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December 23, 2009

Employment Suitors Calling?


[Cartoons courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

If you're calling about new jobs with gratis (or should I say pro bono?) ice cream shops cubicle-side, complimentary concert tickets, and a hefty salary increase, there's a good chance your competitor's employees will be lured away. If not, I'm not so sure. With salary freezes and layoffs affecting so many industries, many workers know only an overwhelmingly impressive offer will induce them to take a chance with an unknown entity. The fear is they'll be jumping from the fryer to the fire. Sure, they're hardly in paradise at your company, but at least they've built up a base of support and trust with their manager and they've grown accustomed to the work. Their salary is frozen and they may be laid-off. But if your industry is still suffering, that same unstable scenario is likely at other similar companies, the ones most likely to court them.

To effectively court another company's employees, start improving conditions for those already on your payroll. Aside from it always being good business to motivate your workforce, happy employees will spread the word about their good work mood to friends in the same industry at other companies, and maybe even to the media. The monthly ice cream party with the free vanilla chocolate chip cookie dough scoops has not been in vain. How many of your employees, if you offered such a thing, would talk excitedly to friends about what a cool company they work for?  If you're a non-ice cream company, and like projecting a more stern tone to employees, you can still reap free ice cream-like benefits via gift cards, flex-time, or even greater development opportunities tied to rewards. What about an annual escape to the Caribbean in February for the company's top 20 high-performers?  Along with keeping workers thrilled with you, and making it more likely they'll have kind things to say about you to potential recruits, your human resources reps can use these perks to make the case for an employment switch to rival workforces.

What's your current pitch like?  Does it mostly focus on salary, or do you also emphasize the long-term stability of your company in an unstable economy?  Are there any business metrics you can share to convince new recruits they wouldn't make the jump to a new employer only to find themselves laid-off a few months later?  What's really sad is I was at a company, where a month after I was hired, an announcement was made that a department (luckily, selfishly speaking, not mine) was being "consolidated" and about a dozen workers would lose their jobs, including a young woman hired the same week as me. The story turned out well because that young lady found a new job within about two weeks, but still. That's a lot of trauma to go through. Who knows what she left to accept a new job with a company secretly preparing to do away with the department they hired her for.

That brings me to an important point about the C-suite adequately communicating with human resources and lines of business seeking new employees. Confidentiality about business strategy, including planned department consolidations, is understandable, but when luring competitor employees to your office, business ethics requires you not to hire them only to fire them before the year is out, doesn't it?  You may want to work with executives to set up quarterly confidential meetings about business decisions that will affect hiring and salaries. In addition to ethics, you have public relations to consider and the negative impact on future recruitment efforts of such a gaffe.

Is there any way to make the content of the work more fun for new recruits?  Personalization is big these days, so if there's a way to personalize the job role, drawing on strengths and interests particular to the person you seek to hire, so much the better. It pays to do your research before employment courting.  I hate to say it (lest it sound creepy), but you can find out a lot about potential new hires from the Internet when it comes to what they like. Aside from finding information ahead of time that may alert you that they'll be a poor corporate culture fit (they love dogs; your company tests cosmetics and drugs on dogs), you may discover they're a travel bug, have an enormous affinity for Asia, and speak fluent Chinese.  You weren't planning to, but now that you know the possible new employee is an Asia-phile, you could tell them about opportunities to aid in the research and development of new products targeting the Asian market.  Or you could tell them how they could put their knowledge of Asian culture to use in helping to design a new Website. "I'd be interested in hearing about best practices American-based companies could take from Asian companies in how they design and market their sites," you'd be smart to tell the subject of your courting.

Do you have work spaces you're proud of?  And is there a way to allow new employees to make themselves at home faster?  It's a good test of workplace environment to ask yourselves whether you'd consider it a wise move to ask those you're attempting to recruit to tour your office, both common spaces and up and down the cubicle aisles, and peering into offices. Is there a lot there you hope they wouldn't see, and too much that falls into that hope-they-don't-see category to chance a visit?  If you wouldn't consider your workplace decent enough not to deter recruits, chances are it's not helping your own workforce, and may even be driving some of them towards lower productivity and new employment (when/if they can finally find a good deal). If you determine your office is an embarrassment, ask yourself why for tips on improving enough to meet minimal livable-place-to-work standards ("great" isn't always doable, after all). Sometimes all you need are a few unused offices transformed into comfortable spaces with squishy sofas, foot rests, and tables with magazines and entertaining coffee table books to read and a sign on the door labeled "quiet room" to convince visitors you're a sympathetic employer interested in keeping workers happy. Is business going so swimmingly you don't have even one extra office to spare for a quiet room?  I just did a podcast, available within about a month on our training industry social networking site, www.trainingmagnetwork.com with Barbara Burke, the author of "The Napkin, The Melon, and The Monkey: How to Be Happy and Successful Simply By Changing Your Mind," on the topic of quiet rooms. Burke is a big proponent of them, and explained the whole thing to me. I'm a peaceful spaces-loving person, so she didn't have to argue the advantages of feet-up time too hard, but she makes compelling points.

