Author Archives: Susan Rochester

About Susan Rochester

BSc MHRM CAHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) Member CDAA (Career Development Association of Australia) and NAGCAS (National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services). Distributor of Harrison Assessments in Australia.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

How’s your balance?

A recent conversation with Thea Foster of Added Value Corporation prompted this article. Thanks for the inspiration, Thea!

We all know that to run a successful business, department or team requires consistent achievement across several disciplines.  Typically we need to perform well across finance, marketing, sales, service delivery, planning, technology and people.  And it’s quite common to see one or more areas get more attention, while others are neglected.  Thea calls this ‘playing favourites’ and most of us do it.

To find out if you play favourites, make a list of the outstanding issues in each aspect of your work (use the list above as headings if you like).  If you have a good balance across your scope of management, you will have roughly the same number of outstanding issues under each heading.

Perhaps you found one or two areas with a longer list of outstanding issues?

My prediction is that those are the areas of management you feel least comfortable handling.  It’s human nature to tackle the easy stuff first.  What comes easily to us will naturally be attended to first.  Unfortunately, that often means a log-jam of other issues that build up and stop us from moving forward.

You are not alone.

‘John’ is just great at finding new prospects (marketing), converting them to clients (sales) and providing them with all they could ever expect (service delivery).  You could say these activities are his favourites.  What John enjoys less is budgeting (finances, planning), dealing with IT (technology) and involving his staff in the business (people).  John knows these things are all important, but for him it’s more fun to be out there talking with clients.

Have I just described someone you know?

Or you might know ‘Jenny’.  Jenny has elegant systems in place to keep track of every action (technology, service delivery, people, planning) and every dollar (finances).  What she doesn’t like to do is tell the world about the amazing services she can offer (marketing, sales).

Both John and Jenny are not realising their full potential because the unaddressed issues are holding them back.

Here are the steps for improving your balance

1. Identify your ‘favourites’ – the tasks that you find easier than others activities.

2. Decide whether you are prepared to spend less time on your favourites so you can spend more time getting on top of issues in other areas.

3. If yes, identify your priorities, allocate the time and start taking some action now.

4. If you prefer to continue working on your favourite activities – which is where you will be happiest and most productive, take the time to identify what you should get someone else to do for you and how.

What are you avoiding right now?  What’s it costing you?

Once you’ve been through the exercise above, change will only happen if you make it happen.  Finding a coach or mentor to guide, support and keep you accountable will certainly help you to reach a better balance – sooner.

Remember to let me know how you intend to improve your balance.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Critical skill shortage 5: Technical skills

Welcome to the final article in this series based on data about skills shortages in the banking and finance sector, collected in the Kelly Skills at Work 2010 study.  See our blog for previous articles on this topic.

All the skills we looked at previously in this series – communication, problem solving and decision making, strategic thinking and people management – are of limited value to a business if they are not accompanied by the requisite technical knowledge.

There is a growing demand for professionals who possess relevant and transferrable technical skills.

This current skills shortage will become critical due to the following factors:

  • Baby Boomers are retiring, taking critical skills and knowledge with them,
  • Products and services offered to clients are growing in numbers and complexity and
  • Customers are expecting more sophisiticated advice and more individualised services.

The smart organisations in the sector are building their talent base in all the skill areas we’ve examined in this series.

According to the Kelly study, they are attracting and retaining mid to senior level talent with the right skills in the following ways:

  • Attractive and competitive pay and benefits (83% of respondents)
  • Talent and career development training (71%)
  • Internal promotion (62%)
  • Work life balance initiatives (42%)
  • Hiring from other organisations (25%)
  • Attracting younger workers (17%)
  • Attracting older and more experienced workers (17%)
  • Increased reliance on foreign talent (9%)
  • Delayed retirement (8%)
  • Temporary and contract work arrangements (7%)

Most organisations will find that some of these approaches are less sustainable than others.

What’s your talent attraction and retention strategy?  How well is it going to serve you in the longer term?

