsletter. He had no intention of giving anything or putting anything into his supposed network connections. There needs to be a genuine interest in the person that you are trying to network with, whenever you give you give because you want to, if it turns into something then great, if it doesn’t then that’s okay too.
I had the view from any early age that life is an adventure and that moving is part of this adventure, often when people think of packing and moving they take the view of why bother, its all too hard. For me, when you move to a new city you do different things, see new sights and meet new people. When my husband and I moved to Sydney we had a blast, every weekend we had things that we would do, we knew we weren’t going to be there forever so we would do and see as much as we could while we were there. Those who lived in Sydney would often say to me, ‘you have seen more of Sydney than we have’.
I found that moving made me have to be self-sufficient and to make the effort to meet people, especially when I was single and moved to Melbourne where I didn’t know anyone. When you move cities frequently you realise that you have to be the one to extend the hand of friendship, you can’t wait for people to come to you. I found Sydney harder to break into socially than Melbourne, in Melbourne if you have an interest for example football or bushwalking, there are clubs that you can join. I found that people who work in Melbourne are more social than those who work in Sydney, they would come to work and then leave rather than go out after work to socialise.
I have always had a strong love of learning. Following my undergrad degree in communications I went on to complete a second undergrad degree as I did not yet feel ready to undertake my masters. When I did move onto my masters I knew it was important for me to study something that I had a legitimate interest in and that I enjoyed, I didn’t want to study a masters of finance or project management simply because that was what people would expect someone in my career position to undertake. Instead I took my Masters in International trade which was about diplomacy, state craft and policy, the kind of stuff that I loved.
I undertake some sort of formal education every year, I am currently doing a certification in a diagnostic tool to use with my clients and I am also completing a certification in neuromanagement. It is really important to me to stay in the forefront with my knowledge, I believe that no form of learning is ever wasted.
I am often hired into roles not because of my technical skills but because of my ability to understand how an organisation works, which has given me the ability to navigate the complexity of that system and to be able to get things done. You need a breadth of experience, it makes you more well-rounded and when you make a decision you are able to more easily take on different views and see things from different perspectives, you see yourself as a business person, you understand the organisation and its dynamics, rather than just being a functional expert in one specific area of the business.
Advice to Self
I live by the motto of ‘no regrets’, I have no regrets about my career as even when things have been difficult I have always learned something and taken something from that experience. I always say to people that you need to be prepared to take a risk with your career, as nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I accepted a role and it didn’t make my feel like I wanted to vomit, that sense of nervousness, then I would know that I wasn’t pushing myself far enough. You need to stretch yourself and not just stay with what is comfortable, we always feel uncomfortable the first time we have done something.
Leadership roles are about asking the right questions and knowing where you need to go with things, it is not about having all the answers. No one person will ever have all the answers, it is about being able to work out who you need to involved in order to get those answers and building good teams.
You also need to have fun with career, given that you spend so much of your life at work. There will always be the stressful, boring and the tedious things, as this is just part of the reality of work, but you need to weigh it up, if there is too much of this then you need to move on. You need to actively manage your career, if I was unhappy in a position that I was in I was often the one that would initiate the conversation with whoever I was answering to and ask them what was next.
Writing My Book: Step-up: How to build your influence of work
I had been blogging for about a year when someone suggested to me that I write a book, I had a friend who had written a book herself and got in contact with her publisher.
I didn’t realise how big of a task it was to write a book until I had finished it, the hardest part of the book wasn’t the draft, it was that after all the drafts and reviews you get to a point where you never want to look at it again. When you are waiting for people whose opinion you respect to read it and review it, it almost feels like you are waiting for exam results to come in. There is so much of me in the book, I share very personal experiences of things that went well and things that didn’t, it makes you very vulnerable putting yourself out to the world like that. However, when you receive positive feedback, when someone thanks you for writing your book, it is such a good feeling knowing that you have helped someone that it is worth the sense of vulnerability.
