Category

Retention

Employees aren’t mind readers – 6 tips for early performance intervention

By | Recruitment, Retention

ic-stock-image-432176378245429887_7392189-300x300A prospective new client told me last week that they may need our services as the person they have recently hired is a “dud” and they may need to let him go. This jolted my curiosity, as after 6 weeks in the role it sounded like they had already made their decision. This must be major. What had he done? Stolen the petty cash, spoken inappropriately to other staff, upset a client, given a false referee?

There were lots of wishy washy comments about him not being ‘strategic’, delivering a report that wasn’t up to standard, he was keeping very much to himself and overall “just not fitting in”. In all honesty, it was a verbal dump – the client was clearly letting off steam and venting frustration because they thought they had hired a star and where was the star performance they expected?

The realist in me kicked in – it’s been 6 weeks! It takes time to learn a new way of doing things. It takes time to get to know people. It takes time to build confidence in a new environment and depending on people’s personalities, it can appear to take even longer. But more than this, it takes a good leader to communicate expectations and give effective feedback.

“So how did he respond when you gave him this feedback?” I enquired, “is he willing to change his behaviour?”. This was received with more woffle and side stepping explaining that he hasn’t had a formal review as yet and what’s the point, we can see that it isn’t working! Agghh! People are not mind readers. People don’t know what you are thinking or feeling, unless you tell him! Bitching and whinging about what you are not getting is not going to change their behaviour or improve their performance. The only chance you have to improve performance is by giving feedback.

In this case, the client appeared resistant to give this feedback, as a lot of people don’t like giving bad news, especially to a new recruit. The flip side of this is actually a worse problem – having to let someone go, telling the team, the impact on morale, the headache of having to re-recruit, the time and emotional investment … the list goes on and on. Instead, having a 20-minute conversation discussing expectations and progress could turn the whole situation around. Imagine feeling clear, delighted and that you are both on the same page after all.

Quick tips for early performance intervention:

  1. Set a regular meeting to review expectations and performance
  2. Give specific examples where behaviour isn’t where you want it to be and be clear about how it needs to look next time
  3. Give specific examples of where things are going well
  4. Ask the employee how they think they are going?
  5. Agree to required actions to review at next meeting
  6. Ask the employee what is their understanding of what is now required (this is a communication check to ensure you have been clear in your expectations)

I rang the client today to see if he needed my services to replace his ‘dud’. Funny thing is that after having a chat, it seems that things are better and he might just work out after all……

Are you worried about someone’s performance? Are you feeling frustrated a leader isn’t delivering to your expectations? Ask yourself, when was the last time you ‘checked in’ and clarified your expectations and gave specific feedback?

 

How to have leadership impact in under a minute

By | Leadership, Retention

I am in the process of coaching an emerging leader in a large service based organisation and this week he had a break through.  Leading a team of people, he has been met with the typical frustrations and challenges of motivating staff, keeping them engaged and reducing their stress levels with workloads at their peak.

One staff member in particular has been noticeably stressed and difficult to manage in terms of keeping her engaged and focused on the big picture – stuck in the detail and showing signs of stress through facial expressions, shortness in communication and working longer hours. Through our coaching we have been discussing the different ways he can tackle this and the one technique that has delivered the biggest result was the easiest to execute. Instead of focusing on everything that was wrong, could be improved or fixed, he put on his “positive glasses” and focused on those things that she was doing well and he wanted her to continue doing.

Giving people praise is the easiest way to let people know they are appreciated.

In my experience, leaders can be very good at saying thank you for a job well done. However, this is not enough to ensure that people stay engaged and continue to produce the same high-level results. For feedback to be effective and to ensure the same effective behaviour continues, it requires a little more than a simple thank you and well done.

In this case, the leader decided to ensure it was on his daily to do list to be giving specific praise and recognition. For example, he observed an overflowing inbox that was cleared and congratulated his team member for being organised and getting on top of this backlog. He explained how it made a difference to the management team to get their deadlines met and they didn’t have to chase the status of the projects. He then asked how she achieved this and reinforced her system in place and thanked her again for a great result.

