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Culture Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

How to reduce staff turnover and to ensure top talent stays

By | Leadership, Recruitment, Retention

12 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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Are you ignoring staff issues? 4 ways to get your head out of the sand

By | Communication, Leadership, Performance

This week a friend of mine told me he quit his job after being head hunted for a new opportunity (closer to home, more money, leading a bigger team and better long-term career prospects). I was pleased for him and wondered why he didn’t seem that excited.  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “My current boss hasn’t spoken to me for over a week since I resigned”. Sorry? Your boss is ignoring you? Yep. Pretty much since the meeting where he resigned, his boss has been so ‘disappointed’ that he has decided to give him the “silent treatment”.  Not exactly your classic successful leadership technique!

It appears this “bury your head in the sand” technique is not isolated to just this leader either.

In another example, a client was telling me about a problem employee who despite ongoing feedback, remained unreceptive to improving his performance. Interestingly, he had not yet responded to a meeting request from this employee from a week ago, telling me he couldn’t be bothered and that he was over investing any more time and energy in the situation.

Now, I get it. I do. As a leader you can often spend hours coaching, supporting and providing advice to help develop your team members and there are days it can feel like a thankless job.  However, I challenge you to look at your own behaviour. Are you setting the tone? Are you leading by example? Are you perpetuating the undesired behaviour inadvertently?

4 ways to turn it around:

1.    Don’t bury your head in the stand

Like my client, there are many days where as a leader you probably feel like mimicking my 4-year-old by putting your fingers in your ears saying “I can’t hear you …. La la la”. But ignoring something or pretending that a situation with your staff member is going to improve, disappear or fix itself is just plain stupid.

Ignoring what’s happening will never make a situation better. A real leader will address the situation head on, openly discuss the problem (without blame or emotion) and together encourage a solution.

2.    Make a decision – imagine the perfect scenario

When I was frustrated with employee issues it always became worse or the problem was enhanced when I thought about it, talked about it with others, analysed it, worried about it – but things only ever changed or improved when I actually made a decision.

A great way to obtain clarity is to imagine in 3 months time that the person has improved and the performance problem is solved – how does it make you feel? Positive? Then you can commit to moving things in the right direction. Can’t image that situation or it still feels ‘off’? Chances are you have a cultural mis-alignment and even if the performance improves, this person is not the right match for you and your team.

3.    Manage the performance up or out  

Once you have committed to addressing the problem head on, it’s time for the conversation where you discuss where the employee’s current level of performance is and where you would like it to be.  This discussion should highlight several areas as to where the employee needs to improve and the action steps they are going to take to develop. Ultimately, this should result in someone stepping up or off – either way; it’s a better result than the current situation of non-performance.

4.    Communicate with good intent

To give the employee (and you) the best chance of success, you need to operate and speak with good intent. You can’t fake this. Be authentic. Demonstrate  that you want to see this person succeed in their role and that you are here to support them in reaching the desired behaviours/objectives.  This means showing strong belief and using positive language in your conversations.

Don’t forget as the leader, you are always on show and every interaction – positive, negative or otherwise is being observed and often recreated somewhere else in the business. If you are not feeling “in the zone” or you can’t project the vibe you want to create – best to take some time out, close the door or reschedule that team meeting – people can spot a fake a mile away! Whether you like it or not – the leader sets the tone.

 

 

 

 

Can you give up worry, fill your glass & become an Optimist?

By | Results, Success

Last week I decided to complete a psychological personality profile.  It had been about 10 years and I had asked a leadership team to complete them for a workshop, so thought it was only fair that I participate too.

You know the drill, 190 questions that you must answer truthfully and there is not right or wrong answer, don’t sit on the fence and pick what you are likely to do in the majority of situations. Okay – got it. Then I came across questions like “I feel a bit nervous of wild animals even when they are in strong cages” and “I admire the beauty of a poem more than that of a well-made gun”. Hmmmmm okay, I’ll give it a go and hope for the best! The little voice in my head said ‘yeh right, as if this is going to be an accurate assessment!”

Well, it turned out that I have high extraversion, an independent streak, a strong inner belief, assertiveness, transparency, honesty and confidence. The org psychologist said, “you’re a true optimist by nature”.  Am I? Glass half full? Yes, perhaps I am. I haven’t ever described myself that way. It got me thinking….how did this happen? When did I decide to see the best and not worry about the worst?

