So What Exactly is Workplace “Bullying”?

policies and training to include “workplace bullying”California employers are to expand their harassment policies and training to include “workplace bullying” effective January 1, 2015.  With as much training and guidelines that have been published, harassment can still be a “gray” area…the same goes for workplace bullying.  Workplace bullying is defined as “a conduct that may be considered “abusive”, such as repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three”.  So, we see that workplace bullying isn’t always visible aggression, and as responsible employers, we need to understand the gray areas.

Of course, it’s easy to understand “physical bullying”, but what are the other forms?

  • Verbal – includes such conduct as yelling and use of profanity
  • Intimidation – intentional behavior that causes fear or harm
  • Sabotage – deliberately destroying, damaging, undermining or obstructing something
  • Ostracism – intentionally excluding someone for no good reason; shunning
  • Humiliation – to reduce to a lower position in one’s own eyes or others’ eyes
  • Gossip – casual or unconstrained unconstructive conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true
  • Impossible tasks – assigning tasks that are knowingly unattainable for intentionally unbeneficial reasons
  • Unconstructive criticism – criticism meant to belittle or humiliate

Understand, “bullying” means a pattern of such behavior.  Many people may lose their cool at times, not that this is acceptable.  However, be on alert for repeated behavior.

What should you do?  Playing the proactive card is best.  Revise your policies and trainings to include examples of “bullying”.  It might be best to run the revised training early next year and restart the two year clock for employers who are required to repeat training for supervisors every two years.  Train your employees as well as to the nuances of the policy.  Provide examples.  If you conduct teambuilding sessions with your employees, include a piece that talks about communication styles and behaviors at work.  A skilled facilitator will be able to bring out the conduct in a safe manner for constructive discussion.  When dealing with offenders, be sure to use wordings such as “when you _________, you make me or others feel ____________.  That statement cannot be debated.  Work from there to help an offender recognize, understand and remediate this kind of behavior.  Be sure to address this behavior with your disciplinary procedure.

Why should you do it?  Not only is it a legal risk, but bullying contributes to absenteeism, turnover, stress, poor morale and poor productivity.

If you are the recipient of “bullying” behavior:  Tell the offender that you find the behavior unacceptable.  If it persists, inform your manager or Human Resources.  Keep a confident, constructive attitude when dealing with such people.

Tackling the Intimidation of Termination

For anyone who has supervised employees for a time, you may have come to that moment in time where you decided an employee has to go.  For most, it’s an uncomfortable experience.  Often times, these employees stay much longer than they should, due to procrastination or a hope that they’ll turn around soon.  So, when is the right time and how do you conduct a termination?  Is there a “best practice”?

First, let’s understand the different categories of terminations.  We’ll look at each and discuss how best to process each.

  1. At Will: The “at will” doctrine holds that the employment relationship is “at will”, meaning either the employer or the employee can end it at any time for any reason.  In my experience, no employee was ever let go for no reason at all.  However, “at will” is often a “shield” so to speak, when there’s a decision to let someone go, from any type of wrongdoing on the employer’s part.    So, for instance, you don’t feel that an employee is a good fit, you can avoid any drama or contest by exercising your “at will” right.  You can let someone go for any reason except for one that’s deemed unlawful.

My advice:  It is advisable to include “at will” terminology in your handbook, your offer letters, in your open door policy, and in a disciplinary process.

  1. Lay Offs: In a layoff situation, a position is eliminated.  Layoffs are most often the result of a downturn in business or a restructuring of some sort.  One of the greatest challenges when planning a layoff is what and when to tell employees.  If you give advance warning, you may lose the employees that you wish to retain.  When rumors start, they spread like wildfire, so management must have a plan and manage the situation well.

What the law says: The California WARN act requires companies that have a facility with 75 or more employees (including contractors) within a 12 month time period, who plan on laying off 50 or more employees for more than 30 days or relocating more than 100 miles to give 60 days notice to certain authorities and employees.

In these situations, employees would most likely be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits (other conditions must be met on the employee’s part).  A company may want to consider alternative options, such as job sharing, reduction in hours, voluntary leave or early retirement.  Nonetheless, employees shouldn’t be completely surprised when learning that their job is being eliminated.

