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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays? Not if You Forget Your Employees

It’s the only time of year that it’s acceptable to give a fruitcake. Complete with hot cocoa, stockings hung with care, and holiday bonuses… wait, what? Yes, these are all trademarks of the holiday season, especially the bonuses. Tis the season to recognize your employees, and failing to do so could mean losing valuable employees. Consider the case of a PR firm that usually gave large year-end bonuses and without warning one year, shifted that spend into opening a nice new office. Or what about the high-end magazine that rewarded executive employees with a large novelty candy? Both companies suffered significant attrition before the New Year. Don’t let this happen to you.

Photo Credit: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Frustration can simmer just under the surface of your workforce, but your organization can reduce some irritation by implementing formal recognition and review programs. Organizations that create and sustain an effective recognition program have a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate - i.e., employees quitting or resigning - than those with a poor recognition program. In fact, lack of appreciation at work is the number one reason Americans leave their jobs, but you can use it as a retention tool.

According to the latest Randstad Engagement Index survey, U.S. workers say promotions or bonuses are one of the most effective ways to keep them engaged in their jobs. A holiday bonus increases employee engagement and motivation in the office, which means more successfully completed projects and subsequently more revenue for the organization.

The truth is, your employees might be dreaming of a white Christmas, but they are expecting recognition before the New Year. Some (like Clark Griswold) may even be counting on that bonus to make their Christmas a merry one.

How and When to Reward

Just because you tell members of your team how wonderful their work is all year doesn’t mean that will suffice when it comes to the holiday season. Unfortunately, not every company feels that way. In fact, just 27% of small businesses are planning to offer holiday bonuses this year, compared to 35% last year, according to an American Express survey. (Tweet this Stat) That special recognition in the workplace is one of the greatest contenders to combating high turnover rates. So, even though it makes your employees happier at work, it is a business gain as well.

Some pointers:

      Try to give consistently. If you can’t for whatever reason, let employees know ahead of time.
      People will talk. You don’t have to give the intern and the top performing sales person the same amount but keep it similar within job titles.
      Speak up! Bonuses and gift cards have to be declared so give your employees a head up!

The ROI of employee recognition stretches beyond a mere monetary value. The emotional response is what fuels a difference in an employee’s work and engagement. For example, KPMG, an international tax and audit organization, increased awards dispersed throughout the company by 25%. The results were, according to Sara Turner, UK Head of Employee Benefits and Wellbeing at KPMG:
“What you get with the recognition is a really emotional response… Though the monetary value is low, the impact is really huge. In monetary terms, recognition is so much less expensive [than other reward systems], but what you get is this emotional gut response from people who are overwhelmed, happy and excited when they get an award. People are so engaged because someone has appreciated the extra effort they’ve gone to and taken the time to make sure they acknowledge it and that others acknowledge it as well.” 

Think Outside the Box

The business landscape has changed over the last few years. Employees are feeling the effects of a slowly healing economy. Unfortunately, employers aren’t so trigger happy when it comes to expenses that aren’t deemed “necessary.” Individuals on your team expect some kind of bonus around the holidays. If business was down, communicate it well and set expectations before the office party if you are planning on giving a non-monetary gift.

On average, there is an expectation of a 2.9% bonus increase among the workforce this year. (Tweet this Stat) Even if you’re not prepared to dispense a monetary reward for all of the meritorious hard work from your team, leadership can still give employees a “bonus.” If budget constraints prevent a traditional bonus, Glen Tullman, CEO at Livongo Health suggests trying these alternatives:

      Give a tangible gift - A gym bag, a nice sweater, or a small piece of technology would suffice. However, don’t put any company logos on the gift… otherwise the gift loses the “it’s the thought that counts” factor. 
      Offer a chance for community involvement - Websites like TisBest allow employers to offer “gift cards” that employees can use towards the charity of their choice. This gives them a semi-monetary reward for their hard work and the opportunity to give back to their community.
      Give to employee families - Why not engage your employees through their support systems? Families are important to the engagement of your team, so try sending a basket of gourmet snacks or giving a list for the family to choose from.
      Give time off! Can’t afford a lavish bonus? Give the gift of paid time off. People love unexpected vacations. (Tweet this Tip)

The holidays can be a stressful time for employees. Finishing year-end projects around the office can be taxing. Acknowledging their work and rewarding them through traditional bonuses or non-traditional gifts maintains engagement levels and produces a real ROI for the organization. Bear in mind that performance bonuses and holiday bonuses should be kept in two separate categories. As company leadership, ensure you’ve dotted your holiday I’s and crossed your T’s; make employee recognition part of your holiday to-do list this year. Give your team a little something special (hopefully more than just a holiday fruitcake).

