I had an epiphany of sorts a couple of years ago, courtesy of a good friend of mine.  I caught up with him after he had taken several weeks of holiday/vacation time, most of which was spent in a coastal town a few hours’ drive away. I asked how his break was and he replied “It was fantastic. I switched off my phone and left it at home and just enjoyed the time with my wife and kids”.

I was initially taken aback by what my friend told me. 

“You mean you had your mobile phone switched off for the whole two weeks?” I gasped.

“Yep” he replied in a very self satisfied manner.

“You didn’t even check your work emails just once or twice?”

“No, and it was the best decision I could have made.  I feel like I had a really good mental break”.

After pondering my friend’s approach for a few weeks, I vowed to do the same for my midyear break that year.  For some time I had been aware of some of the negative impact of being connected to work 24/7 and every day of the year – the intermittent distraction of my presence, focus and attention towards my wife and two young children when at home or on holiday. 

AuthorMichael Sleap

Over the years there is one aspect of organisations that I have come to view as having the greatest positive or negative impact on company performance – executive team alignment. A little while ago, someone I was talking with described their organisation as like a big family.  Not as in one big happy family; the implication was that people behave in some of the worst ways that sometimes only families do. The workplace was neither productive nor a pleasant place to be.

So to continue with the analogy, there are some basic elements which most well-functioning families* seem to have in common:

  • A sense of purpose and priorities;
  • A clear and shared set of values;
  • Good will towards each other;
  • Clear and direct communication; and
  • A good mix of focus on the present and the future.

I often hear or read about how difficult it is for companies to attract, recruit and retain high quality HR professionals.  The cause of this is often attributed to a hot market for HR professionals and insufficient size and depth of the talent pool. Yet it is the HR profession itself which often limits the talent pool from which it will consider recruiting an external HR professional into an organisation.  Look at a sample of job advertisements for HR vacancies and it is astonishing how frequently industry specific experience is listed as a mandatory criterion for a role, often with a minimum number of years working in that industry also specified (e.g. at least 7 years experience in an operational Mining role).

By defining the selection criteria so tightly for HR roles the potential talent pool from which a candidate may be sourced is dramatically reduced.  No wonder it is hard to attract high quality HR professionals to roles in your company – you are battling all your other industry competitors for a share of a small and relatively finite talent pool.  The result is upward pressure on salaries for HR professionals within that industry and employers lamenting the quality and quantity of HR talent in their ranks.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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I read an article a few days ago which picked up on the recurring debate as to whether or not women can “have it all” – a career, family, friends, own interests and activities etc.  As I read the article I wondered why this discussion almost never pertains to men. At the heart of this issue, in my opinion, is that men are still not perceived by society and perhaps themselves as primary or equal partner carers for their children. It is still relatively uncommon for a man with young children to be a primary carer and fathers are typically in full-time employment in their childrens' pre-school years.

Several years ago as a fledgling Dad I was bemused to have several people seem surprised that I was out alone with my baby, without his Mum. “Babysitting this morning are you?” was a question I was asked on several occasions. "Parenting", I would reply.  I would also receive praise from well intentioned strangers for performing the most basic of parenting tasks - feedback which a mother would never receive as it is considered by society to be her role.

AuthorMichael Sleap
CategoriesHuman Resources
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Businesses across the world are experiencing some of the toughest operating conditions for many decades.  Currently it is difficult for many companies to maintain let alone grow their profits.  What might be overlooked in some organisations is the critical role that HR can play in boosting profitability.  In its simplest form: profit = revenue – expenses

The two main ways to grow profits are to increase revenue and/or decrease expenses.  Focusing on profit growth is often seen to be the sole domain of accountants and operational business leaders. However this should be an aspect of a business in which HR provides leadership and makes a tangible contribution.

Think about it.  Labour costs are usually the largest (or near largest) expense item for a business – and this is a cost that can be planned for and managed.  Every dollar of expense that is saved goes straight to the bottom line (profits).  On the revenue side of the ledger, the performance of people is a major determinant of business revenue generated.  So HR, often considered to be focusing on the ‘softer’ side of business, is critical to hard business outcomes.

AuthorMichael Sleap

Selecting and implementing the right Talent Management System (TMS) to meet your company’s needs can be a daunting and challenging task.   So for those non-techie HR people (like this blogger!), here are seven things you need to know before implementing a TMS.

 1. Understand what a TMS is and the associated jargon This emerging field can be confusing for a typical HR professional with little IT background.  Learn as much as you can as early as possible about what a TMS* is and what the jargon means (SaaS, UAT, SSO anyone?).  This knowledge will ensure that you are better positioned to articulate your company’s TMS requirements, assess vendors’ products and ask pertinent questions to ultimately select the TMS of best fit for your organisation.

