Eleanor Roosevelt, cats and professional excellence

Cats are said to have nine lives – but to ensure corporate survival and an upwards professional trajectory it can seem like you need more than nine to keep pace with change. 

" If you're not an innovator or early adopter, befriend somebody who is."
Katie Bennett-Stenton, National Marketing Lead, Energy & Resources, Deloitte

Up until last year, my “family” included two Siamese cats, Eleanor (Ellie) Roosevelt and Norma Major. Then Norma became ill and had to be put down. A few weeks later, Hillary Rodham Clinton (another Siamese) came into our lives in a bid to comfort an Ellie pining for company.

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We were not prepared for what came next.

Suddenly, no place was safe without Hillary leaping on Ellie to tussle. The ensuing high-pitched tussling even distressed my not-always observant four-year old. Disruption was in full flight. It was clear Ellie was taking a while to adjust to the rambunctious newcomer.

Sound familiar? The old life being upended?

As I attempted to broker peace, I was struck by the parallels with regular conversations I have at work. Conversations about the importance of striving to look after clients, especially during change or crisis. 

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Here are five ways to professional excellence when it counts:

Embrace technology

Even if you're not an innovator or early adopter, befriend somebody who is and initiate regular conversations about what they're observing what the latest trends are. 

I'd love to consider myself as an early adopter. I'm not quite there – but my techie advisor talked about how he had embraced OneNote.

This changed my professional life, by ditching questionable handwriting for an iPad in meetings I always have key documents with me and can synch and search all notes from the last three years while engaging in conversation in a meeting - winning! 

Harness change

As the adage goes, the only person who likes change is a wet baby. But we can’t forget with change comes opportunity. Do the things you think you cannot do.

In nearly 20 years in professional services, I have observed the winner in any situation – be it a restructure or the current turbulence in the energy sector – will be the person who is able to remind themselves, or the client, how the current disruption in front of them can be exploited to be a competitive advantage. 

Stay curious

Deloitte recently launched a report on innovation in Australia and I was impressed to hear one of the firm's most senior leaders ask a group of more than 300 business leaders who was into Pokemon Go. 

He then spent several minutes at the launch of a national innovation program, telling the audience we had one senior analyst who was so enthralled with Pokemon Go at her cost (and in personal time, he stressed) she flew from Melbourne to Sydney to catch some rare critters. 

The anecdote finished with a person two years out of university making a name for herself solving a complex client problem using similar technology. What a way to raise your profile!

Look for new ways of doing things

I have done a lot of research over the years on what attributes of a professional services relationship delights a client. Bringing insights from other industries rates highly. 

At a more elementary level, so does constantly questioning why a process is followed or reiterating the desired outcomes. Or, to borrow from somebody else, starting with the end in sight can work wonders.

Push outside your comfort zone

Sit down once a year and commit to a number of goals you will achieve. I often do this when coaching colleagues to develop their personal brand plan (get in touch if you'd like a copy of the plan I use). 

In five years, what will your career highlights be? Over the next 12 months what four things do you commit to which will move you closer to your goal? 

It might be public speaking or committing to a meaningful client coffee. Be honest with yourself about where you need to develop skills, move outside your comfort zone and get on with it.

That client who regards you as dependable and reliable may continue to do so, but at some point, somebody with more verve, relevance and sparkle will come along. 

If you haven't pushed yourself, kept upskilling and remained curious, it mightn't end as you'd like. 

Commit to putting the plan in place and sit down regularly to keep yourself honest. Protect those appointments in your diary as you would an important client meeting, even if you have to tussle, and there will be no stopping you.

Although I accept not all these will work with sparring cats.

Disclaimer: I'm actually a dog person (boxer please) but years ago while living in a third-floor apartment Siamese sisters seemed the humane way to go.

Katie Bennett-Stenton is National Marketing Lead, Energy and Resources at Deloitte

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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