What To Do When Your Top Performer Goes Rogue

ClarksonThings are going brilliantly. The business is building some impressive productivity results, the goals are all being achieved and the team is working harmoniously. Of particular note is your star performer. He or she is the gun of the whole business. They get the major clients in or produce the highest quality results and you know that your business would not be in the position it is without their input.

On top of all that, they are your model of the perfect employee that you use to gauge new candidates against when hiring. They are there when new employees start, and always turn out to be the perfect mentor and role model for any new team member.

So what happens when that perfect employee, that top performer, starts causing problems? What do we do when questions over ethics or behaviour or productivity or approach start to be asked? What do we do if they have done something so problematic that their very employment could be questioned?

As we have seen this week in the very public career execution of former Top Gear host, Jeremy Clarkson, it can really be a thorn in the side of the organisation and something that would require careful examination and detailed processes.

We Are All The Same

Thing is, the Clarkson episode offers up another sticking point: that top employee is also very popular and it is not going to be easy to enter disciplinary action with such acceptance and visibility across the team inside the business, let alone a worldwide fan base. Issues arise when any sort of action is taken – it’s going to be clearly obvious to the rest of the business on what is happening and it in turn has a real question on impact on engagement and loyalty attached to it.It is going to require incredible management, end-goal determination and a clearly defined and backable process.

The one thing that was handled correctly by the powers-that-be inside the BBC was that Clarkson was not treated any differently from other employees. When it comes to commencing any sort of performance management, it is essential there is no difference between management of junior staff to that of senior staff. This transparency allows a strong sense of equality manifesting within the team – this is incredibly vital for engagement.

Look! Over There!

The temptation when your best performer turns sour is to fall into complacency…or even worse, ignoring it. This is a real engagement killer and far more pronounced than with any other employee. As this employee is highly visible and noted as a mentor and ‘buddy’, so too would any actions they take will be replicated throughout the team. These actions will be indeed be positive when everything is running fantastically, but can turn problematic when behaviours and approaches dive.

This is why leaders need to be observing what is happening in their team. No, this does not mean micro-management, which is itself an engagement killer, but awareness. If things sour, you as a leader must be able to pick up on it quickly and address it even quicker. It really goes to the heart of what a Leader does – or should do – every day. They must be so clued into what is happening in their team, the dynamics that influence it and the changes, however subtle that can impact it.

Keep The Talk Open

When action taken against a star employee is viewed by the greater team, the sense of trepidation of ‘it happened to them, it can happen to me’ will really start to influence. This needs careful management. Whilst specifics about the action taken may not be able to be exposed, a good leader will update the team and allay any fears about their own roles. This is a delicate path to tread, as a lot of these employees would see this employee as the epitome of excellence and now they are being seen as in a totally different light. As a leader, the communication must be open and remained open. Indeed at the conclusion of any action, and regardless of the end result, these communication channels must be left wide open to allow proper disclosure and acceptance of actions taken. If a business is serious about keeping employee engagement as central to their business, this is a non-negotiable.

Time Killers

Finally, the need to process any management activity as soon as possible allows the impact to be felt as least as possible. Notwithstanding the need for proper processes that allow appropriate action and reaction (and hopefully a return to star status for the employee) to be allowed, the fact that this process should happen in an effective time frame shouldn’t be discounted. A prolonged and visible review can disrupt the team, the business and productivity over an even greater length of time as team members debrief, and this can only be detrimental to long-term engagement.

It can be a devastating event to have your star performer turn rogue, but handled correctly, the damage can be mitigated and the successful resolution of the employee’ problems can be applied. Whatever the outcome, keep your sense of proper process in place, your ability to keep other employees engaged and your strength of character to see this to the resolution should never be underestimated. Your employees will thank you for believing in them, regardless of how things turn out.


What Makes High Turnover a Recruitment Killer?

I was genuinely chuffed to present at a recent Career Development Association of Australia event, looking at the world of recruitment and how it interacts within the greater Career Development Consultant market. The research into the presentation included a look at staff turnover rates for most industry sectors. Most were pretty average and indicated and level of comfort and engagement within a number of these industries. The usual two industries often noted as having the highest – retail and hospitality at 29% and 31% respectively – maintained that standing…yet they were both superseded significantly by one other.


