Technical competence without people skills – what is it costing you?

By | Leadership, Results

A common problem I see in many organisations is that somewhere in their senior management team they have a person with strong technical competence, but who lacks the essential people skills and leadership expertise. The story goes that they are leading the way with their knowledge and experience, meeting expectations, producing innovative ideas, delivering on project deadlines and are knowledge champions in their field.  However, the issue preventing them from getting ahead or a roadblock to their further success is their inability to deal with colleagues, inspire their staff and get outside their comfort zone to take the next step in their professional and personal development.

One HR Director told me that the response from a technically brilliant manager was “things are good, there aren’t any problems, no-one’s losing money – let’s keep doing things the way they are”.  Another in an accounting firm is a star – she is “a doer”.  In a client meeting, she is all business, discussing the issues and then is firing on all cylinders to get the job done. Meanwhile, the client is still pouring a cup of coffee wanting to debrief and perhaps even converse in a little banter about the weekend. In another, a technical manager has got significant staff turnover and the Managing Director refuses to do anything about his ‘leadership style’ because there is no one as good as him in the industry. Really?

At what point does technical competence excuse someone from poor behaviour and being able to operate under a separate set of rules? At what point does an organisation say enough – we love the results, but you’re destroying our culture, loosing our future talent and just a pain the butt to work with!

I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have too.  These people can sometimes appear as a protected species – anything goes because they have the knowledge, they’ve been in the business forever and are producing the results.  Here’s the problem – you can’t promote them to an executive role because they don’t inspire, empower or lead from the front.  The alternative is to leave them and continue the way they are, improve and coach them on their people skills or let them go. In my observations, most choose to leave them as they are, because it is “too hard” to do anything else.

The long-term recruitment and retention issue here is that high potentials may not be attracted to the firm due to the perceived reputation they have heard on the grapevine.  Similarly, high potentials within the business eventually leave because they can’t see a career path working for this person or in an environment where these behaviours are accepted.

The best result is to build on their leadership and people skills.  Imagine that – your highly valuable employee is now not only producing, but also inspiring others to deliver similar results.  That would be a huge turnaround for culture, results and retention. A typical by-product is the individual also benefiting through increased job satisfaction – due to not being the only technical expert with all critical pieces of work resting on their shoulders.

In my experience a technically experienced performer is not magically going to improve their people skills over-night.  Hoping that it will get better is not a strategy. In the past, what tends to happen is they are sent on a leadership course with fingers crossed that they will return a ‘changed person’.  I don’t know about you, but I have never seen such changes after attending a training program. Of course they come back with increased knowledge, perhaps even some awareness and on the odd occasion you may even see them implement a couple of new strategies! Once the course is finished and becomes a distant memory, these new ideas are generally long gone and tend to disappear.

What is more valuable and can have far reaching effects is when a person is coached on their behaviours and the impacts that they are having on other team members, direct reports or clients and the long term cost to them if they continue in this way.  The key here is of course knowing what this particular person’s triggers are eg: not gaining access to larger projects or more responsibility, bigger clients, bonus payments etc.  Linking the behavior to what motivates or demotivates them is certainly going help drive the message home while keeping them accountable to change.

I was surprised last month when someone I know left a high profile job and what I percieved as a great business.  He said to me after leaving “Nicole, life is too short to work with d#!*heads”.  I was surprised to hear something so blunt, but I got the message loud and clear.  I wonder when some of these leaders are going to get a similar message that technical competence is only one part of a much larger people picture that if dealt with can produce bigger and better results for all involved.

Who will carry your vision? Tips to develop your successor

By | Leadership, Retention

60% of companies don’t have succession plans in place and yet this article suggests “the most successful CEO’s come from within”.  It signals that many businesses take the approach that it’s hard work to build internal leaders and still relatively easy to go to market to find top executive talent.

This topic sparked my interest this week due to the sad passing of Steve Jobs and how Tim Cook, his right hand man has taken over the reigns as CEO at Apple. I also immediately connected with this article as I too, was in this position several months ago when I announced my successor.  In my opinion, hiring an external candidate to take over from my role, as General Manager would have been a disaster.  To learn the internal workings of what makes the business significantly different and gives it a competitive advantage is not easy to put into words or in the training manual. To groom and promote an internal leader was a long-term process and necessary investment to ensure a smooth transition.

