Category Archives: Various things

Other stuff

Jim Bright’s Career Coaching Course in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane & Melbourne 2011

I’m running my 3-day career counselling, coaching & assessment course in March in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide & Melbourne and Brisbane.  You can register or get more details here:













  • Highly practical – learn how to use 2 valid career tests and receive all materials to use them
  • Entertaining – delivered in a light hearted and amusing style
  • Leading edge – learn about the latest thinking in the field
  • Evidence-based learn stuff that works and has been tested and reviewed
  • Leads to CICA endorsed PG Cert in Career Development for those wanting formal credentials
  • Approved PD hours for Australian Psychological Society either Generalist (18hrs) or Specialist for Colleges of Organisational, Counselling and Educational/Developmental.

More details click on this link

Register soon to reserve a place.  Contact Jim for further details.

Adult training it would be great without the trainers!

Adult training should be fairly straightforward should it not? You’ve got a presenter who has some valuable knowledge, skill, insight or attitudes to impart, and a bunch of adults open to hearing and seeing the trainer. If only it were half that simple! Usually training goes well and is valuable, but there are many ways in which training seems to diverge from this simple model and nearly all of it is down to the characters in the training room. Let’s start with the trainers – they come in several distinct forms.

The incompetent – this is the chronically under-prepared speaker. They don’t understand their topic, but this doesn’t seem to stop them. They will arrive with overhead slides (yes overheads), photocopied in black and white cheaply at the newsagents. The slides will be uniformly grey with no hint of text or graphics visible. The acetate slides will be dropped just prior to the start of the talk. Strangely the random order of the slides has no tangible impact on the presentation, because the overhead projector is out of focus.

The Power presenter – they use “advanced” techniques in powerpoint with disastrous consequences. In this group there is the “runaway train” – those that set their slides to automatically progress at pre-set times. Then someone interrupts their speill with a question and the rest of the talk is spent providing a commentary two or three slides behind the action.

Fairy Delight – Whoa! Hey! All get up and dance! Clap your hands! Be great! Love yourself the way I love me! Go for it! Whoa! Hey! Yes! Usually dressed in black and wearing a microphone pinched from a call centre, they will be fit looking, move around a lot, tell you that you can do it, and then leave in an expensive car with your money and you with a sense that there was nothing of substance to digest.

The Drone – let me just go over that one more time, this is really exciting this is, no really, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the changes in the framework working party evaluation and oversight project scoping activities in work-package 3.2.1 and it’s articulation into the policy guidelines relating to the procurement of non-essential policy meeting cup holders.

The Comedian – just get on with it.

The Torturer – I don’t care what you think. I have been instructed to ensure that all of you know the procedures and can demonstrate an understanding of the model and that is what you are going to do today whether you like it or not. What’s that you say? I am afraid I am going to have to report you to Mr Bullivant if you don’t show me some cooperation right now.

The Humiliator – ok, we are going to start the day by revealing something very embarrassing from our personal lives, but don’t worry your colleagues are not going to text your secret to all your colleagues at the first opportunity….

The Stuntman/woman – I have planned a lot of exercises for us today, we are going to start by making plasticine animals that resemble our work attitudes, then we are going to workshop the plasticine and write pretentious things on butcher’s paper. If there’s time I’ll try and relate all these stunts back to your workplace, but don’t hold your breath.

And then there are the participants.

The Loud Mouth – will always sit toward the front on the left hand side of the speaker. They will take seriously the offer to ask questions or seek clarification and do so at least every 3 minutes throughout the day. They will volunteer answers to every question posed and as they get bolder will answer questions on behalf of the trainer before they can get a word in.

The Paranoid – everyone knows this training is really an attempt by management to measure our performance and we know you will be reporting back who should be sacked.

The Narcoleptic – you could attach them to the power lines and they would still fall asleep. Mind you, knowing Energy Australia, the lines are probably down anyway…

The Big Issue – They will listen carefully to the first five minutes of your material and then interrupt with statements that start “the problem with that around here you will find”, or “that’s all very well for the main office/metropolitan regions/Northern Beaches/Victoria/Mainland/tall people, but it wont work with us”. Such sentiments are then repeated ad-nauseum throughout the day regardless of what is said.

