Monthly Archives

May 2011

You can’t steer a parked car …… should you manage your under-performer up or out?

By | Leadership, Performance, Retention

Under-performers, bottom quartile performance, staff that cost you money, employees that risk your reputation – those people in your team who just aren’t making the grade.  They keep us awake at night; they take up our leadership time with counselling, observations, reviews and numerous one on one discussions.  I’ve had my fair share over the years. The recruitment industry is notorious for staff turnover, usually the result of poor hires, incorrect culture fits, those lacking in the right competencies, motivational fit or we just got schmoozed by some new hot shot that convinced us they could cold call (music to our ears)!  The problem is when this happens to someone in your team do you performance manage out or up?

Of course the answer is – it depends.  If at the core, the match is right – motivation and culture fit, then you owe it to yourself and the individual to invest in coaching them up to top performance.  If you know in your heart of hearts that the long term alignment and values are out of whack – then count your losses and do it quickly. Don’t stretch out the pain and suffering for yourself, the existing team or the individual – it just makes it harder to cut the cord.

In my experience, the difference between top performers and those struggling to keep up, consistently comes down to one thing. Yes, that’s right, one thing.  And that’s action.  Taking action. Taking the right action. Taking the right action consistently.

Easy right? Come on, it really isn’t that hard or that difficult. People in general just waste a lot of time on the wrong things. Time and time again I find myself thinking “just do it”! Just get on the phone, just make that call, just see that client, just screen that CV and just make a decision! For goodness sake, it really isn’t that hard.

As a leader there is only so much you can do –you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink and you certainly can’t steer a parked car.

It ultimately comes down to desire – does the staff member want to be here? Do they want to achieve top performance and here’s the clincher….are the prepared to be coached and take the necessary action to get there?

What are the top 3 – 5 critical actions that this person must take to achieve top performance? Are you both clear what these tasks are and can you easily measure them? All jobs are made up of hundreds of little things and it is so easy to get distracted with emails, reactionary requests and time wasting through over preparation, research and blatant procrastination. Top performers are always organised, know what is important and get on with doing those things first.

I had a Consultant who worked for me for 7 years who achieved financial success, won new clients, built relationships with senior leaders in many corporate organisations in Adelaide and guess what? There was a time when she was an under-performer. I remember it so clearly. It was in her first 12 months and I was at the end of my tether with frustration over the mistakes she was making of no follow up, not asking great questions and not being face to face with clients.  The break-through moment was having an honest and direct conversation about where she was performing and where she needed to be. This conversation was not easy, but an essential first step to building top performance.  I asked if she wanted to be a top performer? Was she open to receiving feedback? Was she prepared to be uncomfortable in the journey?  Making it easier for me was the fact that she was completely receptive.  It was a tough 3 months of brutal honesty, lots of observation, feedback and coaching.  She responded with top performance resulting in increased revenue, quality of service, 7 years retention, inspiration to the team, a new zest of energy and respect.  She is a close friend and colleague to this day.

Performance issues don’t have to be a leadership headache.  It can be an opportunity to bring out the best in someone and give them their moment to shine.

People respect honesty and communication in any situation, but especially in the context of non-performance.  This is usually uncomfortable for both parties and is the elephant in the room no-one wants to talk about. If we don’t talk about it, maybe it will got away. It doesn’t. Under-performance can happen at any time to a new recruit or to a top performer after several years of success.  Our effectiveness as leaders is knowing how to have the conversation to turn it around and being committed to seeing the plan through.  Coming out the other side is a break-through moment that leads to ongoing top performance and success for you, the individual and the business.

Commit to increasing performance in your team – being uncomfortable is a small short-term price to pay for a long term top performance retention strategy.

Trust ‘ya’ gut! Do you overlook this recruitment tool?

By | Recruitment

You know that little “something” that niggles at you, the voice in your head or that “thing” you can’t quite put our finger on.  “It” often prevents us from making decisions or if we ignore it, we end up kicking ourselves that we didn’t listen to it when we make the wrong decision.

Gut instinct, a feeling, intuition, I can’t explain it, I can’t teach it and to be honest at interview I can’t assess whether you have it either. So it becomes very frustrating and hard to justify using your ‘gut’ in recruitment because it is subjective.  It isn’t based on fact or skill.  It’s that intangible intuition that you develop over time through interviewing hundreds and hundreds of people and observing human behaviour in what can be one of life’s most stressful situations – a job interview.

A few weeks ago I was interviewing a candidate who had a great CV, presented well face to face, answered all the behavioural based interview questions well and gave great reasons for wanting the job….but there was just something missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I kept asking more questions and yet my gut was saying something is not quite right here – but I had no facts to back it up.  This was quite unsettling because in recruitment I like a valid reason to say no I’m not going to refer this candidate to this job or to my client.  However, within 24 hours my gut proved right through this candidate not following up with promised referee names and numbers and a failure to follow simple instructions – my gut was right.

To use this “recruitment tool” to its full potential, here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Acknowledge the feeling – something isn’t quite right here, I’m not 100% sure what it is, but I recognise I’m not completely sold or comfortable
  • Ask questions – to validate the concern or to prove yourself wrong, you need to ask great questions to find the facts
  • Time – if you can’t find the answer immediately or evidence to make you go one way or the other, sit on the decision for at least 24 hours (something always tends to come up after the event)
  • Seek advice – can you gain a referral or speak to someone who has dealt with this person, product or service to give you some feedback on perhaps what did or didn’t work for them? This process, might clarify that gut instinct for you.
  • Previous experience – if you have made similar decisions in the past and been right, then it is reasonable to use this gut instinct again and realise that you have made a similar decision correctly in the past. For example, I have chosen not to hire experienced Consultants working for competitors due to my gut feeling that they won’t fit into the Entrée Recruitment culture.  This is very difficult to listen to when everything on paper is telling me they would be a good hire. Previous experience tells me it won’t work so I don’t ignore this urge to hire just on skills and experience (see previous blog Who’s hot and who’s not….what the perfect resume won’t tell you).