 2. First ensure a clear and shared a vision for Talent Management in your company Forget about the software initially – what is your company’s talent management vision?  What processes, tools and behaviours will support achievement of the vision?  Once you have helped create a talent management vision that your company’s key stakeholders (especially senior management) buy in to, you then have the foundations and mandate to find a TMS vendor that will partner with you to help enable achievement of the vision. 

There are many valid reasons for choosing a career in Human Resources as an Advisor, Business Partner, or HR Manager.  However, there are a number of common reasons for choosing a HR career which can sometimes result in a poor fit between a person’s capabilities and interests and the role requirements.  Let’s take a look at them. 

1.  “I am a ‘people person’ ” So you love talking with people, meeting new people and helping people?  Well, that’s great.  But it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be good at or enjoy a HR role.  

The HR function exists as a partner to the rest of the organisation to support the achievement of business strategy. Therefore HR Business Partners need to have strong business acumen and an interest in business performance (profits, growth, sustainability etc). 

Sure, HR professionals need to communicate well with, influence and have a genuine interest in people (but hey, doesn’t the same apply for most jobs?) but they certainly do not need to fit the stereotypical ‘people person’ mold*.

AuthorMichael Sleap
CategoriesHuman Resources
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So you want to become a better leader but you don't have access to an internal Leadership Development Program and you don't have the time or budget to utilise external programs or coaching?  Here are some simple steps that you can take to achieve similar outcomes in a short period of time and for no cost. 1. Self assess - undertake a self assessment of your leadership strengths and weaknesses.  Make a list of your top five to seven leadership strengths and list the three to five leadership aspects in which you need to improve.  Be brutally honest with yourself - this is where performance improvement really begins.

2. Seek feedback - ask your team members, manager and any other people whose opinion you value for feedback about your leadership strengths and development areas. The feedback can be provided in which ever way suits you, them and your organisation's culture - face to face, via email or anonymously if needed (however knowing who provided what feedback is preferable so that you can follow up to clarify any specific queries that you have).

3. Analyse and summarise the feedback - read and/or listen to each piece of feedback and try to take it in without judging or defending.  Look for common themes across your self assessment and the feedback as well as one off points or issues which really resonate with you.  Now make a list of your top strengths and development areas - it will likely be similar to your initial self assessment but should differ somewhat based upon feedback from others which triggered insights for you about your effectiveness as a leader.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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Clear performance expectations are the foundation for setting team members up to succeed.  It also often seems to be the case that when an employee is perceived to be underperforming there is a lack of shared understanding of what good or bad performance looks like.  This post provides a set of five questions for managers to work through with their people to assess just how clear and shared the performance expectations are and to resolve any ambiguity before it leads to problems. 

Both the manager and team member should come to the discussion prepared with a few brief notes for each question (leave behind position descriptions etc and focus on the conversation).  To be most effective, for each question the team member should first provide their views about their role and then the manager should respond by comparing and contrasting their expectations for the role.  Areas of alignment and differences will quickly become apparent and can be discussed and resolved as the conversation progresses.

Below we use a fast food restaurant scenario to illustrate use of the questions.

Q1.  The top three focus areas of our organisation at the moment are ... This should be kept high level and should help bring some context to the discussion, as every role should be contributing to executing the organisation’s strategy. 

Example:  1. Reducing operating expenses.  2. Increasing sales of high margin items.  3. Expanding aggressively in to emerging markets.

Ask a group of managers for their tips on providing effective feedback, and the ‘sandwich’ method is often put forward as a winning approach. The premise of this technique is that if a person needs to deliver some "negative" feedback to somebody else they should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback, to cushion the impact.

I asked several groups of managers why they advocate the use of the feedback sandwich.  The most common responses included:

“Some people won’t be able to handle the negative feedback so it is easier for them if you start and end with the positives”.

“If you are delivering negative feedback you want to finish on a positive note so that the person leaves the conversation feeling motivated”.

The intention behind people’s use of the sandwich feedback method is admirable – maintaining the esteem of team members is important.  Very few people perform at their best when demoralised or anxious.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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Managers are accountable for leading, engaging and developing the most important assets in any organisation - people. But despite the criticality of their work, in many instances there is not enough being done to set up new managers for success - and it is costing businesses plenty. Onboarding of new hires is a high priority in most organisations but there doesn't seem to be the same focus in relation to people who are new to manager roles (either existing employees or external recruits moving into leadership positions).

It is commonplace that people are promoted into leadership roles primarily on the basis of their technical rather than people skills. Often new managers are thrust into a people management role with no prior leadership experience and little or no management training or education.

