Free Blended Learning Webinar: It’s question time.

Watching one of those television debates recently, an idea popped into my head. The thought of having  industry experts answering the hot questions from their peers struck a bit of an intrigue chord.

Shortly after, I started working on our Blended Learning event. I’ve always been a big fan of our eduction portfolio – the pace of change is rapid and it’s pretty inspiring to see the fundamentals of teaching and learning transform.

So that’s how the Blended Learning 2014 Webinar was born. It’s pretty straight forward, it’s free to watch and get involved, and we’ll do the hard work by providing an awesome expert panel.

And here it is… Be sure to register and get involved, we’ve had over 300 registrants so far and we’re getting pretty excited:

Ahead of the 3rd Annual Blended Learning Summit we’ve gathered a few of our speakers, leading experts on blended learning practices, to discuss some of the most pertinent topics when it comes to implementing, transitioning and executing a flexible learning program.

We’ll also be taking your questions to be answered during the webinar so if you have a burning question be sure to let us know.

The webinar will be held on 16 July 2014 from 12-1PM (Eastern Standard Time)

What topics will be discussed in the webinar? (15 min each)

  • Implementing flexible learning
  • Managing the change
  • Putting it into practice
  • Q&A

Register for the free Blended Learning Webinar
You will be able to submit your questions upon registering

Our expert webinar panel:

Associate Professor Angela Carbone
Director, Distinguished National Senior Teaching Fellow, Education Excellence
Monash University
Gilly Salmon
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning Transformations
Swinburne University of Technology
Cathy Gunn
‎Deputy Director and Head of the eLearning Group, CLeaR
The University of Auckland

Change is coming to HR… Are you ready?

Business transformation was previously driven by a focus on cost savings. It’s maturing at a rapid pace to focus on the customer, standardising functions where possible to drive efficiency and new service standards.

Any function involving transformation brings the people to the forefront – as a result, HR has become a strong voice in the boardroom.

Last week saw the return of APAC’s largest business transformation event. SSON’s Shared Services and Outsourcing Week really shone the spotlight on HR transformation throughout 2014 and into 2015.

Although we’ve seen a rapid change in the HR function of many organisations over recent years, there’s still plenty on the horizon. A few key areas stood out that I wanted to share with you. There’s also a practical look at some of the tips shared for the most common theme of the event… change management.

Process Standardisation

It’s going to be a tough balancing act between standardisation and specialisation – finding that balance is going to be critical to success.

Without standardisation it’s going to be nearly impossible to use KPIs to chart improvements as the HR function continues to become more strategic. It’s time to start thinking about:

  • How do you balance standardisation vs. specialisation?
  • What is the role of global process owners in standardisation?

Recruitment process

As it gets tougher and tougher to find the right skills to fit the right culture, organisations are starting to think outside the box when it comes to recruitment. With software engineering, energy and life sciences, mathematics, IT, and other technical skills in short supply, companies need to expand their sourcing and recruiting to a global level. That could mean locating work sites where the best talent can be found and building talent networks that attract people worldwide.

A couple of key questions are hot on the lips of many HR execs…

  • Should recruitment be kept in-house?
  • How do you select an RPO partner?

Culture

Long gone are the days when culture was just a nice add-on for organisations. Culture fit is going to have a big impact on recruitment; it’s no longer just about matching skills and salary expectations. This will no doubt be the make or break of many relationships for the organisations choosing to go down the outsourcing path for recruitment.

Enabling flexibility

There have been many studies demonstrating the focus on BYOD and flexible working. This is going to have a huge impact on HR, employees are going to get to choose how they want to work, and the business has to be agile enough to make it work.

Retention

Instead of making HR jobs obsolete, technologies will transform them, allowing HR professionals greater ability and more time to do their jobs and develop their skills improving recruitment and retention.

The key question: How can data be used to drive recruitment and retention practices?

A few of the case studies discussed how 99 per cent of the time on data has been spent looking for it, with 1 per cent left to analyse it and no time to action it. Data has some real potential to improve retention, offering insights to employees – something never before possible.. This won’t just be the fancy software; almost all speakers who have been through HR transformation spoke highly of employee surveys and implementing Employee Value Propositions (EVP).

Keeping momentum

The Hackett Group came armed with some statistics looking at where the focus was for continuous improvement over the next 12 months – talent management was a clear stand out.

Change management doesn’t end at installation; change leaders will have to embed the change principles into the day to day development of employees.

Change Management – The insiders tips.

Without doubt change management is still one of the biggest challenges any organisation faces. It’s clear to see why: process improvement, customer service, technology – it means nothing without happy staff driving it.