What needs to be planned:

  1. Timing: Some employees may be let go at varying times, depending on company needs.
  2. Salary and benefits continuation
  3. Severance agreements that include a waiver of the employee’s right to sue for discriminatory reasons.
  4. Also, as a due diligence, an analysis of the workforce transition should be completed to assess the impact on the numbers of employees in protected categories, such as age, ethnicity, gender, etc. to avoid unintended discrimination.

Outplacement services are a great benefit for those employees losing jobs:  they have an immediate resource to aid in the search for a new job.  The organization may want to consider bringing in counselors for both the employees leaving and staying, as layoffs usually result in grieving.   Also, having contacted hiring employers ahead of time is a great idea and handing employees a list of potential openings helps curb the initial emotions.

Just as much planning should go into the management of the employees retained…what the plan moving forward is, how their positions may change, what differing responsibilities they may have, what the new expectations are.  These employees will look for some sign of job stability.  It should be anticipated and expected that these employees may be searching for new jobs.

  1. Termination for Cause: Never, never, should an employee be surprised if the termination is for cause.  There should be clear policies that specify behavioral expectations and that in grievous situations, termination may be immediate (e.g. violence).  Should the situation be an employee’s performance, specifically lack thereof, it is recommended and hoped that the manager and employee engage in a performance remediation process.  Nipping poor performance in the bud saves time, energy, emotions, loss of productivity and hopefully the agony of termination.  But the process does take a considerable amount of energy.

By communicating performance expectations ahead of time, the employee may not even find themselves in this situation in the first place.  However, when it does happen, pointing out the gap between expected performance and actual performance is essential.

Some best practices: The manager should study the situation and assure that all factors outside of the employee’s control are corrected, such as improper tools, lack of training, etc.  When it has been decidedly determined that the employee’s performance needs improvement, the employee and manager should:

  1. Construct a plan,
  2. Give adequate feedback, and
  3. Agree on what the consequences of further poor performance is.

When all have given a good faith effort, and the termination is inevitable, the employee should understand that termination is the consequence.

It is vital to document the steps taken from the get go …documentation will support your actions should you find yourself the recipient of a complaint or lawsuit.  What you want to avoid in a termination discussion is a debate…if the consequence of continued poor performance is termination, then that should have been made clear ahead of time.  In essence, you are helping the employee be successful, by separating them from a job that’s proven to be an unsuccessful relationship.

  1. Constructive Discharge: This term refers to a situation where the employer has made the conditions of employment so difficult that the employee is forced to resign.    An example of constructive discharge is an employee who is sexually harassed on a frequent basis, has told the offender to stop, has gone to his/her manager and complained, yet the harassment continues.  This is a work situation so intolerable, that a reasonable person would leave.  Another example is an employee who files a worker’s compensation claim and when he/she returns has had their workspace moved to a dim, cold space, more like a closet, in the basement with the files on another floor.  Employers should understand that they face the same risks as a termination, such as lawsuits for discrimination and retaliation, and that the employee will most likely be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Some issues to consider:

  1. Always, always treat a departing employee with dignity, respect and empathy. Maintain composure even if the employee does not.  Besides being the right and exemplary thing to do, it minimizes the risk of the employee becoming any kind of a threat.  Meet with the employee in a private area and assure confidentiality to the maximum extent possible.  Have a box and tissues on hand.  Timing is something else to consider; if you terminate first thing in the morning, you may be liable for show-up pay.
  2. Should you allow employees to bid farewell to their fellow workers? Use discretion, particularly when terminating someone for cause.  If you do, let them know that you expect professional conduct.  Also, if you are using a severance agreement, you may indicate that a condition is non-disclosure of the nature of the termination…remind the employee of the expectation.
  3. Another issue to consider is security. Assess whether the employee may be any kind of a threat to the manager, other employees, company property, etc. as part of the planning process.  Alert security or management and have a process.  Hire professionals if needed.  In light of some of the unfortunate workplace fatalities committed by disgruntled employees, the risk must be considered and others protected.  You may also want to escort the employee out of the building.
  4. If an employee requests a letter of reference, take care to give a proper response. If you give a poor performer a glowing reference, it can be used against you in the event of a complaint or lawsuit.  Also, think about an employer’s duty to conduct a background investigation.  Why would you compromise the outcome for another employer, when you must do the same?  It’s not fair to the next employer, nor to the employee to pass along an unresolved problem.  Conversely, be careful when disclosing information on poor performance and making blanket derogatory statements, as they can lead to a slander case.  This is the proverbial “between a rock and a hard place”.  Manage these situations with care and diplomacy.
  5. Make sure that you plan the termination well and have everything in order. Not having answers, proper documents or clarity can make the experience drag out and become unpleasant for all.  Check the attached checklist for all of the details you should cover before you proceed.