His technique was this:

  1. Observe a job well done (something effective)
  2. Praise the team member specifically (what did they do)
  3. Explain the impact to the business (how it helps the business)
  4. Reinforce / thank you (keep doing it)

This technique could be executive in less than 1 minute and the impact to the team member, to him and the overall business has been significant. In 3 weeks, he has gone from feeling frustrated to feeling inspiring. The team member has gone from feeling stressed to feeling empowered. The power of this technique is in the specific delivery of what the team member has done and how it impacts and helps the greater business goals and others in the team. If people understand what they do and why they do it, it will help them think for themselves and continue doing these things because they understand the ‘why’.

Want to be a more inspiring leader? Look for a job well done and take 1 minute a day to tell your team how what they do makes a difference. It’s easy, effective and will have everyone more engaged, empowered and energised.

 

How to reduce staff turnover and to ensure top talent stays

By | Leadership, Recruitment, Retention

businessman-mirror12 years ago, I was asked by my business coach to write down a list of all my frustrations in business and in life. I wrote a solid two pages of whinges. It was the permission I needed to have my own little pity parade with on orchestra of violins. It was effective. It gave me several views – an opportunity to offload, an opportunity to get clear, an opportunity to look at patterns and the light bulb moment I needed …….. it was all within my control to change.

There were no concerns about market conditions, the economy, my competitors or external impacts – everything on that list was about people, culture or leadership. There was staff turnover, there were problems attracting talent and issues with keeping people engaged, motivated and performing. The impact on me as the leader was overwhelming. I felt helpless, burnt out, tired, emotional and frustrated.

Here’s what I did to turn it around:

  1. Ask for feedback

When things are not going the way you want, be brave and ask for feedback. Give your team permission to tell you what they love and loathe, without fear of retribution. If that is too scary or you don’t feel you will get the honesty you need, engage a Consultant or do a 360 degree survey. I discovered that our culture was one of high expectations and high pressure, where the client was king and the team didn’t feel they could achieve a healthy work life blend. This was the number one factor why they were leaving – it was impacting their relationships, health and personal time.

  1. Analyse real reasons for leaving

We all know that when people resign that don’t always tell you the real reason they are leaving. They start with the polite reason such as career development or it’s time for a change. I did an analysis on the past 3 years of all the reasons why people had left – not the reason they necessarily told me – but what I knew deep down was the real reason. That was a game changer. All reasons, apart from a handful of genuine interstate transfers and family reasons, there was a consistent theme related to leadership and culture.

  1. Leaders look in the mirror

Retaining talent and reducing staff turnover is not necessarily about more money or perks such as days off or free yoga classes. Although nice and staff will appreciate it, it isn’t what gets them out of bed in the morning, excited to go to work and to stay long-term. It’s about you, your leadership style and your ability to engage, inspire and create an environment that is motivating where they can contribute and feel valued. I found out that I was inspiring about 30% of the time and the other 70% I was pushing my high expectations, which resulted in feelings of pressure and an inability to please me. This doesn’t make anyone feel good and inspired does it? Looking in the mirror and seeing the impact this leadership style was having on my team was the wake up call I needed to reduce staff turnover and increase retention rates.

  1. Culture review

Leadership is culture. Culture is leadership. A leader sets the tone and culture is caught, not taught. Write a list of the type of people you want to attract into your business – what qualities and competencies do they have, what do they want out of an employment relationship and what will make them stay? This is your clue about what you may need to change, adapt, develop or build into your culture. It was for me. I created an environment where flexibility was introduced, people were empowered to make their own decisions and own the consequences, there were ongoing learning opportunities and success was celebrated and recognised.

