Christine Miller has worked flexibly for the past 20 years, creating a multi-passionate career along the way. She joined Cardno 8 months ago as their Business Leader for the South Coast, based in Wollongong. She spoke about drawing on your diverse skills to bring a new perspective to an organization, protecting your flexibility at work, and where to focus as a leader.
A multi-skilled career
“My career has been quite eclectic, I’ve worked in lots of different industries. I was looking for a management position in a multi-disciplinary environment. That’s what attracted me to Cardno. My office has 100 people across the engineering space – environment, geotechnical, planners, civil, designers, drafters and more.”
She wanted to be involved in strategy, have P&L responsibility and use her varied previous experience. Having worked in big construction companies, local councils, state government infrastructure projects and small construction companies, Christine shares, “One of the things I bring to the table is that multidisciplinary experience, and a unique set of skills. All those experiences give you a different understanding and a lot of value to bring to a project. It leads to innovation.”
If you’re trying to shape varied experiences into a clear story, Christine suggests;
- Focus on your skills. “The skills you learn are more important than the number of years of experience you have.”
- Weave a story. “Be clear about what skills you’ve developed and how you can bring them to the role you’re applying for.”
- Hold out for the right role. “If people can’t understand your story, you might not want to work for them anyway. You’re better off finding somewhere that you do fit.”
And to employers, Christine says; “It’s imperative to understand the skill set you require, not just number of years in a role. Ask how a candidate demonstrate that skill set. They may not have acquired the skills in the way you expect but sometimes that’s better!”
Being inflexible about flex
One of Christine’s non-negotiables is flexible work. She has worked flexibly throughout her career and is walking proof that working part time doesn’t need to hold you back.
She has three sons, and when her oldest (who’s now 20) was born, she went back to work one day a week, then two. She was in a graduate position, and had a really supportive boss, but admits;
“The approach to flexibility now is much different to what it was 20 years ago. Throughout my whole career, I’ve reported to people with enough creativity to realize you don’t need to be there full time to add value to the business. If you are working part time you’re usually more efficient. I always achieve the required outputs.”
When she interviewed at Cardno Christine raised flexibility, and after confirming she’ll be able to meet the role requirements they employed her four days a week in a senior position.
Her tips for protecting your own flexible work arrangement are;
- Be consistent. “Set a clear expectation around what day(s) you’re not working. Then you can train clients and employees when you’re not available.”
- Show confidence. “I’m confident in my ability to make it work, and if I don’t then it’ll be my problem and I’ll sort it out. If I want the flexibility, I need to create the flexibility and work out how I’m going to deliver in the available time.”
- Keep a workspace. “I found flexibility from home difficult, as it’s blurred when work finishes. Try to quarantine work and have a clear boundary between work and home.”
- Don’t apologize. “I never apologize for the fact that I’m part time. The way you approach it will change the way people approach you.”
- Own your value. “I’m valuable being here and I’m worth the money you pay me for the time I’m here. It doesn’t mean I’m less committed.”
At Cardno flex work is well supported, with approximately 15% of Christine’s team of 100 working part time, and the recent launch of Work Your Way, focused around hours and location flexibility. More people are moving to a compressed week or a 9 day fortnight.
“Whenever you give someone flexibility, you get all their discretionary effort in return. If you’re flexible, they’re more likely to give you their best when they’re there.”
Christine adds, “If COVID has taught us anything you think can’t be flexible, can be challenged. I’ve got a receptionist working from home, which shows it’s possible.”
Stepping up as a manager
Christine currently has 100 people in her broader team – the biggest team she’s led. At every stage of increasing the number of staff you manage, Christine says, “The challenge is the scale. We underestimate how long it takes to effectively manage a person! Getting to know someone, gaining their trust, understanding how to get the best out of them isn’t a short process.”
Her tips for effective management are:
- Ask lots of questions.
- Spend enough time with people.
- Don’t shorten your people-facing time to focus on other deliverables.
“The most important use of your time is getting to know your people and build trust. Learn how to delegate your other deliverables and spend your time on the things that matter.”
At Cardno more broadly, Christine says;
“There’s a strong culture of valuing our people, their skills and what they bring to the table, and really focusing on ensuring those people are happy and fulfilled in their jobs. We also have a culture of excellence. There’s a focus on innovative, robust, technical solutions.”
Of Cardno, she says, “It’s a place where you’ll get a range of experiences. You’ll get to make a difference in your community and the world while using the best of your skills in a really supportive environment.”