The White rabbit – may stay in the room until morning tea if you are lucky, and will next be seen creeping into the room to collect their things at the end of the day thinking you’ve packed up and left. Or at conferences they will register in the morning and then reappear in the evening for cocktails.

The Startled – They tend to sit there looking as though they suspect you are about to announce that you’ve found the bodies they buried all those years ago in Adelaide.

The Gladiator – training is a battle and I am going to win it. This is Christians and lions and so me roar! The favourite line usually begins “Have you ever worked” and then insert “here/in my job/overseas/under pressure/for my boss/in your life” etc. The second favourite line of attack is the hypothetical which normally goes: “but if you had an irate customer, and the fire alarm was ringing, but your mobile phone was flat and someone had stolen your trousers the model you are describing wouldn’t work would it?”

The Holidaymakers – well anything has got to be worth getting out of the office for, even this. You don’t expect us to participate actively surely?!

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

Your goal? What do you want? appiness! I beg your pardon!

I have in the past highlighted some of the research casting doubt on the effectiveness of goal setting as a motivational technique. There is another aspect to the goal setting story that is worth reflecting on, and that is the relationship between goal setting and happiness. Indeed this was the topic of a recent paper by Michael Wiederman in Scientific American, entitled Why it’s so hard to be happy.

When you set a career goal you are highlighting that there is something about your current circumstances that you want to change, and that you will be happier when you achieve your goal of changing your circumstances. Such thinking means accepting two premises: firstly, my current circumstances are not making me happy (if they were why change?), and secondly, that when I achieve my goal I will be happier. The trouble with this is, apart from trivial goals, this means that I have told myself that I will not be happy until the goal is achieved. So I have just set up a state of unhappiness that will last until the goal is achieved.

In broader terms what we are doing is getting caught up in relational thinking. That is the tendency to compare what we have right now with what others have. Very often it is what we perceive others to have that we adopt as our goals. We want to look like a film-star, we want to live in a house just like the big one on the top of the hill or by the water. We want to be as rich as the film star who lives in the house by the water…. Research suggests that such thinking is not motivational, but rather encourages us to focus on our current perceived shortcomings. Such thinking can destroy relationships. I have seen people unhappy because they saw a failure to a get an increase in share value as a huge loss. In fact they had lost nothing, but it was the perception of failing to achieve a financial goal, that caused poisonous recrimination between marriage partners. The people concerned were probably in the top 10% earning category, but they lived in a very wealthy area, so in relation to their neighbours they felt poor.

There is also the issue that goal-setting can distort or impair performance. Haste makes waste is an old adage, but how often do people make mistakes when under the pressure of meeting some goal? There is plenty of evidence around that goals can create anxiety which can impair performance. Just think about sports performance, where the longer term goal of winning the match can interfere with the immediate goal of hitting the ball accurately. For instance, Oliver Freedman in Australia and Richard Masters in the UK showed that you can impair golf putting performance by providing financial incentives.

Secondly, goals distort performance by focussing the individual’s performance on those goals with the result that other tasks might be neglected. In the short term this may not matter or even be desirable, but in the longer term, this may lead to undesirable and unexpected outcomes.

Now let’s think about the process of goal achievement. Most goals are met by incremental steps towards the desired state, such as saving money or dieting to a desired weight. As we get closer to our desired state, the gains can seem smaller and smaller (if we’ve lost 9kgs, then the extra 1kg to meet the goal of 10kg doesn’t seem such a big deal). In other words as we close in on our goals, we are continually in a process of adaptation and consequently we have already discounted the gains we have made. This can mean that when the goal is achieved it is accompanied by a sense of anti-climax. Tim Rice, the lyricist who wrote Evita, remarked that sometimes achieving our goals is worse than not achieving them. He was referring to that sense of anti-climax that often accompanies goal-achievement – that the goals do not deliver the level of happiness we expected.