  1. Action delivers results

There is no point doing all this pre-work, if you aren’t prepared to take action. Losing your people headaches, reducing frustration and ultimately getting your life back involves taking different action – implementing and trying new things. Don’t look at it like you are losing control (yes you control freaks out there), I know it will feel foreign and little uncomfortable – that’s good. You need to feel this to get a different result. For me this was the hardest step. We stopped having meetings at 8am, people left early to go to gym or to pick up kids, we hired part-timers, we set different expectations and had to let go of what others would think (we weren’t slackers or losing our drive or ambition!). It took time, but the change was just what we all needed. The results spoke for themselves – retention rates skyrocketed to an average length of service of 6 years, we didn’t advertise our vacancies – people knocked on our door to work for us and as for the impact on our financial results, they doubled.

At the core of what make successful companies great are people, culture and leadership. Become a better leader, develop a great culture and only then can you attract top talent that will stay. Getting this right is the sweet spot in business. Your leadership will feel natural, your stress levels will float away and this empowerment will bring you work life blend, confidence and profit. Get great people and great stuff happens.

Nicole Underwood recently spoke at Elders Real Estate National Conference on Talent Management – How to Crack the Code. You can watch a snippet of her presentation

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Rejected because of your email address …….. the harsh reality of selection criteria

By | Recruitment, Retention, Talent

SelectionIt seems everything I read this month features Ruslan Kogan …… At age 31, a ‘rich lister’ worth more than $300 million. He sparked my interest in a recent Financial Review article and now again as I read the Virgin Australia Voyeur magazine on my way over to the RCSA conference in New Zealand. It seems Kogan and I have a few things in common – we both started businesses at age 23, we believe in recruiting for culture, openly giving people feedback and that you need stringent selection criteria to hire the best people.

Kogan was interviewed by the Fin Review on his “hiring secrets” and what criteria he uses to screen “in” or “out” new innovators into his technology business, where he employs 150 staff.  Now, anyone who has built a successful business like his, I like to think must have learnt a thing or two about hiring ‘A’ players and retaining talent to ensure long-term and sustainable results.

It turns out one of Kogan’s biggest selection criteria is dependent on the email address you use. Yes, your email address! If it is Hotmail and not Gmail, you will get a “no thanks” letter based on that alone. Too harsh? His justification is around the technology his company uses and he wants to attract people who are just as passionate and savvy about technology as they are – which means Gmail’s functionality and speed is superior to Hotmail and as a “technology boffin” you would know this. In a market where we are becoming flooded with responses and he is quoted as saying they get over 250 applications per role, is it no wonder that such criteria is being used? Fair? Maybe not. Efficient? Absolutely. Proven to be a precise assessment? Well that’s debatable. He admits it isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s pretty close.

It got me thinking about the other selection criteria used to “screen down” the volume of applications to roles and you may be surprised to know some of the other criteria that is going on behind the scenes including:

  1. Calling before you apply – anyone who calls prior to applying for a job gets a big tick in my book. It shows me that you are keen, see the process as a two-way street and aren’t just applying for any old job out there. You may want more information to ensure we aren’t wasting each other’s time or you may be opportunistic and get your 5 minutes to make a great first impression. Either way – it takes effort to pick up the phone these days and have a phone conversation vs. flicking off an email and resume.
  1. Initiative – sometimes recruiter’s advertisements don’t reveal who the employer is, which I acknowledge makes it harder to write a specific cover letter saying why you want to work for that company.  Again get creative – call, ask some questions, try and obtain any extra information that is going to allow you to tailor your cover letter and stand out from the crowd.  The generic “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir” will likely see your application automatically in the ‘no’ pile.
  1. Social media presence – there are more and more roles that require you to be a ‘thought leader’ in your field, to be the ‘face’ of the organisation, or to be a successful networker and influencer.  When this criteria is high on the agenda, don’t think it is only your application being reviewed. Google searches, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds and Facebook searches are all being utilised to present a three-dimensional view. If your on-line presence isn’t projecting the level of influence and credibility required for the role, you may be screened out before a face-to-face interview opportunity, over other candidates who do.
  1. No cover letter – if a job advertisement asks for a cover letter and all you do is click ‘apply’ and send your resume, this could be the criteria that knocks you out.  It shows that you aren’t following instructions and potentially tells the hiring company that you aren’t that interested in their specific opportunity, more that you are happy to flick your CV for any role you see advertised and hope for the best.
  1. Motivation – if your cover letter does not clearly articulate why you are passionate about this role and this company and it becomes more a sales statement about how great you are in general, it might be the criteria that tips you over to the “no” edge.  Companies want to see a link and a real connection to their opportunity.
  1. Location – if you are ever applying for a role that is different from your home base or local area, please be clear and address this in your cover letter and email.  Why are you attracted to work in this area? How did you hear about the role? What connection do you have to this location? Will you relocate? It is much better to address this up front rather than letting the hiring manager make up their own mind, which might be an incorrect assumption and one that again lands you in the ‘no’ pile.
  1. Voicemail messages – I have been known to count someone out purely based on their voicemail message. I detest those leave a 10 second message and it will be sent as a text….do they actually work? Will you receive my message accurately? Or the voicemails with the funny music over the top, or the ones that just say “yeh you missed me, leave your number”. All of these examples do not create a great first professional impression and will be considered in the selection process.
  1. Phone manner – the way you answer the phone, the way you hold a conversation and the way you answer particular questions are all factors helping us to assess applications.  The other week, I was screening candidates via the phone and I said to this one person “can you talk freely right now?”, he asked me to hang on and after a minute of silence as he walked out of his open plan area, he then returned to the phone and simply said “shoot!”. This wasn’t exactly the most professional response I was expecting.

