Category Archives: Employee Engagement
I recently spent a month in the United States. I did do a little bit of work over there but there’s a part of me dying to strongly imply that I was exposed to a mass of leading edge innovative thinking around leadership and employment. Truth be told, I was exposed to a lot of Disney characters, movie studio tour guides and Vegas street touts. Not that I didn’t learn a lot that I’ll touch on shortly.
Before today’s instant, albeit temporary, ubiquity provided by the internet, you had to go overseas to wherever the motherland of your industry was to pick up the new trends and terms and it always seemed like New Zealand was years behind. But we did lead the world in cultural cringing. Fashionistas had to go to Paris or Milan. (Although if they were from New Zealand, they were probably fashioniwis?) I presume currency traders had to go to Wall Street or a conference in the Cayman Islands. I’m not sure where employment gurus went. I do remember that it seemed critical that they go and come back. Maybe it was more about the journey and not the destination?
I will admit there have been many occasions where I’ve had sudden and sharp pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out) where I hear a term that everyone seems to be using and I didn’t immediately know what it meant. For example, some of you might have felt that about FOMO, which would have been an ironic example of FOMO in action. Many times I’ve heard “Remuneration and reward” pronounced as “renumeration and award.” This could be me mishearing, or the speaker mispronouncing. Either of those alternatives are logical and probably equally likely. Nevertheless, my default is usually a fleeting belief that there is a new HR term buzzing around and I’m late to the party. I’ll quickly rationalise and assign meaning. Renumeration sounds real enough. Sounds like you numerate something then do it again, possibly multiple times.
To numerate literally means to represent numbers with symbols. So, a corporate policy of renumeration might mean that you give out payslips and instead of having old fashioned numbers indicating quite specifically what people have been paid and what deductions have been deducted, you replace the numbers with graphics. So instead of “$800”, there is a picture of a non premium brand HD TV. People often resent the deductions from their pay, even though they may benefit in the long run from ACC, student loans, tax spent by the Government or their own retirement savings. You could boost morale and engagement by having people choose their own graphics for their own deductions. Liberals could have their taxes represented by a teacher or nurse. The other end of the political spectrum could choose whatever they think taxes might best be represented by – something like the ‘more gruel’ scene from Oliver Twist. That’d be kind of detailed. I’d suggest using a bigger font.
And if people didn’t like or understand their pay by the graphics, you could do it again with new symbols, thus putting the ‘re’ into ‘renumeration.’
Awards are way more obvious, obviously. There are the Grammy Awards and the Academy Awards, so these would be like those but in an employment context. People would be super motivated by those, just like singers and actors primarily do what they do seeking the eventual, subjective and uncertain approval of a small, detached group of judges out of touch and unrepresentative of themselves.
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves that you’re all good, as you already have an employee of the month or similar award. Stop thinking small. Ramp it up. Two words – red carpet. And glitter. OK – three words.
Of course, at some point I realise that I’ve misheard what’s been said and I’m not missing out on some new, flash in the pan technique from overseas and I don’t have to catch up to Trendy McTrenderson. I shudder to think of the pitfalls of employee reward systems based on the Academy Awards. Employees of the month are enough of a mixed bag as it is. If you’ve ever coached your kid’s sports team and had to endure the politics and repercussions of player of the day, you’ll know what I mean.
I’m not a big drinker or gambler but I did enjoy my first time in Vegas. I missed being at the scene of a police shooting by five minutes as I stopped enroute to the Bellagio fountain show to get some gummy worms. (“When in Rome,” as they say. Or, at least, when next door to Caesar’s Palace.) There were lots of self employed on the streets seeking reward and remuneration in their own way. There were multiple performers dressed as Elvis. This is what I learned – the plural of Elvis is Elvi!
I’m currently working with a company that wants to implement a sustainable and managed programme of organisational storytelling. They’re convinced it isn’t silly nor is it just a ‘flavour of the month’ magic leadership blue pill. They see it as a fundamental human communication tool and they’d like to leverage it for their own communication strategy’s objectives and enable their people to use it to better move people around them to change. They had no problem with the concept, the practice or the potential cost-benefits of organisational storytelling. Their primary concern was that it would become just another change effort that didn’t stick.
In that regard, their concerns are warranted. Something as uncommon and potentially nebulous such as organisational storytelling is no different from any large-scale change project like a force-fed software roll-out.
