The subject of change has been canvased significantly in recent times.

In the initial stages of the pandemic, people were talking about the new way of doing things. Many organisations embraced greater reliance on technology, many online meetings occurred, structures and engagement changed, and as I have talked about before, some people thought this was the new world order.

But in many ways, this has not been the case. As we know, Queensland is one of those lucky states that has not been savaged by the pandemic and things are certainly returning to how they used to be. In the working environment, face-to-face meetings are becoming more common and outside of the office, social interactions appear to be back to normal levels. This was very evident when I attended the AFL Grand Final the other weekend. As it turns out, perhaps it is harder to do things differently than we first thought.

I’ve recently been reading about events from more than a century ago that caused me to think about change and how difficult it can be for individuals and society. No, I’m not talking about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. I have been reading Peter Fitzsimmons’ book on the history of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy) and his pioneering of early aviation.
Surprisingly, there were just over 10 years between the first flight of the Kitty Hawk in North Carolina in December 1903, when man only just got off the ground, to the first world war where aircraft were being decisively used for war in the skies. The world of aviation advanced – and changed – very quickly. The book outlines Smithy’s pioneering endeavours such as making the first transpacific flight from the United States to Australia, the first non-stop Australian mainland crossing and the first flights between Australia and New Zealand to name a few.

However, even with the skill of being a pioneering aviator, creation of sustainable commercial success illuded him. He was unable to effectively change from what he knew, loved and successful done. For approximately 10 years every time he needed more money, he went out and set another world record, until his life was cut short when he was lost off the Bay of Bengal in November 1935. What became clear to me as I was reading this book is that despite being a great pilot with specialised skills, he seemed unable to change from what he did and did best. He set aviation records, had a very strong pioneering ‘can do’ spirit and worked hard to overcome all odds. However, he was unable to create any great leverage or advantage out of his endeavours. He seemed to lack the commercial acumen required to create a business or anything that was going to support him and his family.

Change is particularly difficult if you have been very successful in what you do. As Barry Goldsmith writes in his 2007 book, What got you here – won’t get you there, the skills and attributes we develop over our career invariably make us successful. It is then very hard to change. Perhaps it is not as easy as we thought to ‘pivot’, using a current term from the COVID vernacular.

This is why it is so important to be aware of repeating patterns of behaviour when you are bringing anyone new into your environment. You must be clear on the current context and what is required to be successful. If you are expecting your recruit to be able to transfer skills to a completely different role or working environment, you need to be sure they have the agility to do so, through a repeating pattern of behaviour of having done so in the past.

Recently a CEO from a very successful organisation came to the realisation that his approach to recruiting new senior staff was not working. There seemed to be a flaw in the selection process he had always followed. His recruits seemed great initially, but they were not performing successfully in the organisation. While he realised there was an issue, he didn’t know what it was and recognised he needed some external insight to determine why these mis-hires were continually occurring. We worked through a process with him and realised he was hiring people just like him, people he liked. While this presented advantages in that he got on well with the people he was hiring, it did not necessarily focus on hiring for the skills needed, let alone identify the repeating patterns of behaviour he needed for success in the role or the company.

This was a relatively easy job to rectify. He needed the external input, with someone to challenge him on what he was doing. He was also prepared to listen and willing to change. A particularly difficult role has now been successfully recruited for and the person is becoming a great contributor to the role and the organisation.

What I am getting at is we cannot just assume changing circumstances – like the world post-COVID – will be enough for us to implement meaningful, lasting change. It’s much easier to revert to the ways we have always lived and interacted with one another. We also can’t assume that just because someone possesses an impressive skill – like the ability to break aviation world records – does not mean they have the knowhow to transfer these skills to a new role or new organisation to deliver what you need. Finally, if you find you need to do something differently but are unsure what to change, find someone with a new perspective to help you. Change is possible, but it is important to understand repeating patterns of behaviour so you can work through them and determine if those behaviours will fit in your organisation, the role and your culture. If you get this wrong, you may end up with roadblocks that inhibit the innovative approach you are looking for.

As always, happy recruiting, and if you would like to discuss change and how we can help you identify favourable behaviours for roles in your business, please get in touch.

Kind regards,

Ian Hamilton

Photo from the Aviation History Collection, Alamy Stock