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Why Netflix’s Patty McCord is (Mostly) Wrong

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1193409“Troy,” a CEO I work with off and on, sent me a link to an article referencing Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord’s explanation of why you should immediately fire underperformers to explain (justify) his own actions.

McCord’s core advice is to think six months in advance, about what the company can and should do better, which will highlight the people who don’t have the skill set or drive to get there. (…) “I tell an employee I’m going to put you on a performance improvement plan, but the truth is they don’t actually know how to do what I need someone in their job to do. I did my six months out thing and realized she wasn’t qualified, and I put her on a plan even though it’s not an issue of performance, it’s an issue of skill set.”

This was the latest salvo in our ongoing disagreement on managerial responsibility when it comes to people—a subject we vehemently disagree on.

Troy says that young, fast-growth companies have no time to develop their people and when you have a lot of capital and very stringent targets to achieve [Wall Street quarterly reports, ed], you have to think differently.

I say that it’s mostly management’s fault, especially in larger companies like Netflix because they should be growing their people all the time so their skill-set is ready for the challenge; obviously, I’m not referring to those employees who need to be dragged kicking and screaming into their future.

Startups, fast growing and established companies all need to add the right talent to get where they are going.

Good managers assess the situation, current and future, and inform employees regarding their promotional opportunities.

Further, good managers keep them informed of what new skills they will need in the future, as well as the best way to acquire them.

I read about and know personally thousands of good managers who work hard to grow their people, so they are ready for the new challenges coming down the road.

There are also plenty of companies with good programs in place that bad managers won’t use.

Yes, people deserve to know the truth regarding their opportunities and McCord’s approach when termination is the right course is extremely humane—but few companies would spend the resources.

“Instead, I could have told the employee, ‘here’s what I’m going to need six months from now, and here’s the talent and skills I’ll need. Then you tell her, ‘It’s not you. I don’t want you to fail. I don’t want to publicly humiliate you.’”

However, if that person’s actual manager had been doing his/her job the situation McCord describes might never have happened.

That’s the part that Troy doesn’t get.

Upgrading employee skills and adding new ones is an ongoing process that requires better and stronger management skills and more work than McCord’s approach—hers is the easy way out.

During my 40+ years around the workforce there have always been managers who build their people and those who don’t.

  • Those who do build understand that people are holistic and it takes more effort to instill cultural understanding and rebuild group morale after someone is terminated than it does to keep upgrading skills.
  • Those who don’t build believe that it’s easier to replace than train/build employees.

But demographics are against them. Replacing people will only become harder as the economy improves and the number of working people and their experience continues to go down.

stock.xchng image credit: arte_ram

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Management is Like Coffee

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25187937@N05/5525163305How much management/coaching is too much?

I hear that question a lot.

Most managers want to do a good job and are looking for ways to improve.

But, as one commented recently, if you do everything recommended by the experts you would use so much of each person’s time that productivity would tumble and even the best coaching would have a negative impact.

Which is why I say that management and coffee are similar.

In the right amount coffee is good for your brain and may help you live longer.

The right amount of management/coaching is good for the brain in that it provides challenges that foster growth; it also lowers frustration and stress, which enhances mental and physical health.

According to the research, the “right” amount of coffee is around 20 ounces a day, i.e., one venti-size Starbucks.

That equates to the most effective management/coaching, which provides all the information needed to do the job at one time (not more nor less) and then gets out of the way while staying accessible if needed.

Many of the coffee-fueled are more likely to drink three to five ventis a day, which is detrimental to health and longevity.

A comparable amount of management/coaching is detrimental to health, productivity and retention.

Flickr image credit: Kurtis Garbutt

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Who is Your Customer?

Monday, June 10th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/angelaarcher/5166009978/Customer service is a major topic these days (more on the tomorrow); as is employee retention, but do they really have anything in common?


Every manager, from team leader to CEO, is also a customer service manager, because your people are your customers.

That’s right, customers.