Here’s a summary of some key takeaways to consider in your organisation:

  • Drive it from the start. It’s a long term goal with the aim to be customer focused; all employees should respect and value each other and keep that front of mind.
  • Be firm. Don’t be afraid to send a message that if you’re not going to come on the journey for improvement, consider if it’s time to move on.
  • Culture sits next to strategy and operational excellence – build the values from the ground up and spend the time with the staff. All your service efforts are banking on it.
  • Don’t merely lift and shift when it comes to shared services or outsourcing – just because you’ve moved it, doesn’t mean the job is done. Take a look at exactly what the implication is for the business and the staff that work there. Change management and culture might be in the shared service centre, but what’s happening with the people left? The new challenge is to learn how to engage the shared service centre.
  • Be clear on the lines of reporting – your staff will get frustrated if they can’t get responses or outcomes.
  • Standardise where possible – simplify, standardise and leverage. Align the template to your own issues, take the methodology and link it to your own culture or environment. It’s about winning people’s hearts and minds and engaging them in what you’re doing. Using a template doesn’t always account for that – it’s just a starting point.
  • Look at what to use, when to use and how to use – there’s science to change management, and the art comes with how you use it.
  • Use analytics and insights – change can be hard to measure, but it’s not impossible. Use engagement surveys and indicators of satisfaction around sick leave, training, meeting participation and engagement rates. All can provide you with a benchmark to measure success – if that engagement goes up, you’re onto a winner.
  • Be flexible and adapt to your drivers – what drives your employees now might not drive them tomorrow.
  • Finally… Communicate, communicate, then communicate some more.

Accelerated design for new hospital – check out how it’s done.

In the run-up to Health Facilities Design and Development conference, I wanted to explore some of the new case studies on the agenda.

One topic that really stood out is Jeffrey Williams’ presentation in his role as Director of Nursing at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals, in particular the short time it took to get the project off the ground.

I caught up with Jeffrey recently when he gave me a sneak preview on some of the features of the new hospitals, key design innovations and a breakdown of the user group consultation process:

Project overview

Construction of the new 367-bed co-located public and private hospitals has reached 70 per cent, and is on target for a November 2015 opening.

With 307 beds, the public hospital will offer a wide range of services to the communities of Perth’s northern and eastern suburbs and the inner Wheatbelt, while the 60-bed integrated private hospital will offer the choice of private health care.

State and Commonwealth Governments have jointly invested $360 million in the public hospital project that will be operated by St John of God Health Care under a public private partnership agreement. The WA-based private health care operator is investing $70 million in the private hospital.

Fast facts

  • First major hospital facilities to be built in the Midland area in more than 50 years.
  • HASSELL architects and Brookfield Multiplex are the design and construction partners.
  • The public hospital will treat approximately 29,000 inpatients, 55,000 emergency patients and 89,000 outpatients in its first full year of operation.
  • The public hospital will provide an expanded range of services from those provided by Swan District Hospital free of charge to public patients.
  • There will be 367 beds in total – 307 public beds and 60 private beds.
  • The public hospital will have 50 per cent more beds than the Swan District Hospital.
  • More than 1,000 staff will be employed at the hospitals.
  • Easy access will be provided for pedestrians, vehicles, and public transport.
  • On-site parking will include 725 staff bays and 221 visitor bays.
  • Easy drop off and access to the emergency department will be provided.
  • Patients, visitors and the community will enjoy landscaped gardens, courtyards, public art and plazas.
  • The hospitals are being built on an eight-hectare site, four times the size of the Midland Oval.

Accelerated design

The State Government released its expression of interest in September 2010 seeking responses within five weeks.

Post EOI submission, St John of God Health Care continued to work closely with its partners Brookfield Multiplex and HASSELL to develop a design within the allocated budget while awaiting confirmation of our selection to tender for the request for proposal.

Thankfully St John of God Health Care was selected and had a short 20-week window in which to prepare and submit a response.

On 1 December 2011, St John of God Health Care was announced as the preferred tenderer and, following negotiations, signed a contract with the Western Australian Government on 14 June 2012.

During the negotiation phase, St John of God Health Care, Brookfield Multiplex and HASSELL worked closely with the State Government’s consultants to ensure that any major design issues were dealt with at a high level so that construction could start as soon as possible after contractual completion.

This preparation allowed St John of God Health Care to achieve the State Government’s goal of starting work within one month of satisfying the conditions precedent, in August 2012

User group design

While we completed the design very quickly, we could only establish the design user groups after the contract was signed. This led to a concurrent construction and user consultation process that meant we had to focus on those areas where we needed to finalise the design and start building first.