It’s a friendly reminder that every step in a selection and recruitment process is a test.  A test to determine long-term suitability and cultural fit for the job role and company.  I don’t believe anyone should apologise for having harsh or restricting criteria to find the best people for their organisation. Decisions need to be made and you don’t always get it right. I am sure some will read Kogan’s approach and think it is unrealistic, but you know what? It doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that he gets his formula right, is consistent in his approach and he knows the best people that fit his organisation and the method to find them. I don’t necessarily agree with all his theories, but I will give him the kudos for knowing how to recruit the best people for his business. That in itself is one of the hardest lessons to learn in any successful business.

 

 

STOP! Why you shouldn’t make a counter offer

By | Recruitment, Results, Retention

downloadIn the current economic climate – just about every candidate we make an offer of employment to is being counter-offered by their current employer.  This enticement to stay takes many forms including more money, job title change, better projects, company cars, larger offices, bonus offers and extended leave.  The list goes on and on. But stop right there. Don’t do it. Let me tell you why.

They don’t work. They never have. They never will.

An employee who hands you their resignation has already emotionally left the building. They made a decision some time ago that the role, position, company, culture or leadership was not for them. Whatever those reasons may be. Let them go.

Your reasons for making a counter-offer probably feel valid including:

(a)  It is easier to get them to stay than to even think about the time, cost and effort in trying to recruit and replace them.

(b)  You don’t want to deal with the unpleasantness of telling the rest of the team. It will hurt the morale.

(c)  They are a top performer and you can’t possibly continue without them. (Rubbish! Everyone is replaceable).

(d)  It’s a quick fix – you need time to plan how you are going to deal with this

(e)  It’s cheaper to pay them $10K more vs. time lost in productivity, clients, training and replacement costs

All valid. I get it. I’ve been there.  The first time one of my staff resigned, I was in my early 20’s and invincible….ha! I had to go to the coffee shop to pull myself together and work out my ‘strategy’ on how I was going to keep her.  I tried more money, I tried a change of duties, a change of title…anything, please don’t go.  My attempts were clearly unsuccessful.  It wasn’t about me. It was about her – her career ambition and her desire that we were unable to fulfill at the time.

It is that immediate, but, band-aid attempt to keep someone. We’ve all done it.

Once someone has resigned, there are genuine reasons and needs that are going to be met elsewhere. You are prolonging the inevitable pain that will be felt by both of you over the next 6 months if you do go down the counter-offer path and they accept.

To the company last month that tried offering more money; to the company the month before who offered a bonus plan on the largest account and to the company who said they would finally come through with the company car they had promised a year ago.  It’s too late. Let them go. Counter-offers don’t work.