Anyway, salary and office environment, including the spaces you (should) provide workers for respite, count when employment courting. Since most companies can't make promises these days, offering those you're attempting to recruit solace from corporate madness is the least you can do. An in-office ice cream parlor may be too tall an order for you, but what about a comfy chair to lounge in with the medical vanilla chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream they may need to make a run for in the middle of more days than you're willing to admit?

What's your value proposition to potential new hires?  What can you tell a competitor's employees about why they should work for you instead?

December 16, 2009

Perky Holidays?

Blog cartoon

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Your co-workers may not be looking perky the morning after the corporate holiday party, not to mention your own sorry state (if not from over indulgence than from listening to and observing the over-indulged). But you should be thinking about last minute perks and frills to send towards your employees before the year is over.

Are there barter arrangements you can manage between your company and a local restaurant or retailer?  In exchange for a few hundred $20 gift cards for top performers, they get X service from you?  If that’s not a possibility, what about giving managers permission to grant top performers a few extra days off, free of vacation day charge, around Christmas or New Years?

As trainers, you also should be thinking of playing to your strengths, and offering a free personal development course between now and the end of the year. It should be something useful that imparts important thinking or life skills, but not necessarily directly job related. Do you or one of your fellow trainers know a craft, such as making bird houses or some other home-related object, that could be taught to interested employees in a couple of hours during the work day?  What about calligraphy or (for something more job relevant) a computer system they may find useful in both their professional and personal life?

Perks that send the message you’d like to do something for the beleaguered can be as simple as asking the trainers or instructors in your department to e-mail you one favorite family recipe some time over the next week. Once you’ve copied and pasted the collected recipes into a Word Document, e-mail to managers to pass along to employees with a “Happy Holidays” message affixed to it. Not so hard, but appreciated by more people than you think—even those like me who cook so little they’ve turned the gas to their stove off. It’s just nice knowing somebody at “the top” wanted to do something nice.

If, like many companies, yours usually is quiet Christmas and New Year’s week, let managers know it’s OK to surprise employees one afternoon with an outing to a museum, aquarium, or even the movies. If you’re low on funds, don’t feel as though you have to treat employees to the entertainment. That’s the generous, nice thing to do, but it’s also a nice treat to be given the afternoon off from work to do something fun. If it’s not expensive, employees probably won’t object.

You also could use the holidays as the perfect opportunity to assemble an employee wish list for next year—kind of like a list for Santa-Trainer—of requested development opportunities and rewards for high performance. Another idea (if you’re OK with constructive criticism) is to ask employees to write anonymous New Years Resolutions for you and the executive team. I’m sure they have points of needed improvement to tell you and the C-suite about. In addition to giving your workforce involvement, and therefore hopefully engagement in the company, asking for their opinion on improvement goals for the coming year will provide executives and managers with important leadership development lessons. It also will help them do their work as they set about planning and implementing strategy for the coming year. To encourage employees to take a chance and include their name (good for more than getting back at them for the critique; you also can consult with them during the improvement process), offer to enter contributors into a raffle for three extra vacation days.

Since this also is the season for performance reviews, it’s also a good time to put together a primer for managers on how to better help employees benefit from them. Pointers should include how to draw out of workers their true aspirations and wishes for their next career step, and how to get them to admit what’s most bothering them about their current position, including touchy issues they may be afraid to bring up such as co-workers who aren’t pulling their weight, or by their disengagement, making work harder every day. I’ve often wished in my career that I could give the boss, or whoever was in charge of employment decisions, a list of fellow employees I’d like not to work with anymore. Such a thing is too good to be true (or at least too impolitic and maybe illegal to be allowed), but there are emotional intelligence lessons to impart to managers on getting workers to open up candidly about work life torments. You never know. They may have picked up on something you suspected, but had no seconding, reinforcing, opinion on until now.