As always, I’d love to know what you think.  Please add your comments below.

 

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Critical skill shortage 4: People management

This is the fifth article in a series based on data about skills shortages in the banking and finance sector, collected in the Kelly Skills at Work 2010 study.  See our blog for previous articles in this series.

The ability to lead, motivate and inspire others is another skill that was identified as being critical to success, yet in short supply among local mid to senior level managers.

In the previous article, we looked at the importance and definition of strategic thinking.  A related basic people management skill is to ensure your staff have the right skills and personal attitudes to deliver on your business strategy.

To be successful as a leader, managers need to be willing to explore and use different ways to:

  • Identify and hire top performers,
  • Inspire and motivate people in the business, and
  • Support others to develop and extend their skills.

Plenty of information exists on how to manage people by applying active listening, coaching and delegation techniques, as you will find if you do an internet search on any of these terms.

What is harder to find out is how to negotiate the more  subtle aspects of keeping people engaged and committed.

This is not ‘book learning’ but instead comes down to being self-aware and sensitive to the preferences and needs of others.  The real skill is in knowing when you need to get help and learn more, both about yourself and about others.

‘Employee loyalty, motivation and trust in the organisation all suffer if leaders and managers are careless about the way they treat people.’

Where do you think you stand?  Could the way you treat people be affecting your bottom line?

Hint:  The answer is always  ‘Yes’ – but the impact may be positive or negative in your organisation!

We provide our clients with specialised tools and coaching for both the practical aspects of people management and f0r developing the self-awareness required to be able to manage people well.

Which part of people management could you use some help with right now?

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Critical skill shortage 3: Strategic thinking

This is the fourth of six articles based on data about skills shortages in the banking and finance sector, collected in the Kelly Skills at Work 2010 study.  See our blog for previous articles in this series.

In the Kelly study, strategic thinking was identified by study participants as a key skill that is in critical shortage among managers in the financial services industry.  It has been argued that this skill gap contributed to the GFC.

According to the survey results, an ‘aptitude’ for strategic thinking is important, as well as the capacity to:

  • identify and assess multiple external factors,
  • evaluate options and risks, and
  • solve complex financial challenges, both on behalf of clients and for the business.

Thinking strategically is a valuable skill in any position.  For those in charge of setting direction, strategic thinking is essential.

Strategy, strategic and related terms are among the most over-used and abused words in business.  Researchers have spent years dissecting and defining what is and isn’t strategic.  For a fascinating discussion of the differences between strategic thinking and strategic planning,  see this brief Wikipedia entry.

Interestingly, in a business dictionary dating from the 1970’s, none of the terms above were included!

What do we expect from strategic thinkers?

Despite the difficulties of defining the characteristics of strategic thinking, there is general concensus that the outcome is to bring the organisation’s vision to reality.

Whether we believe strategic thinkers are born or made, it is possible for us to identify people who have the potential to think strategically.

However, strategic judgement is a complex set of competencies as this definition and list of relevant traits from Harrison Assessments demonstrates:

Strategic Judgement = the tendency to have a balance of traits necessary to discern pertinent information and formulate an effective strategy.

This competency is made up of essential traits: Analytical, Analyses Pitfalls, Research/Learning, Intuitive, Collaborative, Self-Improvement, Systematic; desirable traits: Experimenting, Persistent, Certain, Pressure Tolerance, Optimistic, Planning, Self-Acceptance, Relaxed, Open/Reflective; and traits to avoid: Blindly Optimistic, Impulsive, Skeptical, Defensive, Dogmatic, Easily Influenced, Fast but Imprecise, Precise but Slow.

Although we think we know what we mean when we talk about strategic thinking or judgement, we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about someone’s ability until we have seen the evidence!

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Critical skill shortage 2: Problem solving and decision making

This is the third of six articles inspired by data about skills shortages in the banking and finance sector, from the Kelly Skills at Work 2010 study.  See our blog for previous articles, posted on 2 and 9 May 2011.

