Monthly Archives

May 2012

How to reduce staff turnover with a flexible culture

By | Culture, Results

Staff turnover is an ongoing headache for most businesses.  Even booming industries like mining & resources are experiencing their fair share of hurt with 18% of workers leaving within the first 12 months and total turnover costing over $140 million per yearThe recruitment industry is certainly up there with rates ranging up to 45%.  Factors contributing to this include long hours, demanding client expectations, cultures that don’t support work/life balance initiatives as well as poor leadership and performance driven by deadlines and commissions.

Certainly in my first few years of managing a recruitment business, I was a culprit for churning through staff.  I made all the classic mistakes of hiring on experience, rather than culture, ‘hoping’ they would make it and leaving performance issues to fester.  The results were certainly consistent with the industry averages and left me tearing my hair out.

One of the instrumental factors in turning it around was creating, supporting and encouraging a flexible workplace culture.  Let me just start by saying it wasn’t easy.  There was no quick fix or magic cure to move from the traditional 8am – 6pm workday with “nazi style” metrics and expectations of ‘being in the office’.  It was a gradual process that required ongoing communication, buy-in from all employees and a commitment to leading by example.  Trust me the first time I left the office before 6pm it felt very strange!

In the end, I had nearly half my workforce on part-time flexible arrangements and a 100% voluntary staff retention rate.  I also experienced the highest levels of revenue and profit in our history.  It taught me that a flexible approach and creating a culture where part-time is possible, creates loyalty, increases performance and reduces staff turnover.  Tips to making it work include:

1.    Be realistic – I learnt that high performing Consultants moving from full-time to part-time need to manage their own expectations of what they can achieve.  Being able to step back and say perhaps I can’t take on as many clients as I used to, or being able to ask for help is okay.  You can only do what you can do after all.

2.    Prioritisation – the key to finding the balance is to make sure that you are doing the important rather than the urgent.  In recruitment there always seems to be something urgent, but it is critical to be clear on what makes the difference and doing those important things first is essential. As General Manager, I worked 3 days a week and ensured that I divided my time between coaching consultants, seeing clients, performance management and planning.

3.    Productivity – in my experience part-time employees work fewer hours in the office, but are capable of being just as productive as full-timers.  When those Consultants were in the office, they didn’t have time to waste and they were extremely good at juggling a range of tasks. I had one Consultant who billed 80% of her full-time billings in the year that she reduced to 3 days per week.

4.    Strategic approach – Recruiters and leaders taking on flexibility requests, need to have a big picture view of how it will work.  This involves planning and being more structured with tasks and time management. Just saying we are going to be flexible and family friendly doesn’t work unless there are real strategies in place on how this will work in a practical day-to-day sense.

5.    Support – I learnt very quickly that part-time Consultants need the full support of their leader, their teammates and family for it to successfully work for everyone.   This ranges from having tools of the trade such as remote access; Ipads and iPhones through to open communication, disciplined notes in the database and having the right attitude.  Once part-timers feel they have this support plus your trust, they will always (in my experience) put in more hours and effort.  Funnily enough this commitment by high achievers will always deliver greater results than what you pay them. Wouldn’t any boss want to increase billable hours with no increase in fixed costs?

All in all, I found creating a flexible work culture to be nothing but a positive and productive experience.  I truly believe it creates a strong competitive advantage and goes a long way to attracting and retaining top talent.


Nicole will be speaking at the 2012 RCSA International Conference in Fiji on: How creating a culture of flexibility will win the race in attracting and retaining top talent

5 tips to pitch to clients fearlessly

By | Communication, Performance

This is a guest post written by Dr Gemma Munro, an Adelaide-based life coach and facilitator and the Director of Inkling Coaching. Gemma has a PhD in performance psychology and extensive experience working with senior-level leaders to maximise their performance and enjoyment at work.

I know a number of women recruiters and, to a tee, I would describe them as capable, charming and confident. I also know that this confidence can crumble rather quickly in the face of the dreaded client pitch. I have experienced this firsthand, having spent a number of years in executive recruitment. The palms start sweating, the heart starts beating faster, and suddenly all our usual confidence and charm seems to sink into our stockings.

