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Category Archives: communication

May 12, 2009

Technology is changing our people skills, writes Nick Galvin.

In a sketch from comedians Idiots of Ants, a man knocks on the door of a schoolmate from 20 years ago and tries to “friend” him.

As the scene plays out, it becomes painfully apparent the two thirtysomethings have nothing in common – in fact they don’t even like each other. By the end of the sketch the schoolmate is thoroughly confused and confronted by this sudden intrusion of online life into his real world.

It’s funny but also serves to highlight a serious point. Maybe, just maybe, spending so much time socialising via SMS, Facebook, email, YouTube, blogs, MySpace, Bebo, Flickr, Twitter, 12Seconds, RSS Feeds, Digg or Friendster is not good for us.

Maybe there is a risk for at least some users that they will become so enmeshed in online life that it takes precedence over the complex interactions of the real world.

One person who believes it may be cause for concern is respected British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield.

Recently she speculated that social networking sites could destroy real-world relationship skills.

“I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,” she says.

“Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.”

Inevitably, Greenfield’s pronouncements ignited lurid headlines of the “Facebook will rot your brain” variety in some media.

They also sparked accusations that she was just the latest in a long line of oldies to look at the behaviour of the next generation with disapproval and concern.

The power and reach of social networks have increased exponentially in recent years with the massive growth in mobile networked devices: PDAs and so-called smartphones. There are about 2.8 billion mobile phones being used worldwide – a figure growing by a staggering 1.6 million a day.

Suddenly, our online friends have been untethered from the desktop and can now follow us anywhere. Applications that allow users to update Facebook pages or Twitter streams on the go are increasingly common.

The effect has been that we are now rarely alone. It is easily possible to go days or even weeks without ever being more than a text message or a status update away from our social network.

William Deresiewicz is a literary critic and former professor of English at Yale University. In a recent essay, he bemoaned the loss of solitude in our lives.

“Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration but it is also taking away our ability to be alone,” he says. “Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can.”

Deresiewicz and others have pointed out that spending time alone gives us time to reflect and the space to think. It might be a structured act of solitude such as a religious retreat or meditation session or it might be in a less formal setting such as sitting in a boat with a fishing rod. But the fisherman can scarcely be said to be alone when he has his mobile-connected device in his pocket at all times.

The jury is still out on whether the social networking phenomenon really is the pernicious corrupting influence that some critics suggest or whether it is the technological gift that supporters claim could alter the way human society evolves.

Almost inevitably, the answer will lie somewhere between those two extremes. Perhaps simply by being aware of a potential downside to social networking we will reap the benefits without suffering any of the side effects.

“It’s almost like we need to teach people again about the value of friendship and the value of solitude,” says John Lenarcic, a lecturer at RMIT’s School of Business Information Technology, with a particular interest in social media. “But the genie is out of the bottle – there’s no way you could go back to an era when these things didn’t exist.”

Is there anybody home?

Sue* is a Sydneysider who has chosen to stay at home with her two young children and online relationships are an important part of her life. For more than five years she has been a very active member of a discussion forum of about 200 women who, she says, provide support, gossip, entertainment and, in some cases, genuine friendship.

“I wouldn’t say that everyone is my friend but there are definitely real-life friends that I have made in that forum,” she says. “We will go out to dinner and send each other’s kids birthday presents.

“I guess it’s like hanging out with other parents in the school playground. They are not always people you would choose to socialise with but you do have a connection, so if you hear it’s their birthday, you say, ‘Happy birthday.’ ” Occasionally, however, the virtual and the real can overlap in dramatic fashion.

Sue says there have been occasions when a forum member has shown obvious signs of depression or even suicidal thoughts and the response from others in the group has been to send a “virtual hug or a smiley e-card”.

“What they really need is to be told to get to a doctor or even have someone call triple-O for them,” she says.

* Name changed to protect Sue’s anonymity.

It’ll make you a better employee, according to an Australian study that shows surfing the Internet for fun during office hours increases productivity.

