6 tips on effective communication

Why is it that, whenever you conduct an employee survey or business diagnostic, communication comes up as one of the key areas for improvement?

In part, it is because we are human and we each deliver and receive and interpret information in our own individual way.

In part, it can be because, as business owners and managers, we are technically competent in what our businesses do but we are not necessarily trained or skilled in communication techniques.

In part, it is also because, in any business, the timely and accurate flow of the right information to the right people is critical for getting work done efficiently and optimising job satisfaction for the people involved.

In part, it can be because we don’t think through the actions that we are taking or changes that we are implementing by consciously considering who is affected and needs to be communicated with.

And, in part, it can be because in the everyday hurly burly of running a business, we can forget to communicate or have trouble listening to others who have something to say that is significant for them.

So what can you do to improve communications in your business?

  1. Project positivity from the top.
  • Be honest and transparent
  • Be clear about the purpose
  • Set good practice standards in policies (not just consequences for breaches)
  • Ensure that all of your managers/leaders believe the message and “sing from the same hymn book”
  • Be timely
  • Be responsive
  • Celebrate successes
  1. Define the audience on 3 levels

Tailor your message to people to take account of:

  • Whole of business communications (what everyone needs to know)
  • What particular teams might need to know about the impact for them and
  • What individuals need to know about the impact for them

Consider other stakeholders as well eg customers, suppliers, contractors, etc and what you need to tell them if they are (potentially) affected in some way

  1. Build it into project management
  • Identify stakeholders in each project up front
  • Identify key points and messages to be given in the project
  • Build these communications into the project plan
  • Make sure it happens
  • Review the effectiveness of communications as part of the review process on project completion.
  • Learn from that and continuously improve
  1. Validate understanding

This is about ensuring that the people concerned “get the message” and know what it means for them. It is really just a question of asking them what it means for them, ensuring they understand and observing what is happening in practice

  1. Give your people genuine voice

This is probably the improvement opportunity that comes up most often in employee surveys and there are lots of options such as:

  • Set up a staff consultative committee or representative workplace improvement team
  • Do regular employee surveys to get people’s views and spot check progress
  • Have a publicly committed to improvement plan for people and culture
  • Ensure that you have trusted and effective grievance and suggestions processes in place
  • Give people regular and balanced feedback about how they are going
  1. Make sure you have the capability

Continuously work on your communication processes and skills as a core business competency that impacts critically on all aspects of running a business.

If you don’t have the strengths internally, look externally to get help in communications design, positive policy writing and coaching for people in your business who play key roles in communications.

The spin offs are higher efficiency, happier people and a more profitable business.

Ridgeline HR offers a variety of coaching, consulting and contracting services to assist businesses with consultation and communication requirements and enquiries can be directed to Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 or email pmaguire@ridgelinehr.com.au.  

 

Is an enterprise agreement right for your business?

It is now over 25 years since enterprise bargaining became an option in the Australian industrial relations system, first introduced via the Prices and Incomes Accord between first the Hawke and then the Keating Governments and the ACTU.

Unfortunately, over the years, unions and employers with unionised workplaces have dominated the enterprise bargaining space and there are few examples of genuine change delivering benefits for both employers and their people. They have really been just about negotiation of over award pay and conditions.

That is why many corporates are stepping away from enterprise agreements now – they don’t see them as offering productivity and flexibility benefits, notwithstanding the fact that they don’t see modern awards as positive alternatives either.

So why would any employer want to have an enterprise agreement today?

Ridgeline HR Practice Leader, Peter Maguire, who has been involved in enterprise bargaining since the early 1990s, offers some options for you to consider:

