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Consider your Culture

150 150 Matthew Doig

Since I have been writing these articles, I have often mentioned the “Culture” word in connection with contemporary management issues. So much is determined by the culture of an organisation, and asking ourselves honest questions about our workplace culture is very important.

Broadly speaking Organisational Culture refers to the values, beliefs and principles shared by members of an organisation. Different industries display varying cultures which develop over time due to the nature of the work being carried out. You would, for example, expect a Timber Harvesting company to have a different culture to a Child Care Centre! In both cases however the unique culture will have a powerful impact on what it is like to work there and the way results are achieved.

The nature of the business you are involved in will attract certain sorts of people and dealing with the challenges and opportunities of the operational environment will be reflected in the culture that develops. As well as the operating environment of the business, its leadership is also a powerful indicator of the kind of culture it will display.  Recent allegations of bullying behaviour in some large companies appear to have taken place amidst a management mind set which if not openly encouraging this, at least condoned it via the attitude of some senior staff. Unfortunately, this attitude will permeate down into the rest of the organisation and become part of “the way things are done here”

Most staff would be quick to tell you about the kinds of things which result from a positive workplace culture. These can include:

  • A fun and interesting workplace where people look forward to coming to work and know that the company is keen to keep them engaged.
  • A result driven workplace which gives staff a clear and achievable direction
  • A workplace where staff care about each other and their concern is backed up by the attitude of management,
  • A sense of confidence that the personal growth of staff is important to the organisation.

Conversely, negative, or what some people call a toxic culture is characterized by things like:

  • Staff being afraid to speak up when they have concerns (even if they feel that something illegal is happening)
  • An obvious lack of trust both between staff members and management
  • Limited communication between work areas (what is often referred to as a “silo mentality”
  • A feeling amongst staff that their efforts will go unrecognized and rewarded.

This is obviously quite an extreme comparison and different workplaces may display some of these features and yet outwardly still appear to be functional and effective. The key question we need to ask ourselves is what sort of culture do we have and by extension, endorse. Corporate history is full of examples of new leadership tackling a toxic culture head on and driving positive change.  Take some time to consider this simple checklist and ask yourself how well your organisation:

  • Ensures staff feel involved and valued in what’s going on
  • Responds to the development needs of staff
  • Encourages feedback and enables staff to speak their mind
  • Creates a place that has a fun and inventive side to it.

Matthew Doig

twitter @Jobcave 

Making the cut as an employer

150 150 Matthew Doig

As I sit on a Melbourne bound train on a sunny afternoon, I am surrounded by people on their way to various destinations which no doubt includes friends, educational institutions and workplaces. The thing that strikes me more than anything is how connected they are and how quickly I imagine they would be able to swap information on a range of issues important to them. Not least among them would be employment opportunities at places that really stand out as great places to work.

This conversation would be going on all the time and what we need to accept is that all employers are engaged in a competition to get the best and the brightest people in their doors to make a difference to their productivity. The significant thing is to look for ways to become part of these conversations in a positive as opposed to a negative way. Think of how good it would be if we could have people beating down our doors wanting to come and work for us, not just because we had a job for them, but because they had heard how great it was working or us!

So, what do you need to do to become part of this conversation? Here are a few no brainers:

Be a good employer – this means that apart from offering competitive pay and conditions, you also create a place where personal and professional growth is celebrated and proudly worn on the organisations sleeve. Employees are challenged and the sense of “getting somewhere” is palpable.

Be up to date – prospective employees like nothing better than an employer who not only has the latest bells and whistles but uses them effectively. Lagging behind the market isn’t just bad for business but also puts you at a disadvantage in the great hunt for new people.

Be connected – Many organisations still have a reputation of being a bit out of touch with the whole connectivity/Social Media thing. Try not to be one of them! Get your name out there and manage it so that you are highly visible to prospective employees and your name comes up in searches for your industry. Why not go one better and start a conversation with people out there who might like to work for you. Does your Company have sites where people who are interested in working for you can register, contribute to discussions and provide updates on what they are doing? This generates a pool of interested and connected people down the track who may be available to be employed when the right opportunity comes up.

Be socially responsible – the connected generation places value on organisations which try to do the right thing on a range of issues. This might seem like a challenge for some  Industries, but by being open (and managing your messages well) you can be seen as placing important issues on the radar and throwing out a challenge to anyone who might like to come and help you do things better!

By considering each of these things, you can improve your chances of making a positive mark on the conversation out there and make sure that your organisation is seen as a great place to work and grow.