The University of Melbourne study showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 percent more productive that those who do not.

Study author Brent Coker, from the department of management and marketing, said “workplace Internet leisure browsing,” or WILB, helped to sharpened workers’ concentration.

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said on the university’s website (

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity,” he said.

According to the study of 300 workers, 70 percent of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB.

Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites, playing online games and watching videos on YouTube.

“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos, using social networking sites or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity,” said Coker. “That’s not always the case.”

However, Coker said the study looked at people who browsed in moderation, or were on the Internet for less than 20 percent of their total time in the office.

“Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without,” he said.

(Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Valerie Lee);_ylt=Ajv93cQKOzgitgxsVSCbHBsDW7oF

Maybe it was just me, but I was amazed pre-GFC at how many employers were complaining about skill shortage and their struggles to find candidates, talking about their employer branding and employer of choice strategies, but who were still using the approaches and technologies they used when labour was plentiful…and not noticing the contradiction….

12 May 2009 8:17am

Corporate career sites should be customised to their target audience and manage candidates’ job expectations, according to technology and HR expert Gerry Crispin.

Too often, they fail to engage candidates in ways that influence their career decisions and only very rarely do they let candidates know what to expect during the recruitment process, he says.

Crispin told last week’s Australasian Talent Conference that career sites should:
be customised to your target audience – know who you want to hire and tailor your content and design to those people. To engage people, they should recognise “people like me”;

cross-link to other platforms – have a Facebook page, for example, that scrolls your hot jobs;

demonstrate a sense of urgency – have a chat room where potential candidates can ask live questions;

omit static information and diagrams of ‘career ladders’ – “it gives the wrong message”;

offer a user guide – “If you’re interested in doing this, go here, or if you just want more information about us, go here”;

increase the transparency of the application process – offer “clear data about how you hire people and what the process is”. Explain how frequently you have jobs open and what they are;

detail your community involvement – “what are you dealing with in terms of sustainability? People make decisions based on that”;

manage job expectations – “ask key questions of employees that get deep into core values of your company, such as how they excel in terms of performance, and how they innovate in terms of products”, and post videos of their answers. The messages on the site must be aligned with the reality or people won’t stay;

tie in self assessments – more employers are doing this, but the next step is to share the data with applicants. “Both the organisation and [the applicant] should know whether [they] should go forward; and

respect candidates – “acknowledge every action”. Disclose what comes next in the process; promise to protect applicants’ data; offer them status updates and explain why they weren’t selected.
“Most companies are not here yet,” Crispin says, “but you see pieces of it being built in the most competitive organisations”.

Eric Johnston
May 4, 2009 – 12:39PM

A keen user of technology, ANZ’s Australian boss Brian Hartzer this morning used his Twitter internet site to tell staff his resignation from the bank.

”Folks this is my last tweet as I’ve resigned to pursue an overseas opportunity. Thanks for your continued support for ANZ,” Mr Hartzer said to his 383 followers in update known as a ”Tweet”.

The 42 year old was not specific about his plans. No further details were immediately available.

The exit of Mr Hartzer represents a major setback for ANZ chief executive Mike Smith who had been happy to focus on building the bank’s Asian ambitions while allowing the well-regarded executive run the bank’s Australian retail business.

The move also took the bank by surprise given it had scheduled investor meetings with Mr Hartzer as recently as last week.

ANZ confirmed the exit of Mr Hartzer this morning in a statement saying he was leaving to pursue a career in international banking.

The bank has appointed the head of the bank’s New Zealand business Graham Hodges to step in to Mr Hartzer’s role in an acting capacity while the bank seeks a full time replacement.

Mr Smith said Mr Hartzer had transformed ANZ into a retail banking force in Australia with leading levels of customer satisfaction and staff engagement, and a reinvigorated brand.

Mr Hartzer was one of the front-runners to be appointed chief executive officer of ANZ in late 2007, but was passed over for Mr Smith – a top ranked HSBC executive.