At 43%

exit-44205_1280So, in essence, 43% of employees who start a role, leave within 12 months. That is almost half and indicates that an almost full office of recruiters is replaced every 24 months. Suggestions that a significant number of employees leave the industry for good add to an already problematic situation – and one that really threatens the industry as a whole

At more than 10 percentage points higher than the next highest, it is a figure that should sound alarm bells to the industry as a whole. Whether it actually is creating concern or not is a matter of opinion (mine says it’s not…), but whatever the resonance from this statistic is, the fact is it is a very unsustainable rate.

So why is it so grim for the industry?

Is it too salesy?

No. Outside of the myopic view by some that cold, unsolicited calling still has some part to play in modern-day recruitment (it doesn’t), sales is incredibly vital and it must be in the kit bag of any recruiter. On top of that, it has such a visible element of the role that no one new to it will be unaware of its requirement. Savvy agencies realise that sales is not cold phone-based, but involves deeper understanding of industries and business and being able to build business via branding and more modern marketing techniques.

Is it a rotten job to work in?

For all the comments I have made about its negatives, recruitment, when done right, is a fantastic job to work in. Imagine being able to directly help in getting a candidate to realise their career goals, or to be influential in making some pretty important decisions about their jobs? Or help a business find that elusive candidate they have been struggling for months to find? It can be a really fulfilling and exciting career.

Do certain agencies perpetuate this problem?

I know of agencies that give consultants minimum training (usually of the internal database and recruitment software), give them a list of clients and tell them to find roles. Worse still, some are actively giving consultants only a relatively short time to make ‘sales’ or they are booted. This is the oft-touted ‘churn and burn’ in recruitment, and it has no place at all in the modern industry. It is archaic, misinformed and a highly contentious policy to play – and agencies subscribing to this method are part of the problem, not the solution.

Does it attract the right people?

This is a key issue. Problems within the industry are not consultant-centric. They are management’s doing. The industry is not an attractive proposition to those who would give the industry a much-needed boost – those who are people-centric, personable and driven to meet the needs of candidates, clients and internal colleagues equally – and it is the failure of management or those responsible for hiring consultants to properly secure these people.

Is there enough ‘can’ or too much ‘should’?

How agencies allow consultants to play their own game, give it the ability to become engagement models. What a consultant can do offers flexibility in the way they find clients, negotiate terms, locate candidates and complete roles. Compare that with agencies who tell consultants what they should do (or even worse; must do) to see where the more favourable – and engaged policies – lie.

Does it lose the right people

Unfortunately it does. If the industry is lucky enough to hire these quality candidates, it doesn’t take long for the ugly side to come out and for these folks to be turned off and ultimately escape it.

Does it actually have an ugly side?

When recruitment goes wrong, it does so spectacularly. Forced KPIs that fail to acknowledge changes in markets and which are changed on whims, the ever-present spectre (real or not) of ‘cowboys’ and the self-centred, money hungry, crash or crash through approach to recruitment, antiquated sales techniques forced on consultants, usually to the detriment of more modern and effective techniques and an obsession with the ‘old ways’ all seem to set modern-day recruiters up for fail. When these are present, the role is an ugly one to be a part of.

Is the views of outsiders impacting?

Oh, definitely. The agency recruitment model has one of the worst reputations in the business world. Comments throughout social media, publications and general viewpoints offer clear examples where the industry is falling over. Whilst some would say that only negative comments make it to the public domain, they are ignored at their peril.

Is it a transient industry?

By this, I mean is it like hospitality or retail: used as a springboard into another industry / career option or as a tool to get one’s permanent residency? It certainly appears that way – in some cases, whilst in others it is held onto as a career in itself. Can it be solely attributed to high turnover? I’ll lean to a ‘no’, but it is something that needs careful looking at. Using the industry as a ticket to other outside areas is not sustainable. Recruitment is not hospitality nor retail, where transience is common. Serious thought needs to given to making it attractive to the point where importing consultants from overseas is not a necessity.