Maybe it is time to introduce the concept of fuzzy goals, which are looser and bigger statements of a desired general direction. They are the opposite of the goal setters mantra of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based (SMART) goals. Such statements are not specific, not easily measurable, perhaps more aspirational than achievable, they may not even seem that realistic at times, and they are certainly not time-based. They give us wriggle room, room to be human and to appreciate where we are and what we have right now. Such statements give us a chance to avoid Joni Mitchell’s warning that “you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”. Maybe such fuzzy goals are called purpose.

So setting a goal means accepting we are not happy at the moment, and we will stay unhappy until we achieve the goal, but when we achieve our goal, we will get a sense of anti-climax because we’ve already discounted our changed circumstances! So what do we do? We set yet more goals, and before we know it, we are goal addicted and condemned to thinking that happiness is some elusive future state. Not a recipe for success or happiness.

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

I like strangling animals, golf and ….

I like strangling animals, golf and ….

Paul Simon began “have a good time” with “yesterday it was my birthday…”. Well that was in the 1970s and you couldn’t get your LED watches to work properly, the batteries kept running out. So we can forgive Mr Simon for being a day late with his birthday…probably waiting for Arty’s card to arrive. Anywhere where was I, yes, well, um, today it is my birthday, and I am still far younger than I look. I thought my age would one day catch up with my looks, but I have to take my hat off to my looks, they are doing a creditable impression of a 1970s kenyan long distance olympic runner – miles ahead of the pack before collapsing in an undignified heap shortly before being passed by the whole field – story of my life… How where was I? Yes,…well… everyone needs a hobby don’t they? They say that idle hands end up in front of the magistrate, or at least that was what my probation officer said, or was it my psychiatrist, I can’t remember… I am getting old you see. Anyway enough of channelling Frankie Howerd and on with the piece for today…no don’t, I thought of it too!! It’s on hobbies…enjoy. I will be in Melbourne when this gets published, I wonder if Jimmy Watson’s is open tonight…

If you want to get shortlisted for your next job, can I suggest that you take up Touch Football? However if you like camping or waterskiing, do not bother applying. These odd sounding recommendations come from some work that myself and a colleague in the recruitment industry, Kate Day undertook looking at the different hobbies that candidates had listed on their resumes and whether or not they were subsequently shortlisted for the job. We looked at a total of 999 candidate resumes that were submitted to a recruitment company for a variety of different jobs. Around 50% of the resumes listed hobbies, but it appears that there are differences across industry sectors in the tendency to include hobby information. For instance, Sales people obviously love their hobbies with 57% listing them on their resumes. In contrast only 32% of the Human Resource people those listed hobbies. Maybe the sales types have more spare time, or perhaps the Human resource people follow their own guidelines and stick only to the job relevant information.

A total of 159 different hobbies were listed across the resumes. The top ten most frequently listed were: 1st reading, 2nd travelling, 3rd Golf, 4th Tennis, 5th Swimming, 6th listening to, music,7th family ,8th rugby, 9th snowsking, = 10th fishing and going to the gym. Some of the least frequent included collecting cigarette cards, washing the car, tap dancing and keeping reptiles.

When it comes to getting shortlisted not all hobbies are equal. The ten best hobbies that were associated with resumes that got shortlisted were: Touch football, Squash, Cricket, Cooking, Wine, Rugby, Motor racing, Tennis, Socialising and Biking. When these hobbies were included, the chances of being shortlisted was increased by between 24% and 147%.

The worst ten hobbies to include turned out to be (from least worst to worst): Golf, Walking, listening to music, theatre, movies, art/craft, bushwalking, entertaining, camping and water skiing. Including those suckers on your resume was associated with a reduced chance of being shortlisted by between 28% and 73%.

So perhaps Monty Python were right and golf (along with strangling animals) is not that popular around here. Before the Camping Water Skiers Association of Australia confront me with a tent pole or “goofy feet”, I should point out that the survey although reasonably big may not be totally representative.

