Archive for HR

Side stepping the toxic workplace! Fostering individuals to work in teams

Business man and woman fighting over briefcaseLooking around my office I realise that people are the most expensive item on my profit and loss. And they are also where I experience the most issue within my business. Toxic work environments reduce productivity, create stress and can drive good performers to leave.

For those of you old enough to remember there was a great episode of Yes, Minister where the Minister and Bernard discuss a new hospital completed 15 months previously.  No medical staff had been employed nor had any patients yet been admitted. The 340 odd administrative staff argued that doctors and patients would only wreck a smoothly functioning hospital! People are a problem it seems.

People matter, and people have personalities.

The risk of a toxic workplace

The management of people and how they perform in their roles is a major key to our business success – Duh! No news to me as a business owner.

It has been my observation over many years of working both in my own businesses and with clients that all workplaces have the capacity to become toxic and dysfunctional.  Employees in these workplaces start to define relationships in the workplace not based on the organisational structure but by co-workers they favour and those they do not like or trust. In time your team becomes distracted by gossip, dramas and animosity and inevitably become less productive.

As a manager my answer to this risk is to focus on more closely on ways I can assisting my people to understand that they are part of a business organisational system in which relationships are dominated by work related activities and goals. When they arrive through the door each day, they will be working with other people. People whom they may like or they may actively dislike at times. People who will approach their work in different ways. People who will have different priorities to theirs.

Focus on work related performance

Experienced managers learn that honest and open feedback is your only avenue if the work environment is to function effectively.  Tiptoeing constantly around the personalities and personal issues of various individuals creates a stifling atmosphere.  Change becomes tediously slow and difficult or worse still, cannot be implemented at all.


We set out to create a system, or workplace in our office that allows open, honest and timely feedback on work related  and technical aspects of performance, focusing on those issues that influence work results.


Our solution has been to embed a management system within the business that removes some of the personality issues from the system to allow the processes of the business to flow and to ensure that team members are very clear on their roles within the business. If people are aware of their role within the general plan then they can co-operate to work to that plan together.


People need to understand clearly what they must do to be a successful team member. Focusing on what they need to do to contribute to the goals and outcomes of the business helps to remove the personal angst that can develop.


And encouraging professional behaviour between team members sets the standard for the kind of work ethic we want in our office.

Communicate constantly and in many ways

Let’s be honest – no one really sets out, or wants, to be merely average in their role.  Everyone wants to achieve and meet their goals, but if those goals aren’t set out and clear, then they fall to a level of mediocre – to the lowest common denominator.

What does this entail?

  • Job descriptions
    What tasks I am expected to perform?  What are the outcomes I need to produce? What are my responsibilities?
  • People development plans
    What plans are in place to help me improve and develop my career
  • Key matrix as to the skills required for them to perform their role
    What skills am I expected to have? What do I need to get training in?
  • Open feedback which is timely and constructive
    Let me know at the time the incident occurred what were the issues and why, and what I can do to change next time
  • Feedback that is interactive, communicative and conducive to meeting their own and the corporate goals
    Who can I discuss this with to give my feedback, resolve my problems and ask for guidance and mentoring? Will my supervisor communicate with me regularly in a constructive way so that we can all achieve our goals

Creating a Performance Management system

We are currently rolling out a performance management system internally that addresses all these areas.   It will focus on work related performance, skills and activities  and on regular communication which is professional and directed to work performance. Shortly it will be released to a number of clients.

If people are one of your biggest costs, or if the management of your people has ever been an issue then this system is something you should consider. Ring me personally to discuss your situation.


Fine dining, our kitchen rules – and the delicate art of team building

Fine dining

This week I am flying to Cairns.  Whilst I have been to Cairns a number of times for work this trip is a little bit different.  This trip is all about showing my appreciation to two of our long-standing team members for their commitment to us and to you.  I am investing in my building my team.

In a service and knowledge-based industry the second most important asset we have is the team that serves you.  Most important are our clients or customers because without them everything else we have to offer, including our great team, is irrelevant.  But assuming we have customers then the next crucial step is delivering on, and exceeding, their expectations.

So this got me thinking about how different companies invest in their teams.  Investment in your employees can be done in many ways. Very probably you invest in team training (technical or delivery-related), but you might also invest in your relationship with your employees so they recognise that you value them and they are motivated to contribute their best efforts.

Our kitchen rules

Which brings me back to the history behind this trip.  Years ago we established a policy of lunch on the anniversary of an employee’s start date (or thereabouts). Each succeeding year the restaurant or location was of a slightly higher standard. After 5 years we’d reached the upper echelons of Sydney restaurants, so it turned into lunch in Melbourne. Fast forward to this week and my two long term team members have feasted in Melbourne, dined on the Gold Coast, banqueted in Tasmania and today we’re off for a tropical treat in Cairns!

Lunch in Cairns will probably be cheaper than Sydney’s fine dining venues. With my frequent flyer points I’m able to arrange for flights using my points. And yes, sometimes it is an extended trip (this time it’s Friday through to Sunday), but each person who chooses to stay pays the extra costs incurred beyond our celebration lunch. So the significant cost to me is the time out of the office for us all, and the loss of productivity. Do I recoup this investment in my team – absolutely. The cost to me is minor in terms of their whole-hearted commitment to our clients and to the business.

How do you assess business ROI for team building?

As with any business cost, outlays like this team building exercise should always be evaluated for their return on investment. When you evaluate time and dollars committed to your team there are factors you should consider in determining the ROI:

  1. longevity of employment
  2. effect on costs
  3. business returns.

A case example

In ours and in many knowledge and service based businesses we have significant costs in the following areas:

  • Initial orientation and ongoing training for new team members into our systems and processes and our working culture
  • Educating our team about our clients and their needs
  • Continuing education in our industry, legislation and technical skills
  • There is an additional workload (and cost) for senior managers who must commit more time reviewing work done by recently employed staff (regardless of their seniority) until a level of confidence is achieved in reliable performance levels.
  • Finally, we frequently have projects that need to be undertaken in tight time frames to meet specific deadlines. These sorts of demands are better achieved when you can rely on well-trained and dedicated team members who share your commitment to the business.

Applying all these factors we judge that the investment and cost of a day in Cairns is justified.  Will this always continue in the same form? Not necessarily.  We constantly monitor and improve where we can. But for the moment it works. It signals to all our team how important they are to us, the role they play and the reliance and trust we put in them. We have succeeded in attracting and retaining highly skilled and dedicated people and we experience remarkably low turnover, even amongst the younger team members.

Before you are tempted to think this is a one-off case – I am a Director in the services industry, ASX listed company Vesture, and there also we place a high value on team training and the returns it offers.

Developing your team building policies

Building a team and creating a good culture is both art and science.   It’s a mix of fostering relationships and team culture, developing good systems and processes, team training and performance mentoring. And all of this can and should be assessed for its return on investment for your business.

  • What are you doing to train your employees?
  • Do you have policies in place to actively recruit and train talent?
  • Do you have systems and procedures in place to ensure a smooth transition of team members both in and out of the business?

If not, then it’s something you should possibly consider and give us a call to discuss.

In closing this blog it’s appropriate to thank all of my team for the work effort and commitment they put in – we truly do appreciate it.



PS. I have just been informed that next year these two would like to go to Hawaii. Mmm … it comes down to the return on investment, and that might be a bit of a stretch from Cairns in one leap. Perhaps a couple of years down the line??