Are employees engaged properly?

A-ha! Bingo. Here lies a big gap in the industry. Engagement levels hover at a lower-than-average and are a hugely untapped area for the industry that could really change its standing. This goes way beyond Friday drinks and the Christmas party, and more into both structured and organic programs designed to make a consultant feel a part of the organisation, in tune with what they are doing and how it impacts and happy with where they are and where they can be. Whilst some agencies have semblances of engagement programs, it does not go deep enough for long lasting engagement, and its most common result: retention.


Is the recruitment industry serious in addressing this unsustainable turnover figure? Do they want to set up their agencies for success within their own employee base, as well as their profit margin?

Let this be a wake up call.

Start Them Out Right – The 5 Main Points That Every On-Boarding Plan Must Have

ilovemyjobThe hiring process can be a long and frustrating affair, with little room for error. So why then to many businesses fall over at the one crucial part of it – the on-boarding? To go through all that time and effort to end up with the candidate leaving or worse still, completely disengaged from the moment they start, is a waste. When you consider that candidates who are not properly on-boarded and orientated into the workplace environment are 80% more likely to leave within 6 months (with a fair majority of those leaving within 6 weeks), it is an area of vital importance that is so often overlooked.

So, how then do we make sure we properly orientated the new employee into the organisation whilst giving them the best possible chance to properly engage with the workplace immediately?

1. Lose the Day 1 Mentality

Too many on-boarding and orientation process are obsessed with ‘Day 1’. Everything has to happen on day one. All introductions, work scope, task lists, log ins and accesses have to happen on day one and it is seen as an unmitigated disaster if this doesn’t happen. That’s fine…but it forgets one thing – the poor new employee. Swamped with so much happening on their first day, their sense of the overwhelming will be prominent…and dangerous for any long-term retention.

2. Plan Plan Plan

From this loss of the Day 1 mentality, an on-boarding plan is able to breathe a little. Put together a clear plan of work over the first day, week, month and quarter to allow the employee to ease and grow into the role. This planning should have regular updates with the employee to make sure they are handling the new role well.

3. Lose the KPIs

If you hit the new employee with a whole array of KPIs and performance targets immediately, you have failed. Simple. The introduction of these should occur much later into their employment, when settling in and comfort has been achieved. Much worse, if you set Day 1 targets that must be abided by as a basis of their immediate continued employment, get out of business – because you suck at it. No amount of ‘sink or swim’ justification will suffice. It is a policy of a rotten employer.

3. Is the Director / CEO / Owner Involved?

Speaking at a recent engagement, I was given the story of a business whose CEO refused point-blank to engage with any new employee. This wasn’t a huge multi-national, but a small 10-person operation. Ludicrous! If the top of your business does not want to meet with any new employee, it is a huge mistake. If that new employee does not feel a part of the organisation, from top down and understands their role in the eyes of greater business, then that Director / CEO / Owner has failed a basic test of employee engagement.

4. It Isn’t Just Showing Where the Bathroom and Kitchen Is.

New employees need to know exactly where they sit in the organisation and its overall strategy, what their role will do to contribute to it and how they will bring their skills to the fore. Remember this: there is nothing like losing a candidate because they did not feel a part of the overall organisation immediately

5. Think Engagement

The activities of any on-boarding or orientation process must have the central themes of employee engagement at its heart. Having a new employee feel a part of an organisation from the moment they start is incredibility vital. It will mean that employee will be productive from the start and feel a part of the team immediately. It should be the aim of any organisation with new employees.

Just as you have one chance to make a first impression, how a business handles a new employee, one they have spent time and resources finding, is incredibly vital. Stuff it up, and you will not have an employee completely in line with your culture, strategy and growth. Get it right, sow the seeds of engagement from the moment they arrive, and your chances of having a solidly engaged and advocating employee are greatly enhanced.




Does The New Government Business Advisor Understand Business?