The US-born, Mr Hartzer was first appointed at the head of ANZ’s retail business in May 2004. There he was known for delivering fast growth in profits as he overhauled the bank’s customer service to make it more friendly to customers.

He has been with the bank since 1996, following a stint as a management consultant with First Manhattan.

In other tweets, Mr Hartzer outlined the demands executive life, expressing “relief” after the bank delivered its interim results last week.

On April 23 he posted an entry ”Juggling day today. Email, family/kids, GFC!. Wish the weather were better’!”

01 May 2009 6:03am

Despite starting out in the “poor cousin” sector of recruitment, Metier director Sally Paris now gives advice to top-level executives and says more recruiters should take an interest in broader business issues to better assist their clients.

Like many consultants, Paris “fell into” recruitment when, more than 10 years ago, she found herself seeking the services of an agency and ended up convincing the manager she could do a better job than its consultants.

Since then she has worked her way up to a general manager role at Julia Ross before deciding to start her own business with partner Neale Bettman in 2006. At office support specialist Metier, she manages a team of eight and continues to run her own desk looking after Metier’s top clients.

Paris says that as a small company without a huge marketing budget, Metier had to rely on the reputation she has built in the industry and carve out a niche via referrals from her clients – largely ASX100 executives, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals.

“A lot of my clients sit across different boards, charities, etc, and they often talk about their EAs and if they like them and don’t like them, and my name comes into the equation because I have changed their lives by finding them great people.”

The personality of a candidate can be much more important in an EA role than many others, she notes, because they have to work closely and in a more personal way with their boss. The difficulty of making this match is often compounded by the fact that HR usually shields top-level executives from recruiters, but she demands some face-to-face time before embarking on any assignment.

“I don’t work with anyone unless I’ve met them face-to-face. Even if they are someone who is travelling globally and only has 10 minutes to meet, that’s going to ensure the match of the assistant.”

One-on-one meetings also identify issues that HR departments often aren’t aware of, she says. “In one instance last year I met with a well known, highly regarded property identity. He couldn’t understand why he’d gone through so many EAs in the last 18 months, but [working it out] was just a matter of sitting down with him. He worked in the overseas markets and had a lot of success with EAs who he had long-term relationships with, but it came down to the fact that he wasn’t paying enough salary for what he expected, and the qualifications he needed from an EA. [He didn’t know this because] his HR people were guarding him from meeting with agencies.”

Take an interest in business
When dealing with clients at this level, Paris says, it’s vital to have some business nous yourself and a strong understanding of what your clients do.

Office support is generally seen as “the poor cousin” in recruitment because of its high proportion of junior consultants, she notes, but to succeed in this sector consultants must take a genuine interest in business issues and stay up-to-date by keeping an eye on the stock market, and reading business news. The level of knowledge and business savvy required for successful EA recruiters takes some time to acquire, she says, and “that level of interest or consultant approach just doesn’t happen as much these days”.

Often, she says, “[consultants] come straight out of business college and when entrusted to recruit for an MD’s EA they just can’t understand what these guys do on a day-to-day basis.”

The most successful office support recruiters, she says, meet with executives to understand “their business, their schedule and what they do, so we can explain the position up front to the EA – a HR person who doesn’t work one-to-one with the executive can’t describe that”.

Among the challenges of EA recruitment are that executives can be difficult for assistants to get along with, and because EAs don’t necessarily require a specific set of qualifications, the success of a placement hinges on the personality fit, she says.

Paris consults to clients by recommending ways that they can help assess whether an EA is the right match. “I suggest tips, such as getting the EA at the end of the interview to compose a business letter, because that’s the only way that they’re going to see how they react on the spot.”

She also recommends that executives schedule a five- or 10-minute meeting throughout the day when they update the EA “on where they’re at and what really is important – those little things really make a difference.”

Responding to the GFC
Paris is aware she started her company in a more buoyant economy, but says that while some business plans have changed, “irrespective, recruitment methodologies stay the same.