More accurately, that makes you an ESM—employee service manager.

Why do you service your people? To

  • help them achieve their full potential;
  • assure high productivity;
  • lower turnover; and
  • create an environment that’s a talent magnet.

How do you service your people? By

  • cultivating the kind of MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) that truly values people and understands how important it is to manifest that;
  • offering high-grade professional challenges to all your people and making sure that they have the resources and all the information necessary to achieve success;
  • fostering fairness so that people know they are evaluated on their merits and favoritism plays no part; and
  • always walking your talk and living up to your commitments.

What’s in it for you?

  • Better reviews, promotions and raises;
  • increased professional development;
  • less turnover and easier staffing; and
  • what goes around comes around—everything that you give your people will come back to you ten-fold!

Flickr image credit: Angela Archer

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The Danger of Denial

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

www.flickr.com/photos/livenature/211469544/Ask any working woman (or gay/lesbian or person of color) and they will tell you that discrimination is alive and well.

Ask their executive bosses and they will tell you that’s true, but not at their company.

In other words, “they” discriminate, “we” don’t.

Or, as Jonathan Segal, partner at the law firm Duane Morris LLP so aptly puts it.

We all know there is unconscious bias. It’s just others who have it. We all know there are Boys’ Clubs. It’s at the company next door.

It’s hard for many people to believe that their organization could have a Boys’ Club. That they could be part of a Boys’ Club is inconceivable because it is inconsistent with how they see themselves.

In some ways, such denial is not unlike the denial of addiction. The first step in recovery is acknowledging the problem. The first step toward dismantling a Boys’ Club is to acknowledge it may exist.

Of course, that denial only lasts until you are sued.

Flickr image credit: Franco Folini

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Ducks in a Row: Red Hat Culture

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ny-insurance/6813596277/These days most CEOs acknowledge the importance of culture.

Most incoming CEOs either want to protect and extend that current culture (think Apple) or radically change one that isn’t working (think Yahoo).

There is also a percentage that want to revamp the culture in their own image even whether the current culture is working (think Home Depot) or not (think Penney’s, which I wrote about last month, and that just fired their ex Apple CEO yesterday).

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst was in the first group when he joined in 2007, but it was a real stretch (more like an unexpected bucket of ice).

He came from Delta Airlines command and control culture to a cultural meritocracy based on an open source mindset.

He calls it a “meritocracy” meaning leaders arise based on their brains, not their spot on an org chart.

The chaotic nature, the fact that people can call me up whenever and often call me an idiot to my face. We yell and we debate and we have these things out. Our culture matches the culture around open source, so the people who want to be involved in open source feel at home.”

The proof that it works is in the pudding of revenues and retention.

Red Hat, the first and only open-source software maker to crack $1 billion a year in revenues, is growing like mad.

The company has about 5,700 employees now, hiring about 1,000 workers in 2012. It will hire another 600 to 800 in 2013.

Yet the attrition rate of his R&D group—the company’s biggest group of engineers—is only 1.5%, compared to an industry average of about 5%.

Those are numbers any CEO would be bragging about, no matter what industry.

While merit rules and open source attitudes are sacred, Red Hat is in no way a democracy.

Red Hat still has managers and those managers are still responsible for decisions.

“It’s about transparency not democracy, I can make wildly unpopular decisions and at times I have to do that … as long as I have gotten feedback and articulated my reasons clearly, I can do that.”

It doesn’t need to be. People don’t want to work in a company where decisions are based on majority rule; what they want is to be heard.

They want to know that their colleagues, whether bosses, peers or subordinates, will listen to them and discuss the merits of their thought/idea/complaint no matter who they are or what they do.

Even if you didn’t click any of the above links be sure to check out these 12 Red Hat Management Tips.

The more you implement them the more things will change or, as I keep telling clients, to change how they act change how you think.
Flickr image credit: Dave Lobby

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Ducks in a Row: G&S Combats Ego-merge

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vetlesk/3575715538/Yesterday we considered the dangers inherent when employees start thinking of themselves as an extension of the company/manager, as in ““I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.””

