Category Archives: Employers

Business owners: We’re not in Kansas now, Toto…


Tuning into the local and global news at the moment feels like a long, long pulling tide going out before a huge tsunami hits. News from Europe seems dire and from America, a bit dodgy.  There is an eerie, unnerving stillness in business here in Australia, like the calm before the storm.

These few nuggets have stood me in good stead in the past when confronted with uncertainty:

1. Use what you have

Being resourceful for many in our Western world of plenty is a bit of a dying art. Using what you have seems obvious but not if you are in the habit of “getting more stuff”. This can apply to all aspects of your business: equipment, tools, finance, employee skills and knowledge, your own skills and knowledge, access and connections to people and other opportunities.

Better effectiveness and efficiency is what improved productivity is all about – working smarter, not harder. See this time as a great opportunity to try out what you and your employees can really do, given the right situation.

Create those right situations by increasing the level of trust and motivation in your business. This can be achieved by ensuring you have the right person in the right job, delegating more effectively and giving real autonomy to employees, recognizing work that is well done, ensuring that employees have enough skills, tools and support to do the job well.

Giving respect and care to your clients and your employees and expecting it in return will warm the climate in your workplace; giving your word and keeping it; dealing with people and issues with integrity are all key to unlocking additional value from your business.

And the great thing about respect, care, autonomy, integrity and commitment is they’re not  likely to cost extra $ – just a bit more effort and thought.

2. Think outside the box

This cliché has at it’s heart permission to be more creative and to challenge assumptions, and is a worthy partner to making more of what you have. As an employer, what assumptions do you have that are not working for your business?

  • Do you assume that only you can do certain jobs or tasks?
  • Do you assume that all employees must work, be available and be paid for 36-40 hours a week?
  • Do you assume that only you know the answers to issues affecting your business? Who else might know about these and be willing to contribute?

3. Ask for help and support OR give some to someone else

And then there’s times when I can become completely paralysed with uncertainty and complexity. Too much or not enough information, too many or too few options or not enough energy can be very debilitating, inhibiting ability to act and deal with the situation.

The old adage a problem shared is a problem halved certainly has merit and I would contend that sometimes the problem is solved. I have run countless group training and work activities and know there’s nothing more powerful than handing a real problem to people and supporting them to come up with a great solution.

Think about trusted colleagues or friends that you can discuss business issue with confidentially. And think about how you might be able to help them – sharing what you have, your suggestions or even just listening. Or do you trust your employees enough to share with them? Try it and see – you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

What works for you in times of uncertainty?

Paying attention to people WILL pay off: How to get that link between better people management, increased productivity and profit.


“People are our greatest asset”: How many times have we heard that? I know from my own experience that good people management makes for good business but how many employers out there are wondering what the evidence is before they take the plunge?

There is a good deal of research that has been done to find the evidence, and it is definitely there. One particular UK study* of 67 manufacturers (average 253 people) showed a predictable improvement of close to 20% in both profitability and productivity when a range of integrated people management practices are improved.

The two key areas of people management practice they found to be significant predictors of profitability and productivity as:

  1. Acquisition and development of skills – Having the right skills and abilities for your business, the right people capability and an approach/ attitude to developing capability. See learning & development as way of improving morale, job satisfaction for your staff as well as way of improving the way they do their work.
  2. Job design – Thoughtful job design that provides meaningful work where possible, opportunities to take more responsibility when ready, seeing a job through from start to finish and getting a sense of achievement from work done.

ImageBoth these areas underpin what Frederick Hertzberg and his famous theory on motivation, would call intrinsic motivators:  a strong universal human need for purpose, achievement, challenge, learning and satisfaction.

The great thing about both these two key areas is that they don’t cost much. To design and implement, they require thought, planning and possibly some change to your business but not necessarily much in the way of extra dollars.

Acquisition and development of skills

The simplest form of business learning is to review business progress regularly with your staff – how did we go this week? How did we go with that new client? What worked and didn’t work? Have a regular process for review and a way of harnessing the learning and making changes to business processes that improve the whole business.

Encourage people to learn on the job, learn from each other, learn from outside – courses, visits to other businesses and learning through networking.

For acquisition, take a considered approach to recruitment, think carefully about what capability you need for now and for future and recruit accordingly . Think about how you bring new people into your business and show them how to do the job, and how to offer every opportunity for your staff to learn and to stretch their abilities and their existing knowledge.

