Tag Archives: ABC radio

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.

Implementation is difficult:Trying to be green but all faces are red


I heard on ABC national radio this morning that there are a lot of people upset with the Australian government “Green Loans” scheme and its “gross maladministration” including the work of around 10,000 assessors being disrupted or non-existent.

The scheme was designed to give an opportunity to home owners to “green” their houses through reducing energy, water and other use, and is implemented through a trained assessor seeing what needs to be done and providing recommendations to the homeowner, that can then be used to access interest-free loans up to AUS$10,000.

It is certainly a marketing success story, with a reported 205,000 assessments booked in by the end of January. So much interest in helping the environment and homeowners taking responsibility for their homes to reduce ongoing emissions and waste is something to be celebrated?

The problem is in implementation, and that comes back to people and human resources. On the surface it is that the IT systems for processing assessment bookings that are not working, a centralized call centre that is blocked and worst of all, potentially 10,000 trained assessors who can’t get work because of these problems and may not have long-term work because the scheme is such a debacle.

However, proper planning and analysis of resources and systems required most likely could have prevented many of these problems. The nature of climate change and all things green is almost completely politicized now, which makes rational and careful planning for good ideas more difficult. But given the bad publicity that this good idea now has, quelle cost?

And, what is the solution? If I was asked by the Minister to provide a plan for this scheme, these are the questions I would be posing that have direct HR relevance:

To estimate the quality and quantity of assessors required, how long does each assessment take to do, including initial contact with the homeowner, the visit, the report-writing and communication with the homeowner?

    • What skills does the assessor require?
    • What skills and abilities are we recruiting for and which ones will we provide through training?
    • How long will it take to recruit, train and accredit assessors?
    • How will we manage the assessors and ensure quality of work?
  • What is the upper limit of numbers of homeowners that can have an assessment, given how much funding there is for interest subsidy, money and time for assessments and other administration? That is, what is the bucket of funding available and how far can we stretch it?
  • What timeline will be required to get enough assessors trained and other aspects of the process in place to be ready to start doing assessments?
  • What contingency plans need to be put in place for workers in case:
    • Homeowners do not take up the offer in numbers expected, or;
    • Homeowners DO take up the offer in numbers expected?
  • What communication process will be in place between homeowners, assessors and managers of the process?

These are just some areas that one would hope would have been investigated in the early planning stages. The issue of how long things take to do is one of my favorite hobby horses as my observations make me think that very little work is done on figuring this out.  This is part of the delusions that we often have about work – what we think we should be doing and what we are actually doing.

I designed and ran a training program for around 80-100 clinical nurse managers in Ireland about 8 years ago now and was astounded at what I found out about their work.

The purpose of the program was to teach them to better motivate and manage nurses, in an effort to stem the flow of nurses leaving the health system. As part of the introduction to the program, I asked them some questions about what they spent their time doing and what they thought they should be doing.

My intention was to show them that instead of doing the clinical work themselves (this is what I thought I would find), they could delegate, coach, motivate others to do this, and this is what they should be doing.

Imagine my surprise at the results about what clinical nurse managers actually spent their time doing:

  • Paperwork -100% reported this
  • Staff shortages 85% reported this
  • Maintenance -70% reported this – unblocking toilets and changing light bulbs!

It’s amazing how the world reveals itself to you when you ask!!

For more information about Green Loans, see http://www.environment.gov.au/greenloans/

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