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  1. How to hold effective performance discussions that produce better results

    June 21, 2016 by Alison Hill

    When we last looked at performance reviews, we saw that more regular and less structured feedback and conversations are rapidly replacing the annual review. At a recent open day at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) I listened to Kerrie Yates, Consultant at Catalyst Learning and Development, explain exactly how to go about holding an effective, productive performance conversation. This is what I learned.

    Many managers find conversations about performance the most difficult part of their job. Participants in the AIM session ‘Effective performance discussions’ expressed the opinion that they were not insufficiently coached and trained, particularly when it came to discussions about behavioural issues, rather than measurable KPIs. They agreed that more of their time was spent on poor performers than good performers, as poor performers required more managing, attention and training  – at the expense of good performers, who were often penalised by being piled with more work. Many expressed the fear that star performers would leave the team or the organisation because they did not feel positively acknowledged for their high performance.


    Yates identified these blocks to effective performance conversations, as felt by managers:

    • Uncertainty about their capability to handle the conversation
    • Lack of time to hold regular conversations with all team members
    • Lack of perceived benefit – a perception there are no measurable outcomes
    • Not wanting to hurt another’s feelings
    • Seeing the conversation as too difficult, and so moving it elsewhere (usually to HR)
    • Having to deal with an organisational culture of non-recognition (Hint: pay everybody enough to take the issue of remuneration off the table.)

    The session then focused on how to have a performance conversation and how to deliver feedback, beginning with thorough preparation.


    Give the team member notice, and set expectations for the conversation. Nobody will respond well if they feel ambushed. Say something like, ‘I’ve noticed that your last two reports have been late and I’d like to talk to you about that. How about straight after lunch?’ The person is clear what the conversation will be about and can think about their response.

    Be fully prepared and know and discuss the facts. Consider the solutions rather than only focusing on the problem. Describe the impact of the problem at the individual, team and organisational levels. For the late report, for example, you may say, ‘Because the report was a day late, I was unable to review the figures and there was an error in the budgeting. When I presented it to management, they picked up the error and it seemed like our team hadn’t done the research properly. I’m concerned that we might not get the budget to get the project done.’

    Consider how the person might respond, and be prepared for their response. Think about how you feel about having the conversation: What language will you use? Do you have some responses ready? Of course, you can’t control every situation, such as when issues outside the workplace are affecting a team member’s performance and they respond by bursting into tears, for example.


    Positive feedback is aimed at acknowledging good performance and promoting more of it. However, saying something like, ‘Well done on the report’ is not enabling the person to understand what was done well, and to do more of it. Yates offered the following, stressing that it is a guide and not a script:

    1. Give a concrete example of good performance. ‘Your report was well-structured and clear; good job’.
    2. Say what the impact was. ‘That meant I was able to give a really succinct presentation to the board.’
    3. Say what the benefit was. ‘I was able to get across the team’s funding needs and I think we will get what we need to run the project, so well done.’

    Feedback for improvement is more challenging, but the following framework makes it less stressful. At all stages, ask open questions (i.e. ones that cannot be answered yes, or no, or with any other one-word answer).

    1. Identify the problem. ‘Your report was late, and this has happened three times now.’
    2. Say what the impact was – including the impact on others such as the team or customers. ‘I had to go to the management meeting without being able to read through it and so I was unprepared for questions from the CEO and CFO.’
    3. Listen to their reaction and explanation. Really listen, without preconceptions or judgment.
    4. Look for solutions. This depends on their reaction. It might be that the deadline was unreasonable and they need more time in future, or that they need an editor or proofreader at the final stages of report writing in future.
    5. Say what the impact of this will be. ‘If I give you a day longer to get them done, we can get all reports finished in time I can be properly prepared for management meetings’.
    6. Say what the benefit of this will be. ‘I’ll be much more likely to get out budget requests approved and we can then go ahead with the revenue-generating project we want to work on.’

