Sunday, January 5, 2014

Staff Performance Management for Small Businesses

Managing the performance of staff can be a challenge, but if you have a performance management framework or process in place, you may save yourself a lot of money down the track. And it can be applied to a business that employs one staff member or more.

With a performance management process, you can do two things; manage the performance of poor performers, and provide productive employees with positive feedback and encouragement.
It is important to create structure early so you are prepared for when the business grows.
So how do you set up a simple performance management system?

Firstly, ensure that you have job descriptions that outline the purpose of each role and they key duties expected of this role. To performance manage your employee, decide together on 3-6 key objectives of the role, and specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure how these objectives will be measured. For example, an objective for a Receptionist role is to be responsible for reception duties. A KPI for this objective is for the Receptionist to ensure that all messages are clearly communicated in a timely manner. Write these objectives and KPIs in a word document to ensure they are recorded.
If you are big enough to have worked out strategic objectives, these should be intertwined into the KPIs.

These objectives should be reviewed at the 6 month mark to make sure that they still reflect the employee’s role, and then a more formal review at 12 months.

I always recommend that employers have regular developmental conversations to manage staff expectations and performance. These conversations may be about learning and development opportunities, how to improve processes and procedures, and how they are enjoying their role, what could be improved etc

Regular conversations generate the following benefits:

  • A better understanding of employees;
  • Instant feedback and no surprises when the performance and development reviews are conducted;
  • A more thorough understanding of your business’s challenges, opportunities and strengths; 
  • Regular opportunities to provide feedback will reduce the fear associated with feedback in a performance related discussion;
  • A practice-run in the lead up to the formal performance and development reviews.

When there are performance management concerns
The performance management process can also uncover employees who are not performing in their role. If an employee’s performance is consistently poor, the employee must be warned in writing that their performance needs to improve. The employee must be provided with guidance on how they can improve their performance and given a reasonable amount of time to improve their performance. The employee’s performance can be monitored against their KPIs.

Employers that employ fewer than 15 employees are covered by special dismissal arrangements which are different to those that apply to larger businesses. The special arrangements that apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees are:

‘Employees will need to have worked for the business for 12 months in order to be eligible to make a claim for unfair dismissal, and if a small business employer strictly follows the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code and the dismissal of their employee is not harsh, unjust or unreasonable, then the dismissal will be deemed to be fair. It is best practice to follow the code and fill out the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code Checklist at the time an employee is dismissed and you should keep the Checklist with your records as it will assist you if an employee makes an unfair dismissal claim.’

Small businesses don’t need to invest a lot of money to develop a performance management system. The more simple and user-friendly, the better. It is worth the effort because a feedback process helps to instil loyalty, longevity, and continued performance.

Diversity in the Workplace Matters

For the past 5 months, I have been working with 50 people aged 50 and over who are currently unemployed. It is a program called ‘Experience+ Work Ready Program’ and is funded by DEEWR. It has been rolled out in 17 different locations around the country.

The focus of this program has been to provide intensive job ready preparation (workshops, career coaching, resume assistance and more) followed by placement into a job.
The process has been inspiring, frustrating and rewarding.
  • Key observations include:In general, all the participants have been hard working and loyal people in their careers with over 30 years of solid work experience.
  • Many have not experienced job interviews for more than 10 years so there is a knowledge gap. The style of job interviews has changed drastically (behaviour based questions, panels, psychometric testing etc.).
  • There is a stronger focus on qualifications. Many participants have not updated their qualifications for 15+ years. 
  • Many participants are at an age where they just want to be themselves in a job interview. But it is still about playing the game.
  • Only a small percentage of participants own an iphone. Many still have older phones so they can’t sync their emails to their phones. Today’s employment market requires candidates to be responsive if there is a call up for an opportunity. Some participants may not check their email for at least a few days.
  • In general, the healthier participants have had more luck in securing job interviews and jobs. Some participants have a few health restrictions so there is a limit to career changes and work availability during the week. For example, one of the participants can only work after midday due to a medical condition.
  • Some participants are from culturally diverse backgrounds. There have been some frank discussions with some participants who have pitched themselves at customer service / help desk roles. Their strong accents may be an issue so there are some realities checks required on suitable career choices moving forward.
  • Depression is a common health issue among the men. Typically men have been the breadwinners in their families so they find it particularly difficult to cope without a job. 
  • Age discrimination is alive and kicking in Australian society. Some of the participants that I deemed to be job ready immediately were being overlooked. Age and perceptions of older people had to be the only factor because their work experience, personable qualities and qualifications were more impressive than many employed people.
Case studies:

Jack worked as a sales manager selling white goods for 30 years until he was made redundant about 6 months ago.  He was sick of dealing with customers and wanted to change to the construction industry. We provided funding for his Yellow Card and First Aid Certificate. He now contracts as a lolly pop man and loves it.

Michael worked in the manufacturing sector in a purchasing role. He was made redundant in his last role. Age discrimination posed as a real threat for him. I worked with Michael giving him intensive interview preparation. He won a purchasing role at a biomedical organisation. It was an excellent outcome because he secured a job that he wanted and it is in a growth sector.

This program has now been axed by the Federal Government post January 2014. The Abbott Government has replaced it with a $3,500 payment (up from $1,000) to employers who hire an employee aged 50 and over.  This band aid effort is insulting to our older Australians and does not provide adequate assistance to respond to the challenges of mature age workers.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is a job interview enough?

Psychometric testing is an interesting topic when it comes to recruitment – you either love it or hate it. I sit on the fence with it. Sometimes it can be useful as one of many indicators to assist in deciding on the best candidate.

Recently, I worked with a client to recruit for a few senior roles. One of these tests we utilised was an emotional intelligence test. Management roles involve managing multiple staff, so this type of testing can provide employers with interesting feedback. If you are wondering what emotional intelligence testing can tell you, the provider’s website provides you with the following summary:

“Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) refers to a person’s capacity to effectively reason about emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought and solve problems.

Individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence (EI) are generally better able to perceive, identify and manage emotions in themselves and others, making them more effective at achieving goals when emotional based information is important.  This is particularly important in activities involving team work, dealing with others on a one-on-one basis and displaying leadership behaviours.”

After shortlisting 3 candidates, we then sent this online test to each person to complete within 48 hours from their home computer. The interview panel where then able to assess the results before the interview.  More specific questions relating to their results where then asked during the interview to get more of an understanding of their management style. From my experience so far, the results have proven to be reasonably accurate.

There are also skills tests (as opposed to Psychometric tests) that employers can tap into. I have a few IT clients so the skills tests are a great way to test a candidate’s general understanding of programming languages such as C++. There are also cognitive ability tests that measure verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning.  This is an important skill to have for budding programmers.

And then there are the simple tests that don’t require any form of Psychometric or cognitive ability testing. For example, if you are looking to recruit for a Reception role, set up a test that involves the candidate receiving a phone call and taking a message. The purpose of the test is to see if the candidate is able to properly record a phone message. The results will sometimes surprise you.

Practical and formal testing can assist you in making a more informed choice. If you stick to ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses’ and ‘who would you invite to dinner’ style questions only, you may find yourself performance managing your new recruit within the first month.

When employees behave badly

I work with a business whose employees are offsite on a regular basis conducting training. The employees are regularly told (verbally) that they should not drink with clients, have sex with clients, or behave in any other inappropriate way. In a nut shell, respect who you work for, respect yourselves, and respect the people you are serving. 

Recently, this verbal policy was violated and the consequences were dire – the employee was given her marching orders.

The aftermath of this recent work trip has been to implement a more formal process in making employees more accountable for their actions. A verbal checklist of ‘what not to do’ has now morphed into a Code of Conduct  or Standards of behaviour that employees must sign before going away on a work trip.  