Research from psychologist Jonathan Haidt, later popularised by Chip and Dan Heath in their book ‘Made To Stick’ focused on the power in change situations of combining the rational and the emotional. They’re the ones who got the ball rolling on the phrase ‘The elephant and the rider.’ It’s all a wonderful oversimplification and neuro-scientists must be rolling in their hammocks but it’s a simple and useful mental model. The elephant is your emotional brain. The skinny feeble dude on top of the elephant is the rider – your rational brain. The rider knows the rules and your goals and what’s good for you in the long run and learns from experience. The elephant wants what it wants. The rider will see a pile of chocolate and say that you shouldn’t have any but could probably have a little bit. The elephant will say it can’t hear you because of the noise it’s making eating all this chocolate.
Apparently, a key to success in life generally and change in particular is to get our elephants and riders working together. The third element is to ‘shape the path.’ We need to give them a degree of autonomy but with a limited range. Some of you will be thinking that this makes sense. Some of you will be thinking that elephants can’t talk. That’s just your driver speaking.
One of the things that constrains or delays change is paralysis by analysis. People obsess over making the right decision and end up making no decision or a too late decision. There’s a classic study where researchers set up stalls at several farmers markets. Half the stalls offered three jams for sale with three taste test pots. The other half of the stalls offered twenty four jams and twenty four taste test pots. Which stalls do you think sold the most jam? Far and away the three choice stalls sold significantly more jams. Haven’t we been conditioned to think that we want choice? That more choices are good choices? You might think that but that’s not what the research shows.
Why is that? Regret, or the potential for it, is a powerful driver and constrainer of human behaviour, although not so much for elephants. We want to choose the best jam. The chances of making the best jam choice out of three are pretty good, especially if the three choices are very diverse, say, a berry jam, a marmalade and something with low or no sugar. (Ha, just kidding. I think stevia is straight out of Professor Snape’s lab at Hogwarts and causes flavour to become invisible.) But, with twenty four options, many quite similar, those odds of making the best choice plummet. And our brains, emotional nor rational, don’t like that. We probably wouldn’t construct elaborate decision matrices on complex spreadsheets for jams but that’s exactly what we do for a lot of decisions are work.
John P. Kotter is the world’s leading expert on change. He’s got that middle initial thing going on so there’s that for a start. Seriously, his book’s a classic and I highly recommend it. I MC’d his off-sider from Boston at a conference recently and I was impressed by their research-based but very practical structured approach. They have an eight-step process; Look it up. The first step to minimising the chances of your change initiative failing is to create a sense of urgency. If paralysis by analysis is a brake on change efforts then creating a sense of urgency is smart. Go on, the idea is only available for a limited time!!
They say we’ll never know which came first – the chicken or the egg. I say it’ll become a lot clearer once KFC starts serving breakfasts. Is it that restaurants don’t offer a wide range of vegetarian meal options because diners don’t order a lot of vegetarian meals or do diners not order a lot of vegetarian meals because restaurants don’t offer a wide range of vegetarian options? It’s a chicken and egg situation.
I MC’d several HR conferences recently, here and in Singapore. One of the reasons conferences occur is to pick up on trends and, certainly, technology features predominantly amongst trends. Phrases get thrown around like ‘big data’ and everyone goes “ooh” or “grr”. I’m a fan of irony and nothing tickles me more than a presenter on a technology topic who includes a link to an online video in their presentation and then expresses incredulous surprise when it either doesn’t connect at all, or streams erratically. They’re genuinely astonished that the conference venue doesn’t have broadband as good as their high tech headquarters where they tested everything. I so applaud their optimism but c’mon, download it, edit it and embed it. If you can’t get that right, what faith can we have in your product?
Many of these videos are from futurists and fans of the movie ‘Minority Report’. It’s like a drinking game at HR conferences – every time you see a scene in a presenter’s video where someone pinches or swipes the air in front of their face and a holographic ‘screen’ opens and floats there and they tap it or throw it to a wall, you have to skull your drink. Fortunately, at conferences it’s just water with way too much ice. This presents risks of its own but at least intoxication isn’t one of them.
Chickens and eggs, horses and carts – one of those represents the relationships between HR practices and HR technology. For example, one of the speakers quoted a prediction that, within a few years, professional firms will have on average a 50-50 blended workforce. So, half your people will not be employees but may be contractors or some variation on that theme. This floating, flexible, just-in-time talent pool may or may not be located on your premises. Is this trend occuring because mobile technology enables it or is mobile technology being developed to profit from the trend. I think it’s chickens and eggs.
