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Empty Nesting

empty nest

Both my kids left home this past week. They’ve done it before. They may do it again. It’s not quite like a generation or two ago when leaving home was a definitive cut-off and a one-way trip. These days there’s the term ‘boomerang kids’ for those who keep coming back (no matter how far you throw them). And, apparently, in Italy they never leave.

They first left home a year ago to go to university in a different city but they were staying in halls of residence and they were together – regularly checking in with us, and back each term break. Given how much time they used to spend out or in their rooms, it really didn’t seem that different. This time round it seems more real. They’re flatting separately and we’re now also missing things from our house as well as them. Still, how many frying pans does one really need?

Also- that’s two drivers off Auckland’s roads lessening our household’s contribution to the congestion by 50%. I challenge all other Auckland households to do the same. Hey, Auckland Transport, I’ll expect some congestion charge discount in your planning thanks.

In my new presentation about change and how to build resilience in anticipation of inevitable if unpredictable change, I briefly reference the Sigmoid Curve. It’s an oldie but a goodie as a mental model for understanding natural processes and lifecycles. Originally noticed in the world of nature, it’s subsequently been applied to lifecycles of products, organisations, societies and relationships. Picture a seed and its growth as a graph. Initially growth is negative as it gears up and stores resources for the big sprouting then it shoots and grows up to a peak then declines then [spoiler alert] some terminal point.

sigmoid-pic

The trick, experts say, is to pick a point before the decline and either start another curve or reinvent the current one so that it is, in effect, a new one. Timing is important as you need the resources to begin again and no one is giving resources to a declining curve.

I want to make the analogy to work teams, using both the kids leaving home and the Sigmoid Curve.

As fast as two decades of parenting has zipped by, the change in our home ‘team’ was inevitable, even if the specific circumstances and timing were unpredictable. This is true in work teams and at a much faster rate. I led one group for over a decade and one of the things of which I’m most proud was that at the time of the initial recruitment and building of my team, I was also developing plans and processes for the inevitable reinvention of that team. It did take longer and I didn’t HAVE to do it, but within only a few months my righthand person had to quit and go overseas due to a family health crisis. I was ready and whilst surprised and supportive, I wasn’t shocked – family health crises happen. Not only was I able to instantly implement plans to temporarily and permanently replace that person, I was able to have that person involved in the process, thus helping me out and giving them a lessened sense of guilt and a heightened sense of closure.

One of the most dangerous phrases in business and life is, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”. That’s super naive and dangerously unrealistic. I”m not saying deliberately break things (although I”m not saying not to do that) but we all have a spare tyre in our cars because a flat tyre is inevitable. We try to save a bit of money and have a few spare frying pans and advice for when our kids leave home. So, regardless or perhaps because of, how optimal you think the team you’re leading right now is doing, start prepping for the inevitability of change and someone – a key person – leaving the nest.

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10 Employee Motivation Killers

I’m not sure if these are in ranked order. I’d probably put #7 a lot higher.

1412694120-10-biggest-motivation-killers-how-fix-them-infographic

Do You Have A ‘Best Friend’ At Work’?

waffles-friends-work

I sometimes flash the Gallup (and others) engagement questions as a prompt in workshop activities. One question that always raises a few eyebrows (and rolls a few eyes) is, “Do you have a best friend at work?’ While I get the vibe they’re trying to tap into in terms of workplace culture, is that really the best indicator and really the best question? This article suggests an alternative that I quite like: Do you have many strong working relationships at your job? You don’t have to donate them a kidney or go to their barbeque but positive and constructive connectivity is crucial. Even then, they don’t all have to be positive in the sense of friendliness – an argument can be positive.

This article offers alternatives:

BI Worldwide Rodd Wagner’s (new) key questions

  1. Do managers support each employee as a unique individual?
  2. Is pay fair, if not generous?
  3. Are leaders transparent?
  4. Is there a clear mission and do employees feel a strong connection to it?
  5. What paths do people have to advancement?
  6. Do more junior people sometimes get to take charge?
  7. Are employees well recognised?
  8. Is this a cool place to work?
  9. Do people feel energised or fearful?
  10. How well do colleagues work together?
  11. How often do people feel a sense of accomplishment?

A good friend will donate you a kidney. A great friend will donate you a kidney… that isn’t their own…

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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Having Skin In The Game

would I work for me

This article is from a publication called BedTimes. That title piqued my curiousity as the article was about employee engagement. It transpired that BedTimes was a publication for the sleep products industry. I don’t know what else I thought it might be. And it was a very good article from an employer’s perspective, not a writer, journalist or expert, consultant, or commentator. Someone, as they say, with skin in the game. And that was kind of their point.

The phrase “skin in the game” has been attributed to Warren Buffett about having your own money in an investment, as opposed to just talking about it or investing for others. (It wasn’t Jimmy Buffett unless you count poker games as investments.) I’d kind of hoped it traced back to roman times and gladiators because then it would have something of a literal bent. But no. From an employee engagement perspective, it makes sense. People who actually own a company tend to work, as they say, like they own the company. It’s easy to offer glib advice to people wanting to work their way up corporate ladders to work like they own they company. I actually agree with the advice but it’s often just easy to say. You cannot make others feel like they have a genuine stake. But employers can set things up so that employees do have a genuine alignment between their own goals and that of the company. But it’s foundation stuff, not some ‘plaster over the cracks’ 2-month project.