    Performance measurement and holding performance discussions is complex, and people are messy (and I’m not referring to the state of your desk). As Yates stressed, there is no ‘magic formula’ for performance reviews that will work in every case. Take the situation where a talented person is in the wrong job because the company was desperate to fill the position when they hired; or where a high performer’s performance drops, but they still outperform the average employee. These situations can give rise to complex conversations. Hopefully you will find some pointers to holding effective performance discussions. AIM has many events and resources Australia-wide for mangers, leaders and aspiring leaders: see

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  2. Leadership tips for new managers

    June 14, 2016 by Alison Hill

    The day you’ve planned and worked for has arrived: you’ve been promoted to manager. You know that your leadership skills are going to be needed in the coming weeks and months, but what exactly are they?

    Perhaps you’re suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’ ­– the feeling that you aren’t really up to a leadership role, and that sooner or later this will become obvious. How do you develop leadership skills and feel confident in your ability to lead? Here’s our guide to shaping your leadership style in the first days, weeks and months in a new leadership position.

    Be clear on your priorities. Start by focusing on just three things, and get those done with the help of your team. What are you trying to achieve? How will you measure success – both your own and those of your team members? Let your manager, your team and any other stakeholders know what you are prioritising in these first weeks and months, so that they understand your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help.

    Being clear about your purpose and committing to your team and yourself is what leadership is about. Knowing what you want and who you are is the basis of being a good leader.

    Listen and learn. An associate told me about a new manager who came on board from another organisation and immediately began changing every process in the team – even those that worked well. My friend had worked in the team for years and was a technical expert, but the new manager believed she had all the answers. If she had listened to her new team, and to the higher-ups, she would have won their respect and trust; instead she fragmented the team and was moved on within six months.

    Spending time with your team and getting to know them on a personal level will mean you can inspire each person to do their best in the way that works for them. Motivation is different for everyone. Admitting your mistakes, learning them and discussing them with the team is a way of being authentic. Being authentic means you build trust and cooperation in your team.

    Create a support network. Seek out a more experienced leader who can mentor you. This will not only improve your leadership skills, but it will also show you how to map your road to success in the organisation. An informal network of others in leadership positions can act as a sounding board and provide support if times get tough. A weekly coffee or eating lunch together is a good way to put that network in place.

    Better still, you can hire a coach or sign up for a leadership training course. Challenge Consulting’s research has shown that leadership training increases median revenue by $31,000 per employee and productivity by 17-21%. Formal learning can help to address your concerns and questions in a systematic way, and the leadership journey need not be a lonely one.

    Develop your communication skills. This includes working on your listening skills. Stephen R. Covey wrote that, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ When employees feel unheard they lose motivation, so make sure you don’t give the impression you know it all or are not interested in what your colleagues have to say.  Keep your audience in mind when you speak; simplify jargon and complex technical information when speaking to people whose job does not include working with those things.

    Practice giving a presentation to boost your confidence, and think about joining an organisation such as Toastmasters or sign up for a class in writing or speaking for business.

    Praise and acknowledge others. Do it immediately and your team will appreciate your feedback even more. Feedback is highly motivating and team members will appreciate immediate thanks, praise and even constructive criticism.  Learning to deliver constructive criticism is an art. You can read more about providing actionable feedback in our article about common feedback mistakes here.

    Take time out to celebrate employees’ good performance and meeting the team or organisation’s goals. When employees feel acknowledged and empowered to do their best, productivity soars. An environment in which people want to work can be more motivating than money, and retaining good people is the hallmark of a good leader.

    As small business coach Barry Moltz put it, ‘Bosses have jobs and leaders build companies’. So learn to be a leader.

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  3. The annual performance review: agony, ecstasy or just ticking the box?

    June 7, 2016 by Alison Hill

    A year ago, Deloitte announced that they were getting rid of performance reviews. Research had shown, they argued, that a critical assessment was no longer the way to gather information about staff performance. Not only did they waste millions of hours, representing a huge cost, they were demotivating and inaccurate.

    Other organisations, including Accenture, Google, Microsoft and NAB have also ditched the annual review and ranking system. They were convinced by their own research and by that of outside organisations that the system was not driving better performance.

    If you hate performance reviews, either giving them or being on the receiving end, you’re not alone. A poll in the Sydney Morning Herald had 87% of participants agreeing that the ‘whole process is just a waste of time and doesn’t achieve much’, with only 5% agreeing that, ‘They force employees and managers to think beyond the daily grind and see how they are tracking’ and should be kept.

