Jennifer Gutwenger

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Jennifer Gutwenger is Principal Consultant at #HR and draws upon a
seasoned background and credentials in corporate HR, deep working
knowledge of best practice and an inclination to muse. She is the driver of
#HR’s game-changing service offerings and the principal generator of its
unique content and thought leadership.

Jennifer is an author at Smallville and writes for the Chamber of Commerce
and Industry QLD – platforms where top professionals share their ideas,
advice and knowledge with business owners and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Gender Equality in Recruitment and Avoiding the Merit Trap


It would be impossible, and pointless, to pick who’s smartest between the Australian Chief Executive Women - 400 of Australia’s most senior and distinguished women leaders - and the Male Champions of Change - a coalition of decent, powerful men stepping up beside women to create a more gender equal world.

Why, they’re equal in their smartness and their greatness, of course.

Between them, the members of these two initiatives hold the top CEO jobs in the country. Collaboratively, their latest dispatch firing the synapses of the business world is In the Eye of the Beholder – Avoiding The Merit Trap, a 15 page report packed full of ideas which are gaining traction everywhere – and rightly so.

When we talk about engagement in the workplace and building teams which gel and are productive, often what’s perceived to make things work well is similarity - in gender, ethnicity, taste. Such characteristics and qualities have a potential to cluster within organisations. When we recruit unconsciously, we replicate patterns over and over again.

While we might believe that we’re recruiting on merit, and not factors like gender, un-interrogated thinking limits the talent search. And our business suffers from that ‘bias of sameness’ we’ve talked about in our earlier posts.

This is the Merit Trap.

President of Chief Executive Women Diane Smith-Gander explains. ‘Too often, decision-makers think they're selecting the best person for the job on the basis of merit, but in fact they're favouring people who look like them or think like them and ignoring the organisation's future needs,’ she says. ‘When this happens, they've fallen into the merit trap.'

Elizabeth Broderick AO, former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner and founder of Male Champions of Change in 2010, says. ‘If women make up 50% of this population in Australia, indeed 60% of the most educated people, why are we not seeing them in equal proportions in organisations?  That tells me there is something other than merit operating in the environment.’

Put bluntly, as only we can, the upper echelons of our business world just might be continuing to recruit based on gender sameness. But they’re calling it merit.



Avoiding the Merit Trap means setting out deliberately to create a culture of diverse minds. Employees engage with each other not because they’re able to cluster together comfortably with people who think along the same lines as them, but because they see their business being stimulated and enhanced by others who think differently.

Hard-wiring this new thinking into our strategic planning is a big and brave step – but an essential one. It takes a collective acknowledgement at the uppermost level that future challenges might not be answered in the same way as past ones – relying on the same minds, and the same answers.



Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO of Jetstar Group is an early adopter of such thinking. ‘We make small changes to the system because no one believes it’s broken. But if we only tweak, we never get change. To move 180 degrees we have to have someone holding up the mirror at every stage of the process asking ‘why do we think that?’



The Merit Trap is usually a systemic problem, and it takes authentic and innovative leaders and innovative leaders to bring about real change. And here’s what happens. Once our business leaders are thinking about diversity as a means of keeping employees engaged, that thinking filters down through the organisation. Different viewpoints, life experiences and professional knowledge bring a bucketful of enhancement that creates – you guessed it - big impact.

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Smarter Employee Recruitment Process in 4 Easy Steps


Imagine you’re getting married. How did you ‘recruit’ your spouse?

Did you go looking for someone with a Proven Experience in Breadwinning, and a Degree in Neighbourliness with Honours in the Politics of the Bedroom?

Or did you team up organically with someone you liked? Their ideas, life experience and world view was different from your own, but something about them struck you as right. You connected. And they passed the friends test.

Okay we live in dangerous times full of tiger mothers and speed dating and some people go at marriage with a checklist and will answer yes to Option One.

Whatever you do, take a broader view when recruiting for your business.

Recruitment. That word sends shivers down the spine of many a small business owner, and an echo ricocheting through the echelons of big business.

The right recruits create the culture of your workplace, for better or worse.

It’s like a marriage. So get it right!

A survey by online job site Indeed reported that '97% of small business owners have difficulty making the right hire.’

Many employers see recruitment as a deviation from their core business. We say it goes to the heart of your brand and should be given your fullest attention.

'If you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs." - Anonymous

Outsourcing is an attractive option, but daunting once you calculate the agency fees. Although in-house recruiting costs in time, once absorbed it can be preferable to a jaw-dropping invoice.   

Those in the know use a handful of golden strategic moves.



'A clever business thinks first. It’s the only way to get value from your advertising budget.' - Jen Gutwenger, #HR

Become the candidate. Search the internet as if you’re the job seeker. Key in the job title and location, and use the data generated to kick start the process. The top search results give you the best advertising sites to use, similar vacancies, and highlight variances between your job and the rest.