It covers general etiquette or behaviours that staff and contractors are expected to demonstrate. Some of these include: 

•I will not discuss confidential client issues with, or in the presence of, clients or visitors;
•    I will speak at an appropriate voice level;
•    I will use language that reflects my professionalism and commitment to good service;
•    I will treat co-workers with respect;

It then comments on unacceptable behaviours or standards that must be strictly adhered to by all staff and contractors while working offsite. Some of these include:

•    No drinking / no intoxication;
•    No sexual relations with clients or other staff members unless in a demonstrated pre-existing ongoing relationship;
•    No drug use;

The critical bit comes at the end. It comes back to the critical issues and accountability and penalties if the standards of behaviour are ignored. It ends with the following:

‘My signature below indicates that I understand what is required of me when working for x. I understand that there may be further action such as a written warning or termination of my employment/contract if I do not comply with the above standards of behaviour.’

The employee is expected to sign and date the contract.

With Christmas fast approaching, A Code of Conduct may be appropriate to guard against repeat offenders at the Christmas party. Food for thought!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Help the young ones find their way

Over the past 12 months, I have noticed an increasing number of university graduates applying for junior administrative roles that tend not to match their qualifications. My observations reflect the high rate of unemployment (26%) of 18-25 year olds.

It is no secret that the job market is tight at the moment. With the current economic climate, we are hearing of business closures, job cuts and redundancies on a weekly basis in both the public and private sectors. The 18-25 year olds are typically overlooked because there are more experienced candidates looking for work.

Another emerging trend is the number of university and TAFE students who are studying part time and working full time. For some, this means that it will take up to 6 years to complete their degree but they have to adapt to current employment demands – and practical work experience is rated highly.

If your business has part time or full time opportunities, consider approaching local universities or TAFE colleges to find some good candidates. Candidates with previous experience may be at the top of your wish list, but it still takes most people up to 3 months to settle into a new job regardless.  If your focus is on the candidates’ aptitude and attitude in the recruitment process, and not just relevant experience, you have the ability to create a far more productive workforce. If candidates have a have a willingness to work and the ability to listen, you may stumble across some very capable and grateful workers who are looking to be given a chance – just like you were at the start of your career. Apart from the interview process, you can tap into psychometric testing to assist you in finding the best candidate.

If you have children or family members aged between 18-25, provide them with some career guidance.  Gone are the days of going to university for 3-4 years, completing a generalist degree (e.g. Bachelor of Arts), working in cafes and bars, and landing a dream job.  If they don’t know what they want to do, encourage them to find a full time job while completing a Certificate of Diploma at TAFE part time.  It is a cheaper option, they still come out with a qualification, and they are working and earning money.

Another great source of information is researching the growth sectors in our economy. Where this growth, there are jobs. According to IBISWorld, some of the hot 10 industries over the next few years include organic farming, investment banking and securities broking, mining, aged care services, online information services, veterinary services, financial planning, accounting, general hospitals, and biotechnology.

An insight into the modern workplace

A month ago, I was asked to PwC Canberra’s new office opening. It sounded boring but I agreed to go because it meant getting out of dinner, bathing, homework and reading duties with my three children.

What unfolded was a very interesting evening discovering what a modern workplace looks like and how it functions.   The office provides 200 staff with a personal locker, laptop, and a range of individual and team workspaces – but no personal desk. Every workspace has a computer, docking station for the laptop, and phone. There is an online filing system so there is no paper lying around.

The workspaces are colour coded, guiding staff on the suitability for different activities. The colours also assist staff in identifying where people are working that day. There is an Etiquette Officer responsible for ensuring that people do not sit at the same workspace each day.

Meeting rooms are scattered around each floor to conduct team meetings or client meetings. Most of these meeting rooms are fitted with iPad-style touch-TVs. Others have whiteboards. Some meeting rooms have couches, while others have standing desks.

This type of workplace has been created to improve collaboration and creative thinking. The thinking is that if staff are able to work in close proximity to people beyond their team, there is a burgeoning of ideas and connectivity that is not normally achieved.

It also encourages ‘activity-based working’ – otherwise known as agile working or flexi-working. If staff need to work at a client site or work from home, they are set up to do this. The focus is on productivity…. wherever you decide to work. The fundamental ingredient to make ‘activity-based working’ work is technology.

In some respects, this futuristic workplace negates the need for a flexible work policy. What becomes important is a performance management system to measure staff productivity.

