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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are We Doing Enough To Develop Future Leaders?

We’re not, according to Deloitte’s BusinessConfidence Report 2014, which summarizes findings from a survey of 600 U.S. executives—300 c-suite executives and 300 c-suite executives in waiting (i.e., those at the SVP, executive VP or an equivalent level)—about their confidence in various aspects of their businesses.

While the majority of these executives are “very confident” that their organizations will outperform their competitors over the next year, many also believe their organizations “are not adequately investing in the development of leaders,” the report states.

Here’s a sampling of the worrisome leadership-related statistics the report offers:

  • Only 48% of these executives believe their direct reports have the skills to become part of the c-suite in their organization.
  • 50% of the surveyed c-suite executives in waiting have little or no access to leadership training to help them grow into more senior positions.
  • Only 49% of the c-suite executives in waiting agreed that their organizations create opportunities for them to succeed.
  • And just 49% of c-suite executives say they’re committed to developing leadership skills at all levels of their organization.

In an October 31 blogpost, Josh Bersin writes that after studying the leadership development practices of companies for nearly 10 years, his research reveals that “only 26% of companies even have successors identified for their top positions—so the problem is not only one of development, but more significantly one of ‘selecting the right candidates.’”

As Bersin notes, the development and selection of leaders is difficult. It requires an investment of resources, time and money. It also requires guidance, support and mentoring of current leaders, who are often overwhelmed with their day-to-day responsibilities. Focusing on the development of future leaders only stretches them further. Yet it’s imperative that they find the time because we need to develop future leaders. The future of our organizations depends upon it.

Clearly, this isn’t an issue we can fix overnight. “Executives have to realize that it often takes years for new leaders to become seasoned, high performing executives,” says Bersin.

So what can we do in the meantime? We can make progress by doing a better job of identifying our best leadership candidates, giving them the attention and development they need to fulfill their destinies, and putting greater effort into our succession planning strategies.

If we can actually accomplish these goals, our business leaders’ confidence about the future will be justified.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We Need To Fix the Broken Candidate Experience

Every now and then, you read an article that you have to share with others. It’s just too good to keep to yourself.

That’s the case with Anne Kreamer’s recent Harvard Business Review blog post,
The Rise of the Rude Hiring Manager.” In the post, Kreamer shines a fair and fairly unflattering spotlight on the experiences of several individuals as they undergo the rigors of today’s job search, recruitment and hiring processes.

Kreamer describes how these individuals are put through their paces by prospective employers—often being asked to interview multiple times over the course of months, to take on test “assignments,” and to deliver polished business plans, proposals and presentations as part of the process of applying for an open position. During their ordeals, these candidates also experience administrative incompetence, a lack of timely communication, and just plain rudeness from their potential employers. And the sad fact is these experiences are growing more common.

Although the headline of Kreamer’s post calls out hiring managers specifically, the entire hiring process is actually at fault here. At one point, Kreamer astutely observes: “I can’t pinpoint exactly when the hiring process went off the rails, but I believe it began in the late 90s, when cost cutting became a mania and headcount was slashed to the bone, requiring every employee to do the work of many. With so little margin for error, every hire became a fraught decision, and the fear of making a mistake loomed larger and larger.”

Vetting candidates became increasingly complex and time-consuming, Kreamer writes, and “new hurdles were added until someone interested in a director-level position … is now routinely required to submit the kind of analysis and proposals that were once the province of in-house executives or paid consultants.” Especially harrowing is the interview process, which ballooned from an average of 12 days in 2009 to an average of 23 days in 2013.

Putting job candidates through a reasonable but thorough screening process is just good business. But it appears this process has gone haywire at many organizations, which is just bad business. After all, the candidate experience we provide says a lot about us as employers. It’s the first taste people get of our culture, our work environment and how we treat our employees. If we have any hope of consistently hiring the best talent and building great employment brands, we need to fix the broken candidate experience—and the sooner the better.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Don’t Slam the Door on Exit Interviews

Performance reviews and exit interviews might seem like very different animals but they share an important quality: both are opportunities to gather essential information for the future success of our people and our organizations.