  1. “The first enterprise agreement that I negotiated was nominally about pay and conditions but what it was really about for me was enshrining a requirement that any matter requiring a vote by employees had to be by secret ballot. Why? Because the women who made up most of the workforce were intimidated by a small group of males backed by male hierarchy in the union and the blokes would hold sway if the vote was just by a show of hands. The union said the agreement wouldn’t get up – the secret ballot delivered an 87% approval by employees. We gave the women their voice and they backed us and that was a significant cultural change for them and the business.”
  2. “25 years ago, I participated in the process that developed the so called skills based classification structures that grace our modern awards today. The reality is that those structures were primarily the product of  industrial relations negotiations so they were mostly flawed from the outset. The world of work has also changed dramatically since then and it should be no surprise that they are not a great fit with the skill sets and talent hierarchies that exist in lots of businesses today. So, if your business is paying your people significantly above award, why wouldn’t you put in place the classification and pay structure that makes sense for your business and your people in today’s world.”
  3. “There are some award provisions that are just wrong. For example, the Building and Construction General On-site Award has an Industry Specific Redundancy Provision that gives employees who leave after their first year ‘other than for reasons of misconduct or refusal of duty’ a redundancy payment of up to 8 weeks’ pay. In the civil construction industry that means that a Plant Operator or Labourer or Traffic Controller would receive that benefit if they resign or are sacked on other grounds eg performance grounds. Other staff in civil construction such as engineers, administrative people, truck drivers etc don’t get those benefits. That is just not right or fair and can be addressed by including the National Employment Standard on redundancy for all employees regardless of business size and employee occupation.”
  4.  “The pay structures in some awards are extremely complex with a combination of base rates, allowances, penalty rates and loadings and, in some cases, specific clauses on annualisation of salaries all of which can be hard for small business owners to get their heads around. An enterprise agreement can help to make that all a lot simpler by redefining how all of that works in simple and easily understood terms and in the context of normal business operations. For example, you might typically work a 40  hour or 45 hour or 50 hour week and would like to be able to just pay a flat rate or an annual salary for doing that. That can be done in an enterprise agreement by striking flat rates that factor in all of monetary award rates, loadings and allowances with a caveat that, if you go outside the prescribed arrangement, there are extras that come into play and they are defined in the agreement as the exception rather than the rule. This ensures that your people are still better off overall and you know just what you need to do to safeguard that outcome and stay compliant.” 
  5. “Principals in supply chains and head contractors on major projects like to be assured that they will not be subject to operational disruptions caused by protected industrial action. That assurance can come from the delivery partners or sub-contractors having their own current enterprise agreements and this provides a resultant advantage when your business is bidding competitively for work.”
  6. “Enterprise agreements sit in the public domain on the Fair Work Commission’s website and so serve as both a demonstration of your business’s compliance with workplace laws and your value proposition as an employer. This sends positive messages to both the labour market and the regulator. ” 

So perhaps there are some benefits to having an enterprise agreement after all.

If you would like to explore the opportunities that enterprise agreements offer, give us a call.

 

Lessons from the 2017 Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit

I recently attended the Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit in Sydney and thought that I would share some of the key learnings from what were a great set of presentations.

I have selected three – one from a regulator’s perspective, one from a manager’s perspective and one from a consulting psychologist.

Lucinda Brogden, Commissioner,

National Mental Health Commission

 Lucy presented some startling statistics on mental health and its impact on productivity such as:

  • About 1 million Australians live with depression and about 2 million live with anxiety
  • 8 Australians (of whom 5 are men) die of suicide every day
  • Mental health conditions cost Australian businesses $10.9 billion per year
    • Compensation claims: $145.9 million
    • Absenteeism: $4.7 billion
    • Presenteeism: $6.1 billion

She recommended 6 ways in which businesses can improve mental health in the workplace:

  1. Smarter work design
  2. Promoting and facilitating early help seeking and early intervention
  3. Building a positive and safe work culture
  4. Enhancing personal and organisational resilience
  5. Supporting recovery
  6. Increasing awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma.

Stephen Scheeler, Former CEO, Facebook ANZ

Stephen spoke about the challenges he had joining the organisation in his 40s when the average age of Facebook employees is 26. He said he had been there about a week when the HR Manager gave him some feedback “You need to smile more, don’t look so serious”.

He also spoke about the importance of being positive in line with the values of the organisation which was going through massive change e.g.:

  • Revenue of $1.58b in 2012 to $27.6b in 2016
  • Facebook users from 0.9b in 2012 to 2.0b in 2016

Steve cited this comment by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg as a real indicator of their attitude to their people:

“Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and it is all personal.” 

