It’s no surprise that against a global background of political, economic and societal change, we’re noticing increasing levels of disengagement in business – between employer, employee, clients, service providers and so on. The ‘stuff’ keeps happening and the goal posts seem to keep moving. Is it any wonder that many of us are feeling a tad disengaged, uncertain of the path ahead and a little stressed?

We notice it every day in the advice firms we work with. It’s not something new (and it certainly doesn’t indicate a failing) and it’s something that most of these firms are working hard at overcoming.
According to the most recent Business Health analysis, the average Australian advice practice employs 6 staff (including 2 advisers), has a sole working owner, serves around 500 clients and is currently juggling relationships with multiple manufacturers and service providers (many of whom are facing similar challenges of their own). As I said, a tough gig at the best of times and one in which ‘dis-engagement’ remains a perennial threat.

Here’s what some of our clients are doing to address potential dis-engagement in their business;

1. First up – these owners are both optimistic and pragmatic, they fully appreciate the impact of working remotely (home) and the trend toward hybrid (requiring staff to at least work from the office for a number of days).
Returning to the office is causing stress for many – for the employees who feel they have lost something they really value (flexibility, life balance) and gained higher commute costs. While for the employer itself, it’s desire to require more office attendance is causing some concern through staff resentment, push back and in some situations, staff leaving.
And, as much as they can, they try to do practical things to alleviate these stress points. For example:

  • ­They have determined their remote working policy and communicated it to staff, clients, alliance partners, recruiters – anyone who connects to their business.
  • They keep abreast of the latest remuneration and employment trends.
  • ­They proactively check in with staff – ad hoc ‘How’s things? How are you going?’, unstructured and personal (if possible, in-person).
  • ­Complementing the ‘How’s things?’ calls, these principals look to keep on top through staff feedback surveys, conducted independently, anonymous and confidential is best. In doing so, they have signalled their desire to listen, accept and act as required.
  • ­For them – ‘remote’ doesn’t mean ‘disconnected’.

2. People management 101 is applied consistently for every staff member who, as a result, has an up-to-date job description, supported by a clearly defined set of objectives (measurable, achievable, reasonable) and whose performance is reviewed and appraised at least once every 12 months.

3. These firms have documented their key systems and processes which, as a consequence, allows the owners to objectively assess productivity and overall performance of each staff person in a way that is measurable, reasonable and achievable. Irrespective of where they’re working from.

4. Communication has become one of the key weapons in their armoury for engagement. Self-evident we know, but communication really works – as long as its frequent, meaningful and personal. Apart from the regular team work-in-progress style meetings, the owner looks to reference the bigger picture by providing ‘state of the nation’ updates (involving all staff) at least once a year (six monthly is better) to share progress to the business goals. In doing so, they have recognized that there’s less stress in knowing, not assuming. And the tone of their conversation is positive, uplifting and collaborative. Their glass is invariably half-full.

5. The owner strives to incorporate into these meetings the positives and wins – opening with something that went well and calling out specific examples of the good work being done by team members. This is also a good place for them to recognise team anniversaries, achievements and client kudos.

6. It’s better to work in a happy, fun environment, right? Here’s how some of our clients are going the extra mile to recognise and engage with their people:

  • Allow staff to bring their pets into the office.
  • Offer subsidised fitness/gym memberships and health programs.
  • Recognition of outstanding work/achievement (ie. gift cards, all expenses paid dinner, Anniversary awards of two weeks pay after five years and one month of pay every five years thereafter).
  • Support for local community causes and volunteerism. Some firms offer unlimited vacation time for charity work.
    Mobile masseurs.
  • Establish a ‘fun committee’ with allocated budget (and some ground rules) and let their people decide.

7. Rounding off our top ‘engager’ tips, for the practice owner:

  • When hiring, hire slow and hire the right person (think culture and fit not just competency).
  • Intervene quickly if you observe behaviours that don’t suit your business (culture killers, dropping standards) be ready to move fast – discuss, address and implement an acceptable solution.

I hope the above helps (with respect to The Eagles):
“Lighten up while you still can
Don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
Take it easy” – The Eagles, 1972.