The Business of Inclusive Leadership (episode 1)
Download The AGSM Business of Leadership podcast today on your favourite podcast platform.
This episode examines inclusive leadership and diversity from the perspective of leaders who are creating new business models that reflect evolving market demand and opportunity
To successfully lead an organisation or business, it's important to have access to a wide range of perspectives. As this podcast continues to explore how leaders can see the world differently, we turn our attention to the subject of inclusive leadership.
In this episode, we explore diversity in leadership from the perspective of people creating new business models that reflect evolving market demand and the opportunity to contribute to a more progressive society. For organisations, diversity initiatives not only have important social benefits, but pursuing inclusive business practices is key for innovation.
Host Emma Lo Russo is joined by Professor Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School. Nick shares his perspective on how leaders can adopt a more inclusive mindset and unlock new perspectives and a richness of ideas within their organisations.
We also hear from Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM, who shares her insights into the organisational and societal impact of programs designed to tap into the unique benefits of neurodiversity.
Emma is also joined by Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors, an organisation providing support to returning special forces personnel. Quentin speaks to the value veterans can bring to corporate life.
- Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School.
- Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM
- Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors
Emma Lo Russo: Welcome to The Business Of…
I’m your host Emma Lo Russo, and this leadership podcast is brought to you by the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW Business School.
As we continue to explore how leaders can see the world differently we turn our attention to the subject of inclusive leadership, and explore diversity in leadership from the perspective of people who are creating new business models that reflect evolving market demand and the opportunity to contribute to a more progressive society.
To successfully lead an organisation or business, it's important to have access to a wide range of perspectives. Diversity initiatives not only have important social benefits, but pursuing inclusive business practices is key for innovation.
For this episode, I’m joined by Professor Nick Wailes, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean at the UNSW Business School. Nick shares his perspective on how leaders can adopt a more inclusive mindset. We’ll also hear from Belinda Sheehan, Senior Managing Consultant and Manager of the Neurodiversity program at IBM. Also in this episode, I speak to Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors, an organisation providing support to returning special forces personnel.
Emma Lo Russo: Welcome, Nick, today to The Business Of.
Nick Wailes: Thanks for having me.
Emma Lo Russo: I'm really curious, I'm sure there's so much for you to share, including not just for leaders, but also reinvention of education with this lens. But let's start with the AGSMs purpose, which is to equip a new generation of leaders to make an impact in the accelerating world. What do we mean when we say new generation?
Nick Wailes: So Emma, I think you know, and most of your listeners know that there's hardly an industry or a sector where we're not going to have to do things differently in the future. What made us successful in the past is not going to be enough to make us successful in the future, our world's changing too rapidly. And a new generation of leaders are going to have to lead this change. They're going to have to innovate, they're going to have to think of new ways of doing things, but they're also going to have to take people with them.
They have to take their societies with them, and they're going to have to unlock all of the resources available to them in an organisation. I think today we're going to talk about diversity, and I think that's one of the great resources that organisations have. And their ability to unlock that will set them up to be successful in the future.
Emma Lo Russo: So really when we say new generation, it's not so much age or a period of time we go through, it's a mindset, including how you think about diversity?
Nick Wailes: Yeah. It's definitely a mindset, but it's also the time we're in now. So if you came into a managing role in the 1950s, you could be reasonably certain that the next 10 or 20 years were going to be similar, and there was going to be consistency. But I think the environment we're in now means that that's not true. And it's our adaptability and our resourcefulness and our ability to lead people through change that's going to make a real difference.
Emma Lo Russo: So where does diversity play in our ability to lead and manage this change, and where are we missing voices in that platform?
Nick Wailes: So I think despite efforts in the past, too many management and leadership teams are male, pale and stale, and they're really missing out. Organisations are really missing out when they don't take advantage of all the resources and all the capabilities they could have. I don't know if you remember back to your MBA studies, but the best classes were the ones where you had students from lots of different backgrounds, with lots of different perspectives.
And you got a richness of ideas, different ways of looking at a problem, and an incredible cross-fertilisation. And I don't know about you, but I think any organisation that can unlock that capability, have more than one answer to a question, new ideas and different perspectives, they're going to do a lot better. So I think diversity is critical. In many ways, I think it's going to be organisations’ superpower. But the challenge is, how do you unlock it, and how do you make sure you get the most out of it?
Emma Lo Russo: Which is my next question. How do organisations unlock that capability?
Nick Wailes: I think they have to do a couple of things. So firstly, it matters who's in the room, or who's in the organisation. So you need to make sure that you actually recruit broadly, you bring in different perspectives. There's been some emphasis on gender equality and there has been some improvement there, but many organisations haven't really done a great job on culturally or linguistically diverse people from those different backgrounds.
So you need to actually consciously bring diverse people into the organisation and give them leadership roles. But we all know that just bringing different people together is not enough. You've got to work quite hard at unlocking that connection between them, and getting those people to feel comfortable and included in working together. So I think for organisations, it's not just a matter of changing who your workers are or who your leaders are, it's also having strategies and practises in place that allow you to get those groups connected, feel comfortable with each other and working together effectively.