The Kelly study identified problem solving and decision making together as a critical skill that is in short supply among mid to senior level managers.

In the current environment of uncertainty and rapid change, the ability to solve problems and make appropriate choices are essential for:

  • giving high quality, appropriate and timely advice to clients,
  • having a reputable, sustainable and profitable practice and
  • complying with regulatory requirements.

What do we mean by problem solving and decision making?

The ability to do both these things well depends on the degree to which a person possesses all of the following qualities:

  • A tendency to logically analyse facts and problems, as well as examining the potential difficulties of any plan, balanced by –
  • A willingness to use intuition in decision making (especially important when there are a lot of variables that can’t be analysed objectively);
  • The desire to have the authority to make decisions and to take responsibility for the outcomes while also being –
  • Prepared to collaborate with others who may have valuableinformation that needs to be taken into account.

How can you build on your natural strengths in this area?

  • Uncover your strengths, as well as areas for improvement.
  • Step outside your comfort zone by taking on greater challenges.
  • Practice!  See our free worksheet ‘Are you sitting (too) comfortably?’ to get you started.

Like to know more about your strengths (and your team’s) and how to develop them further?  Contact us to organise an assessment and/or coaching.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Critical skill shortage 1: Communication

Last week’s article on the ‘Top 5’ critical skills in short supply in Banking and Finance generated a lot of interest.

As a result of your feedback, we’re going to spend the next few weeks looking at each of the 5 areas of skill shortage in turn – beginning with communication – and give you some practical tips for survival.

For a quick summary of what you can do right now,  see our earlier post ‘The five step skills shortage strategy’.

Without excellent communication skills in all your staff, you will find they can’t:

  • build good relationships with clients
  • provide customer service that meets your clients’ expectations and needs
  • explain things well to clients
  • understand what clients need
  • sell your services and/or products
  • work together productively

From just that short list, imagine what poor communication could be costing your business!  But how can you know?

Signs you might have a problem:

  • customer complaints or (worse) losing clients who just leave without telling you why
  • low levels of business referrals (see previous articles on this topic)
  • lack of cooperation and teamwork, maybe some bullying
  • careless and/or expensive errors
  • losing good staff to competitors

What can you do about it?

1.  Be a positive role model

Communicate regularly and openly with your clients and staff.  Make sure this includes listening to what they have to say to you.

2.  Diagnose communication skills gaps

There are many tools and approaches on the market to help you do this.  We would be happy to help you find the right one for you.

3.  Fill the gaps

This may require drastic action that involves one or all of the following:

  • putting poor communicators where they can do the least amount of damage
  • improving the skills of your existing staff through training and coaching
  • hiring staff with the communication skills you want

If there are communication problems in your team, I guarantee without your intervention things can only get worse.  What do you plan to do about it?

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Top 5 critical skills in shortfall

The Kelly Skills at Work 2010 study uncovered a serious skills  shortage in the Banking and Finance Sector in the Asia Pacific region.

The five skills most in demand are also those considered most critical for mid to senior level managers across all industries.

Of all organisations surveyed,  88% said the shortage of staff with the right skills had a negative impact on their ability to serve clients.

As the FOFA reforms come into play for those readers giving financial advice, we will begin to see the real impact of this skill shortfall in terms of client attraction and retention.

If you’re an employer, you will find it increasingly difficult to identify and hire people with these critical skills.

The top 5 critical skills in shortage are:

1.  Communication including the critical abilities to

  • build long-term, successful, professional relationships with clients, in addition to selling a product or service and
  • communicate complex financial concepts to a non-finance audience in a simple and tactful way.

2.  Problem solving and decision making required for

  • complying with high levels of regulation and
  • dealing with environmental uncertainties.

3.  Strategic thinking to

  • assess multiple external factors and
  • develop and evaluate options.

4.  People Management with the ability to

  • lead, motivate and inspire and
  • ensure teams have the right balance of skills.

5.  Technical skills

  • relevant, up to date and transferrable knowledge and
  • an ability to deal with more sophisticated products and markets.