Next time someone hands you his or her resignation, accept it with grace. This is business – don’t use guilt or persuasion. Stay professional and listen to their feedback – is there anything you could have done differently? Yes? Great – learn it for next time.  Instead, implemented “stay strategies” that will retain your remaining performers.

Salli Tanner who works with me now is a great example of this strategy working effectively.  Early in 2010, Salli worked for me in another organisation, when she resigned. I was sad to be losing her as a valuable member of my team, but I accepted the move being the right one for her and her career at the time. As much as I didn’t want her to leave, I genuinely wished her well and joked, “You never know where we might work together again in the future!” The strategy does work.

Sure, you can be disappointed that someone is leaving, but acknowledging their contribution and wishing them well will go a long way in a market where people talk and employer brand awareness is critical for future hiring. See the opportunity to improve your retention plans, gain some constructive feedback and always leave the employment relationship on a positive note.

 

Reward & recognition – the secret to reducing staff turnover

By | Leadership, Retention

When one of my Consultants resigned after 7 years I was excited for her. She was taking a leap of faith and pursuing her life long dream of becoming a paramedic. It was at her farewell when it hit me how important it is to reward staff. In her speech, she mentioned the time I invested $500 for each staff member to pursue a personal goal outside of work.  Funny isn’t it – but as she was talking I was struggling to recall the exact detail of the initiative. On the other hand, she was describing it in vivid detail and the impact it had on her in terms of pursuing a hobby (share trading), which helped her develop her relationship with her husband (he is a day trader).  She loved that I had shown an interest in her as a person beyond what she delivered at work.  Notice she didn’t rave on about her base salary or the significant monthly bonus cheques she got – she talked about several small random rewards that I gave her over the years to recognise her achievements, loyalty and contribution.

It was when I engaged a business coach to help me develop my leadership skills that I learnt the importance of praise, recognition and random reward in attracting and retaining talent.  It sounds simple in theory doesn’t it? Of course staff love to be told they are doing a great job, of course they love a gift voucher for achieving a target or getting a group email saying how wonderful they are. BUT in reality how often does this happen? And randomly? Perhaps when an important milestone comes around or someone lands a big deal, but the day-to-day successes are rarely recognised, let alone rewarded.  I was guilty as charged.

To assist me in taking action in this area and making sure I actually delivered what I knew to be right in theory, I kept a reward and recognition book.  It made me consciously recognise and record what someone did and how I rewarded it.  This could range from a personal email, to a company wide announcement, to a lunch, to a specific gift or even time off.  It didn’t matter, as long as I was consistently rewarding the desired behaviours for individuals to consistently achieve top performance. The book was an easy idea and it kept the importance front of mind as well as myself accountable to take action.

Quick ideas to take action:

  1. Public acknowledgement – giving someone praise in a public forum (team meeting, group email etc) is a great way to pump someone up in front of their teammates.  It is also an opportunity to reinforce company-desired behaviours. I would always share positive client feedback in our sales meeting on a Monday, with any five star ratings receiving a Freddo Frog.
  2. Small rewards, big impact – I know you are thinking chocolate – come on Nicole, no one is going to be aiming for that! Small rewards can often have a big impact – it is often not the gift itself, but the acknowledgement of the performance.
  3. Be specific – how often have you been given something as a thank you that you didn’t like? Maybe you got red wine and you don’t drink red wine, maybe it was flowers that make your sneeze or a subscription to a magazine you don’t read? I developed a $5 – $500 chart for each staff member where they listed rewards in that range that they would value and appreciate. This way the reward was personal to them and well received rather than a generic gift.
  4. All staff recognised – don’t forget non-revenue generating roles! Administration staff were always included in recognising their contribution to the team.  This could be the way they resolve a client query through to their phone manner or going beyond the call of duty.
  5. Random – don’t wait for only the big milestones to say well done and don’t reward the same people and actions all the time.  Your team will get pretty sick of seeing the same rewards, you will lose impact and you could be accused of playing favourites.

Overall, my aim was to be specific with the reward.  What was the behaviour they demonstrated that I wanted to see demonstrated again in the future? Don’t lose the meaning of recognition by just saying well done. Be specific about what the reward is for.  This is important not only for the individual, but also for the rest of the team to hear the right message.