Emma Lo Russo: So given we do have this new generation of leaders and take this on board, from getting that diverse thought and space to have those voices, what do you see are those practises?
Nick Wailes: So firstly, I think leaders need to know themselves. So they need to understand their own biases, and there's a lot of work being done on unconscious bias. But it's really important for leaders to understand that they have taken for granted or things that they don't really realise that they do, that might exclude others. So that's a really important point.
Second is create opportunities. So lots of organisations, their progression and their promotion paths, really reward a certain type of person or create certain types of outcomes. And diversifying that and ensuring that there are lots of opportunities for people from different backgrounds to get into leadership and important roles is important. And the third one I think is creating connection. It's actually thinking to yourself consciously as a leader, just because I have a diverse group here, doesn't mean that they're automatically going to get along, or they're automatically going to understand each other. So you actually need to programme that into your decision making.
Give people the opportunity to connect, to build connections with each other, to understand that that person from that different background has great things to offer at decision making, and really think about it as a development process in the organisation. If you put the right amount of time and effort into that development process, the business place is really clear. More diverse organisations are more successful. If you look at the global financial crisis, there's a clear line between organisational diversity and performance in that organisation. And in the world that we're going into and we're operating in, having the ability to be able to unlock new ideas and new perspectives is going to be critical to our success.
Emma Lo Russo: I'm curious about the bias. I mean, I'm a big believer, I've tried to build diversity into Digivizer's culture here in my own work practise, and I think it's absolutely an advantage, particularly in going global and talking to different customer audiences, having that empathy, natural empathy. How do you build that confidence that the voices that are being brought, there's something to learn and that unconscious bias is being either recognised by each of them, and also removed by those that are listening?
Nick Wailes: I think one of the most interesting experiments that I saw run was run by Deloitte, where they had their senior partners and they set up reverse mentoring with young technology savvy hires into their business. And they knew they needed to shift their senior partners' technology capabilities, and the way to do that was to partner them with young hires. But the real benefit they got out of that was not just the technology skills transfer, but was helping those partners understand this new generation of consumers, and the new generation of decision makers. That was an example of where you can use a specific programme or a specific way of doing things to build those connections or build those bridges.
So I think the challenge is, how do you think about ... how do you bring that older generation's perspective and show the value of it to your younger workforce? And that means, as a leader, you have to craft that situation. It's not going to happen automatically, and you've got to think about, are there instances where you could do it?
Emma Lo Russo: I think particularly in challenging times like this, experience starts to have greater value to those that might not have seen it. The other aspect, which I'm curious to hear your views on is when you're going to a global audience. Where do you see diversity play in, giving you the advantage if you've bought that thinking in, or when does it not work?
Nick Wailes: I think it's critical, and actually Australia has got an enormous asset. If you think about our population, we have people who've migrated from all over the world. And particularly thinking about where we are, Australians with an Asian background or recent migrants from Asia make-up a significant percentage of Australia's population. Why wouldn't you tap into that resources if you wanted to be successful in those markets? I think there's a really clear imperative around that. And I think once businesses understand that, they then need to think about, how do I take advantage of that?
So there's a large financial service's provider in Sydney that has support for it's Asia business here, because this is the only place you can find 26 different language groups. And the cost of labour is high here, but the quality of their assets and the quality of the capabilities they can bring in. And I think for any business thinking about operating globally, and operating in new markets, if you can go in your own backyard and find some insight and some expertise around that, why wouldn't you do that? So I think there's really clear, particularly for globalising businesses, diversity and the ability to be able to work across cultures is critical, we know that's critical to their success. You need to build that into your organisation in all parts of it, and all stages of it.
Emma Lo Russo: When we look at technologies like AI and Machine Learning, where does digital transformation, diversity, being able to adapt and consider this come into play? What are you seeing and where do you think the caution and opportunities are?
Nick Wailes: For most industries, technologies have critical paths that they've hit their way forward. So most industries are being eaten by software, and technology plays a part in them being successful in the future. But there's a real problem there, because the technology industry has a massive diversity problem. Even if you just look at the workforce dominated by young white men. So I think the statistics are that, even in Silicon Valley, in some organisations, less than 10 per cent of the workforce are female. If you look at other markers of diversity, African-Americans are less than 4 per cent of the workforce in some of those large tech firms.
That's going to have a big impact because it's the life experience of those people who are building the products, who are making decisions about what the software should run, and what the experience should be. It's only going to represent a very narrow slice. And that's a profound problem, if as a business you want to just serve a diverse customer base. But your core products and your core way of reaching that customer base is built by this very rarefied unusual group of people.
Even more problematic, I think, is the growth of AI. So increasingly, the technology that we will rely on will have AI built in. So this will be automated decision making where the computer makes a decision, rather than a human, about a whole range of important things. And AI is inherently biased. Most AI is based on a logarithm, and a logarithm is in effect a simplification of reality to make decision making easier. And in simplifying the reality, the biases are going to get built in.
