Moving on up

The robots are coming. Are you ready for them? Symes Group's Jessica Symes talks to Ingrid Green about career confidence and the future of work.


The business world is sitting on the brink of a period of massive change and disruption. Should we be frightened or excited?


Jessica Symes, Founder and CEO of learning and development company Symes Group, has experience with a lot of businesses, and she says a theme is emerging.

In order to stay relevant and ahead of the competition, organisations are striving for innovation. But many of them are going about it the wrong way. Jess explains, many companies are afraid to let go of their hierarchical structures, policies, procedures and rules that stifle the very creativity they need.


“Organisations are spending a little bit of time and money on trying to develop creativity in their people, but not connecting the dots into how that might apply in the employees everyday, when they are restrained or restricted by the old-school policies and procedures.


“Time is not the currency of innovation. If you are still expecting people to work between certain hours, in a certain way and tie their hands with regard to their ability to make decisions, you will not be creating an environment that fosters creativity.


“Organisations might have an objective around creativity and innovation, but aren’t radically changing the conditions and working environments that they need to promote it.

“The expectation on an employee today is to be creative and innovative, but the challenge is how do you achieve that within boundaries, when creativity is all about breaking the rules, failing, experimenting in a non-linear fashion and employers are still afraid of that. How can you measure that? And how does that not look like poor performance? How does that not look like wasting the organisation’s money?


“Unfortunately, to produce the billion-dollar idea, you need to have your people producing a whole lot of ideas that go nowhere.”


Jess says businesses can take an academic approach – there are formulas and principles of how individuals and groups can think more creatively, laterally and outside of the box – but the standard day in the life of a worker in the future will look a lot different to what it is now.

“The lack of knowledge and understanding of the true essence of creativity that has been in place for thousands of years; we are still only at the very early stages of really understanding what that means in a corporate setting, and what the benefit would be and what organisations have to let go of to truly embrace it and allow it to foster.”


Jess says we may need to wait for certain generations to leave the workforce, those with fixed ideas around what a working day looks like. The radical change that’s needed won’t happen as long as that fixed mindset prevails.


Jess often encounters people unhappy in their careers, and has some strong advice for anyone in that situation.


“Progressive people and culture professionals should be describing it as a two-way bargain – the employee needs to come to the party just as much as the employer, it’s not just take, take, take.”

Individuals, Jess says, really need to take responsibility for their experience at work.

“Most of us work in comfortable, motivating and stimulating environments, but it’s the individual’s choice to see it in a negative or positive light, and focus on what is going well.”

She also says it’s impossible for big companies to respond to changes in the economic environment as quickly as small start-ups can.


“Commonly the gripes that I hear today are the same gripes that I heard a decade ago.”

People often complain about the technology.

“I validate that, but there needs to be a level of reality – to overhaul the technology system in an organisation that has 14,000 employees, is not as easy at it seems.”

Employees need to see themselves as one part of a huge system and develop a more realistic view of what’s possible.

“The organisation’s objective is not to make that individual’s life miserable.”

“You also need to understand where you fit.”

Some people are more suited to entrepreneurial roles, and some need structure, while others don’t.


“Most of our client base have education opportunities; they have choices. If you’re not happy, find another opportunity that you are more suited to.

It can be really affronting to have that presented as a possibility, but you don’t have to stay, you can leave.”

It’s about taking ownership – of your experience at work and your career.

“There are no free lunches in this world, and no mind-reading boss that will know that you want more responsibility or opportunities if you’re busy complaining about the responsibilities you already have.”

“The employee of the future requires a growth mindset, positivity, an understanding of teams and others, and be clear that it’s not all about you.”

Ph: 1300 657 934  

office@symesgroup.com.au

Suite 106, 7-11 Clarke Street, Crows Nest NSW 2065

PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

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