Friends don't let friends be the Frank Shirleys of their company. Spread the holiday cheer by tweeting these year-end bonus tips.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Million-Dollar Performance Review Question

If there’s such a thing as a million-dollar question that managers should ask employees during a performance review, it’s this: What do you really want to do?

Why is such a simple question so valuable? First, it helps you understand exactly what your employees are passionate about, what engages them, and what they see as truly meaningful work. Second, it helps to instill greater accountability in your people by involving them in personally managing their careers and creating reach assignments. And third, it shows that you care about your employees’ needs as well as those of the company.

Add those factors together and you have a powerful equation for boosting the value of your performance reviews—and for raising employee engagement, happiness and retention levels.

Another reason this simple little question is pure gold is that helps transform your performance appraisals from backward-looking reviews into future-focused planning sessions. In fact, more and more companies are de-emphasizing the “review” aspect of their performance appraisals and focusing more on looking ahead—at what makes employees happy and productive, how they’d like to grow, and how they envision their future with their employers.

Texas Roadhouse recently changed its performance review process to be more forward-looking (which you can read about here). And Union Bank & Trust revamped its performance appraisals in a way that more deeply engages employees in the review process (which you can read about here). Both companies now ask employees about their feelings regarding their work and the future.

In her Harvard Business Review post, “IfYou’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material,” professor of management Monique Valcour offers managers this piece of advice: “When planning your team’s work, ask employees to identify both how they can contribute and what they would like to learn. This gives employees the primary responsibility for clarifying what they want to learn and for proposing ways to incorporate on-the-job learning. It also helps to avoid having employees volunteer to perform only the tasks that they are already highly skilled at.”

She also urges managers to require employees to report back to them periodically on what they’ve learned and how they’re using their new skills and knowledge.

Asking the million-dollar question—“What do you really want to do?”—during your performance reviews can be a powerful way to maximize employees’ contributions and commitment levels. And when you actually put your findings to use, the results will be money in the bank.


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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Players or Top Guns: Call Them What You Want, You Need More of Them

Can you afford to put up with mediocre employees?

Humetrics president, Mel Kleiman, posed this question in a recent post. Despite the obvious answer, Kleiman notes that employers and managers frequently keep mediocre workers around rather than replace them with top talent (whom he refers to as “A players”). He even offers 10 reasons they do so, including:

  • They’re focused on low turnover rather than on retaining the right people.
  • They don’t really know what constitutes an A player.
  • They use a screening process designed to screen people out rather then let the right people in. 

Recruiting top talent isn’t easy by any stretch. But it’s worthwhile because, as Kleiman points out, “hundreds of research studies have quantified the difference between having an ‘A’ player versus a ‘C’ player in a job … (and) every one of them concludes the difference in productivity and the impact on the bottom line is anywhere from 20 percent to over 1,000 percent greater return when you compare the best, most productive employees to those who are average.”

Of course, to effectively recruit top talent, you need to know who your current A players are and precisely what sets them apart. Once you do, you’ll know which skills, behaviors and attributes to seek out as you recruit new talent and as you craft your employee learning and development programs. (You can read more on this topic in a previous post, “Do You Know Who Your ‘Top Guns’ Are?”)

If you’re interested in raising the bar on your recruitment of top talent, you might consider a recommendation from Jonah Berger, marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: “Stop selling, start storytelling.”

Rather than trying to sell A players on a specific job, Berger encourages employers to snag top talent through word of mouth from their own employees and storytelling related to their actual work experiences. In a recent article on, “Howto Use Viral Marketing to Recruit Top-Notch Talent,” Berger notes that there’s an entire psychology behind the power of social sharing and word of mouth—and this same power should be applied to attracting new talent.

A players, top guns, high-performance workers—however you refer to them, one thing is certain: the best way to attract more of them consistently is to use this three-step process:

Step 1. Identify your current top performers and what makes them special.
Step 2. Use your findings as a “template” for recruiting and hiring new talent.
Step 3. Leverage your current top performers to tell your brand’s “story” in their own real and meaningful terms.


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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)


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