One way that AI is problematic is that, the wider you train a bot, build a logarithm or get an AI to work as you give it old data, you feed it old data, and then it learns how to make decisions, and then you use that to then go and make decisions in the future. But lots of the old data that we're giving these machines has got a whole lot of biases built into it. So really, simply, you might feed in text or examples of customers, and the machine might learn that teachers are women and doctors are men, because that's the data that has been fed into it.
Nick Wailes: And then it's going to make assumptions in the future where, if it comes across a case someone says they're a teacher, they'll ascribe a gender to it or they'll make decisions. And these systems, their influence is profound. So they will determine whether we get a job, whether we get a loan, whether we get an insurance policy, how are we going to be treated as a customer, all these types of things. And they have this inherent bias built into them. And we need to think very carefully about that, and what we can do about managing that.
Emma Lo Russo: Have you seen any successful examples where the bias has been removed in those learning sets?
Nick Wailes: There are some examples. I think the important thing is that organisations that are aware of this are actually ensuring that they have processes in place to take out bias. They'll run testing, they'll retrain and they'll run a whole series of critical incident reports, so that they're aware that bias is built in. Lots of these things are quite privately held, building a bot and those types of things, so it's hard to find examples of that. There are high profile examples where, Google for example, has had to pull facial recognition software because clearly it had bias built into it, and they realised.
But I think for all of us, we're going to have to think ... in business, when we're thinking about these incredibly powerful tools, we're going to have to think about, what are the strategies we're going to put in place to manage that bias and ensure that it doesn't derail our business or produce terrible outcomes. Part of that is going to be transparency. Actually being clear about, where we're using AI, how we're training it. And so that people can look at it and externally audit it, so that they can raise questions if there are problems.
Emma Lo Russo: I'm curious in the role of education, which I feel like I can ask you, right? What does the future of education look like when you're needing to build in this ethical diversity, unbiased thinking, but also highly adaptable to this change? Needing that balanced reflection of thought, what are you thinking about and what has to happen?
Nick Wailes: Two ways to think about that. So one is, what's the content of education, and what's in our curriculum? I think there are really positive development over the last 15 years. And something that I hope will continue to develop is a movement away from just technical knowledge, to getting people to think about the broader context in which they make decisions. It's not enough to be able to solve an equation or come up with a clever solution to something, it's also about thinking about how that solution will play out in a real world, where there is multiple stakeholders and lots of complexity and those types of things. So in our education, and I see this across a lot of management education, there's just a movement away from that narrow technical knowledge to a broader contextualised knowledge.
Nick Wailes: And that then brings in important considerations about, what's the social impact of the types of things that I'm considering? What's the sustainability impact? How does that set the business up for the long-term? All of these types of questions need to be raised. And you know from being in business that you don't just get to make a financial decision. You make a business decision, which has got multiple layers, and you always have to be thinking about these things. So that shift, I think is really positive because it's equipping people to make better decisions in the real world and to be more effective leaders.
The second change which I think is incredibly positive is, how more diverse our classroom is, and the backgrounds of the people that are coming into our programmes. Long gone are the days where MBA classes are mainly people from banks and consulting and resource industries. We now have people from a really broad set of sectors, from startups, from not-for-profit, for purpose organisations, from fast-growing technology firms, from banks and all those other areas. And it's actually that diversity, the range of different experiences and the range of different perspectives that people have, that's incredibly valuable education experience.
We all know that you can learn a lot from your industry by looking at adjacent industries and what's going on there. And seeing how that might play out in your industry, whether it's disruption or those types of things. The education now, we're actually bringing all of those experiences together, so you get insight into lots of different perspectives. And I think it makes the classroom a great place to teach in, but it's a fantastic learning environment and a big improvement on what might've been there 20 years ago.
Emma Lo Russo: What steps would you recommend to a leadership team or to an individual leader, to check their bias or ensure that the environmental culture they're building is diverse right from the outset?
Nick Wailes: I think something that's critical to our programmes and I think it's important in all leadership is self-awareness. So really first and foremost, investing in an understanding about what you're good at, and your areas for development. And there's lots of different ways of doing that, but I think that all good leaders are people who are always working on themselves, in some way or other. They've got an area that they want to get better at or a strength that they want to build on. So I think that mindset is a critical foundation. I think a second thing is really actively seeking feedback in your organisation. Not sitting in your office and making decisions, but by engaging with people, getting feedback and really building that into how you think about your organisation.
And then third is, it's the behaviours you signal. So if you're really clear yourself that you ... certain decision you made, or something you did exhibited bias, is calling yourself out. If you do that as a leader in your organisation, then it gives other people permission to do that as well. So I think these are things that are inherent to good leadership. That self-reflection, feedback and behaving and walking the talk that you want. But I think now they're becoming even more critical.
Emma Lo Russo: Nick, thank you so much for your time today. I feel like I've learned a lot. I feel there's probably questions to build into 360 degree feedback, to really get that feedback at all levels..
Nick Wailes: Well, thank you, Emma. It's been a pleasure.
Emma Lo Russo: Thank you.