What has been your experience?  Have you suffered a skills shortage crisis?  Have you found effective ways of dealing with the skills shortage?  What are your plans for the future?  Please share your thoughts below.

 

 

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

How referable is your business? (continued)

Following on from our article last week – ‘How referable is your business?’ – see below for a further two tips on how you can build up your referral business.

Step 3 – Acknowledge your clients’ fear and make them look good

Your client may often wonder whether the referral process will take up too much of their time and whether their reputation will be hurt if you don’t follow up properly. Think about the client’s needs first, not yours. The referral process needs to reflect well on them and make them look good.

To overcome these fears, explain your referral process and the outcomes of any introductions. This could include following up referred clients promptly and letting the referee know how it progresses, building their confidence in the process. A successful outcome with a referred client strengthens the existing client relationship and should lead to more referrals.

Step 4 – Get the client to articulate your value

At the end of every client meeting ask the client to articulate the value they’ve received. If they say things like ‘I never thought of that before’ or ‘thanks, that’s a great idea’, this is a perfect trigger to have a conversation about who else may benefit from your expertise.

Importantly, your client needs to tell you about the value they’re receiving so they ‘sell’ themselves into the idea of referring you. You can’t badger them into agreeing with you about the value you think they’ve received!

The Bottom Line

There are multiple, ongoing opportunities to talk with your clients about referrals. Examples include when you solve or prevent a problem, when your client buys from you and when you follow up. The key is to look for ways to provide value to your clients and to have a systematic client contact and referral process that your business is comfortable with and that your clients trust.

If this is underpinned by an awareness of what your clients think about your service, then you will have ‘earned the right’ to have the referral conversation and you will be closing the gap between the number of clients who currently refer business to you, and the number that could be.

You may want to visit www.customerreturn.com.au to complete a 2 minute Referrability Self Evaluation. Nathan can be contacted on 0410 471 200 to provide a free 30 minute debrief valued at $150 of your results and suggestions for how to build a more referable business.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

How referable is your business?

Lead generation is now more important than ever and client referrals are the most profitable way to build your business. Do you have a systematic referral process that makes it easy for your clients to refer you to others?

Given the volatility in the market and the caution among clients, it is now more important than ever to strengthen your existing client relationships and make it easier for your clients to recognise your value and refer you to others.

80 percent of clients would be willing to refer their adviser.
Yet only 20 percent of clients are actively asked for referrals.

Our research indicates there is an enormous opportunity that advisers are missing out on. Clients are open to the idea of giving referrals – but advisers are not having enough of these ‘referral conversations’.

How much revenue are you missing out on by not getting a referral from 80 percent of your client base on an ongoing basis? It’s time to close the gap between your current ‘referral revenue’ and your goal ‘referral revenue’ – and here’s how to do it…

Step 1 – Don’t stick your head in the sand…find out what your clients really think

Some advisers are worried about asking for referrals because they don’t actually know what the client really thinks of their service – so the first thing to do is find out.

If you’re not regularly hearing either positive or negative feedback, then that’s a sure sign that your clients don’t care enough to tell you and aren’t fully engaged with your business. That’s exactly when you should worry.

While it may sound counter-intuitive, the first step in building a more referable business is to try and uncover client feedback and any complaints through an independent feedback process – most people will be too polite to tell you directly.

Handled proactively, addressing client feedback gives you an indication of who is most open to the referral discussion and is the perfect opportunity to make your business more referable. Our clients have increased their levels of repeat, retained and referral business through this step alone.

Step 2 – Stop hoping – plant ‘referability seeds’

It’s not a matter of asking the question directly and hoping for the best. You need to foreshadow a future conversation around referrals so that both you and your client will be comfortable with the conversation. Do your clients know that you welcome referrals and that’s the preferred method by which you grow your business?

Do you make it obvious through your website and marketing collateral that you welcome referrals? Or do your clients think that you’re too busy already? A conversation about referrals doesn’t make you look desperate. But if you don’t make it clear that you welcome referrals, don’t expect to get them.