No one enjoys telling someone that they lost their job.  However, at times it is the right thing to do.  Assure that you have been fair.  Carefully plan ahead, use respect and be prepared ahead of time for any reaction.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you get through the termination experience as painlessly as possible.

The Foundation for Employee Satisfaction

Organizational health encompasses the organization in its entirety, its people, systems, assets and many other components.  But at every organization’s core are its good employees.   But what is a “good” employee?  One that performs, follows directives, interacts well with others, is motivated, accountable…the list can go on at length.  The challenge is to get them trained, productive and engaged and keep them so.  After observing organizational behavior for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that an employee will “optimize” and stay with an organization if three conditions are met:  1) they feel valued; 2) they feel respected; and 3) they feel fulfilled.  If any of these are missing, the organization is missing out.

Feeling valued:  What’s it like to feel valued?  It’s the feeling that you are important, your work is worth something, you make a significant contribution.  There may definitely be an intrinsic sense of value that an employee derives from their work, but surely things like compensation, rewards and recognition play a vital part.  Paying employee their worth, both from a market driven wage and from an internal equity standpoint is essential.  It’s also fair.  Rewards can take the shape of a bonus, a perk, a congratulatory note, a lunch or even a “great job” pat on the back.  Research shows that positive feedback is much more effective than negative feedback, and it’s easy!

Feeling respected…What’s it like to feel respected?  It’s being treated with human decency, no matter the situation at hand.  Common courtesy, consideration of the employee’s feelings and healthy interactions contribute to a feeling of respect.  It can be tricky…particularly when emotions are high or the treatment isn’t mutual.  Respect is THE most important element of a disciplinary action or a termination.  Just put yourself in their shoes.

Feeling fulfilled…What’s it like to feel fulfilled?  This one is a bit more elusive.  You can pay well, reward well and give all the positive feedback in the world, but at some point, the employee may feel that they want or need something more out of their work.  It will usually be a new and better opportunity, but could be travel, going back to school, or some unrelated employment change.  Here it’s best to know your employee well.  Sometimes you may know what they want, but if you don’t show an interest in them, you may be caught off guard.

Know your employee.  Understand what excites and motivates him/her.  Know what personal challenges they are experiencing at work as well as outside of work.  The ”old rule” was to separate personal and work issues.  However, Patrick Lencioni, in a recent interview with the Society of Human Resource Management, suggests that we practice exactly the opposite.  He contends that it is virtually impossible for an employee experiencing difficulties outside of work, to park them at the door and act totally different at work.  When you understand what’s going on, you can better manage the work performance and help the employee.  And the result is invaluable.  Talk about building loyalty!

Organizational health clearly hinges on an engaged, collaborative, productive team of employees.  Take time to contemplate the valued, respected and fulfilled notion…it’s some work but you reap it back in spades.

The Smart Art of Performance Management

How well do your employees perform?  How well does your organization as a whole perform?  Do you have clear ideas as to what great performance for your organization is, or do you believe that you’ll recognize great performance when you see it?

Most companies set both long and short term goals.  How well those goals are transformed into everyday goals and objectives at the individual level is more the challenge, and how the employees in aggregate are accomplishing the organization’s goals and objectives is the key to performance management.

Performance management is a systematic process by which an organization involves its employees in improving organizational effectiveness toward the accomplishment of the organization’s mission and goals.  Performance management is the process of creating organizational goals and objectives, communicating clear expectations, setting standards of excellence, establishing measurements and aligning all activities.

The intention of performance management is to create alignment of thinking and action by “cascading” broad organizational goals down to departmental and individual goals.  This, in turn, allows managers and supervisors to set clear expectations for results and for employees to understand and work toward meeting them.  This results in the “line of sight” where every employee can see how their work supports the overarching goals.

maximize performance and leverage talent

Elements of Performance Management

How do you currently get everyone to operate together toward goals?  You can use the Elements of Performance Management model as a way to systematically think about performance management.

Thinking is about setting expectations and goals to direct activities.  It’s the planning phase.  Thinking goes beyond a job description – it helps the employee know what, why, when and how things are to be accomplished.  It includes teambuilding, developing a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and team interdependence.  This creation of expectations is the basis for the performance appraisal; employees must know ahead of time not only what results they will be held to, but how their results will be measured.  SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals are set up front for each employee and department or employee group.