Performance reviews accomplish this when managers ask the right questions—e.g., how their reports feel about their own contributions, their interactions with coworkers, and the growth and development the company is providing. (If you’re interested, you can read more on this topic in past posts, “The Art of Effective Performance Reviews,” and “Meeting Employees’ Needs: Culture Management, Engagement, and Preventable Turnover.”)

Exit interviews, on the other hand, require similar but specialized questions—questions that are appropriate to the fact that an individual is leaving the organization. This type of questioning can pose a significant challenge due to the unique dynamics and emotions involved. For instance, the information we receive can depend heavily on whether or not employees are leaving on good terms, their willingness to share honest opinions (i.e., fear of burning bridges), the specific reasons behind their exit, and the like. How the interviewer goes about her or his work makes all the difference.

The challenges and benefits of exit interviews are highlighted by an article on, “You Need to Stop Going Through the Motions on Exit Interviews,” and by another on the StaffMasters website, “The Importance of an Exit Interview.

In the article, HR Acuity CEO Deborah Muller urges us to remember that the biggest reason exit interviews end up being ineffective is that most HR people who conduct them don’t really know what they’re doing. “An untrained interviewer might not know how to configure the interview in order to make it relevant to the employee’s role, level and functional area,” she writes. That’s why trained professionals and specialized technology are so crucial to maximizing the value of exit interviews. Muller points out that many companies are outsourcing their exit interviews or training their HR teams to conduct these interviews properly. Others are using secure links to interview modules that enable departing employees to answer questions in relative anonymity (a key to getting honest feedback).

The StaffMasters post offers interviewers a list of helpful questions that range from the basic (What made you decide to leave the company? and What did you find most/least satisfying about working here?) to the complex and potentially touchy (How would you rate the level of support you received to perform your job duties? and What qualities do you think a person should have to succeed in this organization?). The post encourages employers to be consistent in the questions they ask of exiting employees, to maintain an objective listening attitude, and to document all responses so that the feedback can be leveraged to the organization’s benefit.

Interestingly, Jeffrey Sharlach wrote about a different kind of issue in his recent Huffington Post piece, “Are You Learning Too Much at Exit Interviews?” Sharlach is CEO of the international communications firm, JeffreyGroup, and has taught in the MBA Management Communication program at the NYU Stern School of Business. He noted that many organizations only learn about crucial employee experiences and opinions during exit interviews rather than during regular performance reviews when the information could do far greater good. Sharlach remedied this situation at his own organization by retooling the performance review process, making it more of a two-way communication experience.

“We were amazed at what we started to learn from our staff once given the opportunity to talk about themselves,” Sharlach writes. “We began to treat each review session as an interview with a new employee, learning more about the friction points in their current conditions and their goals for future growth.”

Performance reviews and exit interviews may indeed be different animals but the two share a connection that shouldn’t be overlooked. And, as the articles referenced above remind us, both performance reviews and exit interviews can be powerful tools for improving the performance of our people and our companies.

We just need to conduct them properly.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Performance Review Beat Down or Blueprint for Improvement?

Perspective makes all the difference.

Take a recent infographic from employee communications firm, GuideSpark, for example. At first glance, it seems to offer a pretty solid beat down of performance reviews:

  • 89 percent of individuals GuideSpark surveyed don’t want their performance review feedback to be a surprise.
  • 89 percent want their managers to be direct in giving performance feedback.
  • 64 percent wish that their employers would focus more on their growth and development as part of their review.
  • 60 percent don’t understand how their performance is measured relative to their peers.
  • 56 percent say their company’s goal-setting process doesn’t help them prioritize their work.

Before you chuck your performance reviews altogether, however, consider this: these survey respondents aren’t simply grousing about what they dislike. They’re telling us exactly what we can do to improve performance reviews—and improve them in a way that will allow our people do their jobs better, grow into their full potential, and meet our expectations more effectively. These individuals are telling us precisely how we can increase their commitment and engagement levels and motivate them to accomplish more.