    Kevin Murphy, a scientist at Colorado State University and an expert on performance appraisals, told the New Yorker that there were further issues:

    • Managers have incentives to inflate appraisals of their team members.
    • Feedback can make people less motivated and hurt relationships as it is often perceived as biased and unfair, even when it is accurate.
    • Organisations do a poor job of rewarding good evaluators and sanctioning bad ones.

    ‘As a result, annual appraisals end up as a source of anxiety and annoyance rather than a source of useful information’, Murphy told the New Yorker.

    Other reasons given for scrapping performance reviews include:

    • They focused on the last couple of months and on recent performance, rather than on the full year.
    • More than half of the performance rating reflects the traits of the person conducting the review rather than those of the person being rated, due to the conscious and unconscious biases of the reviewing manager.
    • They tend to reward the most self-promoting employees, who are not necessarily the best employees in the long term.
    • They reflect an outdated way of working, based on the time and motion studies of the early 20th century, seeking efficiency above all else.
    • The performance review process is the single biggest cause of claims for bullying, according to research by reputation management consultants Risk To Business, who write, ‘The link between performance management and workplace bullying is unequivocal.’

    Supporters of the review process argue that it is not the performance review per se that is the problem, but how it is conducted and managed.  Rhonda Brighton-Hall, board member of the Australian Human Resources Institute, has said that it is the quality of the leadership, not the form the performance review takes, which establishes its effectiveness. Handled well, a performance review can increase motivation, reward productive employees by giving them more responsibility, identify training needs and confront problems in an honest way. Staff are able to set career objectives and ask for support in achieving them. Confrontations can be managed in a considered way, and open communication is encouraged.

    Supporters argue that it is important to separate the performance review from a pay review, as employees will perceive a negative review – or even any adverse comments – as a way to avoid giving a raise. Separating the two processes allows the performance review to feel more collaborative.

    In a fast-paced work environment, there is no doubt that slowing down and reflecting on performance is helpful and positive.  Those who have given up the annual performance review have typically replaced it with more regular and less structured feedback and conversations. Next time we will take a look at those alternatives.

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  4. The insider’s guide to learning new skills at work

    May 31, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Whether you want to develop in your current position or you have set your sights on a new role, effective skills development takes planning and commitment to making time to learn or upgrade your skills. The world of online learning has made this a bit easier, and there are good courses to do in your ‘free’ time with this flexible approach.

    When planning your approach, start with any mandatory professional education requirements, such as courses designed to help you to comply with licencing conditions. Use professional websites to identify what’s on during the year, and commit to a timetable of helpful sessions, so that you’re not scrambling around for those last points at the end of the year.

    Then identify areas that you want to learn more about. It might be something identified in your performance review, or an area in which you realise your skills have fallen behind. You may see that a new skill could lead to a promotion or even a coveted new role.

    These are some of the courses we have found helpful and which you can jump into now to upgrade your skills.

    For upgrading your business writing skills, the Australian Writers Centre offers a one-day course on the essentials for people working in customer service, support or sales. The course is also available online. For middle managers and above, there’s Professional Business Writing, which runs every couple of months. This one is aimed at writing proposals and reports. The presenters at the AWC are experts in their field as well as great presenters, and as a bonus, the classrooms overlook Luna Park and the harbour. The next one starts on 23 June, so hop on board.

    Getting your head around project management can be bewildering. The Australian Institute of Management  runs short courses for novices (two-day course, next running in Sydney on 8-9 June) and for those with some knowledge and experience (three-day course, next running 7-9 June in Sydney and 20-22 June in Parramatta). AIM has a wide range of courses, from Leading with Emotional Intelligence (14 June) to Managing budgets (20 June).

    Webinars are often a huge disappointment, not delivering what they promise and disguising a marketing pitch as a learning opportunity. A site for solo entrepreneurs, Flying Solo, has good ones on demand, and they are helpful to everybody, not just soloists.  Accelerate your workflow is particularly helpful, showing you how to use technology to streamline work. Dealing with your inbox, automating routine office tasks and an analysis of the budget’s implications are some recent topics.

