Before you hire that old pro…

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It’s really not about ageism. It is simply that a great attitude and passion to succeed trump years of experience and perfect qualifications nearly every time.

Most recently with an economic recovery underway, I’ve seen more expert candidates apply for jobs in the past year than ever before. And you’d think that would be a good thing, right? A perfect match between a job seeker’s past work history and the job requirements seems like a perfect hire. But I’ve witnessed seemingly perfect job candidates become under-performing employees. I’ve seen this enough times that a seasoned candidate is now a red flag. My best hires have almost exclusively been individuals who viewed their new job as a growth opportunity and worked very hard to be successful. And my more memorable worst hires have been those who seemed heavily qualified but yet fell short of expectations after being hired.

So why do these seemingly seasoned hires fail to thrive?

#1 reason – hiring managers are so focused on the technical match between the candidate’s past experience and the job requirements that they shortcut or deemphasize the rest of the recruitment evaluation process. It is huge rookie mistake, and I’ve made it myself. We become so enthralled by the possibilities of hiring the hit-the-ground-running, take-me-to-the-promise-land job prospect that we overlook the candidate’s shortcomings in terms of organizational cultural match, willingness to learn, and overall attitude.

#2 reason – our expectations are too high for the seasoned veteran’s performance. The seasoned veteran is short-changed on job training and knowledge transfer. The idea is that they really don’t need it, right? They already know what they are doing. Just look at their résumé. That is just wrong because different companies have different ways of doing things, and you can’t assume that a seasoned pro will be able to translate 100% of his/her skills from one company to another.

#3 reason – we undermine peer support. We position our seasoned new hires in a way that threatens peers and coworkers. They then gather no support and are left to die on the vine. Seasoned hires are often viewed as a threat to job security within a department or organization, so it is imperative that you ensure that each new hire is embraced and socialized adequately.

#4 reason – our seasoned new hire can carry some unwanted baggage and can be difficult to manage. I characterize these overconfident hires as overzealous in their contributions and opinions, unwilling to learn, and often lacking motivation or drive. I’ve seen and heard it all from this group. From “been there done that, so I’m not going to try it again”, “it’s worked my way just fine for 25 years” (whether the new hire is 25 or has 25 years of experience), or my favorite is the “I do not need to be told by some 20-something how I should be doing my job”. Organizations only thrive when teamwork, knowledge transfer, and learning are part of the work environment.

So how to avoid this? One can’t just disqualify a seasoned pro. That wouldn’t be fair or even legal.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

Balance the technical match of skills to job requirements more evenly with assessments of your job candidates regarding organizational cultural match, ability to learn and adapt to change, leadership qualities, etc.
Carefully evaluate every candidate’s individual motivational factors. The best hire will often have something to prove. He or she is motivated to do a good job and be noticed. Access what will drive each of your candidates to perform, and this should help you more wisely choose who to hire.

Don’t always hire the smartest guy in the room, especially if that person is convinced he or she is the smartest. A better candidate is the one that demonstrates the ability and willingness to learn. These skills will serve your organization better longer term than any accumulated knowledge that a candidate may seemingly have.
The next time you are considering hiring a seasoned candidate, I recommend sticking to a balanced evaluation process that does not over-emphasize the technical needs of the job and being mindful of the need to support your seasoned new hire with the same training and internal support as your other employees.

Employee Engagement Is Worthwhile But Elusive

There is a buzz now about Employee Engagement in all industries. Thought leaders in Human Resources are centered on the idea that engaged employees are more motivated, effective, and productive, and therefore can do more with less.

And that sounds like a good thing—doesn’t it? I want that. You want that. We all want that.

As a HR software executive, it’s no secret that I have a keen interest in all things Human Resource related and especially those that have the potential to change the way that employees’ are engaged. But what does Employee Engagement really mean? And how do we know when we’ve achieved Employee Engagement? Of course there are companies who provide nap rooms, free meals, and onsite daycare, but are the freebies the key to Employee Engagement? Those are nice perks, but is it really necessary to go over the top with giveaways to employees to get them engaged? Those questions are what I’ve decided to explore.

To begin, I needed a solid working definition of Employee Engagement. While I have heard the term itself for more than a decade, it often is used with varying meanings. It was surprisingly difficult to find a definition that focused on what the employer can do and what the results of Employee Engagement are. So, for the purposes of this blog, I created this definition of Employee Engagement:

Employee engagement is leadership communicating strategy and embedding goals to a receptive, motivated, and well-recognized workforce who in turn creates customer loyalty and satisfaction resulting in exceptional business results.

