Leading People In A Down Economy

Yes, the economy is slow to recover and things are tough all over.

But now the workforce cuts have largely been made and the question for business owners is – how do I do more with less?

The following are two major trends I’ve noted in working with small businesses (generally less than 200 employees) in the western United States:

EMPLOYEES HAVE TRANSFORMED THEIR MENTALITY…
A few years ago, the typical employee had an ‘entitlement’ mentality – they felt their employer was lucky to have him or her. Unhappy employees could (and did) pick up and leave for a better opportunity at the first sign of disappointment. The typical attitude was not that of a team player – but as an individual who is owed a promotion, salary increases and more attention. This was nowhere more apparent than the “Generation Y” workforce.

Now, things have changed completely on its axis. Everyone has worked with people and are friends with people who have lost their jobs with little hope for a similar compensation program in a future job. As a result, employees now feel privileged to have their job. Everyone knows that layoffs have been pervasive, and they could be the next to go. This will result – if managed properly – in employees who will complain less, work harder, and become more appreciative of the job they have.

BUT THEY ARE REALLY, REALLY UNHAPPY…

Employees are simply grateful to have a job right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy in their job. A survey from Adecco North America, released just this week, shows:

  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of American workers are not currently satisfied with their compensation.
  • 76 percent are not satisfied about future career growth opportunities at their company.
  • Almost half (48 percent) of workers are not satisfied with the relationship they have with their boss and 59 percent saying they are not satisfied with the level of support they receive from their colleagues.

Workers are also critical of their organization’s brain trust, with 77 percent saying that they are not satisfied with the strategy and vision of their company and its leadership.

We’ve noticed the number of complaints from workers are way down. People are still being harassed and discriminated against, but they’re afraid to complain because of fear of job loss.

By the way, most large companies have laid off more employees than small companies; that’s because it’s easier to lay off workers at bigger businesses because employees at smaller companies typically perform multiple tasks.

That means when the economy starts kicking into gear, and there are more job opportunities, those employees are going to either leave or file major complaints.

WHAT TO DO?

Lead. The number one thing that business owners and managers can do is actually lead. You’re a leader. You are on stage. You’re not allowed to show frustration or weakness. Leaders lead – they say “here is the way I believe we need to go,” and then go. This is the attitude you must take when managing change. Virtually any change breeds opportunity – the key is finding the opportunity and act on it.

Communicate. It is imperative that frequent and clear communication lead the way to your success. There is fear in the marketplace. Employees are wondering if you’re going to cut staff, perquisites, and their free coffee. Employees are heavily invested in the success of the business, and they have a right to know what you’re doing. Even saying, “I don’t know” is preferable to not communicating. And it’s more than a memo or company-wide e-mail; managers and supervisors must be empowered to candidly talk with their staffs as well.

Performance Management. If you’re maximizing the people you have, you won’t need so many people! You can get more done with fewer people by knowing what your people do best. Evaluate your talent. Carefully consider your need for every one of your employees. Most businesses are not maximizing each and every employee they have. There are techniques available to ensure talent maximization – so find and replicate your best performers.

In 2009, the business owner and leader who has the ability to honestly evaluate talent, performance and make the decisions necessary to sustain the business not just in the short term, but for the long term, is the leader who will be highly successful both this year and beyond.

Training New Managers

Most managers get that role because they’re the hardest worker; the best salesperson; or the smartest person in the office.

But those traits don’t translate into being an effective manager.  That’s where screening, development, and – most importantly – training – comes into play.

A new article in HR Executive Online discusses how and why to get managers properly trained as well as establishing metrics for success.

And yes, I’m quoted in the article.

Thanks to Scott Westcott and HR Exec Online

References, Linkedin, and Common Sense

Just after posting my opinion on job references comes more comments. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a job applicant was frustrated because potential employers wanted a minimum of three job references, but her prior employers had a policy of not providing such references.

Elizabeth Garone provided good advice, suggesting that supervisors no longer with the same company might be willing to be references (and because they’re no longer with the company, may be more willing to talk to a prospective employer).

Again, if I’m leaning towards hiring a candidate, I’m not going to spend time calling references – more often than not, the reference can’t give me any good information and the candidate is only going to list references that show that person in the best possible light! It’s not worth my time! I can do criminal investigations, skills testing and personality/instinct testing that will more properly predict success than a reference check.

Now, many attornies are warning employers about the hidden dangers of LinkedIn. Specifically, attorneys are advising employers to be wary of giving glowing remarks about employees on the site because the employers risk having the recommendations used against them in a discrimination or harassment suit.

Do References Matter?

You’re about to make a job offer to a candidate. Should you call his or her references?

Some people say yes, others say no. I’m in the latter category.

First, unless the candidate is a complete moron, they’re not going to give you names of people who provide a negative reference. And most previous employers are understandably nervous about providing any information on a former employee.

Some of our clients like to verify the candidates dates of employment or compensation. Fine – ask the candidate for a copy of their most recent W-2 form or paycheck stub. Other than that, calling references is a lot of time for a very little reward.

Following standard procedures, you can require a background check, drug testing or even skills testing to verify information and make sure the candidate is you he/she says they are.

Here’s an article in the South Jersey Courier Post that talks about the reference controversy. However, I seriously disagree with parts of the article that suggest visiting a candidates social networking sites as a pre-hire investigation. As I wrote back in May, using google and social networking sites to evaluate potential candidates is a really bad idea.

What does calling references accomplish?

Management & Leadership Trends 2nd Half 2009

Last week, I gave a presentation in Las Vegas on what I perceive to be the significant trends for managers and leaders during the last half of this year – check it out!

Even More Questions To Ask Your Boss

The most important component of management is the ability to communicate.

But communication goes both ways. A manager can’t inherently know what an employee wants. Good managers ask – and good employees proactively manage up by asking what their boss wants.

In April 2008, we wrote about great questions to ask your boss, and it remains the most visited article in the history of this blog.

Here are some more questions, courtesy of Caroline Ceniza-Levine via CareerBuilder.com:

  1. How will we gauge my success in three, six or 12 months?
  2. How do you prefer to communicate and how often?
  3. What does my career path look like at this company?
  4. What areas do I need to develop to advance my career?
  5. What’s our top priority?
  6. Let me see if I understand this correctly … am I missing anything?
  7. What are my strengths?
  8. What can I do to help you?
  9. I’m working on X, Y and Z — do you think I can handle this task?

Concentration, Poker, Effectiveness and Liz Lieu

Last Friday night, I spent an hour watching (sweating, in poker parlance) a professional poker player in a tournament at the World Series of Poker. It ended up being a lesson in how concentration works in different ways.

Liz Lieu has been a professional poker player for several years; she’s won tournaments and had top finishes at other prestigious events. (As a side note, I love watching poker – it’s one of the ultimate ways to study people).

You would expect a professional to have incredibly focused concentration; to talk little and always watch other players at the table and how the hands unfold. Not Liz. She had her I-Pod on (several people tell me that an I-Pod improves concentration; that’s never been my experience). At every chance (mostly when she was out of a hand), she was on her PDA – twittering and texting. People, mostly other pros, came over to chat and she was gracious and funny with them.

And, by the way, she was winning!

What I also noticed was when she was involved with a hand (or before she even saw her down cards) – she was intense. Behind those sunglasses (the photo, courtesy of Poker News, was taken the day I was sweating her), she wasn’t missing a thing. She saw the reactions of her competitors as they looked at their cards – what they were betting, etc. Her face gave away nothing, but she was seeing and processing everything.

What does this have to do with management?

Just as some people work better with a messy desk than a clean one, people have differences in they way they concentrate best. It’s a temptation for a manager to insist on a clean desk, or tell an employee to take out their I-pod earpiece. But it’s the wrong temptation as long as an employee is performing well.

It’s the role of a manager to foster an atmosphere where employees can flourish and perform at their best level.

Although there’s no way I could play in a poker tournament while doing all the things Liz does, what she does works best for her. Remember that when the temptation strikes with your employees.

Avoiding EFCA and Leading Better

The EFCA is designed to make it easier for employees to organize into a union. Although the bill has lost some momentum recently, the possibility of your business turning into a union shop is stronger now than at any time since the NRLB was enacted in 1935.

If you don’t want your workforce subject to the demands of a union, what do you do?

In 2008, Kenexa Research Institute published a report of a study made of 10,000 U.S. workers. Each participant was asked to agree or disagree with a list of statements about their employers. A significant percentage of those favoring unions responded negatively. Although there were also negative responses from the employees who were not in favor of unions, the number of negative responses was substantially lower. The following are statements for which the “pro-union” employees had a significantly more negative view as compared with employees who did not favor unions:

  1. My organization shows a commitment to ethical business decisions and conduct.
  2. I have confidence in my company’s senior leaders.
  3. When my company’s senior management says something, you can believe it is true.
  4. Where I work, ethical issues and concerns can be discussed without negative consequences.
  5. My manager treats me fairly.
  6. Senior management is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers.
  7. My company enables people from diverse backgrounds to excel.
  8. My manager treats me with respect and dignity.
  9. Management shows concern for the well-being and morale of team members.
  10. Senior management demonstrates that employees are important to the success of the company.
  11. I feel free to try new things on my job, even though my efforts may not succeed.
  12. My company supports employees’ efforts to balance work and family/personal responsibilities.

How do you know if your employees agree or disagree with those statements? Many employers believe wrongly that their employees are satisfied, but with little evidence to back that up. Remember, employees will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Get an employee assessment/360 degree survey done right away. At a minimum, it will provide a road map to show you how to improve your business.

And at most, it may help you avoid unionization of your workers.

Ways To Improve Morale

In the down economy, with layoffs all over the place, its critical for management to take steps to maintain and improve morale of their existing employees. After all, you need your existing employees to do more now that there are fewer people to do the work.

How do you increase morale when budgets are so tight?

The key is constant, frequent, and candid communication with employees. They deserve to know what’s going on and what you’re doing about this frightening economy.

An excellent summation (including, thankfully, the call for transparency and communication) is found in this Wall Street Journal post about a case study at a company in Boston – Greenough Communications.

What Generation Y Wants From Their Boss

Volumes of research has been conducted on how to manage Generation Y. I find most of the information way too general and not specific enough – after all, Generation Y, like Gen X and boomers, are still individuals and cannot all be gathered into one generic group.

A couple of people stand out in understanding Gen Y: Jessica Lee and Jennifer Kushell.

Recently, while conducting management training for a bunch of Gen Y’ers, I asked them to think of the best boss they ever worked for. Then I asked them what that person was their best boss. Here are their responses:

  • Gave me frequent and good feedback
  • Explanations before delegating to me
  • Pushed me to better myself
  • Helped in my career development/was a mentor
  • Provided clear direction and purpose
  • Showed concern for a work/life balance
  • Treated me as a partner and collaborator, not just an employee
  • Trusted me/empowered me
  • Focused on my strengths
  • Was a good teacher

If you manage Generation Y employees – is this the type of boss you are?