Don’t wait for someone to crack their budget or out-perform last’s year’s record – reward people now for the action they take, the small steps they make and the lessons they learn.  It’s never to late to let your staff know that you appreciate what they do, to say thank you or to publicly reward action and effort rather than just outcomes and revenue.  Random recognition and rewards will win you loyalty and trust as well as assisting to reduce unnecessary staff turnover due to feeling valued and acknowledged.  Human nature tells us we like to feel appreciated and we want to do a good job – so go on, look for the successes, go and say thank you, be specific and randomly reward a team member today.

Nicole Underwood understands what it takes to create, build and grow a successful business. As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, Nicole consults and coaches individuals and organisations to improve their results through effective leadership and attracting and retaining top talent.

 This article was written for Lifestyle Elements – a great way to reward your staff with their own personal concierge.  

Employee retention: how to crack the code

By | Recruitment, Results, Retention

What I’ve learnt over the years is that there is no one secret ingredient to retaining staff. In my early days of running a business, I had high staff turnover and it used to drive me crazy the amount of money, effort, time and emotional energy I would invest in new recruits only to lose them within a 12-month period. A realisation that people are at the core of business success was my breakthrough moment. I became acutely aware that the right people in the right roles with the right leadership is the key to keeping them. I increased the average length of service of staff to six years in an industry that averages eight months for a typical consultant role. What I learnt translates into any business in any profession.

Recruit the right people

First and foremost, recruiting people is not easy, and picking the right person is even harder. I have done this every day in the recruitment industry for over 13 years and advise clients on how to do it better. Finding and recruiting the right people is an ongoing battle for most business owners. The key is to look beyond what’s on paper and what’s technically being said at the interview, and hire for culture and motivational fit. Forget experience and length of service in a similar role—find out what motivates them, what their values are, what they want to achieve long-term and where the best culture that they have worked in has been. Recruiting on competencies, attitude and culture are mandatory for long-term fit and retention, and far outweigh years of experience on a resume.

Believe in people

The best approach you can take as a leader is to assume that people want to perform at their best. Most people come to work to do a good job—they want to perform and succeed. As a leader you need to relate to them as a top performer, don’t expect anything less. This belief speaks volumes, builds trust, delivers results and ultimately keeps top talent on your team.

Empower others

For most business owners, you have created the business, know the ins and outs of how things are done and you probably enjoy being in control. However,  “control freaks” don’t retain top talent; they can often drive it away. Being the leader doesn’t mean making all the decisions and having an ‘I know best’ attitude. Letting go, trusting others to achieve, and supporting this learning curve will go a long way to increasing length of service.

Flexibility

In my business I gave people the tools and freedom to get on with the job. It’s critical to be clear on the outcomes and timeframes, but then get out of the way. People want to achieve their own goals without having to work within rigid and structured environments. Flexibility in approach, hours, and blending home and work situations instantly motivates top performers.

Feedback

People want feedback—they want to know what they are doing well, so they can keep doing it. They want to know what they are not doing well, so they can stop doing it. Those thirsty for greater success and reward will want to know what they can start doing to perform at a higher level. As a leader, it is your job to recognise top performance and reinforce it, so it happens again. On the flip side, when you observe behaviour that is inconsistent, giving this feedback instantly (with good intent) will push people outside their comfort zones, which is necessary for changes in behaviour.

Professional development

Investing in your people is one of the best investments you can make. Hiring an external external coach or mentor  for an individual is a reward that can have incredible effects, such as increased performance and confidence. Paying a professional to just listen or be an external confidante is also a great way to invest upfront in new talent and prevent staff turnover. This goes a long way to reducing unnecessary replacement and re-recruitment costs, as well as increasing engagement levels and ultimately assisting in retaining key people.

