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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.


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

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Holistic Thinking Around Employee Engagement

Terry Williams seriouscomedy laffic-graphic MATE

This is a great post in Forbes by Josh Bersin. I’m always flapping my gums about the futility of ‘tick-box’ engagement efforts like annual culture surveys and such. He’s actually distilled into a useful and succinct summary some practical holistic strategies.

I especially like and agree with his thinking on building an engaging environment.

On survey efforts etc, he writes:

“While this is a good thing to do, most companies now tell us that this process is not keeping up. It’s not detailed enough, it isn’t real-time, and it doesn’t consider  all the work related issues which drive employee commitment. A new breed of engagement tools vendors, models, books, and workshops has emerged – all focused on building what we call today’s  ‘Irresistible Organization.’ “

There’s some links to interesting new research on how the old axiom that ‘people leave bosses, not organisations’ may no longer be the case.

Survey results can be misleading. And funny:

  • The apocalypse – favoured by 4 out of 5 horsemen.
  • Research shows six out of seven dwarves aren’t Happy.

Sick Of Work?


The economy loses billions of dollars a year due to absenteeism caused by stress, according to this Australian research. That absenteeism from whatever cause drags on productivity is obvious. And, no doubt, variations of causes attributed to this thing called ‘stress’ contributes to that.

Setting aside for a moment those workplaces and individuals where there genuinely is a stressor from there being too much work or too challenging work relative to those supposed to perform it, another stressor can be disengagement. It’s not that the work is too much or too hard in itself, it’s that the work and the workplace and the boss are set up and managed in such a way that prevents or lessens the opportunities for workers to experience regular autonomy, development or any sense of purpose.

A recent Gallup Business Journal article makes the connection between the quality of the workplace and illness. If workers were breathing in gas or particles at work that posed a health hazard, that’d be in violation of any decent country’s employment laws. Just because a workplace’s toxins seep into people via their brains doesn’t make them any less hazardous. Yes, people will fake illnesses and ‘pull a sickie’ as implied in the image above and probably that occurs disproportionately on Mondays, Fridays and proximate to public holidays on long weekends. That’s a very different thing.

“The quality of the workplace can be linked to serious physical and mental illnesses such as clinical depression and chronic anxiety that can have a significant negative impact on workers’ job performance and on their personal lives.”

An icon of disengagement is Ferris Bueller from the 1986 movie. He was skiving off high school not work but his sentiments still apply:

“The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

Stand-Up Workstations

Sitting can be as bad as smoking. They should print warnings on couches and office chairs. Even if the chair is perfectly primed by a professional Ergonomist and made safe from any posture or health and safety issue, the very act of being sedentary and sitting for long periods is not what humans are suited for. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Between 1945 and 1995, the average adult daily calorie expenditure fell 800 calories. So the amount of moving we do each day has reduced by 800 calories, thanks to cars and machines and washing machines and so forth. 800 calories is the equivalent of a ten mile walk! In 1960, 50% of jobs required at least moderate physical activity. Today it is only 20%. Two thirds of desk workers eat lunch sitting at their desk.

Move it or lose it!

Secrets Of Building Winning Teams


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

Congratulations On Your Engagement


Today’s business section in the Herald runs my latest column on employee engagement.

Q: I want to be a great leader. What’s this thing called “employee engagement” I’ve been hearing about? Is it just consultants coming up with some new term to sell me their services, or what? I’m hoping it’s real. Economic times are tough. I need something to get more out of the team I lead.Bewildered of Birkenhead

A: Dear Bewildered of Birkenhead,

The phrase “employee engagement” might be new and it certainly is flavour of the month in leadership literature, but the underlying concept is true and timeless human nature.

Employee engagement is not “morale” or “satisfaction” or “happiness”. Plenty of unhappy people are highly productive and plenty of deliriously happy folk are fine with showing up, punching a clock, getting paid and going home regardless of whether anything productive happens. Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee chooses to apply discretionary effort. It’s doing more than you have to because you choose to.

So, there are engaged employees doing more than they have to, present employees who do only what they have to, and disengaged employees who are reading this careers section at work to find a new job with anyone who isn’t you.

The numbers vary a little across time, industry and geography, but they’re remarkably consistent: 26 per cent are engaged, 28 per cent are disengaged and 46 per cent are present.

These are averages. What are the proportions in your workplace?

Click here for more…

Are Your People Even Remotely Engaged?