Doing is the execution phase.  It’s getting things off the ground and in the groove.  This is often an organic process, where experimentation and flexibility are employed.

In Checking, projects and job duties are continually monitored, using a consistent basis of measurement.  Feedback to employees is best if delivered both regularly and “in the moment’.  Unless an employee is receiving any feedback, they believe they are doing a great job.  Don’t forget the best motivator of all – recognizing good performance.  In Checking, poor performance is “nipped in the bud” by providing immediate feedback and remediation, otherwise a manager may spend countless hours in disciplinary activities.

Developing starts with recruiting and orientation.  Skills, knowledge and abilities are evaluated and training requirements are discerned.  Orientation helps the employee to understand the culture, procedures, policies, resources and expectations.  In Developing, performance deficiencies are identified early and remediated.  Find an employee’s strengths and create challenges and advanced responsibilities, maximize their potential, and increase their value to the organization.  Development is not an annual exercise or a few workshops.  It’s about recognizing opportunities in everyday situations to help employees grow and improve.

Evaluating  is a process of delivering consistent, fair, honest and constructive feedback, both formally and informally that serves as a basis for rewards.  Make the evaluation mean something to the employee; ascertain that they understand both the accolades and the needs for improvement and leave with an action plan for performance improvement and/or enhancement.

Rewarding  is the culmination of the Performance Management process.  Since the reward is the incentive that motivates the employee to perform in a manner that moves the organization to success, careful consideration should be given to determine the right rewards.  Get to know your employees in order to understand what excites them – tickets to their favorite sports team? An early end of the day?  Be sure that the reward matches the level of performance.  Also, the “great job!” is thought to be the number one motivator – much more that money and other fringe benefits.  It’s certainly the easiest!

Think of this Performance Management process in action for every employee, every department, every day and you’ll get a sense of the power it provides.  It can be the difference in success for your organization, can create satisfaction for your employees and huge rewards for you!  It is something of an art and takes time, but the payoff is well worth it – it’s smart!

Compensating Teams

Nearly everyone can relate to working on a team.  Teams are a great way to bring a group of talented folks together to focus on and accomplish a task.  They are also a means of providing development opportunities to employees, by utilizing skills in different venues, learning new skills from other team members and by taking on a responsibility beyond the purview of the everyday job.  But what’s the best way to compensate teams?

As you may have anticipated, there is no one best answer.  Compensation philosophy, strategy and design are the same as for individual compensation, for instance determining what behavior or results you want to incent/reward, assuring that the reward is meaningful, that the allocations are equitable and that it falls within budget.  However, there are several important practices to consider with respect to teams.  First of all, it is advisable to be transparent with pay.  Every team member should know what the plan is, the potential reward, the actual reward and how the reward will be distributed amongst the group at the outset of the team’s work together.  The team should understand goals and expectations, and how the reward will be determined based on performance, particularly if the reward will be cash or a non-cash item of high value.  For self directed teams, the team’s determination of award allocation may be best, along with a peer review or the use of a 180 or 270 degree feedback device, where feedback is gathered from peers and others who deal directly with the team. It is also important that the team be mutually accountable for results.

In his book, Compensation for Teams, Steven Gross identifies three types of teams:

  • The Parallel Team – this team comes together periodically while each members also has a full time job (e.g. Safety Committee);
  • The Process Team – this team is a full-time, dedicated team, generally created for improvement in quality and/or customer service, the members often being cross-trained;
  • The Project Team – this team is a full-time team brought together for the duration of a project.

Here are some concrete suggestions based on his research that the author suggests for team performance recognition:

The Parallel Team:

  • Non-cash rewards are more popular
  • Any differentiation amongst members must be defensible
  • Allocation should be fully accepted by the team
  • Cash for successful results, non-cash award for mixed results and a memo commending hard work for failed results
  • Recognition occurs after the fact
  • Merit increases in base pay should be based on both regular job and team performance

The Process Team:

  • Incentive compensation is popular, due to incremental improvement
  • Incentive compensation is less likely to create disharmony
  • Non-cash awards are seen as helping bring the team together
  • Incentive compensation should be of equal amounts
  • Recognition occurs before the fact
  • Incremental merit increases emphasize continuous improvement
  • General wage increases should reflect new skills and competencies

The Project Team:

  • Non-cash awards and spot cash awards are most popular
  • Sizable cash awards are appropriate
  • Non-cash award for meeting expectations; cash for exceeding expectations
  • Allocation should be equal percent of base pay and/or individual contribution
  • Recognition occurs before and/or after the fact
  • Merit increases granted upon demonstration of required skills and competencies

A whole different viewpoint as to what motivates teams and what rewards they desire are depicted in this video clip:

The clip contends that workers should be paid enough to take money motivators off the table and what truly motivates is autonomy, mastery and purpose.

