Managing Workplace Flexibility

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Managing Your “Supporting Actors”

In the talent management world, a great deal is written and discussed about the management of the “A” players – the best employees, or those with the highest potential.

But what about the “B” players?

First, it’s ridiculous to conclude that your entire workforce is made up of (or should only include) “A” players.  There simply aren’t that many great employees to go around, and let’s face it: Not every company is Google or Patagonia with 1,500 applicants for every position.  In the real world, you’re going to have some “B” players on your team.  And given the right direction and leadership, those employees have the capability of being extremely valuable to your organization.  A 2003 Harvard Business Review study concluded that “that companies’ long-term performance—even survival—depends far more on the unsung commitment and contributions of their B players (than on A players).

Let’s use baseball as an analogy.  The great teams have superstars – the .300 hitters with 40 homeruns.  Those are your “A” players.  But teams that win the World Series invariably have several role players, sometimes called “utility” players.  This is the player that will never hit 40 homers – but can play catcher, or right field, or second base.  They’re the ones that are able to sacrifice to advance baserunners, or break up double plays – they’re the unsung heroes.  And it’s no coincidence they are sometimes called “character guys”.

In the film industry – whether you’re best supporting actor or best actor, the trophy’s the same.

In the workplace, I’d define “B” players as those who:

  • Show up for work every day, put their nose down and grind out the work;
  • Have little, if any drama associated with their presence in the workplace;
  • Stay at your company for a longer than most employees;
  • Utilize their abilities to the maximum;
  • Consistently perform good but not spectacular work; and
  • Often, their work is not what defines them – they have other priorities in life, whether it be family or a significant hobby

Give me a group of people like this, and I’ll show you a very very good workforce.

I’ve worked with a mid-sized CPA firm for a number of years, and I recall one such employee.  “Brad” was very quiet (except at the company holiday party), showed up to work every day, and was incredibly reliable.  Brad was well paid for a staff accountant, but because he was not spectacular, he never received significant promotions.

At corporate review meetings, the partners always wondered if they should let him go, because he wasn’t partner material.

My response to them was – not everyone is partner material!  Not everyone has the capability of being a CEO!  If you are under the impression that everybody in your workforce must have that potential, you’re deluding yourself.  Every workforce needs people to actually do the work, not just manage and lead.

The problem is, most managers and executives don’t know how to manage “B” players and as a result, those employees become disillusioned, lose their edge or worse, leave the company.

Here are some thoughts on how to manage “B” players:

  1. Know Who They Are. A “B” player is not a mediocre or failing employee; they are hard workers who for reasons tangible or intangible are not going to be CEO some day.
  2. Manage them the same way you do your “A” players. That is, find out what their goals are; set your expectations clearly and adapt a ‘one size fits one’ approach.
  3. Let them know their performance is valued. If a good employee sees their superstar colleague get all the recognition and rewards, they’re going to be disheartened.
  4. Make clear what their career path is. If they aren’t ever going to be an executive or manager – let them know that.  (It’s not fair to them if they’re laboring under the illusion that some day they’ll be promoted).  There are other ways of rewarding performers than simply promotions.
  5. Pay them at the top of the market. The value of the “B” player is their stability to the company as well as consistent performance.  If that employee leaves, it’s going to be really expensive, and time consuming, to replace that person with a similar performer.  It’s much less expensive to simply pay them at the top of the market.

I once worked with a commercial real estate firm that had the greatest receptionist I’ve ever seen.  When she answered the phone, she did so as if she’d been waiting for your call all day long.  Colleagues and competitors would constantly try to steal her every month.  She had been in the position for eight or nine years when she decided to apply for an promotion within the company.

The owner knew that wasn’t the best use of her skills and wanted to keep her in her role.  Their answer?  They raised her pay to 20% over what any other receptionist was making in town – and about 10-15% more than administrative assistants were being paid.  She stayed.  If she was going to leave, it wasn’t going to be because of money.

Supporting actors have an increasingly critical role in business, but they won’t flourish or remain without an intentional strategy for managing their performance and careers.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no “Holy Grail” in hiring

Just last week, a client came to us asking what we thought of a proposal they’d received from a vendor.  The vendor was offering a pre-hire screening program that purports to screen out applicants who have a propensity to steal, use drugs, lie, etc.

This is a question we frequently get; it seems that every employer is looking for the ‘holy grail’ of 100% certainty in hiring.

I’ve personally interviewed thousands of candidates in my career.  I’ve seen and used virtually every personality, IQ, and behavior test in existence.  I’ve read dozens of books and worked with clients around the country on improving hiring techniques, and I know one thing. There is no ‘holy grail’ of 100% certainty in hiring.

I think I’m as good as anyone in hiring, and even with all my experience, I’m going to be wrong 20% of the time. So if there is no one thing that can give you certainty in hiring, what can you do?

For one thing, the C-Suite and HR professionals need to understand that today, a 70% or above success rate in hiring is very good.  (I’d define success as an employee who does a good job and lasts at your business for 3 years or more).

Every business is different, with their own unique culture, but here are some techniques I use when helping a company improve their hiring success rate:

  1. Train hiring managers on how to interview and what to look for.  It constantly amazes me that the vast majority of managers who interview have never actually been trained in how to interview! It’s a lot more than just providing a list of questions to ask (or not ask).
  2. Develop a better process of interviewing.  We worked with a bank in Arizona last year whose interviewing consisted of meeting with one manager who had the sole authority to hire or not.  At that time, 4 out of 5 new hires were not successful.  We redesigned their hiring process to include multiple manager interviews, a meal with potential peers, and a final interview with the CEO.  Hiring success has doubled since then.
  3. Less emphasis on an interview and more on character and culture fit.  Most industries are extremely insular.  I guarantee someone at your company knows someone who your candidate has worked for previously.  Call your contacts and networks – they’ll be a lot more open to talk to you about the potential for success than a blind call into the HR department of the previous employer where the standard response will be “That person worked here from this date to that date.”
  4. Spread a wide net.  A typical process for considering candidates might be to phone or skype screen 15-20 candidates and interview 5-10 candidates.  Yes it’s time consuming, but it will give you much more information and ability to determine the best possible hire.

After all, what could possibly be more important than who you hire?

This post was modified from an article Eric recently wrote for the Western Independent Bankers magazine.  As always, thanks to Mel Kleiman for the last sentence!

How I Use LinkedIn (So Leave Me Alone)

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(This article was originally posted on LinkedIn – 

Before LinkedIn changed how our profile views looked, there was a small section for “Advice for Contacting Me”.  That got removed in this years’ re-design.  Doesn’t really matter, because no one bothered to look at it any way.

I wrote – “Before I connect with you, I must have met you, or had a phone call with you.”

The hundreds of people who tried to connect with me whom I never heard of obviously didn’t bother reading it.

For me, LinkedIn is a way of managing my network of people I know, or whom I can refer business to (or vice-versa).  But more importantly, it shows my current clients and prospective clients people I actually know.  When I’ve been referred to a prospective client.  I’ll look at the CEO’s LinkedIn profile to see who we know in common.  (After 30 years in business, and with 9 business partners, the odds of me knowing someone are pretty good).

My business is entirely referral based – virtually each of our 200+ clients have been referred to us.  (When you’re in the business of advising executives on their workforce and HR strategies, they most likely aren’t going to hire you with via a google search; they’re going to want to get a recommendation from someone they know).

It’s always a positive when talking to a C-level executive for the first time and being able to identify those connections we have in common.  It immediately enhances my credibility and reassures them they haven’t been steered astray.  It’s a confidence builder.

LinkedIn is not a way of championing how many strangers I can connect with (don’t those people have enough work to do?)

Remember when LinkedIn first became popular?  Some people used it as a game – whoever had the most connections, won.  They even branded themselves “LIONs” (LinkedIn Open Networkers).  As if their credibility depends on which strangers they persuaded to connect with them.  I hate to break it to LIONs – if I don’t know someone, I have 20 other ways to find them without looking through your sorry list of tenuous connections.

What idiots.

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started my company was this: “You want to be the go-to person for your clients any time they want to find someone else.  For example, ‘I need the name of a great CPA; Eric will know one’.”  I love being that resource for my clients.  I built my company client by client over 14 years and through a great recession.  Do you think I’m going to refer them to someone I don’t know well?

My credibility as a professional is on the line with each referral I make as much as it is with each referral I receive.

My mother has constantly preached “you are judged by the company you keep”.  I believe this is as true with LinkedIn as it is with my friends.  The roster of connections I have reflects my values and I’m pleased to have any potential client see that the company I keep is of quality, not quantity.

So if we’ve met or had a phone call, I welcome your connection (or more likely, I’ll be requesting a connection with you).  If not, leave me alone.

Before LinkedIn changed how our profile views looked, there was a small section for “Advice for Contacting Me”.  That got removed in this years’ re-design.  Doesn’t really matter, because no one bothered to look at it any way.

I wrote – “Before I connect with you, I must have met you, or had a phone call with you.”

The hundreds of people who tried to connect with me whom I never heard of obviously didn’t bother reading it.

For me, LinkedIn is a way of managing my network of people I know, or whom I can refer business to (or vice-versa).  But more importantly, it shows my current clients and prospective clients people I actually know.  When I’ve been referred to a prospective client.  I’ll look at the CEO’s LinkedIn profile to see who we know in common.  (After 30 years in business, and with 9 business partners, the odds of me knowing someone are pretty good).

My business is entirely referral based – virtually each of our 200+ clients have been referred to us.  (When you’re in the business of advising executives on their workforce and HR strategies, they most likely aren’t going to hire you with via a google search; they’re going to want to get a recommendation from someone they know).

It’s always a positive when talking to a C-level executive for the first time and being able to identify those connections we have in common.  It immediately enhances my credibility and reassures them they haven’t been steered astray.  It’s a confidence builder.

LinkedIn is not a way of championing how many strangers I can connect with (don’t those people have enough work to do?)

Remember when LinkedIn first became popular?  Some people used it as a game – whoever had the most connections, won.  They even branded themselves “LIONs” (LinkedIn Open Networkers).  As if their credibility depends on which strangers they persuaded to connect with them.  I hate to break it to LIONs – if I don’t know someone, I have 20 other ways to find them without looking through your sorry list of tenuous connections.

What idiots.

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started my company was this: “You want to be the go-to person for your clients any time they want to find someone else.  For example, ‘I need the name of a great CPA; Eric will know one’.”  I love being that resource for my clients.  I built my company client by client over 14 years and through a great recession.  Do you think I’m going to refer them to someone I don’t know well?

My credibility as a professional is on the line with each referral I make as much as it is with each referral I receive.

My mother has constantly preached “you are judged by the company you keep”.  I believe this is as true with LinkedIn as it is with my friends.  The roster of connections I have reflects my values and I’m pleased to have any potential client see that the company I keep is of quality, not quantity.

So if we’ve met or had a phone call, I welcome your connection (or more likely, I’ll be requesting a connection with you).  If not, leave me alone.

 

 

 

What Makes A Person A “Best Boss”?

For the past three years, I’ve been asking bankers “Who’s the best boss you ever had – and why?”  Recently I’ve been speaking to a number of banking organizations, and asking that question of bank CEO’s as well.  After tracking and analyzing the responses, we’ve come up with some initial, and admittedly unscientific, findings.

The five most common responses we’ve seen from all the participants is – to paraphrase – “The reason this person was the best boss I ever had was because…”

  1. Transparent, a great communicator
  2. Supported me
  3. Cared about me as a person
  4. Honest, had integrity
  5. Trustworthy

Those are pretty good qualities in a leader, don’t you think?

Communication is the single most important characteristic in leadership.  You can be the smartest person in the room, or the hardest worker, or the person with the most experience, but if you cannot communicate well verbally and in writing, you’ll never succeed.  Today, the word “transparency” is a buzzword to indicate that employees – especially engaged employees – look to leaders and organizations who are as transparent as possible, with few secrets from employees.  Communication and transparency are key to trust, in both a leader and a bank.

Support means lots of things to lots of employees.  But my experience is that “cared about me as a person” and “supported me” are intertwined.  People want a leader that will back them up and support them, and the first way to develop that relationship is to get to know that employee as a person.

I also believe that honesty, integrity and trustworthiness are interconnected as well.  More than ever, these are essential characteristics in great leaders.  Every mistake, every semi-ethical decision is now magnified because all of your employees are broadcasters, with the ability to post their thoughts (and your mistakes) on social media, glass door, and the like.  Doing the right thing is important because it’s always the right thing to do.

We’ve received over 700 responses in 50 different sessions, and are in the process of putting together a research report that shows what bankers look for in leaders.  But I can share two initial findings with you now:

There is surprisingly little difference between what younger and older bankers look for in great leaders.  With all the discussions about millennials in the workplace, and their needs, it surprised me that – with rare exceptions – the same basic responses were given by young and old.  One are that was different were that younger bankers look more for a mentor and more frequent feedback than more experienced bankers.  Older bankers indicated their best boss was a good teacher and coach, but there’s a distinct difference between a coach and a mentor.

Younger bankers also look for more frequent feedback than older bankers.

Bank CEO’s almost always looked for a boss that gave them freedom.  Inevitably at a leadership program, bank CEO’s will mention that their best boss “gave me enough rope to hang myself” (or some variation of that).  In other words, CEO’s remember their best boss was not a micromanager; trusted their good employees enough to let them make their own decisions; and gave them the freedom to work autonomously.  I don’t see that happening in banks (or any industry) much these days, and that’s too bad: the best way to develop leaders is to remove the leash and allow them the opportunity to fail or succeed on their own.

What are your thoughts on the components of a “Best Boss”?

Annual Pay Increases – What Is “Fair”?

20150908162833-one-dollar-money-woman-ceo-bossI recently received an e-mail from a client.  They’re in the service industry with about 250 employees and multiple departments, located in the Pacific Northwest.  The COO was frustrated because the board of directors, at the urging of some department heads, wanted to give all employees the exact same percentage raise.

Here’s her question:

Can you reach out and try to explain the downside of across the board raises just because someone lasted another year.  One or two departments are trying this approach and it may undermine the salary and wage plan we are trying to implement with top performers getting more, average performers getting less and non-performers getting zero.

Someone has to be a #1 and someone has be the bottom of each department.

And here’s my response:

One of the first things a business must do is set a compensation standard for the entire organization.  It is counterintuitive to have one department doing one thing and other departments doing another.  It lacks cohesion but more importantly it lessens the overall culture and direction you’re trying to establish for your organization..

So my first recommendation is that it’s one overall compensation and workforce strategy and plan for the entire business.  Successful businesses are run this way; unsuccessful businesses are not.

The second recommendation takes more time.  And it is essentially – should we do across-the-board raises – the same percentage – for everyone or should it be a merit-based program?

The rationale for across-the-board raises is that everyone is treated the same; we’re all one team and, candidly, it’s a lot easier for lazy managers to implement.  There isn’t any complaining, no thought needs to go into it, and we can get it over with.

This was the thought of businesses until the late 1980’s, and it worked until then.  Treating everyone the same created harmony and dis-incentivized weaker performers from complaining to their lawyer, or anyone else around them.  Also there was thought that it increased the “we are all one big team” mentality.

This theory is now widely discredited by forward moving organizations and by leadership thought leaders globally.

We are in an era of “one size fits one”, not “one size fits all”.  Across-the-board raises discourages your top performers and encourages mediocrity among the team.  Businesses are trying to do more with less, and implementing pay-for-performance, or merit pay, is the principal way of accomplishing this.  Progressive organizations identify their top performers then find out what they want and give it to them.  And they weed out poor performers.

A great deal is made of the employment practices in Silicon Valley – Google, Netflix, Yahoo! and all of the others.  We read about flexible workplaces, catered sushi lunches, and free dry cleaning on premises.  But what you don’t see is the expectations associated with all of those perks.  The Netflix Culture Code – a document I recommend to every business owner, CEO and future leader – is a perfect example of this.

Do you know what Netflix’ thinks of mediocre performers?  It’s on page 22 of their code: Adequate Performance gets a Generous Severance Package.  They don’t even pay average performers less than top performers – they get rid of them.  In this way, they maintain their standards of excellence.

I know lots of CEOs who regret keeping marginal performers on too long; I know none of them who regret letting them go too quickly.

So in ‘the real world’ today, poor performers aren’t just paid the same as everyone else – they’re eliminated from the organization!

Merit pay incents top performers; it motivates marginal performers to either improve or find employment elsewhere.  And most importantly it sets a standard that you expect excellent performance at all times.

I would like to find out from the department heads what their compelling reason is to do across-the-board raises.  I’m willing to bet it’s a self-serving reason, from “we’re just one big team” to “I don’t want to create discontent.” That’s yesterday’s thinking and a guarantee that mediocrity will continue.

We talk all the time about eliminating an entitlement mentality and creating a culture of accountability.  How on earth can that take place under a one-size-fits-all mentality?

And the “one team” argument is ludicrous.  Look at professional sports teams.  Do they all get paid the same?  No.  Do they all get the same percentage of raises each year?  No.  Everyone knows who gets paid what, and everyone knows that the best players get the most pay.  That’s the way it works.  And somehow those “teams” still have that “team mentality”.

Focus on moving forward.  Leadership takes courage.  But the drive to be great needs to be self-evident.  Right now, the evidence is that your managers don’t really want to lead.