Do Amazing Things in 2011

January 25, 2011

Chris Ferdinandi over at RenegadeHR offered me the opportunity to contribute to his ebook titled, Do Amazing Things in 2011.  I feel very privileged to be included among top notch HR professionals all giving sound advice on how to make this year really count.  You can download your free copy here:  Do Amazing Things 2011


I am very thankful to Chris for allowing me the opportunity to contribute and I hope you enjoy!


Companies spend thousands of dollars each month recruiting top talent.  They go to the ends of the earth (or the ends of the internet) to find the best of the best.  If they feel that a hire is worth the money, they will spare no expense in wining and dining to get that yes upon offer.  The potential employee will meet with a countless number of people and be given the best sales pitch available as to why they should join Company X.  That potential employees then becomes an employee and is so excited for day one.  They get a new hire orientation agenda and show up for work.  And then it happens.  They sit for a day, or two, or five and at least once, wonder if they have made the right decision.

So often, new hire orientation is viewed as something that has to be done to get paperwork filled out.  In reality, an effective new hire orientation should be viewed as the final piece in the recruitment process.  Sure, the offer has been accepted, but they aren’t overly committed.  A good new hire orientation seals the deal and paves the way for a good working relationship.

So what makes a good new hire orientation?  In my experience there are a few key ingredients.

  • Give the new hire something to brag about.  New hires, especially those who have been out of work, are super excited about their new jobs and want to tell everyone they know.  Why not feed those discussions with a few cool facts or success stories.  Then they can shout to everyone they know, “I got this job at Company X and did you know that they…”
  • Give the new hire face time with top leadership.  Even if their day job will never interact with the CEO, it is important that they see his/her face during their first few days.  People want to feel connected with those at the top of their organization.  Leaders should spend time with new hires and talk about stuff other than work a little too.  It establishes a sense of caring and trust that every employee longs for.
  • Give the new hire something to be excited about.  If your company is launching a new product or strategy in the next year, tell them.  If there is big news that most of your other employees know, make sure it is shared with the new hires as well.  Again, it makes them feel connected.  Connected employee’s stay with their employer’s.
  • Give them Q&A time.  There is nothing worse than a new hire orientation where someone vomits information for hours or days with no interaction.  New employee’s have questions and allowing them time to ask and receive answers will go a long way in making them feel appreciated early on.

There are countless ways to make a new hire orientation effective, but these few simple ingredients make a great base for any program.  Is it time to revamp your new hire program?

I have conducted my fair share of terminations.  I certainly do not say that to brag, in fact, just the opposite.  Regardless of whether deserved or not, telling someone they no longer have a job is not something I enjoy.  Even more difficult is when the person made an honest mistake.  Unfortunately, even honest mistakes can be fatal.

I spent the last seven years in a call center environment and as with any customer service job, there are very specific rules on dealing with the customer.  Since so much of the customer interaction was over the phone, verifying identity, using names and proper handling of credit card information were all a very big deal.  A few times we would have very good employees who missed a step, a big one, and we would have to let them go.  Honest mistake, but fatal.

It is tough to get an employee with a good track record and no prior disciplinary history, why that one mistake is costing them their job.  It was sometimes hard for me to understand myself.  Inherently, people feel like if mistakes are honest and their intentions were good then they should be overlooked or at least treated with less force than termination.  Nine times out of ten they can be, but not always.

That is why doing the work you do every day to the best of your ability is crucial.  Even if you hate it.  Even if you are actively seeking employment elsewhere.  Even if you have done it for ten years and could do it in your sleep.  One simple mistake could ruin everything.

A termination for performance on your record is never a good thing.  Regardless of whether it seems unfair, all future employers are going to see is that you were terminated.  In my career, I have never sided with a candidate who tried to justify a termination.  HR/Recruiting minds know there are two sides to every story only hearing one side makes us leery.  All things equal, we will choose the person who has never been terminated – honest mistake or not.