These two viewpoints are both  food for thought when it comes to designing your team compensation plan.  What should we favor: money or meaning, when it comes to rewarding teams?

Effective Delegation: Practical Applications in the Workplace

Managers have so much to do nowadays!  They must assure quality, meet goals and objectives, plan, budget and execute.  While they’re doing all of this, they must also hire, train, motivate, direct and evaluate employees.  When the topic of delegation comes up, many managers “don’t have the time”, “can do it faster and better themselves”, or “can’t make it happen fast enough with the employees they have”.  True…delegation takes time, planning, patience, focus and energy, but if done well, the return on investment is incredible!

Some compelling reasons to delegate are:

  • Maximize/leverage resources
  • Create developments opportunities
  • Motivate employees
  • Utilize skills that the manager lacks
  • Improve leadership skills

As you can see, delegation is more than just another task in the life of a manager!

How do you delegate?  Here’s the steps adapted from Chris Roebach’s book Effective Delegation:

  1. Define and analyze the task
  2. Select the individual
  3. Assess employees’ ability and training needs
  4. Explain why
  5. Identify resources.
  6. Set objectives
  7. Monitor progress
  8. Review the results

Effective Delegation also suggests that there are four levels of delegation:

1.  Control – The “control” level restricts the employee considerably.  The manager retains control of the assignment.  In the control level the manager:

  • Gives specific instructions
  • Supervises closely
  • Restricts employee’s freedom

2.  Coach – In coaching, the manger is less engaged – the employee has more freedom.  When in the coaching level, the manager:

  • Supervises closely, but less directive
  • Explains the job by step but offers advice and support
  • Allows the employee more responsibility and input

3.  Consult – When “consulting” there is a shift in responsibility and power:

  • Allows the employee more freedom of action
  • Gives general instruction and invites ideas
  • Decides jointly with employee on choice of action
  • The manager is available for help.

4.  Collaborate – At this level, the tables have turned.  As Covey describes:  “the employee is the boss and the manager supports” .  The manager:

  • Gives only overall direction
  • Leaves specifics to the delegee
  • Defines the level of freedom before the necessity to report
  • Advises and supports only in rare situations.

There are other considerations before deciding what, when and whom to delegate to, such as available time, stress conditions, urgency, employee motivation, employees commitment  and is the situation an opportunity for learning.

By utilizing delegation, a manager is leveraging productivity, developing employees and instilling camaraderie with employees.  It takes a commitment of time, energy and attention, but the long term results are invaluable.  Practising delegation will enhance management skills and develop leadership skills.

For more detail, read Cathy’s white paper on delegation.

Finding Creative Ways to Foster Employee Development

How are you investing in your employees?  Most managers would reply that both time and money are lacking.  The “task” of employee development comes to mind at review time, when a deficiency becomes apparent or when an opportunity to delegate is missed due to the employee’s inability to handle the assignment.  Too often, development is relegated to a few half-day workshops, with no real follow up to ensure that the employee can assimilate the newly learned skills.

I’ve had to learn to be creative with employee development.  I had to train myself to recognize those perfect moments for feedback or suggestions; they can’t be scheduled, they just show up on their own.  Here are some of creative ways to contrive effective learning experiences:

  • When your employee comes to you with a problem, insist that they offer at least one solution.  It’s great that they recognize a challenge, but they can’t become dependent on someone else to solve it.  Recognizing a problem suggests that they are familiar with the situation and the probable causes – they are well equipped to devise a solution.  Presenting a problem is (tactical); solving a problem is value-add.  Asking an employee for the solution is an act of empowerment.

  • Train yourself to provide “on the spot” feedback.  When a problem is happening in real time, it’s the best time for a lesson.  Be respectful and constructive.  Offer a good business reason why the situation must change.  Ask what the goal is and analyze why their actions won’t achieve what they want; suggest alternatives or better yet, ask the employee to suggest alternatives.