Dr Aaron Jarden, Psychologist, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

 Aaron described his goals as follows:

“Within an organisational setting, it’s to enable organisations to invest in creating more rewarding, happier jobs for their people. To create positive workplaces where people are able to do meaningful and enjoyable work that taps into their greatest strengths and their most important goals. To capitalise on the unique intellectual and personal strengths of each employee by focusing less on getting employees to do their work and fixing problems and more into promoting excellence by enabling them to do good work; their best work.

He advocates that one size does not fit all and workplaces should be looking to utilise peoples’ strengths to optimise engagement, job satisfaction and productivity.

Aaron introduced the audience to a free strengths survey tool (VIA Survey of Character Strengths which can be accessed at http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey) as a way for people to identify their key strengths.

I recently participated in an exercise using this survey tool in a committee of volunteers and found it to be very useful in identifying my key strengths, comparing mine to those of others on the Committee and looking at how we can best deploy each others’ key strengths to get optimal results.

Aaron emphasised that positive leadership is crucial – “Leadership involvement was cited as the most effective factor for a successful wellbeing program by 59 percent of employer respondents. (State of Workplace Wellbeing Survey).”

In 2018, Ridgeline HR will be launching a Better Workplaces Project which will utilize positive psychology principles and a strengths-based approach to achieving improvements in employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.

Contact Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 or email pmaguire@ridgelinehr.com.au if you would like more information.

Changing gears for a winning culture

There is plenty of research out there that tells us that the 1900’s command and control approach to management just doesn’t work in the modern world where change is constant and people want answers and results now.

If we are going to get true employee engagement and high performance with today’s and future generations, we need to fundamentally change the management model to one based on leadership and values-based behaviours that deliver trust and inspiration rather than just process control and risk management which really only deliver compliance. This is what study after study tells us.

It means business leaders need to change gears and in doing so reimagine their business culture and language from:

  • human resources to human beings
  • risk control to trust
  • process control to relationship optimisation
  • management to leadership
  • tasks to behaviours
  • outputs to outcomes
  • compliance to engagement
  • command to inspiration
  • structure to flexibility
  • reactive to resilient

It is a big adjustment and it is easy to fall back into the traditional management norm that has been drummed into us for all those years.

That is why it is so important to have a clear vision about where you are going and clear values and behaviours that say how you are going to go about doing that and then holding everyone accountable for modelling those every day, most importantly yourself.

Be prepared to challenge and be challenged, listen to what your people have to say and learn from that. It is amazing what a difference it can make to performance, engagement, innovation and wellbeing.

Ready to change gears?

 

Ridgeline HR educating young people on workplace rights

This morning, we ran the first of our “Your Workplace Rights” briefings for secondary students and first up were Year 10 students at Melba College about to go out on work experience.

The briefing covered pay and conditions, National Employment Standards, Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements and the roles of the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The presentation included links to online information resources, tools and calculators that anyone can use to be better informed about their rights, entitlements and obligations.

This pro bono service has been launched for all Maroondah secondary schools as part of our contribution to improving community wellbeing in the City of Maroondah.

Improving people performance in 7 simple steps

Do you do performance appraisals in your business?

If so, how productive are they?

Here are some ideas on how you can improve the quality and outcomes of your performance and development conversations with your people.

  1. Define the purpose

Be clear about what you are trying to achieve.

You have made an investment in people and you want to get the optimal return on that investment, don’t you?

So the process should be about how you work with your people to improve their performance thereby improving business performance, shouldn’t it?

  1. Connect the dots

This is about “getting people doing what you need them doing in the way that you need it done all of the time”. Provide that alignment by “connecting the dots” for people and teams:

  • You have a business strategy (vision, values & plan) which sets out your goals and how you are going to achieve them – .the BUSINESS plan
  • You have teams which are established to execute specific elements of your business plan – the TEAM plan and
  • You have people who are engaged to execute specific elements of their team plan – the PERSONAL plan
  1. Keep it simple and practical

What you need is a simple process that is logical, easy to use and applied consistently in practice eg a basic Action Plan model for BUSINESS, TEAM & PERSONAL plans which set out:

  • WHAT is the goal? Ensure alignment between business, team and personal goals
  • HOW are we going to achieve it? Detail the activities and the learning required to achieve the goals.
  • WHO is going to do it? Make teams and people accountable for delivering the expected outcomes but also recognize supports they require.
  • WHEN is it going to be done by? Set realistic timeframes.
  1. Make the time

Just as you need to continuously monitor and review your business plan (because things change), so you need to ensure that your teams and your people are adapting to any changes required.