So take your job seriously and try to minimize the opportunity for mistakes as much as possible.  Doing less can really come back to haunt you.

I am a big fan of football.  In fact, I have a whole series of football posts planned for Superbowl week so all I am going to say for now is that I really like football.  By default, I am a Bears fan and by default I mean, my husband reads this blog and would divorce me if I said anything else.  Also by default, I am not allowed to like the Colts, specifically Peyton Manning.

While I do not have the same deep loathing of the older Manning brother as my husband, I have gotten sick of hearing about why he has struggled this season. It seems there is always excuses, none of which include him.  A few weeks ago on Monday Night Countdown, someone echoed my sentiment when they talked about how Peyton needs to work with the guys he has and stop making excuses (paraphrased).  You can read a great article about this here.  With all of the praise about the leader that Peyton is and about what an amazing talent he is, shouldn’t he be able to work with any team and raise their playing level?

This same phenomenon plays out in the business world.  Talented leaders make excuses every day about why their team is not performing.  Often the excuses have nothing to do with them and focuses on the lack or immaturity of the talent they lead.  Leaders, it is time to stop the excuses and work with what you have!

Part of a leaders essential job functions and dare I say, one of the most important, is to develop their people.  If a team has little talent or underdeveloped talent, then it is the leader’s job to get them up to speed.  Does it take a little more time, of course!  Is it harder, absolutely!  Is it more rewarding than anything else you will accomplish as a leader – in my experience, YES!

Who wants to be the leader of a team whose success has nothing to do with their contribution?  You are not really a leader if the team does not and has never needed your guidance.  That isn’t to say that successful teams aren’t important, but if they were successful before you and are successful without you, then what are you doing?

Here is the good news.  Peyton Manning doesn’t have to develop those around him alone and neither do today’s leaders.  There are other coaches (HR/Training), mentors (other employees) and methods (books, e-learning) to aide in development.  The leader’s job is to facilitate the development, provide feedback and accountability which all help to raise the level of talent.

If Peyton puts the time in during the off-season to help develop his team, what do you think the Colts will look like next season?  What about your team?

S T R E T C H Goals!

January 6, 2011

Before closing out this first week in January, I have to say one more thing about setting goals.  Be bold, aggressive and really challenge yourself.  Set goals that stretch you well beyond what you are currently doing.  Of course, they need to be realistic, but what fun are goals that are easy to meet?  Goals that take no effort to achieve are not really goals, they are tasks.

Maybe it is just one goal – one big area where you want to really stretch yourself.  Put it out there and then set plans to achieve it. Most people feel really good about achieving goals and the bigger the goal, the better the feeling.  It can be personal, professional or both.  It should be something that matters, that will make you feel like you have really accomplished something.

During #careerchat on Twitter Tuesday, several participants were sharing their secret goals for 2011.  I loved this discussion as people were unafraid to lay out some pretty lofty goals and got tons of encouragement in doing so.  It really got me thinking about something bold I could set as a goal this year.  Hopefully, once I know where my career is taking me, I’ll be able to set something aggressive.

So this is my challenge to you.  Think about something that seems a little out of reach, something that is pretty bold and takes you out of your comfort zone.  What’s the harm in setting it as something you want to accomplish in 2011?  You do not have to tell anyone about it if you do not want to – that way no one can say you failed.  Or you can put it out there and receive encouragement from friends and co-workers to keep you motivated.  Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

I am often discouraged by the number of people who say their manager only gives them performance feedback, or any type of feedback for that matter, at review time.  This is an absolute fail on the part of any leader.  Feedback, good, bad or indifferent, should be given on an ongoing basis throughout the year.  If you are a leader who is not doing this, make that your new years resolution – for your employee’s sake!

The start of a new year is a wonderful opportunity to meet with your staff and ensure your goals are aligned, that they understand areas of focus and opportunities for development.  It is also a great time to let them tell you areas where they would like to learn and grow.  Here are a few topics to cover in the meeting.

