Tag Archives: work

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?

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.

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: 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

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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