Today we’ll look at why building people, as opposed to making them dependent, is a smart move and three prime things to help you do it.

People building is imperative, because reputation, both the manager’s and the company’s, is everything when hiring, and being known for your great G&S (grow and strengthen) policies and actions will help you attract, develop and keep the best and brightest.

You’ll still lose some now and then when they’re ready for the next challenge and you can’t provide it, but the benefits resulting from their ultra-high productivity and creativeness during the time they’re with you will far outweigh the loss when they do leave.

G&S isn’t rocket science, nor does it have to be costly.

Here are three basic rules to encourage G&S and discourage ego-merge.

  1. Treat everyone on your team and in your company with the same level of respect you want.
  2. Listen to your people. Encourage and assist them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to take their next step—even when it makes your life a bit more difficult.
  3. Always remind them that for all their successes, challenges, and failures it’s “and” not “because.”

Any manager can implement these and other strategies on her own, whether the company supports G&S or not.

However, it’s to a company’s advantage to fight ego-merge and advocate G&S through its policies, then support it by hiring managers who believe in the power of G&S.

But what if you’re a manager pushing G&S down while your own manager is either blind to it or the type who sees ego-merge as a plus?

But what can you do to avoid ego-merge as a worker with no control or leverage?

Awareness is the best protection against ego-merge. Recognize that it exists, understand what it is, know its symptoms and whether you’re prone to it, then monitor yourself, always remembering that the opposite of ego-merge is not arrogance.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Post a watch for the first symptom of ego-merge: when your glow of accomplishment for an exemplary project you did is quickly quenched by negative internal news or media coverage. The greater the offset the greater the ego-merge.
  2. Listen to yourself. When describing a project (successful or not) or coup (large or small), listen to how you describe it and where and how you attribute its success or failure. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Offset and reduce ego-merge in others by publicly giving full credit to those around you at all levels up and down for their contributions.

Flickr image credit: vetlesk

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5392982007/Remember the old saying “pretty is as pretty does,” meaning the action dictates the label?

Well, “stupid is as stupid does,” which is especially accurate when applied to management.

It’s hard to know which is most offensive when it comes to management—stupidity or ego, but when they join together the result is…wow; I’m not sure what adjective to use.

You decide.

I received a call from a distraught president. He said the company had been hit with a rash of resignations from some of their best development and marketing people and he had no idea why, since productivity had been running at an all-time high. Would I do some fast debriefing in an effort to turn things around?

It only took a few calls to identify the problem—actually the persons—responsible.

It turned out that the director of engineering and her counterpart in marketing had come up with a unique motivational technique.

They identified comparable projects both inter and intra-department and allowed the teams responsible to make steak and beans dinner bets with each other.

(For those unfamiliar the losing team buys steak dinners for the winning team, while they eat beans and are subject to good natured heckling by the winners.)

The contests had boosted productivity in both departments with most projects finishing early, even under budget, and morale was at an all time high.

The problem came from the fact that the engineering vp and the marketing vp were political enemies and didn’t want their two groups on good terms. Furthermore, the engineering vp felt work was serious business and games undermined his mission.

When they found out what was going on both were furious and agreed to fire the instigators.

That didn’t go over well with the staff, which had no hesitation of protesting with their feet, hence the flurry of resignations.

I reported back to the prez and, smart guy that he is, he didn’t hesitate.

After verifying what I told him he fired the two vice presidents and promoted the two directors.

Because his solution was not only swift, but highly visible, the resignations were withdrawn, the contest reinstated and the approach encouraged across the entire company.

Stupidity and ego; what adjective would you use?

Flickr image credit: opensourceway

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“Or Else” Management

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescridland/4334589129/How often do you (or your boss) add “or else” or words to that effect when assigning a project or discussing a deadline?

It happens more than you would think.

The threats are rarely direct—Do it or start looking.

