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This is not advice. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. The information contained in these articles is for guidance only and should not be relied upon without obtaining professional advice having regard to your direct circumstances.


Seize change, its opportunity

“In this time of global economic change we should be converting hysteria to a change manifesto. The world has changed and will continue to change, but people within it are a constant and need strong direction, leadership and vision,” says Martin Nally, managing director and founder of human resources services company HR Anywhere.

Nally believes organisations and HR practice must evolve to meet present needs, suggesting many businesses fail when it comes to performance reviews and staff evaluation. “Feedback should be constant but a lot of organisations treat performance reviews as seasonal, like the football season. It’s preferable to have regular formal and informal feedback processes, and then the punctuation point perhaps twice yearly where there’s a summary. Then when you come to the review there are no surprises.”

He believes skimping is dangerous. “A lot of people say, ‘I just don’t have time to do that feedback, it’s too complex, it’s too difficult’, but it’s at their own peril.”

Technology may alleviate the threat. “Online performance management systems can give more efficient capture of the current state of affairs and performance levels,” Nally says. “They are easy to use, giving a really efficient way of capturing dialogues so that when we sit down for a review, those notes made along the way are there. If the employee says ‘I’m not sure we’ve talked about this before’, there’s a record.”

Defining a role is the first step to measuring performance. “There needs to be a very clear outline of the role so that performance reviews can take place and feedback given. If role clarity isn’t present, managing performance becomes almost impossible. The importance of performance review and feedback is exceptional where it exists in a broad framework, if it exists on its own it can be damaging.”

Nally believes in getting basics right. His formula for success combines role clarity with strong direction and diversity of skills supported by exceptional communication. “Where these four pieces are in place and in sync, organisations can truly achieve breakthrough performance,” he says.

To achieve competitive advantage staff development must go beyond the training room. “You can’t necessarily develop as a person by just going on a training course. Stretch assignments, secondments and opportunities to work on projects: that’s where you’ll be truly developed. A lot of managers zero in on training and miss out on the real development opportunities.

When readying people for new roles, we should split our process. We advocate a 70-20-10 rule: 70 percent of development time should be spent on opportunities to stretch the person, 20 percent for educating them for things they’ll see in the future and 10 per cent of time should be focused on day-to-day up skills. What happens is often the reverse and only 10 percent of time is spent on developing the person for new roles.”

Susan Ferrier, director of people and development with international law firm Allens Arthur Robinson, sees Nally’s point, believing there is no substitute for experience. “I’m one of life’s continual obsessive learners, so I love classroom stuff, but a good chunk of what I do every day has been learned on the job, sometimes succeeding, sometimes making huge mistakes and learning from them,” Ferrier says.

Her professional development was unconventional, but she was cross-skilling before the term was invented. “I began my career as a lawyer, moved into HR, and then ran a small technology company in the UK before coming back to HR. My effectiveness in my job is very informed by the skills I’ve acquired in all those roles.” She said cross-skills add breadth to depth and knowledge. “In a law firm you do need to have deep technical specialists, but to deliver to clients in an increasingly complex world you need to come at problems not just with your pure technical experience.”

The company has more than 1800 staff and believes rotating them around practice groups within Australia, Southeast Asia and China benefits individuals and clients. The secondment program extends to developing staff through placements with clients and on pro bono projects. “We send a lot of people to work with clients for three to six months. It gives greater insight if you sit inside rather than serving from the outside.”

Nally believes a fresh perspective would benefit many employers. “They should look at this time as an opportunity to truly develop people and give them a full change or job, or stretch assignments or secondments,” he says. “If they make sure the role is clear, give people the opportunity and trust them, they’ll be surprised at the capacity of people to operate exceptionally well in a changed environment.”

On recent job losses, he is unequivocal. “Legally and morally, in times of reduction, organisations need to genuinely attempt to redeploy those roles that are regarded as redundant. People can make themselves less likely for retrenchment if they have built a level of skills. The array of alternative roles they can be redeployed into is therefore much wider than the norm. This reduces redundancies but allows a greater restructuring to occur within an organisation.”

Persephone Nicholas
The Weekend Australian, April 4-5 2009


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