Interestingly, the desirable hobbies were on average slightly more likely to be included on resumes generally (average ranking 21) compared to the undesirable hobbies (average ranking 28). However, the most commonly listed hobbies such as reading and travelling were associated with only negligible impacts on shortlisting (+1% and -3% respectively). In other words, you are probably wasting your time listing these hobbies.

What are hobbies for? Are they an escape from the stresses of our day jobs, a coping mechanism to provide the rewards that our work cannot give us? Alternatively are they a dry run for a future radical career change, a try before you buy, or are they a means to an end? The answer is probably all of the above, and there is no straight answer to whether you should turn your hobby into work. For some it is likely to be a dream come true, and for others, it is a sure fire recipe to turn your escape into drudgery. As for whether you should include them on the resume or not, we found that overall including hobbies made no difference to your chances of getting shortlisted, but if you do include hobbies, some seem to be more popular for whatever reason than others.

A recruiter once told me, you should do a lot with your life to ensure that you have something to put on your resume. Maybe we should just aim to do a lot with our lives and not worry about putting it on the resume!

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

Some management myths exploded

Most of us have had to endure some of the extremes of management dogma throughout our careers, and most of us submit to some form of performance management at work. If you ever suspected that some of hoops you were made to jump through were unnecessary, unhelpful or unfair, then you might want to make Jeffrey Pfeffer your pin up boy. Jeffrey Pfeffer is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at Stanford University in the USA. He has been visiting Professor at some of the most celebrated business schools such as Harvard, London and Singapore. In March this year he provided testimony to the US House of Representatives on the management of the US Government workforce. What he said about management is based on evidence, and it may surprise you. Below I present some of the key myths he identified in his testimony (his full testimony is available at

stack of cards

1. Equity ownership by management improves company financial performance.

There have been lots of examples of apparent corporate excess involving senior managers cashing in or being rewarded with large numbers of shares in the companies they manage. The usual explanation for this is that it improves company performance. However Pfefer maintains there is little or no evidence to support the practice, he writes :“More than 200 studies on the effects of senior management equity ownership on company financial performance finds no effect” (pp6).

2. Downsizing improves company performance by delivering greater flexibility.

Flexibility is the watchword of modern organisations. Understandably in a globalized competitive market, being able to adapt to meet continually changing and unpredictable demands is important, and having a flexible workforce is likely to be a key element in the flexibility recipe. However, the “lean and mean” philosophy of reducing the workforce through downsizing is apparently not the way to go according to Pfeffer: “systematic reviews of the evidence find little positive effect from downsizings and, instead, much evidence of problems and various adverse consequences. There is, as reviewed by Wayne Cascio, no evidence that corporate downsizings increase productivity or stock price, reduce costs, stimulate innovation, or make organizations more successful. Nonetheless, such activities persist, providing yet another example of a widespread management practice that is apparently growing in prominence in spite of, not because of, the evidence for its effectiveness.” Pp7

3. Individuals create performance

This seems an almost self-evident truth and not a likely candidate for myth status. It is certainly true that individuals create individual performance, but nearly all work tasks are inter-connected and inter-dependent, results rarely come from a person working in isolation, but rather they are due to the diffuse and complex interaction of people working together within a bigger system. Performance emerges due to strategy, clear objectives, training, career development practices, social and technical support. Systems create performance not individuals. Pfeffer cites Toyota as an example of a successful company that has succeeded in spite of not having individual pay for performance in its factories or large financial rewards for its executives.

4. We can measure individual performance reliably.

Most work tasks are complex and interdependent on the performance of others. Most performance measures are subjective and Pfeffer cites research that shows that those who conduct the performance appraisals systematically rate higher people they personally hired than those they inherited when they assumed the position. This is because the managers were more psychologically committed to their hires compared to the staff they inherited. How often have you seen the “dream team” who were brought in by the boss and seemingly can do no wrong?

