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

A (very) simple guide to business productivity

We’re all busy, so here’s some quick advice on how to get the most from your staff!  Of the millions of words written about productivity, there are really just three things you need to remember.

For your employees to work the way you’d like them to, they need:

1.  Something to believe in

  • What are your core values, vision, mission and goals?
  • How have you communicated these to your team?
  • Can they see a connection between your plan and their future?

Your strategic plan describes the game.

2.  Best job fitness
In my experience, productivity and performance issues are often the result of ‘square pegs in round holes’.  This is a perfect time to reassess the fit of key people within their teams.  If you have identified individual strengths, you’ll be able to make the most of them.

Sometimes, this may result in more training or restructuring, or it may simply lead to the shifting of some tasks between people.
With the right people in the right positions, you can be confident you have built a winning team.

3.  Knowledge of what they’re supposed to be doing
Your organisational chart, policies, procedures, job descriptions and employment contracts are the rules of the game.  As with any successful team, training and coaching are ongoing.

Also let employees know how their role fits into the wider picture of the work that is done in your organisation.  Are they fully aware of the consequences for the business of their excellent (or poor) performance?

By putting in a little extra effort on people management, you can make huge productivity gains. If you would like some help with this, please click here.

What have you tried to improve productivity in your business?

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Top interview secrets of the experts

Have you ever had the experience of employing someone who you “just loved” when you interviewed them, only to face future disappointment when they turned out not to be the person you thought they were?

This is what I call “interview infatuation” and I coined the term because I’ve seen it happen so often I thought it needed a name.

Interview infatuation often happens because recruitment is not your main job it can be daunting task. Even if you have a robust process for recruitment, interviewing candidates can have you feeling anxious and confused.

Part of the problem is that candidates are often a lot better prepared that you. Dozens of websites provide sample interview questions and recommended responses. Your average candidate may also be more motivated than you are to perform well.

How do you shift the balance back to being in your favour?

By putting into practice just a few things that experienced interviewers do as a matter of course:

  1. Prepare
  2. Ask behavioural questions
  3. Be consistent

Most candidates come into interviews well-prepared and you’re at a disadvantage if you’re not equally well-prepared.

A quick scan of the candidate’s resume and drafting a few questions related to it does not count as preparation. Preparing thoroughly involves:

  • Revisiting the requirements for the role, especially the essential (must have) and desirable (can live without) criteria
  • Writing an interview plan that sets out the steps you will go through in the interview, including introductions, questions and closing
  • Studying the resume, specifically looking for gaps, inflated titles and anything else that doesn’t add up.
  • Reviewing any additional information such as pre-employment assessments
  • Choosing a suitable time and location where you will have privacy and not be interrupted.

As part of your preparation, write behavioural questions that are relevant to being successful in this role. Behavioural questions matter because past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Anyone can guess the correct answer to questions such as “What are your strengths?”

Examples of all-purpose behavioural questions

  • Tell me about a time when you have had to deal with a difficult client or co-worker?
  • Can you give me an example of a project you have managed?
  • Was there a time when you were under pressure to deliver an outcome in a tight time frame?

With each of these questions, follow up with more probing:

  • What did you do?
  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What would you do differently if you did it again?

These questions are looking beyond the standard answers the candidate may have prepared. What you’re seeking to understand is not just the good stuff but how they handle situations when things go “pear shaped”. You will also get an insight into their thought processes as they describe what they learnt (or didn’t) from the experience.

When recruiting, you are often comparing candidates with diverse strengths. To do this effectively, it’s recommended that you consistently ask the same questions to all candidates. Naturally, you will ask some different questions as you explore each candidate’s suitability but your basic structure and behavioural question should be the same for everyone. By doing this you will find it much easier to rank candidates according to the essential and desirable criteria for the role.

A simple table of scores for each can help your final decision

One final point that wasn’t on my original list: Don’t feel like you have to do this alone. I always recommend to my clients that they get someone whose judgement they trust to help them interview. Their insight could prove valuable.

Having someone else at the interview may not be feasible for you. In that case, you can still gain help by accessing the many resources available online.

Preparing, incisive questioning and consistency will improve your “hit-rate” at interviews. You may also find it enhances your reputation as an employer.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Seven key questions to ask about your team

 

Do you have your ‘dream team’ working happily and productively in your business or your department?  Perhaps you feel there’s still room for improvement.  Below are seven questions to help you identify the gaps in your team’s effectiveness, with ‘best practice tips’ for your consideration.