Most companies are crying poor these days (some are just crying), but it’s a good investment to pay for rewards as minimal as, say, donuts for each department. If your employees’ average trips to the vending machine is any indication, such a gesture wouldn’t go unappreciated. Can you really say you can’t afford donuts?  And you’re still in business?  Maybe you just can’t afford not to be embarrassingly cheap.

Free tickets to sporting events and concerts is great, and would be a respectable way to say “thanks.” But if you’re not able to swing it, don’t forget the low- or no-monetary ways to show appreciation. If you don’t, you’ll end up treating them to a game all right—the game of get-taken-for-granted-until-you-cry.

How are holiday perks this year at your company?  Is it a “perky” year for your employees?

December 09, 2009

Managing OUT Slacker B. Incompetence

Blog cartoon 12-9-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Slacker B. Incompetence chatting up the boss again, Styrofoam coffee cup in hand, paunchy winter sweater framing him? He’s amiable enough (who wouldn’t be, getting paid for doing little, and getting away with it, thanks to a passive boss?), but for the hard working employee you’re paying less than Slacker, all is not well this holiday season. Your passive manager is kind to Ernest McDoo A. Lot, but Ernest isn’t satisfied.

Ernest wishes he could manage up to his (and Slacker’s) passive boss, informing her of Slacker’s faults, and informing her that he and Slacker shouldn’t be treated as equals when, based on their work performance, they clearly aren’t. But he knows the boss would resent that. What boss wants to be given unasked for advice by an underling?  What’s more, Ernest knows it would seem (as it is) criticism of her management style. So he seethes silently.

What should you teach employees about venting their management complaints with those responsible for the issues upsetting them?  The employees who work under your company’s managers are the ones best equipped to note management flaws, yet there usually is no way for them to safely point out those issues to the boss. One idea that occurs to me is a joint training session for bosses and employees, in which you train them into a culture of mutual assistance, emphasizing their ongoing feedback of the manager (directly to the manager) is a required part of every employee’s job. Of course, like all other attempts to rein in bosses, the effort at direct critiques will be hindered by the employee’s fear of retribution by an offended supervisor, but establishing a culture that encourages such direct criticism is the first step to aiding the silently seething. And it’s the first step to ridding your organization of poor performers.

Now, back to Slacker B. Incompetence. Ernest believes Slacker isn’t such a “nice guy.” He’s taking advantage of the bosses’ passivity. He knows the boss he and Ernest share isn’t likely to put her foot down with him. Instead she loathes confrontation with subordinates so much she would rather take on up to half the work Slacker should be doing himself. Meanwhile Ernest is doing the full load of assignments, and doing a good job at it, and yet, to add insult to injury, has a lower title and is being paid less. And, worse yet, the boss insists on treating the two employees exactly the same, though one is doing right by her, working to the maximum, while the other is taking advantage of her passivity.

In addition to title and pay, the irritation Ernest is experiencing stems from the wrong social cues the boss is sending Slacker. Ernest suspects she isn’t actually thrilled with Slacker’s work output or the quality of what does (miracle of miracles) make it to her desk. But she can’t bring herself to be brusque with him. Here’s a tip to give up-and-coming employees on the managerial track at your company: In addition to formal performance review discussions and reprimands, the boss sends a world of messages to employees about how pleased/displeased she is with subordinates in office social interactions. Not happy with one worker’s performance while thrilled with another’s?  Yet can’t bring yourself to directly (and courageously) confront the errant employee about it?  Try acting cool towards the slacker, rather than chatting him up as you do the high performers under your supervision. How do you think it makes Ernest, working his heart out, to see Slacker receiving the same social cues he receives from the boss?  “Does she really think we should be treated the same?” Old Ernest asks himself.

Besides joint “managing up” training sessions between boss and employee, bosses (perhaps in their own session) need to be taught back-up plans for the times they can’t bring themselves to be direct. You need to teach them how to use nonverbal cues, or their emotional intelligence, to send tacit messages to workers. Some people are so reflexively polite (the dreaded pleaser personality) they need to learn the art of being brusque. It’s OK, and even right, not to encourage the poor performer into thinking he’s doing a good job by chatting him with about his weekend trip to the zoo with the kid and his broken garbage disposal.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the need for civility in the workplace. But I see the opposite problem: A need for direct (though civil) confrontation in business. It isn’t good etiquette, after all, to slap the employee in the face who has bent over backwards to do a stellar job for you, taking a sizable workload off your plate, by giving him the same treatment you give the one who manages to show up for work, but manages little else besides.