How does your role or company differentiate itself? What will the best candidate be looking for? Are you offering it? And how could your job ad look and read better. 

“Write a creative, pithy, eye catching ad and you’ll get candidates to match. Write a humdrum ad and you’ll get the rest.” Fiona Stocker, Boutique Communications



Be yourself. The standout skill in recruiting is your own ability to create a comfortable environment. It gives the candidate every opportunity to be themselves and talk candidly. 

Prepare the room for a conversation, not a briefing.  Desk and chair placement is paramount - don’t sit behind a desk!

If prescribed questions are your thing, write them down and use them. But do so in a relaxed fashion and be comfortable with moments of silence. These prompt gold nugget moments – when the candidate fills the space by talking unscripted.

“Just write out some questions and ask them." One of the biggest mistakes in conducting an interview.



There are many HR and recruitment agencies offering e-books full of tips and templates for in-house recruiting and best practice principles.  

Government agencies have specific on-line resources, particularly for small businesses.

 In Australia the Fair Work Ombudsman provides many useful templates and guides for the lawful employment of staff.

The challenge is finding appropriate recruitment tools and techniques for you, closing the gap between your offering and best practice principles. Great candidates are attracted to the company which appears most professional. Don’t let them slip through the net due to simple oversights here.



Hire on merit, not technical ability - it’s a classic mistake. Anything technical can be learned – software skills, the nature of your widget manufacturing. What you’re looking for is not a background in widgets. It’s the attributes which will be a great fit with your team and bring something new and wonderful to the table. A great team player; a lateral thinker; and if it’s an executive, someone who genuinely gets on with everyone, from the shop floor to the Boardroom.

Hire on merit. That doesn’t mean someone who thinks like you. It means someone whose thinking you like. Hire the person you’d like to spend time and generate ideas with. Hire the person who speaks from the heart, to yours.


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5 Effective Communication Skills - Dealing With Difficult Conversations


Conflict is a fact of life, and it happens in every workplace. As leaders, we’re unlikely to get through day-to-day operations without the occasional tough, perhaps heated, or even hair-raising discussion with an employee or colleague.

Conflicts can manifest overnight and should be managed. Because they can escalate quickly when we don’t make the time to have those difficult conversations.

Such conversations arise for many reasons. It may be a simple matter such as leave or a pay rise request,  or more serious employee grievances or performance related issues.

No matter the nature of the issue, it’s important to deal with it straight away. Let it linger at your peril - that’s when things escalate. Going into the discussion with a careful and considered approach is wise. A difficult conversation, handled insensitively, can affect your relationship with the other party, and the wider workforce too – perhaps even your business relationships.

Fair Work Ombudsman Australia outlines the best practice steps for getting to grips with such conversations, making them easier and more constructive.  These steps provide leaders and business owners with practical guidance, and they’re designed to help us avoid potential pitfalls, oversights and general mismanagement.


Begin the meeting by stating what the issue is right away. Don’t preface the conversation with unnecessary small talk – this gives a false impression.


Stick to the facts rather than relying on opinions or hearsay. Give examples where possible. Explain how the issue is impacting on your organisation. Most importantly, focus on the issue at hand, rather than the person.


Listen to your employee. Considering their point of view is vital. There could be a range of facts or situations you don’t know about. Keeping an open mind may help you consider alternative solutions.


Be prepared for your employee to react emotionally. Consider telling them in advance that they can bring a support person to the meeting, if they want to.


Manage your own emotions as well. Stay calm and focus objectively on the issues.

The ideal outcome is an agreement, and you should aim for a mutually agreed plan. Then be consistent and have the smarts to follow through. The more resolute you are with this, the greater the probability of a successful outcome in the long term. That’s a win for everyone concerned.

There are complexities and ambiguities in every workplace. These simple strategies are designed to help you manage them. Take some time to measure your own processes against them, and tweak accordingly.

Want to mitigate conflict in the first place? Keep communication channels open. Your employees should be comfortable in discussions with you. 

It takes time, skill and effort to lead people – so be brave and have the conversations that truly matter.


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Leadership Language - 3 Powerful Words You Shouldn't Use!


Yeah, but no, but yeah, but …

Marshall Goldsmith likes practical and proven methods. He’s not a man to beat about the bush. As a world-renowned business educator and coach, Goldsmith’s singular ability to get results for top leaders has drawn over 150 CEOs and their management teams to transform their thinking and bring about deep and effective changes in their workplace – and their own behaviour.

One of his secrets? The ‘No, But, However’ theory.

Here’s what Goldsmith writes in his MG Thinkers 50 Blog. ‘An easy habit for people who like to win to fall into, and a surefire shortcut for killing conversations, is to start a sentence with “no,” “but,” or “however”. It doesn’t matter how friendly your tone is or how honey sweet you say these words, the message to your recipient is “You are wrong.”’