Another process that’s not necessarily all about technology but technology is making it so much more do-able and everyone is increasingly familiar with it because of online activity is rating. The international speakers at the Singapore conference talked a lot about rating. One example was semi-formal ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) ‘pulse checks’ from employees using an app or an intranet link instead of, or in addition to, infrequent and more in-depth engagement surveys. Another example was online forums where people can rate their boss like they’d rate a book on Amazon or rate a restaurant on Yelp. Starting at a job might be more navigatable if you had as part of your orientation and induction an app called ‘Job Advisor’ akin to ‘Trip Advisor’. If you won’t stay at anything less than a four star hotel, why would you even contemplate working for anything less than a four star boss? (Five stars is the best. Unless it’s a planetarium, in which case five stars is terrible).
Needless to say, there were mixed feelings about such rating systems. That’s not to throw shade at the technology. The issues seemed to be more about how the ratings were conducted, privacy, and human nature.
Singapore was full of rating. The moment you legally entered the country through immigration, a tablet on a post was your first impression. Glowing pink and yellow, it offered a five point likert scale to assess the experience you just had with immigration. Five cartoon faces ranging from very smiley to very non smiley. Again, I admire the optimism but the person I was rating (and who had the authority to detain me for forty eight hours) was only one metre behind me! I gave them a pretty smiley but not very smile face and scurried on my way. The next such panel I encountered was on my way out of the toilet. The screen had the same likert scale of smiley faces but also had a photo of someone I assume was the person responsible for the state of the toilets. (Either that or employee of the month). It was actually a great toilet experience and I would have absolutely given them the highest rating but if there’s one touch screen I’m not touching, it’s there. Maybe if they had a foot operated survey? I feel the same way about the door handles and the taps.
The thing with technology is that it’s a tool. Someone makes it and hopes there’s a need or someone observes there is a need and creates a tool to solve a problem, meet a challenge or fill a gap. You want to avoid the former.
An obvious feature about conferences is the expo section where vendors pitch their wares and many are tech outfits promoting the latest shiny thing. By all means pop your business card in the bowl and win that champagne but know your needs before you go shopping.
Mentoring is a great idea and doesn’t need technology but can technology help? I saw an app where mentors and mentees can connect without any need for human mediation. It’s a lot like Tinder (but not too much like Tinder).
There’s a growing trend, probably originating in some happy, progressive, Scandinavian country, to build retirement villages and early childhood centres next to each other. As well as physical proximity, the organisers of both centres work together to plan cooperative activities so, in a planned and managed way, the people at one end of a lifetime interact meaningfully with people from the other end. Results so far are positive and encouraging. The younglings benefit from the wisdom and experience of their elders, whilst the retirees are re-energised in the presence of youth. This is probably that whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mindset people throw around that we all use to lean on back in our tribal times so the middle people in their peak productive years could go out and hunt, gather and pillage depending on their skillset and testosterone levels.
This synergy born of close physical proximity has a name. It’s called propinquity. Look it up in a dictionary. If you don’t have a dictionary, google where to buy one. (Hint – you could google propinquity directly). Drop it into dinner party conversation. Apparently, studies have been done on effective working relationships and lifelong personal friendships. The studies sought to identify what the drivers of such successful relationships were. It turned out that simply being next to each other at some crucial point in time was the single most influential factor. You’d be amazed at how many best buddy friendships were formed with the person in the chair next to you on the first day of primary school, simply because everyone was seated alphabetically and Craig’s surname also ended in W.
This principle of propinquity comes into play in the workplace, and its potential benefits escalate if managed wisely, when you have a multi-generational workforce. I was MCing an HR conference recently and saw an eye-opening presentation on diversity. There were the obvious cultural and racial declarations and statistics such as Auckland being the 2nd most racially diverse city in the OECD behind Toronto. Quite apart from that was information about age diversity. It’s becoming increasingly normal to have workplaces with five generations of people working there.
I guess if you got a school leaver at sixteen and someone in their 70s, you could probably divide that into five generations. I did chat with someone at that conference who spoke about handing a bunch of letters in pre-sealed and stamped envelopes to their fresh, teen employee and asked if she could post them on her way home. He reports that she just stared at him and asked what he meant. There are actually people in fulltime, adult, paid employment who don’t know what a letter is or how to post one. I had a conversation myself with some other people about analogue clocks and how you can throw the odd young person with a phrase like, “Quarter past”. I’m sure young people are having the same conversations in reverse when we completely misunderstand invitations to, “Netflix and chill”. (Google it if you need to – probably NSFW. Google NSFW if you need to…)
Can New Zealand workplaces generate benefits with multi-generational workforces in the same way that those Scandinavian retirement village / early childhood centre combos do? Just randomly letting it happen and hoping for the best will not garner those benefits, unless by accident. The reason the retirement village / early childhood centre combos work is due to planning and management. It’s deliberate, it’s monitored constantly, and interventions are done as and when required. Some things happen that weren’t anticipated but lessons are learned with structured debriefing processes. Some things are easily anticipated and they’re planned for in a flexible way. For example, the traditional notion of retirement as switching the work switch to ‘off’ and going from fully employed one day to gardening / fishing / recreational vehicle-ing the next day is becoming less clear cut. Smart employers have a range of options and are open to innovative suggestions from those impacted.
