Anne Riches is a consultant who has been in executive management positions for 25 years, including president of the NSW Women Lawyers Association and national councillor for the Australian Association of Philanthropy. A former lecturer in industrial law at the University of Sydney, she is a barrister and has published three books on law. She is an adjunct faculty member of the Graduate School of Business, University of Sydney. She is an associate fellow of AIM.
AIM: You have moved from teaching law to working in a number of corporate positions, to becoming a consultant. Is there a pattern?
Riches: Much of my career was around being regarded as a change agent. I was often asked to be involved in change or start up situations, somebody must have thought I was suited to it. When I left the University of Sydney I was the Australian Medical Association’s first assistant secretary general. Then I was the first to be in the role of education director for the Judicial Commission in New South Wales. Then I moved to a law firm and undertook a start-up role as a human resources director. Subsequently, I had a start-up role in a merchant bank. I found myself dealing with fairly difficult, traditional and hierarchical structures where there was a significant change program being attempted, or the change program had stalled or gone off track. My focus is on achieving organisational change through people.
AIM: Are there many commonalities within the different organisations?
Riches: People are largely affected by similar things. Change programs are usually accepted by people in senior management, but the people lower down the line, who have to implement the change, tend to say: “What’s in its for me?” You need to design a strategy to motivate them.
AIM: How do you achieve that?
Riches: I work on the basis of three Cs: communication; consistency (or congruence everything in the organisation must be congruent) and commitment. I think many management fads are regrettably used as quick-fix strategies. A lot of organisations suffer from what I call “change fatigue syndrome”. And they are also subject to many other influences. Listed private organisations have to perform every eighteen months for the sharemarket. In the public sector, there are concerns such as a change of government, a greater emphasis on accountability, rationalisation, privatisation and corporatisation. Senior managers often resort to “management by best-seller”, which is one reason why so many change programs fail.
AIM: Of the “three Cs”, which is the greatest problem?
Riches: Communication no matter which organisation you go into.
AIM: Why? It would seem to be the least costly thing to do.
Riches: The flow of information from management doesn’t do anything unless people know what to do with it; that is, if it turns into communication. Most organisations have an information overload and a shortage of communication. The warning on cigarette packets is an example of powerful information, but I have never known anyone to give up smoking because of them. It does not become communication.
AIM: How do you move from information to communication?
Riches: If it is a large cultural change, you break it into chunks over time. It is different if you are dealing with lawyers compared with auto parts makers. The key is to put yourself in their shoes.
AIM: Do you have any comments on women in management?
Riches: There is little cause for optimism when you look at senior management ranks and boards. A lot more women are coming through, but that glass ceiling is still there.
AIM: What is the greatest failing of Australian managers?
Riches: Not recognising that they don’t have all the answers. There is an old style in which managers were expected to have all the answers. I don’t think this is possible any more. I encourage the notion of “safe risk”: taking a step out of one’s comfort zone and relying on instinct and intuition.
AIM: What is your greatest challenge?
Riches: When a chief executive or senior manager wants to achieve change but they themselves are, without being aware of it, the biggest barrier. I used to believe that you could achieve change at any level and it would filter up. I now believe that unless senior management is on-side you have no progress.
AIM: Do you use your principles of management to manage yourself?
Riches: I try to be congruent with my message. I love what I do and I do what I love. The freedom that comes from that is awesome.