See next week’s blog post for more tips. You may also want to visit www.customerreturn.com.au to complete a 2 minute Referrability Self Evaluation. Nathan can be contacted on 0410 471 200 to provide a free 30 minute debrief valued at $150 of your results and suggestions for how to build a more referable business.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Four simple questions to bring you more referrals

A couple of weeks back, I was eating lunch with a business colleague I’ve known for years when she asked “What is it exactly that you can do for my clients?”

We talk all the time about why ‘referral clients’ are the best clients.  We know why we want them and having clients referred to you is a whole lot easier than cold calling, don’t you think?

Like you, I know we have to be worthy of referrals and prepared to ask for them, but there’s also another step that is often overlooked. The clue is in the question above – a question we might be too embarrassed to ask because we believe we should already know the answer. You know it’s true!

Is it possible your clients and centres of influence could be thinking the same question about you, but are too embarrassed to ask?

Here are four simple questions to help you clarify what your referrers need to know about what you do before they can give you quality referrals. The answers are mine, for Balance at Work.  I hope you can use them as a model your own “Referrer Education Program”.

1.  Who do we help?

Established, professional and successful organisations and individuals who are ready to take their performance to the next level. Our clients:

  1. Care about people;
  2. Made poor choices in the past;
  3. Want to change;
  4. Are open to new ideas and
  5. Committed to taking action.

2.  What do we do for them?

We make managing and leading easier with simple tools and programs that deliver benchmarked performance excellence for:

  • Hiring and promoting staff;
  • Developing and coaching individuals and teams;
  • Measuring and rewarding performance;
  • Managing and developing careers;
  • Planning succession.

3.  How do we do it?

We make people management best practices easily accessible and affordable for any organisation with staff.

  • Predictive, flexible and benchmarked online employee assessments. We pick winners and help our clients keep them.
  • Automated online recruitment processes.  Any size organisation can select staff economically and efficiently with our system.
  • Real coaching for real people and real teams. We listen. We don’t try to push clients into one standard model.
  • Advice based on years of experience, observation, study and continuous learning. We remove the guesswork and uncertainty.
  • Referrals to specialists who meet our clients’ unique requirements. When we don’t have the expertise they need, we send them to someone who does.

4.  Why should they choose to work with us?

As one client told us recently: “You do something others don’t do and you do it extremely well”.  We offer:

  1. Excellence, expertise and experience that make a difference; and
  2. We won’t waste their time, energy or money.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  When you have your answers, let us know. We may be able to refer you!

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Are you ready for the long goodbye?

Last week’s article on how many employees want to change jobs – and why – had some great feedback.  If you missed the article, click here to read it.

Among the responses to the article was this:

Hi Susan

Sometimes I can’t let your articles go by without comment.

I am stunned at the stats. I thought it was only me, but in all the job changes I have had in my life, the reasons were, those outlined in your article for each and every time I moved on. Of course we don’t say this in case we burn a bridge or two for our future and we don’t want to appear to be the problem so we put up with it for as long as we can then move on to “an opportunity that provides me with the scope to develop” or “one that will allow me to expand my horizons”, or ” a move that will more consistently complement my skills and future goals” and other stupid euphemisms.

The writer later told me he believes people don’t willingly leave a job they really love.  He did so once for ‘a ridiculous amount of money’.  “That was a big mistake!” he said.

Sound familiar?

When it comes to employee departures, prevention is definitely better (and cheaper) than cure.  Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Check that you have put people in roles that suit their unique talents and abilities to ensure peak performance and job satisfaction.
  2. Check  that they know what’s expected of them so you can regularly measure and reward performance.
  3. Check that they feel challenged and valued.

With just those three checks in place, I guarantee you will be well on the way to actively managing staff turnover and avoiding ‘the long goodbye’.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Research bosses should know about

According to the latest annual ‘Hunting the (Hidden) Hunters’ report from CareerOne,  longer hours, inadequate resources and a reluctance of organisations to increase salaries are factors driving workers to hand in their resignation.