Matthew Doig

twitter @Jobcave 

Six things I’d rather not know about you.

150 150 Matthew Doig

As I sit on a city bound train on a grey commuter morning, I am struck by the sight of many people using their smart phones, tablets and other devices to keep in touch, swap information and sample the wonders of the digital age. This of course is just the visible side of the whole other alternate universe which embraces their on-line identity. Through social networking we can present a unique face to the world. Perhaps no other development in the last 30 years has come close in terms of revolutionizing the way we share information about ourselves with others.

The ability to do this is a blessing, but when I consider the various stories I’m told about people regretting some of the information they have made available, I am reminded of a very old saying. “Once it’s in writing, it’s out there forever”. The thing we need to be aware of is that some of the people who may eventually look at your online identity are the same people you may be dealing with in the search for a new position or new business opportunities. They may even be looking at your profile via your own invitation. So, what would be the things that they would rather not know about you (and perhaps you may regret sharing with them.)  Here’s six suggestions:

  1. Photographs of you doing silly things. We all have our moments but once it is out there – well what can I say. Try to edit your profile so that you appear fun loving as well as responsible enough not to allow things to creep in that might reflect a lack of judgement –hardly a plus for prospective employers or business partners.
  2. Insulting and derogatory comments about others. Whilst this might give you a chance to vent your spleen to the world it does make you look vindictive. If you must say something make it positive or at the very least constructively critical.
  3. How much you hate your current job. Perhaps you do but it’s not a good look when I’m thinking of dealing with you. The employment market is global, but smaller than you might think. How do I know that you won’t be talking about my company in that way soon? If you don’t like your job (and plenty of people don’t) then keep it to yourself.
  4. Your extreme views on issues. It is your right to be a rabid socialist or an ultra-right conservative but if you get a reputation as one it will proceed you and may not be the sort of thing an industry employer feels comfortable with (they have views as well)
  5. You can’t spell or express yourself properly. We’ve all seen those amazing web sites which treat the rules of the English Language as optional extras! A first look at your profile is essentially like a page of your CV. You wouldn’t send in an incorrect CV so why have an on-line profile that sits somewhere between pidgin and bogan!
  6. “I don’t care what people think of me, what I do and what I think and I’ll say what I want!” All very individualistic but not very diplomatic and diplomacy is a part of every job description. Better to be known as a person who thinks before they write (or post) and is considerate of other views.

Common sense really? Social Media is opening doors for many people but slamming them shut for others as well. By all means chronicle your life, but portray yourself as a person worth employing or doing business with. Staying abreast of these six points is a good place to start when you next review your personal profile.

Are you a “future proof” manager?

150 150 Matthew Doig

Once again, Christmas draws near and our minds turn to the challenges of the New Year. It is only right that we reflect on the decisions we have made during 2017 and how these may have impacted on the people we work with. What is also important though is that we consider how well we will handle the New Year. Will we embrace change and try new things? Will we try to see old things in a new way and new things?

The best resolution we can make is to do everything we can to look forward and be open to the changes that will be critical to our success and that of our organisations. Here are some quick New Year’s resolutions that might help you with this:

  • Talk to your new staff – Some of the best and brightest ideas often come from people who are new to the organisation and are not affected by the dogma that can come with spending a lot of time doing the same things. Get their ideas and find out how they see things unfolding for your industry in the year ahead.
  • Keep connected – I have already waxed lyrical in previous articles about the need to be across Social Media and what it is saying about your industry. There are lots of opinions out there (some of them silly) which are worth you knowing about. This will give you a heads up to emerging trends or views which may assist you with your long-term planning.
  • Don’t fear the future – This is more easily said than done, but being sceptical and guarded about change is more likely to create a reactive mentality. Of course, we need to approach new ideas with our eyes fully open but look around at the changes that have already impacted on your industry before you just dismiss new ideas (no matter how crazy) out of hand.
  • Encourage a future friendly culture – We hear a lot about the need for organisations to future proof themselves via investing in new equipment, processes, marketing and training for staff. It is important to remember that the very best future proofing we can have is in our own attitude. Do we see the future as a place we belong by embracing change and looking for new opportunities or is it a place to be feared and protected against? Only you can answer that question and your answer will have big implications for those that work for you.

I just want to take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best for the approaching Christmas/Holiday season and hope that 2018 is great year for you both personally and professionally. I look forward to sharing more insights and ideas with you to assist in developing your people and organisations.

