We chat with the AHRI Northern Territory state president Amanda-Lea Smith CAHRI on the importance of employee engagement.
How did you start out in HR?
By taking opportunities as they arose. As my husband was in the Australian Army at the time, relocation was a way of life; and the impact to me was a regular change of employers and role type. In 2004, I joined Mars Australia, supporting the management team of its Asia Pacific IT Division. I had become restless in support roles and was looking to make a bigger contribution, and I wanted opportunities to make a difference through my work. While at Mars, an HR support role presented itself that allowed me to leverage my existing skills and build new skills. It quickly broadened out to include employee relations and HR advisory activities. Around a year later, a further opportunity presented itself to lead the shared-services HR team, which included providing support services for recruitment, employee engagement, learning and development, policy and practice, and remuneration and benefits.
Tell us about the work you do at TIO
TIO is an insurance and banking organisation, located in the Northern Territory. My role is general manager, sales and people. I’ve only come to the sales role in the past 12 months, and it has been a fantastic opportunity and a learning curve. One of the biggest challenges of operating a head office from NT is access to people capability. Building and retaining people capability forms one of TIO’s core strategies. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside a very proactive CEO, Richard Harding, who understands the leverage the right culture can provide an organisation. His support has enabled the level of focus needed to implement a range of HR frameworks and programs. What has been a critical focus in that journey is building leaders who are technically strong and can coach and develop others. Our retention of talent has increased significantly as compared with five years ago, our internal promotions and transfers are at record high levels, and our employee engagement levels shifted in the last surveyed 12-month period by 20 percentage points. Most importantly, our people tell us it feels different as compared with five years ago to work with us now – it feels like a great place to work where you can grow a career.
What do you feel are the best ways to improve employee engagement?
Build trust. When trust is missing you are unable to get a foothold on employee engagement. To build trust within the group, they need to recognise and understand what you stand for – as an organisation, as a leadership team, as a line manager. Then be consistent in what you say and what you do.
Why is it important for employees to have a say?
For me this is twofold. One is about creating an environment where employee engagement is fostered; and the other is about managing innovation and improvement opportunities, as well as organisational risk. Employee engagement is largely a result of people feeling like they have an opportunity to make a difference in their role. The ability to express their opinion, feel like they have been heard and feel that there was consideration given to a view is extremely powerful in achieving that. It means that people are involved and more likely to understand how potential change impacts them. The other reason for me is keeping idea generation high and organisational risk low. The best ideas for innovation and improvement come from those on the front-line. In an organisation that doesn’t encourage employees to express their opinion, there is every chance you will miss the best opportunities for taking the organisation forward. From a risk perspective, a culture where individuals are shut down puts the organisation at risk of potentially experiencing critical failures simply by people not feeling safe to speak up when they have identified a concern.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
I can still hear it ringing in my ears: “If you want to make a difference, then simply act and influence others who already hold the position that you believe will influence that outcome. The rest will follow.”