In other words, this data is a good thing, shedding light on how we can transform our employees’ revulsion toward performance reviews into rapture. It’s a matter of perspective.

For our money, these individuals aren’t saying, “Do away with performance appraisals.” They’re saying, “Here’s how to do my appraisal right.”

The question is … are we listening?


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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Research Shows Crucial Skills Are Low Training Priorities

When it comes to employee training programs, most organizations are focusing on teaching communication skills.

That’s the scoop from a recent American Management Association survey, which examined the training programs at more than 700 organizations. When asked to identify the training content provided to individual contributors at their companies, executives and managers taking the survey indicated the top three types of content are: communication (65%); skills and competencies specific to the individual’s role (60%); and leadership development (53%). Project management (49%) and interpersonal skills (48%) rounded out the top five responses.

Perhaps more interesting are the skill sets that didn’t make it to the survey results upper echelon. They include collaboration at 43%, decision making at 40%, and critical thinking at just 38%. Creativity and innovative thinking barely cracked 30%.

We’d never criticize any organization for the way it spends its training dollars. These decisions depend upon a number of complex and fluid factors. From a big-picture perspective, however, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that the skill sets appearing lower on the AMA’s list are the very same ones so many of us claim to need desperately, as they go right to the heart of our competitiveness, innovation, employee engagement and retention levels, and profitability.

The business press, professional blogs and conference keynotes have all been filled lately with calls for employers to drive collaboration, critical thinking and creativity deep into their organizations—not just nurture them among leaders and executives—and to hold everyone more accountable for utilizing these skills in their day-to-day work. Of course, that can’t happen if we’re not formally teaching them to our employees. (Rachel Burstein recently offered an interesting take on just how imperative critical thinking and creativity have become in her August opinion piece on, “Critical Thinking, creativity: the skills workers really need.”)

Again, it makes sense that we devote greater attention and dollars to teaching employees certain types of skill sets. After all, some skills are more universal and are in greater demand. But it seems fairly obvious that until we see some hefty spikes in the percentages next to skills such as collaboration, critical and innovative thinking and decision making, we’re not going to achieve the levels of productivity and profitability we so urgently desire.


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@AMAnet  (American Management Association)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Negotiating vs. Dictating Performance Goals

Modernizing performance reviews (and performance management at large) is the subject of a recent LinkedIn post by Robert Bacal, CEO at Bacal & Associates.

In his post, Bacal offers 10 ideas to update how organizations manage performance and appraisals, including: individualize expectations even for employees doing the same job; put to bed the myth of objectivity; and realize that the purpose of reviews is improvement. advice, for sure. But Bacal’s wisest counsel was his plea for managers to negotiate goals and objectives during reviews, not dictate them. “Employees know far more about their jobs than their supervisors,” he writes, “in addition to wanting to be more involved in steering the direction of their jobs. No longer does it make sense for goals and objectives to be dictated by the manager. When employees are active in determining what they need to do to contribute to the company, you'll find higher levels of employee engagement and commitment.”

Some managers might have trouble swallowing the idea of “negotiating” goals and objectives—especially those tied to departmental and organizational targets. However, Bacal correctly points out that employees have a better, more intimate understanding of their roles and responsibilities than their managers. Smart managers put this knowledge to use in the process of managing performance effectively. If the word “negotiate” isn’t quite palatable, ask your managers to “collaborate” more with their teams regarding performance goals and objectives.

One item we take exception to is Bacal’s dismissal of ratings forms, which he flatly calls “terrible and demoralizing.” While that’s true of some ratings tools, not all are categorically terrible. Many organizations have found that modern performance management tools actually help them take a more disciplined approach to holding reviews and extracting real value from them.