Some fascinating insight there from Nick Wailes as well as some practical advice for how we as leaders can unlock new perspectives and a richness of ideas within our organisations.
Belinda Sheehan manages the neurodiversity program at IBM and shares her insights into the organisational and societal benefits of programs designed to tap into the unique benefits of neurodiversity. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Belinda, welcome to the Business Of.
Belinda Sheehan: Yeah. Thanks, Emma. It's fantastic to be here. It’s a topic I’m very passionate about so I’m very happy to share.
Emma Lo Russo: I'm really curious to hear, how has diversity changed at IBM over the past 22 years that you've been there?
Belinda Sheehan: So in my 22 years, I have been seeing huge amount of changes because IBM has a long history of diversity and inclusion. It's been going for over a hundred years. The small change that I've seen is now that we're also encompassing neurodiversity. And when I'm talking about neurodiversity, that's the concept where neurological differences are to be recognised and respected like any other human variation. And these differences we're talking about are autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and a few others. So that's the change in the journey for IBM. So we've got that long history and now we've just extended it into neurodiversity.
Emma Lo Russo: Before I dig deeper into the programme and learnings and you've led this in particular. I'm curious, do you see this as something for technology and technology helping neurodiverse people play to their strengths or is this something universal?
Belinda Sheehan: So in terms of roles for people who are neurodivergent, they would be encompassing many different roles, not just technology. As I've seen people who are neurodivergent being able to be successful in the arts and in music and even in the trades. So I think that we shouldn't just pigeonhole them just into technology. Definitely, we've had an advantage, but that's only one small part.
Emma Lo Russo: Well, let's unlock that advantage. So tell me more about the programme that you've been running since 2016.
Belinda Sheehan: So the neurodiversity programme in IBM is a global programme. I'm working with global leaders in other countries to expand our way of hiring neurodivergent people. In terms of the way we started here in Australia, because that's a particular importance to us, and that's the part that I'm running, is that we started in 2018 and we partnered with Specialisterne. Specialisterne are a third-party dedicated to help source, assist and ongoing support of autistic people into the workforce. And they've been doing this around the world for the last 15 years. So we partnered with them and last year we did our sourcing and assessment and we brought 10 people on into IBM. So our 10 new colleagues are in things like SAP developer, blockchain developer, cloud engineer, we've got testers and also automation specialists. So again, understanding their skills, understanding their interests and actually looking at what their knowledge is and aptitude and placing them in those roles accordingly. It's been a great journey.
Emma Lo Russo: What are some of the outcomes that have happened since they've been placed?
Belinda Sheehan: So we have seen some huge things that are happening in terms of some of the characteristics that neurodivergent people are known for is attention to detail, unique problem solving, thinking outside the box, dedication and huge focus. Now we're seeing all of those things. So we've got people in automation coming up with unique ideas to solve the problems that our clients are facing. I was hearing from the team leads that they just could not get enough work to this person because they were just powering through the work. They're just dedicated. And I only recently in this week, I was talking to one of the leads and he said he's got a couple of people in his team doing two different roles. And they're doing a great job. And that's because they've got this huge focus. So we are seeing the benefits are for the client.
Emma Lo Russo: What did you have to teach or how did you bring this across your colleagues so that they could understand those benefits and to bring this programme alive?
Belinda Sheehan: That's a good question. So when we engage with Specialisterne, besides during the sourcing and assessment and ongoing support, they also did some training. So our first cohort here for Australia, we dedicated some training for all of the 450 people there in Ballarat. And there was a couple of sessions where they talked about what it is to have a neurodiverse colleague. We've also in IBM developed a training course online that anybody can view and have a look at. And there was also a lot of time I spent in sort of coaching team leads, project managers and other team members about the differences in how to work with each individual. The other interesting thing that we also found, was as we were sharing the stories and talking about what we were doing, so many people came out and shared their story about their son or their daughter or their sibling or niece and nephew.
So it was a lot of sharing of those stories. And even as I was placing people in different roles, in different teams, people were continuing to share their story. And what that meant is we already had a lot of awareness and acceptance in our IBM family. That was about awareness and acceptance. In terms of making sure each individual felt safe and secure and in a positive environment, we also understood their unique sensory characteristics that we might've had to attend to. We made some adjustments. Each individual's different, so they all had to be different. Then some of the things we did was we purchased really good noise-cancelling headphones for people with a sensory of sound. We created quiet spaces where they could work and we balance it out with some work at home.
We also had some people that were a bit challenged in communication styles. Now that's one of the sort of a trait that is associated with autism, that social skill, having that social anxiety. And for this particular individual, he found it very difficult to communicate verbally. So we just coached his team and he would use the chat. So he would maybe have a WebEx or a Zoom like this, but he wouldn't be on the Zoom. And he would just chat in the chat and ask his questions there. But the great thing as we've seen over this last year, so it's just over a year anniversary when they started, he's able to talk on calls and talk to people. So he's come a long way in this one year. So they're sort of the things that we did in terms of helping people settle in after they started.