Job design

Think about having job roles that encompass a bundle of connected responsibilities and tasks that people can say “That’s mine – I am responsible for that” and have the satisfaction of seeing an entire job done and finished. This doesn’t mean that people don’t continue working together as part of a team: even team workers have specific roles.

If you as an employer take the time to clearly spell out why we are all here (purpose of the business), organize the work (clear roles and structures), give staff some autonomy and integrated opportunities for everyone to stretch and grow. All are guaranteed steps in the right direction for happy workers, higher productivity and a profitable business.

What’s your experience? I’d love to hear from you…..

* MG. Patterson, M.West, R.Lawthom, S.Nickell (1997) Impact of people management practice on business performance Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD), UK.

Staff engagement: What can employers learn from FaceBook and Twitter?


Employers: Do you wish sometimes that your employees were as interested in contributing to their work as they are in FaceBook or Twitter? I am not advocating for social media in the workplace but to look at what those two platforms are doing right. Perhaps a more enlightened question might be what do FaceBook and Twitter offer that makes them so engaging?

A wise friend once told me that there are three key things that people want in life:

  1. Respect
  2. Affection
  3. Control

Over the years, I have often reflected on these and I use them as a simple checklist to see what is being done and what might be missing in working arrangements and relationships.

1. The Art of Respect: preferably a relationship of mutual respect, which involves a balance of rights and responsibilities – asserting your own rights and supporting others’ rights simultaneously. One person’s rights should not diminish another’s rights, and similarly with responsibilities. Developing and showing respect involves courtesy, listening, understanding, learning, acceptance and honesty. This could be about treating staff and colleagues as grown ups, gladly giving & supporting responsibility, accepting different points of view, different approaches to work and appreciating the richness in that diversity. Crucially, it also means you should expect the same in return from staff and colleagues.

2. Affection: potentially misunderstood in the workplace, I would characterize this as warmth in any relationship that is built on mutual respect and understanding.  I would say it’s also about inclusion, which is critical to human social wellbeing, and equally important in the workplace: no-one likes to be forgotten or left out and everyone likes to feel good about themselves.

Make sure that everyone is informed about what is going on in your workplace, trust them with information that is important to the business and watch people rise to keep that information confidential and use their judgment. Include people by asking for their opinions, their ideas, their suggestions, their energy and treating their responses with respect.  Particularly important and useful is to include employees who are knowledgeable or experts in the area being decided, no matter what level they are working at.

You need to ensure that employees understand that you won’t always act or even like their contributions but at the very least, they should be actively considered, and people acknowledged and thanked.

3. Control: it’s worth thinking about how this can be extended in the workplace. It’s mostly about tapping into what people are interested in and naturally motivated to do. Simple things to consider include individual office or working spaces and giving some flexibility in how this is organized, giving employees a say on how their work is done to allow for different approaches and personal styles, and possibly flexibility with hours worked, if this suits the business.

Deeper and more fundamental control is around job design – try to delegate “whole” jobs: where employees have responsibility from start to finish, rather than one very small part of a larger process. There is far greater satisfaction in seeing a product or service delivered if there is a greater involvement in the overall development. Ironically, this is one of the powerful motivators for small business owners and yet this is often denied to their staff.

Despite the obvious power differential between employer and employee, the focus of the enterprise ought to always be on purpose and productivity for the good of everyone – shareholders, managers, staff, customers.I suspect these three principles come close to the heart of striking a balance in any productive, mature and grown up workplace, and while I don’t always quite achieve them, I aim to.

I think FaceBook and Twitter potentially facilitate all three critical areas – they allow people to engage with people they are interested in following, encouraged to be included in conversations and of course, the hugely successful LIKE button – says it all!

And finally, don’t overlook the absolute obvious appeal of FaceBook – it’s in the first word of the title. We are all human and respond really well to faces, something that a lot of websites and platforms seem to miss. If you’ve been hiding out, show yours around the workplace a bit more often for a better response from your staff.

Nora Stewart works as an HR and workplace professional with Wise Work, Australia and aims to show her face at least twice a week…

FLEXIBLE WORKING: A possible solution for small businesses who want to attract and retain workers through the ups and downs…..