Over the years, I developed a number of techniques to start enjoying client pitches – and what do you know, my success rate improved phenomenally. I’m now a coach and facilitator, but client pitches are one of my favourite parts of the job. Here are my top five tips to shine in front of clients and make the most of every pitch opportunity:

1. Create a pitch that captures your clients’ attention

Most clients have one question going through their minds when listening to a pitch. That question is ‘what’s in it for me?’; in other words, how will this recruiter make my job easier?’. To pitch well you need to put yourself in your clients’ shoes – what problems are keeping them awake? Shape your pitch around what is going to make your clients sit up in their chairs and listen. Address their needs, never yours.

2. Engage in some armchair rehearsal

Did you know that the great Laurence Olivier used to walk on stage before almost every performance and announce to the empty auditorium, “You are about to see the best show you have seen in your entire lives. And I will be delivering it. You lucky people”. Being not quite as famous as Laurence Olivier, most of us will need to say something similar to ourselves quietly before we step into a pitch. An equally useful technique is to spend a few minutes each day before a meeting visualizing ourselves in the pitch meeting looking, sounding and feeling confident. Works a charm.

3. Do the wall stand

Just before you meet your client, stand up against a wall so your body is flat against it, then walk into the room maintaining this posture. It’s amazing how it calms your nerves and centres your body (and, as a bonus, standing this way makes anyone look assured and at ease).

4. Fall in love with your client

A quick disclaimer – this tip is metaphorical, not literal! But it’s amazing how well it works. Think back to how you communicated when you were falling in love. You maintained intense eye contact for long periods of time. You looked at your lover as if she or he was the most fascinating thing in the world. Do the same with your client – look them in the eyes, be genuinely interested in them. Most people are seeking one of two things; to feel valued or to feel important. Your client is exactly the same.

5. Reframe your pitch as a chance to help your client

One of the most useful things to remember is that your clients won’t be thinking about you much at all. Like most people, clients are wrapped up in their own world and are just looking for some help or hope – this is something you can give them. Take the emphasis off yourself, and place it on making a difference to your client.

As a motivated, accomplished recruiter, what you have to offer is of exceptional value. The trick is to know it, but then to remove the focus entirely off yourself and onto your client. And the other trick? Over time, give yourself permission to have fun in pitch meeting. Pitches always represent an opportunity to help your clients tremendously. What a privilege.

To the smart, savvy women out there

If you’re interested in building your confidence and skills as speakers, I am running my Speakeasy program on June 18-19 in Adelaide. Speakeasy is a two-day workshop for a small group of women who want to communicate and pitch more confidently, effectively and authentically. Designed and facilitated by Dr Gemma Munro, the program is specifically for women who are smart, self-motivated and positive in outlook, but who believe that they do not communicate their full potential when speaking to a group.


About Gemma Munro

Gemma is an accomplished public speaker herself. She is known as a highly skilled facilitator with an engaging, energetic and compassionate approach. She has presented her research nationally and internationally, and has won several prizes for her speaking. Gemma is also a long-time performer, having toured Europe, the United States and Asia as a classical and folk singer. She understands performance nerves, having experienced them first-hand, and she is deeply interested in helping others to get the fear out of the way and experience joy and success at work.

Visit for testimonials from clients and participants who have worked with Gemma.

Beauty vs brains……does it have to be a competition?

By | Results, Success

The Adelaide Advertiser ran an article on Saturday titled “The Ugly Side of Being Beautiful”.  It revealed research stating that 47% of US Recruiters believe women can be penalised for ‘being too good looking’ and attractive women who attach a photo to their resume were less likely to secure an interview than their ‘plainer rivals’.  On the flip side, Chief Economist Darryl Gobbett said, “the aesthetically gifted will always reign supreme”. So is beauty a help or hindrance in getting ahead?

Just last week I spent a coaching session with a female recruiter who is both young and attractive – a combination that she perceives is proving a little tricky in securing more senior work.  The assumption is that she doesn’t know what she is talking about, doesn’t have as much as experience and couldn’t possibly do as good a job as the more ‘seasoned’ recruiters in the market.

A CEO (a man in his mid 60’s) told her that she would have a tough time ‘making it’ in the market. When she enquired why, he said being young and good looking would mean that a lot of people would automatically think she lacked substance! Really? Isn’t that a little old fashioned? Aren’t we past that day and age of outdated thinking? Perhaps not and truthfully people generally won’t admit to making these assumptions or give you the time to prove them otherwise.