Emma Lo Russo: What have you learned in that 12 months from say someone coming in and the recruitment and at awareness? Where do the benefits start to play out and how do you imagine it's going to change over time?
Belinda Sheehan: Yeah. So in terms of some of the benefits we've seen is we've got this amazing talent. Now, bear in mind, we've got... There's 1 in 50 people out there is neurodivergent and the unemployment rates can be as high as 70 per cent, depending on where you are, which is pretty high. So we've got this huge untapped talent pool. Now IBM's all about hiring based on aptitude and knowledge. So that's what we will need to think about. How do we hire people into those jobs we've got in terms of the business benefits. There's business benefits because those people are delivering for our clients and delivering great work.
And the other benefits we have is besides the client and the business was also seeing the team benefit because our managers who are managing these people are starting to think differently about how do I get the most out of each individual. And that's where it's important. We want to foster an environment where everyone's rights and that's not just our neurodivergent colleagues, that's everyone. So as we would manage and work towards it, that's how we will end up achieving that goal. And as we know, if everybody's thriving, you've got a high-performing team and high-performing teams mean great results for our clients.
Emma Lo Russo: So if you were giving advice to an organisation around launching a similar programme, what advice would you give them? What's the right way to approach this? What are the must haves and the things that you would recommend?
Belinda Sheehan: Yeah, there's quite a few, I think it's important to partner with someone like Specialisterne, so you're getting the right advice and some professional advice. Because there is some challenges. And I think that we need to have the awareness and the acceptance will come from awareness. We need to think differently how we interview. Now with IBM and looking at that now and looking to change the way we interview, so we don't exclude people who are neurodivergent. We need to think differently. So other organisations need to start looking at the way they hire, see if they can change the model they have, partner with someone like Specialisterne, so they can help with sourcing and assessment. And it's all about finding the right person who's got the right skills for your role. So I think that's important.
Emma Lo Russo: And Belinda, if you take that further, what do we need to know about if they are the right person, that we've got that right match. And we're open to that for these organisations, how do we help make sure the candidate is also ready and integrating?
Belinda Sheehan: So there's two parts. I think that's why it's good to partner with someone like Specialisterne because they've got a comprehensive programme about how do we source and assess. And some of these individuals, one of our new colleagues, he'd applied for over a hundred jobs and wasn't able to get any job. And he's only a young person. And he's been doing some wonderful things. So I think we need to do something different the way it's not just that standard one-hour interview, because some people, they've got maybe social anxieties or issues with social communication. So they're not able to be able to sell their skills and abilities. That's why a programme like with Specialisterne allows them to demonstrate them. So that's where the difference is.
I think then there's also your need to make sure there's some people who are aware and understanding, so they know how to make sure that we get the most out of each individual because at the start, there's a little bit of, like most people coming to a new job, there's a lot to understand. You've got to understand the politics. You've got to make sure they've got a buddy and a mentor. And we do that with our grads anyway. And I think that's what other organisations need to do. Maybe it's a little bit more and there's a little bit more touching base with them and to make sure they're okay because they're not always going to share because they're not always sure about things.
One example we had is one of our young men, he just feels that he's not doing good enough. And until they’ve sort of done enough of the work. And then they start to grow their own confidence. And we had that at the start with a couple of the others and they came at a little bit different times, but one person now is one of their key testers. Whereas the other young man is just so conscious, he just wants to do it a hundred percent right. So, but yeah, so I think at the very start, you just need a sort of gentle and supportive environment to make sure they succeed.
Emma Lo Russo: So where do you see your programme going for the next 12 months or 24 months taking the learnings so far?
Belinda Sheehan: So we've already got working with Specialisterne to expand our programme here in Australia and also in the U.S. The organisation is all on board for it. So that's what we want to do. We're seeing the proof is in seeing the success of the individuals that we've already got. And the other fantastic thing you have as you develop your programmes and we continue to do this and we want to just include it as the way we do things is your current cohort are there to help buddy and mentor the new cohort and they're already putting their hands up to do.
Emma Lo Russo: That's fantastic. Yeah.
Belinda Sheehan: That is. And that's really good. So we are onwards and upwards, it's going to continue. And it's a global programme, so I'm working with many other countries around the world to increase our hiring and then change our hiring, so it just becomes a way we do things.
Emma Lo Russo: With those successes and seeing it empowering the team and the learning and probably the skill of the leaders as well. You've got a great platform to continue to grow that out . So thank you very much for sharing the benefits and commend IBM for rolling out and investing in such a programme that I think we can all do, right?
Belinda Sheehan: Well, that's right. I think as leaders, that's what we should be doing. Remember, we've got 1 in 50 that we should be having our teams mirror the community, particularly as we develop our technology. Our solutions need to have all types of people thinking about that solution.
Emma Lo Russo: Well, thank you, Belinda.
Belinda Sheehan: Thank you, Emma.
Emma Lo Russo: It’s an amazing initiative from IBM, I love how Belinda really reinforced the point that neurodiverse people needn’t be pigeonholed into technology, there’s a broad range of skills that can be applied to arts, music and many other fields. It’s important that other organisations think about how to get these initiatives and practices, recognising the benefits of neurodivergent thinking, off the ground.