For instance, with easy-to-use software in place, both managers and employees are more engaged in the review process, reviewers are more aware and respectful of timing and deadlines, reviews are completed faster, and the communication between reviewers and employees is often greatly improved.

http://www.reviewsnap.comIn one of our latest case studies, Roseann Rush, Vice President of HR and Risk at PrimeSource, describes how modernizing her company’s review system improved results across the board, including raising its completion rate for reviews from 65% to 89% … slashing its annual review period by more than 50% … and making significant improvements to its documentation and communication processes. You can read about PrimeSource’s experience here.

Bottom line, for many employers, updating their tools and systems goes hand-in-hand with modernizing their approach to performance management. Doing both together can lead to long-lasting, meaningful change.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

For Feedback To Be Effective, Put First Things First things first.

This wise little maxim is the underlying theme of “Stop Teaching People How to Give Feedback,” a thought-provoking post written by Fistful of Talent guest blogger, Ben Olds. When Olds instructs us to nix the feedback lessons, he means temporarily of course. Just until we’ve put first things first.

The “first thing” in this case, according to Olds, is for us to recognize that simply teaching managers to give feedback “doesn’t work.” The reason? “Because this approach starts in the wrong spot! There are four traits that have to exist to have a strong feedback culture, and we typically need to foster each,” writes Olds. These four traits are: 1) the will to receive feedback; 2) the skill to receive feedback; 3) the skill to give feedback; and 4) the will to give feedback.

Olds’ position is that giving feedback is part of a larger continuum and we need to instill other necessary feedback proficiencies across our organizations before and after we train managers.

Olds’ points are eminently sensible but it’s not entirely true that teaching managers to give feedback effectively doesn’t work. Our employees want feedback and the vast majority say it improves their performance. Read the Harvard Business Review post, “Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give,” which makes a strong case for the value of both positive and negative feedback. And even if 100 percent of employees don’t put feedback to use, many do.

Undoubtedly, we would be better off if we took Olds’ advice and created workplace environments in which all four of his traits could take root in the proper order. These environments would be true “feedback cultures,” nurturing continuous learning and improvement, inspirational performance reviews, and universal accountability.

But even in our less-than-perfect workplaces, managers who know how to give feedback effectively do make a difference.


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Benjamin Olds (LinkedIn profile)


Friday, October 10, 2014

HR Tech Wrap Up

Getting ready to pack up and head back to the office after several great days here at the HRTechnology Conference and Expo.

As always, attendees were treated to some truly thought-provoking presentations including a lively panel discussion moderated by David Gergen about how data and analytics will shape the workplace. And, as always, I met some extremely dedicated HR professionals who were interested in discussing my favorite topic, the state of performance management.

Being that we’re here in Sin City, however, I also happened to see some pretty crazy behavior when the nightlife got underway, the kind of behavior that made me look the other way. Thankfully, none of these shenanigans took place at the event itself! But now I fully understand why they created the slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It struck me that I’m not usually in the business of looking the other way, and neither are the people I spoke with at the conference. We’re performance management and HR professionals. It’s our job to pay attention to behavior—to recognize and reward good behaviors in our employees … to offer counsel and feedback when we see the wrong behaviors … and to develop and instill the right behaviors throughout our workforces by modeling desired behavior ourselves.

Of course, I’m using the term “behavior” in a pretty large sense here and I’m mostly referring to performance-related behaviors, the kind that make individuals either effective or ineffective in their roles. Still, the whole behavior issue got me to thinking that this is one more reason performance reviews are more necessary and valuable than ever—provided they’re conducted well.

At one point during the conference, I was asked whether performance reviews are here to stay or whether they’re dying out. I said that performance reviews, in one form or another, will always be around for a whole host of good reasons. But I’ll add a caveat here. I certainly don’t want those traditional, once-a-year, paint-by-numbers reviews to stick around. As we’ve said in the past, they’re not much good to anybody.

The good news is … the performance review revolution has begun! I’ve seen firsthand how more and more employers are updating and improving their review process. (Read a few of our recent case studies to see for yourself.) When I think of the progress they’re making, I want to do backflips and jump for joy.

