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.
Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever
This blog post makes a clear demarcation between the behavior of bosses that can enhance employee engagement and the lazy assumption that it must all be about being nice and friendly and a soft touch.
I’m seemingly forever clarifying to people that employee engagement is not synonymous with employee happiness or morale or satisfaction. They’re all nice things. They’re all interesting. We’d all probably like to work in a job where there are higher levels of happiness, satisfaction and morale. BUT employee engagement is a very narrowly defined phenomena – the application of discretionary effort. It isn’t about how workers feel or think or think they feel. It is about how we observe they behave. To what extent do they do more than they have to because they choose to – for whatever reasons? It’s not about evil, moustache-twirling villainous bosses extracting everything they can and more out of labour. It is about people’s fundamental human, psychological needs and how they are served (or not) in their work.
Our jobs need to be about more than a paycheck. We take a job for the money but how we perform once we’re hired is less about money than managerial wisdom has thought for years.
And it isn’t about bosses being ‘nice’ or a soft touch. I can get my own hugs thank you very much. A boss who, on the surface, may seem ‘un-nice’ or uncaring might actually be driving high levels of engagement in the people they lead. Regardless of their cliche and superficial people skills, if they can stimulate a sense of purpose in their people, backed up with allowing some degree of autonomy and provide a track for development and progression, then that goes a long way to enhancing engagement levels and the benefits that ensue for productivity and profitability.
But if you still want hugs – get a dog. A big one. I recommend a huntaway. Way less employment court consequences.
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.
This TIME Magazine article by Jeff Haden is short, sweet and worth a read. It’s theme to me seems to be that effective leaders deal with things in the ‘now.’ It suggests that many of the formal structures of organisations in dealing with people such as performance reviews, formal meetings and development plans occur too late to be useful. I agree… IF those reviews and plans are all that is done. My advice to leaders in the workplace is to do both – deal with stuff as it happens, which really is the smart and effective approach, BUT also keep thin but useful records so you can plug things into the formal structures. You don’t want to create a massive administrative workload but you do want to capture an ongoing record.
Memory in a tricky thing. It isn’t like pulling discs out of a video library and replaying exactly what happened. For a start, even your initial experience of the event is distorted by your perspective, as opposed to the perspectives of the other players. Whoever said that there are two sides to every story were severely underestimating. Time, emotion, biases and other stuff further distort memory. By the time we do need to recall a past event, our minds don’t replay, they recreate. Assuming, of course, that it ever gets recalled at all. I barely recall what I had for breakfast yesterday. How could I, or my employees, be expected to accurately and fairly recall something that happened six months ago? You can’t. You shouldn’t.
Feedback (of whatever kind) to be effective needs to be as close to the event as possible. Saving it up for a performance review in six months is of little use and perhaps even counterproductive. I agree with Haden on that. BUT I do think that all those little events in all those ‘nows’ across a year or six months or whatever the review period is, need to be captured somewhere, so they can be presented in summary to give all concerned a holistic picture of performance.
Now I need to attend to what I’m going to have for breakfast today. I’m not one of you same-thing-for-breakfast-ever-day people. Your stomach might thank you but your mind gets miffed. I must search for research on what what this reveals about our mind and character. I suspect you same-thing-for-breakfast-ever-day people would make good accountants and proof-readers. I know I wouldn’t!
This really provocative ‘Democracy In America’ blog in The Economist got me thinking. They make various observations about all the noise from politicians and agencies about the need for, and urgency of, job creation. Jobs as a source of income and a sense of worth for those who need it are obviously critical. But as a tributary off the main argument flowed some thinking on the subset of people who had either lost a job or opted out of traditional fulltime employment. This, to me, was the provocative bit.
The blog suggests that a significant group of talented and educated people of a certain age were certainly searching for work but not necessarily for a job. They throw in a bit of terminology like ‘Post Materialists’ and ‘Threshold Earners.’ A threshold earner has an amount they think they need / want. Once they reach it, they choose not to work anymore. Enough is good enough. This might be a great philosophy for someone like me (or subscribers to The Economist – or, more likely, people reading bits of The Economist’ free online or in libraries.)
To me, time with my kids and being fit and creative is important. I don’t just say that, I live it – now. I didn’t always used to. I think I can label myself a ‘Threshold Earner’ although I doubt I’m a Post Materialist. Certainly my kids aren’t!
Work, be it paid or otherwise, provides us humans with a lot more than money. That said, whatever the amount is, we all do need money. I’ll hug a tree but I won’t live in one. Work gives us connection, purpose, health, development, esteem and so much more. A lack of money can mess with our heads but mere money itself is not such a drawcard anymore. If, as a leader, you want to truly start to spark genuine employee engagement at your workplace you need to understand the implications and benefits of this. Lots SAY they do.
So, by all means, let Government try and do their best to stimulate job creation or, at least, get out of the way but if you’re an employer searching to attract and retain the best talent you can, you must reconsider if the old ‘jobs’ paradigm will work for you in the future or the now. If they have the talent and can improve your business’s productivity, what can you do to make it easy for Post Materialists and Threshold Earners to work for you? Actually, let’s revisit that wording because it’s important. They don’t want to work FOR you – that’s the whole point. They want to do some of the work and get paid but they don’t want to work for you. Just because you’d love to work for you doesn’t mean everyone else would.
It’s raining heavily and I am so glad I’m not living in a tree right now.