No doubt there are many critics of this innovative workspace approach. However, I can’t say that current workplaces are effective either. I recently was working out of an office in Sydney that had an office for every employee including the new intern. I did not observe any team meetings or work –related discussions. I did observe people with doors shut and hiding in their office. Desks were messy, with paper and files strewn across the desk and floor.

Time will tell whether PwC’s workspace approach engenders productivity and collaborative thinking. One thing is for sure, they have attracted many Generation Y and Zs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Is it time you found a new therapist? by Dr Mataji Kennedy

Julie is 40 and has been married for 12 years to Joe. They have two children together and have survived many ups and downs as a couple including the bankruptcy of the family business, the death of Julie’s dad and the diagnosis of their son with Autism.

More recently, Julie feels Joe has been distant and withdrawn. He stills seems connected with the children but when she tries to get close to him he pulls away. Finally after several weeks she gathers the courage to ask him if he’s OK and he admits to her that he is unsure if he wants to remain in the marriage. He feels as though he has fallen out of love for her. After further probing Julie finds out that he has met someone at work and has feelings for this other woman, nothing has happened as yet but Joe is clearly confused. Julie is devastated and after a week of crying and feeling desolate she decides she needs to see a counsellor.

She asks Joe to come to couples counselling with her and initially he resists however after much discussion he finally consents to go along. Julie is unsure about how to find a good counsellor and asks her friends if they know of anyone. She finally speaks to her GP and is referred to a local Psychologist and she manages to get an appointment within a week.

The minute she walks through the door of the Psychologist’s office her heart sinks. The Psychologist is 15 years younger than her and Joe and while she is very professional she hasn’t had the same level of life experience. After the first session Joe refuses to return for another session and Julie once again is desolate and unsure as to what to do next.

The Psychologist Julie and Joe saw was no doubt skilled and professional and works very well with certain clients but was not the right fit for them. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario. You may find yourself going through a rough patch. Maybe it’s a relationship breakdown, death of a loved one or a family crisis. You decide to get some professional help by way of a counsellor and ask your friends, GP or someone else if they know of anyone good. Most people chose a counsellor based on convenience to where they live or work but how do you really know if they are the best person for you to see?

Choosing a counsellor has to be based on more than just locality. Research shows the fit has to be right between the client and the therapist otherwise therapy doesn’t work.  So what should you look out for when choosing a counsellor? 

Here are some tips:

  • They have experience in the area you need. Therapists often specialise in an area or a few areas and have a deep knowledge and understanding of these particular areas.  It’s no good going to see a therapist who specialises in just anxiety for instance if you need help with alcohol dependence. Asking your therapist their area of interest is a good place.
  • Personal qualities. Who do you feel comfortable talking to? Each of us are different in this way and you need to feel comfortable with the therapist in order to be open and honest in the sessions. If you feel comfortable with the therapist in terms of their personality, gender, age, style and nationality then the therapy will be more effective.
  • Qualifications. It is important to see a counsellor who is fully qualified and well trained. The term “Counsellor” is a broad term and can cover people who have many years of experience to people who have done a weekend workshop. Regardless of whether your therapist is a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist or Counsellor they should have formal qualifications and professional association membership. 
  • Work on self.  To work well with clients its important therapists also attend to their own personal and professional development. Most commonly this means they receive supervision, engage in their own therapy and extend their skills via courses and workshops.

The challenge for many of us is how do we find a counsellor who ticks all the above boxes. It’s time consuming and not an easy task to shop around and find out these things about your therapist before you make the first appointment.  One option is to use a service that helps you find the right therapist, Select Counsellors is such a service.

Select has developed an assessment interview in which they gather important information about you and then use this information to match you with a therapist who is the best fit in terms of experience, qualifications, personality and style. They are Sydney wide and have a large pool of qualified counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists. The initial assessment costs $130+GST and can take place face to face or via phone or Skype.

You can book an assessment online at > or by calling 1300 123 680.

If you would like further information on the service you can browse the website where you'll find information about the kinds of issues and concerns they can help with.