“A focus on core business is key. We don’t try and be all things to all people but we’re seeing a lot of non-traditional office support players trying to encroach on our market segment and that’s obviously difficult for us as a business. At the end of the day those other businesses’ brands are going to be diluted. Candidates they don’t place are going to be disillusioned. Although this is a large industry, it’s small at same time and people talk – service is key.”

Staying true to a brand, and resisting the temptation to branch into other areas can be hard in this market, she says.

She points out that a long-term client who, due to the downturn, hadn’t been able to give the company much work lately asked if it would recruit outside of its speciality – a clinical manager position – but Paris turned the role down. “We said no to that because we didn’t have expertise in the office to understand exactly what that client wanted, nor a pool of candidates ready to go. You may be able to list an ad, [but] … out of 10 people you’ve spoken to and interviewed, only one of them’s going to get the job and you’re not going to be able to place [the rest], and I think that can get frustrating for the candidates.”

Focusing efforts on the likelier wins is a strategy that flows through to other areas of the business. Despite being a small company, Metier has won several preferred supplier contracts with ASX 100 companies, but Paris says she only tenders when she knows the company has already proven itself to the client.

“I don’t think any agencies ever really win PSAs or normal business agreements unless they’ve demonstrated a track record with that client.”

Time-poor consultants can’t neglect candidates
Among the core tenets of the business are the need to “treat others as you would yourselves – little things that may seem a bit idealistic or old fashioned”, Paris says.

“We’re seeing a lot of candidates being treated poorly in the market because agencies are time-robbed of their core duties with the influx of candidates… so it’s about doing things that people remember. We have to take time out; more than ever we have to become the counsellors in our industry because there are people turning up on our door who’ve been made redundant, they might be in tears. We can’t turn those people away even if we’re in a staff meeting or were really busy; we have to pull out all stops.

“If you have a difficult person on the phone, they might not be someone that we can necessarily help but take a deep breath and think, ‘what would I be doing if I were in their shoes, how would I like to be treated?'”

The recruiters who survive and thrive through the downturn, she says, will be the ones who love recruitment and love people. “This market can get anyone down – can get really good recruiters down – but you can’t mope around, you’re only one person; you’re not going to change what’s happening in the global economy just on your own, so you have to adjust to the circumstances and fire up. And you can be successful in good times and bad times, I firmly believe that.”

If you’re not seeing success at the moment, “take stock – listen to your peers, watch what goes around your office and take your time with things”, she advises. “The little things that make a difference are getting back to people, being honest with clients, and being honest with candidates. Nothing that I say is rocket science, it’s all the same principles that are tried and tested in the industry.”

28 April 2009 8:06am

“New entrant” airlines investing heavily in employee development and resisting the urge to “slash and burn” their workforce during economic slumps are outperforming the industry giants, says a new book on the flight trade.

Airlines with the highest labour costs have some of the lowest total costs, say Monash University’s Professor Greg Bamber and North American business academics Jody Hoffer Gittell, Thomas Kochan and Andrew von Nordenflycht in Up in the Air: How Airlines Can Improve Performance by Engaging Their Employees (Cornell University Press ISBN 9780801447471).

They seek to cut expenditure through “underlying process improvements” and building employee commitment rather than “adopting a narrower focus” on reducing staff numbers.

Employee morale within the airline industry is at a next-to-all-time low, the authors say. In 2007, a survey revealed that only 25 per cent of pilots and flight attendants believed that morale in the industry was high, compared to more than 60 per cent just seven years before.

Regular lay-offs over that period have led to increasing cynicism among employees regarding airline management, the authors say. (Just two weeks ago Qantas announced plans to shed 1,750 fulltime-equivalent positions.)

Low morale often results in poor quality service – alienating many customers – and a spike in flight cancellations as disgruntled employees begin “working to rule” (contributing the bare minimum) and declining overtime assignments.

“Labour cost reductions may have been a necessary condition for survival at some airlines,” the authors say, “but they are far from sufficient for fostering a return to sustained profitability.

“[They] can even be counter-productive when they are carried out in a way that allows total costs to grow and service quality to decline. When service quality declines, costs can rise even further due to the costs of service recovery.”