    Fancy studying at Harvard or Princeton? You can. Coursera is one of many providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. They are free, online and generally presented by outstanding lecturers. Try Preparing to manage human resources,   a four-week course from the University of Minnesota, which starts this week, or Big Data: data visualisation from QUT.  Coursera is also offering a practical, project-based course, How to write a resume, created by the State University of New York. When you finish you will have a polished resume developed with guidance from a professional career counsellor and recruiter, and with feedback from your peers.

    Skillshare  is a great platform for learning creative skills from others. The range of skills on offer is huge – from making French macarons to being more productive. Most include practical projects. There is a good selection of video classes in digital marketing, so helpful if you have been charged with writing your organisation’s blog posts! You are bound to find something to do for fun and relaxation too, like painting or creating a custom rubber stamp.,  part of LinkedIn, offers video tutorials you can follow at your own pace. You can learn about thousands of topics taught by industry experts and working professionals in software, creative, and business skills.

    Be sure to add all the new skills you learn to your resume. There are plenty more good sources of skills and professional development learning, and you are sure to find an online course, webinar, podcast or class to suit your needs. The important thing is to identify a need and then commit to learning.

    If you have learnt something amazing, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.



  5. Six tips that will help you grow a strong professional network

    May 24, 2016 by Alison Hill

    There’s more to networking than a free glass of wine while you meet some new people. Effective networking – getting together with others with the aim of building a strong set of connections – is an art that can be learned.

    A strong professional network can lead to new clients, business deals, connections with great people, finding the perfect employee or getting a great job offer. But first, you have to build your network. As marketing strategist and author Dorie Clark writes, those are side-effects of relationship building.
    1. Attend the right events
    There’s certainly a place for social media networking, but we have all probably relied on it to the detriment of networking in person. Get back into attending organised networking events through professional associations, business chambers, conferences, alumni associations and through Meetup groups. Then connect with the people you meet through LinkedIn or other networks. Using in-person networking to enhance networking on social media, not the other way around, leads to more powerful and authentic connections. The exception is where the events have a social media channel set up for attendees to connect beforehand. If that’s the case, use it to research people with whom you have something in common and those who you would like to meet before the event.
    2. Build common ground and a personal connection
    Be prepared. Read the news, think about what you might say about a book you have been reading or somewhere you have visited recently – a trip, a cafe, a gallery, a sports match all make good and genuine conversation starters.
    I read a ‘tip’ that said one should ‘network for net worth’. And yes, they meant financial worth. My first thought was that I wouldn’t want a person who thinks that way in my network. Everybody is worth more than their bank balance. Making a genuine connection with people you meet will lead you to the kind of people you want to interact with in future. And remember too that not everybody will like you – and that’s okay.
    3. Ask questions and listen to the answers
    Starting off with your ‘elevator pitch’ or a marketing statement for your brand can be off-putting. A better approach is to ask genuine questions that you are interested in hearing the answers to, and to listen – really listen – to the replies. Don’t be looking over the person’s shoulder in case somebody more important turns up. Give them your full attention, and be aware of what you can add to a discussion. When it’s time to end a conversation, do so gracefully, making eye contact and telling the person it’s been nice to meet them.
    4. Give more than you ask for
    You’ve no doubt heard it said that you have to make deposits before you can make withdrawals in your professional life. We can’t say it enough: building relationships takes time. Go into the session with the mindset that you are there to help others, not to find ways to promote yourself. Think you have nothing to offer? How about introductions to others in your network, publicity for a person’s new venture, an offer to share their blog posts with your network or to promote their product on your pages?
    5. Get out of your comfort zone
    It’s a networking event, so don’t spend all your time talking to the three people you already know. Get out and work the room, meeting and talking to as many people as you can. Everybody is attending with the same purpose, so there’s no need to feel awkward about approaching a total stranger.
    Your body language says heaps about you before you say a word. To look approachable, your stance should be open, your hands at your side, and your body turned towards people who are moving towards you.
    6. Don’t forget to network within your own organisation
    Making new connections in your own organisation can help you to get things done innovatively in your present role through understanding what others do, and ultimately can help you to progress within the organisation. Don’t confine it to drinks and seminars; getting out and getting fit is also a great way to network with your colleagues. It’s also a good, non-threatening environment in which to practice your networking skills, making you more confident, improving your listening and questioning skills and revealing new insights from the people you meet.