These three words, however you configure them, exhibit a lack of interest in exploring options and being open to the perspective of others present.

“That’s true, but I think that misses the point ...”
“Yes, but let’s remember that ….. “
“I know. However, the thinking around that has been …”
“No, that’s not what we’re talking about here …”
“Well maybe that’s the case, but if we look at past examples…..”

To Marshall, using of these words is a clear indicator of one’s leadership style. And it’s characterized by an underlying competitiveness and power play.

Does that sound like you? If you’ve answered ‘Yes, but…..’ then perhaps you need to read on.

The presence of these tiny inflections in your speech patterns and your thinking habits means other contributions in the debate sink into a kind of twilight zone for you. They may as well not be there. They’re irrelevant.

It leaves the other people in the conversation wondering whether commenting is in any way worthwhile, or having a future opinion is worth the effort.

When you occupy a leadership position, or any role of authority, it can be easy to override the ideas of others, and call upon your own view as the prevailing one. There’s no doubt that developing a presence as the other style of leader - a collaborative one - takes time and patience. You’ve got to listen to all those other views, think about them, maybe even incorporate them into your own thinking!

However, (did we really say that?) - the payoff can be golden. It builds a team of diverse thinkers, confident that they have the right to put new and interesting points on the table. Ultimately it builds the capacity for your business to make strategic progress, and innovate … without you.

It’s radical, but true. You may remain there, but your business and your colleagues thrive all around you. And if you get called away, take a sabbatical, or want to move on, you’ve created a successful and independent team – that’s a great legacy.

Think about taking this test. For the next few days, make a mental note each time you reply with “No,” “But,” or “However.” Why not make an actual note of it too – you may be surprised when you refer to it later. Go the whole hog and ask your team to help. Encourage them to call you on it! Brave enough? You’ll find that this elevates the quality of your guidance, and your team’s collaborative engagement.

The less we focus on ourselves the more we benefit, believes Goldsmith. We think it’s a simple technique that we could all benefit from!

(We should say at this point, that’s not Marshall in the pink tracksuit.)

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3 Simple Ways To Keep Your Employees Happy


A business should never be quiet.  Sure, there might be some moments when you hear only the clicking of keyboards or the gentle hum of a hard-drive. That’s when you know your team is head-down making the magic happen. Give yourself a pat on the back. But make it brief! At #HR we never recommend resting on your laurels – because things can change in a heartbeat.

When they’re not heads down over a keyboard, database or phone line, there should be a healthy balance of movement and banter about your people. And there’s always one or two who stand out, for all the reasons small business owners love and admire. They’re the ones who love your brand and put their own heart and soul into making it work. Others may have talent. These people bring something extra to the table – what Tim McClure, Professional Speaker and Brand and Leadership Consultant, describes as creativity, ideas and keenness in his article for Jonathan Mills.

The inspiration and aspiration of these highly motivated individuals can, if nurtured, bring an extraordinary exuberance and pep to your business and drive it forward just as vibrantly as you can.

So it’s a worst case scenario when your most passionate employee goes quiet. As a result, there’s a palpable unease and a lack of the usual energy rippling through the place. As McClure observes, ‘Passion is contagious, and so is not having it’.  

What should you do when you notice the effects? You should act straight away.

Doing nothing is all-too common a response, and it’s definitely not best practice, taking you down a bumpy and complex road of uncertainty and possibly expense – if this pivotal person leaves and you have to replace them.

Here are our top three tips for dealing with the situation:



Problems can manifest overnight, or in moments around the water cooler.  They become contagious, and even toxic. If you value your team, you’ll act on discontent the moment it manifests. And because you recognise the value of that special player within your ranks, you’ll be focussing on them.



This is one of the most mission critical people in your organisation. They help create the culture. If things have gone off-track, this individual will have something insightful to say about it and you need to know what that is. So stop, and listen. Respond but don’t interrupt. Create a comfortable space and time where they have the chance to talk without negative comeback. You’ll learn something, and you’ll have started equipping yourself with the knowledge you’ll need to fix it – with your employee alongside you.



In his article, McClure outlines the reasons why a passionate employee loses their mojo. Often it’s because of an issue with your leadership – a breach of trust, a lack of consistency, overlooking someone. It’s essential to get your leadership mojo back in good shape quick smart.  Resolve your employee’s problems decisively, and most importantly, get their buy-in. How you handle their grievance will determine whether they continue to love your brand - or move on to love another one. 

Dealing with passionate, smart people can take all the emotional intelligence skills you have. And showing them how valued they are is critical. If you’re facing a situation like the one above, think about getting help to address it. If that means bringing in a consultant who is across best practice and can mediate talks between you and a passionate employee, what better way to show that person what they mean to your business. 


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