THE Australian Institute of Management (AIM) recently opened its Gold Coast premises in Robina. With a fresh presence comes new responsibilities and CEO Carolyn Barker says the organisation’s strategy will focus on fundamentals this year. Barker spoke to Gold Coast Business News about leadership, the labour market and leaving an indelible print on the Gold Coast.
What was the inspiration behind opening an AIM office on the Gold Coast?
From a personal member perspective, the Gold Coast delivers the largest group outside of metropolitan Brisbane and even without physical premises, that membership base has the fastest growth rate. In addition, AIM services many Gold Coast businesses via its corporate training and coaching business divisions. Therefore, the decision to establish a Gold Coast office was a strategic investment in management and leadership development in one of Australia’s fastest growing areas.
What are the plans for the Gold Coast? What does the new location mean to the Gold Coast community?
We are actually owners not tenants. This was a very important decision for our board as they wanted to have a permanent footprint in one of Australia’s most diverse and vibrant cities. We chose Robina because we saw it as a commercial and professional business hub and we chose Eastside because the tenant profile complemented AIM’s brand. We spent a lot of time conceptualising the layout so that the offices would be multi purpose featuring a large style training room, a board room and small meeting room/consulting room, all with the ability to reconfigure to an open space which holds more than 100 people for special interest networks and visiting speakers.
How has the downturn affected AIM?
Queensland’s labour market experienced a cooling off in late 2008 compared to Australia’s southern states, which were more seriously impacted at the time. This year we observed that regional Queensland, particularly Central Queensland, is experiencing an escalation to that down turn. The Gold Coast is remaining strong in some niche sectors except for property development, tourism and associated industries. But AIM predicts business activity will continue to slow down this year with the full impact being felt from July 2009 onwards. We see light at the end of the tunnel from July 2010.
How important is further training for executives?
In a survey conducted by AIM nationally, we asked Australian managers to nominate their top priorities for the next 12-24 months. The critical issue that topped that list was leadership followed by managing organisation cultural and motivating staff. In previous annual surveys leadership has not made the top three. That says something to us in times of turbulence; people are looking for good positive leadership.
That’s why continuing professional development for executives is crucial. Leadership development is specifically essential. To help contextualise leading people in today’s economic environment as few managers would have had that experience in their lifetime.
What are the most important skills to have as a leader? What leadership philosophy do you adhere to?
I believe in character-led leadership. Other people call that authentic leadership. It is about the relationship between organisational leadership and a leader’s behaviour as they apply to the characteristics of courage, integrity, humility, compassion, passion, wisdom and humour. Displaying these characteristics and translating them into leadership behaviours is an act of will and therefore can be learned. For me, I concentrate on this every hour of every day because it is easy ‘mouth platitudes’.
How should managers stay on top of their game during tough times?
People react and act best when they are given context. So, within reason, whatever situation a business is experiencing should be shared with employees as soon as is practicable, that means sharing the direction and change in direction constantly using the same language, reassuring people and explaining what the end goals are. The grapevine works especially well in more turbulent times and so it’s important that leaders at all levels don’t bury their heads in the sand. Usually the workforce is well aware of the health of the business and the robustness of management as well as what is going on at the coalface. My advice is to share the context as much as possible.
Are we seeing a change in management style in general?
Just 12 months ago, Australia was experiencing full employment. That meant that often people were employed just to fill the demand. They may not have been the right fit or have had the appropriate level of competence. So, in the main, we are hearing that those departing businesses were the least productive.
Business leaders are telling us that they are focused on keeping their best and brightest in the business, because it is those people who are being asked to do ‘more with less’ and to focus on how innovation and management efficiency can make the business more robust. There is no doubt we will all come out of this in better shape in the end.
How is AIM set to grow in the short term future? Are there any further major plans in place?
After having set up at the Gold Coast, our strategy for 2009-10 is one of concentrating on the fundamentals. Doing what we do best and delivering terrific customer experiences.
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