We began a four-step user group process, with each group running between 16 and 20 weeks.

At the first meeting, we presented the users with a schematic design. The architects and builders then took the users’ advice and presented the modified design at the second meeting. The third stage was detailed design when we presented drawings showing room elevations and the position of furniture and equipment. The fourth meeting was a presentation of the final detailed design and allowing the users a last opportunity to highlight any remaining issues.  The detailed design was then signed off ready for construction drawings to begin.

Taking the Emergency Department User Group as an example, the users told us that the waiting room was too small and so we adapted the design accordingly. This process allowed us to drill down into the operational detail by asking them their opinion on matters such as the number of cubicles and the department’s layout.

Accelerated construction

While the user group consultations were taking place, preparatory construction work, such as piling and pouring concrete for the floors got underway. We also made decisions such as the location of wet areas to enable holes to be drilled for the later installation of pipes and drainage.

In those early days, we included around 130 square metres of expansion space on each floor. This built-in flexibility meant that we were well prepared for short-and long term expansion and design changes.

Managing expectations

From the word go, we made it clear to the user groups that the construction budgets were fixed.

The WA Health Clinical Services Planning Framework was a useful tool as some things were a given and did not need to be included in the design discussion.

For example, we had already made sure that we had the right number of beds and could explain to the users that we were working with a 30-bed medical ward, a 24-bed short stay surgical unit, or a 12-bed intensive care unit.  We also knew that St John of God Midland Public Hospital was a Level 4 hospital for cardiology and a Level 1 hospital for intensive care.

We were therefore clear about what we were trying to achieve and this allowed the users to understand the clinical scope so they could focus on how the unit might work and how we could make workflow more efficient.

Innovation in design

We standardised all of the rooms that are common across multiple areas of the hospital. For example, a dirty utility and a clean utility have the same layout in all areas.

We will be using swipe access widely throughout the hospitals for security, including to high traffic areas such as emergency department and restricted areas such as drug rooms.

All patient bedroom ensuite rooms were manufactured offsite as ‘pods’ to a standard, including a standard bedroom pod and a mental health pod, and installed within a short timeframe. While this was cost neutral from a construction perspective, cost and time savings were achieved in the installation.

We decentralised our staff stations, meaning that most ward areas have two or three staff stations instead of one centralised staff station and so clinicians will be closer to their patients.

Finally, we designed to accommodate future expansion. When the State Government issued its proposal for a 307-bed public hospital, they said that the hospital must have the capability to expand to 464-beds by 2021.

The design accommodates expansion in several ways:

1. Intensive Care Unit and Coronary Care Unit

This 12-bed shared unit has six rooms configured for intensive care patients and six rooms configured for coronary care patients. The six coronary care rooms can quickly be converted to intensive care rooms as the required services are already in place and space exists in the adjacent area for 12 coronary care beds to be installed with minimal disruption.

2. Operating theatres suite

The operating theatres suite is designed to cater for the maximum 464-bed capacity with nine theatres and three procedure rooms. These are all of equal size and configuration meaning that the three procedure rooms can easily be converted into theatres, while the procedure rooms can be re-located to a nearby area of the hospital.

3. Private beds

The two 30-bed private wards have been integrated in such a way that when the State Government wants to expand the public hospital from 307 to 367 beds, these can easily be converted into public hospital beds and St John of God Health Care will build a stand-alone private hospital on a nearby site.

4. Additional wing

The expansion to 464-beds can be achieved by adding a new wing extending out from the existing ward block on the northern side of the hospital. Again, this is designed to be achieved with minimal disruption to existing hospital operations.

Lessons learnt

I have two roles and two sets of responsibilities on this project: the first is clinical design and the second is transition and operational readiness. I have learnt lessons across both of these areas.

It was challenging in terms of the limitations on which people within WA Health that we and the other tenderers were allowed not access during the bid preparations. If we were to go through the same process in the future, we would request earlier and wider access to key players in the public sector.

Secondly, we would focus on operational preparedness earlier. While we had a firm view of how we would run the hospital, we did not start working through this in earnest until after the building program started. If we had begun earlier, we would have benefited from additional preparation time.

However, all aspects of the project, including the partnership with WA Health and the North Metropolitan Health Service, in particular, have worked really well. In terms of construction and commissioning, everything is on budget and on track for opening in November 2015

Working in partnership

The traditional public private partnership means the State saves on design, construction and facility management, but continues to deliver the service. As our model also includes clinical services delivery, the State Government can achieve further efficiencies.

Overall, it has been a very positive process, with the focus now firmly on completing construction, operationalising our commissioning program and finalising the details of the patient transfer from the existing Swan District Hospital that will close when the new hospital opens.