My final guest for today is Quentin Masson, CEO at Wandering Warriors. Quentin speaks to the value veterans can bring to corporate life and how military personnel can diversify your hiring efforts and introduce powerful skillsets to your organisation.
Quentin, welcome to the Business Of.
Quentin Masson: Thanks, Emma. It's a pleasure to be with you
Emma Lo Russo: Can you provide an overview of Wandering Warriors and your work supporting veterans transitioning back into the civilian life?
Quentin Masson: Wandering Warriors has been around now for about seven years? It's a national veterans charity. It's almost entirely run by volunteers nationally across Australia, and our primary focus is on education, mentoring, respite, and it runs around the terraces that support veterans as they transition out of the military and just civilian life, and we're really trying to give them the tools and education to support that transition and making sure that the families are supported throughout the process.
Emma Lo Russo: For those who might not be aware, what are those challenges that face veterans when they're transitioning back?
Quentin Masson: Look, every individual is very different and depending on the background, the circumstances of every single veteran, they all need an individual approach and support. Some people don't need any support whatsoever and are quite able to transition back out and may already have a range of business interests or other skills that they had prior to joining the military. But others that have served for a long period of time, ranging from five, 10, 15, 20, 30 years, sometimes transitioning back into civilian life, leaving the network that is really solid and is really been a mainstay for their entire military career, leaving that network can sometimes be very daunting. So what we aim to do is provide the tools and the education and a range of other support services, mentoring, to help that transition.
Emma Lo Russo: And you yourself are a war veteran if I understand. What was it like for you?
Quentin Masson: Yeah. So I grew up in South West Queensland, transitioned straight from school, high school, straight into the military, went through the Defence Academy. And whilst I was at the Defence Academy, I spent three years there, the Royal Military College Duntroon and straight into a career as an officer in the military with most of my time being spent in special operations. I was very lucky to serve with some of the most outstanding and amazing group of men and women throughout my career, just under 20 years. But transitioning out, I found it hard just like everyone does, and you've got to find your path into corporate life and what you're going to do next and with four young children to support going through school, everybody needs to put food on the table. So the challenges vary and you have your ups and downs, but the idea is to try and have that network on the outside as we transition to help that process.
Emma Lo Russo: So having gone through it yourself and knowing this is how you're supporting other war veterans transitioning, what are the types of things that we need to think about in helping them make that move into corporate life or civilian life?
Quentin Masson: It's just truly understanding the value that military people and veterans as they transition out, what they can bring to the party for corporate life and the civilian sector, whether you're in a small business or a large corporate, there's a lot of knowledge and skills expertise that the military provides throughout the career, and it's really challenging in some cases to try and capture that, understand it, and translate that into an environment with a new language in business or whatever field of endeavour that that veteran chooses to transition to.
Emma Lo Russo: Are there core skills that are common to everyone that's come from a military background that do apply into corporate and what about the specialist areas? So if you can just talk to me about what is transferable, what's the most obvious?
Quentin Masson: Operational management leadership, they're some of the mainstays and you're selected throughout the military for those skillsets initially as you go in. So it's quite a high selection criteria you're pulling from the top, the central, the population of Australia typically. But if you think about the military operates internationally with some of the most technically advanced capabilities and platforms that are even in the world across the board, and typically that technology transfers at a later point, at some point into the commercial sector or into corporate society internationally. So what you have is essentially a well trained, highly disciplined, typically good leadership skills, really good understanding of working in teams and how to work in close proximity with small teams right through to large dynamic task force, especially if they've seen operational service working under pressure.
But I think some of the key attributes there is really working with some of the latest technology and what we try to focus on is that language and helping the lexicon military and helping convert that into a lexicon of business and helping that transition a little bit smoother and hoping both sides can get a better understanding because sometimes it's the veteran or the military person that has no experience in business so you need to give them a new lexicon language to help translate their skills.
Emma Lo Russo: Is that something that you think organisations can do better, how do organisations help them or what else could be done to help that transition so that they can articulate, find that lexicon?
Quentin Masson: Yeah, well I think one of the key mechanisms that we offer is our scholarship through Wandering Warriors with corporate Australia. And that mechanism allows, almost all organisations today have a corporate social responsibility or a philanthropic perspective to their business where they're giving back to the community. That's a bit of a mainstay in most corporate entities in Australia. Wandering Warrior's obviously the opportunity to partner with us to find an individual for a scholarship and it might be a additional training and the cost of a project management course or an MBA or a technical course, and that allows corporate Australia to, one, help select an individual that might be interested in working for their business, but also giving them some formal education instead of just tipping money into a corporate social responsibility bucket and never seeing again, the return on investment is a lot more bang for your buck and everybody needs to get something out of the equation, we understand that so that's a really good opportunity.
And what we see in that particular circumstance is the corporate and the large, corporate even smaller, medium enterprise building a relationship with the veteran and building the relationship with the network. It's a very large base of human capital in Australia. That's almost in many cases untapped. If you're in the Defence industry, then that's where they draw most of the human capital from, but other parts of corporate Australia I think are largely untapped.
