Category Archives: HRM

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…

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What successful employers have in common with The Spice Girls: They know what they want, what they really really want…


Recruiting employees in some ways is a bit like match-making – trying to find the right person. And, just like the game of love, in the heat of the moment it can be very hard to see past the one who looks just right on the surface. But perhaps in the cold light of day, they don’t actually have all the abilities skills and knowledge that your business really needs. Like The Spice Girls, get clear about what you really want but that’s where the similarity ends: save your passion to drive your business and recruit with a clear head.

Being an effective employer and a successful business person requires good judgment, and judgment can be improved with thinking, planning and a good dose of objectivity.

Some suggestions for planning your next recruitment:

  • Consider the job first and the person second, not the other way around. Don’t have the tail wagging the dog.
  • Look at the reality of your business, acknowledge what the business really needs, and not a fictional idea you may have of the job. If your business requires a wide range of very different tasks, that’s what you need to focus on getting, and not someone with specialist skills.
  • Learn to articulate what you want and to know it when you see it – IT being the specific behaviours, skills and knowledge you are seeking, not just how you respond to the person. One of my clients in the hospitality industry said, when I asked them how they determined whether a candidate had good commonsense, was judged partly by what kind of body tattoos they had and where they had placed them. “Well, you know if they have them on their face or hands, that they haven’t really thought it through. Others may have them discreetly covered and in our workplace, that’s fine”.
  • Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Work out what is essential to doing the job and don’t settle for less. Only consider those who have the essentials.
  • Put yourself in their shoes – what job features might be attractive to the kind of person I am looking for? What can my business offer that the person I am seeking would want? People are motivated differently and at different times in their life, and you may find that you are able to offer something that costs nothing but worth a lot to the right person.
  • It’s all about the evidence – how will I know that the person applying for the job can do the job?  You need evidence that the person can either do the job or has the potential (depending on what you want)You need to devise a selection process that gives you the evidence you need, not a whole lot of information that doesn’t relate to the job.  And remember, the way you get that information can be extremely informative – how well they write, how well they talk, how well they think and how they react and respond.

My next post will be all about how to recruit once you know what you want.

Want to know more about recruitment planning?

Please email me (see About Me for details) to get a copy of your FREE e-booklet 5 Steps to Successful Recruitment Planning or leave  questions and comments below.

Growing Business Through People: Seven Tips for Small Business Owners


It’s not news to you that small business forms part of the backbone of the Australian economy, and business owners and their employees form the backbone of those enterprises. But what help and guidance is there for those small business owners to consciously manage and lead their way to a better future?

Here are some things to think about, some tips to help you, the small business owner, get more from the people in your business by giving the right things:

1. People are integral to and integrated with the business – having employees is about having additional capacity in your business in every way possible, not just an extra pair of hands. It should bring additional skills, knowledge abilities, energy and ideas, and ideally a synergy between all the people in the business that gives 2+2=5 ie. what you get out should exceed what you put in. This means that every part of planning in your business should be considering your staff as a means of achieving that purpose. Ask them for their ideas, be open to their suggestions and ask them to take responsibility for trying new approaches.

2. Planning and knowing what you want –“Everything is created twice: once in your mind and then in reality”. So said Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Clear thinking that gives a purpose, a plan for getting there, and then communicating that plan, are all critical. This includes designing jobs that will get your business further forward and also give staff some job satisfaction.

3. Good management – don’t employ people if you don’t expect to manage them. People need purpose, guidance and support. They need the right tools for the job, the right skills for the job and encouragement to keep going.

4. Have realistic expectations – Not a single one of your employees is going to work as hard or as much as you.  If they do, expect them to leave to set up their own business or make you an offer for yours!

5. Set clear ground rules – everyone needs boundaries Be clear about what is acceptable working behaviour: how we do things around here, and what is not acceptable, and;

  • Communicate them often, preferably through actions;
  • Enforce them – don’t let employees away with unacceptable behaviour;
  • Change them if they’re not working to get the outcome you want.