5. Creating wide differences between the best and worst paid in organizations is motivational and improves organisational effectiveness. This is a line that many consultancies push, with motherhood statements about rewarding success allied to instilling fear that if you do not, you’ll lose your precious talent. However, an inspection of the evidence suggests this is not correct. Over to Pfeffer: “In even individualistic settings such as baseball teams and university faculties, the evidence is that the greater the dispersion in individual pay, the lower the performance. In less individualistic settings with even higher levels of task-related interdependence, such as companies, the evidence is that greater pay dispersion is also associated with diminished quality and financial performance.” Pp12

Pfeffer’s general point is that much that is done in the name of management is based on nothing more than “casual benchmarking” (uncritically copying competitors management practices) or simply following fashion. He compares it to the attachment in medicine some time back to the practice of blood-letting. If we can encourage more managers to adopt evidence-based practices, it could lead to better management, better career development, and more financially successful organizations, and who is going to object to that?

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

I can’t stand meetings

I have decided that I have become unemployable. This does not reflect some mid-life crisis of confidence, rather I have just realised that every career move I have made has been the result of near death experiences in meetings. Now no mad machete wielding colleague has jumped across the board table in response to one of my highly witty interjections, nor indeed have I had to remove the knife from the shoulder blades (that happens before and after meetings). Rather I have had to apply to myself the mental equivalent of a “Packer wacker” defibrillator to prevent a potentially fatal attack of boredom or I have had to execute the reverse Heinrich manoeuvre to block my throat to prevent an uncontrollable diatribe of derision and frustration.

For a start there are those people who haven’t got a clue how to run a meeting. They would not know a point of order from a standing order, and inevitably they end up chairing the meeting. The trouble is their idea of a chair, is the type that you sit in when you fly to London – in other words, you may as well settle in because you are going to be here for another 22 hours. So the chair hasn’t got a clue, and possesses the organisational prowess and sense of timing of a Qantas takeover bid. The only people I hate more than the meeting ignoramuses are those who know all the rules. And I mean all the rules.

This is the catastrophic bore who can tell you (and will do so at the drop of a piece of headwear) about the rules for getting the floor and the difference between when a debatable question is immediately pending and when an undebatable question is immediately pending and when no question is pending. It is a debatable point, no question about it, whether one’s only course of action is to lie down on the floor and go to sleep, or floor the bore and storm out.

At least it can be vaguely amusing to see the bore tear strips off the hapless chair who has about as much control over the proceedings as George Michael behind the wheel of a car. Even that scant pleasure is denied us when we have to sit in the dreaded teleconference. “Hello are we all here?”, “We don’t know David, how can we tell?”, “oh I am not sure, err..”, “why don’t you get everyone to go around and introduce themselves?”, “who said that?”, “It is David”, “David?”, “yes”, “oh hello David why don’t you start?”, “ Hello I am David”, silence,”Who wants to go next?”, “who said that?”, “I think it was David”, “yes it was David”, “which David?”, “David from Dapto”, “is there another David then?”, “yes me”, “who said that?”, “David”.. At this point you pop out to the shops, purchase a 4 litre cask of Premium Unleaded Fruity Lexia, come home, have a bath, and rejoin the conversation to hear David berating David the chair over a point of order regarding whether the last motion was passed on a show of hands, and if so who saw them….

Then there is all that false politeness in meetings. “David was talking about the Fig and Prune surprise package, and I think that is very worthy, and I’d just like to add to that David if I may, that we might want to consider the Rhubarb Brick”. Which is code for: your idea stinks and it obvious to any fool that my idea is a winner.

Meetings seem to have 5 purposes – to present the illusion to the slow-witted that the decisions haven’t already been made and that their view counts; to present the illusion to others that you are actually doing something about the problem; to present the illusion that the chairperson is really important and running the show; to provide people with an excuse to fly on expenses inter-state; or finally, to provide an excuse to wield power by forcing others to rearrange their schedules and lives on one’s say so. No real decisions get made in meetings other than personal ones such as to leave the company immediately or to take up a second career as a mass murderer.