1.       Do we know what we’re trying to achieve?

Does everyone on your team understand the strategic plan and how the team’s successes (and failures) impact the achievement of the organisation’s goals?  How involved were they in setting the goals of your team?  Could they explain the goals to others?

Include the team in planning and clearly communicate how the team’s performance will contribute to the organisational goals.

2.       Is every team member committed to our joint goals?

You will know the answer to this question through observation and questioning.  Having a common goal is not enough in itself to ensure success, commitment is also required.  Sometimes lack of commitment can be due to a clash between the goal and the individual’s expectations.

Check in with your team members that the goals are consistent with their personal values and aspirations.

3.       How likely are we to achieve our goals?

Do you have the best combination of competencies for what you’re trying to achieve?  If not, how will you add these resources – through training, outsourcing or hiring?  Have you set clear expectations for both work performance and behaviour within the team?

Build teams for future as well as current needs.

4.       Do we understand and value our individual strengths?

Do you know in detail the experience, skills and talents of each team member? Are they respected for their specialist knowledge? Do they get an opportunity to use their strengths?

Delegate tasks and responsibilities to individuals in their field of expertise to give them a chance to shine.

5.       Do we communicate well?

Does the team leader effectively and appropriately share relevant information in a timely manner.  Does every team member get to express their opinion in an environment of respect and openness?

Introduce practices, such as meeting agendas, that allow all members of the team to contribute without feeling threatened.

6.       Are we all willing to lend a helping hand?

Is there a spirit of cooperation, with team members going out of their way (and outside their designated roles) to get the work done to achieve your team objectives?  Are team members happy to collaborate and share information and resources?

As with communication, a good team leader will model the behaviour that is expected from the rest of the team.

7.       Are we having fun?

Work is work and it can’t always be a party, but if people genuinely enjoy the work they do and the company of their team, you will achieve a lot more.

Celebrate your successes and when things go wrong, avoid blaming others.

What do you think?

Reflecting on these questions may have prompted some thoughts about how to improve your team.  Don’t let them be lost! 

Your next step is to decide on what actions you can take and plan how you will implement those actions.  Write it down, share your ideas and ask for help from both inside and outside your team.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Even your best friend won’t tell you…

new employees

Complain to a colleague about an empoyee and they might tell you to just get rid of the person. You’re less likely to hear that you might get better performance by your staff if you give them more coaching, recognition or opportunities.

In traditional ‘command and control’ management, the assumption was that a staff member should do as they’re told and just get on with the job. If they couldn’t do that, they should be moved on.

The workplace has changed but remnants of this thinking remain.

With a more highly educated, skilled and mobile workforce, old styles of management are no longer viable, no matter how much we might believe life was simpler back then.

Using fear to motivate staff is not sustainable.

Those who continue to apply this model are short-changing their business and their staff. Here’s why:

  • Companies that build a great culture by promoting well-being, treating staff with respect, providing coaching and modelling honesty and integrity have high sustainable staff engagement. These companies had an average operating margin of 27.4%.*
  • Those that rely on traditional motivation, such as bonuses, had an operating margin of 14.3%.*
  • Where staff were not engaged or motivated, the operating margin averaged 9.9%.*
  • Companies with high levels of staff engagement posted returns 22% higher than the stock market average.^
  • Companies with disengaged employees had returns 28% below average.^
  • The top three drivers of engagement were career opportunities, recognition at work and brand alignment.^
  • With only one third of employees, out of 32,000 surveyed, saying they are highly engaged,* finding a way to treat staff better is a huge, hidden source of competitive advantage.

What can you do to increase employee engagement, motivation and retention?

Your friends might not tell you, but we will! Or you could ask your staff…

*Towers Watson 2012, ^AON Hewitt 2010

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Where’s all this leadership leading us?

We had leadership programs running constantly, but when a decision had to be made everyone stepped back and waited for someone else to make a move.

Evidence of crises of leadership fill our news feeds daily. Yet leadership development, coaching, books and seminars are a growth industry.

With all this education, why aren’t we getting better decision making from our leaders?

The opening comment was made to me by a former executive of a major bank. I have no doubt the situation is the same in most big institutions.