I have a memo for you to send managers about holiday card messages this year. Please, please don’t thank every employee, deserving or not, “for all your hard work.” Hard work for one employee may mean getting to the office at 8, staying until 6, and making it through seven assignments during that time frame. While for another, “hard work” may mostly refer to consecutive trips to the refrigerator, supplemented by trips to the vending machine, supplemented by trips around the block, supplemented by phone calls and Instant Messaging with the wife, supplemented by…anything except—gasp—meeting his job responsibilities.

What guidance do you give employees on helping their boss become a better manager?  What do employees and their supervisors need to be taught about mutual managing?




December 02, 2009

Am I Missing An Update?


Blog cartoon 12-2-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Sometimes, after you’ve been at your company for a few years, you feel like you missed a memo. This is especially true if your company has undergone an acquisition and management change (or two or three) since you were hired. What’s awful is sometimes a hip company with, say, liberal-leaning values is acquired by a more conservative, traditional, authoritarian company, and you find your personal culture at odds with the newly formed company’s culture. Or sometimes it isn’t a newly-formed company but a new management team in your department. Imagine the horror of getting hired by a like-minded soul only to find a year or two later your daily work routine overseen by a person who considers you a bother.  In any, and all of the above cases, what does one do?

An expedient (and cold) company weeds out those who don’t match the new and “improved” culture and management teams. But is that the smartest move?  Similar to the feared 2012 brain drain of the Boomers, those you jettison for cultural mismatch reasons take with them stores of knowledge you may not be able to replace without cost in time, money, efficiency, and quality to the organization. What I’ve found is those deemed most essential to the organization, as in those who are thought to pose the greatest danger if they flee, are the presidents of divisions, and, from there, department managers. The idea is they can’t be allowed to leave without a fight because they’re the ones with the business game plan in mind. Those who work under them are only following orders, and so can easily be replaced with another desperate-for-employment-individual capable of grunt work.

The truth is it’s more complicated than that. True, those in non-management positions usually don’t come up with the overarching business strategy, but there’s a lot they do every day that’s based on their own judgment and expertise. On the front-lines that means knowledge of your customer base. If you run a consumer goods store, that daily work judgment means knowing, if you’re out of stock in one item, what customer Lucy Von Fryingpan would like instead. If you’re a business-to-business provider, it means knowing the intricacies of satisfying the workflow of one of the company’s you service or supply. The manager knows the strategy behind the deals you offer the company buying from you, but doesn’t know the individuals the front-line worker who services them each week knows. So, if one of these “non-essential” workers has a culture clash with the new management, is the smartest thing really to let them go?

Instead, would a corporate culture/new work process update be in order?  How would you do it without offending and further maddening the already culturally struggling worker?  It seems like a nearly impossible task. But still worth a try to hold onto that expertise, right?  Instead of complaining about how offensive their professional approach is to the new boss, discuss new work processes and policies. That way it won’t seem like a personal affront. Also feel free to use self-depreciating humor about the way the new regime does business. I’ve heard new bosses, for instance, poke fun at themselves for liking business conducted the way they like it—being comfortable enough with themselves to acknowledge uptightness or pickiness. It helps for trainers to train managers on acclimating “legacy” employees to the new way of doing business. Part of that training should include the ever-popular personality assessment in which newly-installed managers learn about their work styles. Some will doubtless be too close-minded to take to absorb their assessment results, but others may be sharp and broad-thinking enough to use the new self-awareness to better prepare employees to work under them.

I hate to say it, but you might also have to train managers to use what they learn about themselves for the good, rather than the detriment, of those they manage. Let’s say they learn they’re prone to authoritarian leadership. Your new regime is decidedly conservative, but is an authoritarian leadership style that’s more dictatorial than team-oriented what you want in practice? You may have to figure out how to help managers use their assessment results to understand how to fit more closely with your company’s profile of the ideal manager. If you executives haven’t offered you such a picture of the ideal manager yet, it’s something you should consider asking them for. How else will you groom the kinds of leaders they’re looking for, and how else will you teach those managers to groom, rather than dismiss, those under their supervision who may need a little corporate culture help?

I always like humor and innovation in teaching managers and employees what not to do. One idea is to hire a cartoonist, or find a talented member of your workforce, to create caricatures of the faulty manager. With pictures often more potent than words, and our society becoming more image-ridden (I mean oriented) by the minute, that might be just what your managers and employees need to get the picture on what you consider the worst and most perfect management styles.

The embarrassing thing is admitting you happen to like cartoonish managers.


What’s your company doing to ensure managers understand the corporate culture, and know how to encourage workers to stick with the company, rather than flee in horror?