This Washington Post article by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer takes a delightfully tongue-in cheek approach to what drives talented employees out of organisations. By reverse-engineering their faux recommendations, we can glean what it is we’re supposed to do to attract and retain talented people.
Their research is primary. Rather than surveys or post-exit interviews which can be self-serving, inaccurate, subjective and occasionally fictional, they chose to provide daily electronic diaries to 200+ people. Rather than Bob or Kate saying out loud that they left ABC Limited for a better paying position at XYZ Limited, there is a trail of clues. It might actually have been an escalating and deteriorating relationship with “that jerk Barry from Accounts” which, over time, led to their departure. Accumulating all those trails of clues, Amabile and Kramer have come up with their list of commandments.
Their ‘advice’ to leaders wanting to “completely and utterly destroy an employee’s life at work” were:
- Never allow pride of accomplishment
- Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects
- Give yourself some credit
- Kill the messengers
My building blocks of a workplace that allow and generate self motivation amongst employees are self awareness, mastery, autonomy, purpose and influencing others. Human minds need them like human bodies need food. Mostly, people are only going to get that at work. Without accomplishment, a sense of progess, recognition, or blame-free communication, people are not going to attain or even move towards mastery, autonomy or a sense of purpose. If you, as a leader, prevent your people from getting them, they will leave because they’re hungry for a basic need.
After all that, if you still really do want to destroy an employee, take their advice and, as a cherry on top, wait until that employee leaves their PC, sneak on and hack their FaceBook account…
This article with video from ‘Good To Great’ author Jim Collins identifies three primary employee demotivators. Actually, he doesn’t limit them to employees but rightly says they are inflicted on people in many forums. Parents especially are noted as perpetrators. Those three demotivators are:
- futurism and
- false democracy.
There may be others but these three are good ways to put out the fires that might be burning inside people you have who are already inherently motivated. Crazy. You’d think that employers would want to not do that, yet I see an awful lot of hype, futurism and false democracy in a lot of workplaces. All of it is well-intentioned.
In one of my previous management roles where I was a significant agent of change, I had a little personal catchphrase, “No fireworks, no bugles.” What I was trying to reinforce to myself and to others was my own anti-hype position. I really did not want to overpromise. I’d learned from being on the receiving end of too many projects or ideas that were going to magically transform everything into a wonderland of worker amenity and prosperity. Never quite panned out quite as wonderlandy as they painted it. Few things do. Honestly, I’m not anti-hype. It has its place. Used in short bursts at appropriate times, it can generate heat, energy, attention, focus and movement. My problem is that, often, the hype is all there is. In fact, isn’t that the meaning most of us apply when we see, hear or use the word? Too much hype. Nothing but hype. Over-hyped. Don’t believe the hype. What must follow hype to avoid demotivation is prompt and positive change of meaningful substance.
Workplace examples of death by overhyping I’ve seen have included introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures. That said, I’ve also been involved in introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures that were highly successful, well received and used hype, to some extent, very well. So, I’d disagree with Collins if he means that all hype is bad. I suspect he doesn’t mean that. I believe he means the hyperbole that isn’t followed up with action of substance. Far better to, as he says in the video, “…to confront the brutal facts.”
How is futurism bad? I thought we were all meant to be planning for the future, setting goals, anticipating and pre-solving problems etc? Once again, Collins isn’t slamming all futurism, merely those bosses who focus on nothing but the future with little or zero emphasis on the now or recent history. Those bosses can’t learn from mistakes, can’t celebrate successes and can’t leverage employees ‘in the zone’ or in ‘a state of flow.’ These high performers don’t ignore the future but when they’re at their most productive, they are very much solely in the now. Bosses who break that focus and drift off over the rainbow are counter-productive.
Collins says to show results as an indication of progress, to show that people are part of something that is actually working. He refers to this as ‘clicks on the flywheel.’ (I get what he’s saying but will admit to having to go look up what a flywheel is – a heavy disk or wheel rotating on a shaft so that its momentum gives almost uniform rotational speed to the shaft and to all connected machinery. I’m pedantic enough to argue that change never happens at a ‘uniform rotational speed’ and I don’t even like the metaphor’s ‘rotational’ representation of change. But I still get it and love the whole point of it which was the benefits of showing progress and being part of something that works!)
False democracy is a label for all the actions by those employers who have already made up their mind but would like to paint over their intentions with a thin veneer of dishonest inclusiveness by engaging in some token campaign of capturing ideas and inputs from the team. Not that anything ever amounts from these campaigns. This is worse than just being a blatant autocracy. At least that’s honest and transparent. Sometimes even well-meaning managers will engage in such a campaign even though the system of their workplace is so rigid and unresponsive that actual democracy is unlikely. That might be worse as it raises false hope?
Doctors have their oath and the first part is about at the very least not doing harm. Leaders, when it comes to motivating their people, could, at the very least, take that page out of the doctors’ book. (Don’t take a page out of their prescription pad though. You’ll never read their handwriting!)
Following my blog yesterday on motivating and retaining the best employees, this article fell into my RSS feed from Harvard Business Review bloggers Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller. I was drawn to the provocative statement in their article, “So, ‘rational’ leaders don’t tap into the primary motivators of up to 80% of their workforce.” (Although I inserted the apostrophe & the inverted commas for more dramatic effect & a sarcastic tone I felt was inferred…)
Hey, it’s short, sweet, simple and makes a great point about people’s differences when it comes to motivation. And it takes their research and plugs it into some practical examples of what actual leaders actually did. Nice.