My 2IC Megan Nicholson had worked with me for over 8 years and we had been working towards the goal of her taking over for a long time. When she asked me ‘where are you going’? I would brush it aside saying it didn’t matter, we had to make sure she was ready regardless of circumstances.  I didn’t know when or where I was going, the important thing was the plan to ensure that the business would continue as she prepared to take the reigns.

This process of identifying and developing a natural predecessor was a big investment.  Finding the right talent in the first place is always tricky! The goal is to match skills and experience, competencies and motivational fit which is rare to find in an individual, but to then try and determine it from an interview process is another skill altogether.  In my case, it proved to be the right hire and our journey of development happened over many years and had the following ingredients:

  1. Core values must match – working with someone or an organisation that doesn’t mirror your core values can be an exercise in frustration at the best of times.  It is critical that your potential successor demonstrates the necessary behaviours to lead from the front and execute the vision (not just the experience and results). In this case, Megan didn’t have the recruitment industry experience, however, she did display coachability, a strong desire to achieve and a dedication to making a difference.
  2. “Shop floor” experience – gaining experience from all areas of a business gives a holistic view of the organisation and a deep understanding of the competitive advantage of the business.  It’s easier and often perceived as more genuine to sell the message if you’ve been there.  Again, Megan started in an entry-level role that proved to be an essential step her development as she gained deep knowledge of candidate interactions essential for the business to succeed.
  3. High performance – your replacement must be a top performer. Being able to gain the respect of fellow colleagues and staff will be faster if there are consistent runs on the board.  Of course, results without leadership isn’t going to work either, but quantifiable results is a solid platform to lead from.  In one of my first leadership roles, I was running a team of 7 that included people all older than me.  The night before my official first day, I remember great words of wisdom from my father telling me to show them the results I had achieved and how I could help them generate the same success. It worked – I’ve always taken the philosophy that age is irrelevant; numbers don’t guarantee attitude, commitment and desire.
  4. Key clients – introducing your successor to key clients and stakeholders gives them the opportunity to build these relationships without your constant presence, assistance and approval.  I had clients that had only dealt with me for over 6 years and handing over that opportunity to account manage was a big step for everyone involved. It proved to be an essential step in building trust and credibility for future interactions.
  5. Leadership opportunity – about 4 years in and already one promotion, I gave Megan a Team Manager role where she would have overall responsibility for a team of Consultants and their performance.  This stepping-stone was critical in her leadership development for the top job.
  6. Increase responsibility – like Tim Cook was given opportunities to lead the helm of Apple when Steve Jobs was absent, I gave Megan responsibility for the acting General Manager role on two separate occasions when I was on parental leave. These situations gave her full responsibility for the business and the opportunity to ‘test drive’ the role.  This was an invaluable developmental step in the long-term investment.
  7. Make mistakes – all leaders in their rise to the top have to make mistakes, feel the pain and resolve the issue. Often, mentors/those higher up the ranks can see the writing on the wall, but without wanting to interfere and restrict a learning opportunity, you have to watch from the sidelines and be there to support in the fallout.
  8. Coaching and Feedback – absolutely essential for grooming a successor is honest and straight talking feedback on what’s working so they can keep doing it and what’s not working so stop doing it.  This was a courageous process for me as having a stand-out performer  for so long made it fresh territory to be back coaching on areas to improve.
  9. Timing and execution – when is the right time to hand over the reigns? Sometimes, it will come without warning, other times it will be a finite date in the future.  The best strategy here is to be clear in the communication around the opportunity and it will happen.  So often I interview candidates who say, “they’ll never leave” or “I’ll never get that opportunity”.  It demonstrates the importance of communicating well in advance your intentions for someone to take over.

To develop your internal talent takes time, investment and patience.  In my experience, a combination of recruiting, coaching and mentoring, in addition to ongoing opportunities was the right recipe for success. The fact that Megan and I only needed a week’s hand-over is testament to our relationship, open communication and shared vision and ethos for the business. I am completely confident that I left the business in the most capable hands…could you say the same thing if you left tomorrow?