Talent may want to cut back a bit and have a transition period, maybe over months or even years, working less hours or days and maybe even cherry-picking projects, whilst still being on-call if their institutional memory suddenly is needed on an ad hoc basis. If they’re truly talented and productive, they’ve probably earned it and it’s probably worth it. But, just because someone is old doesn’t mean they’re wise and just because someone is young doesn’t mean they’re an energetic go-getter. A much more individualised approach to managing personal retirement options and transitions is the way of the future.
While all this is happening to those people at the retirement end of their working lives, bearing witness to it are those starting out or in the middle. How you treat those people isn’t just about those people. It sends a powerful message, positive or negative, to upcoming talent on just how disposable they might end up being themselves.
Not every workplace should have employees bringing in their preschoolers though. Some people really need to focus on their air traffic controlling duties.
I just finished MCing a conference for an industry association of holiday park owners. They were a really down-to-earth group of people who got on really well because they had much in common – as people, not just by virtue of the nature of the work they did. Most were owner-operator couples. For the sake of simplicity, albeit probably not accuracy, let’s say husband and wife teams. They all had serious ‘skin in the game’ with massive personal investments in their businesses and many with significant debt-based investment. Many were carrying on a legacy from generations past of holiday camp ownership and management. Apart from being business owners, their choice of vocation was also very much driven by lifestyle choice with many camps in remote destination locations next to beaches, glaciers, etc. As a result of all this commonality, they got on well, had shared values and common goals, and it was a hell of a final night award dinner party.
Yes, there was commonality but there was by no means homogeneity.
I haven’t got the latest census figures to hand and I’m not gong to rattle off the stats around what proportion of the general population is young / old, male / female, and by whatever other criteria we can be distinguished from each other. My general belief is that it’s helpful if your team can represent the population of customers it serves. If this applied to holiday parks, they’d need to have half of their employees being Aussies. Nevertheless, they were a diverse group, especially on a gender basis, which warrants some applause even today (sadly). As I hosted the awards, I noticed with striking regularity how often a couple would take their prizes, look sheepishly at the microphone as they suddenly realised an acceptance speech was expected, and the woman would step forward (or the guy would step back – hard to tell in that light).
They were super diverse in terms of age too. Some recipients had to be helped up the steps to the stage due to their advanced years, whereas others had to hand a baby across to tablemates so they could stride to the stage. This is where diversity doesn’t need a Government-imposed programme to make people do it because they have to. This group of practical, salt-of-the-earth people know it is necessary to ensure the viability and survival of their industry. Succession, corporate memory and collective innovation are enabled and strengthened when the group has different points of view. Young ones starting out are all keen, scared and focused on surviving, not stuffing up and improving on what they’ve taken on. There seems to be a middle group who have gotten past the death-defying business stage and are consolidating and growing a mini network of parks. And those coming out the other end are thinking about exit strategies, legacies and supporting those coming through whilst maintaining standards. If they were chronologically all the same, there would be a dangerous lack of different perspectives which could dramatically impact their industry’s planning and results. Diversity is a strength in organisms and it is a strength in organisations. Lack of diversity is not just a weakness; it is a threat.
Oddly, they haven’t got a policy or a plan to create something called diversity. It’s just naturally developed and self-maintained over decades. They’re well ahead of the curve as I see it in my travels. In other events I work at and organisations I work in, I see individuals or teams and sometimes leadership deliberately and proactively trying to catalyse and nurture diversity programmes and so forth around gender, age, race, culture, even personality type. Some are doing well and others face entrenched opposition either institutionalised or via inertia, or even sometimes conscious and equally deliberate opposition to anything perceived as ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’. These terms almost carry negative baggage in the eyes of people who deride political correctness as the worst thing to happen to society in the past forty years.
I got into a brief twitter kerfuffle with an American of Indian ancestry who’d carved some infamy by applying as himself to a medical school and being rejected, then reapplying with exactly the same application except adjusted to make himself an African-American who got accepted. He tossed around terms like fairness and merit and I get that. His use of them was fairly selective and self-serving but I get his point. Merit and fairness are nice ideas and sometimes promoting diversity conflicts with those concepts.
An organisation / organism increases its chances of survival and success if it can adapt. Darwin wasn’t about survival of the merit or fairness. He was about survival of the most adaptable. The external society and economy is changing and a strategic, deliberate and proactive approach to diversity is how smart, future-thinking employers will ensure the survivial and success of their workplace.