As my definition suggests, my thoughts on encouraging engagement do not involve giveaways and freebies but rather they center on leadership behaviors.

Principle 1—Good leaders communicate with their employees.

A good leadership team articulates strategic objectives and promotes processes that successfully embed those goals at every level of the organization. The idea here is that managers align goals to specific objectives for each of their direct reports and, at the same time, allow employees to participate in the strategy and planning related to achieving their assigned individual, team, and organizational goals.

Employees must clearly understand what they are supposed to do and what success means to them individually and as a team. They also need know the organization’s goals and more importantly what the organization stands for so they can be aligned with its intentions. This is important so they can reinforce and promote its culture inside and outside of work. Some organizations, such as Southwest Airlines, go so far as developing and promoting compelling customer service stories that intentionally embody and reinforce their culture and customer service philosophy.1 Those of us that have enjoyed Southwest’s unique style of customer service have witnessed how well this philosophy has worked for them.

Principle 2—Empower employees to do the right thing.

Providing an environment where employees are able to exercise judgment in doing their day-to-day jobs is a must-have for an empowered workforce. It’s not enough for your managers to provide leeway for direct reports to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Employees must feel safe in taking calculated risks, possibly breaking the rules, so long as those decisions result in serving customers better. Top managers and executives must be receptive to upward feedback. Good ideas cannot be ignored. When procedural or system changes are necessary to improve efficiency, accuracy, or customer service, your Engaged Employees should be leading this effort.

One caveat…while encouraging empowerment behaviors, emphasis should be maintained that employees are still responsible for maintaining direct and frank communication with their supervisors and keeping them in the loop at all times. An empowered employee is not an unsupervised employee.

Principle 3—Happy employees are positive and strive to do their best.

How happy are you? Thirty years ago, an employer would not likely ask that question. Today it is more common since happiness has been linked to productivity, so measuring and promoting happiness has been gaining favor with Human Resource practitioners. Tony Hsieh, the CEO and founder of Zappos.com, is going so far as to develop his own “Unified Happiness Theory.” 2 Tony may be uniquely qualified to undertake such a task since his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is a #1 book on the New York Times© Best Seller list.

Happiness is the most subjective of my four Employee Engagement principles, but I have seen that it is an important one. Happy employees are positive employees that strive to do their best work. Here, we are focused on getting employees well-placed in their roles with a good sense of purpose and meaning for the job they do. Employees must be given the needed training and tools to be successful. They also need to be satisfied with their work environment and compensation. It is essential to foster participation in collaborative teams where all are invested in the successful outcomes of the team and are regularly communicating, sharing information, and sharing knowledge.

Happy employees routinely speak highly of the organization to coworkers, potential coworkers, and customers. Surveys are good tools in checking your organization’s progress in this area. Of course, the ultimate test of happiness is retention. If your organization has a retention problem, then you likely have some work to do on the happiness front.

Principle 4—Team recognition keeps the team spirit alive and well.

Teamwork is the most important aspect to high productivity: http://richardcangemi1.com/?p=89.

People naturally gravitate toward teamwork, but when the reward system is improperly designed teamwork is quickly snuffed out. Teamwork thrives when recognition is evenly and fairly distributed to all contributors.

Good coaches instinctively listen and recognize players’ contributions. They know that those coaching behaviors foster a loyal, motivated, and productive team environment with individuals working toward a common goals that are aligned to make the team successful. A winning football team’s quarterback and running backs naturally receive recognition as they are performing in highly visible positions. The same goes for salespeople and product engineers since they are recognized by virtue of the exposure that the job that they do affords them. Good coaches and managers fairly share successes with all contributors so everyone is recognized for the outcome of the team effort. Shared recognition is what keeps team spirit alive and well.

My four principles of Employee Engagement are simple enough. It is an elusive but worthwhile goal since achieving the kind of Employee Engagement that results in exceptional business results is easier said than done. Good luck!

Footnotes

1 Kelly, Gary, “Gary’s Greeting: Happy Holidays!,” Spirit,  Dec. 2013, http://www.southwest.com/assets/pdfs/about-southwest/garys-greeting.pdf (accessed 10 Dec. 2013).

2 Max Chafkin, “The Zappos Way of Managing,” Inc., 1 May 2009, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090501/the-zappos-way-of-managing.html (accessed 6 Dec. 2013).

The Social HCM

With more than one billion active Facebook users already, social networking is strong and getting stronger as literally hundreds of millions of new users join a social network this year.

