Case study: Increased accountability boosts sales and morale

Submitted on Mon 18 Jun 2012

In order to turn a good company into a great company, business leaders must be prepared to relinquish control, leave their egos at the door, and share their mistakes as well as their successes, says TRC Group director Simon Moss. A few years back, morale at TRC Group, a recruitment company that services Australia and the Asia Pacific region, was low.

"Recruitment is a difficult role it's a hard job to do," Moss says. "We found that we were spending a lot of time, energy and resources trying to motivate people. [But] we weren't enjoying it [and] they weren't enjoying it.

"We had this vision that we wanted to become more than just a recruitment company we wanted to become a great company and we realised that the only way we were going to do that was to get the most out of the people we had, and be in a position to hire the best people in the market."

"You can set loads and loads of really tough KPIs for people and drive people, but you can't make people do what they don't want to do. What we wanted to do, was make people want to do it, and then they would drive themselves."

The next step was a phase of goal and vision setting with staff.

"We found that most companies particularly recruitment companies we'd worked for in the past, their purpose for existing was making money... We wanted people to feel part of something bigger than that. Instead of focusing on a shortterm monetary goal, the discussion focused on what people wanted the company to look like in 10 years, and how to get there."

 Transparent accountability

One of the key strategies developed centred around increased accountability for all staff. "We wanted everyone in the company, regardless of position, to know exactly how what they did on a daytoday [and] annual basis [contributed] to the same goal. And we took that one step further, because we wanted to measure this," Moss says.

"It's all very well saying, 'You need to sell loads of stuff', or 'Our customers need to be impressed when they walk into the office' it needed to be measurable."

The result was new position agreements and accountabilities for every role in the company viewable by all staff and "absolute guidelines" as to what constituted under performance, good performance, and promotionlevel performance.

"We wanted people to know what they had to do to get promoted, and we didn't want that to be something they had to ask for, it was just, 'You do this, you get promoted'."The category of "good performance" for employees who are performing, but not necessarily striving for promotion is one that is missing from a lot of companies, Moss says.

"There are times in your life when you just want to come into work, do your role and go home, and know that you're doing well and nobody's thinking, 'This guy's not doing what he's supposed to be doing'."

As for employees who are underperforming, the options are to lift your game, be moved into a new role, or leave.

"We've had a lot of successes with people who weren't performing in a particular role who we knew were good, who we actually moved to alternative positions based on their strengths and traits, and are now performing exceptionally well."

Getting staff excited about the company's direction and making them understand the part they play "does push quite a lot back on them", Moss says.

"Obviously people still need motivating [and] to feel that they're appreciated, but there is more emphasis on them... And in a rocky market, that can be quite a powerful thing." 

Meetings: very structured, very quick

Moss says that one thing he learned early on was that meetings are "absolutely critical" for maintaining accountability, but if done badly, they're "a disaster".

These days, the whole staff team meets every morning so each person can share their focus for the day with the team. For example, "I'm revamping our interview process and today my focus is to get four questions for a particular competency written up and approved."

By 9.15am, information has been dispersed up and down the company, Moss says. The meetings are "very structured and very quick". Different teams sit together, the leader of the team sits with their managers, and their managers sit with the director. Any comment that exceeds 30 seconds is "taken off line" and followed up later in a more detailed discussion.

New roles all round

The new system "makes a lot of things more formal, and it's harder for people to hide", Moss says. "There was an inevitable process where people left people weren't comfortable with

the level of change happening; people weren't able to hide when they previously were.

"In fact, in the course of a 12month period from when we first seriously started this project, every single person at the end of the year was in a different role to what they were in at the start of the year.

"I changed my role; the other directors changed their roles, receptionists became consultants the whole company changed structure and that included a number of people leaving and a number of new people coming in.

"It was absolutely terrifying, but it was phenomenal. We had people in roles they'd never done before, but all of them have done exceptionally well... The whole process was really about figuring out where people fit, where they could perform really well, and just creating those opportunities for them."

Moss adds that if he had his time again, he would move the people who weren't "on board" out earlier.

"I think life's too short to push stuff uphill, if someone's not on board... you give it a go. If it doesn't work, it's probably not the company for them."

The 'BenHur'of interview processes

Another major strategy was to completely revamp the hiring process for new employees, which resulted in the "BenHur" of interview processes.

"It's very thorough," Moss says of the process, which takes 10 to 12 hours per candidate in order to separate the "good" from the "great".

"The director who's been driving all of this [is] 100 per cent committed to building that great workforce," he says.

When an urgent role needs filling, and others urge him to hire someone who's good, he'll say, "No, we'll hold out until we get that great person".

"Every time it's been worth the wait," Moss says. Another change to the hiring process has been a move away from decisions based on "gut feel" and past performance.

"What we found is we were hiring people who may be performing in other companies, who didn't work in this environment. We're now looking at people based on merit... the interview process we have is phenomenal on identifying potential, merit and resourcefulness."

In addition to measures of success such as sales versus spend on incentives, the company's performance in a recent BRW survey, aimed at identifying the top 50 places to work in 2012, was "phenomenal", Moss says. (The BRW list will be announced on 20 June.) TRC scored between 98 and 100 per cent in all but three areas. The three weaker areas, which received scores in the 80s, had already been identified by the company and were being addressed, Moss says.