Telecommuting, working from home, remote working or pyjama time – whatever you call it – does it lead to greater employer engagement? This article says, “Yes.” I would say, “Yes it can if managed effectively.”

The writer makes some good points:

1. Proximity breeds complacency

2. Absence makes people try harder to connect

3. Leaders of virtual teams make better use of tools

4. Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time spent together

It’s kind of sad though, that potentially one of the main drivers of improving someone’s engagement with their work is a greater distance from you – their boss.

I think I agree with the writer’s points 3 and 4 particularly as they are a reflection of my remark about remote workers being more engaged if “managed effectively.” Just hurling people back to their homes, selling their desks and expecting magical pixie dust to sprinkle down and engaged productivity to occur is crazy.They’re just as likely to go bush or loco if left isolated. They still need all the structure and goals etc of good management and the vision and passion of good leadership. They just need it ‘delivered’ instead of ‘pickup’.

7 Tips For Motivating Employees


UnderArmour’s founder Kevin Plank’s got some views on what motivates employees. Here’s an article about them. I don’t agree with everything in it, especially the bit about “happiness,” but otherwise, with emphasis on autonomy and connecting business success to employee success, it’s very sound.

The articles key points are:

  1. Set a good example
  2. Focus on employee happiness* rather than employee motivation
  3. Make sure employees share in the company’s success
  4. Create a culture of autonomy and agency
  5. Encourage workers to voice complaints
  6. Take on fun volunteer assignments
  7. Get in touch with your inner start-up

* (I think they mean culture rather than happiness really. There’s no evidence linking happiness in its literal sense to productivity one way or the other. That said, I like happiness personally.)

There’s some ‘meat n potatoes’ engagement stuff in there but there’s some clever and original thinking too. I love the ‘anti-fan club’ concept to proactively create a medium in which beefs can be aired and sorted early. This links nicely with my ‘Go ugly early’ philosophy in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ .

The ‘controlled chaos’ referred to in the article is engagement in action. Scary to conservative managers, it’s accepted and sought after by genuine leaders. And it’s coming up to Christmas where controlled chaos is, apparently, what we all want on the roads the shops and our homes.

Pimp Your Office – Can Physical Environment Impact Employee Engagement?


My new book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ has a section on how physical environment can influence people’s workplace behaviour and choices. Here’s a great little article on the same topic from someone whose job title is ‘Chief Happiness Officer.” (What’s the emoticon for rolling your eyes again?)

I shouldn’t knock the guy for his job title. I admire the sentiment. I’m generally pro-happiness. I am very aware however that happy workers are not necessarily productive, nor are unhappy ones necessarily unproductive and that there is way too much use of engagement as a synonym for happiness.

That aside, I’m also in favour of distinctive and changing physical work environments. I find them stimulating both mentally and physically. That’s useful for us creative types but also for people working in routine or linear processes who have to maintain alertness and awareness. Try driving straight for miles and miles as in the US or Australia and see what that does to your alertness and awareness. Lots of little variations keep us on our toes.

I must search out one of those desks that enables you to stand whilst working. ‘Get moving’ is a great and proven way of adding quality and quantity to your life. Here’s a recent blog of mine citing a Dutch desk / bicycle combo.

Check out Kjerulf’s article. I personally love the bibliochaise. I want one, no, two. Great to share with a friend the simple act of sitting and reading…then… tweeting about the books… But then there is also the meeting bed… perhaps just being practical about how most meetings put people to sleep!

Why Care About Employee Engagement?

Here’s an except from an article in Training Magazine by Rob Tartell that succinctly validates Employee Engagement not as a ‘nice-to-have’ or something workplace leaders ‘should’ do but as an approach that generates productivity and profitability and no one has to get crushed under the metaphorical wheels of industry on the way.

“The payoff of an engaged workforce is highlighted by two studies conducted by Towers Watson:

  • A one-year study of 50 global companies compared those with highly engaged employees to those with low engagement. This study reported a 19 percent increase in operating income and 28 percent growth in earnings per share for companies with highly engaged employees. Companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop by 32 percent and earnings per share decline 11 percent.
  • Another study looked at 40 global companies over a three-year period. This study found a spread of 5 percent in operating margin and a spread of 3 percent in net profit margin between companies with high employee engagement and those with low engagement.”

It’s not all about the money but that’s often why some workplace leaders don’t even entertain the prospect of ‘having a go’ at creating a workplace culture that is supportive of employee engagement. Sure, there are lots of noble reasons for doing it but it also pays off – literally.

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