Tools of the trade

It may seem a little light or trivial, but having the right tools of the trade and the right support systems in place are critical in keeping staff happy. A candidate once told me she left a job because she was promised a company car and after eight weeks of using her own car, paying for parking and petrol, she gave up on the false promise and decided to move on. Tools such as iPhones, car parks, admin support, remote access, and laptops, are now seen as essential for a lot of roles—get it right from day one to avoid unnecessary ‘misunderstandings’.

Induction

The first 90 days is an important time period for a new recruit in determining whether they stay long-term with an organisation, and day one in particular plays a key role. Who is there to greet them? Is their desk set up, are their business cards ready and is there a welcome message from the CEO? Don’t spend weeks going through a recruitment process to then spend no effort at all on the induction. This is a once-only opportunity to create a lasting impression and increase employee attachment and engagement from the first day.

Invest in your own leadership skills

A leader that is continuously learning and investing in their own professional development is more inspiring to be around. We can never know it all and we can always improve. Being authentic and transparent with your team about your own development and desire to improve will have a flow-on effect.

You can’t win them all

As much as you want all top performers to stay, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out that way no matter how hard you try and what you implement. A partner gets a transfer, a headhunter offers something an employee can’t refuse—it happens. 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.

How can you retain top talent? It’s not just about money and perks, such as days off for birthdays and free yoga classes—although they’re nice and staff will appreciate them, that isn’t what gets them to stick around long-term. It’s two things in my experience—leadership and culture.

Become a better leader, have great systems and an inspiring culture. Only then can you attract the top talent that will stay.

 

This article has been written for Australian Physiotherapy Association’s monthly magazine “Business in Practice”.  

Nicole Underwood understands what it takes to create, build and grow a successful business. The essential ingredient is recruiting, engaging and retaining people. Great people. Top talent. High performers. As a previous finalist in the prestigious Telstra Business Women Awards, a regular blogger and entrepreneur, Nicole works with organisations to improve results through hiring and keeping the right people. www.nicoleunderwood.com.au

 

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

nicoleunderwood works with great leaders, organisations and people to improve their results through hiring and keeping the right people.  An innovative and holistic approach to attracting, engaging and retaining top talent.

www.nicoleunderwood.com.au

Are you green and growing or ripe and rotten?

By | Change, Retention

Green and ripe or rottenEarlier this year I attended a 2-day conference with Dale Beaumont in  Melbourne. Apart from an inspiring couple of days that made me think of at least 100 new business ideas – there was one phrase that really struck a chord with me.  He asked “Are you green and growing or are you ripe and rotten?” It was those words that made me sit up and listen. Intently. He continued saying that in life some things are certain – death, taxes and change.  Some people like to live comfortably and accept the daily rhythm of routines and knowing what’s ahead by doing the same thing day in, day out. Others like to flick the switch, take action and move forward with fresh ideas to feel continually inspired while growing and learning.

I immediately made the link to retaining top talent and why some companies struggle to keep high performing staff.  It’s easy to assume with top performers that all is fine and dandy. They are achieving, secure; earning good money, have work/life balance – why would they leave?

Consider though the nature of the beast – top performers like to be constantly challenged and learning new things.  They tend to dislike comfort and become unmotivated with the same tasks, routines and the status quo.

A client told me last week they have identified 30 high potentials in their organisation – great – but now they don’t know what to do with them. They are stretched with resources and there is no capacity for HR to take them on, nor their immediate leaders to coach, mentor and challenge them to greater levels of performance and job satisfaction. This is a major risk – without continually challenging and rewarding these people – they will either become bored, fed up, comfortable or disillusioned. Ultimately they will look elsewhere or they will be head hunted – not for more money, but for greater challenges and opportunities to stretch themselves to be “green and growing”.

A leading engineering firm recently told me one of their engineers who is also a partner, was feeling unfulfilled and considering leaving the firm.  Not wanting to lose this person, but still wanting the best result for him professionally and personally, they engaged a business coach to assist him work through his thoughts.  The result was very surprising to the HR Director and other partners – he was actually craving challenging work.   He could do his job inside out, back to front and upside down – but missed the hands on aspects of design and working with clients on complex projects. Problem solved – he has gone back to taking on 1- 2 major projects and is re-living the ‘buzz’ of what made him love his job in the first place.  And in the process – they have retained him.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But how many times do we just float along and go about our everyday tasks and wake up years later wondering why we aren’t satisfied?  Whereas to an outsider looking in it may be perceived “we have it all”.