Unfortunately, business adoption of social networking hasn’t extended much past the marketing department. Business has made its social network investments targeted toward gaining more customers and selling more products or services. Companies are behind the eight ball in their use of social network tools within the workplace and aren’t taking advantage of social networking’s potential to reinvent how workers connect, collaborate, and learn in the workplace. These tools can ultimately improve profits and promote a happier and more engaged workforce.

The modern dispersed workplace needs “social.” Business suffers with fundamental communication issues ranging from misinterpretations and assumptions to lack of follow-through, privacy issues, and inadequate distribution of vital information.

A workplace social network solves these problems because it redefines communication in fundamental and convenient ways. We now connect with friends and family and share multimedia content, update statuses, and check-in at familiar destinations—all paradigms that didn’t exist ten years ago. These new paradigms take social media beyond its entertainment value and improve communication in ways that benefit the sender and the recipient, making social media the most convenient means for sharing information. With such a dynamic shift in people’s communication preferences, why has business been so slow to adopt social networking tools for its workforce? This is for one simple reason. Current social collaboration products simply mimic the features of consumer products and lack the game-changing benefits needed for organizations to adopt them. Businesses will adopt a workplace social network when the products transcend novelty and entertainment-value to become an actionable tool for communication and vital business decision-making.

Human capital management fused to a social network is what is needed. The social graph inherent to the Human Resources function is the foundational element for building a “socially networked” workforce. This Human Resources function, once made socially-aware, can be used to identify, predict, and facilitate many of the actionable aspects of Human Capital Management to drive substantial productivity gains and cost savings. I refer to this game-changer as Social Human Capital Management or Social HCM for short.

A few of the productivity gains and cost savings that can be expected from a Social HCM are as follows:

Speed information flow and decision making.

A social network with its diversity of relevant connections increases communication and collaboration. When employees communicate and collaborate they are more careful and thorough in their thought processes, and in turn they develop better plans. Better planning improves speed, quality, and execution. Agility shortens the cycle of innovation and learning, and these are the keys to establishing a competitive edge and profits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Social HCM distributes actionable events, polls, and notifications, all within an easy-to-follow and familiar interface for information consumption. Users need only to look in one place for all relevant actionable items, such as time off requests or other items needing review, action or approval. Define and schedule favorite informational reports and event notifications to be delivered to your stream or to others as well. And keeping tabs on the whereabouts of your subordinates is gracefully managed by following check-ins and status updates from your direct-report workgroup. A manager can offer his employees instant feedback or tag items for future reference. As feedback from manager to employee is more frequent and conveniently indexed, the chore of managing performance is minified, and reviews can be conducted more accurately and more often with the most relevant content and feedback organized chronologically, by good or bad, or even by competency.

Improve relevancy and avoid Information overload.

The social network is an intelligent design with an intuitive framework for managing the high volume of information that workers face today. Replacing e-mail as a primary business collaboration tool will accelerate the benefits of the social network since the social network allows you catch what you need from the flow information, when you need it, without having to consume the entire river of information. Documents, multimedia files, ideas, and experiences can be exchanged privately or to entire departments, locations, workgroups, special project groups, or private communities. This flow of information can be tagged and retention periods defined so that relevancy for future learning remains high. Like, view, comment, share, alerts, along with tagging activities for follow-up—these concepts are intuitive ways for information consumption and exchange that are adopted from the consumer social network and optimized for use in business. The end result is relevant information accessible like never before–from your desktop browser or mobile device.

Promote employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” ― Tom Peters.

Recognition is a very effective and often underused form of motivation. Ask any HR professional and they’ll say that a recognized worker is more likely to be a satisfied and long-term employee. Social HCM both automates and provides for ad-hoc distribution of frequent, consistent, and fair public recognition to those employees deserving such recognition. Connect social badging metaphors to HCM’s traditional award and points tracking capabilities, and you’ve removed the chore of managing and assigning points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

Speeding the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors is essential to ensure that projects remain on track. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?”Communicating status and milestone updates regularly to the stakeholders and contributors is one way that Social HCM helps teams stay connected, engaged, on-track, and held accountable for their individual and team productivity. These are the very teams that are most likely to take pride and ownership in their work and perform better.

Increase compliance and utilization of intranets and self-service.

