HR reflections on Tony Abbott’s move to the backbench

by John Maguire13 Oct 2015
Yesterday, the ABC reported that Tony Abbott was due to sit on Parliament’s backbenches for the first time in two decades.

While an overthrown CEO is unlikely to return to a company in a junior role, employees can sometimes opt to take a step towards a position with fewer responsibilities.

So what can HR do to help introduce said employee back into the workforce? HC sat down with Martin Nally, founder and managing director of hranywhere, about assisting with the process.

“A lot of us would think that so-called demotion doesn’t work, and in a lot of cases it doesn’t – but we have to revisit that,” Nally told HC.

“There’s a lot of expertise in our workforce that we effectively don’t utilise.”

Harvesting experience

“Tony Abbott did a lot of heavy lifting for this government, and now that he is unpopular he has had to move on – but that doesn’t mean he will automatically lose the insights that got him to the top job in the first place,” Nally said.

He added that HR should draw on the life experience of workers who step down by finding an ongoing role suitable to their skillset – this won’t necessarily be at the top level, but they could make good coaches, experts, masters, or mentors.

“The role of HR is not to adopt a ‘scrapheap’ mentality, but to recraft roles,” Nally said. “This technique could also be useful for transitioning to retirement.”

He also advised HR to bear in mind that stepping into a more junior role will be the best option for some employees, and they should not be pushed to move upwards.

“It’s the employee’s choice if they want to stay in a more junior role,” Nally said. “For some people the situation suits them better.”

High potential vs high skill

Nally elaborated that there are many people “who have not been successful in attaining their career goal” – but this doesn’t mean that they’re now useless.

According to Nally, there is a distinction between ‘high performance’ employees and ‘high potential’ workers who are on a career path that needs to be kept in mind when an employee effectively takes a step backwards.

“Organisations always devise plans for high-flying roles, but what happens is that they sometimes miss out on hidden talent,” he told HC.

“A lot of people who are maybe not on a career path are masters at what they do.”

Nally explained that succession plans are typically only focused upon emerging leaders and those on fast-tracked career plans – but they can be used for other employees, too.

“If we recraft these and consider advancement planning rather than succession planning, we can fill talent gaps across an array of roles,” he said.

“People with an abundance of experience have a strong ability to focus narrowly and deeply on specific skills an organisation needs.

“Strong skillsets are present in employees who have been with the organisation for a long time. They might not necessarily be the next CEO – or in the case, the next prime minister – but they really are a reliable source of knowledge.”

He added that employees who fall into this category have a strong sense of what does and doesn’t work at the organisation – but employers tend to disregard them due to a belief that that they lack experience with innovation.

Facilitating leaders

“This is not an HR issue – it’s a leader issue that HR can facilitate,” Nally told HC.

“The leader in my view has to make a decision – they have to ask whether they can work with this person, and if they can recreate a role for them that is going to add value without undermining the leader’s new direction,” he said.

He added that if a new leader comes into an organisation with a fresh view, these skills and experiences can be vital to maintaining the company’s successes.

Key components

According to Nally, most ‘amazing’ organisations have four key components: a strong vision, role clarity, diversity of skills and experience, and excellent communications.

“If Turnbull can rely on Abbott’s skills to add diversity, he can get a breakthrough performance,” he continued.

He said that recrafting a junior role to suit an experienced employee has the potential to be mutually beneficial – as long as the role is crafted with careful consideration.

“Make it clear what you want them to do,” Nally explained.

“For example, if you want them to be the go-to person for a certain level of expertise, make sure that this is clarified from the offset. Remember to focus on a single-minded approach.”

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