Going back to your core and working out what gives you the buzz, the butterflies, the energy that makes you think “I love my job!” and “I had a great day today!” may involve re-assessing your strengths and what you love to do most vs. what you have just ended up doing through promotion, circumstance or business needs.

To truly perform, feel satisfied and achieve success, may actually mean putting yourself out there again, making a change and getting outside your comfort zone.  So what are you going to do? Stay on the vine or push yourself onward and upward?

I’m all ears…..a retention strategy that works

By | Retention

Over the past few months, I’ve been speaking to clients about staff retention and specifically what strategies they implement to keep top talent.

What I’ve learnt is that there is so much focus, time, effort and money being spent sourcing, selecting and recruiting the right people upfront, but rarely is the same amount of time being spent on keeping new recruits engaged and retained.

I met a new client last month – a consultancy that has a strong focus on getting things right – people, technology and systems.  I haven’t seen an organisation with such a fresh approach in a long time.  All staff can work remotely at least one day a week, they are committed to achieving work/life balance and they actually want their staff to contribute to the business – regardless of their position. For example, their Finance Manager aspires long term to be in front of clients so she is going on joint visits with some of the Consultants to help her progress in the future. How refreshing! The Director was explaining his recruitment needs and the type of people he was on the look out for over the coming months.  I was surprised to learn that every new employee, yes even the administration staff,   are assigned an external business coach.  This investment is made from day 1 – not when new recruits have proven their commitment, delivered the results or climbed their way to an executive position.  The Director explained his belief in ongoing learning and investing in people upfront to increase engagement and long-term retention – and it’s working.

Over the past few weeks, I have made a point of asking to see what other clients are doing in this area and the truth is “not much”.  Sadly, once people are hired there is often a sink or swim approach – especially for senior executives who are expected to know what to do, arriving in their new positions with strong experience, expertise and high salaries.  What a misconception! These people, sometimes more than anyone need ‘someone to talk to’ – especially in the first 120 days when they are learning the culture, systems and politics, all while trying to impress and make an early impact.  Talking to the CEO or Board about concerns, thoughts and feelings is not something new executives feel entirely comfortable doing, not wanting to appear incompetent or a flight risk. It seems having an external party engaged to assist is becoming a popular choice.

A female executive this week told me that she didn’t know if her CEO thought she was doing a good job or not.  Even though they do have a good relationship and she enjoys her job, he is very busy and never gives feedback, leaving her development entirely up to her. This approach has both pros and cons.  On the plus side, she has been able to spend the money to join an executive networking group to share ideas, discuss problems and gain different perspectives. On the con side, she was head hunted for another executive role within her first 12 months and she actually considered it.  She was unsure if she was valued and considered to be a top performer in the eyes of those who matter (see previous blog post on  leadership and culture as key retention strategies “How to retain top talent”).

I also learned that one of her managers was struggling with leading a team of people and she instantly engaged an external mentor to assist in his development.  She explained that she doesn’t have all the answers, its great for him to have an external ear and truthfully she doesn’t feel she has the time to spend with him.

It tells me that in many organisations there just isn’t the time or internal resources to dedicate to one on one support and development. To pay a professional to just listen or be an external confidante can seem excessive when there isn’t necessarily a quantifiable outcome.  I beg to differ, that by investing upfront in new talent it can prevent staff turnover, reduce unnecessary replacement and re-recruitment costs as well as increase engagement levels and ultimately assists in retaining key people.

Don’t leave it too late to invest in people and only take action when there is a performance issue by sending them to a training course or hiring external help.  Too often I see companies making rash decisions when someone goes to resign through counter offers of more money, bigger titles, a larger office, better clients, a promotion or increased bonus payments.  Why wait until someone is already dis-engaged? Spending time and resources in those first 3 – 6 months, could be the most effective retention strategy you implement.