Most small business owners are faced with peaks and troughs in their business – times when it’s very busy and times where it is quiet. ABC Radio National Life Matters program this morning discussed how businesses have weathered the global financial crisis (GFC) highlighted that those businesses who managed their business and their people in a flexible and innovative way came through that environment pretty well. One business decided to reduce their overall working week to four days on a permanent basis, another business asked their staff to take a pay cut of between 10% and top management 20% until the situation improved. They had a 79% take-up of the pay cut, and workers were paid back the money owing plus 25% bonus within 5 months –not hard to see why there is high trust in that organisation.

These are all good solutions that have obviously worked for these organisations. However, not everyone is in a position to take a pay cut at short notice and the four day week may work for some times in the business but not when it is very busy or if you have clients that expect “business as usual” working hours.

The other key reason for looking at this solution is that anyone with a mortgage is under pressure to keep payments going at the level of commitment with the bank. Banks require stability and permanency to approve a mortgage, and are not interested in anything that isn’t permanent – try getting a standard loan when you are working on contract or on casual rates.

So, my suggested solution is for some workers to move to what I would term a “permanent flexible” employment arrangement, where the time is carefully managed, for the same agreed salary. The concept is that pay stays constant whilst hours/ time worked might vary. For example:

Sue works in a specialist retail outlet and is employed for a 38 hour week. This business is very busy over Christmas and New Year and during the Southern winter – June to August. In total about 4 months of the year, the business needs her to work about 50 hours a week. The rest of the time is quiet and requires less time – about 30 hours per week. This system means that regardless of the hours worked or not, as long as the hours worked per annum are managed as the same, the pay will remain the same every week.

TIME WORKED
52 weeks per year
x 38 hours per week  = 1976 hours per annum as outlined below

Busy period* 50 hours x 17 weeks =  850 hours worked
Less busy period*
31-31.5 hours a week x 31 weeks =  978 hours worked
MINUS   4 weeks
recreation leave x 38 hours per week= 152 hours paid leave


* Public holidays are mixed in here and appropriate pay rates should be added in to this if they are worked. Sick leave is also included in these hours.

PAY remains the same over the 52 weeks of the year, regardless of hours worked.

Another more extreme example might include larger amounts of time not working at all, with an overall smaller number of hours worked per annum.

David is working in a seasonal business that only operates 7 months of the year. He currently works on a contract for 40 hours a week for an hourly rate of $28 per hour flat rate including penalties. David is a good, reliable worker but he is never sure if the employment will continue at the end of each season, and neither is his employer. He often works other jobs in the off period but they are also pretty uncertain.

In this situation, David works 40 x $28 per week x 30 weeks = $33,600

Certainty for everyone could increase if the employer paid David a weekly salary of $646.15 for the whole year. This would also even out tax taken every week and give David more certainty and surety to be able to apply for a standard mortgage, as he would be an employee (contract of service) rather than on contract (contract for service). It may increase loyalty and trust between David and his employer, and ensure that he returns each year to his employment. They may also wish to review the arrangement each year where there is an expectation of more or less hours. David could also claim this employment as his main job for tax purposes and still be able to work outside of this arrangement on the off-period.

Some of the benefits of this system include:

  • Certainty for the employee to allow them to plan and budget;
  • Ongoing employment that satisfies credit providers;
  • Tax paid is the same each pay and minimizes the problem of underpaying or overpaying income tax;
  • Certainty for the employer with their employees – they are more likely to keep people that they have invested time, skills and knowledge;
  • Potential flexibility for both employee and employer around hours worked depending on mutual needs. This arrangement also gives a regular opportunity/ excuse to discuss work hours, work needed to be done. It also focuses the employer more closely around work planning and what is actually required.

This arrangement may not necessarily work in all employment situations but it is certainly worth entertaining, particularly for those businesses that need flexibility and certainty with their employees.

Performance management: The Jamie Oliver approach to being a “proper Guv’nor”


Listening to the radio yesterday, both  issues of Australian management performance and also chef working in the kitchen were discussed yesterday on ABC Radio National’s program Life Matters, referring both to Australia’s mediocre management results and also the success of the chef Greg Mehigan at giving feedback. This reminded me of my admiration for those working in kitchens to show the way forward with practical management of their people.

I am a great foodie, a sucker for good-looking and tasting food and have become quietly addicted to some of the better food TV shows. And even in my private reverie, I have realized that some of our more famous TV chefs have a lot to teach us about managing people. They remind us that in a fast-moving and competitive consumer business of dining, that there is no room for poor performance, and sloppiness has the potential to kill an enterprise pretty quickly.