Hear more from Jeffrey during his presentation at Health Facilities Design and Development Victoria.

8 lessons learnt from dredging projects

There’s no shortage of hold-ups when it comes to dredging projects, with such a big industry, Australia is full of them. Ahead of Dredging and Reclamation 2014, I caught up with a few project leaders to see where mistakes have been made. Some key areas stood out that I wanted to share with you:

Mapping is key

Financial considerations are hard to overestimate in any project. Developers can often be unwilling to spend money on mapping and monitoring, instead opting for the simplest possible technique. Unfortunately, as you go down the line with this approach, there’s still some surprise when the approvals get rejected. Without the right equipment, the operation tends to go over thresholds or other similar measurements. In the field, the simplest technique doesn’t give you the answer all the time. You’ll only end up having to spend your money on fines and delays instead. Be one step ahead of the regulators and the public.

Transferring risk can end up costing big bucks

Dredging project owners are always looking to reduce their risk, trying to create contracts that transfer risk to the dredging contractor and it doesn’t work. A contractor can decide at some point that they haven’t made enough money, pick an area of AS 2124 and attack it and make a claim. If multiple contractors operate within a wharf or similar structure at the same time, this can cause access issues and lead to further claims.

There’s an illusion in the current way contracts are done that risk can be transferred from the project owner. Whilst this may save short term costs, it can lead to substantial cost and time delays down the line.

Owners still have a lack of experience in terms of practical dredging knowledge. Most teams have a procurement unit working in isolation and independently of everyone else, which leads to a single vision. Risk becomes points on a paper inside a contract that becomes transferred rather than dealt with from a practical view.

Communication is top priority

It seems obvious, but it’s still an area that leads to many issues throughout the dredging process. This is crucial both for contract relationships and to avoid delays and disputes from stakeholders.

Collaboration, partnership, and being able to see another person’s perspective is key. Building a rapport builds confidence and trust that the contract and project is being handled responsibly – work together early and often, both at the project level and more broadly.

Good planning up front and a robust assessment of baseline environmental conditions needs to be locked in. Have a very well defined project description early on and don’t change it. All of those things will help approvals, stakeholder communication and consultation.

The ‘unforeseen’ can be avoided

If you’re acting for the Principal, start thinking about the likelihood of unexpected conditions at the early feasibility stage of a project right up to when you select a tenderer. After selecting a tenderer and the Contractor is working on site, you lose much of the power to influence. Take steps to identify possible latent conditions at any early stage, before you’re confronted with them during project execution.

Latent conditions need to be managed

If a Principal is faced with a more complex project with varying soil and rock types, then it is well advised to carry out a more thorough investigation to lower the risk of not detecting a latent condition. Obviously there is a cut off; a Principal can’t investigate every cubic meter for the planned Project.

Any site investigation can only be a representation of anticipated subsurface conditions. Principals should always aim to reduce the risk to an acceptable degree. Consider Early Contractor Involvement with the scope of the planned site investigation.

Geotechnical modelling has huge potential

 

Both the Principal and the Contractor should formulate a robust 3D geotechnical model of the likely subsurface conditions. The model can determine what materials you are likely to encounter in different types and categories.

The Principal’s consultant and the Contractor’s production estimator can then calculate the derived productions fairly accurately. If a latent condition is encountered, a geotechnical model can provide the parties with a benchmark to calculate where the differences are. Be wary of interpretation – different biases can lead to issues.

Take proactive measures

A proactive way of dealing with disputes as they arise is needed. A dispute board can be selected for their knowledge and expertise before any dispute has arisen. By undertaking an on-going relationship and regular site visits, the dispute board will acquire a good working knowledge of the project. When a dispute arises, the dispute board will have a much better understanding than a court or arbitral tribunal, which will only be appointed after a dispute has arisen.

Keep learning and evolving

The fundamental of dredging is that you dig the stuff up out of the ground and put it somewhere – that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way that you do it, and that’s driven from environmental approvals.

The management of reclamation areas has improved enormously, and understanding how to minimise the amount of turbidity or sediments that get back into the environment. That’s going to become much more important as work is done in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Innovation will be dealing with the conditions and coming up with the best outcome using all of your knowledge and resources available to come up with a solution.

The Dredging and Reclamation conference has been developed as a value creation forum where knowledge, new ideas, best practice and real world learning experiences can be shared amongst other dredging professionals. Providing key case studies from leading practitioners, the conference will share insight into Australia’s most exciting dredging projects in the planning, design or development stages.

Find out more by visiting www.dredgingandreclamation.com.au or call 02 9229 1090.

