06/27 2016

Employee Engagement — The Key to Success

HR functions within organizations are showing continued focus on the topic of employee engagement, and are seeing engagement as a true difference-maker in overall levels of performance.

The concept of engagement — broadly defined as the emotional commitment towards the organization — is seen as not only contributing to the overall level of productivity and work quality of the organization, but instead is being seen as a key factor in overall corporate performance.   A 2015 Deloitte survey measuring 3,000 global business and HR executives found that 78% of respondents found that employee engagement is the most important trend for HR as a field, both today and for the foreseeable future.

Here is a “10C” framework that leaders can utilize when framing (and evaluating) both their personal engagement efforts, as well as the engagement efforts of their organization as a whole:

  1. Connect — management must demonstrate the value of employees by creating true relationships and connecting with employees as individuals
  2. Career — leaders must provide challenging and meaningful career growth options for employees
  3. Clarity — leaders must provide a clear outline of the organization’s vision and goals, and must communicate expectations clearly, as this helps all employees work together towards common goals
  4. Convey — leaders must provide timely and constructive feedback to employees, which helps the employees improve skills and keeps them focused on their performance
  5. Congratulate — leaders must appreciate the sincere effort, achievement, and dedication of employees
  6. Control —  leaders must give control to employees, and allow them to be part of the decision-making process as a team
  7. Contribute — demonstrate and share the impact employee’s actions are having with regards to the organization’s success and growth
  8. Collaborate — increase collaboration opportunities
  9. Credibility — leaders must maintain high ethical standards, and show care and respect for employees
  10. Confidence — leaders must display confidence and trust in their employees, including delegate effectively and letting employees be responsible for their own work

These engagement factors are seen as being even more important when managing millennials, whose desire for feedback, praise, and recognition have been well-documented.   With this in mind, demonstrating the above behaviors is not simply a luxury for enlightened employers — instead, only organizations embodying the above will be seen as employers of choice by millennials.

06/19 2016

The Case for Behavioral Interviewing

What can you say about the process of interviewing for a job?

First, the process is ubiquitous — just as you would rarely buy something sight unseen, employers are understandably wary about hiring somebody that they have not interviewed…

Done properly, interviews can play an important role in the candidate selection process.   Unfortunately, the way that many interviews are conducted results in their adding little value to the selection process.

Part of the problem is that some people are naturally good interviewees, and others are not.   Similarly, some folks are good interviewers — but many are not.  Many of those conducting interviews fail to ask clear questions, have selective memory around what the interviewee actually says, and allow their overall perception of a candidate (such as whether they are friendly) unduly impact their overall candidate rating.

So, what can be done to improve the interview?  One initial step involves making the interview behavioral in nature?   What do we mean by a behavioral interview?   Specifically, it is an interview where the questions asked require the candidate to describe a situation where they have demonstrated the types of behaviors needed for job success.

As you might guess, the first step in constructing a behavioral interview is to identify the skills — and the behaviors — that are needed for success in a given job role.  This is usually done by reviewing existing job descriptions, evaluating the key responsibilities for the position, looking at the background and experience requirements for candidates, and by reviewing the performance management standards that exist for incumbents.   Successful incumbents are also often interviewed, which allows for a “sampling” of the kinds of activities involved in the job, and how successful incumbents handle them.

Once the job in question has been reviewed, it is possible to highlight some of the competencies and skills needed for success in the role — and it is possible to construct interview questions to assess each candidate’s skill level in these key areas.

For example, if a job requires strong oral communication skills, strong planning skills, a high degree of initiative, and the ability to handle conflict, you would target your behavioral interview questions towards these types of skills.

For a question to be behavioral, it needs to ask the candidate to “Give me an example of when you did _____ effectively”.   So, using the skill set listed above, a behavioral interview question might ask the following to a candidate:  “Give me an example of when you effectively handled conflict in the work environment — tell me about the situation, what you did to resolve the situation, and the outcome”.

By taking careful notes and asking questions pertinent to the types of challenges, candidates can be evaluated about the types of behaviors that they are likely to show if placed in the role under consideration.

Behavioral interview question are unlikely to have “right” or “wrong” answers — instead, you are looking to see what patterns of behavior exist in the candiate’s managerial repertoire.  Generally, past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and a well-constructed behavioral interview can greatly help assess a candidate’s past behavioral tendencies.

Ideally, the behavioral interview contains lists of standardized questions, so that candidates are assessed using a common yardstick.  In addition to interview forms that list these standardized questions, an extra level of sophistication involves including a behaviorally-anchored rating scale (BARS), which is designed to help guide interviewers in making their ratings.

Frequently, BARS rating scales are developed via focus groups with successful job incumbents, who are asked to describe common job situations and then provide examples of effective, satisfactory, and poor incumbent behaviors in those situations.   These behavioral examples, then, are translated into an interview rating scale.

Interviews are the most common selection method used by organizations — but they are also the most improperly used method.  When done improperly or inadequately, a poor interview will not only deprive an organization from making the best selection decision possible — it may also open the organization to legal challenge, if interviewers ask questions that are not job-related or otherwise behave inappropriately.  Standardizing the interview — and keeping it focused on past job behaviors — is a way of mitigating these risks.

05/31 2016

Is Conflict at Work Manageable?

Nothing like conflict to bring out the best — and worst — in employees.

At its best, conflict can result in new — and better — ideas being implemented in the workplace.  At its worst, conflict can result in employees who behave like toddlers towards each other.