I decided to play devils advocate.  How can you prove to me that you are capable of doing this type of recruitment I asked her? What confidence can you give me that you will do a good job and deliver results? After our 90-minute session, here is what we uncovered:

  1. Mind set & belief – you can’t buy into someone else’s incorrect perceptions of what you might or might not be capable of.  If you belief you can, then you can.  If you wavier, doubt or demonstrate insecurities, you will never convince a third party of your abilities.  Be clear on your knowledge, ability and results.
  2. Walk the talk – I had a consultant who worked for me many years ago who was beautiful, young and had a high-pitched voice.  She was convinced that clients didn’t take her seriously once they saw and heard her.  To combat this, she wanted her physical presentation to represent her ability (she was extremely capable and delivered top performance results).  Small things like tying her hair back, wearing glasses, dark coloured suits etc all helped her own confidence in walking the talk – portraying the image she felt was more representative of her abilities.  There is nothing wrong with a “fake it until you make it” approach which involves exuding confidence, remaining calm and delivering an educated response.
  3.  Tell them – having your elevator pitch ready is critical to answer “…and why should we use you?” What makes you different from the last Consultant? This pitch should describe your offering, differentiator, benefits and the results you deliver.  However, let’s face it, most Consultants’ say similar things, which is why you need to be able to communicate this with passion and conviction to then back it up with real examples.
  4. Show them – actions speak louder than words! Using visuals in a pitch is very convincing.  Get really specific – show an example of a campaign, search methods used, how many candidates you had, where you found the successful applicant, timeframes etc.  Any piece of data (think facts & figures) is going to help build your pitch and show the client you have done this before and the results speak for themselves.
  5. Risk-free – giving the client a “what have you got to lose” enticement is helpful in getting them over the line.  What can you offer that your competitors won’t? Is it a longer guarantee, testimonials from a similar campaign or client? Less financial commitment upfront or a timeframe deadline? Entice them to take a risk and give you the opportunity.

Regardless of industry, role or level of experience, we all have to prove our capabilities, demonstrate our experience and be able to articulate our offerings in a compelling and convincing way that brings long term opportunities and results – regardless of looks.

I don’t know about you, but with any service offering, I would much prefer to deal with someone who is enthusiastic, shows commitment, has the ability to do the job and will bend over backwards to deliver the results.  Of course, having beauty and a brain appears like the ultimate combination –but this is business, not speed dating!

Perhaps being genetically gifted gets you in the door, but brains may ultimately win you a place at the table?


Nicole is a Fellow of the RCSA and a current RCSA council member in South Australia. Nicole combines her recruitment, leadership and coaching expertise to work with other recruiters and organisations to achieve their own success through increased performance.  

South Australia – the market, the future & the opportunity

By | Change, Results, Success

I attended the AMCHAM luncheon last week featuring Raymond Spencer, the Chair of the Economic Development Board in South Australia. I was curious to hear his view and outlook as clients and candidates have consistently been telling me over the past few months – it’s tough.  In 24 hours I had a job offer recalled due to ‘cash flow’ and ‘revenue concerns’ and another candidate told me he had his interview cancelled due to the company deciding to “not proceed for now”.  Let me just mention – both of these examples are in the apparently ‘booming’ resources sector. It demonstrates the current feeling of caution by businesses in Adelaide and this mentality of “let’s wait and see”.

Raymond certainly wasn’t backward in coming forward and was quite open in his observations and thoughts of the Adelaide business community.  I found his opinions to be refreshingly honest. In short, some of his comments included:

  • SA businesses aren’t aggressive enough – it’s just not part of our DNA and in general we have a glass half empty approach – being too quick to see what’s wrong vs. what’s right
  • We are very very lucky, there is a real opportunity here in SA right now – we just don’t realise how good we have it
  • Not enough attention is paid to organisational culture and embedding the right values and behaviours that deliver successful outcomes
  • We don’t support risk with the possibility of failure here vs. the US where innovation and risk are supported and expected
  • “People are our most important asset” – everyone says this, but how do you transfer this to your bottom line? It must come back to your culture and be entrenched in everything you do

I certainly felt he illustrated the conservatism in the Adelaide business community that “newbies” to our city usually describe and perhaps our definite lean towards pessimism not optimism. What they really mean is that we generally don’t like change and there is a fear factor about doing something different, taking a risk, considering alternatives or developing new relationships.  Doing things the way we have always done them tends to be our auto pilot strategy.

The bigger picture here of course is what Raymond highlighted  – that we are potentially missing a much larger opportunity.  This could pass us all by if we don’t come together as a business community and support each other, consider new alternatives such as joint ventures to win bigger business and be open to change.

His over-riding theme and certainly based on his own business success, was clear and not linked to the economy, market conditions or political landscape – it was this: business success still comes back to people, culture and leadership. Without these key elements at your business core, the rest is pointless.

Let’s agree – Adelaide is a great place to do business. We have growth industries, we have talented people, we have the lifestyle and the cost of living, so we should all be open to new ideas and ways of doing things and embrace the opportunities before us by taking action with an attitude of positivity.


























Are you busy or just ineffective? 5 ways to create more hours in your week

By | Productivity, Results

I need more time with no extra hours,” a friend recently told me. She consistently feels anxious going to work, gets to the end of the day and feels like she hasn’t stopped to take a breath. Her regular rants include “I don’t have enough time”! She feels scattered, unfocussed and disorganised.  The stress is building as she runs around reacting to what is happening around her.

I think at some stage in our careers, we all have experienced moments like this when we feel like a headless chook and seem unable to get in front and on top of our workload and this often spills into other aspects of our lives.  For me, it was in early 2003 – a couple of years after establishing a new business and giving it my everything to get it off the ground.  The passion, excitement and determination to create something successful was a driving force that also pushed me closer to the burnout zone.

I learnt that feeling like I had a lack of time, meant that I had to prioritise to gain control over my day.  Several things needed to change, some were relatively small in concept and simple in application, but they made a significant difference immediately.

  1. Role definition – get a blank piece of paper and write at the top what is my job? What are the 5 major tasks to achieve this? What 5 things am I doing that I can delegate? And finally what steps can I take to delegate them?  For me, such a simple exercise clearly showed me that I was spending nearly half my time on tasks that I could easily get someone else to do and I was too “hands-on” in the business managing rather than leading.
  2. Urgent vs important – any time management guru or text will explain that we spend too much of our day reacting to what appears urgent rather than on those activities that have a direct impact on outcomes.  This became very clear to me as I proof read documents, approved invoices, accepted interruptions from other internal departments and got distracted by administrative processes.
  3. The “to do list” – a non-negotiable, essential tool that I have used every day for the past 15 years. It has become legendary with every person who has worked for me and they will tell you that I live and die by it.  It numbers and lists every task specifically that needs to be completed for the day.  It has to be specific eg: call Tony Jones re: ad approval or complete reference check on Mandy Smith.  Grouping tasks or being generic such as do reference checking or ring clients doesn’t get done because it isn’t exact or measureable.  Once completed, ticked off, it becomes a single document that lists all tasks – not using different systems such as outlook, sticky notes and a notebook – one system, one list.
  4. “Big rocks” – becoming clear on the “big rocks” – that is typically between 3 – 5 of the most important priorities that you do that deliver the outcomes you want to achieve.  Figure out what they are and spend at least 70% of your week doing them. For me these highest payoff activities were performance management, business development, coaching and sales training.
  5. Empowering others to take responsibility – when it’s your own business or where you have direct accountability for specific outcomes for a division, it can be hard to let go.  The moment I delegated authority, allowed people to make decisions and learn for themselves, the confidence and trust grew.  The result for me was more time and less stress, as I wasn’t holding sole responsibility for everything that happened. A weight was lifted off my shoulders.

The secret to gaining more time is through priortisation and focusing on those things that actually make a difference to what you are trying to achieve.  In the words of productivity guru Timothy Ferriss, “being busy is used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions”.  I couldn’t agree more.  It is so easy to fill our days with unimportant, seemingly urgent but irrelevant ‘busyness’.  To my friend I say, “stop, revisit your purpose, get clear on what tasks actually contribute to achieving your results and don’t procrastinate by being ‘busy’”. You will never get more hours in the day, but you can certainly control what you put into the hours that you have.

So does my friend need more time? No! If that were a possibility, she would just fill it doing more of the same unproductive stuff she is doing now and in essence be no more effective.  Having more time doesn’t equate to greater effectiveness…but being effective will create you more time.


Nicole Underwood provides business coaching to leaders and owners who are seeking to improve their results through more effective leadership and communication.  A recent client has said “Her effervescent style coupled her with extensive experience in her field is a joy to work with. She is non-judgemental and not controlling in her style. I would highly recommend Nicole to any emerging leader who needs tips and support in growing a team. She is a first class consultant.” Business Owner, March 2012.

*This article was originally written and published for Training Point in January 2012