I’ve taken a real shine to podcasts recently. Whilst walking or driving or at the gym, I’m plugged into my bluetooth wrap-around headphones doing two things at once. For most guys, multitasking is microwaving a pie whilst having a shower. Sometimes my phones goes and it automatically cuts the podcast and brings on the call, which is inevitably an offer of easy, high-fee work. I’ll accept the work, the caller will compliment me on the high-energy music in the background, the call ends, the phone brings back up the podcast and I go back to my workout. Such multitasking must surely be a shining example of productivity. (This happens to me all the time and isn’t a made-up example for this article in any way).
People talk about multi-tasking and being productive all the time. I’m not entirely sure everyone shares the same understanding of what it actually means. Technically, it’s a measure of the ratio of outputs to inputs in a production process. You know, a genuinely measurable thing you can track against a baseline and assess the effectiveness of changing variables. Probably my podcast at the gym example isn’t really about productivity, although my vertical leap has increased ten percent in the past three months and surely that’s a kind of productivity?
That ‘outputs to inputs’ stuff must just be about companies and countries though, right? Let us just fret about personal productivity. Let us all read about four hour work weeks, attempt four hour bodies and outsource our low value activities to some kids in Kazakhstan via fiverr.com. As a self-employed person, I do outsource much of my, for want of a better term, work. I have an accountant. I have a graphic designer. I buy their time and outputs as and when required. Those aren’t low value activities but they’re areas where my skill levels are amateurish on a good day with the wind behind me. Other tasks that are low value, I might assign to one of my low-skill non-Kazakhstani kids at low but not Fiverr.com-low rates. I probably shouldn’t be in charge of running a country but it seems to work for us. To be fair to Nahir my Fiverr guy, his work isn’t low skill. He is a skilled creative and I could never have drawn that cartoon myself of a desert scene made up of popsicles and cupcakes to go along as a background image with a comedy song I’d written about how I’m annoyed when people confuse the words ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’.
One technique worth considering, to the extent that you find it do-able, is performing different types of activities at different times of the day. I once met a professor of chronobiology (look it up) and she told me of circadian rhythms and such. People are different but the average person has two peak periods of alertness in a given day – around 8am to 10am and 6pm to 8pm. Our droopiest period of non-alertness is 1pm to 3pm. She argued that, if you can, you should schedule high value / high thinking activities in your peak alertness periods and your mindless, low-value tasks in your trough alertness periods.
Gloria Mark is one of the world’s leading experts on workplace interruptions. If I was to ask you what you thought were the primary causes of workplace interruptions, you might say things like phonecalls, emails, pop-in visitors or meetings. Mark did a videoed study of many workplaces where they’d had time management training and knew at a conscious level that they should be working on one task at a time until completion and that the tasks should be done in priority order according to agreed high-level goals. It’s fascinating to watch as the number one workplace interruption isn’t any of those you would’ve thought of. Our number one workplace interruptor is… ourselves. You watch the videos and people are working studiously on their high priority task, then, for no overtly obvious reason, they stop, shuffle sideays and do something else briefly, and finish by sliding back to that high priority task they’d just interrupted themselves from doing. And they’d do this repeatedly. Every time you interrupt a task and return to it, there is abundant opportunity for errors, duplications, ommission and so forth, nevermind the inefficiency.
One option to deal with the ill-disciplined, unproductive, troublemaker that is yourself is the pomodoro technique. When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines. If you gradually increase the duration of the working periods, you can even train your brain to be more focused. The guy who invented the technique used a wind-up timer in the shape of a tomato and pomodoro is Italian for tomato.
Sorry, that last paragraph was a lot funnier in its original Kazakh language. It lost a bit in translation.
In the past few weeks, I’ve worked at a vineyard, at a luxury hotel and inside a water tank. Admittedly, it was one of the larger watertanks available on the market but it was underground and accessible only via a narrow manhole. I have to say each work environment had a significant impact on my attitude, engagement levels and productivity. I guess when you’re reading a magazine themed around the work environment, perhaps your mind’s eye envisions an office, a factory, a warehouse or a shop. I’d be fascinated to see what the research says is the ranking of the most worked-in workplaces. These days, with so many people starting their own internet companies, or plying their trade as a hacker, or storming the international stage as a professional player of video games, that high up the list of contemporary workplaces might be your mum’s basement. (Seriously, Sky Sports now features video game playing. I saw them show darts, ten-pin bowling and hot-dog eating and I said nothing…)
I’m a trainer, speaker / MC and comedian so I travel and I’m not locked into one particular geographic location as my workplace. For a lot of years, I was. I’m in a reasonable position to assess the relative merits of each. It’s pretty subjective. I reckon when we’re trying to nudge young people into making smarter career choices, this is a conversation worth having early on. Forget the money, status or promotion prospects, what physical environments do they like being in and doing stuff in? The first choice is indoors versus outdoors. That’ll filter out a lot of options that could make them very unhappy on a daily basis. The second choice would be stationary versus moving. The prospect of being desk-bound would be soul-destroying for some whereas it might be a welcome anchor of security for others. The third choice is with others or solo. I think it was John Paul Sartre who said, “Hell is other people”. (I think he said it, therefore he did).
