Link between people and performance

Many years ago, I worked in police communications as a shift supervisor. I was given the task of turning around a group of low-functioning employees and while initially I was not enthralled with the idea; I began to think about ways I could rise up to the challenge.

The telecommunications section had an assortment of duties that were required by its employees. In those days, everyone had to rotate through the duties which varied from monitoring of security cameras, responding to public complaints and enquiries over the phone, multi-channel live radio communications with the police officers on the road, computer queries related to responses for assistance from the public; and persons and vehicle checks by the police officers; as well as data management and record maintenance.

When I first took over this shift, the employees had a very high rate of absenteeism and there was a lot of fighting amongst the group as well as complaints from police officers and members of the public. At first, I did nothing but make note of behaviours I was seeing for myself. It didn’t take long before distinct patterns emerged – Suzy Q would call in sick whenever it was her night to do radio – Joey-Beth would get into screaming matches with the public whenever she was on the complaints desk – Cindy-Lou would actually fall asleep at the security camera station and Sissy would end up in tears when she got behind on the queries and couldn’t maintain the pace.  The way this group spoke to one another and the language they used was enough to make your ears bleed and at times the air was so thick with tension, you could almost cut it with a knife! This was a very dysfunctional group.

After having conversations with the police officers as to what some of their concerns were (some were worried about their personal safety and I believe their fears had some validity to them); the public complaints also appeared to be well-founded (I personally spoke to some of the complainants and reviewed tapes of calls); I could see the bickering for myself and the sick time was becoming quite an expense both emotionally and financially to the section – I started to work on a plan for change.

I spoke to the team one on one as well as in a group and we discussed what kinds of differences we might have if we were to distribute the work load to better suit the preferences of the employees. In other words; I was willing to allow them to have a voice in the assignment of duties.  

I knew two of the employees on the team were absolutely terrified of doing the radio work. They were slow to respond to the police officer’s requests and did not hear well, thus having to ask continually for requests to be repeated. This frustrated and angered the police officers and consequently caused them to question their safety when these particular people were on the radio. I also knew that I had one operator that was exceptional on the telephones and handled the public extremely well (she was a former police officer who was unable to work on the road anymore).  She was not particularly quick on the computer system though and really struggled when she had to do the record maintenance and would fall behind frequently, which meant her fellow operators had to pick up the slack.

I had two others that would call in sick frequently – one when it was her rotation on the security monitoring and the other when she had to work on the radio.

So, I decided to go ahead and experiment – I let everyone do what they preferred doing and did not insist they rotate through the roles. Their attitudes changes almost instantly – sick time became almost non-existent; the jobs were being done more competently; police officers on the road were far more confident and the complaints went down considerably from them as well as from the public. Two of the operators were on radio all the time and would only need to work the phones during break times. The changes began slowly at first, in terms of improved attitudes; but as the trust in everyone’s abilities grew and they began to realize the benefits of utilizing the skills they were good at, we were really starting to see positive results.

Initially, I was heavily criticized by upper management for making the changes to the duty assignments and advised that I had to change the team back into the rotational duties. I was in total disbelief by that request. I had a team that was actually getting along now – morale was increasing – we had surprise pot luck nights – wore costumes on Halloween – the group was engaged and it was evident in the lack of complaints from the public and police officers that we were successfully strengthening the team.

What I find truly astonishing though; and why I wrote this blog to ‘toot my horn’ is that I was doing this in the early 90’s.

I had gained respect of the team; the police officers and my peers and now, many years later; a young man named Marcus Buckingham writes about how the world’s greatest managers flout conventional wisdom by breaking the golden rule, playing favourites, and turning their focus away from improving people’s weaknesses.

His books, “First, break all the Rules”; “Now, Discover Your Strengths”; and “Go, Put Your Strengths to Work” are the results of over 25 years of research – he has shown that the link between people and performance is vivid.

The most “engaged” workplaces (those in the top 25% of Q12 scores) were 50% more likely to have lower turnover, 56% more likely to have higher-than-average customer loyalty, 38% more likely to have above-average productivity, and 27% more likely to report higher profitability. (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/49/buckingham.html)

According to Buckingham, when a company makes a statement such as, “Our Company’s greatest asset is our people!”…while it’s a nice motto, it’s meaningless without introspection and application. And the truth is, people aren’t your greatest asset, unless they’re in position to leverage their greatest strengths – those things they do well consistently and energetically.