Emma Lo Russo: How would a business or corporate go about actually saying, "I want to now engage this untapped resource." How would they actually go about hiring or looking for some veterans that are looking to transition?
Quentin Masson: Look, there's a number of really fantastic organisations that do that transition placement. So if there's positions that are specifically available now for jobs, that can be advertised. However, where I've found the most success is where we form a partnership with a number of ex-service organisations, us for example, we have a very broad network. And then we sit down with the individual company or corporate entity and sit down and say, "What is it you're after? Are you looking for an executive? Are you looking for some sort of technical expertise?" And once we understand exactly where the human capital deficit is, we can then tailor a targeted approach within the veteran community. So if you say that you're looking for somebody who's cyber, IT background, project management, we know where in Defence within that network to then go and approach people later on the transitioning path already within that space.
And then I think it's trying to capture that veteran population and make it attractive for them to look at a business that they may not have seen before, and a pathway. And sometimes we set up long channel pathways where over a number of years, it's a series of courses, education pathways, but at the same time they've got a full-time job, they might be studying part time or it may be a more reduced period where they want an NBA completed within 16 months for example.
Emma Lo Russo: Have you got some examples of some great transitions?
Quentin Masson: Yeah, sure. So we've had quite a number of people go through our scholarship programme and across a range of training institutions, universities nationally. First it was Christmas Eve, I was on holidays with the family and I got a call from the Australian Graduate School of Management, UNSW, and we found that there was a particular MBA scholarship. We put out a message over the Christmas holidays and a month later that individual had literally started the programme and is doing really, really well.
And I spoke to that particular individual who was a veteran, had done multiple tours to Afghanistan, was a senior NCO, a Sergeant, and basically has been told his 20 year career was coming to an end. And he was sitting there at home scratching his head, trying to work out what he was going to do. And then all of a sudden this opportunity came up and then now he's got a pathway to a completely new approach to how he's going to put food on the table, which is the fundamental, but more so a sense of self worth and direction.
Emma Lo Russo: That's a great example. I've seen firsthand, I've got military relatives that have made the transition, had they created a whole career and then transition into corporate and civilian life. And one of the things that I've seen is that great ability to plan and strategically move resources very fast. Something that I haven't actually seen say in just the corporate world, right? This is a real skill. I also was lucky enough to hear Peter Cosgrove talk about leadership in military and how that could apply to corporate and organisations. I'd love to hear your perspective. What do you think are the really great exposures or the leadership lessons that can be considered by business?
Quentin Masson: I'll give an example. So one corporate that I worked for when I got out after a few years, I was lucky enough to get an executive role and I was put on a leadership course, and it was a trade test day where it was billed as a leadership course run by the entity as a third party came in and we spent all day in front of the computer. I think I spoke to somebody twice for about 10 minutes for the entire day, but the rest of the day was literally problem solving on a computer, responding to emails, doing financial analysis of the company. It was a technical assessment of how you responded and it was basically via keyboard for the entire day. So from 7:00 in the morning, until 6:00 at night. It was a long day.
And at the end of that, I went back to the training team and they said, "How was the leadership course?" And I said, "Well, you might call me old fashioned but that's not my idea of leadership?" And then in contrast you put that into perspective how military veterans are trained in leadership. It's a very formal process, it's operational, it's hands on – if they've had some military service overseas, they've done an operational environment where the dangers are quite significant and the operational imperative cost people lives if you get the wrong approach. So I think in terms of what military veterans can offer corporate, unless you're into really specific traits, typically you'll get somebody who has got a great general overview and a good operational understanding of many different skillsets.
And if they haven't done it in the military, they probably heard about it or they've got a good sense and overarching view of how to pull together really complex tasks and understanding the challenges in delivering that, especially if that's all operational service. But leadership in particular, I think having done that overseas in teams and actually delivered it, that's one of the strongest attributes I think that, particularly Australian veterans, because we treat every single individual – airman, sailor, military army personnel across the board, soldier – as individual leaders, and they're taught leadership formally the entire way throughout the spectrum. Some of the Australian veterans and the military personnel have a global reputation for finding novel solutions to wicked problems and you can trace that all the way back through military history. And that's not some officers sitting at the top telling people how to do the job, it's ingenuity and innovation and thinking and pushing the directive intent to the lowest levels to get the best solution.
So that comes from careful planning, making sure that everyone has team has a clear understanding of the intent while you're there in the first place, because no plan survives first contact as I sat in the military and no plan in corporate life that I've seen goes to plan. And in many cases, a lot of corporate entities I worked for actually don't do any planning. It's very reactionary. And the planning that does occur is more one dimensional. It's people saying, this is what we're going to do, as opposed to having a leadership team sitting, assessing options. Because as soon as you make a decision as a executive leader, as part of a broader leadership team, you're essentially just scanning a range of options that you might not have already considered.