  • Keep a diary.  Create a computer file to store your documentation, both positives and negatives.  Documentation is imperative should disciplinary action need to escalate.  When preparing and delivering a formal review, it’s effective to be able to offer these “real life” examples of what the employee is doing well and doing poorly.  Create reminders to follow up with the employee.

  • Assign projects in their entirety to the employee.  Let them own it. Provide guidance and support, but let them own it.  For example, I once had a situation where the entire employee file system was in need of revamping.  The employee who was assigned to the project was expected to educate herself on legal compliance and best practice, through research and workshops, design the new system, implement it and finally create and deliver a presentation to the executive team.  This gave her a sense of accomplishment and provided management visibility.

  • If appropriate, encourage employees to sit in on other departmental meetings.  This is an excellent way for them to understand the issues and challenges that they can possibly help to remediate.  It builds team spirit, positive relationships and visibility.

  • Encourage your employees to sit on committees.  It will result in the same results as above.  This is a great way for them to expand their responsibilities and broaden their perspectives of the entire organization.

  • Get the most out of a formal educational event.  If your employee is signed up for a training, have a discussion ahead of time to set the expectations of what they’ll learn.  Inform the instructor of these expectations as well.  When the class is completed, have a discussion with the employee as to how they will assimilate the new learning into their job, and be sure to follow up.

  • Advocate education.  If your budget can’t provide funds, encourage it anyway.  They are investing in their own careers.  Education can also be provided by books (ask for book reports to share with others or white papers for publishing), research, webcasts and podcasts.  Set goals for all of these.

  • Find a mentor.  This may be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience, knowledge and the right demeanor to act as an advisor to your employee.

  • Encourage employees to join professional organizations.  It’s an opportunity to expose and expand their career-related experiences beyond the walls of your workplace.

  • Practice good performance management.  Use a healthy and effective process to change behavior and improve skills.  Have the employee own their improvement. Make sure that expectations are understood. Set and enact consequences.  Recognize and reward improvements.

  • Put the time and effort into a high quality formal review.  Think of what you want for the employee and yourself and make sure the review delivers it.  Be open, listen well.  Revisit the goals set forth in the review regularly to keep them alive, head off any obstacles and inspire success.

A manager by definition, coaches and develops employees; it is an everyday, ongoing process.  Train your eye to recognize the learning opportunities.  Challenge yourself to find creative ways for employees to grow.  In the end, it pays off for everyone, for you, for the employee and for the organization.

Getting Recruitment Right

Whether you are replacing a departing employee or adding new staff, the prospect of recruiting can be daunting.  To find the right employee, a lot of time and effort needs to go into it.  Bad hires are costly, in time, training dollars, upheaval, morale poisoning, substandard work output and in some cases, complaints and lawsuits.  A robust recruitment process is your first best defense.

Yes, you must get it right procedurally.  An updated job description, a catching solicitation, extensive sourcing tools, prescribed interviewers, good questions, a background check and an offer are the essentials. Secondly, you must assure legal compliance throughout the process…discrimination avoidance, timing and handling of background checks and proper documentation are all governed by both state and federal law.  But today, the recruiting process is evolving quickly and you must evolve with it. More importantly, you must be strategic in your approach for each and every hire.

Recruiting has evolved technically. Not that long ago, employers simply put a print ad in a paper.  Over the last few decades, we have seen web postings, online recruiting sites, internal web-based applications and job boards, electronic candidate databases and social media.  Organizations can’t afford to lose pace with these developments.

The candidate pool is more diverse than ever.  With global reach and instant access, your candidate pool can be maximized.  However, employers must be culturally savvy and able to effectively interact with peoples of multiple generations, nationalities, physical capabilities, ages, genders and more.  The recruiting process must be able to handle thousands of responses quickly, as well as identify the best suited candidates.  The sourcing activity must be able to appeal to all age groups and technical abilities and be able to reach those passive candidates who are not actively searching.

Competition is fierce.  Even with the recession just behind us, competition for talent is real.  Job requirements are specific and ever evolving, so recruiting efforts must be carefully targeted and able to outdo others courting the same talent.  With baby boomers retiring, the predicted worker shortage is becoming a reality.  Also, since the labor market is global, competition extends worldwide.  The new generations keep attentive to opportunities and don’t’ exhibit the loyalty organization’s enjoyed in the past.