  • 2010 is over – move on.  Regardless of whether 2010 was a good year or bad year for this employee, it is over.  The new year is here and all anyone can do is move forward.  Agree to put the past behind you and focus on what is ahead.
  • Ensure strategy and vision are aligned.  You might be amazed at how many employees have no idea what the vision or direction of the company is for the upcoming year.  Do not let your staff go one more day without being completely clear on the vision.
  • Determine a few short-term goals.  Have your staff help you determine a few short-term goals that can be achieved over the next 30, 60 or 90 days.  This will help break the year down into more manageable parts as well as give you another reason to meet again and go over the results.  Make sure this is done together.  Employees are more likely to buy in to their goals, if they have a part in creating them.
  • Ask for feedback.  Your staff may need something from you in 2011 to really help them achieve their goals.  It may be more one on one time.  It may be less email.  It may be in the way you divide the work.  Whatever it is, ask them for feedback and then respectfully consider what they say.  A small tweak in the way you do things may mean a huge change in their performance.
  • Determine opportunities for growth.  Are there training classes they would like to attend?  Is there a project they would like to work on or something that you do that they would like to learn?  Give them the chance to tell you something they would like to work on for fun.  It makes the mundane parts of their jobs easier if they have something better to look forward to.

However you structure this first meeting, it is important to walk away with a clear understanding of what you and your team need to accomplish in 2011.  You will never meet your goals if everyone does not understand what they are.  Take the time to ensure you are all on the same page and let the productivity begin!

With so much sensitivity around the holidays, HR departments spend a painstaking amount of time ensuring that people of all race, religion, personality and food group are included in the festivities.  What happens then when you have  total Scrooge on your team?  A person who is not against holiday festivities for any religious or ethnicity beliefs per se, but is just a non-joiner who believes all the hype around the holidays is eventually going to bring about the world’s demise?   If they just did not participate then all would be well, but they have to not participate and ensure that everyone around them hears why over and over and over again.  For every holiday game, gift exchange or event, they have comments.  These self-professed Grinch’s can really put a damper on everyone else’s excitement and enjoyment of all that this time of year has to offer.

The easiest (and I use that word loosely) thing to do is ignore the person.  If they want to sit in their cubicle and mutter disgust under their breath then fine.  Hopefully, if everyone pretends they do not hear it, they will stop.  I have often found however, that these protesters are willing to take it even further to a place where intervention is necessary.  If this is the case, then the basic tips from this post will help, but I want you to consider one other point as well.

It has been my experience, that nine times out of ten, these naysayers actually have nothing against all of these activities.  It is just that at some point they took a stand for whatever reason and to back down now would discredit them in ways they are not willing to accept.  If they suddenly joined in on the annual white elephant gift exchange, co-workers would give them a hard time saying things like, “Oh I thought you did not believe in this sort of stuff.”  Or, an example I have seen in my own life, a person suddenly brings something to the holiday potluck and no one wants to eat it for fear that it is poisoned.  That rejection makes Mr. Grinch go right back to criticizing all holiday events and making everyone else miserable.

My advice, before it goes too far and you actually have to resort to some sort of counseling or discipline, is to let the person know that you and the rest of the team would really like them to participate, but if they do not they should not hinder anyone else’s participation.  Recruit a few members of your team to also let this person know that they wish they would join but understand if they do not want to.  Sometimes, people are just looking for an invitation, attention and the knowledge that their presence really does mean something.  Once they feel it is ok to back down now without facing ridicule, they may become the merriest employee you know!

The number one complaint I hear from employee’s is that their managers have no idea what it is like to be them.  They claim that their leaders do not understand the pressure, workload or frustrations that they deal with on a daily basis.  I am convinced that nine times out of ten, employee’s are not looking for a way out, less work or more money.  They are just looking for a little understanding.

It is true that until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes you have a hard time knowing what it feels like.  Leaders who have never served in their company’s entry level positions really do not have a clue what it feels like to do so.  They can guess, but are probably wrong.