At a time when organizations are trying to do more with fewer people, it’s critical to engage each person’s strengths, and do it at scale across the organization. The strengths movement isn’t about making people happier; it’s about making organizations more productive. It’s about yield. The best companies are made up of great teams. And those teams have individuals who know their strengths, take them seriously & offer them up to the organization.  (http://www.tmbc.com/mb/biography)

Posted in Change, Coaching, Communication, Employee Engagement, Human Behaviour, Retention, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why do you stay?

Way back in February, I wrote about the “Stay Interview” and I wanted to add a bit more information about that since it seemed to be a particular topic of interest. 

Most of us are quite familiar with the exit interview; however, it seems that the reasons employees stay is not asked nearly as frequently as why employees leave. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. When we do something right, shouldn’t we be curious about what those things are?

Most organizations have some high-performing employees just as they have some that perhaps don’t perform as well as we’d like.  I have often wondered why it is that we focus so much time and energy on those that don’t perform as well as we’d like and seem to overlook giving attention to those who do well.

As a result of this curiosity, I started to ask a few of the better performing employees some questions about their jobs.

  • What is it that you particularly like about the job?
  • What is it that keeps you motivated?
  • How do you feel about being recognized – is it enough?
  • Are there things that you would like to learn (self-improvement, new skills) that we can possibly help you with?
  • If you could change your job in any way, what changes would you make?
  • If you ever hear others complain, what types of things do you hear about? In other words, what could we, as a company improve upon?
  • When you have a really good day at work, what makes it so good?

What I started to learn is that communication really started to open up and new ideas were starting to come forward – even from those that used to complain more frequently than we wanted.

Once you start to pay attention in a positive way, and let your employees know that you do appreciate them, it’s interesting to see how others will improve just for the recognition.

I think that exit interviews do have a place – I know there is a great deal we can learn from them as well – I just think it makes more sense to improve upon what we have when we have it rather than wait until people are leaving.

The other problem with exit interviews (in my opinion) is that employees are not always as open and honest as we might hope because they are on their way out. They don’t care that much anymore; and besides, they won’t even reap the benefits of seeing any changes (if any result) once they are gone.

On the other hand, when employees have an opportunity to be actively involved in changes and can see things improving, feeling they may have played a part in those improvements; doesn’t that just make more sense?

It seems to me that we are constantly looking for ways to engage our employees and motivate them when possibly, it’s as simple as giving them a say in how they perform their duties. Allowing them more opportunities to have input and control their work might be just the ticket.

Be brave – take a chance – ask your employees – “Why do you stay”?

Posted in Coaching, Communication, Employee Engagement, Employee Turnover, Human Behaviour, Management Coaching, Retention, Stay Interviews, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Job Description: Multi-task AND Pay attention to detail?

My daughter was applying for a job the other day and she asked me to review her letter, so of course, I asked to see what the job posting was asking for. Some of the skills that were required were as follows:

  • Must have ability to multi-task
  • Must be able to communicate effectively
  • Must demonstrate attention to detail

Pretty standard of many job postings…and then it occurred to me…how on earth can anyone multi-task, be an effective communicator AND pay attention to detail?

Isn’t that a bit of a dichotomy? I mean, really…if you are multi-tasking; you are NOT giving attention to detail. Doesn’t one skill require you to do a multitude of tasks simultaneously, while the other means you need to be present?

I was the ‘queen’ of multi-tasking (many women are, by the way) and for years I thought I was so much more efficient as a result. I have since come to believe that it’s a rather ineffective way of doing things and I’m actually surprised by how many jobs still list it as a desirable skill.

Think about it…when a person is doing a multitude of different things at once, the error rate goes up significantly; he probably has the attention span of a gnat; and it’s highly unlikely that he is communicating ‘effectively’ because his mind isn’t processing what being said or asked of him clearly…consequently, it’s highly unlikely that a great deal of attention is being given to detail.

The more I thought about this, the more I started to consider the consequences of multi-tasking and funnily enough, I was actually falling into my old habit of multi-tasking the other night when I was getting dinner ready.  I was talking on the phone; running back and forth to the barbeque slapping barbeque sauce on the ribs; chopping the lettuce for the salad; grating the cheese; making the dressing; and I’m pretty sure I was also writing a couple of envelopes out for some cards I was sending in the mail. 

So, fast forward – we’re sitting down to dinner and I take a bite out of my salad – it was Caesar salad and it’s one of my favourite recipes. All of a sudden, I get this sharp taste in my mouth as if I’d eaten a kosher dill pickle and I realize – I put in a double dose of vinegar. Ugh!  At first it didn’t immediately register with me because I only vaguely remember even making the dressing because I was so busy doing a multitude of other things and I wasn’t paying attention to detail.

Much of what I think is missing in our fast-paced world today is the attention to detail that so many of us now crave. Consumers today say they want better quality products and service and yet I’m wondering how we can get that when we ask employees to multi-task. No wonder so much of what we buy today falls apart in short order – no wonder we can go into a restaurant and sit for 20 minutes before being served or even acknowledged in some cases – or we stand in a lobby waiting to book into a hotel while the desk clerk is dealing with a delivery fellow, answering the phone and giving instructions to the bellman.

No, I am not convinced that multi-tasking is quite the skill that it’s cracked up to be…so delete that from the job please…I’ll take the attention to detail.

Check out this research: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html

http://asia.cnet.com/crave/2009/08/26/new-research-shows-multitasking-is-counter-productive/

Posted in Attention to Detail, Multi-tasking, Recruitment, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

What makes a bad boss?

I recently had the opportunity to read yet another great article by Susan Heathfield, who writes frequently on About.com (Human Resources).  I subscribe to her posts because she not only provides expert advice, but she also allows her readers to respond to polls or provide opinions and asks for feedback on articles she submits. 

Within this post, I have inserted a poll that she did with respect to what makes a manager a bad boss.  As you can see, this poll was responded to by a large number of participants and while I do not have the actual comments made on the last question (Please add your own opinion of what makes a bad boss); there were obviously a lot of comments there.

 Of a total of 16,621 people who responded to the poll:

 35% (5,847)   - The manager provides little direction

24% (3,998)    - The manager micro-manages and nit-picks your work

17% (2,958)    – The manager belittles and puts down staff

10% (1,789)    – The manager offers little or no recognition for success and hard work

8% (1,472)      – The manager is indecisive and seemingly changes direction at whim

3% (557)         – Other: (Please add your own opinion about what makes a bad boss)

 http://humanresources.about.com/od/badmanagerboss/a/boss_comments.htm?p=1

The reason I found this so interesting, is that I have worked with both the completely ‘hands off’ manager and the ‘nit-picker’ who micro-managed and criticised everything.  I am not sure which one was worse…but judging from the poll above it would seem that more bosses tend to provide little to no direction. The point is, I could most definitely relate to the numbers!

This particular poll ties in quite well to many of the other articles I have written myself about topics such as: performance management, coaching for improved performance, stay interviews, and of course; orientations and on-boarding (or integration of new staff).

If we are not providing direction as leaders, how then can we be managing any kind of productivity amongst our employees? I’ve heard the argument for years about how HR doesn’t contribute to the bottom line of an organization and I would agree that it is often difficult to articulate measurements around emotional aspects of employment relationships. But surely, when evidence such as what is presented in this poll indicates how many bad bosses are out there – why is there no accountability?

I completely accept and acknowledge that there are HR people who have not performed in the way that the executive suite would like to see for the sake of the business…but when I see the numbers in terms of how many bad managers there are, I must question their business savvy.

This article is not intended to bash anyone and I trust that is not the way it will be perceived…but for the organizations that don’t see the tie in to business…I would ask that you contemplate  how high-performers could possibly result from leadership such as that indicated above.

Think about this – if you have that many managers in your organization that don’t even know how to provide adequate direction – what direction are the employees taking?  So, as an HR person, can I give you the exact figure association to the loss of production because of a lack in employee engagement? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that something’s gotta give when there’s that high of a percentage of your employee who don’t even know what direction their headed in…

Posted in Bad Bosses, Coaching, Communication, Employee Engagement, Human Behaviour, Management Coaching, Orientations, Retention, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seat Warmers Wanted

I recently had a discussion with a general manager of a medium-sized insurance business and we were talking about recruitment and how difficult it was to find experienced personnel. 

The next thing I heard her say caught me completely off guard…”All I want is a warm body to fill the seats.”  Yikes! That didn’t sound like a very good plan to me in view of the fact that they had high turnover, which is what prompted the discussion in the first place.

All of a sudden, it became apparent to me as to why they had turnover like they did. I’m not sure that these people really get it…do they not see the connection?

I have done a lot of interviewing over the years and while we certainly want to find someone with the right skill set as well as the right attitude – the right attitude plus some training can be a winning combination that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’d rather have that than just a warm body in the chair for heaven’s sake.

I had the great pleasure of receiving an introduction to “Motivation-Based Interviewing” and learned some tips on how to differentiate high performing individuals from those that would be average or below average performers.  I highly recommend you check out http://www.hireauthority.com to learn more about the secret to hiring high-performers as well. 

Carol Quinn, the CEO of Hire Authority, took the time to talk with me about the development of this interviewing technique and I was very favourably impressed. Ultimately, we make our jobs harder than it has to be by hiring the wrong people.

I told this general manager about the importance of hiring the right people to begin with and thought this might be something they’d like to consider given their problem in recruitment and retention. 

 Attitudes about hiring and retention need to change if business owners are serious about achieving greater success. As well as hiring right in the first place; they need to consider the next steps to take once they bring these high-performers into the organization.

Are they being set up for success – given a proper introduction to the culture of the organization – who’s who in the zoo, so to speak? Are they then guided along through an on-boarding process that further helps them in understanding what the role and duties are that they are expected to fulfill?

I’ve mentioned orientations and onboarding in previous blogs but I truly believe this is an area that organizations miss the mark on and thus it bears repeating. A successful orientation sends a clear message to the new comer – “We are an organization that cares about its people”.

 Even prior to the newcomer’s arrival; have his or her desk set up and ready to go.

  • Have an up-to-date phone list on the desk
  • Have instructions on how to use the phone; transfer calls; place calls on hold
  • Provide them with a new employee handbook (if one is available)
  • If the person has an office – have the name tag on the door
  • Be sure to have a ‘tour-guide’ assigned to show them around the office & introduce them to others on the team or in neighbouring departments

Onboarding, of course; is the longer process that brings them from their initial orientation through to the end of their probationary term (in most cases). Don’t you want your employees given the best chance of success?

Think of how much easier things will function with this investment up front.  I believe that if people are very clear on what their contribution to the organization should look like, the more productive employees will be.

Onboarding effectively will ensure the new employee is up and running much more quickly and much more confidently.

  • Assign them a ‘go-to’ person so they can feel comfortable in asking questions
  • Thoroughly go over the job description and expectations during this period of time
  • If errors are made, coach them back on track (much easier at this stage then once they are fully engrained into their error-making ways
  • Check in frequently to build the trust and knowledge that they are being supported to succeed

These are just small pieces of what is involved in the process of orientations and onboarding but they give you a sense of what is involved in the next stage after hiring.

If you want high-performing employees that are up and running sooner; combine the right hiring with the right orientation and onboarding process and you’ll have a winning combination – guaranteed!

I suspect that many of the retention challenges that employers experience would be eliminated simply by making their current practices a thing of the past – give the employees the tools to do the job right at the start – it will definitely be more effective and ultimately produce better results – it seems that hiring ‘seat warmers’ hasn’t been working…

 So please, no ‘seat warmers’ for me…

Posted in Coaching, Communication, Employee Engagement, Employee Turnover, On-Boarding, Orientations, Retention, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Do you know your Culture?

What kind of a culture do you want to create? Many organizations talk about workplace culture but I wonder how many really know what kind of a culture they truly have.

Unfortunately, the leaders of an organization are often out of touch with what happens on the ‘shop floor’ as it were and I’ll bet they’d be surprised at what they’d learn if they came into the organization as a new worker.

There is a new TV reality show (in all honesty, I have yet to see it) called Undercover Boss (CBS). The premise of the show is this:

High-level executives go anonymously into some of the lowest level jobs within their respective companies. They work alongside the rank and file and find out what their employees really think of them, and they will get first-hand knowledge of how their companies really run. In the process, these executives learn a lot about themselves, the perception of their company and the spirit of their workplaces.

They see the way their teams really work together and understand their front line leadership better as well. As I say, I have not seen the show; but I love the premise.

I think that in real life (not reality TV) some executives would be wise to try to learn what really goes on. As I say, many of them are out of touch from what I have experienced and seen personally.

I had the opportunity to work on a project that was aimed at changing a workplace culture. In the project I was involved in, the culture had to do with workplace attitudes around safety and the misconception that safety was strictly an individual’s business only. It was an eye-opener for many within the organization because perceptions around safety did in fact change following the completion of the project. The first piece was in helping the organization understand what its culture really was. Helping them to define the existing culture first and foremost, was one of the keys in helping to drive attitudinal changes.

I think that this would have been a difficult task if it had not been done by an external party. It took coming from the outside to shed light on the behaviours those on the inside could not see. Culture is basically a statement of ‘the way we do things around here’ and once you have been ensconced into the culture of a workplace (or even in your own personal lifestyle), you no longer see the forest for the trees, as it were.

I think it would do many organizational leaders some good to learn about what their culture really is. Is it one that encourages teamwork? If so, they should notice these types of behaviours and attitudes:

  • Team members are skilled in all the various roles and functions
  • The teams (departments) have developed well-established, relaxed working relationships
  • There is loyalty among group members
  • Values and goals of the organization or department are in harmony
  • Problem solving and decision-making is done in a supportive, trusting atmosphere
  • There is a sense of ownership amongst the team in that any materials contributed to the team is treated as ‘ours’
  • Constructive criticism does not create disagreements personally or confuse rejection of ideas as rejection of the individual.
  • The team works collectively and supportively helping each member develop to his/her full potential
  • There is strong motivation from each member to communicate fully and frankly to the team all the information which is relevant and of value to the team’s activities.

If these healthy team attitudes are missing, I would suggest that the culture isn’t as healthy as it could be.

I challenge those organizations that call themselves “Best in Class” to look at the culture within their own company – is it what you want to see?  are people performing in the way you think they are?  and do you have healthy team-players who encourage one another to be successful and support open communication?

Posted in Change, Communication, Human Behaviour, Perception, Undercover Boss, Workplace Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Communicating Change

Every organization at some point in time will have to announce some type of change in the workplace. It may be changes to technology; changes in leadership (a new supervisor hired in a department); or changes in policies for one reason or another.

The way in which changes are communicated will determine how successful the changes are understood and adopted by the employee group.

Having been involved in a number of change initiatives in various organizations; this truth has been proven over and over again.  You can never over-communicate a planned change – and in particular – to those most impacted.

 Simple steps to think about in your communications:

  • Leadership must support the change (even if in fact, they may not agree)
  • Rationale for the change must also be communicated clearly – help make it make sense
  • Be sure to ask for questions from those impacted and listen to what is said – dialogue with the impacted parties is very important – otherwise your employee buy in is hampered
  • Communicate consistently and frequently
  • Use a number of ways to communicate – speaking, writing, video, training, focus groups, bulletin boards, Intranets
  • Communicate what you know, when you know it – you may not know everything up front – that’s O.K. – tell what you do know and be honest about what you don’t yet know – do not make things up – you will destroy trust
  • While I know this has been mentioned above already; I am going to repeat that you need to encourage dialogue – allow people to ask questions – you don’t just want to present information – you want the employees to accept the changes, so they must feel involved
  • Even though a change may impact one group of employee more than another; it is still advisable to keep everyone in the loop – this will avoid gossip and fear mongering – and will also provide an opportunity for people to safely explore new behaviours and ideas about changes

While I realize this list is rather simplistic (change management typically requires a well thought out communication plan and will take time to develop) the idea here is to think about making an actual communication plan and having distinct steps to take toward successfully implementing change.

Posted in Change, Communication, Human Behaviour | Tagged , , | 4 Comments