  6. Seven ways to help you decide between two superstar candidates

    May 3, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Every so often, a hiring manager will have the problem of deciding between two great candidates. It seems like a great problem to have, but what if you get it wrong? What if the candidate you choose doesn’t work out, and leaves after a couple of months? 

    Choosing between two equally qualified candidates who have impressed in their interviews and whose references are impeccable is difficult. Once you have made absolutely sure that both have the skills necessary to do the job through testing and a structured interview, there are a few more things about each candidate to consider. Here are our best tips to help you make the decision.
    1. Consider cultural fit, based on shared values, motivation and drivers. Read all about this in our shared articles, Recruiting for cultural fit and How to spot the right cultural fit in a job interview.
    2. Look to the future. One candidate may have skills or experience that are not essential to this position, but could allow them to add value later as they move up in the organisation. A candidate who has travelled extensively, for example, may one day be the right person to work in an overseas office.
    3. Consider the team they will work with. Looking at the team’s culture, work style preferences and balance of skills and attitudes can help you to decide which candidate will do better in the team. Does the team need rounding out with a more diverse group of people? Or will a person with the same traits as the existing team do better?
    4. Get back to basics. Ask yourself, ‘What is the number one priority in making this hire?’ After so many interviews, reference checks, skills test results and deliberations, it is easy to forget this most fundamental question. Step back and see if contemplating this makes the decision clearer.
    5. Have another conversation with their referees. Be really awake to their tone of voice and degree of enthusiasm, and aware of what they might not be saying, or be slightly hesitant about.
    6. Invite the candidates to spend a few hours with the prospective team, and get the team’s feedback. This is sometimes known as the ‘beer test’, but you can equally well have lunch together or even have them spend some time working in the team so that you can each assess the others’ working style. If both candidates have made it this far in the hiring process, they are most likely keen to take the position. What will it take to attract hem to the organisation? Have you already dealt with the question of pay, or will that make your decision for you? Is the start date critical, and if so, is one candidate available sooner than the other? Have you checked that both are qualified to work in Australia?

    Finally, it may be down to gut feel. When you have done the science of recruitment, it comes to the art – what your instinct tells you about the two candidates after you have weighed skills, fit, and practical details of the offer. Given that you have two great candidates, it’s likely you will end up with a successful hire. Just don’t take too long in your decision, or somebody else might snap them up!

  7. Not quite toxic but a little bit poisonous: How to deal with difficult people at work

    April 19, 2016 by Alison Hill


    With any luck, your company has a robust hiring process and has managed to follow the first rule for working with toxic people: don’t hire them in the first place. But if they haven’t, or if you have to work with somebody who is difficult but not instantly recognisable as a toxic personality, here are some ways to smooth the journey.

    You’re likely to feel bewildered, used and manipulated by a co-worker at some time in your career. It may be a manager who expects you to work overtime or at weekends with no warning to complete a project – and who then takes the credit for it on Monday morning. It may be a colleague who belittles you in a team meeting by betraying something you told them in confidence, or who gossips about others in a way that is uncomfortable and makes you wonder what they say about you behind your back.

    These people are not diagnosable psychopaths or sociopaths for the most part, although they might display some of the characteristics used in psychiatric diagnoses.

    Steven Booker, Challenge Consulting’s Principal Psychologist explains that there are differing levels of toxic behaviour: ‘Extremely psychopathic or narcissistic people are often unable to get or hold onto long-term employment  because their extreme selfishness, lack of empathy, intolerance, anger and aggression are incompatible with the strongly team and values-oriented culture of most employers’, he says. ‘However, there are a group of people that we might call “subclinical psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists” whose personalities are no so extreme that although they can be quite selfish, aggressive or toxic, they are still able to be effective in some organisations, especially those that have a culture which values only results without any emphasis on values, teamwork and having empathy for clients, staff and customers. These people can often be misperceived as successful and high functioning because of their confidence, cold-blooded nature and lack of fear’, Booker says. ‘The real challenge when recruiting is to identify people with the drive, ambition, confidence and competitiveness to get strong results while also ensuring that they have sufficient empathy and care for others to be able to work as part of an effective team. Psychological assessment is one of the best tools available to select people with this combination of traits and help organisations reduce the risk of hiring toxic people.’