Facebook on a quest to revolutionize financial services marketing

With 12 million users in Australia, Facebook has developed into a core marketing platform to help organisations achieve their business objectives.

The organisation has been through a bit of a transformation of late, with the initial focus being the social networking customer experience – adding features to revolutionise the way we communicate and share with each other. Now though, the spotlight is well and truly on the business world, to leverage the wealth of information Facebook holds to drive efficiency and experience for financial services.

Here in Australia, Paul McCroy joined the Facebook team 12 months ago and his role as Head of Travel and Finance tasked him with the objective to build a team that can work closely with financial services to use Facebook. Paul explains: “It started with the team we created. We’ve hired a group of people to really understand the problems industry is faced with; we have people who worked in finance now working for us. It’s a constant focus to understand the problems faced by industry and build our Facebook platform to solve those problems. From there we want to work closely with financial services here in Australia to help them use Facebook in the best way possible.”

Whilst some of the big four were initially sceptical about the potential threat of Facebook in the financial services arena, the social networking giant has insisted they want to grow new users and enhance experience, rather than create banking services of its own.

Mobile

There’s a huge focus on mobile and it’s clear to see why. Digital advertising overtook traditional advertising for the first time last year, drive mainly by the onset of mobile. With 10 million active daily users and 85 per cent accessing via mobile devices – it’s easy to see where the potential lies for many a marketing team. Paul explains:

“Digital has overtaken television and mobile is the new upstart. Facebook became a mobile first business two years ago, transforming from desktop. Here in Australia, there’s a higher mobile percentage than any other developed country. Facebook represents an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that more people are consuming media on mobile phones.”

It’s this drive to mobile that’s seen a surge in app development over recent years, with the finance industry among the top performers for app engagement, providing customers with ease of access like never before. But with many banks allocating huge resources to develop their own assets, is there really any need to tap into the Facebook pool? Paul explained where the potential lies:

“One of the immediate benefits is the opportunity to capitalise on the trend. Mobile Banking was developed to service the customers where they are. It is also the most cost efficient way to service customers and has been quoted by Mckinsey as 1/8 the cost of servicing via the call centre.

“One in every five minutes on a mobile phone is spent on Facebook properties. When you want to speak to people who are on a phone, Facebook is where you should go. Our biggest growth area is banks taking their apps to our platform and promoting their advert in front of their customers. Customers then go and install that app unit. In terms of results, we’re the most cost effective for getting apps installed – 30 to 40 per cent of app installs come from Facebook.”

“Phase two is where the banks have people with the app installed, but they’re not necessarily engaged. We have developed a tool that helps with app engagement. Essentially, once it’s installed, you continuously re-engage them so that they use it as a utility. By them frequently engaging on the app, it takes the pressure off the contact centre and service channels, so the overall experience has been a success.”

Easing data concerns

There are some real alarm bells that often get triggered thanks to some serious spotlight on large data companies like Facebook and Google. Naturally an integrated banking service would lead to some data concerns, an area Paul insists is at the core of that they do:

“We don’t give anybody data. We have 12 million Australian users who do a lot of things on our platform. What we do is provide a targeting interface to enable advertisements to people that fit their interest behaviour. That data is never given back to an advertiser, it stays with us. Our primary goal is privacy. We’re one of the largest data companies the world has and will ever see. Everything we do is about keeping our site secure. It works well with banks, as it’s exactly the same as what they do. Whilst some people see data as a problem, we see it as a really nice fit.”

 Driving experience and efficiency

The team at Facebook are already seeing results creating unique experiences by targeting the right people, with the right content, on the right platform.

“When it’s done well, the conversions are huge. There are key challenges facing industry right now – efficiency, scalability and profitability.

We know certain media channels are becoming more expensive, every company in the world wants to achieve their goals in a more efficient manner. Where in the world is there more scale and engagement than Facebook? Our users are very engaged and it’s a huge opportunity to reach your customers and prospects at scale.”

Paul will be speaking at Digital Financial Services 2014: “I want to impart some of that knowledge to the audience and provide real life examples. A big thing we want to bring is what we see trending and how we can work with you to capitalise on some of those trends. We’ll also take a look at what we’re developing in the future.”

Visit www.digitalfinancialservices.com.au or follow @digifinance for more information on the event.

View the full interview with Paul here: http://youtu.be/t196-WP4_8U

Old Aussie buildings… Don’t write them off just yet

The spotlight is well and truly on retro & refurb as Australia is poised to reduce energy emissions, operational costs and get smarter with space. But why is it so important now? How can technology help? Where do we keep making mistakes? And what can be done to make sure our older buildings stand out? We sought the expert’s insight from Caimin McCabe, Director, Cundall Australia ahead of his presentation at Retrfit & Refurb 2014

What would you say are the key drivers prompting property owners and investors to start thinking about retrofitting their own buildings?

