The Age (online)

Human resources consultant and trainer, Jenni Pavlou, shares her small business tips.

Jenni Pavlou is a well known human resources consultant and trainer, and co-founded Brainwave HR with partner Nic Pavlou, which operates through a virtual office of eight consultants.

Their clients typically range in size from five to 120 staff; half of their clients are companies in the ITC sector with projects coming from manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, real estate and hospitality.

Brainwave HR’s main focus is management coaching; help on hiring, terminations and provision of employee job descriptions and performance indicators; and HR policy manuals, including occupational health and safety.

The business has grown over eight years, and doubled in revenue this year.

New employment laws come into force from January 1, 2010. How can SMEs prepare?

Unfair dismissal laws are part of the new employment laws facing small business. Small businesses under 100 staff have returned to the unfair dismissal laws, and have to follow a formal process, which is deemed to be fair.

I recommend employers do at least one formal warning in writing when considering a difficult employee, and have other discussions documented. You must follow up the original performance meeting.

From January 1 next year, all employees earning less than $100,000 annually, will fall under Awards. Anyone on an individual employment contract may have new terms and conditions.

You may pay them above award rates already, but you may need to review their annual leave loading, and overtime penalty rates. Don’t be certain that today’s conditions still apply. Be mindful to review your situation, because you risk back-payments. Employers haven’t totally understood this change as yet.

What’s the biggest mistake you see businesses making?

Employers are usually nice and genuine people who want the relationship to work, and often that backfires. I have a client who told a full-time employee on maternity leave, that the job would trial part-time once she returned. When it didn’t work out, there was trouble because these things need to be clearly documented, and managed well under the new laws.

When it comes to performance management, don’t let things drift. Talk about the behaviour rather than attitude. The way you deliver messages to people about performance management may potentially trip up an employer, and with the new laws, you need to be careful. A good performance appraisal system needs to be in place, and that starts from day one.

I put in place a 90-day plan for staff so they can feel part of it. When hiring, trust your gut. Some clients over-analyse and talk themselves out of hiring. If someone has 70% of skills, and fantastic people skills, then that could be better than someone with 100% technical skills who may not fit in. Have more than one person involved in the recruitment process.

What’s important in making staff happy?

Reward and recognition are so important in making people happy. Giving your employees pats on the back, and letting them know where they stand in your business is a number one priority.

Understanding an employee’s purpose is also important – are they adding value to your business? You need to help the person realise their career path, and keep them learning.

People just need to feel loved and be important.

Feedback is so important. When staff get feedback on performance and praise, they stay focused on your business. Money isn’t the key motivator unless they’re in sales. The cost to the business of a loss of staff is far higher than doing small gestures on a regular basis.

I have one client with 70 staff who has coffee each a week with a staff member, and he rotates people, so he covers off everybody over a couple of months. That’s one way to keep in touch.

The CEO in a small company, who is trusting and a visionary, will benefit because that leadership style will be influential, and everyone feels they have an opportunity.

What sort of business owner succeeds with their people?

Owners who continue to stay close to their people, and maintain the vision. They keep the dream alive, and do anything to help motivate the team. I feel fortunate working with entrepreneurs because they’re big thinkers and building businesses. Their excitement goes through the organisation and you can build the culture around that picture. It’s not hard to get people on board.

One CEO said: for every half an hour I put into a person, I get ten hours of good time back. So a lot of small conflicts can melt away.

What’s a challenging area for most bosses or owners with people management?

‘Front footing’ is part of taking people aside that are hard to get through. I may say that I feel that there’s an issue and let’s have a talk. Often, they may deny it but you have to press on.

Sometimes, you can’t open the gate but what people want is to feel wanted, needed and that they are making a difference. They want people to care and get good feedback for their performance.

How do you best manage contractors? You also need a process if they’re involved long term, but it’s not as formal as employees. It’s certainly important to make them part of the furniture. Career contractors consider themselves as business owners, and can be just as engaged, but you need to ensure they are on board. Money can be a major motivator.

In running a business, what’s a key people skill?

The ability to create a mentoring culture! Is it hard to do that? No, but you have to find that ability in the senior people because they’re the ones who do it. Sometimes, an entrepreneur in a start-up can be very right brained, and people focused. Often, they may sell that business to the left brainers, and the mentoring doesn’t continue.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned and how did it help you? The hardest lesson was not making the business about me.

In a service business, you end up being the focus, so it’s really important as early as possible to talk about the business in a collective way and offering it as a service. When you first start out, that’s tricky but you
need to move from the ‘me’ model to the ‘we’ model. If you want to scale up, then it has to be more than a one-man show.

How do you market your services? Business development is mostly through referral and now, we’ve employed someone to do it. One of our clients has been ranked in the top 10 employers, according to the BRW Magazine list this year, so I know our services can make a difference!

What’s been a major saving?

Don’t get an office if you can avoid it because it’s a huge overhead. With 20 clients, working off site and using technology makes it all possible. We are a HR department on call, and so we recruit and advise that way.

What should business owners do to skill up?

Get a mentor early on. Most older entrepreneurs love helping people, have heaps of ideas, and love to grow businesses.

They will be interested to help if you ask. You need to be passionate about your business, and not just see it as a money spinner. You have to love what you do.