6. Your employees are not there to be your friends – they are there to do a job. Nothing can replace respect, courtesy and good manners in a good working relationship but don’t confuse this with friendship. This doesn’t mean that a friendship shouldn’t develop but be very careful about how you go about this, particularly in a very small business.

7. You’re the leader – give your employees a good example to follow. Everyone will be watching what you do, and will take their cue from that, no matter what you say.

Managing Turbulence


I have just finished designing and giving a training program called “Managing Turbulent Workloads“. Turbulence is a really fascinating topic and pretty relevant to most working people in the Western world. The world of work has instead become a whirl of work, becoming ever dizzying and seemingly without boundaries. The course does cover tools and techniques for managing some of that swirl – like the 2 minute rule for managing email, and the 90 minute rule for giving focused time to work – to mention a few that are about that most precious of resources – time. However, a few principles I suggest, particularly to those in very pressurised middle management positions:

  1. Management is a mixture of science and art – the science of using evidence and fact and the art of good judgment in managing people, personalities, issues and emotions;
  2. Appreciate the need for balance between the “big picture”, the long view and the helicopter view and the detailed view – need to keep adjusting your lens to ensure that you are taking in both of these perspectives;
  3.  Go back to the start if you get lost – lean on the solid, more objective foundation that you have built so far.

What do you think about managing turbulence? Is it possible, is it necessary or should we just enjoy the buzz?

BANKS: The New Deal PART 3


Leading on from the previous entry Banks: The Emperors with No Clothes? with the observation that banks have so much power. I think the simple answer is the same as why any person or institution has power – because we gladly give it and they gladly take it. They have been seen as serious and trusted institutions in the past, and challenging those ideals was difficult, a bit like a young child questioning their parents “Because I say so” attitude. There is not necessarily logic there but there is unquestionable authority in that set of words.

Perhaps another reason for banks’ power is because we haven’t been very creative in coming up with new ways of obtaining credit or at least, not new regulated ways of obtaining credit. So, we play it safe. And what the banks want, the banks get, even if this somehow distorts our entire world of work and life!

As discussed in the previous entry, the requirement for full-time or, at least, permanent work to get a mortgage meshes well with some pretty old-fashioned ideas in many workplaces that you are not a real person unless you work full-time – a lesser citizen, a second-class person and frankly, quite invisible. Just talk to parents who are seeking reduced hours to look after children at home, or people with disabilities or chronic illnesses who would like work but can’t work the God-given quota of 38 hours a week.

And yet, employers continue to cry out that they can’t find good talent, they find it hard to recruit good workers. I think that solutions are staring them in the face and employers and employees alike seem unable to see differently.

What are some of the possible solutions?

I have made reference to a solution that HR departments/ small businesses could implement quickly in a previous entry (see FLEXIBLE WORKING: April 2010).I suggest that 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, the business needs her to work about 50 hours a week for about 4 months of the year. 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 weeks = 1976 hours per annum

  • 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. This means that there is stability in income even if the hours move and change. It also means that employee and employer need to keep an eye on hour and work done and this can improve focus on productivity and also provide a reason for discussing work. And I can comment positively on this arrangement as this is currently my own work arrangement with a small business, and so far it is working extremely well.

And what about some new solutions for bank lending practices?

I’d suggest they re-visit their risk management model in conjunction with a good hard look at the evidence of:

  • what factors actually support ability to service a mortgage, and
  • what factors are good indicators of mortgage default.

They would then have some real evidence to guide how their criteria for loans needs to change. I would predict that a review of the actual track record would be an eye-opener and a basis for workable change.

QUESTION: What else could you suggest that banks and organizations could do to allow work practices and credit lending practices to be more flexible and still create positive and stable outcomes?