There are a few key areas here:

  • In the building owner’s mind is asset repositioning or increasing asset value. They want to create a better asset and establish a point of difference from the competition.
  • The asset valuation might be done as a direct result of current operational costs to try and reduce the running costs of those buildings.
  • Retention is an increasing driver for retrofitting. Particularly in Grade B, C and D buildings where there’s a lot more competition for tenants. When their leases come up for renewal, they start to reflect upon whether they want to stay or if they’ll get a better deal elsewhere.
  • Flexibility is another area we’re seeing as a driver. There are increasing numbers of smaller entities who want smaller space in good locations, leading to a need to accommodate multiple (small) tenancies on each floor – particularly within Grade B, C & D buildings.
  • In the back of people’s mind whilst doing this are issues like NABERS Energy performance to see if it can be improved.

How are technologies and new approaches being used to improve environmental and operational performance of existing buildings?

I’d say the best bang for buck is actually looking at control upgrades and getting the building management system to actually do what it should be doing. Look at sub-metering to actually monitor where energy is being used; target reduction rather than assumptions.

The market is obviously seeing a lot of new technologies emerge, as well as enhancements to existing buildings including classic co-generation and tri-generation. In reality though, existing buildings can often find this difficult to accommodate as they don’t tend to have plant rooms available…

What’s quite important to us is it’s not just doing it for the environmental sake; the economics of decision making is equally important. Greater equipment efficiency and operation need to be considered..

Engaging the ‘right’ technical advisor or engineer to work alongside building or facility management in terms of the operational tuning is also key. The trick is to ensure this happens on an on-going basis in lieu of a one-off assessment.

We’re also seeing consultants and facility managers use big data analytics software to assess controls and trend log profiles in real-time to identify ‘rogue’ systems and control issues.

We’ve also found (and this is probably part of the whole-of-life approach) that there’s a tendency to ignore the façade. We’ve had some really good success on buildings where we’ve taken a step back and looked at the building as a whole and said: ‘Rather than just going in there and doing the engineering, we’ll check the whole façade.

We recently took this approach in a project that was focused on the chiller, in which we made many changes to the façade. This resulted in no need for a replacement chiller.

We re-commissioned and put in some new technology components, like diffusers to improve the air quality – we moved the pot of money around. In the end we got the building from its one star NABERS to a four star NABERS. We also significantly improved the indoor environmental quality of the building, so now the building is actually liked, not hated.

You might have an efficient building, but if you don’t want to work there, it doesn’t really matter.

Property owners of B, C and D grade buildings are under pressure to evaluate cost benefits. What are the key areas that need to be addressed during business case development to ensure ROI?

The interesting thing is, embarrassingly to some of the newer buildings, some of the older buildings actually have better performance. Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they’re bad. There is a trend in industry generally that new is good and actually sometimes old is better.

A lot of the old buildings are designed more with passive design in mind. The level of glazing, for example, in an existing building is generally a lot lower than on a new building. Our own office here has only 25 per cent glass, but we’ve got more daylight in our office than we would have if we were actually in a new building. This is because of how it’s introduced and how it’s used. The are a lot of advantages to those buildings which are not traditionally marketed or sold, which is why I talk about the whole building approach. It’s stepping back and asking: ‘What are the attributes? What are the benefits? How do I enhance them and connect the tenant to those benefits relative to other buildings?’

It’s important to realise there’s no silver bullet – if somebody’s trying to tell you that there is, don’t believe them. Every building is unique – there isn’t one size fits all. You have to judge each building on its own in terms of what’s there, but the approach needs to reflect the energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and the attributes that the building actually has.

Depending on the asset location and target market, the argument isn’t about ROI, but more towards differentiation from competing Grade B, C & D buildings.

Building owners are typically looking only at rent; they’re not considering the quality of the environment they’re in. That’s where I suppose our role is, along with other colleagues, to try and highlight what the building could be for them.

The real risk is what happens if the landlord decides on doing nothing. The danger for the landlord is that they are then left with looking at costly incentives for tenant’s attraction or attention. They’ve potentially got higher vacancy and operating costs weighing down the asset value. They could even be breaching bank covenants as they’re not actually getting the returns. In our mind, doing nothing for an asset owner of a B, C or D grade building in the marketplace is not really an option any more – they just need to sit back and determine how they want to do this and how to reposition the asset.