Making a Mentor

150 150 Matthew Doig

 

Modern organisations rely heavily on the ability of their staff to provide training and support across a range of situations. A significant part of this support involves mentoring other people in the workplace.

Mentoring is a collaborative relationship between individuals where there is a mutual sharing of responsibility in helping a person achieve a developmental goal. It is used to assist someone at specific stages of their development and takes place over an agreed period of time. Workplace mentors serve an important role as a source of support and advice for people who are undertaking new responsibilities or going through transitions. It is a big responsibility, but how do organisations ensure that the people they are relying on to mentor other staff are able to carry out this crucial role?

In my own travels, I have visited many large and small companies and organisations operating in the forest industries where mentoring programs have been implemented. One thing that has impressed me is the ability of many people with no prior formal experience as a mentor, to be able to assume the role and provide a great service to their workplaces. On the flip side, I have seen people being pitched into this role who by their own admission, are quite lost.

One of the things these organisations had in common was an acknowledgement that mentoring could not be left to chance, and that even people with the right “qualities” needed some training to understand how the mentoring process works and what an individual can do to enhance their abilities to guide and support staff.

So, what are the options for training mentors? Many business courses both at the Higher Education and Vocational training level cover mentoring as part of staff development. This coverage ranges from the theoretical underpinnings right through to practical applications of skills and knowledge covered in the programs.

One of the most useful programs for mentors which has wide application across a range of industries is drawn from the TAE16 Training Package, which is part of the Vocational Education and Training framework. Within this package, there are a number of Skills Sets which enable people to study specific areas relevant to their immediate work needs.

One of these Skill Sets is known as the “Enterprise Trainer – Mentoring Skill Set” and covers areas of workplace instruction as well as the process of mentoring people over a period of time. It is useful in that it assumes that some training and coaching will also be involved in the mentoring activities. Information can be found at the following link:

http://training.gov.au/TrainingComponentFiles/TAE/TAESS00013_R1.pdf

The program requires participants to prepare a plan for a mentoring relationship and to undertake three one on one mentoring sessions with a mentee (the person being mentored) in the workplace who requires guidance and development. This is usually done over a period of a couple of months and provides practical experience in the process of mentoring along with the underpinning knowledge mentors require.

Some training providers offer programs based around this Skill Set. One such provider is Jindi Resources (0412081199) which has developed a work based approach which builds mentoring skills via participants acting as mentors to others and then reflecting on their performance with input from an external facilitator.

No matter how Mentors might get started, they will benefit greatly from undertaking further training to refine their approach and ensure their activities support the effective development of talent in their organisations.

 

Giving feedback – the steps to follow

150 150 Matthew Doig

 

There comes a time when every Manager needs to sit down with a staff member and give feedback. Sometimes this is to tell a person their performance is good and to encourage them to keep up the good work. Most Managers don’t find this all that hard as it is good news they are delivering. Where it gets challenging is the situations where we have to tell someone their performance is not up to scratch and change is needed. These encounters don’t have to fill Manager’s with dread and should be approached from a positive position. Performance management ultimately rests on our ability to conduct such sessions well. The key is to ensure some fundamental steps are followed:

  1. Ensure that the issue up for discussion is made clear at the outset and there can be no doubt about what is to be covered. Incredibly, some staff often remain unsure about what they are being spoken to about! Don’t let such confusion occur. Start the discussion with open agreement about the performance issue that is to be addressed. There can sometimes be challenges in getting people to acknowledge there is a problem at all. This needs to occur before we can move on to any solution.
  2. Agree on the long-term objectives that are to be covered in the feedback session. If someone is arriving at work late, then the goal to be achieved is a return to correct hours of attendance. In this way, there is a clear expectation set and something tangible to work towards.
  3. Cover the reality of the current situation. This means explaining your own concerns and then inviting the staff member to respond to the issues that have been raised. This will get their perspective on it and what they might do to address the problem. Be sure to use questioning to investigate all aspects of the situation, which may uncover facts which will be useful in finding a solution.
  4. Look at options. The best approach to performance management is to follow a non-directive approach in which the person who needs to improve their performance is invited to come up with solutions of their own. In the case of someone coming to work late, they should be asked for ideas as to how they can ensure they arrive at work on time, rather than just being told to do so. This approach empowers them to solve the problem rather than just being told what to do. There will be cases where a more directive approach is needed, but it is better to start with the assumption that they can address the issue (with some help from the Manager when required.
  5. Agree on the course of action to be taken and then ensure that you are able to provide ongoing support, via monitoring of performance. This follow up means that people can be held to account for the things that were agreed upon.

