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Weeds in Your Garden

Monday, November 9th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/southpaw2305/3465219891/

This post first appeared in 2012, but I believe both its premise and its point deserve another airing.

Managing Weeds

As companies grow and managers build their organizations they frequently talk about “weeding out” low performing employees—Jack Welch was a ninja weeder.

If that thought has crossed your mind you might take a moment to think about James Russell Lowell’s comment, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”

As with weeds, there are better ways to look at under-performing employees.

Seeing a weed as food changes everything, just as seeing people’s potential does.

95% of the time it’s management failures that create weeds and those failures run the gamut from benign neglect to malicious abuse and everything in-between.

Weeds can come from outside your company, inter-departmental transfers and even from peers in your own backyard.

What is amazing is how quickly a weed will change with a little TLC.

“Weeds can grow quickly and flower early, producing vast numbers of genetically diverse seed.”

People grow quickly, too, and often produce innovative ideas — just because someone listened instead of shutting them down.

And while trust that your attitude won’t change takes longer to build, the productivity benefits happen fairly rapidly.

So before you even think about weeding look in the mirror and be sure that the person looking back is a gardener and not a weed producer.

Flickr image credit: Clare Bell

Ducks in a Row: Hire and Hold

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zenera/240884577

In one way or another, I’ve been involved in staffing for more than 30 years; first as a recruiter, then as a coach and mentor.

I’ve worked with companies from earliest startups to Fortune 500; with bosses ranging from CEOs and other executives to first-line supervisors and team leaders.

The best and smartest companies/bosses never have an opening and almost never lay people off — the ‘almost’ being directly connected to the the bosses’ level of control within the company.

How they accomplish this is often a mystery to outsiders, but it’s simply the result of specific MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

I’ve listen to many bosses tell me why this approach wasn’t feasible, often using their industry as the reason.

Most of the ‘reasons’ fall apart when you consider Intuitive Research & Technology, which has never laid off an employee.

That’s impressive for any company, but it’s especially notable for a 16-year-old aerospace engineering and analytics firm that’s a contractor for the federal government.

Intuitive also never has job openings.

Harold Brewer, Intuitive’s co-founder, chairman, and president, says the company has avoided reductions by taking a unique approach to hiring. “We don’t really have job openings,” he says. Instead, the company operates like a talent agency—always scouting for skilled employees. (…)  Brewer calls it a “speculation hire.”

His mantra is simple, “If it’s good for employees, it’s good for business,” so the company supports training, advanced education (unlimited tuition reimbursement) and pays substantial bonuses.

It’s what I’ve always said, hire great talent, instead of filling openings, cherish them, so they stay and watch your organization prosper.

Flickr image credit: Serena

How NOT to Run a Company

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/7257857044/

What do you do when your stock price has plunged 25% in five months and a substantial number of your executive team leave?

What’s your spin when a number of those leaving were hand-picked by you?

If you are Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer you publicly proclaim that they weren’t good enough to do what needed to be done.

“Recently, there has been external interest and speculation in a few shifts amidst our management team. The design and changes in Yahoo’s leadership team are the result of careful planning to achieve the necessary skills, passion, and the ability to execute growth in our business.’

The people who weren’t good for Mayer were scooped up by the likes of Facebook, Square, Helix and STX Entertainment — not exactly companies known for hiring passionless castoffs.

The exodus isn’t all that surprising, considering Mayer’s management style and need for control and the fact that in the three years she’s been at Yahoo there has not only been no turnaround, but everything is worse.

Of course, these days CEO all provide reasons for whatever is happening, but only rarely admit to being one of them.

As I said last January, this is what happens when people buy into their own wunderkind status.

But the truly sad thing is the ammunition she has provided to the anti-women-leaders crowd who will use her to prove that, in fact, woman don’t belong in the corner office.

Flickr image credit: Tech Crunch

Star Creation

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelpollak/8406100469/

Monday we considered the idea that a team can have too much talent, i.e., stars.

Bosses claim they hire stars because they are the rocket that drives a team further, faster.

I think many do it because they are lazy.

As Wally Bock puts it, “We live in a world of microwavable answers and quick fixes” — and bosses see stars as quick fixes.

Which, if you will excuse the bluntness, is really stupid for two reasons.

The so-called slow fix takes more effort, but provides far greater ROI.

