Want productive and engaged staff? Treat them like adults – Part 2

In the previous article (Read Part 1), we revealed how our approach to policy development and content, could be contributing to low levels of trust, resulting in a disengaged workforce. We also talked about questions you should consider before developing or reviewing policies.

In “Part 2”, we will focus on a few of the regular people management practices we all must tackle in our businesses: induction, performance management, rewards and leadership development.

The call-out to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to people management continues in this article. People are complex and what motivates them is unique to each person.


The hours and hours I’ve put into running induction programs to glassy-eyed new recruits, oh how I wish I could get those hours back! Regardless of the content or the format, the approach is almost always about us telling them what is expected of them. Usually all in a rush when they first start.

There are some things that as business owners/managers we need to cover to meet our legislative obligations. Other than that, you can be as creative as you like in forming a value-adding and engaging on-boarding experience for your staff. Why not start with your most recent recruits and ask them what would have been helpful to know when they started? Can we use this opportunity to get to the know the new starter better? Finding their strengths and gaps, to not just tailor the induction to their needs, but to start a mutual relationship, rather than telling them the do’s and don’ts? Does the induction need to be all done at once or can it be set up to be accessed when the staff member needs it?

Performance Management

For several years, I have been trying to steer managers and businesses towards outcomes based position descriptions. We do away with the long lists of duties and responsibilities and focus on what outcomes we need to see for the staff member to be considered successful in the role.

The next step then is to manage the outputs, not inputs. You agree on what the outcome will look like, then leave it up to them to figure out how they will achieve it. One company we are currently working with has successfully implemented this approach. The Director described a role he wants to fill as having two main objectives. There is a lot of detail that goes into achieving those objectives, but the Director doesn’t need to know how the employee does it or what hours they are sitting at their desk. He encourages them to come to him when things are going off track, otherwise if they achieve those two objectives he is happy. 100% autonomy, 100% accountability.


Research results have consistently delivered the same message for many years, money does not buy engagement. If you are navigating your way through a structure that includes a base pay plus a minefield of bonuses, commissions and/or incentives, are you getting any better results? If not, maybe it’s time to stop. Money is important, so we need to pay people a decent base pay, but then do away with the rest.

What staff want are personalised rewards for good results and consequences for poor results. Staff need to know that what they are doing is making a difference and contributing to the success of the team and the business. They need their efforts to be recognised in the moment (not at an annual review) and often in small ways. They key is the reward needs to be personalised to them, what do they want? A thank you note, a longer lunchbreak, a movie voucher, a book from their favourite author? If you can’t come up with a way that a staff member is contributing to the success of your business, then you need to ask yourself if you still need that person or position?

Leadership Development

It’s time to be blunt. The biggest organisational cause of disengagement and staff turnover is incompetent leadership. Leadership development is in the top three requests we get for HR support from businesses. Most often it is the line managers who are identified as needing the most development and they are the ones who work closest with your staff.

I’ve sat in and run some great leadership development programs. Usually we develop a leadership competency model; get everyone together for 1, 2 even 8 days; do some role-playing, read case studies, and share ideas. Even the best programs, I’ve only ever observed some uplift in some areas by some managers. At the end of the day the impact is usually minimal.

Being a good leader, or even an average leader, is both an art and a science. It’s not a linear process where you learn a skill, use the skill. The things you learnt in the training program might not need to be put into practice for months, even years. Therefore, leadership development needs to be timely. Leaders need to be responsible for their own development, in the format they need, at the time they need it. We need to create a continuous learning environment by having the resources ready and accessible when they need it. I have found a balance towards more coaching and mentoring and less towards training programs to be the most effective.

In Part 3 (the last of this series), we will explore the behaviours we encourage in our staff and exhibit as leaders, which could be harming productivity.



Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.


Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.

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