This isn’t only in recruitment – it occurs in all parts of life’s decision making.  I know for myself, I haven’t listened to this intuition on several occasions around picking service providers for our new house.  The disaster with our blinds could have been prevented if I had listened to my gut and the warning signs of cancelled appointment times, not returning phone calls and then the commented “yeh we’ve never sold these types of blinds before….”! I think sometimes we just get in situations where we hope that things will work out even when we can feel those little butterflies in the stomach trying to tell us something.

At the end of the day we all make incorrect decisions and we learn from these mistakes. The hard part is when we ignore our gut feelings and continue to make the wrong decisions.

Trust your gut – it is rarely wrong! In the recruitment world we have hundreds of tools at our disposable to help make the correct hiring decisions – screening measurements, tests, interviews, reference checks, coffee meetings and psychological assessments and yes they have their place in the recruitment process. But when was the last time you used this very powerful recruitment tool of gut instinct? Did it work? Would you use it again?

From little things big things grow…are you overlooking support staff?

By | Recruitment

There is nothing that gets me fired up more than a company that ignores the importance of support staff and the role they play in an organisation’s success. I see it every day in recruitment.

A company hiring a Receptionist recently said “this is the least important role in our company; just send us some CV’s”. Where do I start with this? The Receptionist is the first person your clients see and speak to, financially, this is still a $60K – $80K decision (salary + on-costs + training time + recruitment fees) and if your company is anything like mine, this is the training ground for internal promotion and future top talent! Get this hire wrong and you will potentially lose business and harm the company’s reputation. On the flip side, if the Receptionist is smart, competent and professional – this reflects that your business is smart, competent and professional.

Every day companies are missing the importance of getting these administration and support roles right. At Entrée Recruitment, my current PA started as the Receptionist and another is now a Consultant – all groomed and trained from the front desk.  Think of the recruitment costs I saved, the culture fit I already had right, the reduced risk of a new hire and the delight in providing career development. A bigger picture perspective rather than this is “just the Receptionist” can give you a long term competitive advantage.

One of the most frustrating support roles to recruit is a Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant.  Typically they support a Senior Executive such as General Manager, Director or CEO and such an important role needs to be given the recruitment attention it deserves. Unfortunately, what generally happen is that it is delegated to HR to ‘find some resumes’ and the Executive only gets involved in the last interviews declaring that “no-one is suitable” and there is “no chemistry”.  Gee I wonder why? You didn’t get involved from the start, you didn’t meet the Recruiter and you didn’t give a personal briefing on your requirements. It is virtually impossible to recruit a PA for someone you haven’t met.

To get this right and save you time, money and long term headaches with hiring the wrong person means committing to the process upfront like you would to hire a Senior Executive. 

  1. Personal briefing – meet the Recruiter who will be recruiting this role for you. Ensure they can demonstrate experience recruiting similar roles, are knowledgeable of the market, salaries and can recommend a proactive recruitment strategy.  It’s okay to have HR involved, but the person this role supports must be at the briefing.
  2. $ – commit to paying top dollar for this recruitment, like you would for an executive recruitment campaign. You get what you pay for, so a resume  flicking race by 4 different recruiters is not going to deliver you a top notch candidate. Your role also loses its ‘exclusive’ factor when every Recruiter in town all ring the same candidates for the same job….”what’s wrong with this role?” “they must be desperate” will be what goes through the candidate’s mind.
  3. Realistic expectations – don’t expect international experience, shorthand, board experience and to pay $50K.  Experienced Executive Assistants will save you money and increase your productivity – pay for the privilege or reduce your expectations.
  4. Honesty about your strengths & weaknesses – being honest with yourself and the Recruiter about your leadership style and what has frustrated previous Assistants is a good thing! It will mean that the match will be more accurate and your new Assistant knows what they are in for. If you are like the famous Adelaide business owner who likes his highlighters lay out in particular order for a board meeting – tell us! If you want your coffee cup pre-warmed and stirred in an anticlockwise direction two times – we need to know (yes that was a Partner in a law firm!).
  5. History – what has/hasn’t worked in the past – think of your best Assistant in the past – what made them so effective? What has completely frustrated you about others?  Be clear on what you want to see in your next hire.
  6. Training – not all Assistants will do things the same way and of course as Leaders we like things done differently to.  Assistants can’t read your mind – tell them early in the relationship how you would like things done and always correct them if you want something different.  Don’t hope it will get better – it won’t.  Training from day 1 is essential to develop and nurture a great working relationship.
  7. Invest in time & feedback – would you let a senior manager go weeks on end with no feedback on their performance, especially if they weren’t meeting your expectations? Of course not, you would probably have a weekly meeting and give them specific examples of what is working and what isn’t.  Do the same with your Assistant – feedback is the only way people will keep doing the things you like and stop doing the things you don’t.

Over the years my best Assistants became business partners – a person I could trust, make decisions in my absence and rely on to help improve my business results. The worst Assistants took up my time, created more work for me and clashed with the rest of the team.

I have learnt that support roles are critical to business results, workforce harmony and leadership productivity. Invest upfront, get the fit right and never underestimate the power of an effective Assistant.

Can you easily re-call your best & worst Assistant? Tell me – I would love to hear!

One of my best EA hires – Niamh – congratulations on the birth of your little boy George this week.