An organisation wouldn't put a person without relevant experience or qualifications straight into an important role such as an engineer, accountant or IT professional, yet there seems to be an assumption that anyone can be an effective manager and simply pick it up as they go along.

AuthorMichael Sleap

As the end of the year fast approaches many organisations are abuzz with a flurry of activity as managers conduct performance reviews with each of their people. Now I acknowledge that many people dispute the value of a performance review, but as argued in a previous post, if performance management is done well by a manager across a whole cycle and if it is linked to business strategy, then a performance review should be a valuable tool for the manager, team member and organisation alike (see http://tinyurl.com/3el7nya).

In the midst of all this work a golden opportunity is often lost by organisations - the chance to turn performance review data into strategic information.

For the purposes of this discussion let's assume that an organisation's performance management process uses a combination of performance objectives and competencies against which a person's performance is assessed and that some type of overall performance rating is determined (numeric or otherwise).

Compared with twenty to fifty years ago we now have a much more highly educated workforce as well as more complex and less rigidly defined jobs.  The days of command and control style leadership are all but gone and organisations are now trying to encourage the role of manager as coach working in partnership with their team members. Here are some tips for managers on how to be an effective coach for your team members:

Ignore the fluff and keep it practical A lot of training and information relating to manager as coach is just too complex and often irrelevant to a manager’s role.  Whilst there is some overlap, we need to keep separate the capability requirements of an external executive coach and the role of a manager as coach.  The role of a manager as coach is simply to help their team members to perform their job to the best possible standard and to develop their capability - using coaching.  So ignore the fluff and jargon and focus on the basics.

Be confident – you already coach Many managers do not recognise that they already coach and have most of the skills and knowledge required to coach well.  You already coach – you do it on a day to day basis with your team members and even your kids or partner.  You just may not recognise it as coaching due to the mystique and lack of clarity about what coaching is (or isn't).

AuthorMichael Sleap

Last Saturday the Geelong Cats crushed reigning AFL premiers Collingwood to win their third premiership in the past six years and stake their claim as one of the best sides in AFL/VFL history.  Geelong’s dominance in recent years is remarkable of itself given that the AFL is designed to share success around through mechanisms of equalisation such as the player draft and salary cap.  Yet it must be remembered that Geelong is no ordinary football club - their 2007 premiership win came on the back of finishing tenth in 2006, broke a 44 season premiership drought, and as recently as the late 1990s the club was on the brink of bankruptcy.  By the club’s own admission, Geelong was very good at being average.

The turnaround at the Geelong Football Club was led by Chief Executive Officer Brian Cook and President Frank Costa.  Costa and Cook applied organisational development (OD) models and techniques, many of which had rarely been seen in the football industry, in a bid to improve the flagging fortunes of the club.

Several years ago I read a book that challenged my thinking about organisational performance and talent management.  Notionally, it is a book about baseball and statistics, but its lessons extend to almost every aspect of the business world.  So even if, like many people, you have no interest in baseball and a loathing for or innate fear of statistics, please do persevere with this article as it is going somewhere! In the book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (also to be released as a motion picture late in 2011 starring Brad Pitt), author Michael Lewis set about finding an answer to the question “How do the Oakland Athletics (the A’s) consistently make the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs despite having a payroll substantially less than most other teams?”. 

For example, in 2002 the A’s were spending $US41 million on player salaries compared with power house team the New York Yankees whose payroll was around $US125 million for the season.  How could Oakland even be competitive let alone successful when they seemingly had such an inherent disadvantage?

Lewis discovered that Oakland had turned to Ivy League college educated statisticians (or sabermetricians, as baseball statisticians are known) who had identified the most important factors associated with winning a game of baseball, such as having players with a high ‘on-base percentage’.  Many of the statistics which the A’s found to be predictors of success were dismissed or simply not utilised by other clubs.  Oakland also found that many of the traditional statistics which baseball coaches, talent scouts, players and fans relied upon were in fact of limited value (e.g. ‘runs batted in’).

Lewis’ premise at the time was that the identification and selection of talent across MLB was often subjective, flawed and based upon outdated thinking from within the insular baseball fraternity.  Talent scouts tended to have a fixed idea of the typical attributes of a talented baseball prospect. This led them to overvalue players who looked the part (i.e. tall players with an athletic physique) and who measured up well against traditional baseball statistics, while they undervalued or overlooked those who didn’t fit the stereotypical mould.  It took a group of outsiders to the industry to look for, identify and utilise contemporary knowledge about high performance in baseball.