    According to business journalist Gregory Bresiger, the difficult people most commonly found in the workplace are these:

    • Gossipmongers: They spread fear by spouting hearsay.
    • Bullies: These employees repeatedly put others down by verbally humiliating them.
    • Saboteurs: These are people trying to gain an advantage by hurting fellow workers.
    • Spotlight stealers: They take credit for others’ work and hoard the limelight in team projects.

    Dealing with difficult people takes special skills. Luckily, some of these can be learned. Here are a few ideas that work.

    1. Know yourself. Know what presses your buttons. When you are going to be in a situation with the difficult person, such as a one-on-one meeting or a project planning session, prepare by focusing on what is important to you and the outcome you want. What would be unacceptable? Then think about what the difficult person might say or do, and plan how you might react.
    2. Take a step back. When a person is being difficult, it is easy to either give in or get angry. I remember working with somebody who would persist with an idea long after everybody in the team had already nixed it. More than once, the rest of the team gave in and let her run a project her way – often with the predictable negative outcome. On one occasion a team member got visibly angry. If only we’d known better. Removing ourselves from the situation – either by mentally taking a time out or by actually adjourning the meeting – and looking at the dispute objectively to plan a rational response would have been more productive and more likely to lead to the outcome we wanted.
    3. Let them experience victory. Many difficult people like to win, and to feel they ‘have the last word’ on an issue. You can refuse to give in to them while simultaneously helping them to save face and preserve their dignity. William Ury, author of the influential 1991 book Getting past no: Negotiating with difficult people, calls this ‘building a golden bridge’. As Ury says, ‘if you want him to acknowledge your point, acknowledge his first.’ Helping a difficult person to save face and feel they are getting their own way, at least some of the time, can help to neutralise their effect.


  8. It’s better for your organisation to dump a toxic worker than employ a superstar

    April 12, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Every company has experienced a toxic worker. Recently in Sydney, an employee of a signage manufacturer shot three customers, killing one of them, and then turned the gun on himself. There had been a dispute over an order that had been paid for but not delivered. Back in 2008, an 18-year-old apprentice engineer killed himself after months of violent bullying, including being burnt with a welding torch and having his mistakes displayed on a chart for his co-workers to see.

    These are extreme examples, but we all know of cases where rumour-mongers, insulting bosses, extreme cynics, or those who habitually turn up late and leave early damage organisations. Toxic employees not only destroy morale and hurt the performance and reputation of an organisation, but can also cost it huge amounts in legal and other fees and lost productivity.

    How do we deal with toxic people in the workplace? And, more importantly, how do we avoid hiring them in the first place? Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll address these questions.

    As Michael Housman and Dylan Minor have pointed out in their paper produced for Harvard Business School, Toxic Workers, there has been a strong focus on discovering and developing top performers – or ‘superstars’ – but less attention has been paid to those who harm organisational performance. They define a toxic worker as one who, ‘engages in behaviour that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people’.

    Employing toxic workers does more harm to a company than the good done when the company recruits superstars, Housman and Minor found. They analysed data from 50,000 employees at 11 companies, examining what set apart the truly toxic from the rest – those who were so toxic they were fired for their behaviour. Avoiding a toxic worker saved the organisation an average of over US$12,000, while hiring a star saved a little over US$5,000 – and that was before any costs of litigation or other penalties.

    Here are some of the surprising findings of the Toxic Workers study.