Case Study
Southwest Airlines entered the US market in 1971, and – in what the authors describe as an “unusual feat” in the deregulated industry – has been profitable every year (but its first) since.

Southwest’s initial competitive strategy was based on the rapid turnaround of aircraft between flights, which required “high levels of coordination” across all elements of the business.

According to the authors, the airline is characterised by “frequent, timely problem-solving communication between functions” attributable to HR practices focussing on “building shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect”.

Southwest’s strategies include:
a hiring process that seeks to identify candidates “with an awareness of other people and a respect for their work”, as well as a willingness to go above and beyond their specialisation;

a training process that builds on this foundation. Employees receive on-the-job training by a coordinator who explains not only the tasks to be performed but how these tasks impact other functions;

job descriptions that outline specialist tasks but encourage flexibility, with broader language such as, “whatever else is needed to ensure a successful operation”;

a high supervisor-to-employee ratio, enabling leaders to actively engage in coaching, respond to feedback and relieve workloads at peak times;

performance management that focuses on problem solving rather than the assignment of blame. Southwest also uses conflict resolution to build a shared understanding of work processes across different functions;

a work/family balance policy aimed at encouraging workers to have fun – because if they are “there is a good chance they are doing well” – and to take time off to “renew themselves” and maintain their family and community commitments;

trade union partnerships. Southwest is the most highly unionised airline in the US, but has one of the lowest conflict levels in the industry, and has only suffered one strike in its history; and
job security. The airline has avoided lay-offs during downturns, the post-9/11 crisis and in the face of customer-service automation.

According to Southwest co-founder and former CEO, Herb Kelleher, “nothing kills your culture like lay-offs”.

“Nobody has ever been furloughed at Southwest,” he says. “It’s been a huge strength of ours… Not furloughing people breeds loyalty. It breeds a sense of security. It breeds trust.”
In Australia

According to the authors of Up in the Air, Virgin Blue Australia has for the most part followed the Southwest model.

It seeks to achieve cost savings primarily through efficient work practices rather than reducing pay and benefits or by sacking the workers it has “invested its resources” in, they say.

It looks for candidates with “flair”, aims at developing a happy, motivated and committed workforce and encourages flexibility.

Virgin Blue experienced growth rates of up to 200 per cent in its first five years (after it entered the market in 2000), and maintains “unit” costs that are approximately 35 per cent lower than Qantas’s.

Its operational reliability and on-time performance are also consistently higher than that of Qantas, the authors say.

6:13 PM Wednesday February 4, 2009

Tags:Communication, Getting buy-in, Personal effectiveness

Managers of the last century, gave speeches, then had their assistants send snail mail letters with the text, and maybe followed up by a phone call to see if it was received.

Managers of the 21st century send an email and think they’ve taken care of everything. Message received. Action underway. Done deal.


In my experience, people don’t “get” the important messages leaders try to send the first time around. This isn’t intentional, but there’s too much noise and too many distractions. And leaders with a lot of ideas find that people wait to see which ones take priority, which ones will be acted on, and which ones the leader really cares about.

I also find that people don’t automatically read all of their emails or download attachments. They read the subject line to see if they should. If the subject line is blank, there’s a risk that the message will be missed. (I now try to stuff the gist of the message in the subject line.)

Furthermore, even if people hear something once, they don’t necessarily remember that they did. Busy people with multiple projects might forget that something has already been discussed and raise it again at a meeting. Leaders cannot assume that just because it has been said, it has been heard.

So use the principle of redundancy. If the message is very important, send it through multiple media, in various forms, and do it a few times. It seems annoying, I know, but the delete key is so easy to use. I never mind a polite follow up (after a little time has passed), especially if it is easy to respond.

As for speeches, make those headlines dramatic, repeat them several times, and keep the theme going in the next few speeches.

I don’t think redundancy is waste; I think it provides focus. If you want everyone to be on the same page, put the page in front of them conveniently and often.