82% of Australian workers considered changing jobs last year

37% of employees are actively pursuing new roles

The following comment was posted on the Herald Sun website in response to this research.

I hate my job, passionately hate it! Business owners, CEO’s, Managers, Team Leaders take note! There is no longer inspirational leaders or people in control who work hard to make the workplace one to ‘want’ to come to each day.There is noone to look up to, who has passion and drive! I drag myself out of bed to a workplace that is back in the 50’s era. Although I work in marketing, and it is a small business, I am expected to clean! I wipe over the kitchen and lunch room but it is now expected I do more because I am female! I had to fight to be allowed to have a heater on in winter, my boss doesnt like turning the aircon on too much because it costs, any little job that goes above and beyond is never acknowledge, no thankyou whatsoever, my boss whines when we are quiet and whines when we are extremely busy but does not put on extra staff. I have been accused of not showing initiative which was beyond me because my boss would not know half the research I do, or the little things I organise for the company. It is a job that is pure hell. Part time work is hard to come by so although I am looking elsewhere, it is hard! I bet there are many in the same boat!

Uncomfortable?  What if that person was working in your office?

The factors most likely to motivate an employee to change jobs this year are:

  • not being motivated by management (44%)
  • lack of new challenges (40%)
  • waiting too long for a pay rise (39%)
  • an unclear career path (37%)

People changed jobs for:

  • work closer to home
  • a better team
  • higher remuneration and benefits

With unemployment now back down to 5%, it’s essential to be proactive in attracting and retaining quality staff.  The CareerOne research also tells us what’s important to employees in specific industries.  For financial services, the following advantages need to be emphasised in your job advertisements and discussions with staff and job candidates:

  • flexible hours
  • ability to work from home
  • training and development opportunities
  • potential for pay rises

Administration and customer service staff were less motivated by career potential or higher remuneration, instead seeking flexibility, mentoring and paid overtime.

Tip: It’s one thing knowing ‘what’ needs to be done, a quite different thing to know ‘how’ to do it.  If you are motivated to make changes in your business and you’d like help with the ‘how’, please give us a call.

"The last couple of years at batyr has seen incredible growth and the Balance at Work team has supported us along the way. They have helped us improve leadership skills across the team by helping us source and manage mentors, and even engaging as mentors themselves. As a young and fresh CEO Susan has also supported me personally with genuine feedback and fearless advice to achieve great things. "
By Sam Refshauge, CEO, batyr
"We used the Harrison Assessment tools followed by a debrief with Susan, for career development with staff, which then allowed us to work with Susan to create a customised 360 degree review process. Susan has a wealth of knowledge and is able to offer suggestions and solutions for our company. She is always ready to get involved and takes the time to show her clients the capability of Harrison Assessments. "
By Jessica Hill, Head of People and Culture, Choice
"Balance at Work are the ideal external partners for us as they completely get what we are trying achieve in the People and Culture space. Their flexibility and responsiveness to our needs has seen the entire 360 approach being a complete success. The online tool and the follow up coaching sessions have been game changers for our business. The buzz in the organisation is outstanding. Love it! Thanks again for being such a great support crew on this key project."
By Chris Bulmer, National GM Learning and Development, ISS Australia
"We use Harrison Assessments with our clients to support their recruitment processes. We especially value the comprehensive customisable features that allow us to ensure the best possible fit within a company, team and position. Balance at Work is always one phone call away. We appreciate their valuable input and their coaching solutions have also given great support to our clients."
By Benoit Ribe, HR Solutions Manager, Polyglot Group
"The leadership team at Insurance Advisernet engaged Susan from Balance at Work to run our leadership development survey and learning sessions. Susan was very professional in delivering the team and individual strengths and opportunities for growth. Susan's approach was very "non corporate" in style which was refreshing to see. I can't recommend Balance at Work more highly to lead, employee and team development sessions."
By Shaun Stanfield, Managing Director, Insurance Advisernet

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