    1. Toxic workers tend to be more productive in terms of quantity of output. They deliver on numbers, but display the wrong values. These people tend to stay put in the organisation as their productivity seems to outweigh their toxic characteristics. Mangers may even overlook their unethical behaviour as they are more productive than the average worker. Housman and Minor give the example of a rogue trader in an investment bank who is making huge profits for the firm, who might look away when the trader is found to be overstepping legal boundaries.
    2. Toxic workers have higher than normal self-regard, and less ‘other-regardingness’. The researchers found that, ‘those who show little concern for another’s interests are less likely to refrain from damaging others and their property’. These people overestimated their skills and abilities as compared to their actual results in a skills test. The research showed that overconfident people are more likely to take unreasonable – and unethical – risks. So your negative gut feel about the co-worker who big-notes themselves may well be true.
    3. Toxic workers are more likely to claim that rules should be followed. While this sounds counterintuitive, the research showed that, ‘those who claim the rules should be followed are more Machiavellian in nature, purporting to embrace whatever rules, characteristics, or beliefs that they believe are most likely to obtain them a job’. A question in their job interview asked if they agreed that rules should always be followed. Those who were fired for toxic behaviour were found to have answered yes more often than others.
    4. Toxic workers induce others to be toxic. The study found that environment played an important role in determining whether a person who had many toxic traits actually behaved in a toxic way it the workplace. Luckily, it seems that a combination of personal characteristics and environmental factors is necessary for somebody to become a toxic worker. Housman and Minor concluded that, ‘managing toxic workers is not simply a matter of screening them out of the firm, but also of minding the work environment’.

    In coming weeks we will look at minding the work environment for conditions that allow toxic workers to flourish, and screening out toxic workers during the hiring process. We’d love to hear your experiences of toxic workers and how you managed or avoided them.


  9. What’s the point of psychometric testing?

    March 29, 2016 by Alison Hill

    You’ve probably done an online personality and/or ability test before – who can resist being able to find out how ‘agreeable’ you are, or what your Myers-Briggs type is? Of course you want to know if you have a better vocabulary than the 64% of graduates that can’t spell properly! You may also have taken a test as part of a team building exercise or development program. Now you can expect to come across psychometric tests as a standard part of the hiring process.

    UK company Psychometric Success reports that psychometric testing is used by over 80% of Fortune 500 companies in the US and by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK. In Australia, Human Resources Director magazine reports that about 40% of recruiters and employers ask job applicants to sit psychometric tests, and it seems that they are becoming more widespread.

    Part of the testing process measures skills and aptitudes, or cognitive ability, while the other aspect assesses personality. Personality tests are used to assess such things as interpersonal style, adaptability, coping skills, emotional intelligence, values and motivations, and honesty. You can read more about them at Challenge Consulting.

    Steven Booker, Principal Consultant of People Services at Challenge Consulting, says that while recruitment is not an exact science, ‘psychological tests  are the most scientific tool we have for predicting how a person will perform in a job and how much they will enjoy it. Further, he says that ability (work-related IQ) testing has the highest ability to predict job performance out of all recruitment methods, including interviews.  Tests of cognitive ability correlate strongly with performance (0.5 correlation coefficient, where 0.5 is considered a strong correlation), while an unstructured interview has very low predictive value. In a situation where a wrong hire costs organisations dearly, the return on investment for psychometric testing is huge, he points out. ‘Testing doubles the accuracy of recruitment.’

    Challenge People Services consultants are often asked, ‘What’s the point of psychometric testing? Surely a smart candidate will work out the “right” answers and tell the recruiter or employer what they want to hear?’ While that is possible with poorly designed tests that are not well administered, the right test given in the right way will enhance the recruitment process. Properly formulated tests have a built-in ways of finding attempts at deception, and anybody identified as trying to ‘impression manage’ (i.e. fake) the profile is unlikely to be assessed as suitable for a role, particularly if it requires honest and integrity as most roles do.

    Additionally, personality testing is used partly to look for the right fit between the candidate and the organisation. ‘Faking it’ is hard if the candidate doesn’t know what the organisation is looking for. It’s also counterproductive. It’s in nobody’s long-term interest for somebody to pretend to be an extroverted person, for example, when they are not, and for them to then struggle – and ultimately fail – in a sales role that requires a lot of interaction with customers.

    Booker says most employers are worried about the time psychometric testing might take. ‘The vast majority of testing takes between one and three hours’, he says. So they need not be concerned that the candidates will be subject to hours of rigorous exams, followed by weeks of waiting for results, as many employers express concern that they are putting the candidate through an unpleasant rigmarole. ‘Once they are asked to undergo testing, a candidate usually guesses that they are being seriously considered for the role’, says Booker. He explains that the tests are best administered supervised, accompanied by a discussion with the candidate at which they can give and receive feedback about the outcome.