The provision of adverse feedback is too crucial a task to be left to chance. Employing steps like this gives us a framework in which to work with people and bring about positive change which will benefit them and the workplace.

 

Feedback – Not just a once yearly event!

150 150 Matthew Doig

 

Probably the most common issue I see in my work as HR Consultant is people who complain about not knowing how they are getting on at work. These are people who work in otherwise busy environments but who seem to feel they are working in a vacuum due to a lack of feedback on how they are going and what they need to do to stay effective within their organisation.

Feedback is critical to the success of an organisation because it enables staff to understand how they are performing in their roles as well as having an appreciation of what kinds of developmental work they can undertake to ensure their performance meets and exceeds expectations. It also provides staff with an opportunity to connect with their team leaders, go through any concerns they may have and receive support in a range of different areas.

Large organisations go to great lengths to ensure that they have a formal performance appraisal system in place to ensure staff are developed and that meetings are held to plan and implement development activities. In my experience this activity often happens once a year, in some cases twice a year and in rare cases quarterly. Below this formal level of feedback however is the day to day and (hopefully) ongoing contact staff get with their immediate team leaders. I use the word hopefully, because not everyone gets this kind of feedback in an ongoing fashion. This is an issue as such ongoing, informal feedback is critical if people are to be nurtured and supported properly in their jobs.

Most people in the workforce today expect to know how they are going on a regular basis and this is particularly true of what we call Generation Y or the Millennials. This is a generation which is familiar with instant and regular contact with friends and peers via Social Media. They like to know how they are going at anything and everything and the organisations in which they work ignore this at their own peril.

A good workplace encourages a proactive feedback culture where staff not only expect regular feedback from their management and peers, but actually encourage it. Nurturing this culture is a great start, but we also need Managers who are able to give feedback in a constructive manner. In my next article I will look at how we can use feedback effectively as part of leading and developing people.

Training your Trainers.

150 150 Matthew Doig

Developing good workplace trainers can present major challenges to operators with the forest industries. These trainers will be entrusted with developing talent within an organisation and with so much riding on their ability, decisions about how to best develop them need to be made carefully.

When thinking about how to do this, we need to consider what kind of training situations the staff member needs to be prepared for. Person to person workplace “training” usually comes in the following forms:

  • Workplace instruction – this is carried out with one person or a small group. In this instance the emphasis is on showing someone how to undertake a skill or apply knowledge in various contexts. This requires the trainer to understand how to break down tasks, be able to work with other people as they are shown how to do something and then practice this until the instructor is satisfied they have mastered it to the required standard.
  • Workplace mentoring – in a mentoring situation, someone in the workplace will take on the responsibility to guide another person and assist them in developing their skills over an agreed time. This may also involve some instruction but will mainly be about spending time with the “mentee”, giving them guidance and acting as a sounding board on important issues relating to personal development and career progression.
  • Group presentations – in situations where larger groups of people need to be provided with information, a presenter must be able to deal with the challenge of putting together a session which engages people and also takes account of the dynamics of a group, what it takes to accomplish a transfer of learning (usually covering theory of some kind) and to achieve this through the use of various presentation aids.

In my previous article I mentioned how Skill Sets from the TAE40116 Training Package can assist organisations in developing their own trainers. There are two Skill Sets in particular which address the areas of workplace training described above.

Enterprise Trainer – Mentoring Skill Set

http://training.gov.au/Training/Details/TAESS00013

Enterprise Trainer – Presenting Skill Set

http://training.gov.au/Training/Details/TAESS00014

In each of these cases the relevant accredited units of competency form the basis of training programs which have been developed by various providers and which can be used to address the development needs of people who will be carrying out workplace training activities. One such example is provided at the following link: http://www.trainingresourcesvet.com.au/

Who trains your trainers?

150 150 Matthew Doig

A central activity of any modern organisation is training and development. It is only reasonable to expect that we invest time and money in ensuring our staff are up to the task in a rapidly evolving workplace. Whilst there are now a range of options available for undertaking this development work such as attendance on courses and distance training  delivered in a range of formats, this still only comprises a small percentage (sometimes estimated to be as low as 10%) of the actual training done in a workplace. In spite of all the developmental options out there, the bulk of learning that people experience in the workplace still comes about as a result of their own experiences on the job and through direct instruction from colleagues and supervisors.