Emma Lo Russo: I loved that phrase novel solutions to wicked problems. It's an interesting kind of thought around that whole diversity of thought and perspectives for an organisation. In what ways do you think veterans are contributing to that which is something we need more of?
Quentin Masson: Yeah, I really think across the board the ability for small teams to pull expertise from individuals where the expertise lies and remove the layers. So if you think about a corporate entity with a very large leadership team, and then there's several layers before we actually get down to the people, it could be 10 layers or even more in large corporates before the actual person doing the job is actually pulling the leave, or actually doing the job on the ground, in the factory floor or doing the actual task that the company is asked or being paid for. So where I think military veterans have a little bit more background and a little bit more insight is that they've done a lot of those operational tasks.
They've dug holes. Everybody digs a hole. Everybody does all those mundane tasks that when you join, and they may not done them for 20 years or 10 years, but they've done them. So they do have an insight, and a lot of those operational activities. I think one having the ability to have insight all the way up and down the span of command and control, being able to communicate effectively up and down the chain. I think that's another really good attribute, and as a leader or as a manager in either organisation listening to your people, because very rarely do you as a leader, have the answer and you'll sometimes be quite surprised by that. You might think you have the answer, but in my experience, if you ask the question and you're willing to listen, you'll often be surprised.
Emma Lo Russo: Would you like to see more of corporate Australia help veterans wanting to make that change maybe as early thinking about what that transition could be or practical help like you talked about? Where are all the different ways they could support you in the organisation?
Quentin Masson: There's a number of mechanisms. The first one is where a corporate entity or a large commercial organisation or small medium enterprise decides to sponsor or provide a scholarship. And that can be with any training situation in Australia, we have a straight pass through so the money comes to us. We have that on the MOU with the corporate entity, they get a tax write off because we're a fully registered charity. We pass that money straight through the training institution and then we go through a series of candidate selection processes which then allows the university to guarantee Wandering Warriors and also the entity, the corporate entity, to jointly select who will be awarded that scholarship, and each one's different. So if the scholarship is awarded by the corporate entity and they want to offer a job at the same time that's where we've seen some of the most success.
The second is whereby the charity itself, so Wandering Warriors provides the scholarship, or the third mechanism is the training institution or university such as AGSM provides the scholarship free of charge. Our long term plan is to build a fund that will provide free education to every single Australian veteran as they transition out. That's our long term goal, managed by Wandering Warriors, backed by state and federal governments, but essentially run administered and supported by corporate Australia.
Emma Lo Russo: It's one I'd love to encourage organisations to think about how they can support that goal because that is an amazing one.
If there was one thing you'd say to CEOs, business leaders, someone looking for their next hire – what would that be?
Quentin Masson: I think if you're not actively engaged with an ex-service organisation, a charity, the first thing I would implore all of corporate Australia is to support veterans across the board in any capacity, be it with Wandering Warriors or anybody else. I think that's just our national obligation. That's the first thing. Secondly, I think transitioning veterans across the board, a huge untapped resource that is really a great opportunity for corporate Australia. Australian businesses, manufacturing, you've got some of the smartest men and women in Australia that have seen service typically operationally or in the world, multiple countries dealt with multiple, cultural differences and think on their feet. It's really a truly high end technical organisation that's delivering capability at the highest level possible.
That's the second thing, and the last one would be make sure that you give each of the veterans the chance to actually learn lexicon because you're not going to get somebody who knows it overnight, but the lexicon of business is challenging in the best of times the people who have been in it for all their life, but somebody who's been in the military, give them a little bit of slack and think about it as a journey and think about it as a pathway to success and you won't be disappointed, I guarantee you that.
Emma Lo Russo: Quentin, I want to thank you for your time today. There's so much opportunity for businesses to unlock what is going to be a growing demand, and as you said an untapped opportunity. Thank you for your time today on the Business Of.
Quentin Masson: Thanks Emma, I really appreciate the opportunity today to discuss all the opportunities as you said that the veteran community can provide corporate Australia, and in closing, thank you very much to yourself, the team and also AGSM for the partnership, the ongoing support and we at Wandering Warriors really appreciate your ongoing commitment to the veteran community so thank you very much.
Emma Lo Russo: That really opened my eyes up, to have Quentin share the opportunity for business to incorporate these amazing veterans who are bringing so much experience in operational management, technological skills and leadership, to bring them into the workforce. But as leaders we do need to recognise that those who come from different backgrounds may need mentorship and recognition around language and other forms to make that successful transition.
Some fantastic perspectives shared by today’s guests. As leaders, it’s important to remember we have an ability to create dialogue, and diversity of thought helps us avoid groupthink.
Change is the one constant for all organisations, and inclusive thought, perspective and opinion is crucial for managing it. As Nick says, what made us successful in the past, is not going to be enough to make us successful in the future.
One of the ways organisations adapt is by noticing what’s going on in the environment and trying new things. We have to ask ourselves, how do we come up with innovative ideas, unless we have a spectrum of ideas to examine?
We’ll talk more about inclusive leadership on our next episode of The Business Of… I’m Emma Lo Russo, thank you for listening.