Your employer branding is vital.  Your recruiting process may be your future employees’ first experience with your organization.  Your branding as an employer is just as important as your product branding.  You are selling, so you need a marketing and sales strategy that has the right message and the right time to the right candidate.

Your recruitment needs a strategic approach.  Your process needs to reflect your organization’s vision and values.  It needs to be well planned and executed. Each hire needs its own well thought out approach – it’s not a one size fits all.  The ROI on talent procurements must be maximized to keep organization’s on target, competitive and profitable.

This is meant to provoke reflective and creative approaches to your recruiting efforts.  I invite all readers to share their best practice or creative approaches to recruiting by commenting on this blog.

For a more comprehensive overview of an effective recruiting process, see my white paper:  Getting Recruiting Right.

Tame Your Time!

Time is one of the universal things that most people don’t have enough of. yet we all have as much as there is.  When we look at the things that we have to do, want to do and should but don’t do, it is impossible for most of us to accomplish all of the “to-do’s”.  Some of us are so busy doing “things” that before we know it, so much time has past often leaving the important things still yet to be completed.  Many people agree that they need some skills training in the areas of time management and personal productivity.  Wouldn’t you love to achieve all of your goals, spend time enjoying things you love and still have al little time left over?  You can do it!  It will require a bit of “reprogramming” your time

The first thing to understand is that we have different styles of managing  time.  Some people like to  dive in and get things going, while others like to plan very methodically.  Some of us prefer to do the easy things first, while others want the big things off the plate ASAP.  There are those who procrastinate because they don’t like the task before them, while others, like myself, procrastinate because they want the task done perfectly, and that requires a block of focused time.  You may be one of those who love lists, and love to cross completed tasks off, while others prefer to be fluid, and assess tasks as they come.  The point is that it is important to understand your style and work with it, as well as understand the style of others in order to maximize team performance.

Remediating Employee Performance

Virtually everyone, when looking over their careers, has experienced some sort of performance remediation at some time.  If properly and effectively handled, the action was beneficial.  It’s really all about learning – one actively engages in an activity (or may not), someone notices that the performance could be better, gives feedback and perhaps instructions, and we change the way we perform in a better way.  It helps us grow professionally and personally.  So why is performance remediation so detested and subject to frequent procrastination?

Most managers view the process as a conflict, and most people avoid conflict or deal with it poorly.   The prospect of telling someone that they are not doing something in the best way or not meeting expectations can be unbearable.  Conflict is natural and the process of resolving conflict in a healthy manner helps us grow emotionally and professionally.

The most important aspect of engaging in a disciplinary action is to treat the recipient with respect at all times and to focus on the action as a learning experience that will help the employee’s performance become more valuable to the organization and to themselves personally.  In fact, the word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, which means teaching and learning, and discipulus, which means student.  So, imagine your employee doing a task incorrectly.  Your first thought is “Wow, here’s an opportunity to help Joe grow professionally and become a better worker!”  You are starting on a positive and upbeat note…don’t lose this mental setting!  Half the challenge is keeping yourself on a positive platform.

My favored way of engaging in performance remediation is using a process coined by Dick Grote as “Discipline without Punishment”.   He differentiates “discipline” into three categories:  building superior performance, coaching and formal disciplinary action.

In the building superior performance stage, concentration is given to getting the employee on track and keeping them on track.  Rule #1, the platinum rule, is to acknowledge good performance.   Since we expect good performance, it often goes without mention, but surveys show that praise is the number one motivator, much more than money.  The flip side is to confront poor performance, or to put it more positively, engage in improvement.  First, consider the expected performance.  Then, verbalize the actual performance, being mindful of an objective presentation.  For example, “You always show up late” is an arguable statement.  “I noticed that you came in fifteen minutes late last Wednesday and Friday” is factual.   The next step is to determine the cause:  is it a deficiency in knowledge or a deficiency in execution?  For a deficiency in knowledge, the action may be formal training, on the job training or job aids, such as process flow charts.  For a deficiency in execution, the action may be removing obstacles, providing feedback or assessing what performance you’re actually incentivizing.  For example, if you’re pushing the number of calls answered in a call center and what you really want is great customer service, you may have to reconsider what the employees’ goals really are.  After an appropriate timeframe, reassess the employee’s improvement.  If there is a positive change, practice the platinum rule:  acknowledge good performance.  If not, move to the second phase:  coaching.