Have regular meetings at each level to review progress against the plan, confirm outcomes, identify areas for improvement and make any necessary adjustments. At the personal level these should be at least quarterly.

  1. Manage the time

How do you get the most out of the time together?

Start with being structured – allocate a specific period of time for the meeting and have a simple agenda which might be:

  1. Review progress against the plan
  2. Identify any changes that are required
  3. Congratulations on achieving outcomes
  4. Confirmation of areas for development and focus,
  5. Set next meeting date

And stick to the commitments – if your people are your greatest asset, why wouldn’t you!

  1. Have balanced and transparent conversations

People value constructive feedback which is balanced giving hem recognition for their achievements, clarification with improvement requirements and support with learning.

It is very important that you listen to what others have to say and give them constructive feedback including the reasons why you hold a particular view whether or not that accords with theirs.

Above all, there should be honesty and no unpleasant surprises.

  1. Change the language

Drop generic HR terms like “performance appraisal” which, over time, have too often been associated with ineffective practice and unwanted events.

Be innovative and think about words that resonate with your business goals and values integrating them into the process.

Get these 7 steps right and you’ll enjoy both the process and the results!

New bill set to raise Fair Work penalties by 900%

The federal government recently presented the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 to parliament and it is expected to pass into legislation with bipartisan support.

This bill has far reaching consequences with the proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 including:

  • Introducing a higher scale of penalties for ‘serious contraventions’ of prescribed workplace laws up from $54,000 to $540,000 per offence for a corporation and from $10,800 to $108,000 per offence for an individual
  • Increasing penalties for record-keeping failures.
  • Making franchisors and holding companies responsible for underpayments by their franchisees or subsidiaries where they knew or ought reasonably to have known of the contraventions and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them.
  • Expressly prohibiting employers from unreasonably requiring their employees to make payments (e.g. demanding a proportion of their wages be paid back in cash).
  • Strengthening the evidence-gathering powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure that the exploitation of vulnerable workers can be effectively investigated.

Particular attention is also being given to exploitation of migrant workers so businesses need to ensure that visas are in order and any work limitations are complied with.

Ridgeline HR offers a range of services to support businesses in getting compliance right and minimising risks internally and across franchise groups and supply chains.

Fair Work Ombudsman’s new “Record My Hours” App

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released a new “Record My Hours” app to enable workers to automatically record their hours of work using geofencing technology.

In essence, what happens is the worker enters the location of their workplace and the app will automatically track and record the hours that they spend in that location.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has done this to tackle a problem that they commonly encounter in investigating underpayment of wages complaints and that is the employer’s failure to maintain or produce adequate or accurate records.

Between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2016:

  • 64% of the court cases initiated by the Fair Work Ombudsman involved an element of alleged record keeping or payslip violations and
  • 347 infringement notices with on the spot fines ranging from $540 to $2,700 were issued for record keeping and payslip contraventions.

Employers should ensure that they are doing the right thing with payslips and record-keeping to ensure legal compliance, minimise risks of fines and, of course, because that is all part of looking after your people.

Information on pay slip and record keeping requirements is available here.

Protecting against accessorial liability

The Fair Work Ombudsman has been very active in pursuing individuals who it believes have reasonably been a party to contraventions of minimum wages and conditions whether overtly in action or by omission or failure to exercise due diligence.

Investigations into cases involving large businesses such as Coles and Woolworths and Myer who contract work out to other entities which do not meet their compliance obligations have been undertaken from the perspective that the principal in the supply chain should have known and acted to prevent the non-compliance even though it was not the actual employer.

This raises questions about who might be considered an accessory to a contravention and here is what the Fair Work Ombudsman recently had to say about that.