How do you get highly distracted employees to focus on quality initiatives, complete paperwork, read and follow important corporate communications, and respond to surveys without making them feel badgered and controlled? You provide simple and intuitive means for employees interact with the company by adopting the social network metaphor. Punching time clocks gives way to check-ins, status updates serve to update project milestones and project members, pay stubs are securely delivered to an employee’s stream, and events like open enrollment are simplified by virtue of the familiar easy-to-use interface—all of this making these tasks feel more like entertainment and less like work.

Improve knowledge transfer and business continuity.

In businesses, data is typically recorded and information is filed. But what happens to the great percentage of information that resides in the minds of employees? How do those in need of learning connect to those who can teach? For all businesses, it behooves them to establish a dialog before a vast amount of knowledge walks out the door as millions of baby boomers retire and their replacements lack essential core competencies. Social HCM can be the critical resource used to facilitate mentoring and sharing of organizational knowledge. Its metaphor both motivates and reinforces appropriate and responsible corporate citizenship as the social network promotes convenient, open, and transparent communication—the type of communication that is so much less likely to be ignored.

Social HCM will find its way into businesses as HCM software vendors fuse the social network metaphor to Human Capital Management. The virtues of this combination will be just too compelling of a technology for businesses to ignore.

Highly Productive Teams

I have been fortunate to participate in teams where members engaged each other in an inclusive way that energized, inspired, embraced change, and just plain made work more productive and fun. I refer to these teams as Highly Productive Teams. These teams always seem to position the rewards and accolades of success with the team and never the individuals involved. They keep their eye on the ball and collaborate instinctively to achieve the project vision. However, I’ve also seen firsthand organizations that don’t collaborate and have a silo mentality, hoard information, and resist change. They assign blame or success to individuals and in doing so they often neglect the overall goals and vision for the project.

I view the Highly Productive Team as the Holy Grail of productivity. At the centerpiece of Highly Productive Teams is workplace collaboration—the act of harnessing the collective intelligence, ingenuity, energy, passion, and creativeness of an organization to result in innovative and successful team effort driven toward achieving a common vision. Highly Productive Teams are inspired organizational efforts that transcend mediocrity and go on to achieve greatness.

Teamwork and collaboration are high on the list of reasons that top-performing companies give for their success. In 1999 at the height of HP’s reign as one of the most successful and innovative companies, it published the Rules of the Garage[1], a framework for innovation. HP’s framework heavily weights teamwork in its list of organizational success factors. Similarly, Google’s Susan Wojcicki’s Eight Pillars for Innovation[2] attributes collaboration within five of her eight pillars.

Do a little research on teamwork and workplace collaboration, and you’ll find a consensus of opinions centered on a close knit work environment promoting regular communication and sharing amongst team members: A team with a high trust quotient, common interests, vesting in the successful outcome of the project, and leadership that is clear on goals, objectives, and vision.

Just a few simple rules that should be easy enough to implement, right? The million dollar question is: “Why do so few teams click, collaborate successfully, and become highly productive, and the bulk of the rest, not so much?”

At Mangrove we pride ourselves on doing more with less, and I attribute our highly productive teams as a big part of the reason why. I wish I could say that every project or endeavor falls into the utopia of the Highly Productive Team, but we’re there more often than when we’re not. So what are we doing specifically at Mangrove to build Highly Productive Teams?

Our leadership model is open, inclusive, passionate, results-oriented, but flexible with deadlines.

  • We paint the big picture and are realistic and forthright with the project objectives.
  • We engage the team to discuss, challenge, contribute, and ultimately be a part of the solution-creation process.
  • We instruct the team on what not to work on, and prioritize the issues that require creative solutions.
  • We communicate flexible target dates, success criteria, and levels of authorities; we never sacrifice innovation, forward momentum, and morale for the sake of meeting short-term deadlines.
  • We are passionate with a singular focus on the delivery of high quality results.
  • We are generous with praise.
  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

Our teams are small, agile, aligned with vested interests, and are given adequate time.

  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

As Mangrove has grown, so has our distributed workforce. We’ve seen firsthand how contributors working in different physical locations and different time zones can slow down collaboration and challenge productivity.

We connect the team with technology.

  • We invest in video conferencing and document sharing capabilities, and now we engage our remote team members equally with our resident team members.
  • We use automated tools to track open items, record resolutions, and communicate progress frequently in terms of project deadlines and milestones.
  • We embrace a regular rhythm of social activities and informal meetings that promote trust and accountability among team members.
  • We encourage the use of social media tools to facilitate information broadcasts, knowledge transfer, recognition, and real-time communication.