I approached writing the book as I would any project, with a project plan and a clear goal, that it would be on bookshop shelves by February 2016. I then worked backwards from this for my time lines, it was about being disciplined, I was getting up at 4am in the morning and writing for 2-3 hours a day. I am a morning person, and enjoy structure so I readjusted my routine to get up at 4am rather than 5am in order to get that extra writing time in. When you see something as important you find a way to carve out time for it, I had set myself a due date and told people what I was doing so it was important for me to achieve it.
I found that it was a really good thing to get all of these ideas out of my head. I didn’t want to research and then for that research to colour my thoughts, instead I wrote down my thoughts and then researched to either prove or disprove them. This way they are all my own ideas, supported by my experiences or conversations that I have had. I have found that writing the book has helped the business, it has allowed me to share with people who I am and what it is that we do. It also gives you much greater opportunity to be involved in speaking engagements
It has always been in my nature to be organised and structured, yet I found that when I got into running my own business I had to be even more organised. Each night I plan out the following day in half hour blocks, so that in each block I know exactly what I am doing and what needs to be done
During my corporate career I was never one for long term planning, however when you are running your own business this is something that you have to do. I have planned long term, I have looked at what my 10 year goal look likes; what will the revenue look like, when will my next book come out, when will my third book come out. Then I look back at this from a more micro level and go okay to achieve this what needs to be done each year, each month and each day.
I was finding that if I didn’t plan each day out in this way it was very easy for the days to roll on and then you are not sure whether you are making the progress that you need to be. It also becomes very easy to become consumed by your work, without clear planning and goals there is no real ‘finish’ as you can simply keep on working . I need to set out time for friends and family, time out for meditation, time to walk our puppy and time to go to the gym
I have also found that when you write a timetable, you often find that you will get something done faster in order keep synced with your timetable, we often allow more time for something than we actually need to do it. In planning out your day you also need to keep in mind that there is a part of our brain which does all the decision making and analysis, and it gets tired very easily, so if you don’t plan you can be wasting the time it is awake on activities that don’t really need it for. You also need to plan for time to allow it to rest, what time are you allowing for breaks and refreshments. If I am in the office I will often go to the gym at 3pm in the afternoon, its less crowded so the wait time for machines is less and I can beat school traffic. I am careful about how I use my time to avoid wasting any, as there are only finite hours in a day.
I have also needed to be smart about how I use technology to increase my productivity, I have become clear now about what tools I use for what things. I have found Evernote, Pocket and Flipboard of particular use, every week they send me articles on things that I have identified on my profile as being of interest to me, same as Google alerts which scans Google Worldwide and sends me relevant material. I also use a tool called Asana, there are other similar tools on the market, they are basically to do lists which I love. I use one for the lady who works for me as she works remotely, so we will usually only be able to get together every couple of weeks. The app is a great way for me to let her know what we have go going on, what needs to be done that day, that week and so on, and it syncs between the iPhone, iPad and the desktop
My favourite quote is one which I have on one of my websites, the Change Meridian site, and that is ‘to improve is to change, to perfect is to change often’. This is a slight alteration of the words of Winston Churchill ‘to improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often’. I have altered it slightly as I don’t think you can ever be perfect, nothing ever is as you can always do something different or something better. But I like this idea of constant change, the sign off on my blog each week is ‘change happens, make it work for you’ which is a mantra I truly believe in. Change is constant, we live in a world where it isn’t going to slow down, so we need to take charge of it, often people just let change happen to them and then aren’t happy with the outcome.
Other than my own books, a book I would strongly recommend is a book by Michael Watkins that I have referred to multiple times during my career, The First 90 Days. While it is a Harvard Business Review Book, when you read it you think wow there is nothing in here which is rocket science but it is very practical and useful. The book steps you through all the things that you need to think about and plan for, and the types of conversations that you need to be having with people in the first 90 days of a new role. There is a chapter about your relationship with your boss, a chapter on building your internal network and building your team, and a chapter on understanding the landscape of your new organisation and what that looks like. With each new role that I started I would pull the book out and make a plan of what I needed to do within those first 90 days, chapter by chapter.
I can easily be contacted through either of my two websites; www.michellegibbings.com.au and www.changemeridan.com.au.
I also blog each week on different career topics, this comes out every Friday morning at 7am and you can subscribe to this on either of my websites.