The recent elevation of Maurice Newman to the role of Chairman of the Business Advisory Council – personally appointed by Tony Abbott – and his speech on Monday containing some curious observations, question whether he genuinely understands what businesses run on and why it is not what he believes.

Of particular note was his suggestion that wages were too high and that industrial relations reforms were too weak. It seems Mr Newman does not understand that people are the driving force behind any business, and as one of the key engagement measures to ensure success is reward (salary), there is a clear disparity between what he is saying and what the reality is. As noted employee engagement specialist, Ian Hutchinson notes in his book ‘People Glue’: ” There are clear links between employee performance and organisational objectives where the individual feels fairly rewarded or their contributions to the organisational success”. In other words – a decent pay leads to success in any business. Whilst it is not the only engagement factor, it is clearly the most recognised.

Why then when evidence suggests that pay can be directly linked to business success would someone purporting to represent business advocate wage decreases, thus a demotivator?

In addition, Newman also advocates tougher industrial relations policies, blaming ‘rigidity’ for apparent cost blowouts. As was proved in 2007, Australians do not like major incursions into industrial relations reform, and Newman must’ve been living under a rock to not see the implications of reform that was too employer focused.

Both these areas fail the base level test of any business: does it improve employee standings. For a business person of his calibre to bemoan actions that improve the lot of the employee, and thus the lot of the overall business  sound more partisan and ideologically driven than for the good of the country. Indeed, this appointment would seem very partisan and it is something this country does not need.

If business competitiveness is the centre of any business policy, then surely the people within any given business are to be given every opportunity to be engaged in that drive and not be pulled back by disengagement decisions by someone decidedly out of step with modern business / employee demands? Similarly, becoming attractive to top talent, who want to join a business, is based on its engagement models. If you are not attractive, you will not find and keep top talent. How can someone get this so wrong?

Lastly, there was a pointed attack on the two key progressive areas of the last government, namely the Gonski education reforms and the NDIS, which Newman was especially critical of. The NDIS is an especially significant reform to assist many, many people who would not be able to afford care and programs without it – and speaking personally as the father of a son with Aspergers Syndrome, a personal side to the help it will bring. However, Gonski reforms were geared towards bringing education to the new and future, by giving children the intrinsic skills tomorrows business world will demand. How Newman can bemoan this particular reform and call himself a business representative is bizarre.

Maurice Newman may be the Chair of the Business Advisory Council, but if his comments translate to advice to the Government, I wonder what his credentials are, apart from partisan and ideological oneness with the government. Once again, this government makes decisions that are in their best interests only, not the country’s.

The Corporate Responsibility Handbook – And Why It’s Being Trashed

The news this week of Toyota using probably the most inappropriate and inhumane methods of making redundant over 300 of its staff in Victoria is the latest in a series of gaffes by big corporates in their approach to employee engagement and retention.

Alongside QANTAS and Westpac, the approach these, and by virtue others, use demonstrate a clear disparity between expectations of employee interaction and the reality.

In Toyota’s case, the tactics used to cut the workforce by redundancy offered a clear insight into what not to do. Even worse was the very public humiliation of their employees who not only suffer the soul-crushing event of losing their job, but have to suffer it in the full glare of the media – a humiliating and devastating turn of events. Employing security (regardless of who it was who actually ordered them), communicating redundancies off-site in a wedding reception venue, and then having the ignominy of running a media gauntlet read like a step-by-step manual on the worst way to affect redundancies. Add to that union claims of the reasoning behind some of the redundancies, and it is getting to be a ledger of poor form.

Look now at the ramifications of this. Apart from the well-being of those impacted directly by redundancy, their families and loved-ones, which must be considered, I want to look at the impact on remaining staff.

Think about it: you have just seen the company you have shown loyalty for over the last, say, 10 years produce such a mismanaged and overtly public firing of workmates and friends. How would that change your view of your employer? What fear would come as a result and more importantly, what affect would it be on your morale?

