Time to get a head start on staff churn

By Gill South

Chris Quin. Photo / Supplied
Chris Quin. Photo / Supplied

Is your company well equipped to be first out of the stocks? Are staff happy with the direction the company is taking, and do they have the training to help grow the organisation? Are leaders able to hire the people they need in the current market?

Chris Quin, chief executive of Gen-i Australasia, Telecom's ICT arm, is upbeat as the company comes to the end of its financial year and digests a recent re-organisation, resulting in a slight contracting of its 2900-strong workforce.

"With Telecom going through a potential demerger, the shape of the industry is changing and we need to be a leaner and more agile business," says Quin. While staff churn in the past few years has been a respectable 8-10 per cent, he says it has been higher in the last three months as some staff have left for Australia and the re-organisation has caused natural attrition.

The company is continuing to hire. "We would have 80 senior roles in recruitment most of the time."
Two years ago, in the middle of recession, Quin froze executive salaries.

But annual reviews are now being negotiated and there will be salary increases relative to what is happening in the market, he says.

The recession, if it is defined by businesses deciding not to do anything, is over, says Quin. Gen-i's 3500 Australasian business customers, if given a clear strategy, are making decisions once more. "People are much more outcome focused," he says.

A company initiative which has helped staff retention is the tertiary-certified academy, which gives sales and service staff tertiary qualifications for their experience and learning. There is a graduation ceremony at the annual sales conference.

"It's a big deal," says Quin, who can't believe universities don't offer degrees in sales. "The proposition that we try and focus on with the staff is about reward, challenge and development. You have to have your remuneration right, but reward is also about recognition."

Quality of work is also important to ambitious workers and their sense of engagement. "We get to have our staff work on some of the sexier stuff in the market. They work on new data centres for banks, they are very deeply engaged in our clients' businesses."

Auction and classifieds website Trade Me is likely to be competing with Gen-i for its technology team.

Trade Me CEO Jon Macdonald says the business is "picky" about who it recruits and has to be proactive in hiring skilled ex-pat and international workers.

Macdonald says his workforce of 200 is growing in three areas. "We are looking to increase the technology team so we can continue to innovate and build new things more quickly; we are increasing the customer support team, and [sales staff] for Treat Me, the group buying site.

"We can offer other opportunities because we are still growing. We think a lot about our staff and what we can do to provide a good workplace."

The company is not using the 90-day trial period for new employees. "Often people are leaving good jobs to come and work for Trade Me. We are confident enough to identify the right people," says Macdonald.

KiwiSaver take-up at the company is muted. "Even with the more recent tax changes it's still a great deal for employees," says Macdonald.

Trade Me employees will have salary reviews as usual this year. "There's no change. We deal with that on an individual basis." Staff salaries are reviewed on the date of their anniversary of joining Trade Me or if they are moving into a new role.

"We are still small enough that we can think carefully about the individual and the value they bring to the company," says Macdonald.

Meanwhile, accountancy firm Deloitte is reporting a recent surge in business activity, an indicator of the economy. "We are optimistic across most aspects of the business in which we operate," says CEO Murray Jack.

"We are certainly seeing an increase in economic activity over the last couple of months," says Jack. The firm has had an increase in mergers and acquisitions and "a lot of companies are dusting off projects which they had deferred".

Deloitte staff levels, in the several hundreds, have not changed in the last year, says Jack. "We have a fairly flexible workforce and, faced with demand in these areas, we reallocate resources where appropriate."

The professional partnership is looking to fill more than 40 positions around the country. The majority of these new hires will be experienced mid-level accountants.

At its annual performance and pay reviews "we look after the higher performers," says Jack. "We work hard to create a very positive environment. Most of our people will progress fairly rapidly ... Their future prospects are a significant part of the motivation."

The firm reports a relatively high take-up of KiwiSaver. At the moment it is 60 per cent, with a higher percentage of younger people opting in.

The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit in the New Zealand economy. Successful fashion retailer Annah Stretton with 27 stores in New Zealand and two in Australia, has 160 staff. She also has conference and publishing divisions.

The designer says her June-July period, always a tough time of year, is 20 per cent up on last year. "Earlier in the year we had huge returns, we were 50-60 per cent up," says Stretton.

Stretton has had to think laterally in the last year to find the right staff. "Great retail girls are so thin on the ground. It is such a gift to sell well," she says. The CEO has persuaded four talented former Annah Stretton saleswomen to come back into the fold.

"It was about saying, 'Where are these superstars? Why not go back to them?' ...
Where a girl is a large contributor, I'm looking for ways to reward her," she says.

Stretton has made some big recruitment decisions this year, bringing in a new layer of senior management at the advice of her independent board, which includes Barker's director Sue Suckling and Trilogy founder Sarah Gibbs. Stretton now has a chief financial officer, a head of HR and an events manager, among others.

"The recruitment of an HR head will be hugely helpful - as a company we've not been good at performance reviews," she says.

"It's taken a big bite into the bottom line, they all came in on six-figure salaries. It's scary, but I've got to start to make these changes."

Staff have taken to KiwiSaver, she says. Take-up has gone up to about 70 per cent from 50 per cent.

Stretton is not using the option for a 90-day trial period for new staff. It suggests that you are recruiting someone on the basis that they will fail, she says.

- NZ Herald

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