The coaching session requires some preparation.  The desired and actual performance must be defined, the good business reason for the change must be verbalized, the logical consequences must be determined and the subsequent action steps must be formulated. The meeting should be planned with care:  a private setting and a reasonable time.  During the coaching session, get right to the point, but allow time for the employee to be heard; by listening to their side, you will be able to ascertain that your planned action is appropriate.  Next, discuss why the employee must change and get the employee’s agreement to change.  This is important because not many people will default on a commitment.  It’s not only the behavior/performance that is at stake, but also the employee’s word.  The action steps for improvement should be determined and confirmed; it is advisable to have the employee suggest the changes that need to happen – they will have more of a stake in the improvement.  Lastly, agree on the consequences for failure to improve and be committed to enacting them.  After the coaching meeting, be sure to document the discussion and to follow up in a reasonable timeframe.  If the employee improves satisfactorily, apply the platinum rule; otherwise you will need to engage in the formal disciplinary process.

Your organization may have a progressive disciplinary process; be sure to follow it and/or consult with the appropriate official when engaging in formal disciplinary action.  This has become an area for litigation risk.  The Discipline without Punishment model suggests the following steps:

    1.  Oral reminder:  after an oral reminder, check in to see if the situation has improved satisfactorily.  If yes, commend the employee; if no, move on to a written reminder.

    2.  Written reminder:  it is advised that a preprinted memo is not appropriate – it’s intimidating and there’s no room for documenting the discussion at hand.  Instead, have the discussion with the employee and tell him/her that you will document the conversation.  Stress that it’s the employee’s responsibility to remediate the situation, and that they had agreed to do just that.  Probe deeper into the issues.  Gain the employee’s agreement to change.  Let him/her know that this meeting constitutes a written reminder and that you’ll follow up with a memo documenting the discussion, agreement and consequences for failing to remediate.  Here’s what should be included in the memo TO the employee, not ABOUT the employee:

  • Names of all present
  • Date and location
  • The specific problem
  • A record of all previous conversations
  • A detailed statement of the continuing problem
  • A statement that the situation must be corrected (not improved)
  • A statement of the specific change that must be made
  • A statement that failure to correct will lead to further action
  • A statement that in addition to solving the immediate problem, the organization expects the employee to maintain an acceptable level of performance in every area of the job.
  • A record of the agreement made with the employee to correct the problem
  • A record of any action the employee agreed to take to correct the situation
  • A closing statement that expresses the belief that the situation will in fact be corrected.

Meet with the employee later – a tight, focused meeting.  Review the memo.

Should the employee sign?  Legal advice would say “yes”.  Dick Grote feels that you’re telling the employee that they’re a liar and that in fact, most employees will not deny the meeting took place.  Again, follow up:  commend an improvement, move on if there is none.

Step 3:  Decision Making Leave:  when deciding to enact the decision making leave, give some notice and make arrangements for the employee’s absence.  It is advised to pay the employee for the leave.  Why?  Although unpleasant, on an unpaid leave the employee simply “does the time”.  A paid leave sends the message that it is the employee’s duty to really think about a serious change or choose to leave.  Have a preplanned meeting for the employee’s return and ask for their decision.  Document the actions.   As always, follow up.  Commend improvement.  If the situation remains unchanged, move to the final step:  termination.

Step 4:  Termination:  at this point the employee has been given every chance to change.  It is their decision that the termination is enacted.  Dick Grote says “termination is not the final step in a disciplinary process, it is the failed result of a disciplinary process”.  It is wise to consult your organization’s HR representative before moving to a discharge.  Prepare yourself; ask yourself the questions you may face should you face a jury, such as “Did you do everything possible?”, “Was the employee given reasonable time to improve?”, etc.  Have all the necessary paperwork complete (in California, have the final check including unpaid vacation and unemployment information).  Be prepared for anger or tears.  When you meet with the employee, get to the point and hold to your decision.  Afterwards, document the action.  Remember, be respectful no matter what the employee’s response is.

Hopefully, “nipping issues in the bud”, or dealing with performance issues as they come up, will lead to a successful resolution and the employee will be better for it.  A manager’s job is to develop, teach; therefore remediation is a manager’s duty.  Helping your employees develop brings great satisfaction and success to your management career.

Much of the information presented is included in Dick Grote’s “Discipline without Punishment”.  It is a “must have” for anyone managing employees – and “oldie but goodie”.