But that kind of behavior tends to draw attention—unless you’re in Vegas.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

From the Floor at HR Tech …

 The hustle and bustle of the HR Technology Conference and Expo are in full swing in Las Vegas! And despite the famous slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” I want to tell you about a subject that a surprising number of HR professionals here have raised with me.

That subject is … more frequent and streamlined performance reviews.

These conversations have been music to my ears! As you know if you read this blog with any regularity, we’ve been writing about the benefits of holding more frequent and informal reviews for quite some time. (If you’re interested, you can read “The Case for More Frequent Performance Reviews,”The Art of Effective Performance Reviews,” and “Heed These 5 Performance Management Realities—Before It’s Too Late!” for more about the topic.)

The type of review we’ve been advocating increasingly is conversational in nature, less geared toward “criticism” or “critique,” and intended to either supplement or replace the traditional annual review (we prefer supplement). We’ve been recommending that managers hold meetings with their reports at least quarterly, if not even more frequently. And we’ve been stressing that managers should focus on asking just a few very simple and direct questions during these meetings—questions such as:

·      What have you accomplished since the last time we spoke, and what do you intend to accomplish in the next two or three months?
·         What are the main challenges you face in doing your job?
·         How can I help you overcome these challenges and clear roadblocks you’re facing?

With so many HR pros actually seeking me out at this conference to discuss revamping their performance review process, I’m more certain than ever that our cloud-based technology can be a catalyst for real change. It not only helps companies streamline their review process but it also gives their managers the tools they need to guide and track these discussions more effectively.

Given the urgency I’m sensing in these conversations, there’s no way that what’s happening in Vegas is going to stay here! In fact, I’m sure these conversations are going to continue long after we all get home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s Not Just Millennials Who Desire Meaningful Work
Articles about “meaningful work”—and what that phrase means—are cropping up everywhere.

Here’s a small sampling:

·      “4 Tips To Help Millennials Find Meaningful Work,” from Fast Company, tells employers point blank that Millennials “aren’t motivated by money.” Instead, these younger workers are “driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable” through the work they do.

·      In “Millennials Want Meaningful Work,” Hoopla CEO, Michael Smalls, writes that Millennials “prefer to have meaningful jobs that provide opportunities to effect positive change in their communities and the world at large. … A study by The Intelligence Group reports that 64 percent of Millennials would rather earn $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they find unfulfilling.”

·      A Huffington Post infographic tells us “more Americans are pursuing meaning over money at work” and offers this trio of compelling statistics:

·      96% of working Americans agree that being able to apply personal interests in their career would make them happier in general.

·      68% would be willing to take a salary cut to work in jobs that better allowed them to apply personal interests.

·      And 79% are willing to take a pay cut at the start of their careers for jobs that allowed them to focus on meaningful work.

Again, there’s a virtual mountain of articles on this topic and the more of them you read the more one thing stands out: most are written about Millennials. But the fact is older employees want meaningful work as well.

In April, Forbes published an article titled, “What Older Workers Want, But Aren't Getting,” which cites a Sloan Center survey of employees age 50 and older at large companies. When asked about the most important elements for a quality job, the second item on their list was “opportunities for meaningful work.” In this case, older workers defined meaningful work as having their skills and experience valued and used well; making a difference in the world; and opportunities to engage in the things they value personally. Sounds a lot like the definition given by younger workers, doesn’t it?

The article also quotes Elizabeth Fideler, author of the books Men Still at Work and Women Still at Work, who said that the desire for meaningful work is a key reason many professionals over the age of 60 haven’t retired.

It’s pretty clear that most individuals, regardless of their age, want meaningful work. If we hope to reap the substantial rewards of having employees who are truly engaged in what they do, we not only need to come to terms with the power of assigning meaningful work—we need to master it.


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@mwsmalls (Hoopla CEO)

@cassandra_daily (The Intelligence Group)

@healthyliving (Huffington Post)


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