Section 550

Under section 550 of the Fair Work Act; a person who is involved in a contravention of the Act is held responsible for that contravention. A person is involved in a contravention if they:

  • have aided, abetted, counselled or procured the contravention; or
  • have induced the contravention, whether by threats or promises or otherwise; or
  • have been in any way, by act or omission, directly or indirectly, knowingly concerned in or party to the contravention; or
  • have conspired with others to effect the contravention.

What does this mean for individuals?

Anyone who is found to be involved in a contravention of the Act can be personally liable for compensating employees and paying penalties imposed by the court. The Fair Work Ombudsman has used this provision to hold company directors personally accountable for the actions of their companies. This effectively means that liquidating a company is no guarantee of avoiding the consequences of non-compliance with the Act.

But section 550 can extend to anyone involved in a contravention. This can include human resources and payroll officers, line managers, accountants and advisors.

What does this mean for companies?

If a company, as the employing entity, contravenes the Act: that company is automatically responsible for that contravention and may have penalties imposed by a court. But under section 550 a company that is not the employing entity, may be found to be involved in a contravention and may also have penalties imposed by a court.

This is important for companies to consider especially in their supply-chain and procurement processes. Effectively it means that companies cannot outsource their non-compliance. For example if one company contracts another company to supply cleaning staff; and those cleaners are underpaid: both companies may be held accountable by a court. 

This has broad implications for businesses that use outsourcing, franchise arrangements or complex supply-chains. The full scope of section 550 in these types of arrangements has not been settled by the courts, however, the Fair Work Ombudsman is determined to take action to ensure a culture of compliance is established and maintained broadly across all businesses.

You should also note that fines of up to $10,800 per offence can be imposed on individuals and up to $54,000 per offence can be imposed on companies.

What you need to do

Firstly, if you are an employer, ensure that you are aware of and comply with your own obligations as an employer and that these are properly documented in employment contracts/letters of offer etc.

Secondly, if you contract work out to another party, verify that that contract enables the other party to be capable of meeting its employment compliance obligations and that that other party actually does so.

Thirdly, if you are an internal HR Manager or other Manager, ensure that you have processes in place that genuinely test whether work contracted out is conducted in accordance with employment obligations (ie people are contracted and paid appropriately). This needs to be more than having the contractor just tick a box

Fourthly, if you are an external business advisor, ensure that the advice that you provide is competent and, if you are not confident of your competency in employment matters, engage a delivery partner to provide that competency.

Ways that we can help

Ridgeline HR has been providing just that sort of advice since we started in 2000. We have done this with hundreds of clients across all sorts of industries throughout Australia. We have serviced the members of an industry association and the clients of accounting firms for many years and we have been recognised by federal government agencies in the past for our expertise.

We now also offer a supply chain education and audit service which in essence involves us auditing supply chain participants’ compliance and advising them on any areas that they need to fix. This proactive approach to assuring downstream compliance provides a simple and practical approach to managing the risk of accessorial liability.

If you are interested in exploring ways in which we might be of assistance in these areas, call Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 or email peter@ridgelinehr.com.au

Will your termination pass the “3 tents test”?

Having been in the field of human resources management for over 30 years, there have been plenty of occasions where I have had to consider disciplinary action and termination of employment as remedies for misconduct.

In doing so, we need to consider fairness from a couple of angles:

  • Substantive fairness which requires that the action taken would not be harsh, unjust or unreasonable and
  • Procedural fairness which is about ensuring that due process has been followed and the principles of natural justice have been complied with

A process that I use to consider the substantive fairness of an action is to assess them against the “3 tents” namely:

  • Content: what actually happened, ensuring that you are aware of the facts of events that have given rise to consideration of action?
  • Intent: was the action or dereliction of duty or other offence deliberate or was it due to a misunderstanding or a heat of the moment thing and is it in or out of character for the individual concerned?
  • Extent: what was the effect of the action or dereliction of duty or other offence on the business and/or employees and/or other parties?

Of course there are the procedural elements to attend to as well but ensuring that the action that you propose will stand up to the “3 tents test” is a good start.