“It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” – Steve Jobs

Learning from mistakes….7 tips to making amends

By | Empowerment, Leadership

Yes I've made mistakes life doesn't come with instructionsA few months ago, one of my staff members rang me in a panic.  She had stuffed up. Big time.  She had accidentally hit reply to an email instead of forward to an internal colleague.  The content of the message was…well let’s say, pretty direct and used a few “internal” jargons referring to the sender of the email and instead it went to the sender! Oh dear. A mistake. An embarrassing mistake that she felt terrible about. What to do?

One of my biggest motto’s in running a business has been you have to make mistakes to learn and if you aren’t making mistakes you’re not making anything. I read this philosophy in 2001 reading Richard Branson’s “losing my virginity”. It’s an attitude that I have adopted and put into practice many many times.

The advice and steps we took to deal with it were:

  1. Empathy – let the person de-brief, cry, whinge, discuss the issue – being heard is really important. Being able to de-brief and just talk about a stuff up without judgment or problem solving is really important so people know you care. On this occasion, the Consultant was mortified….she had referred to the candidate in a way that could have been perceived as ‘judgmental’ and perhaps a little unprofessional, so letting her vent was therapeutic, as she wasn’t ready to solve the problem yet.
  2. Step back from the emotion and really look at the facts of what’s happened.  Looking a raw data, sequence of events and timelines can help get clear on what’s important and distinguish how did this happen? (as opposed to the why – which will drive excuses).
  3. How can we solve this – what are all our options here? There is never only one option so it’s important to brainstorm every possible solution, even if you don’t like them or you think that others will disagree.
  4. Execute – decide on the best plan of attack to the solve the problem. The Consultant just jumped on the phone to the “sender” and apologised. Being honest and upfront and using verbal communication was the best option. They actually ended up having a good laugh and she came in for an interview the next day!  Phew!
  5. Learning – what have we learnt? Whenever there is a mistake, there is an opportunity to learn.  This is a good thing! I know one of the biggest lessons I learnt early in my career was not to gossip about other clients … Adelaide is a small market and this is sure-fire way to discredit your reputation.  It was a painful mistake, but an invaluable learning.
  6. System – let’s put a system in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  7. Move on – don’t dwell on it and go over and over and over it again. Being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off speaks volumes about who you are.

What happened that day for this Consultant is pretty minor in the scheme of things, as most mistakes on a day-to-day basis can be fixed by following the steps above.  Over the years when I think about mistakes that were made in the business, they tend to be incremental ones such as charging an incorrect rate on a temp margin, sending a group email with all the address of the recipients visible, sending a courier to a wrong address, forgetting to send an important document in the mail, not returning a call the same day…. I think sometimes we need to remember that we are all human and mistakes happen. It’s the way that we deal with it that, see the learning opportunity and of course make sure it doesn’t happen again!

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Quit while you’re ahead…10 tips for going out on top

By | Change, Leadership, Results
Entree Recruitment Super Stars!

Entree Super Stars!

4 weeks ago, I made a BIG decision. I decided to leave my job. 10 years after founding Entrée Recruitment and leading the company to it’s most successful year on record, I felt it was time …. and what better time to do it than when the business is at its peak? My decision has been met with a range of reactions – congratulations! Why? Well done! About time! Really? Are you sure? Hmmmm that’s a big risk, are you crazy?

Funny isn’t it….but setting up Entrée all those years ago was a risk too.  It was late 2001 and the market was going through an interesting time with Sept 11, the HIH disaster, Ansett had collapsed and many big spending Adelaide corporates such as Fauldings were moving interstate.  It was a turbulent time that did see several recruitment companies go out of business.  Meanwhile, at 23 I was relishing the opportunity to start up a business from scratch with not a care in the world about the market, the economy or my competitors.  I wanted to do things differently and I had a vision – the rest seemed irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

As I have cleaned out my office this week, going through 10 years of “stuff” – I have reminisced on my journey and the highs and lows. Many lessons have been learnt, many relationships formed and many successes enjoyed.  On reflection, I would summarise my 10 biggest lessons in 10 years as:

  1. I can’t do it all – in the early years, I subconsciously thought I could do it all.  I would try and solve every problem, take on every task, talk to every client and I wanted to know everything that was going on.  The result? I was close to burnout and I became a control freak. Letting go, learning to empower others and take a big picture perspective saved my leadership, long-term business success and my sanity!
  2. Health must be a priority – working long hours, drinking copious amounts of coffee, eating poorly and irregular exercise left my system running on empty.   An adrenalin junkie going full throttle is what I thought would deliver the results I wanted. I learnt putting health 1st, family 2nd and work 3rd actually delivered better results for all three areas.
  3. Recruit for culture – in the early days, I had relatively high staff turnover.  It would drive me crazy that I had spent so much money recruiting and then months training only for newbies to leave. I had to have a good hard look at where I was going wrong.  I was recruiting on skills and experience and not on culture (see previous post who’s hot and who’s not….what the perfect resume won’t tell you). As soon as I changed this focus, my hit rate dramatically improved. I learnt that there are 5 competencies that people must demonstrate to join the Entrée team (coachability, achievement drive, negotiation, persistence and decision making).  No matter how great their years of experience in recruitment, I would not hire them if they couldn’t meet these criteria.
  4. Goals = results – every year the team and I have set personal and business goals at an individual level that would then link to business’ overall goals.  This discipline ensured that every year our results improved and people knew how they were contributing to the big picture.  Without a target, people don’t know what to aim for.
  5. Coach on behavior, not the person – have you ever wondered why people end up in tears in your office or you think oops that didn’t come out the right way?  It would happen to me and I realised the issue was in my delivery – not my intent. As soon as I change my communication to focus on observed behaviours, rather than what I thought, things changed dramatically! Suddenly performance increased, staff were motivated and driven and I wasn’t carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
  6. Set expectations early – why is this staff member texting me that they are sick and not coming in? Why is she wearing that to work? I learnt that you should never assume. People don’t know what you want or the way you want them to do things unless you tell them.  I set expectations right from the interview stage – “this is what we expect here at Entrée…” This way there is always something to go back to if behviour goes off track (see blog how to get what you expect).
  7. Leadership = retention – do you want people to stay? Become a better leader. Simple.  My retention rate went through the roof the moment I started investing in my leadership skills.  This peaked at an average rate of 6 years for consulting staff – a rate the smashes the industry average.
  8. Staff are number 1 – one of the first business books I read that had an instant effect on me was Richard Branson’s “loosing my virginity”.  It taught me many things – the most profound being that staff must come first. When staff come first, clients get great service and the profits look after themselves.  This mantra has proven true year on year in my business.
  9. Feedback & coaching – giving people feedback consistently is imperative to keep them learning, interested and performing.  This delivered immediately with good intention tells them that you have a genuine interest and belief in their personal success.  This regular coaching has easily doubled the profitability of the business. See previous post show me the money, 9 tips to profitable growth.
  10.  Ongoing learning – the leader sets the tone.  Lesson number 10 is imperative to keep the business at the cutting edge of new information, tools and technologies.  If the Leader isn’t learning anything new, then neither is the business.  Doing the same thing actually means the business is going backwards.  I have always maintained continuous learning through coaches, mentors, conferences, business books, blogs and the like.  Up to date knowledge is not only smart business, it actually makes us more inspiring and interesting to be around.

Today, 10 years later, I feel inspired with a similar energy, a new vision, and still a desire to do things differently and better. I want to work with people like me – who are driven to succeed through developing their people and leadership skills.  An entrepreneur at heart, I have taken what some see as a ‘risk’, but what I see as an exciting next chapter to modernize the way things are currently done to recruit, retain and achieve optimum results through people.

My sincere gratitude to Mark Hender, the person who took the chance on me all the years ago, his belief in me was the linchpin that made the journey possible. Lastly, to all the folks who have worked with me over the years, I say a big thank you! Thank you for being patient, open, determined and loyal to me and the vision that we have achieved. It’s been quite a ride!

Relationship on the rocks? How to get what you expect….