    Remember, psychometric tests are only one part of the recruitment process, and other information, such as a structured interview and what your references say about you, provide important information too. A good recruiter or hiring manager will look at every piece of information about a candidate and consider the place of each in informing their hiring decision. However, if you want to double the accuracy of your recruitment process, consider using psychological assessment.

  10. From pocket money to retirement income: how women are systematically paid less (and what you can do about it)

    March 8, 2016 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    Happy International Women’s Day. As it turns out, it could be a lot happier for women in the workforce.

    It starts young – inequality applies even to girls’ weekly pocket money, as reported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Gender Pay Gap over the Life Cycle report. Apparently girls start out with 11% less pocket money than boys and this continues with women graduates with a bachelor’s degree earning $1.5 million less over a lifetime than men with the equivalent qualifications.

    A report by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency released last week, Gender Equity Insights 2016: Inside Australia’s Gender Pay Gap, outlines the following:

    • Women key management personnel (KMP) working full-time earn on average $100,000 a year less than male KMPs.
    • Gender pay gaps lead to significant earnings shortfalls for women across their careers. Women moving through managerial positions at the same pace as men, working full-time and reaching a KMP role in their tenth year, earn $600,000 less.
    • Male managers working in female-dominated organisations can expect to earn considerably more than their female colleagues.
    • More women on boards is associated with significant reductions in gender pay gaps.
    • Part-time roles are dominated by women and are significantly lower paid (on a full-time equivalent basis) than full-time roles.
    • Men consistently earn more additional remuneration than women. The average male ‘bonus’ premium is almost 8 percentage points for full-time workers, and is highest in the financial and insurance services industry, at 15 percentage points.


    Is it simply a case of gender pay gap = direct discrimination? The gap can be explained in part by differences in how men and women work, the industries they work in and their level of skills and experience. My own experience in publishing, a vastly female-dominated industry, is that average pay is low and many people work part-time and on short-term contracts.  The same goes for teaching and nursing, both overwhelmingly female dominated. The report tells us that a startling 75% of part-time workers are female.

    But the gender pay gap can also indicate more subtle bias within workplaces, where preferential treatment is given to certain workers for career advancement and pay. The report notes,

    ‘Gender pay gaps can be a sign of both direct and indirect biases, both of which are problematic for a number of reasons. They signal inequity in a society that has been built on the concept of a ‘fair go’. They result in poorer outcomes for women in terms of economic and personal freedoms. They impair and stunt economic growth for nations looking to remain competitive on a global scale. Furthermore, they represent a lost opportunity in human capital investment and potential.’

    So what can the average manager do?

    Employers generally don’t intend to pay men and women differently. Gender pay gaps are not good for staff attraction, retention or engagement. We know that gender equality is better for both individual performance and company productivity. But perhaps unintended biases are creeping into hiring, pay, promotion and performance decisions. A payroll analysis can uncover this.

    The Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Australian Institute of Management have produced a Manager briefing, Gender pay equity guide for managers, outlining steps that can be taken at each stage of the employment cycle to address unconscious biases and practices in the recruitment, promotion, performance and remuneration stages.


    Identifying the causes of gender pay gaps: Some quick tips for managers

    • Check your job descriptions. Are women doing similar jobs to men but with different job titles and pay?
    • Analyse starting rates in your team. Are these monitored by gender? If an employee starts on a higher rate, is this based on evidence and recorded, with reasons?
    • Compare the organisation’s pay rates to market rates. Are variations applied consistently? Or do lower rates favour roles dominated by women?
    • Check superannuation rates. Is the rate of employer-paid super consistent across levels? Are all employees, including those on parental leave, treated in the same way?
    • Investigate bonuses and discretionary pay. Is one gender more likely to be in roles that attract bonus payments? Is discretionary pay more likely to be paid in a traditionally ‘male’ role?

    Managers can show leadership on gender pay issues and are well placed to develop a plan to address them. It begins with finding and analysing the data, and then addressing the gaps and their causes. As the Manager briefing points out, ‘the removal of bias in pay and performance decisions requires a medium to long term strategy and cultural change’.

    Be in it.

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