Simple employee engagement 101 demands a workplace where morale is high and fear about job security is not an issue. Toyota have explicitly and bizarrely thrown that concept away, and I guarantee, leave a fearful, toxic and an unsatisfying place to work in it’s place. Those of decision-making capabilities within the company have only themselves to blame if productivity falls, staff absenteeism, workplace stress and insecurity mount, and costs suddenly increase for sick leave and workplace counselling. Then, what logically follows is an increase in workplace accidents and incidents, animosity and industrial action.

All this form a poorly planned and ridiculously executed plan of mass-redundancies without thinking of employee engagement ramifications. It would be comical if it wasn’t so serious. How can a company, with thousands of employees, with a brand reputation logically desired to remain strong and with management practices apparently in line with business and employee needs, get this so outrageously wrong?¬† Where is the Human Resources department in this? Have they properly looked at the proper process of these measures or at the very least measuring the impact they are having? And if not, why not. Inexplicably there is an HR department in Toyota who has offered nothing to the very public airing of this piece of dirty laundry. I have not read nor seen any comment from an HR representative explaining what will be the support policies for the retrenched workers: given the very publicity of it, is there a view to be shared on the human angle from the company? Obviously not. This public no-show gives further impetus to the overall feeling that Toyota has let it’s employees down (both those facing retrenchment, as well as those remaining) greatly and has carried out this process with fundamental and regular errors.

Engagement is the central core to a successful workplace. A team that feels part of the company puts forward far more productivity that those who do not feel it. There have been various studies across the board that support that notion. There are intrinsic HR guidelines, supposedly integrated within these large companies, that identify handling of sensitive and impact events. Then, there is the underlying ethics and morals that should be a guide to the best practice way to deal with these matters. It seems Toyota has trashed these, thrown sense to the wind and embarked on a employee policy that can only be described as corporate irresponsibility. What it means for the future of the company as an employer in Australia is yet to be determined, but one thing can be guaranteed: their employer brand has been severely tarnished by this ham-fisted exercise.

How Far To Go To Make A Point

Over the last 24 hours, an incredible series of events has seen a once-revered brand fall to it’s knees. These events have highlighted what happens when immovable objects meets unstoppable forces.

In this case it is QANTAS that is the immovable object, with the unions and employees the apparent unstoppable force. What has happened as a result is the halting of one of the most iconic brands in the country. However, should things have gone to this extent? Should there have been a complete cessation of services? And should the employees have not been so eager or so dogmatic about their pay demands?

From a employee / employer case study, it is a classic – with incredible parallels to the Patrick’s dispute of the 90’s..

Firstly, under the terms of the Fair Work Act, QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce did everything allowed of him. The action to close down services was a perfectly legit one. So is to place work bans on all unionised (and other) staff.

However, is it a clever move? My view is it is not.

People have a right to expect good working conditions, to expect job security and longevity. If services are to be moved off-shore, there should be adequate information and compensation. If demands for pay rises are not heard effectively, there may be cause for action. In a purely employee engagement view of all this, QANTAS has dropped the ball it the way it has negotiated with employees. Forget for the moment the impact of unions, it is impacting all employees, unionised or not, and the public displays of aggression shown by the QANTAS CEO demonstrates a key lack of proper leadership.

Let me say at this point, that I am not taking sides. The employees have grievances that needed to be sorted out, and QANTAS have a right to respond accordingly as they see fit.

The issues I see is that there is an engagement issue that QANTAS has seemingly ignored. They have effectively alienated the majority of their workforce through their actions, and this will impact very negatively in future recruitment drives.

If you were to look at one of the key engagement areas for employees – leadership – it could be argued that there is a key lack of leadership qualities being utilised here. Perception in the wider market is everything, and the actions by Alan Joyce come across as petulant and childish. These are not qualities a leader has and it will deter numbers of good potential employees from joining QANTAS.

Additionally, there is a overriding sense that the brand of QANTAS has been damaged. This negativity can only impact similarly on their attractability. There is a real problem here for this iconic brand, and it is going to take a lot of work to bring it back up to this status.

But I am not sure if there is any consideration for employee engagement or attraction within the executives at QANTAS as they continually climb an ever-increasing high mountain to retain employee loyalty.