The final word on meetings should go to author Douglas Coupland who said: “the three things you can’t fake are erections, competence and creativity. That’s why meetings become toxic they put uncreative people in a situation in which they have to be something they can never be. And the more effort they put into concealing their inabilities, the more toxic the meeting becomes. One of the most common creativity-faking tactics is when someone puts their hands in prayer position and conceals their mouth while they nod at you and say, ‘Mmmmmm. Interesting.’ If pressed, they’ll add, ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’ Then they don’t say anything else.”

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

Gen Y are they really a genetic mutation?

Richard Glover wrote in his column about the lies and generalisations spread by motivational speakers. He particularly focussed on the lucrative market of motivating so-called baby-boomers to work either harder or slower depending upon the prevailing winds of cod-intellectual fashion. What really caught my eye however was his point that these speakers use a one-size-fits-all template to characterise baby boomers. When I think of baby boomers I think of chardonnay. I don’t know why, but I just get an image of baby boomers blowing their superannuation on chardonnay. Now baby boomers, like chardonnay are no longer so fashionable in the employment world, where instead the obsession is Gen Y and Sauvignon Blanc.

Organisations are spending the equivalent of the gross domestic product of Peru on learning about the mysteries of this new generation, while presumably learning to abandon big buttery wines for something all together more crispy and grapefruity. We are getting bombarded by a load of nonsense about the needs, values and expectations of this so-called group and led to believe that there are genuine differences when compared to older generations. The trouble with nearly all of this type of analysis is that it completely overlooks individual differences and variations, and encourages managers to treat this cohort in a homogenous and ultimately impersonal manner.

It is interesting that we seem to be so tolerant of reducing people to demographic stereotypes associated with generations. It is perfectly acceptable in a meeting to smile knowingly saying, “ah yes, such typical Gen Y behaviour!”. Try replacing the label “Gen Y” with “old persons”, “female”, “gay”, “male”, “ginger”, “Eastern Suburbs” at your next meeting, and enjoy the experience of being sacked on the spot.

When you examine some of the research that is produced in support of these alleged demographic differences, you realise just how flakey a lot of it is. Firstly, there are the studies that compare caterpillars and butterflies. In these studies a bunch of twentysomethings are interviewed about their attitudes concerning work, the world and everything. Then a bunch of fifty year olds are interviewed about the same stuff and their answers compared. Lo and behold, the research shows that older folks are obsessed with money, mortgages, superannuation and job security whereas the younger folks are obsessed with Snoop Dog, freedom, altruism and hair wax. Conclusion – the generations are different. But what we don’t get is a true comparison with those older folk when they were young. If we could turn back time maybe we’d find that the self-focussed, security craving, money obsessed person was actually a Saturday night fever disconista.

The slightly more sophisticated research actually asks the older folks to recall how they were 20 or 30 years before. Of course nobody wants to admit to wearing flares and medallions, and so what the researchers hear is a carefully constructed narrative that serves the purpose of supporting the individual’s identity in the here and now. In other words it is a story about stability, security, industry and diligence. The apparent differences between the stories of the young and old are then presented as evidence of generational difference while conveniently overlooking inconvenient truths such as the very high levels of ownership of that Gen Y icon – the Ipod – amongst Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (apparently including the Pope, George Bush and the Queen).

When I think back to the friends who gathered for coffee at university in the 1980s I find it difficult to apply any meaningful demographic label; the sexist engineer became a tree-hugging feminist environmentalist, the Thatcher loving social conservative became a union representative and came out, the one whose mother used to cut his hair turned criminal, the cricket lover still hasn’t held down a permanent job, the rebel biker was the first to settle into a ‘real’ job, marry and have kids, the egg-head academic now sells soap powder, and the straight-laced northern girl was last heard of running group sex parties in London.

Like Richard Glover’s motivational speakers, what is missing here is the importance of recognising the individual and respecting their individuality. We should be encouraging managers and organisations to take the time to understand what matters to individual employees, and not encouraging them to see their staff as herds of demographically defined cattle. It is about individual differences stupid.

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy