6 Lessons to Introduce Flexibility in Your Workforce

By | Culture, Flexibility

I have recently returned from speaking at the International Recruitment Conference in Fiji where the theme was “Recruitment at the Speed of Tomorrow”.  It was an inspiring couple of days learning about innovative ideas that are driving companies forward. In my session, I shared some of the key lessons I learnt whilst building a recruitment business and combating two of the biggest challenges in our industry – staff turnover and attracting top talent.  The recruitment industry doesn’t have a good record in this area and I met several companies who had appalling staff turnover! One company has an average staff turnover of 60%! The owner openly admitted that he doesn’t incorporate any flexible arrangements in his business. I have a feeling that this might not be the only issue, but let’s hope he might take on a few of the following ideas:

Lesson 1: Business culture enables flexibility or kills it

I learnt the hard way that the traditional recruitment culture of long hours, where client is king and being available 24/7 makes it pretty difficult to attract and keep the best talent long-term.  It doesn’t take long for people to get fed up from inflexible conditions. They  suffer from burn out or pressure from loved ones ultimately deciding they can’t successfully integrate a work life blend. The recruitment culture typically demands 8am meetings, expects after hours commitments and compulsory candidate calling nights. It doesn’t genuinely embrace flexible arrangements successfully. It wasn’t an overnight fix – changing culture, implementing innovative ways of doing things and getting staff to trust that the new way is okay takes time.

Lesson 2: A leader’s support and mindset makes it possible (or not)

During the conference discussions, there were many leaders who have identified this is as the biggest area that is holding them back from being a truly flexible employer – their own bias, trust issues and the way they have always done things. If a leader can’t successfully change their mindset to trust, support and believe that flexibility will work, it won’t. Forget it. Don’t bother trying to implement, it will fail. Part-timers will feel constantly watched, guilty and that they have to constantly justify their arrangement. Leading from the front is critical.

Lesson 3: Flexibility isn’t a fad that will go away…….learn to incorporate it

Work/life balance, flexibility, part-time, working from home…are increasingly being demanded. The show of hands during my presentation suggested that nearly everyone had experienced some type of request in the past 12 months. As a business leader, being on the front foot and being prepared for these requests can ensure a higher success rate.  Meet face to face, be open to new suggestions, and probe to find out the “real” reason for the request and a trial period might be a good starting point.  I remember setting up structures to help make it easier for me to accept a request eg: abolishing 8am weekly meetings and moving to daily meetings to ensure all staff had the opportunity to contribute.

Lesson 4: Productivity and performance won’t suffer, it will thrive

A quick survey of recruitment owners via, showed me that the biggest concern they had in regards to implementing flexible arrangements was loss of productivity.   The thought of Consultants reducing their core hours, leads to an immediate concern for a reduction in billings.  In my experience, through the implementation of team structures and providing tools of trade, it actually had the opposite effect.  When given the autonomy, clear expectations and support, part-time Consultants proved that they could actually be just as or even more productive than their full-time counterparts.

Lesson 5: Essential ingredients for flexibility to work – teamwork & communication

Part-time successful Recruitment Consultants can’t exist or achieve significant results as a solo effort.  Through trial and error, it became apparent to avoid full-time resentment and other’s ‘picking up the slack’; team structures and communication systems were essential.  We moved from individual responsibility and accountability to team’s responsible for clients, jobs and candidates. It was the shared goals, offering full-time staff flexibility through buddy systems and days off, sharing of fees and rewarding team participation that proved that part-time ‘client facing’ roles did work.

Lesson 6: Take Action!

None of this is relevant, unless you are prepared to take action.  So many companies talk about flexibility, put in their employer value proposition and hope that things will change.  The best thing I ever did was jump in and give it a go. Our systems, structure and approach certainly weren’t perfect – I had to keep adapting and solving issues as they arose. But I can tell you that the outcomes and results were worth the sometimes-painful journey.  I was able to say goodbye to thinking about people issues 24/7, retention rates soared to 5 – 6 years per Consultant, succession plans were developed, new consultants called us to join our business and the financial results increased.

Organisations who value workplace flexibility and embrace it will stand out from the crowd. You’ll not only start attracting more and better performing Consultants, you will actually start retaining them too! Don’t miss the opportunity to gain an edge on the competition to build a more productive and sustainable consultant workforce through fostering a positive and flexible culture.

A flexible workplace culture WILL create high performing and productive Consultants who stay (AND attract others just like them)

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

“It’s the vibe of the thing”……can you explain your culture?

By | Culture, Leadership, Results


Last week I spoke at a boardroom breakfast to a group of leaders from infrastructure, mining, legal and local government.  The topic was on my blog “technical competence without people skills –  what is it costing you”? I was a little apprehensive prior to the presentation knowing that most of the people in the room were technical experts and here I was about to tell them that they needed to develop their leadership skills!  I shouldn’t have been concerned.  The input, debate and discussion was encouraging.

There was one question that came up about three quarters through my presentation “you’ve spoken a lot about culture today…. what is culture anyway?”.  As a public speaker, there is always a small sense of dread getting a question that you may not have an immediate answer to…. but this one, this one I could talk about for a whole other session!

My immediate response was that culture is the values that guide internal behavior and action within an organisation.  Someone else in the room quoted the movie The Castle saying, “it’s the vibe of the place”, another said, “It is the unspoken expectations of how things are”; another said, “It determines whether you fit it in or not”.  It is such an intangible element, yet the most important aspect of an organisation.  A cohesive work culture is a powerful retention advantage and an organisation that stands by its values in everything it does – action, behavior and consequence is important to staff.

It is the number one question I get asked at interviews about a potential new employer “what’s the culture like?”. This can sometimes be hard to articulate and to describe to a third party – but it is an essential step in winning over a prospective employee.  Why should they leave their current role to join your company? In this day age, it has to be more than the job description and the pay because you can be assured there is a comparable job down the road. Culture is the differentiator – it is the intangible ‘something’ that can get a star candidate across the line.

I had a marketing executive call from Melbourne this week wanting to discuss the Adelaide market and potential opportunities.  He understands that finding a similar level role and remuneration may be difficult, but he is more interested in the right ‘cultural fit’ and returning to his home state.  He will only move if this match is right.  He is representative of a large proportion of the ‘passive’ market that is open to change and opportunities, but still need to be ‘sold’ on culture and an employer’s value proposition.  The problem is that so many companies still can’t successfully articulate this offer.

I know recruiting for myself; it was only when I could confidently communicate the culture at interview stage that my rate of hiring the right people and keeping them skyrocketed.  I didn’t do the big sales pitch – just here it is, warts and all. I learnt what were the two things about our culture that made people thrive and stay and they were also the two things that made people leave. It was not uncommon to get to the end of the interview and agree that it wasn’t the right match for either of us. Better now than later I say.

The same with clients. I was recruiting for the mining industry last year and I had a technically competent candidate who ticked all the boxes in terms of skills and experience.  After an hour and a half, I knew that there wasn’t a cultural match – he was motivated by flexibility and being able to blend his work life with family life.  For this particular organisation and role, the culture required strong achievement drive and a commitment to long hours and travel.  That’s okay of course; it just wasn’t the right fit.

The hardest part for recruiters as well as companies recruiting themselves is to be able to articulate the internal workings and behaviors of the company without being apologetic about it, in an honest and compelling way. Then sticking to it – even when you know it’s a great candidate in front of you, being able to walk away because ultimately you have different values and ways of operating is critical to long term retention.

Not sure how do you articulate your culture? Ask your staff!  They will tell you and usually come up with better descriptions and examples – especially about the unspoken culture.  My first week at Recruitment Solutions back in the late 90’s, I went to head office wearing a pantsuit.  The girls in the Sydney office looked me up and down, took me to lunch and told me that women weren’t allowed to wear pants! What? That wasn’t in the manual! I had been through induction that covered values, behaviours, standards etc, there was nothing about not being able to wear pants! Internal culture – you won’t always find the answers in the training manual.

Remember that in the race to recruit and retain the best and brightest means being able to convey your culture – what is so great about working here? Include this in your recruitment process – at the end of the interview have a 5-minute spiel about culture, expectations and values. Save yourself and the individual a lot of time, money and emotion by getting the culture fit right upfront.

Culture is everything. It is still one of the most important elements to attract (and keep) the best people to your organisation. Get a jump-start on your competition and recognise that at the core of what makes good companies great is a strong organisational culture.

Of course for those that don’t have a great culture…don’t worry about trying to articulate it….perhaps we should get together and discuss how to improve it?