So, I’ll let others argue over work environment meaning the intangible workplace cultural aspects, or the stapling up of cartoons by the water cooler. For me, it’s a bit more visceral. Workplace environment to me is that set of triage filters we apply when thinking about where we want to work. I’m pretty relaxed on indoors versus outdoors. Generally, I’m more indoors. After my watertank experience, I definitely prefer above ground, but after my rope course experience, not too much above ground.
This concept isn’t foolproof nor can it exist in isolation. Just because I like working indoors, I generally like being stationery and I like people doesn’t mean I should apply to be a neuro surgeon. You should probably also ask for references. (And check them out).
I was MCing an event recently and ended up engrossed in conversation with a group of people who worked for a health insurer. (I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of people who work for a health insurer – an ‘excess’?) They were waxing lyrical and positively about their workplace environment. One had turned down a much better deal to stay because he so liked the workplace environment. Much of this loyalty seemed to stem from being given a free fitbit. Further questioning from me drew out more reasoning. A ‘sticky’ employer that talent becomes attracted and loyal to needs to have a physical and cultural environment that is consistent with its supposed values. It took us a while to get to this supposition but it makes sense.
A health insurer should promote health and be consistent in that with its employees. The free fitbit is a symbol of that. The opposite is jarring. When my son was much younger we were in a sports store – one of a large well-known chain. The décor was very sporting themed. TVs played sports channels. Basketball hoops hung from the walls. A scale replica of an actual running track painted out with lanes formed a circuit around the entire interior of the store. My son, being of an age where logic and habit took precedence over social conformity, saw an exact facsimile of a running track and ran! A employee, who job title I can only presume to have been ‘team member’ stopped him and told him off. I’m not the greatest parent in the world. I may be a better watertank cleaner than I am a parent, but I don’t think he or I did anything wrong in this scenario. Unlike in that supermarket with the child-sized trolleys and the unwisely located pyramid of cab sav bottles.
The thing about reminiscing is that we’re always so sure that we’re clear in our memories of that storied period in our past. Our brain’s memory bits are right next to our brain’s emotional bits so our most vivid memories are often ablaze with emotion of one sort or another. They’re vivid but they’re not necessarily accurate. Memories are not like videos on a shelf in your mind that get replayed exactly over and over again. Memories are reconstructions and are ripe for, and rife with, editorial input, director’s cuts and selective editing. Even if they’re accurate and honest, often they’re memories of perceptions and who knows how accurate our perceptions were at the time? This is all too true of nostalgia for time periods generally, not just personal recollections. How many people in the 60s were really at Woodstock, Vietnam or Martin Luther King’s speech?
People are now nostalgic for the 90s. Me too. I loved working in offices where anyone could smoke anywhere anytime and being powerless to do anything about soaking up all those second-hand carcinogens. (Sorry, ‘pre-loved’ carcinogens.) As a rookie workplace trainer, the 90s were when I first encountered efforts at workplace diversity. [Spoiler alert – this paragraph will finish cynically.] We were developing a training programme for some software that was going to be used in stores throughout a national network of franchisee outlets. The organisation was technically a Government organisation but was one of the most commercially-oriented ones (when it suited.) Accompanying the training was a workbook. We were at the draft stage and the text had all been tested and approved. To dolly it up a bit and appeal to those visual learning types, we were going to add some illustrations. I forget the order of things and who said what but the conclusion was that we needed to be sensitive to the variety of races and cultures in the network of trainees.
Who could have a problem with that? Not me, then or now. What delights me looking back is how that intended sensitivity manifested itself. One option might’ve been to have a range of photographs, perhaps actual images of actual staff from the network, or even stock photos. Photo shoots took time and money so that was abandoned fairly early on. The subsequent debate over stock photos included whether we should include the best diversity photos we could find even if they had African Americans in them as you don’t get a lot of African Americans in Tuatapere. In the end, we were told to get an artist to sketch a group of raceless, genderless, anthromorphised balls to act as the characters in the workbook. We solved the diversity conundrum of the melting pot of humanity by leaving out humans entirely. Easier, cheaper, safer.