A major retrofitting and refurbishment project will encounter many challenges across the design and delivery phases. From your experience, what would you say are the main barriers that prevent people from achieving their aspirations on a re-lifting project?

A few areas here also:

  • Existing site or services infrastructure might not be sufficient to achieve required outcomes – there could be limitations inherent within the building.
  • Working around existing tenants can also be problematic and might limit the extent or timing of works that can be done to retain a ‘live’ building.
  • Availability of financing will always be an issue. There’s also a lack of understanding on the alternative funding mechanisms, such as an Environmental Upgrades Agreement (EUA).
  • The return on investment could also be perceived to be too low to actually do the work. In terms of guaranteeing better rents, it’s impossible to do that. We find there’s a tendency to jump in legs first without spending enough time doing the upfront assessment and design stated. When you start to do the actual work, you expose issues you weren’t aware of because the due diligence wasn’t done at the beginning. This in turn might result in costly mistakes (affecting overall budget) and subsequent cut backs or reduction in scope as part of a value engineering response.

The interview that gave me more than I bargained for…

Patrizia Iacono, Executive Assistant to the Group CIO Insurance Australia Group is quite honestly one of the most interesting people I’ve spoken to.

As with most interviews, I was speaking  to Patrizia due to her participation in an event of ours. In this case it was the EAPA Summit 2014.

I thought the interview was going to lead down a path specifically for some top tips that EAs and PAs could have to help them progress in their career. This group of professionals is a personal favorite of mine, and I always try to get some top resources to share with them.

However, i had completely underestimated how much i’d personally be able to take away from our conversation – Looking forward to meeting in July, but for now, over to Patrizia for the insights.

Hope you enjoy as much as i did…

I have been an Executive Assistant for over 20 years now, I started at the top, which is a really unusual place to start, I started supporting the chairman of a global advertising agency with my first job and I was very fortunate that I landed that role. It was a role that I really didn’t want because I was going to be an advertising executive, and I was working at the time on the Myer Children’s Wear account as an account executive. Believe it or not, it all fell apart one Friday afternoon when my boss called me in to his office to say that effective on the Monday morning I’d be working for our chairman, and it really was from day one where I fell in love with the role and really enjoyed the role very, very much.

It steamrolled from there with a move to Sydney, working for the CEO at the time, Dr Richard Walsh, and from there I went on to work at Lion Nathan, working for their chairman, back into adverting. From advertising I landed what you would call the job of a lifetime where I was working for an American IT management consultancy and my role was traveling the globe alongside our CEO with just a laptop and a mobile phone. For its time it was really a rare occurrence in this country for any executive assistant to land such a role, whereas in today’s climate it is becoming more common.

Things changed from there and I fell pregnant after 15 years that I’d been married, I took a step sideways and decided to work part time for a few years until my daughter was old enough to join school, and I picked up my career from there and here I am now. Really loving the role and loving being a great executive assistant, for me now it’s about sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over those years and hopefully inspiring others through my mentoring. I have relationships with over 40 executive assistants as their mentor and it’s something I truly am passionate about.

Alex – We still have a lot of issues around people struggling with personality clashes; obviously you’ve worked for many different types of bosses and colleagues. What’s your advice on how to cope with those demanding personalities?

Patrizia -  I’ve had my fair share of demanding executives, even some that I now refer to as my Miranda, from the movie The Devil Wears Prada. The key to handling these demanding personalities is that I’ve always managed to adapt to the personality of the executive that I support. Some of those skills that I use are understanding their needs, their tasks and executing it as quickly as possible. You will know when an executive wants a task completed yesterday rather than today, it’s all about acting with speed and efficiency, and in turn that is what builds that trust which is crucial in the relationship of the EA and their executive.

The other skill I would add here is foresight, that ability to plan what could go wrong before it does go wrong, you have a demanding executive who has meetings back to back all day, what I would be doing is starting from the night before checking all the meetings for the following days, are the attendees confirmed, are the bookings in there, have technology been confirmed, PC facilities, etc. It’s ensuring the executive has their pre-reading material in hand as well.

If there’s travel involved, it’s having that foresight to say, right, reconfirm the car service ahead of time, ask them to pick up your boss ten minutes before because that person’s a picnicker or stresser, it’s all about you really having that foresight to go in there and nab all the things that could go wrong before they do go wrong.

I always think of it as when an executive becomes irate I never take it personally, I never have taken it personally, but I take it professionally, for me it’s, why is he irate and what can I do to actually calm this situation, to me the biggest tip is always stay cool, calm and collected.

Alex – A lot of people that come to our EA and PA summit are at the start of their career, but not sure about where they can go or where they want to go from here on in. What sort of plan you think people should be putting in place to make sure career development is constantly a vision and a clear goal for them?