What about those who have served in entry level positions and were promoted, they get it right?  As someone who has done so, I can readily say how quickly we forget!  Once you move up and embrace the duties of your new position, you do forget some of the hardships that you were faced with before.  Also, things change.  Just because things were one way when you held the position does not mean they are still that way.

So here is an idea – call it a Christmas present for those you manage.  Offer to trade spaces with them for one day.  Sit in their chair, answer their phone and do their work to the extent that you can without messing things up (and really if you can not do their work then that is a whole other topic).  Conversely, let them sit in your chair, answer your phone and do your work to the extent they can.  If a whole day is too much, how about a half a day or an hour.  Or maybe instead of actually trading spaces you just sit with them and watch them work (in a non-threatening, non-creepy way of course).  You may discover things they are doing that you did not even know about.  You may be able to offer suggestions for ways they could do things that would cut hours off of their workload.  You could…are you ready for this….act like their leader.

The insight you get will be extremely valuable in managing this person.  Even more valuable is the feeling they will get that their boss actually cares about what they have going on.  So do it.  Offer to trade spaces with someone on your team and see what happens.

I will admit it.  In my career, I have enjoyed managing some more than others.  I have encountered employees who got the job done well enough, but something in their personality was a direct conflict with mine.  I have also had employees who really did not do as good a job as others, who I enjoyed spending time with more.  It is common knowledge that we are drawn to people like us and this can make it difficult when you are the leader of someone who is a complete opposite.

Personality differences can turn into personality conflicts and an opportunity to play favorites if you are not careful.  Here are a few tips to avoid both.

  1. Focus on the job, not the person.  Business is business and although it is easy to treat it like a social outlet, the reality is that you and those you lead are there to get a job done.  As long as that job is being done, nothing else matters.  Employee’s who are different from you still deserve your time and attention as much as those who share your same interests.
  2. Try to find common ground.  It is impossible, or at least it makes for a boring day, if all you talk about is work.  Even though this person may have a different idea of fun than you, there is probably one thing you can find in common.  Find that thing and use it as a way to better understand them.
  3. Ensure they are included in outings or non-work related discussions during meetings.  Only going to lunch with employee’s whose company you enjoy more sets yourself up for favoritism (real or perceived) issues.   Initiating pre-meeting small talk around topics you know will not interest some can make that person feel isolated.  As a manager it is your job to make sure everyone is included.

It is human nature to be drawn to some more than others.  As managers, it is our responsibility to set aside personal preferences and focus on the job at hand.  Differences in the workplace should be determined by performance, not personality.

Life Happen’s Days…

December 14, 2010

I’ve been absent from posting over the past couple of weeks due to some life happens days.  Holiday travel, doctor’s appointments and Christmas shopping has filled each day with more stuff to do than hours in the day.  As my to do list piles up, blogging moves to the bottom.  I do not know what I would do if I were working and had to find a way to do things after work or on the weekends.  More things would move to the bottom of the list I am sure.

So that got me thinking.  How do companies balance the need for its employees to have life happens days and still conduct business?

I loathe attendance policies.  I have always worked for companies whose employee populations mandated the necessity of an attendance policy and it’s strict administration.  I hated it.  I hated that we could never get it right.  No matter what our policy was, an overwhelming amount of employees couldn’t follow it and had to be terminated.  I hated that we would re-write the policy over and over expecting different results and get none.  I hated that my managers, who should have been spending their day on more strategic tasks would be bogged down with deciding whether an employee’s last absent was termination worthy.  It felt like we were always spinning our wheels and fighting an invisible giant.  If we could only see him then we would understand him and fight him appropriately.

So I’m lost on this one.  If your company has an attendance policy that really works, I would love to hear about it, especially if you have a heavy non-exempt population.  How do you ensure your employee’s have an appropriate amount of life happens days while not being too punitive or relaxed?