Our approach to workplace collaboration is one that instinctively works for us, and it is becoming engrained in our culture as a company. I’ve seen both side of the coin, and there’s no question in my mind that organizations that collaborate earn the right to remain relevant while those that don’t eventually face tough times. In 2001, Apple’s iPod device was a runaway success that challenged Sony’s Walkman product line into obsolescence. Sony was unable to collaborate to counter with a viable iPod-iTunes alternative because of too much internal competition; they instead went to market with two competing products, and both failed.  Apple on the other hand, parlayed its previous iPod success by collaborating and sharing designs from the iPod team with the iPad tablet team, and the iPad became another runaway success.

So the rewards for assembling highly productive teams are obviously great. Getting your team there is a matter of finding the right balance of leadership style, and a having a good, solid framework for collaboration in place.

Leading the horses without having to make them drink

High performing teams are led and not managed. A horse when led to water should drink on its own just as a performing team when led with vision should achieve its stated goals.

Traditional managers are dinosaurs. Today’s younger workforce isn’t responding favorably to old school management techniques. They expect to be constantly informed, engaged in problem solving, recognized, and empowered through a common vision and goals. They just don’t respond to direct orders or micro-management techniques. The newer worker gravitates toward teamwork and collaboration and favors constant communication. That’s not to say that every tool of traditional management is obsolete, but proper leadership is the essential ingredient for a fully engaged modern workforce. Leadership is the bridge to productivity, loyalty, and ownership. Without leadership, you risk a disengaged workforce that is marginally productivity, with high turn-over, and very little commitment to the stated objectives.

Consider the attributes of the old school management philosophy versus those of a leadership model.

Management Model

Leadership Model

Manage: Submissive to one’s authority,   discipline, or persuasion. Lead: Guide, direct, or influence.
Manager: An old-school boss who focuses activities on   tracking, reporting, and controlling their direct reports’ individual   behaviors and contributions. Leader: A visionary who recruits, influences, and   motivates highly-productive, collaborative teams that are focused on   achieving a shared vision and common goals.

It’s been said that you have to be born a leader. I disagree because I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a handful of natural leaders and a few who I personally witnessed mature into leadership roles. I have also been privy to a few failed efforts that resulted from a lack of leadership. So, I’ve seen both sides of this coin and benefited greatly from my experience.

There are lots of opinions on what makes a great leader. Some might say it requires eloquent public speaking, great personality, or even good listening skills. It is my opinion those attributes are certainly nice to have but won’t make for a great leader without the following eight qualities of leadership.

1.       Evangelize the vision, and light the fire within, not under them. Be the focal point for the vision. Inspire, motivate, and keep your messaging simple, realistic, and concrete. It is imperative that followers buy-in to the plan and how it will benefit them and the organization.

2.       Is your vision relevant? You should validate your vision periodically for relevancy to your organization, the market opportunity, and customer needs. You don’t want to lead your followers down a dead end or else they won’t easily follow you again. As Yogi Berra best said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Be sure to validate that your assumptions haven’t materially changed in a way that requires your vision to be revisited.

3.       Empower, coach and co-create. The focus should be on developing the right behaviors and achieving great results. Lead your followers through the decision process and allow them to arrive at a solution that they have crafted. Resist the temptation to waive your magic wand and just fix it.

4.       Keep your ear to the ground. Assess periodically if you have the necessary buy-in and sponsorship to make the vision a reality.

5.       Walk the talk. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Set a great example and use your behavior to reinforce your vision and the corporate culture that you embody. As a leader your actions are studied often, and your actions can be an opportunity to communicate, inspire, and empower. There is nothing more demotivating to followers than a double standard.

6.       Recognize and celebrate success. With success should come public celebration—it’s not necessary to have blow-out party, but you need to recognize your successes. The thrill of success is contagious. So often, great leaders assign the full credit for success to the team and take personal responsibility when thing go wrong. Never chastise failures, but instead study them for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake again. Avoid assigning fault to individuals as this process is counter-productive and de-motivating to your followers.

7.       Raise the bar. Great organizations constantly improve since maintaining the status quo while your competitors are improving is a recipe for ultimate business failure. What happened to Circuit City, Borders Books, and Blockbuster?Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Red Box took market share and forced them out of a leadership position. And great leaders promote high achievement. High achievers expect to be constantly challenged or they become bored and go somewhere more challenging. So either raise the bar, or go the way of Circuit City, Borders Books, or Blockbuster.

8.       Leave go. Lastly and most importantly get the right people involved then inspire them with vision and get out of their way.