This is what I think is happening:

  1. Lack of personal direction   Instead of being guided by an internal compass aligned to corporate goals, quasi-leaders’ values are conflicted.
  2. Lack of personal consequences   Apart from a few noticeable exceptions, quasi-leaders get away with bad decisions, or no decisions, many walking away richer.
  3. Fear   When the going gets tough, quasi-leaders look to the past instead of the future.

Instead, we should expect the following from our leaders – and be selecting, training and supporting them accordingly:

  1. Values   – that produce decisions that serve the company and the community.
  2. Accountability   – acceptance of the responsibilities of being a leader.
  3. Courage   – to make the difficult choices.

What do you think?  What would you change?

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

“Every Saturday I was a crocodile and on Tuesdays, a clown”

When a client – now working in HR – told me this recently, I was both amused and impressed!

Painter and decorator, accounts clerk, children’s entertainer, office manager, hairdresser, executive assistant…

Could you predict what job title would come next? Would you hire this person to look after the HR needs of your company?

Experienced recruiters will see the potential for success in this work history, including:

  • Flexibility
  • Attention to detail
  • People-orientation
  • Continuous learning
  • Ability to communicate with a wide range of people

Congratulations to all those managers who are willing to look beyond the job titles and appreciate the pattern of preferences that make a career.

If you’ve benefited from someone using their imagination in hiring, please let us know below.

You are not your resume, you are your work. – Seth Godin

 

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

What’s wrong with politics?

In a recent conversation with a candidate for the next election, she told me she thought politics as a career is a lot less ‘political’ than working in the corporate world.

Her reasoning was that you already know what people stand for if they’re politicians. Their parties, policies and platforms tell you what they believe to be important.

In contrast, individuals in organisations often have hidden agendas. We may not know what their beliefs or real goals are, or what’s important to them.

As a result, political games are more subtle and insidious at work than in the political sphere.

I’d like to know what do you think.

Could there be more politics in your workplace than in parliament? And if so, why do you think that is?

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Two surprising reasons for poor performance

Sometimes a person or team just isn’t achieving, even though their skills, knowledge and experience indicate they should be doing well.

What’s going on?

Often, the answer is deceptively simple. By taking time to diagnose the reason, you will be in a better position to fix poor performance – fast!

1. Don’t know

– what’s expected, what’s important, where to start, how to start…

Some possible reasons and solutions:

  • Too short a time in the job – address the ‘don’t know’ factors
  • Too long in the job – consider other options

2. Don’t care

– they know what’s expected, but they’re not motivated to do it…  (this one is harder to fix)

Some possible reasons and solutions:

  • Purpose not articulated – do it now
  • Purpose articulated, but doesn’t excite (the ‘so what’ factor) – move on, recruit more carefully in the future

How do you fix performance problems?  Please let us know below.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Warning: 13 lies applicants will tell you to get the job

trust

We tell potential employees what we want.  We shouldn’t be surprised if they bend the truth to fit our requirements.

Although slightly ‘tongue in cheek’, the following list is based on actual recruitment experiences in real workplaces.

1. I’m self-motivated

…I applied, didn’t I?

2. I have excellent communication skills

…just don’t read my CV too closely.

3. I have industry experience

…not necessarily in this industry.

4. I love a challenge

…as long as it’s one I choose.

5. I’m very flexible

…so long as I can be out of here by 5.15 every day.

6. I believe in excellent customer service

…if I’m the customer.

7. I’m well organised

…in fact, I can spend all day tidying my desk and sorting my emails.

8. I can juggle priorities

…you’ll notice how I have Facebook and YouTube open at the same time.

9. Money isn’t important to me

…as long you pay me what I think I’m worth.

10. I’m a team player

...oh, you mean at work?

11. I work independently

…as long as I can go around asking everyone else for help.

12. I’m innovative

…just tell me what you want and I’ll Google it for you.

13. I have great interpersonal skills

…but please don’t ask me why I left my last job!

Too cynical? Too harsh?

If you’ve been caught out by any of these statements from a prospective employee, the good news is that there are independent ways to assess every one of  them – if you’d rather get the full picture.

Of course, you may agree or disagree!  I look forward to reading your comments.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Three management mistakes you don’t even know you’re making

trust

In our work with business owners, we have observed three beliefs that can hold them back from managing better, often without them being aware of their impact. 