In my business career, one of the biggest moments was setting up a new business from scratch in October 2001 after September 11, the Ansett collapse and business confidence was extremely low.  I had people around me saying I was crazy to risk setting up a business in an already saturated market in such a climate. Honestly, I didn’t think about those external factors, they didn’t worry me, I was excited by the prospect of creating something great and I had an inner belief that it would be a success.

It’s this theme of ‘worry’ and ‘what if’; I see a lot of clients struggle with. The constant fear, the sleepless nights, worrying, the inability to take action because “ what if…” Then there’s the negative self-talk “of course this won’t work, it was a fluke, I won’t get that promotion and they’ll soon figure out I’m a fraud”. It goes on in the heads of some very senior and successful people.  It is this worry and perception of situations and what others think, that can cause a glass half empty approach to life. Being able to let go of this, change your thinking and work out that in the scheme of things – it really doesn’t matter what other’s think.

The moment I gave up worrying about what others might think and focused on what I thought and what I wanted to do – is the moment I become a true optimist.  Acting without the worry of what others think. A defining moment for me was creating a culture of flexibility in an industry renowned for long hours and high expectations.  I took on the attitude that said “I don’t care what other’s think”.  I knew it was what the business needed to attract and retain talented high performers long term.  For me to get to this point of feeling okay about flexibility I learnt what was holding me back.  I felt others would judge my work ethic. I had to let go of my belief that if I wasn’t working a traditional 60 + hour week, then I wasn’t demonstrating a strong work ethic. It took me a long time to be okay with that – but as an optimist, I knew it would deliver the right outcome. (My blog “winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked” talks about strategies to let go of this worry as a leader).

Wikipedia describes optimism as an attitude that interprets situations as being best and extends to include that of hope. I am often heard saying in recruitment terms “hope is not a strategy”. If you are hoping that you are picking the right candidate or you are hoping that they will perform in the role, you have a real problem – as hope is not strategy. However, hope gives situations attraction, meaning and belief because sometimes no matter how great a strategy, you need positive belief in a situation. This optimism attracts, inspires and ultimately delivers success.

Try being an optimist – act without worry, believe the best outcome will surface and give things a go because as Henry Ford said, “whether you think you can or you can’t – you’re right”.

 

Someone not playing by the rules? How consistency governs success

By | Results, Strategy

In my blog post “People leave leaders – the uncomfortable truth” I discussed how changing business culture and my leadership style were two contributing factors to increased business results and overall success.  In this journey, there was another significant milestone that made business easier, more enjoyable and more profitable – consistency of service.

Our company had a large banking client who had high expectations, rarely used recruiters and was quite vocal about his frustration with the turnover of Consultants in the recruitment industry.  When we finally won an opportunity to recruit, he developed a relationship with one of the more experienced Consultants on my team.

When she got pregnant and was preparing for maternity leave, I knew her replacement on this account was critical to get right or I would risk losing them.  The new account manager was introduced and not long after, there was another new assignment for her to work on.  At the same time, this client was on the board of another organisation and was dealing with another one of our Consultants on that opportunity.  In the space of several months, he had exposure to three Consultants, plus his existing relationship with me.  I’ll never forget the day he called me to give me some feedback.  I remember thinking “oh no, what’s gone wrong, he doesn’t like that he is dealing with so many different Consultants”.  It was the opposite. He was ringing to tell me how impressed he was with the consistency of our process, our approach, our service and methodology. He said regardless of whether he was dealing with Tom, Dick, Harry or myself it was the same. We had the same vision, the same way of doing things and a real consistency of service delivery.

This was no accident. We filtered this “sameness” through the organisation from the vision and values, to dress code, to being on time, how we answered our phone, our report writing and how we presented at meetings. We wanted every interaction with our company  to represent and reinforce what we stood for. It was a highlight for me to see this being recognised by an external customer who had noticed and was experiencing the benefits.

It wasn’t a walk in the park to get to this point.  It took discipline, persistence and holding people accountable to uphold these standards. Often new Consultants who joined us from other firms didn’t like ‘our way’ and would try to “buck the system”, take a short cut or revert to their old habits.  As a leader, it was tempting to let these behaviours go, especially when they were producing results. Ignoring it never worked. It always backfired. It always turned ugly and became more difficult for me, the team and the Consultant in question.