So, what is a manager to do when faced with conflict in the workplace?   One of the first steps to be undertaken is to uncover the cause of the conflict.   As pointed out by Roberta Matuson in the on-line edition of Fast Company, some common causes for conflict might include:

  • Lack of clarity — conflict can arise when boundaries are not clearly defined.  Well-defined job descriptions, as well as clearly defined reporting relationships and scopes of responsibility, can help minimize this source of conflict.
  • Limited resources — today’s organizations are run with lean resources, so this is also a common source of conflict.   As a manager, try to determine if employees have adequate resources to do their work, and try to include them in the resource allocation process, if possible.
  • Conflicts of interest — employees can begin pursuing individual goals at the expense of corporate goals.  As a manager, remind each employee about how their personal goals relate to corporate strategic objectives.
  • Poor communication — lack of proper communication is a common source of conflict — and this is very common when one manager asks another person to convey information that they might better have communicated themselves.  As a manager, take steps to ensure over-communication in your work group, as opposed to under-communication.
  • Power struggles — recognize that, at times, the conflict you see on the surface may be reflective of deeper (and less easily observed) issues.  As a manager, you may need to get to the root of these underlying issues.

While many managers simply wait and hope that conflict will resolve itself, in more cases that not the manager needs to become actively involved to resolve the situation.  When involving themselves, managers need to position themselves as mediators (not as judges), and are often best served by meeting with each individual separately to gain additional insight.   Ask each individual about how they would like to see the situation handled, and the ideal outcome that they would like to see.  Then work to try and find win-win solutions for all parties.

Finally, managers are encouraged to try to teach — and reinforce — conflict management techniques in the workplace as a way of proactively dealing with conflict in their work group.   This can help ensure that conflicts are handled in a positive manner – and actually result in workplace improvement.

06/18 2014

Are Only 10% of Employees Actually Being Productive?

Are most organizations beehives of activity — or is it more common for companies to have pockets of active employees, amidst oceans of inactivity?  Do most companies have a small number of employees who are doing all of the work — and are only a small percentage of employees actually being productive?

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be “yes”, according to researchers Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshia. Their findings, published in a 2004 Business Strategy article titled “Management is the Art of Doing and Getting Done”, are seen as still being applicable today.  Among their research findings:

  • Only 10% of the managers studied were found to take “decisive purposeful action” at work on a regular basis
  • 40% of managers were found to be energetic, but unfocused
  • 30% of managers had low energy, were unfocused, and had a tendency to procrastinate
  • 10% of managers were focused, but had little energy

With findings like this, it is little wonder that many organizations are unproductive.   While the fundamental challenge of all leaders is to marshal resources and get individuals to work towards a common goal, these research findings suggest that most leaders will find themselves surrounded by people who are either unfocused (they don’t know how to use their energy), are uninspired (have lost their energy), or are distant (they would rather think than do).

So what is a leader to do?  One strategy might be to concentrate on the 40% of employees who are energetic but unfocused.  By definition, these employees are up for a challenge and wish to do useful work, but they do not know where to begin, and may be unable to prioritize.   Obviously, these employees could benefit from having a leader define objectives, translate strategies into action, and set appropriate goals.

The 30% of employees with low energy and little focus may also be an area of attention for leaders.   Did these individuals start out in the high energy cohort, but become disillusioned by their inability to have an impact?   Are they in the right jobs?   Have they not been given proper developmental opportunities?   Leaders may still be able to transform these employees into high performers.

03/7 2014

Why Are Failed CEO’s Able to Land New CEO Jobs?

We all know the stories — CEO’s who have led companies into poor performance and/or disrepair, who not only depart with “golden parachutes” of lucrative severance packages, but who  are also suddenly hired by new companies in C-Level jobs.   Why does this happen?

According to writer David Brookmire, commenting on the website, the reason for the frequent “recycling” of CEO’s is due to factors associated with the following:

  • The selection process for CEO candidates
  • The candidates for CEO positions themselves
  • The Boards of Directors that are responsible for selecting new CEO’s

With regards to the selection process itself, many companies are unwilling to hire CEO’s who have not had prior CEO experience.  Obviously, this shrinks the pool of eligible candidates quite dramatically.   In addition, the internal succession planning and leadership development pipelines in many organizations are suspect, at best, which means that there may not be any internal candidates that are given strong consideration for the CEO role.

With regards to the candidates for the CEO role, many are socially skilled, and are capable of coming across well in an interview.  Due to limits on information-sharing and possible liability concerns, many previous employers are hesitant to provide full disclosure about the performance of the CEO — including whether he or she was abusive to staff, showed good judgment, acted ethically, or any other leadership deficiencies.

Finally, with regards to the Boards of Directors, many Boards who are responsible for CEO hiring are not skilled evaluators of talent, and may not follow standardized interview or other assessment protocols.   Some Boards are so dysfunctional that they may not meet to share information about prospective candidates, or may not even be able to schedule a full round of interviews with potential CEO candidates.  In addition, most Boards are disconnected from the day-to-day reality of company operations, and as such may not be the best evaluator of the overall “fit” of a specific CEO candidate.

But perhaps more than anything, the reason that “failed” CEO’s get such a pass — and end-up being placed in a succession of CEO roles — is that in many organizations, financial performance (often short-term financial perfomance) gets more attention than does a CEO’s style, or how they go about achieving results.

To avoid making mistakes when hiring a CEO, it is recommended that companies focus on the following:

  •  Pay more attention to the internal leadership development pipeline (internal CEO successors are often more successful than are outside hires)
  • Provide executive coaches for the CEO (these coaches can help on-board the new CEO, and can also help the CEO improve any poor leadership skills or other deficiences that need to be addressed)
  • Improve the CEO selection process — working to improve upon selection procedures ahead of time can help avoid the rushed hiring that can take place when a CEO vacancy occurs unexpectedly
  • Educate and develop the Board of Directors — take steps to prepare the Board of Directors for the selection decision that they will have to make