Oakland was able to exploit its use of statistical analysis and understanding of the drivers of success in baseball to give it a competitive advantage over other teams in recruiting and retaining players within its payroll constraints.  For example, they would often select players late in the draft who went on to over-achieve relative to expectations.  The A’s would also frequently cheaply acquire experienced MLB players who were undervalued by their clubs and trade their own players whom the market overvalued, thereby collecting a cash windfall whilst maintaining a competitive playing roster.  So Oakland were able to remain highly competitive despite spending much less on player payments than other MLB teams.

So what are the potential applications of Moneyball to organisations? 

Firstly, the question should be asked in each organisation “Do we know the main capabilities, attributes or activities which actually drive our success?”.  If the answer is “no” then you have some work to get started on. 

Next, once organisations know their success drivers they need to ensure that their recruitment and talent identification processes consistently utilise this information rather than primarily hiring and promoting people who fit the 'traditional' mould.

Finally, organisations should identify undervalued and overvalued talent (i.e. performance relative to salary) and utilise the information to gain an advantage over their competitors and/or to get more out of their talent budget.  While the specifics of undervalued talent will likely differ for each company, my hypothesis is that there is a rich source of undervalued talent in almost every industry – those people who do not fit the exact profile of the traditional ‘ideal’ candidate for a position. 

For example, a person may have less years of experience than desired by the hiring manager or they may have come from a different industry to that of the employer and are therefore overlooked or never considered for the position despite the fact they would have been able to perform to a high standard in the job.  When the selection criteria for a role are defined too narrowly, inevitably talented people who don’t fit the traditional mould are screened out. 

Conversely, those candidates who do very closely match the profile of a typical person in a given role in terms of years of experience and industry specific experience may tend to be overvalued in the market, inflating salaries and driving labour market churn.

So, the talent management applications of Moneyball are clear.  In today's highly competitive labour market with most employers identifying skill shortages as adversely impacting on their growth and profitability there is a large opportunity for organisations to challenge conventional wisdom, identify the true drivers of success within their business and to exploit imperfect labour markets by identifying and sourcing undervalued talent. 

Where do you think the undervalued talent lies and how can your organisation use it to their advantage?

AuthorStav Avramakis
CategoriesSports, Talent
5 CommentsPost a comment

Being a manager is a tough job.  Not only are they accountable for their own work but also for the outputs of their team.  Sure, such accountability is part and parcel of a manager’s role; however a commonly expressed concern of managers is that while they are held accountable for the results of their team they feel that they don’t have the commensurate managerial authorities.  For some managers this leads to frustration, disengagement and even despair at being able to perform their job competently.  Let’s explore this in more detail.

Scenario 1 - “I have employees appointed to my team without having any input in to it”.

Does this scenario ring true in any organisations for which you have worked?

The manager’s manager:  “Hey I just wanted a quick word with you. Our General Manager has a niece who has just completed her master’s degree in philosophy and he asked me if she could join your team and learn the ropes”.

Manager:  “Well I don’t have any vacancies in my team right now and I am not sure how someone’s philosophy qualifications are really the right fit for an IT team – it’s very specialised work you know”.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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I have noticed a trend in recent years of articles being published which declare the death of the performance review or which deride them as a waste of time. In this latest post, I offer the counter view that the performance review is not the problem, but that it has had its reputation sullied by the following common contributors to ineffective performance reviews:

1. Performance appraisals rather than performance management cycles. A performance appraisal is a one-off event with little link to business strategy.  A genuine performance review should be the final phase of a performance management cycle (annual or six monthly) which commences with setting performance objectives linked to business goals. This distinction is the critical factor which determines whether performance reviews are perceived as just another bureaucratic HR process or a valuable business tool.

2. A dearth of SMART objectives. Despite all the talk about and training in setting SMART objectives they are still all too rarely seen. This renders the performance evaluation too subjective and people lose trust in the fairness of the process. Setting SMART objectives requires a commitment of time and energy and a ruthless approach to making them SMARTer.

Thinking about your organisation for a moment, which of these phenomena are prevalent? ‘Personality clashes’. Employees being micromanaged by their bosses. Slow and bureaucratic decision-making processes. Poor communication.

If these issues are part of the daily fabric of your organisation it simply highlights how hard it is to find ‘good’ employees, right? Well, probably not. There is every chance that the culprit is a low profile and oft neglected aspect of the company – the organisational structure.

It’s not a popular thing to say out loud but the majority of organisations out there have too many reporting layers. Way too many, in fact.

Why does this occur? It is partly simply because of the lack of thought and planning that goes into organisational structures. Organisational structure is a critical enabler or blocker with respect to achievement of a company’s strategic objectives. Therefore it is perplexing to see how often structure is overlooked by senior leadership teams as an area requiring their focus, and then evolves haphazardly, and ultimately hinders organisational performance.

AuthorMichael Sleap