I remember going out on a client visit with a new, but industry experienced Consultant to observe our service in action.  We got in the car and I asked about the organisation, who we were seeing, what the history was etc. She knew nothing. There was no preparation, no research or knowledge. Gulp! It pretty much went down hill from there including no street directory or directions to get there, making us late, no apology to the client, no setting of the agenda, no use of our presentation folder and no closure or follow-up.  Everything from her training and induction had been thrown out the window. She liked to do it her way and couldn’t see the problem. Doing it her own way wasn’t going to work in our culture. There were two choices – embrace the proven strategies that deliver results and consistency of client service or conclude we weren’t right for each other.

Harsh? Too blunt? Not flexible enough? You could certainly argue that revenue and results from an experienced recruiter is not something to walk away from so quickly.  But what’s the long-term impact? What are the consequences for the brand, culture, team approach, reputation and ultimately the client experience? It was a risk I wasn’t prepared to take. We parted ways and I learnt a very important lesson to stick to what you know works, be consistent in every detail and don’t apologise for reinforcing processes that deliver. Your team members are either on the bus, or they’re not.

Deliver consistently to your customers and you will enjoy consistent success.

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 rossclennett.com, 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)

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.  

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

South Australia – the market, the future & the opportunity

By | Change, Results, Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We need to talk”……ensure you are heard as a leader

By | Communication, Leadership

This week I got a bill from my Accountant – who I’ve had a long term relationship with (nearly 15 years) that got me rather annoyed and frustrated. I had been charged extra for “email advice” on a “range of issues”.  Did that make my blood boil!  Not because I had been charged – I understand they make money from their knowledge and expertise – but history had told me that this advice from time to time was part of building our relationship.   Now since merging with one of the larger firms, I feel the rules have changed. Again, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but where is the communication? At no point has anyone communicated that this ‘casual’ dialogue was in fact being ‘billed’.  If the rules are going to change in any relationship, I am a big believer in setting the expectations upfront about how it is going to be going forward to ensure both parties are clear and there aren’t any grey areas.  Communication is key.

It got reinforced to me when a client said his staff surveys revealed that they still want more communication from the top.  He says this issue comes up every year, yet he feels he communicates all the time!

Communication is a constant issue for all leaders. I clearly remember one of my mentors telling me early in my leadership career – communicate everything or risk others communicating on your behalf. That is, in the absence of information, staff will just assume and make it up.  That’s how gossip starts and ‘poison’ can infect a culture.

As a leader, I learnt to communicate often and share information.  I believe this was one of the key factors in building a high performance culture and trust in my last organisation.  In some recruitment companies, no financial results are shared – team or individual.  This ‘confidential’ information is kept under lock and key and protects those who are potentially having a ‘bad month’ or in non-performance.  I take the opposite approach – share the budget, the goals, the business top line results, individual results including sales leader boards, industry benchmarks – the more information and data the better.  It builds trust, gets buy-in, will explain why some decisions are made and increases performance and accountability.  I felt I could never communicate too much.

Communication starts from the top and the leader sets the tone.  Decide what is and isn’t acceptable, what methods and forums are suitable for what messages and then be consistent.  For example, I’ll never forget the day I received a text message giving me a salary increase! Good news? Sure. Appropriate device?  Probably not given the importance and sensitivity of the message.

Regardless of situation – whether it is in business, our personal lives, or buying a product or service, the key to having a favourable experience is one where the communication is clear, your expectations are met and when you feel you have been heard and responded to.  Perhaps we never master communication perfectly and perhaps we can always improve and get better.  The solution is having awareness and then checking in with our audience to ensure that we are on the right rack and are being perceived correctly. Ask your staff – “are you clear in what we are trying to achieve?” Ask in an interview “does that answer your question, is that what you were looking for?” Ask your support staff “what’s your understanding of my request?” This technique allows you to gain feedback on your delivery and to see if your message has been interpreted correctly.

Communicate often, communicate verbally, communicate expectations and regularly check-in to ensure you are being effective in your delivery.  Communication is rarely perfect – but I can guarantee you can’t be criticised for telling too much, too often or for asking for too much feedback.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. You can accomplish nothing unless you can communicate effectively.”

“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?