Patrizia – For me, that stage really begins at the research stage before you join an organisation; what I’ve done in every role that I’ve ever been in and the organisations I’ve joined is that I’ve actually researched and evaluated the organisation before even going in for an interview with the executive or with the HR team of that organisation. For me it helps to ascertain if that organisation is investing in their employee’s career development plans, and some of the questions that I always would ask and do ask are, what training programmes are offered for EAs, does the organisation have an EA community, is there a mentor programme in place?

Once you’ve joined that organisation, that is the right fit for you, what I’ve done is sit down with the executive and work out a clear set of objectives and career plan. For example, my personal career plan is mapped out as a strategy document, what I’ve got is a plan of action to achieve a set of goals, I’ve identified what I want to accomplish, in six months, in a year, and three years, that’s how I keep on track with my personal career development and achievable goals, I really think that’s the forward plan that most EAs should be really thinking about when they do join an organisation.

Alex – Personal brand is something that comes up frequently. What tips would you give to develop personal brand and perception?

Patrizia – Personal brand is really, really important to me. Your personal brand is your professional reputation, it’s the impression we all leave or the image we want to portray that we will be remembered for. It’s a choice we make on how we’re going to leverage ourselves in the workplace, it’s also a great opportunity to showcase the knowledge which is important to the success and the career progression of any EA.

Some of the tips that I’d like to share are those that I’ve built up over the last 20 years, really think about how people see you through the way you communicate, are you empathetic and approachable; the way you play ball in the organisation; are you seen as a team player or a silo player; are you a problem solver with a real can-do attitude. Are you sharing the knowledge and inspiring others; and do you treat others the way you want to be treated? As an EA we are the brand of the executive we support and certainly the organisation, both internally and externally.

Alex – With the variety of tasks that need to be juggled, have you got any ideas in terms of organisational excellence, where do you think we can really start to improve that time management?

Patrizia – We face many challenges in the organisation, on a daily basis. To achieve that organisational excellence we need to remember that we’re no longer viewed as the support staff but more as that integral business partner. We’re finally matching the skills of the people that we support. We’re also serving as innovation catalyst, we manage and simplify those processes, time can be a huge benefit to the executive. We need to have the business acumen to understand the strategy and plan to deliver that vision through our own analytic thoroughness, innovation and cultural awareness through time management. By managing the executive’s day to day business, you’re giving them time back so they spend more time focusing on strategy and certainly productivity.

Time management for me never has been an issue, it’s learning to prioritise, pretty much by the time I get to work in the mornings I know exactly what’s going on, it’s how we manage that time effectively to give them time back.

If you run out of time and it’s just not working, always ask for help, always reach out to your peers, to anyone to say, can you give me hand, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

Alex – Has the job been how you expected it to be?

Patrizia – The role of the executive assistant means being much, much more than just that standard job description that you’re given at a job interview or that you may read on a recruitment website. For me it’s not just the hard skills, okay, sure, we do need those hard skills, but what’s really important especially now is the ability to actually bring a lot more soft skills to the role.

Business is now becoming a lot more agile than it ever has been, and especially with organisations having to respond rapidly to changes in internal and external environments without losing that vision, we’re actually required to start using a lot more of the soft skills; the multitasking, organisation, adaptability, flexibility and initiative. We really are creating and evolving our own unique job description day by day in the organisation we work in.

Alex – I was interested if you had any stories to tell, have you ever been tasked with something quite strange or something you weren’t expecting to do?

Patrizia – Definitely. I had a Miranda moment, that’s how I love to refer to them. Some years ago I was working for an executive who was invited to attend the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, I got him off to the airport, got him on the plane, when he landed in Los Angeles and got to his hotel room he’d realised he’d left his favourite cufflinks in Sydney, and he wasn’t going to go to the Academy Awards without these particular cufflinks, it’s crazy, I know.

So I got this panicked call at 5 am saying, well, I won’t say asking, he was actually telling me that he needed these cufflinks and that he wanted me to personally fly them over. I was out of bed, within a couple of hours, I’d booked a car to drive me to his apartment, find the cufflinks, drive to the airport, book a flight, fly to Los Angeles, cab it to the Beverly Wilshire, cab straight back to the airport and fly home to Sydney, if that’s not weird, I’m not sure what is. But he was a very, very happy executive and went off to the Academy Awards with his favourite cufflinks, that’s one of my, probably one of the strangest, I’d say, but one of many, many stories that I love to share.

It was, it was all done in a day, literally in a day, I think the flight landed that morning and I was back on a flight that evening, yes, it was crazy.