BANKS: The Emperors with No Clothes? PART 2


My experience with getting a home loan a number of years ago (before the GFC) was bizarre. My husband and I had 85% of the total price (including stamp duty) of the property and could not get a home loan with one of the regular banks. Why not? Neither of us had permanent, full-time work. The fact that we both had long-standing contract work that was extremely well-paid did not seem to count.

So, how do lenders conduct their risk assessment of potential customers? My brief but wide-ranging research on current practices in Australia yielded the following key criteria:

  • Employment status – those who have a “steady” employment record are a better risk than self-employed or those who don’t;
  • Income– undefined
  • Overall credit history – savings record including deposit, money management and repayments record over the past twelve months i.e. a positive credit history

Furthermore, on the issue of employment, the self-employed are singled out as particularly high risk “Typically, traditional lenders see the self-employed as a credit risk and are hesitant to approve them for a loan. This is a consequence of the banks risk assessment being primarily based upon income serviceability…Despite this, many people who are self-employed are very solvent and some are among the wealthiest people in the country. That said, most money lenders still prefer you to be on a stable salary income than to be listed as a sole trader or partnership structure.”*

In addition, the latest statistics (ABS November 2010) indicate that Australia has a total working population of 11.417 million of which 8.033 million (70%) are full-time workers and part-time employment is 3.384 million (30%).** And of these numbers, it is estimated that 18.5%*** are self-employed, approximately 2.112 million people, which is about 10% of the current total population.

In these times of change, fluctuation and uncertainty, the notion of permanent, full-time work as the key to approving home loans seems to me to be asking for trouble. It’s also quite ironic that banks are looking for stability- obviously their own work practices didn’t prevent the banking system falling into crisis, creating their own set of additional instabilities to world economies. It seems that they are looking from others what they are unable or unwilling to create for themselves.  They are not really setting a great example of leadership. So why do they have so much power? And what are some solutions for employers and employees so we can all get what we reasonably want?

Why do banks have so much power?


* Source: www.debtrelief.com.au

** Australian Bureau of Statistics November 2010 issue of Labour Force Australia

*** Independent Contractors of Australia Update May 2010

BANKS: Our Unequal Co-dependency PART 1


In Australia, the public tide of resentment against banks is swelling from a small set of waves to a tsunami, with a number of large consumer organizations and activists, such as Choice with their Better Banking campaign and GetUp with Hold The Banks To Account, beating the drum for support to the same cause.

As usual, the Government is slower to respond as they are caught in the bind of needing banks more than banks need them. The latest political tut-tutting at banks who had the temerity to increase their interest rates more than 0.5% above the official rate rise seemed to me to be more for show than anything with real teeth because they know it is difficult to bite the hand that feeds them.

Banks provide much needed revenue to Government (estimated at $5billion per annum) through their own profits being taxed and also by collecting taxes from customers (another $400 million p.a.), not to mention the 145,000 people /voters employed by banks*. In addition, Government has offloaded the burden of a cash payment system to using electronic transfers into bank accounts for all types of welfare payments, supplier payments and indeed, payments to their own employees. Don’t I remember the joy of getting real folding money into my hand when I was owed travel allowance (TA) for upcoming travel when I was a public servant – bliss! (Even better that it was not taxable: I think an entire column could be written about the ethics of that little number).

And whilst much of the current focus of public attention is on home loan interest rates, bank charges and also just in the last few days, a computer glitch that brought the entire National Australia Bank (NAB) payment system to a halt, the operations within banks have a much deeper effect on our world of work than first appears obvious.

Or, at least it does here in Australia.

QUESTION: What about elsewhere? Is the dependency the same or different? I would love to hear your thoughts.

NEXT: Banks: The New Emperors With No Clothes? It appears that banks generally have a less-than-rational risk assessment process for loans, and this has already got them into lots of trouble –why do they continue to do things the same way? And, for workers with mortgages, what effect does this have on the world of work?

*Source: Australian Bankers Association Inc- http://www.bankers.asn.au/Default.aspx?ArticleID=593

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