The consequence of this is that the quality of workplace training will have a major impact on how well our staff really learn at work and the extent to which they are then able to apply this to their own duties. It is easy to assume that everyone is a natural trainer who can assume the role of developing others, but experience tells us that in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Some people do seem to have the gift and are naturally good trainers, but for many other people being an effective trainer presents a huge challenge. Organisations need to be confident of the ability of designated staff to provide the basic instruction and training so critical for people, particularly those who are new to a job.

In my time working within the Forest Industries I have seen companies face up to this challenge and accept the need to take steps to ensure that the people charged with providing workplace training are up to the task. So, how should we approach the task of selecting and developing our workplace trainers?

The first thing to be clear about is the actual training requirement that must be met. For day to day operational tasks, we need to ensure the person carrying out the training has the requisite skill, knowledge and experience in the area in which people require assistance.  As well as having the technical knowledge and experience, the person also needs to be reliable and have a positive attitude. These two things together are a great start but on their own do not necessarily guarantee that they are going to be good at training as well! In most cases, people like this will gain a lot from some kind of course aimed at helping them approach training in a systematic way which takes account of the needs of a range of potential learners. The next step is to source where this training can come from.

Traditionally, one option was a “Train the trainer” program which provided coverage of the fundamental principles of learning and how to apply them in the workplace. This constituted part of the original BSZ40198 Certificate IV in Workplace training and assessment course and enabled people to get recognition against nationally endorsed competency standards. The most current qualification related to training is the TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. This qualification is largely geared towards developing trainers to work in the TAFE and Registered Training Organisation area and its scale and topic coverage is well beyond what is required for a basic workplace trainer who is skilling up people against workplace standards.

Whilst there is no longer a “Train the trainer” course as such, within the TAE40116 Training Package, there are a number of skill sets which can assist organisations in developing their own trainers. Skill Sets consist of groupings of nationally recognised units of competency which can be used by industry to meet their own specific needs. In my next article, I will look at how these can be adapted and used by the Forest Industries as well as some other options which might be useful in nurturing our own trainers.

Don’t be backward in responding to Social Media

150 150 Matthew Doig

 

Recently, I heard a story about a young couple who were enjoying a pleasant drive in an area of regional Australia. As they drove along admiring the forest on either side of the car, they were suddenly presented with what to them seemed a picture of utter devastation; a recently cleared logging coupe. Pulling over to the side of the road they pulled out their phones, took photos and proceeded to post them on Facebook along with some rather strong accompanying comments which included the words, “plunder” and rape”!

People in the Forest Industries to whom I have recounted this story, shake their heads and dismiss this as the work of people who are ignorant of how the industry actually works. For the most part, these sentiments are correct, but no matter how ill-informed our Facebook posters may be, there is no escaping the influence their Social Media foray can have. The people who read their posts and in turn pass them on, are giving their side of the story wide coverage. This can lead to adverse publicity and further magnify any negative stereotypes which may be held about our industry.

In the past, the Forest Industries were very slow to appreciate the implications of this kind of activity and had even been content to let posters like this have the last word. It is critical that the industry at all levels acknowledges that letting this sort of thing go through to the keeper does not help our image and we need to be proactive in ensuring our story is out there and we are able to respond to any adverse comments about our activities.

So how can we manage such posts in a constructive way? Here are some quick points to consider:

  • Maintain a presence on Social Media – rather than being reactive to posts such as the one described above, we should actually start the conversation and thus have more control over it. Imagine if the company responsible for the Coupe in question had a Facebook page which it updated regularly. It could have explained what it was doing and invited comment and questions from concerned people.
  • Keep across what people are saying on Social Media – using the various tools available on Social Media, we can monitor the sorts of things that are trending and generating discussion. The only thing worse than knowing people are saying misleading things about you and doing nothing, is not even being aware of what is being sad about you!
  • Respond to comments appropriately – the mistake many people make when confronted with a post like the one described above is to go in boots and all and try to be “the expert”. A more useful strategy is to always thank people for their interest and explain why the coupe looked the way it did and how that fits into the sustainable management of forests. There will be a predictable range of responses to this but at least we can stay on message and provide links and supporting information.

Social Media is now ubiquitous and we can expect its influence to continue in all areas of life. The Forest Industry will be subject to varying levels of scrutiny, much of it from people whose knowledge of how the industry actually operates is minimal. The challenge is to respond to this in appropriate and effective ways which sells the industry and creates a positive image.