Take my favorite Jamie Oliver, and his approach to managing his FIFTEEN apprentices in his program of the same name. The deal was that fifteen aspiring and lucky young unemployed people were chosen to work with Jamie Oliver to fast-track through cheffing basics within 8 months with the aim of working in his new upbeat and happening restaurant Fifteen. It quickly became apparent that proportion of those chosen had no understanding of the basic requirements of the world of work, such as turning up on time, or even, turning up at all.
No problem, says Jamie. His response was to immediately ring the absentee, talk with them about how to solve whatever their current problem was to get them back to the kitchen quickly.
He must have also started to realise the meaning of the 80/20 Pareto Principle: that 20% of the people need 80% of your time and energy. He showed diligence and tenacity in chasing up the same offenders with increasingly doubtful excuses, gave each person the benefit of the doubt and showed trust in their potential.
For those who did turn up, he gave plenty of advice, support and encouragement for their work but was not shy of telling his apprentices if what they were doing really didn’t measure up. However, these moments were limited and used to best effect by showing them exactly what he wanted from them, not just expressing his dissatisfaction.

In our increasingly convoluted and politically correct workplaces, this refreshing approach seems more and more distant- unattainable. My guess is that it is because our workplaces have become larger, the purpose of our work more indistinct and our communication more impersonal. We have a layering of barriers as we become increasingly more disconnected from our purpose and the people we are supposedly working to help. In addition, much of the work being conducted in offices is increasingly conceptual, happening in our heads, without much practicality or connectedness to the more tangible world. For example, working in the areas of government policy, marketing, advertising, economics or even HR can be a jargon-filled, guessing game. Is it any wonder then that being able to have a straight conversation that names the issue and the possible solution is so difficult?

And then you have the additional underlying problem that is becoming all too common – those people who don’t wish to take responsibility for their actions or their impact on others. Those delightful folk who lack personal awareness and make other’s lives difficult by either continuing to refuse change, to accept direction, to play the “poor me” role or who bully everyone.
These are difficult situations to deal with but not impossible. However, the only way to deal with performance at work is to deal with it. Sounds obvious but quite difficult to do, particularly when we have the dreamy conceptual world beckoning, dragging us back into our heads or more jargon-filled conversations.
So, what to do?
Deal with problems immediately when they arise. Do not stew over the problem or push it under the carpet. This sounds very obvious but we all have experience with the power of our minds: these problems develop into monsters very quickly and mostly, the reality is actually much easier to deal with than the wildest fantasies in our minds.

Take the person aside privately and indicate you would like to talk with them. It is also important that you can be very specific about the details of the problem. Good also if the person that you have the problem with to be able to accept what you are saying, even if they don’t agree with you. You could try to gauge their level of willingness to make a change or an improvement to their performance. Without willingness, nothing will happen.
This can also be a test for you to know how well you understand your own expectations of others, and how clearly and objectively these are communicated to others. Do you have a clear standard that is enforced, and also one that people are rewarded for achieving? It is objective or is it driven by personality and the way you like things?

Make an agreement with the person, if you can, about what difference you want to see and by when. You may also need to help the person to achieve this if there is a barrier – lack of understanding, skill, money or perhaps even good old-fashioned confidence. Plenty of praise and encouragement when you start to see changes will be very important, although make this genuine and not too over the top.

You must stick to your side of the bargain if you expect that they will do the same. It would be prudent to make records of all of your conversations and ensure the other person has a copy of these also.

What if it doesn’t work?
What I have outlined here is really a sketch or outline of how to deal with a problem and often life isn’t that simple. Review the situation and ask yourself honestly:

  • Are my expectations realistic? Could I make smaller steps to make it more achievable?
  • Are they understood by the other person?
  • Does the person really have all the resources needed to achieve what I want them to do?
  • Is this type of work really suitable for this person? Do they have the style and temperament for the work or are they really a square peg in a round hole? If yes, can I change the job to suit or not?
  • Is there a deeper personality or other conflict going on here, not to do with this job?

It may be that you come up with a negative for each of these questions. There are some problems that don’t have an easy answer. It may be that the person needs to move on or move out. There is a lot of fear about facing this, particularly with those working in government and other similar institutions. This is an OK outcome and you can rest easy if you are certain you have tried to resolve this problem with all your energy, ideas and care.

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