Flash forward and we’ve come a long way. No more workplace smoking, rap has hardened up a tad and socks are much less fluorescent. We have a Sky Tower now. Do we still have a diversity conundrum? Or has it become a dilemma? A conundrum is a confusing problem whereas a dilemma is a choice between two equally bad options. Let’s take a management technique from the 90s and call our dilemma / conundrum an opportunity!
Diversity in nature is a strength and a protection. Diversity has an evolutionary purpose of diversity. If a species of organism was entirely homogenous and they suddenly encountered a potentially fatal virus then the entire species’ survival is at risk. But with diversity within organisms, there is a greater than zero percent chance than some will survive. Organisations and, workplaces, are the same. Homogenous is great for milk, not so great for groups of people. If an executive team is made up entirely of one ilk (let’s pick one at random – white males over fifty) and that organisation encounters a business challenge that they don’t have a frame of reference for, then the organisation’s survival is at risk.
Even for the genuinely cynical – you know, the ones who shriek “political correctness” every time something like diversity gets a mention – would find benefits in a more diverse workforce. The country is more diverse. Your organisations customers / clientbase is more diverse. Even if all you care about is profits or keeping your job, you are more likely to when the decision-makers and the people doing the work more proportionately reflect the people they’re serving.
I regret using the word “ilk” a couple of paragraphs ago. I was in the USA recently and walked into a conversation of parents talking about their feelings towards their teenagers’ choices of boyfriends and girlfriends. I said I did have concerns that maybe mine had chosen the wrong ilk. Two days later, someone finally told me that with my kiwi accent, they thought I’d said “elk” not “ilk.” Yet no one seemed concerned that I had said that my daughter was dating an elk, and not only an elk, but the wrong elk. I guess they weren’t really my friends because friends don’t let friends daughters date moose-like creatures.
The authors of business-oriented internet articles will often use the tried and true technique of titling their article with a finite and numbered list. For example, who hasn’t wondered what are the seven things successful people do before breakfast? What are the nine steps to scoring that big promotion? What are the five most over-used internet click-baiting techniques? What happens next will amaze you.
I did a quick search (is there any other kind?) on employee retention. It resulted in many such articles – and seven seemed to be the magic number. Seven tips for better employee retention and so forth. A summative and provocative stock photo seemed to grace most of the articles. This is obviously one of those five most over-used internet click-baiting techniques I keep hearing about. I wonder what simple graphic you would think of first when prompted by the phrase ‘employee retention’?
Hands reaching out, large groups of professionally-attired and incredibly diverse groups of people with their smiles out and thumbs up, and magnets featured pretty heavily. I didn’t see any glue. The term “sticky” gets banded around a bit these days. Bungee cords or Marlon Brando from ‘The Godfather’ have some potential. Certainly, in the movies at least, organised crime has very effective employee retention strategies. I’m thinking Tony Soprano probably only had one employee retention technique rather than seven.
I like the magnet as an icon of employee retention. Implicit in the magnet symbolism is both attraction and repulsion. An organisation wants to attract the right number of the right type of people, hang onto them whilst they’re productive for a period that provides an economic return and stimulates a healthy amount of churn and turnover to bring in fresh people with fresh ideas.
Some turnover is desired. Some is not. Some turnover is expected. Some is not. If no one ever leaves an organisation, then fewer vacancies are created and fewer new people join.
I did some work recently with a team whose least experienced member had been employed with them for twenty-five years. They didn’t so much need a workshop on employee retention as they needed to rent a copy of the movie ‘Logan’s Run.’
Common amongst the employee retention tips are to recruit people who fit, provide a development path, allow some autonomy, give tailored recognition, be flexible as an employer, promote from within, conduct ‘stay’ interviews not just ‘exit’ interviews, don’t be a jerk to society or the environment, and communicate openly and often.
I like the idea of the ‘stay’ interview. It would seem logical if you wanted to know the answer to the question, “What do I have to do or provide to keep my best talent around for longer?” to directly ask those people that question. They might answer that you should triple their salary. That would be fair enough if they were to triple their productivity. People might not truly know what motivates themselves or might encourage them to stay. They might not want to say it out loud or publically declare it if they did. They could be open, honest and accurate at the interview and, even then, their personal circumstances might rapidly change and they’re off to Oregon to throw clay with their spirit sister. If they say, “Give me a car park,” and you give them a car park, keep some measures as to how effective that is.