By | Leadership, Results

This week, a senior HR Manager was telling me about her current job search and about a situation that caught her off guard, unprepared and quite frankly a little cranky.  I was surprised, because HR people are generally quite relaxed at interviews –as they are usually the ones on the other side of the table asking the questions. She was called by an organisation after sending in her resume to attend an interview, excited, she asked what she should prepare? “oh nothing, this really is just an ‘eye balling’ exercise” …. The conversation continued in a joking manner “to make sure you have two arms, two legs” etc.  My candidate didn’t think too much more about it, as an eye balling surely suggested a quick meet and greet, maybe a coffee, nothing more. You know what happened don’t you? She arrived 15 minutes early and the PA said “oh they are actually ready, you can go on through”. She looked through the door and saw a panel of 3 people – immediately she thought they were just finishing up their meeting and she would be just be meeting with the 1 person like she was told on the phone. No, there were 3 people on the panel with structured interview sheets and questions ready to go.  She broke out in a mild panic of sweat and went on to ‘wing it’. At the end she shook hands and left thinking she had blown it completely. She was clearly fired up about it when I spoke to her – how could they do this? How could they be so unclear with candidates about their approach?

It comes down to expectations – setting expectations to get what you expect.  This story reinforced to me the importance of doing this from the very start to ensure relationships get off on the right foot. When recruiting and retaining top talent in any organisation, you need to be crystal clear when communicating expectations to avoid performance problems, staff turnover and general frustrations.

Just today I interviewed a potential Consultant and at the end of the interview I gave her a rundown of what we expect around behaviours and performance. I know what works and what doesn’t – so it is only fair that I communicate that. If she runs for the hills scared by what I have said, great because she’s not for us – but if she feels her values are in alignment, we could have a fantastic new recruit! Nobody wins by being unclear or untruthful from the get go – it will either result in underperformance, unhappiness or a general resentment of ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

It starts from the moment you pick up the phone to bring that new candidate in for a potential job – don’t say “come in for a chat” and then expect to see someone in a slick matching suit to succinctly answer all your behavioural based questions.  From your very first interaction is an opportunity to communicate your culture, values and expectations.

Quick tips to setting expectations:

  • Be clear on what top performance looks like
  • Communicate how they will be accountable and measured
  • Give examples of the types of behaviour that is and isn’t acceptable eg: can you text your boss when you are sick and not coming in?
  • Tell people what the consequences are of undesirable behaviour eg: continually late from meetings will result in not being invited anymore?
  • Lead by example – walk the talk and behave the way you want your team to behave
  • Consistently reinforce these messages at interview, induction, training, staff meetings, reviews etc.

The benefits of setting expectations are that when things go wrong – you always have something to go back to. Remember at interview when I said….Remember during your induction we showed you….Remember in the training manual we explained…..there is no room for misinterpretation or “I didn’t know”  when your messages are clear and consistent.

Setting expectations at the start of recruitment campaigns, interviews, meetings, employment relationships and even at home, create a solid platform to return to when things go pear shaped. Remember – you get what you expect.

By the way, the HR candidate I mentioned got a strange phone call this morning….she got the job!

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.

Can women successfully return to work after babies?

By | Leadership, Retention, Work Life Balance

What a week it has been watching the debate around working women, their choices and when they should return to work after having babies – all thanks to a glamorous Jackie O crossing the street while feeding her baby.

Not only as a working mother myself, but as Leader of an all-female team with more than half of them being career mums with children (the majority being 5 years or younger), I know it can work.

I have successfully retained high performing young women after they have had babies, successfully employed new returning to work mums part-time and have successfully integrated the two worlds myself.

Before the media blow up earlier this week, I often advise clients about how part-timers can actually work and how the business doesn’t need to fall in a heap if a key staff member takes time off for parental leave.  10 things I recommend to help it work:

  1. First reactions – I remember the first time one of my top Consultants told me she was pregnant.  She was so nervous and scared that I would be angry that she was going to be leaving the business when she was performing so well.  I was delighted for her and kept the conversation focussed on her and this exciting time in her life. There is plenty of time for the planning discussions around when, what, who and how at a later stage. Don’t take the shine off such a personal moment.
  2. No pressure – I don’t put pressure on any employee to return to work.  I have had some take 6, 9 or 12 months off for parental leave. Of course you need to know in advance to plan for their absence, but there has never been an expectation of it being sooner rather than later.
  3. Flexibility – the key to making it work! I have always given the returning to work mums the free reign to say what days/hours they want to work when they return. I then do my absolute best to accommodate them within a structure that also works for the business.
  4. Encouragement & empathy – if your baby is sick and you need to go home, go! Don’t sit at your desk feeling guilty. Remember Health 1st, Family 2nd, Work 3rd.
  5. Job ownership – each Consultant has had their clients managed while they are on parental leave.  This has given new/more junior Consultants the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. The returning Consultant has then been given their clients back on their return – this was a big incentive for Consultants who had been with the business for many years and had built up many long standing relationships.
  6. Support systems – without question,  Consultants are given remote access, car parks, iPhones and admin support to assist if and when they are working from home.  This is essential for teamwork, flexibility and communication.
  7. Continuing reviews – regular one on one catch ups to honestly assess whether the arrangements are working for the individual and the business and whether they need to be re-negotiated or adjusted where necessary.
  8. Lead by example – by preaching work/life balance and flexibility as the Leader you need to ensure you are walking the talk. People will be guided by your behaviour and make their own assessment of what the ‘internal culture’ really is.
  9. Acknowledge FT employees – for part-timers to really be effective in an organisation and especially a small team, the glue that often holds it all together is the full-time employees. I have learnt it is critical to acknowledge their support and contribution.
  10. You can’t win them all – as much as you want all top performers to return to work after having children, it isn’t always the case. I have certainly lost a few along the way through their own decisions about it not working, deciding to give up work altogether or taking the opportunity to have a career change.  In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.

All in all, these tips have been some of my most successful retention strategies over the years.  In making it easier for these women to return to work with part-time, flexibility and support, I have gained their commitment, loyalty and respect.

The business wins too – we have retained key clients who want to deal with the same faces every year, the profits have increased (as part-timers usually generate similar revenue to their full-time counterparts and in some cases – more), reduced costs in re-hiring and being able to give internal employees greater opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.

So can working women successfully return to work after having babies? YES!  It’s a two-way street that requires a committed and realistic employee coupled with a flexible and understanding employer.

Can you make it work?

How I let my inner “control freak”go

By | Leadership, Results

You could say I’m a control freak….ahhh I mean, was a control freak. Typical Type A personality, my way is best, do it like this, do it now, faster, better and have you finished yet? Okay don’t worry, I’ll do it myself.

Funny right? The results were not so funny. After running a business with this way of thinking, things piled up and suddenly I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Being interrupted 100 times a day, phone calls, long hours, always correcting things, meetings, performance issues and resignations.  I was at the end of my tether and knew things had to change or I was headed to burn out.

I was drowning and did not want to reach out to anyone fearing it was as a sign of weakness. It’s very easy to whinge about circumstances and not do anything to change it – but I’m a big believer in ongoing learning and improving performance so I got a business coach.

The first session I remember being asked to write down all the things that were worrying me, causing stress and anything I was downright unhappy about. I got two and half pages worth and thought oh dear….I’m in big trouble here, can I turn this around?

Looking in the mirror at my situation and largely my leadership (gulp!) I realised that perhaps I wasn’t all that much fun and probably 25% of the time I was a pain to work for.  In fact, I’m sure some of my staff at that time might have used stronger words than that! All in all, I was pretty hard to please.

The ultimate principles that I learnt and still use today are simple:

  1. People want to perform – they come to work with the intention of doing a good job
  2. Give people the tools to do their job and then get out of the way
  3. Give feedback immediately and be specific about what they did or didn’t do and the subsequent results
  4. High expectations are needed for high performance (just don’t demand it!)
  5. Communication delivery is the difference between a delighted and disappointed staff member
  6. Listen to your gut – if I feel a situation isn’t resolved, the chances are extremely high that the other person feels it isn’t either – go back, regroup and resolve it
  7. Don’t hang on to issues – make decisions
  8. Give people opportunities to take on greater responsibility and coach along the way
  9. Mistakes are essential in learning – that’s part of the journey
  10. Take time to think about situations, don’t react immediately

The change was fundamental. I learnt that controlling everything was detrimental to me, the business and the team.  The results were my team thinking for themselves, making decisions and experiencing increased job satisfaction.  Staff turnover diminished, I learnt to love my job again and work/life balance was achieved.

The best advice I have for control freaks? Empower others, let go, live a little and lose control. Go on, I dare you!