For a start, Brain-Based Bosses can structure their recruitment processes to seek, hire and retain people who already have goals that align with the company’s. If the company succeeds, then they do. Part of that might be financial but not in isolation. There needs to be more. That’s a whole lot easier than changing people or changing goals or making other people change goals midstream. Those ways lead to a lot of pretending. And, you know, sometimes even that pretending leads to a short term uptick in engagement. ‘Fake it til you make it’ kind of thing. But it isn’t sustainable nor that much of an uptick.

I particularly liked this paragraph in the article about why, in many or most cases, such employee engagement improvement efforts do not work:

“Frankly, it’s because in many cases employees really don’t have a stake. Too many companies try to paste “engagement” initiatives on a foundation that’s fundamentally flawed. It won’t work. True engagement is a natural, organic extension of a company’s culture, and people can’t be cajoled, tricked or bribed into feeling it. There just aren’t any shortcuts.”

New Zealand’s gambling agency the TAB have a slogan, “It means more when you’ve got something on it.” That’s their version of having skin in the game. You can watch a sporting event and appreciate it. You can watch it and might even experience some vicarious emotions if you support the team that’s playing from your country, town, school or one you unilaterally and arbitrarily have chosen because you find their colours, mascot or swarthy south american star player aesthetically appealing. But nothing is quite like the effect on your biochemistry when the team’s loss causes you to lose something too. It might be the money you wagered. It might be you lose face at the pub or workplace the next day. But you lose or win something depending on the results.

It can’t just be the potential loss of a job or bonus if things go south. There needs to be potential wins too. Don’t underestimate the value of pride. When your employees are at parties (in their own time, of course) and others ask them what they do or where they work, what do they say? That’s actually quite a good indicator of pride and engagement, or the lack thereof.

How many employees feel that way about their workplace? Do yours? Does Jimmy Buffet? Of course, his lack of feeling might be due to other causes entirely…

Hands Up For Volunteering

volunteeringA recent study conducted by Macquarie Graduate School of Management showed that Corporate volunteering improves employee satisfaction, retention and engagement.

Corporate volunteers were very satisfied with their volunteering experience (83% satisfied), very likely to continue (87%), and very likely to recommend it to their friends (75%). The most common barriers were ‘not being asked’ (38%), ‘being too busy (36%), preferring to volunteer privately (31%), and preferring to donate money than to volunteer (21%).

I presume “I don’t care” and “I can’t be bothered” weren’t provided as options. Therein lies yet another failing of surveys and prompted responses.

Engagement + Alignment >

blue pill

This recent Forbes post is short and snappy and makes the excellent point that engagement by itself doesn’t lead to productivity, revenue growth and profitability. That mass of keen people you’ve motivated need to be performing in alignment with your organisation’s overall strategy – moving with all that new energy towards the same goals. Kind of obvious I know, but well worth specifying and repeating. I’m guilty of not saying that enough myself. Engagement is not, by itself, some magic blue pill. Always be wary of those who try and sell you a magic bullet which is ‘the answer.’

The post, wisely, recommends always getting people to keep in mind the ‘why’ of what they’re doing. Yes, engaging employees is a good idea – but why? The ‘5 whys’ technique is a classic problem-solving approach but here it is, unintentionally demonstrated by one of my favourite comedians Louis CK. WHY?!

Secrets Of Building Winning Teams

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Successful organisms and groups in nature rely on diversity as a defence mechanism and to provide tools to deal with a wide range of situations – business is no different. Here’s the rest of that thought, expressed in my lead article from the Careers section of The NZ Herald on 20th July 2013. To save me re-typing it, here it is in image form with a link back to the Herald’s original online article.

Herald Jobs Article Terry Williams The Brain-Based Boss 20July2013 Entire

Sad Superman – Anyone Can Become Disengaged In A Negative Workplace

sad superman

This Harvard Business Review blog post is a great encapsulation on what to do about disengaged employees. So many bosses try and attract pre-engaged employees without putting much effort into the latent and potential talent they already have. Or might have. Trying to buy engagement from outside may not necessarily be a bad idea but engagement tends to be contextual. Just because someone is engaged at a point in time in a particular place doesn’t mean that they are perpetually engaged anywhere and everywhere. Throw Superman into a negative enough environment, even he will become increasingly negative. (Terry makes mental note to himself to draft a graphic novel using this premis…)

Hiring ‘A’ players, those transitory and mercenary talents, is a zero-sum game. If they come to you because you dangle more money (if that’s all you do) you will merely attract those people that will be equally attracted away by someone dangling a bigger carrot and there’s always a bigger carrot. Just like lowering your products’ prices, it may work today and solve a problem in the short term, but someone else can do the same or better and you’ll lose that game even if you win it.

The numbers vary and I prefer to use three categories rather than ‘engaged’ and disengaged.’ I have a middle group I call ‘present.’ The engaged do more than they have to because they choose to. The disengaged are toxic, stealing time and resources, badmouthing you while they use your PC to look for work elsewhere. The ‘present’ show up, clock on, do their jobs and no more, consume oxygen and clock off. Contractually there isn’t a problem but neither you nor they are optimising potential here. This group offers the greatest opportunity for enhancing the overall engagement and thus productivity of your team. Love the engaged and lose the disengaged.

Here’s what the blog post says about what to do about the others – the ‘present’:

  1. Understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research
  2. Find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s
  3. Encourage grassroots engagement
  4. Recognize engagement as a moving target, and check back often

That’s enough blogging today. I’m off to work on my ‘Negative Superman’ graphic novel. Or maybe screenplay?! Does anyone have Zach Snyder’s phone number or know how to spell his name?

Which Workplace Perks Enhance Employee Engagement?

perksNo potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.

“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”

“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”

One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.

“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”

Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.

Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.

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