Next time you are feeling frustrated with your staff, it might be time to check your thinking for any of the following…

1. Assuming your team should care as much about your business as you do

Have they taken the risk to build the business, invested their personal funds, time, energy and emotion?  Why would they care like you do?

Their money will be in the bank next pay day, regardless of whether they buy into your dreams.

2. Believing you can change people

We’re all only capable of change if we have the will to change. Why would you expect your staff to change their behaviour through the power of your will?

You can inspire and encourage change in others’ behaviour, but you can’t control it.

3. Thinking you are ‘in command’

You can enlist others’ cooperation and collaboration, but there are not many people in civilian life who like to be ordered around.

Business owners tell us consistently that they want staff who are self-starters and take initiative.  Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to then expect the people you’ve recruited – because they have these traits – to suddenly want to follow a directive without question?

Have you noticed how your beliefs affect your management style?  Please share your thoughts below.

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

Recruitment’s biggest myth

It amazes me how many people still believe:

The more candidates you have to choose from, the better your chance of finding the right person.

This is a fallacy that gives people comfort – while also ensuring they waste time in reading too many resumes, then sorting, ranking, interviewing and notifying too many applicants.

Imagine an alternative reality:

When you advertise a vacancy every applicant is so switched on by what you say that they are already screened to fit your core values.

And they personally deliver their application to your office!

You would receive far fewer applicants but every one of them has already passed through a filter before you even see their resume.

This is not a fantasy.  It actually happened to our accountant, Accounting and Taxation Advantage, when they advertised with these words:

At Accounting & Taxation Advantage our

philosophy is simple. We want to impact our

client’s lives, their families and their communities.

We are looking for a

FULL-TIME ACCOUNTANT

(experience not necessary) that wants to join our

proactive, innovative, award winning accounting

firm. Beware though – we are not normal

accountants.

So if you dream of a workplace where you are

encouraged to share your ideas to grow the

business, are provided professional and on the

job training, where you want to see your clients

succeed, where everyone is rewarded for their

efforts but importantly where you work hard and

are a committed part of a team then we may be

what you are looking for.

Inspired? Then drop your resume in person to

our Glenbrook office by May 31.

How does this compare with your most recent job ad?

If you want to stop wasting time on inappropriate applicants, you need to know:

1.  Why you do what you do;

2.  What makes your organisation or department special;

3.  Where you’re headed and how you plan to get there.

Once you’re clear on those three points  it will be easy to ignore the biggest recruitment myth!

BALANCE AT WORK BLOG

5 reasons to reduce ‘clutter’ and grow your business

A recent visit to a local boutique was a stark reminder of the main drawback of trying to be all things to all people…

This shop is filled with many beautiful pieces of clothing, jewellery, accessories, giftware and even food. But there’s a problem:  too much to choose from! The ‘noise’ of all the possible options meant the choice I made was to leave the shop in search of somewhere less cluttered and less overwhelming.

OK – so I’ve never worked in retail but I have had decades of experience as a shopper! It surprises me how hard some retailers make if for us to actually purchase from them. Everything from overcrowded displays to lack of staff are barriers to actually handing over the cash.

What about your service business?

“You can’t please all of the people all of the time” was something my father used to say when I was disappointed about something. If he was still around when I started in business, he might have reminded me to be more selective about the services we offer our clients.

Over the years – and it’s an ongoing process – I’ve gradually applied greater discipline to what we will and will not do as well as who we will and will not do it with. I’m constantly reminding myself that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

What’s the situation in your business? Is it easy for a prospect to know exactly what you can do for them?

In my work with professional service firms, I understand the anxiety they often experience when confronted with the prospect of being more finely focussed regarding who they serve and what they do. Once they push through that anxiety, I’ve seen a number of related benefits arise for business owners:

1. Freedom to have the business they want to have, instead of the business they think the should have.  (This is most important because it’s closely linked to the freedom to be themselves.)

2. Prospects make faster decisions about working (or not working) with them, shortening the buying cycle.

3. Staff have more clarity about what the business does and their role in it.

4. They have more confidence to say ‘no’ to the wrong clients and more enthusiasm when saying ‘yes’ to the right clients.

5. By becoming experts in their specialty, they grow in business knowledge, skills and reputation.

All these things have a positive impact on the business productivity and profitability.

What will you do to make choice easier in your business?

"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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