I think a useful primary application of the ‘stay’ interview after about their first three months is to try and mutually validate something you should have tried to achieve in the recruitment process – to get a close fit between the personal values of the employee and the organisational values of the employer. If you get that right or close, you’ll bump up the desired retention numbers. And, from a qualitative perspective, get more motivated and engaged employees while they’re there, regardless of how long they’re actually there. That might sound a bit woolly if you’re a panelbeater in a small town with three employees. I try not to sound like too much of a tree hugger but values-fit has a practical real-world relevance. Values like honesty and punctuality work both ways. You want them to show up on time and they want you to pay them on the day you said you would. And so forth. The fewer value clashes, the fewer doubts they get about sticking around. They may still keep an eye out for a better gig but you’re improving your odds.
Employers know not to look at things in isolation. Retention is part of a suite of issues needing to be looked at in conjunction with each other. Job design and recruitment determine the people coming in. Get that right (or at least – less wrong) and more of the people you take on will be ones you do actually want to retain. Same goes for orientation, performance management and training. But one thing employers definitely know is that you have to be realistic. Sooner or later, everyone (even themselves) is going to leave. Even Tony Soprano knew you had to have a succession plan.
I don’t know what responses we’d get if we asked one hundred people to tell us the first thing they thought of when we mentioned the term ‘screening.’ They might think of screening as in airport security or preventative health check-ups – keeping the dangerous out. They might think of screening as in letting your phone go to voicemail or checking caller ID and answering for only for the sexy callers – keeping the timewasters and unsexy out. Screening is also a gold mining process – keeping the valuable in. They might think of a movie screening. The difference between a movie screening going badly and employee screening going badly is that the movie screening will just spoil one night. Poor employee screening could mess you up for years. Employee screening is probably a combination of all these different perceptions of screening – except for keeping the unsexy out. That’s illegal and also clearly not working. Where would the unsexy end up working – in any department of a radio station other than sales?
My uncle, now in his 80s, and my son, now in his 18s, were talking about getting their first jobs. My son’s first job was with a supermarket in the seafood section. He made a written application and went through several written interviews and assessments before winning his role. My uncle spoke of showing up on an Aussie building site, saying he was from New Zealand, demonstrating which end of a hammer was up and that was it. (He got the job.) Times have changed. I’m not sure they still use hammers, I think the internet does that now? And now, no one in their right mind would screen an employee so poorly and perfunctorily. Actually, applicants are often screened to make sure they’re in their right mind. Even leaving aside things like skills and attitude, there was no screening for previous work injuries, criminal records, financial shenanigans, child-molesting, non-child molesting, drug use, bringing employers into disrepute in well-light Christchurch offices across from pubs, being a jerk on social media and all the other things you need to screen for now.
I should probably call it pre-employment screening. It might be the smallest part of the phrase but that ‘pre’ is awfully important. Anything you find out ‘post’ is too late – someone’s potential problem has now become your actual problem. Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage.
There’s forensic CV analysis too. That’s a thing now. That exists. In an age where there is software to compare a student’s essay via a search engine that compares it to anything else written ever for familiarity without accreditation, there would have to be forensic CV analysis. I see ‘forensic’, I think CSI. First there was CSI Las Vegas, then CSI Miami, then CSI New York. Now we have CSI HR. Which song by The Who should be the theme song to that show? I think all the good ones are gone.
I found one New Zealand company online offering polygraph testing as part of their pre screening process. I’ve seen too many movies with the cliché lie detector scene to take that process seriously (cue sound effect of heightened heart beat.) In fairness, it was quite an impactful marketing technique to list a series of headlines beneath that offer highlighting the dangers of not taking up their services. Examples of these headlines included: ‘Former insane mass killer unknowingly hired by Wellington school’ and ‘Convicted arsonist gains job as fire fighter.’ Although, in fairness, the latter could actually be a really good news story – a story of redemption about which movies are made (movies like ‘Backdraft,’) I checked the mass killer one. He’d killed six people, described as “friends, family, neighbours and complete strangers.” No teachers or students, so it’s questionable as to whether it’s relevant to his role working in a school but their point is still a powerful one. Frankly they shouldn’t limit their services just to employers. Remember my previous “Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage” remark? I’ll take someone on their word that they like long walks on the beach but I’d sleep a little easier with greater certainty on the non-former insane mas killer front.
There are few risks and many benefits in conducting a systematic and thorough pre employment screening process. You reduce risk, increase certainty, lower costs, enhance productivity and profitability and minimise your chances of being murdered.
Obviously in this modern age of internet hammering and privacy legislation, you need the permission of the applicant to conduct any screening. Although a quick Google could be legal, illuminating and disappointing very quickly. A refusal to provide permission is the easiest and cheapest screening of all.