And you, personally, do much better, and have more fun, with fewer regrets, building your own team of stars — usually the only things lacking in this approach are egos, prima donnas and drama.

A slightly offbeat story illustrates the kind of stars that can result­­­.

Faculty from Bard College coach a debate team from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup.

They recently beat the national and world champion Harvard team. They have also beaten the University of Vermont and West Point teams.

They are home-grown stars, since it’s doubtful that a world-class team of debaters were all incarcerated at the same facility.

The point of all this is that if you want to be known as a great boss, then be the coach who builds an extraordinary team, as opposed to being the one who hires shooting stars.

Flickr image credit: Michael Pollack

Talent, Talent, Too Much Talent

Monday, October 26th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/13770174084/

Stars. Everyone wants to hire stars.

Sports teams buy them for astronomical salaries.

Companies use salaries, stock, sign-on bonuses and anything else they can.

Beyond bragging rights, stars are supposed to goose innovation, boost productivity and all kinds of good stuff.

But do they?

In 2010 the Miami Heat bought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to add to the triple the star power of Dwayne Wade — and had a terrible season.

What happened?

Stars want to be stars.

When individual interests take precedence over what is best for the collective, group performance declines. It no longer functions as a cohesive whole. (…) For chickens [another example], businessmen, and basketball players alike, high-levels of performance comes with high-levels of competitive spirit. These status conflicts drive performance down.

Down, not up.

You can still hire brilliant individual contributors if you are willing to put in the time and effort to make them a team.

It takes work, because they won’t become one left to their own devices.

Just remember that all teams aren’t created equal, so be sure your team plays basketball and not baseball.

Bill Simmons referred to baseball as “an individual sport masquerading as a team sport.”

President Barack Obama referred to basketball as “the quintessential team sport

Flickr image credit: Kentucky National Guard

People Come and People Go

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/17387574355/

The media loves making it a big deal when people leave companies, especially if

  • they have been there a long time;
  • they have a high profile/big title; or
  • the company is one of the golden ones, e.g., Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, Salesforce, etc.

Not counting layoffs or termination, why do good people leave good companies?

Actually, it’s not so much where they are leaving from as it is what they are going to.

No matter how great the company; how talented the boss; how good the career path; at some point people just want to see what’s on the other side of the mountain.

That isn’t a reflection on the current company/boss/career, it’s a reflection of the natural desire to challenge/test oneself in a new environment.

That doesn’t always mean starting their own company.

It simply means they found something attractive enough that they decided to pursue it — and it is rarely found in compensation..

One of the few constants I’ve found through decades of dealing with people in the workplace is that those who join a company for compensation (money/stock/perks) will leave for more compensation.
However, this is a concept that seems beyond most media understanding — or perhaps it’s not what the public wants to hear.

So the next time you see one of those stories, think “where is she going” as opposed to “why is she leaving.”

Would you hire someone who was fired?

Join me tomorrow for the reasoning behind the unexpected answer.

Flickr image credit: BK

Ducks in a Row: Politically Correct is a False Positive

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zaskoda/4734418941/

I sent an article about the “frat house” (AKA, sexist) culture prevalent in ZocDoc’s sales department to “Kevin”, a good friend who works in sales.

While agreeing about problematic sales cultures, he had a different take on culture in general.

His viewpoint, from someone who has been there/done that, may not be socially acceptable and could probably get him in trouble if posted on social media, but I can share it here — anonymously

Whether you’re a nigger or a bitch, this is the shit you have to deal with. I prefer environments where it’s obvious what the culture is, like this, than politically correct cultures where bigotry is the norm but you never onto why you won’t get the bonus, promotion or accolade with superior performance. Screw political correctness!

I believe it’s important to know where you stand, because then you can make informed choices. Give me this culture anytime – when I enter, I will know what the rules are. If I stay, it’s to accomplish a particular personal goal. When I leave (if not immediately), I will know why I stayed, left, and what I gained. I’m richer, they are poorer.

There is no such thing as “politically correct”. The term itself is an oxymoron that implies consensus building, popular sentiment or sinister machinations. Politics is about popularity — we never let others know where we stand or what we stand for in order to win a popularity contest. It is giving in to the tyranny of the mob, not daring to have unpopular opinions or stances, because one will not be popular.

Being a black man, I prefer a racist that’s honest about who he is and what he is. I prefer working for such a person because I know what to expect. I presume it would be the same for you as a woman regarding sexists. These days no one is a racist, we just have “unconscious biases” that prevent us from taking unpopular positions and that ensure that the powerful can continue to exclude the less powerful. 

Politically correct environments rob me of information, choice, and the ability to navigate astutely to attain my objectives.

I agree with Kevin, even in those instances where bias has its basis in neuroscience, it’s better to know.

Flickr image credit: Zaskoda

Temperature Diversity

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lara604/4541116899/

Decades ago when my office was on the 35th floor of a Financial District tower in San Francisco I always had a sweater or just dressed warmly no matter the season, as did most of the women.

The cold never seemed to bother the men.

Fast forward to August 2012 when a friend emailed to say she had changed companies.

I was surprised, to say the least, since she held a senior position along with sizable stock options and I knew she would be leaving a lot on the table.

When I asked why she said it was a great opportunity, but the deciding factor had been the ambient temperature during multiple interviews — she was tired of always being cold.

Imagination? Personal idiosyncrasy?

No, actual fact, according to an article describing a new study published last week.

Finally, scientists (two men, for the record) are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

Just as a too warm office can slow people down and make them sleepy, so can a too cold office.

Bosses can alleviate the problem to some degree.

  • If your physical space operates by zones rearrange workers based on their temperature needs, as opposed to functional or gender lines.
  • If there is only one central control raise the temperature or at least try splitting the difference.
  • Provide snuggies, blankets and space heaters when needed.
  • Treat it as the problem it is and not as a joke or gender weakness.

While addressing the problem may have little-to-no impact on global warming, it could have a substantial impact on your talent acquisition and retention.

Flickr image credit: Lara

Ducks in a Row: the True Source of Happiness

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tico24/50459406/in/photolist-5sBPL-bkrFTn-5fN9HR-cqv8F-5wzJ1f-5wvpDz-7akhzi-5wzJ9s-8bUK32-6B39pQ-bPCwjF-knctJn-4FMm9r-FJK7i-oPVLSb-9EADLW-8P2Cay-edzmtp-7vFaT7-c7KcF1-edF2Ty-edF2Zq-4aT4WK-65WvUX-7kNcQE-exwVN-8RrQYH-7roNWJ-2L3da-pZpoJ8-4UAHBd-5KRj4X-edF3Fh-dpbyL5-bXbL51-65WvX8-7atcFQ-rmeqo-ehm9UX-e2Yvkc-f6DVD-rykAwn-5ZWobq-8dJ4o8-fbkejU-2vhvHS-9BsWWz-b5eaHM-6eqP4V-5MQKUq

It’s been proven that the happier the workers the higher the productivity and creativeness.

So what really makes people happy?

Lawyers provide a good example, in spite of all the jokes.

Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being. However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy.

I wrote What People Want one week short of nine years ago and after rereading it see no reason to update it.

As research continually proves, the basic human operating system doesn’t really change.

Flickr image credit: tico_24

Employee Retention: Not Rocket Science

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/6467405231

Yesterday we looked at how a new IBM analytics tool that analyzes tweets found that customer loyalty was severely impacted by employee turnover.

A decade ago research by Frederick Reichheld found that a 5% improvement in employee retention translated to a 25%-100% gain in earnings.

Deloitte recently released its annual survey, which seems to back up the need for improved retention.

2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, their annual comprehensive study of HR, leadership, and talent challenges, the top ten talent challenges reported for 2015 are: culture and engagement, leadership, learning and development, reinventing HR, workforce on demand, performance management, HR and people analytics, simplification of work, machines as talent, and people data everywhere.

The first three are nothing new; the terms have changed over the years, although not the meaning behind them or their ranking as top concerns.

In a major employee retention push, companies are turning to algorithms and analytics to mine a raft of data, identify which employees are most likely to leave and then try to change their minds.

But some things never seem to change and until they do companies won’t make much headway.

At Credit Suisse, managers’ performance and team size turn out to be surprisingly powerful influences (emphasis added –ed.), with a spike in attrition among employees working on large teams with low-rated managers.

With decades of research saying the same thing, it makes one wonder why the finding was “surprising.”

In fact, nothing will change until companies, bosses and the media stop being surprised every time a survey shows that talent acquisition and retention is most influenced by

  • the culture in which they work;
  • the bosses for whom they work;
  • the work itself; and
  • the difference they can make.

Gee, maybe it really is rocket science.

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson

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