More often, they are subtle, unstated—I expect employees who work here to be team players.

Have no doubt, the threat is there: Do X if you want to keep your job.

Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a threat will tell you that they aren’t exactly motivational.

What they are is atrocious management.

Threats are costly not only to the threatEE, who loses confidence and the threatenER, who loses credibility, but also to the organization itself for allowing it to happen.

Far worse is the ripple effect that the sows seeds of a self-propagating culture of intimidation.

Threats kill creativity, innovation, motivation, caring, ownership, in fact, everything that it takes to compete in today’s economy.

Managers who choose to use ultimatums as a motivational tool should not be surprised when employees respond with their feet.

Flickr image credit: James Cridland

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Bullying is like Second Hand Smoke

Monday, March 11th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stella12/5965578953/How do you feel when you see or hear about a boss who bully his people—even if it isn’t your boss?

New research shows that the effects are similar whether the bullying is direct or second hand.

I read about the research last month on Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership blog. He does a great job of summarizing the study, including quotes from it. (The full study must be purchased.)

Like second hand smoke, second hand bullying destroys and even kills—not the body, but the spirit.

“When vicarious abusive supervision is present, employees realize that the organization is allowing this negative treatment to exist, even if they are not experiencing it directly,” the researchers said.

Another recent study documents the long-term damage that affects both the bullied and their tormentors.

“It documents the elevated risk across a wide range of mental health outcomes and over a long period of time,” said Catherine Bradshaw, an expert on bullying and a deputy director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins University, which was not involved in the study. “The experience of bullying in childhood can have profound effects on mental health in adulthood, particularly among youths involved in bullying as both a perpetuator and a victim.”

And running into past bullies, even after 25 years, can cause anxiety and lead to questions about how to act.

I’ve written previously regarding the serious disengagement caused by a bullying culture and about bosses who aren’t role models.
Most managers assume that firing the bully fixes things, but these studies prove that isn’t the case and the termination certainly doesn’t rebuild trust in an organization that allowed it in the first place.

Bullying isn’t always obvious and may even resemble coaching at first glance, so it’s wise to take a second look and occasionally revisit the players just to be sure.

Obviously, it’s best to nip bullying in the bud and doing that takes vigilance—vigilance and the courage to act, whether it’s in your own organization or not.

That’s part of the job description for bosses at every level.

Flickr image credit: Deb Nystrom

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If the Shoe Fits: Relationships

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe article accompanying this post may surprise you, but it gets my point across with eloquence.

And while it talks about a romantic relationship the lessons in it apply to all human interactions for they are all relationships.

It’s a woman’s story about two very different romantic relationships and a pet tortoise named Minnie that turned out to be male.

Her first lover became her ex lover because he wanted/needed/expected/demanded/ she be something she wasn’t.

I didn’t want to be in a relationship again where someone wanted me to pretzel myself into someone I wasn’t. “You’re odd,” my ex had told me. “All you want to do is watch movies, read books and play with Minnie.” He meant it as a rebuke, but I kept thinking: what was wrong with that kind of nirvana?

Her second lover, who became her husband, had a different attitude towards her oddness and towards Minnie.

Where my old boyfriend told me how obsessive I was about Minnie, Jeff celebrated our connection, making a fake newspaper cover featuring Minnie and me.

When Minnie finally died many of the author’s connections (including her mother) couldn’t understand her grief—after all, it was just a reptile.

People told me about their dogs and cats who had died, and I thought, it’s easy to love the beautiful, the normal. But what about the gifts of loving the strange, the uncommon, the odd?

Bosses tend to hire people they think are like themselves and get upset when they find out they are actually different—strange, uncommon, odd—and when that happens they would do well to remember the lesson of the porcupines.

Better yet, remember the story of Minnie, because your relationships with your people are the secret sauce that will make you and your company a success—or not.

A strange little figure. Uncommon. Odd. And completely and always beloved.  

Image credit: HikingArtist

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