Tag Archives: solving real problems

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…

Advertisements

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

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.

Recruitment Agencies – Advocates or just Adverts?


I would like to think that I can see the constructive side of every situation I am in, but with recruitment agencies, I am really struggling.

In my recent working past, I have been employed by Government agencies through a recruitment agency. In theory, this is a situation that should have symbiosis that works well for all concerned:

• the client/employer gets (supposedly) a wider choice of high quality, skilled candidates employed quickly for short-term and/or specialist jobs;

• the contractor/employee gets access to employers through relationships already established to give priority. They may also get paid directly through the recruitment agency who acts as a payroll company (saves a lot of paperwork and messing about with tax and GST), and;

• the recruitment agency, of course, makes money as the middle-person between both parties, by finding and vetting high quality skilled people required and advocating for them to the client/employer.

But in reality, who is it really working for?
My experience tells me it is only really working for the recruitment agencies, who make huge amounts of money from either ongoing contractor employment, of which they take a cut by the hour or from one-off placement recruitment. This is for very little in return, as the recruitment agencies themselves are short of skills, proper systems and even, in fact, the relationships which their business should rely on. It may work for the candidate, should you be lucky enough to land a job, and for the employer, should they be lucky enough to get a decent short-list of suitable people.

To take my own example, when I worked for an agency they were taking $24 per hour over and above my agreed hourly rate. I worked just over 1400 hours with that agency in 15 months, which is a gross sum of $33,600 and not including the GST they collected- $18,760. In return for that, they collected my money owing, paid me an amount including super and paid tax on my behalf. They also did the contracting paperwork, which is actually not that difficult , except that no-one, including Government workers, seem to be informed about their own procurement processes (another HR issue which will be discussed another time).

In the case of a one-off placement, the recruitment fee is usually somewhere between $5,000-$10,000 or more, not including advertising costs. This may seem steep but if it includes a rigorous and targeted short-listing process, this can save a lot of expensive Government time, and also opportunity-cost – what do policy makers really know about good recruitment? And wouldn’t their time be better spent developing policy?

However, this scenario only really works IF the short listed candidates are very closely matched to the job specification.

And herein lies part of the problem. Getting clarity about what a job entails, it seems, is difficult. The number of times I have asked recruitment agencies for more information than the 5 lines provided in the job advertisement, doesn’t bear thinking about.
It seems to me that many Government workers are unclear and slack about what real recruitment is about and want the easy way out. I think their HR departments need to take some responsibility for not providing that clarity for their people, and not keeping job specifications up to date, which include suitable selection criteria.

So, what is the recruitment process with recruitment agencies? The Government agency/Dept puts out a request for quotation (RFQ) to recruitment agencies on their panel of recruitment providers OR else chooses a select number of agencies OR just one to do the job. (I recently responded for a group of jobs that were put out to all 136 agencies on their panel).

Each agency will “badge” the information received from the Government agency/Dept with their logo and requirements – differing deadlines, and requirements for candidates to respond – and advertise on their own website and other wider websites such as SEEK. A huge amount of the look for candidates seems to rely on this type of advertising. If you are lucky, they will trawl their own database of candidates to look for a match. How they go about this I am unsure, but the recruitment agencies do not seem to look any further than the job title. So, if you are like me and have done training before, every job with trainer in the title will come your way. In fact, if I was being very rude, I would say that most of the recruitment agencies barely seem to know how to read, and are actually unable to read resumes and job applications, much less be able to offer advice on how to place candidates forward more sensitively.

Whichever way the candidate responds, the job agency will “re-package” your resume (CV) and your selection criteria to be put forward to the employer agency. This “re-packaging” involves putting your work on their template and usually some fairly indiscriminate editing. I have only recently become aware of this and can say sincerely that this re-packaging does not add value, in fact, detracts from the original work of the applicant.

In summary, we have an employer who may be less than clear about what they require in an applicant or if they are clear, unsure about how to go about getting that type of person. Fair enough. They then deal with their HR department (?) or go directly to a recruitment agency, who seem unable to help them to get the clarity they need to enable a targeted, effective and efficient look for suitable people. Suitable people might well emerge but what chance have they when they are re-packaged to an employer who is unclear in the first place?

It seems that like life itself, recruitment of people muddles along in a gloriously serendipitous way….until the mortgage payment is due. Work your way out of that one.

Nora Stewart

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/

%d bloggers like this: