Leading Organizations Archive
Every time I ignore the red flags I see when interviewing a candidate, or when I feel an employee is struggling, or a project is off track, I pay the price. Every single time.
You interview a candidate whose commute will be 75-minutes each each way, but she says she likes to drive. Sure, until it snows. Move on. You haven’t gotten an update from a project team in over a month, but this group is typically reliable, so things are probably fine. Check in. Even the most diligent employees need accountability and attention.
They call them red flags for a reason. If you suspect a problem, there likely is one. Don’t just wait and ‘see how things go.’ Make a hard decision, get more information, or get involved. Wait and see is often a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes we don’t get involved because we don’t have the time or want to focus on other things. Other times we just don’t trust or listen to our gut.
I usually know what I want and need to do, both personally and professionally. Yet I tend to ask LOTS of people for their opinions of what I should do. I solicit advice from friends and colleagues, and in the end, I usually do whatever I want. Why not just trust that I know the right thing to do and just do it? Dad, are you reading this? See, I listen. My dad tells me all the time to stop soliciting opinions, I often ignore anyway, and just act.
Here are a six steps you can take to help listen to yourself and ensure you don’t overlook or ignore red flags:
1. Become very clear about your desired outcome. Decide what you want.
2. Eliminate distractions. Get quiet, aka, still your mind.
3. Think about the situation at hand. Weigh the facts and your options.
4. Decide without belaboring.
5. Act on your decision.
6. Don’t look back. Your initial decision is usually the right one.
Trusting and listening to ourselves can be hard. Perhaps it’s the fear of making a mistake or being wrong. Chances are you’re right. So pay attention to the red flags, trust yourself, and listen to your gut.
Hire people using whatever (legal) criteria you like. Compensate employees however you like. Charge for your products and services however you like. Run your business however you like. But be transparent about your practices. People want to work with those they trust. Transparency builds leadership trust.
A few weeks ago one of our vendors gave me a bill that was higher than what I expected, so I asked for an itemized invoice. I never heard from the company again. Poof; they disappeared. Not a great way to build leadership trust nor a reputation.
Another vendor was very delayed in filling our product orders. When I asked questions about how such a thing could happen, I got a vague answer. “I guess we have communication issues and you got lost in the shuffle.” It was an insufficient and thus bad answer that didn’t instill confidence in the company. Instead, it created doubt that they could reliably meet our needs and we’re going to replace them.
One of my friends recently got turned down for an internal job. She was told, “She just wasn’t the right fit.” An unhelpful and yet typical way to decline an internal candidate.
You don’t owe your employees or customers answers, but if you want people to want to work with you, have confidence in you, and trust you, you’ll provide more information than you think you need to.
Employees and customers can handle the truth. And while you may not think you need to provide it, people want to work with those they trust. We trust people who give us the whole truth. Or at least more of it than, “I guess you got lost in the shuffle.”
Increase business trust: Outline how you derive your pricing. Be clear and transparent about your pricing.
Increase corporate trust: Tell employees how and why you make the hiring decisions you do. They’ll refer friends to work for you, even when you decline them.
Increase leadership trust: Tell employees how the organization makes money, the feedback you’re getting from prospects and customers, and why you’re making the business decisions you’re making. Employees will feel more connected and thus committed to the organization.
Knowledge makes people feel comfortable. The people who work for and with you want to understand how and why decisions are made. If you want your customers and employees to trust you, give them a little more truth than you might think necessary.
Most hiring best practices tell you not to hire people like you, and instead create diversity in your workforce by hiring people different from you. And that’s sort of true. You should hire people with different skill sets, experiences, and ways of thinking. And you should hire people with a similar work ethic and values, or you will consistently be frustrated.
Here’s what I mean: If you live to work and hire people who work to live, that’s a values difference. If your view of what is reasonable regarding expected hours worked is different from your employees, that difference will cause conflict. If, like in our company, you value open, candid communication, but your employees can’t or won’t speak honestly, that’s going cause frustration. And these values and practices won’t change. Trust me.
The question is how to identify candidates’ values and work ethic before you hire them.
Here are a five hiring tips to ensure you hire people who reflect your values and work ethic:
Hiring tips number one: Describe what it’s really like to work for you and your organization. Don’t sugar coat the bad stuff. Tell the truth. Candidates will find out eventually. If the negatives of the job are deal breakers, your new employees will leave anyway.
Hiring tips number two: Check references. I’m shocked at the number of hiring managers who don’t check references. You might think that references have been so well trained to say nothing incriminating, that making the call is a waste of time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Be personable, make friends with the reference, ask innocent sounding questions, and references will tell you everything you need to know.
Hiring tips number three: Require candidates to jump through some hoops during the interview process. Ask candidates to invest time doing a little of the work they’ll do on the job (this is called a Practical Interview, something way too few hiring managers do) and observing people work in your office. If candidates aren’t willing to invest this time, cut them.
Hiring tips number four: Ask how many hours candidates want to work and candidate’s preferred work hours, and believe what they tell you. If someone wants to work 35 hours per week and your culture is 50 hours a week, no matter how much your new hire wants and enjoys her new job, she doesn’t want to work 50 hours a week, and won’t do so for very long.
Hiring tips number five: Don’t ignore red flags or your instincts. If you think, “I have some concerns, but let’s see. Maybe it will work out.” Run the other way. It won’t work out. You’ll end up cutting that employee after months of training and coaching, or s/he’ll end up cutting you. It’s faster, cheaper, and easier to wait to hire until you find the right person.
Hiring rule of thumb: Be slow to hire and quick to fire.
When I had knee surgery a bunch of years ago, the surgeon told me, “I didn’t fix your knee. I altered it.” He was trying to set the expectation that my knee wouldn’t be perfect, it would be different.
Violated expectations are at the root of disappointment, frustration, and broken relationships. We think, “I expect you to do or be a certain way and you’re not, so I’m unhappy.” If you want to be more satisfied and less frustrated, change your expectations. I don’t mean lower your expectations. I really do mean change them.
When I had a baby, I had no idea how difficult it would be to have someone I barely knew (our first nanny) take care of my son. It was tortuous until I got the sage advice, “You’re not going to get everything you want. Pay attention to the big things and be ok with good enough.” That’s hard for me. I have high standards and I want things done a certain way (my way). But I also don’t want to do everything myself. So I find myself altering my expectations and being ok with good enough. And it’s very, very difficult.
You likely want each of your employees, coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors to do things a certain way. Sometimes they’ll meet those expectations and sometimes they won’t. Decide what you must have, communicate those expectations (repeatedly if necessary), and let the rest go.
Here are four steps for setting expectations at work:
Setting expectations step one: Consider everything you need or want from a person. Make a list, even if it’s just for you.
Setting expectations step two: Determine what that person is capable of providing. What’s realistic given who they are and the constraints they’re under (financial, time, skills, experience, etc.)?
Setting expectations step three: Reset your expectations, if necessary.
Setting expectations step four: Ask for what you want and be specific about your request. Telling someone, “This needs to get better,” will get you nothing. Telling someone, “I’d like to be included in each meeting that relates to this project and cc’d on all pertinent emails,” may just get you what you need.
As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, be hard on the problem and easy on the person. When you address violated expectations, simply share what you expected to have happen and what actually did happen. That could sound like, “I thought we agreed I would be invited to each meeting pertaining to this client. There was a meeting last week I wasn’t invited to. What happened?” Watch your tone of voice when asking this question. Be neutral and curious.
Changing your expectations will likely be a daily occurrence. People won’t necessarily do things your way or even in the way you hoped. Decide what you must have, and let the rest go. Just think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save.
Working in a matrix management structure often means being accountable to several people/having multiple bosses, and having lots of accountability without much authority – both challenging. The key to making a matrix management structure work is lots and lots of good communication.
It’s not uncommon for people working in a matrix management structure to be frustrated. People with dotted line employees or managers often say they’re unsure of who they really work for, who to go to with challenges and needs, and that they don’t have the authority to lead people or processes. All of these frustrations are avoidable and manageable.
If you work in a matrix management environment and are thus accountable to multiple people, take charge of the management structure by asking the questions:
- Who is my ultimate boss?
- Who has input on my performance feedback and review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who decides on raises and promotion opportunities?
- Who do I go to when I need help?
- Quarterly (at a minimum) joint meetings with all the managers you answer to
- That all the managers you’re accountable to provide input on your performance appraisal
- That all the managers your report to participate in your performance discussion(s)
Follow the same practices for people who dotted line report to you. If you’re accountable for someone’s results, but you’re not his/her direct supervisor, ask for quarterly meetings with the employees’ boss. Ask to participate in the appraisal process, and keep the lines of communication between you, the employee, and the direct supervisor transparent and open. Talk regularly. Agree on who sets expectations and gives feedback. Be sure you know your role and the direct supervisor’s role.
The key to making a matrix management structure work is:
- Everyone knows who does what and who has what authority
- Joint meetings happen regularly
- Expectations are clear
Ask more. Assume less.
Many organizations have moved from cubeland to open plan offices in which employees sit in rows of desks with no barriers between them.
There’s considerable research on the workability of open plan offices. Some of what’s written says that introverts do worse than extroverts in an open plan office. I disagree. I’d say that how a person learns/takes in information determines how well she’ll do in an open plan office.
If you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner who learns by seeing or doing, you’ll be less distracted by noise than an auditory learner who learns by hearing. Auditory learners hear everything and are easily distracted by talking, music, and other noise. Visual and kinesthetic learners often don’t hear distractions, so they do better in an open plan office.
Here are seven steps to make an open plan office a more productive environment:
- Schedule a meeting during which people sitting together can discuss the working environment they need to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow when at their desks.
- Post the list of agreed-upon behaviors on a poster that is large enough to be read from any place in the work environment. Leave the poster up indefinitely.
- Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell another person she is talking too loudly, eating food that smells, has too many visitors at her desk, listens to music or videos without headphones, or takes phone calls via speaker phone. People will suffer in silence and choose to work from home or in an empty office or conference room rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them. Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
- Ask everyone in the work group to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
- Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together to review the list and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
- Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in a group setting. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually.
- You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts, while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns that you know exist be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.
It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group who has been sitting together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.
Working in an open plan office is challenging. It requires good communication and compromise. Don’t wait for problems to occur and frustrations to build. Have a conversation today.
Employees appreciate perks – good coffee, an onsite gym, concierge service, and workout classes. But none of those things motivate employees to stay with an organization. And no one will quit because a company doesn’t offer those perks.
I won’t tell you not to offer yoga classes or to get rid of your video games. Just know neither perk is resulting in employee retention.
There are really just a few things employees need to stay with your company and do good work. And if you do those things consistently, you’ll see your best employees stay and excel.
Here are a few employee retention ideas:
Employee retention idea #1: Managers, get to know employees better. Ask what brought employees to your company, what would make them leave, what employees want to learn, and what type of work they really don’t want to do. And when it’s possible, remove responsibilities employees don’t want to do, and replace those tasks with things employees enjoy more. You can’t eliminate all aspects of a job that employees don’t like. But people won’t stay in a job for long that doesn’t let them do work they enjoy about 75% of the time.
Employee retention idea #2: Managers, meet individually with employees, twice a month, for at least 30 minutes, to discuss current and future projects. Give specific and balanced (positive and negative) feedback during each meeting. Even the most independent employees need regular feedback and one-on-one time with their manager.
Employee retention idea #3: Teach and coach employees, so they expand their skill set and approach challenges in new and different ways. Most employees want to learn and grow. Managers don’t have to do the training themselves, just ensure it happens.
Employee retention idea #4: Give employees exposure to the senior leaders in your organization. This includes: attending meetings where senior leaders are present; pitching ideas to senior leaders; and learning from people above the employees’ manager.
Employee retention idea #5: Give employees stretch assignments and the chance to learn new things. One of the greatest reasons for employee turnover is boredom and a lack of growth and development. You don’t need to rotate or promote someone to help them grow. Giving employees exposure to different departments and types of work will allow employees to expand their skill set.
Most employees want to work for a manager who cares about them, takes time to get to know them, and helps advance their career. These activities will take some time. They won’t take a lot of money. Perhaps have your next one-on-one at the foosball table or over espresso. But know that the time managers take with employees, trumps every perk, every time.
As crazy as it sounds, it can be difficult to get work done at work. There are the drive bys – people who want your opinion on EVERYTHING before they make decisions, the interrupters who have just one question, several times a day, the visitors who want to update you on EVERYTHING happening in their personal lives, and coworkers who host meetings at their workstation, take phone calls on speaker phone, and who listen to music without headphones, while loudly eating potato chips. All of these distractions are enough to make many employees want to find a quieter place to work.
The concept that it can be hard to get work done at work is crazy. We’re at work to work. And yet many employees, with and without a door, get in at 7:00 am, before others arrive, so they can “get some work done” and stay late because they “got nothing done all day.”
Open work environments can be productive and interruptions can be minimized, but managing interruptions at work will require some clear guidelines and direct communication, which many workplaces are missing.
Managing interruptions at work – practices for creating a work environment that works for everyone:
Write workspace practices down, share them with all employees, post the practices in every work area, and discuss them frequently.
Examples of practices for managing interruptions at work:
- Use a headset for all phone calls.
- Pay attention to your volume. Speak as quietly as possible.
- If you have visitors at your desk for business or non-business related conversations that last longer than five minutes, take the conversation to a conference room, empty office, or local coffee shop.
- Use headphones to watch videos and listen to music.
- Avoid prairie dogging—calling down a row, hallway, or over a cubicle wall. Instead, walk to the person’s desk, call, or send an email or text message.
- Turn off all auditory alerts on computers and cell phones, so your coworkers don’t have to hear pinging and ringing all day. The people you sit with don’t need to know every time you receive an email, text, or Facebook message.
- Finally, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, give all employees permission to make requests and give feedback when workspace guidelines are broken. It must not only be acceptable but expected that employees will say something when a guideline is broken and the workspace gets too loud.
Most employees will not speak up when others are being loud. It’s easier to find another location to work than risk a coworker’s defensive response. And no one wants to be ‘that person’ who complains about how loud someone is. If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and making requests, offer training on how to have these conversations, and provide written examples of what employees can say that is respectful and clear.
Guidelines for dealing with interruptions at work:
You’d think that having a door would make people immune to work place distractions, but that’s not the case. Employees with offices also deal with drive bys and interruptions. The key to dealing with both is communication.
- Don’t wait for problems to occur. Anticipate challenges and talk about them before guidelines are broken. It’s much easier to make a request than to give feedback.
- Each time a new person joins a team, department, or workspace, ask everyone on the team to share their work-related pet peeves, how they like to communicate, and how they prefer to be interrupted. Everyone deals with interruptions, so you might as well express a preference. If you’d prefer people email you and ask when you have time for a quick question, make that request. If you’re ok with people interrupting you without notice, let people know. If you’re not distracted by noise, tell people. If you are, make that preference known.
People are too hesitant to speak up at work for fear of damaging relationships and hurting people’s feelings. The best thing leaders can do to improve the working environment (or any workplace challenge) is to set clear expectations, create opportunities to talk about how things are going, and make it ok to speak up.
Suffering at work is optional. Everyone is accountable for the work environment, and you won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Lots of organizations do exit interviews after employees give notice. Exit interviews can be a source of helpful information. Employees have little to lose after they’ve quit, so they’re likely to speak candidly about their work experience. But asking for feedback after an employee has quit is a little (a lot) too late. The time to ask about an employee’s working experience is every 90 days, if not more frequently.
Employees quit. It’s a natural part of doing business. And some turnover is healthy and helpful. Surprises, however, are not helpful and are unnecessary. Turnover should rarely, if ever, be a surprise. The writing is always on the wall, if you ask the right questions and make it easy to speak freely.
Most employees are concerned about giving feedback when their input is negative. Employees at almost every company cite “a list,” and those who speak up, end up on it, and then mysteriously leave the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen the list, but employees at all types of organizations are certain it exists.
If you want to reduce the turnover in your organization and increase employee engagement and satisfaction, ask for feedback regularly, and make it easy to speak candidly.
Five ways to get your employees talking before they quit:
- Ask for feedback at the end of every meeting. Simply ask, “What are you enjoying about your job? What are you not enjoying?”
Or ask, “What makes your job easier? What makes your job harder?”
- Manage your responses to feedback. The easier it is to tell you the truth, the more truth you’ll get. Employees are afraid of their manager’s reactions. Resist the urge to become defensive (which is very difficult to do). Saying, “I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me,” goes a long way. Employees will breathe a sigh of relief and are more likely to speak candidly in the future.
- Replace one satisfaction survey with roundtable discussions during which a leader or manager asks a small group of employees for feedback. Live conversations build trust and loyalty. Written surveys do not.
- Help employees who aren’t a good fit, exit the organization. Don’t wait for poor performers or employees who aren’t a good culture fit to leave. Help misplaced employees find a better match. The right employees raise performance and morale, the wrong employees destroy both.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Just because you asked for feedback, doesn’t mean you have to act on that information. Employees don’t typically expect all of their requests to be met. It’s often enough just to be able to speak and be heard.
Keep doing exit interviews, and add quarterly or monthly requests for feedback. Talk with people over the phone or in person. Ask one or two simple questions to get the other person talking. Manage your face. Smile. Say “thank you” for the feedback. And watch your employee engagement and satisfaction rise.
When I interviewed for my last job, before starting Candid Culture, the CEO put a mug in front of me with the company’s values on it and asked if I could live by those values at work. He was smart. Hiring someone with the skills to do a job is one thing. Hiring someone who fits into the organizational culture, is another.
Determining if a prospective employee will fit your organizational culture is much harder than determining if someone has the skills to do a job. Often when an employee leaves a job, only to take the same role at another company, they left for fit. They just didn’t feel comfortable. They weren’t a good fit with the organizational culture.
You’ve probably heard discussions about employees who deliver results at the expense of relationships. Or about employees who fellow employees really like, but they just can’t do the job.
Leaders of organizations need to decide what’s important: What people do? How they do it? Or both. I’m going to assert that both the work employees deliver and how they deliver that work is equally important. I think you should hire and fire for fit.
Work hard to hire people who will fit into your organizational culture. Get rid of people who don’t fit. The impact on your organization’s reputation and on internal and external relationships depends on hiring people who behave consistently with your brand and how you want your organization’s culture to feel.
At Candid Culture, we teach people to have open, candid, trusting relationships at work. Thus we must hire people who are open to feedback and communicate honestly. And we fire people who don’t model those behaviors.
If you want a high service organizational culture, you can’t hire people who don’t care about others and want customers to feel good about working with you.
Here are a few ways to ensure you hire people who are a good organizational culture fit:
- Share your current or desired culture with job candidates early, often, and clearly.
- Work to assess how candidates fit the culture. Use practical interviews, job shadowing, and reference checks to assess organizational culture fit.
- Talk about the culture when on boarding employees.
- Make behaving according to the culture part of your performance appraisal process.
- Reward behavior that matches the culture.
- Have consequences for not acting according the culture. A negative feedback conversation is a consequence.
- Ensure your leaders and managers live the culture. Get rid of leaders and managers who aren’t a good culture fit. This takes courage.
When people leave an organization, they don’t often take copies of reports they produced or work they created. And if they do, they rarely look at that work. What they do take, remember and find meaning in, are the relationships they built at work. Relationships are dependent on organizational.
Determine the organizational culture you want. Talk about regularly. Require people to act according to the culture. Reward the ones who do. Get rid of the ones who don’t. Make working in your organization feel as you want it to feel.