Category Archives: management

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…

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?

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.

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