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You call THAT a retention strategy!?

There are no right or wrong retention strategies. Everything depends on so much on company size, industry, budget, location, customer/product base, whether or not the company is in high growth mode or hanging on for survival, etc. Having said that, I can tell that you that there are most definitely wrong ways to execute on retention strategies.

Let me be clear, I am not commenting on any genuine, well-intended attempt that a company puts forth to try and retain its people. It’s a competitive landscape out there and all is fair in talent acquisition and talent management. I applaud companies for trying innovative ways to keep people, especially when it simply isn’t possible to keep doling out chunks of cash year over year.

Businessman in chainsHowever, as an organization and as a (HR) leader, you have to stay true to the intent of the retention strategy. I believe that retention initiatives are first and foremost intended to keep your good people (duh!) but just as important they formulate part of your employment brand. You become known to current and potential candidates for the types of things you do to keep people. When done right, these can serve as great differentiators or enhancers to your brand and when applied the wrong way, they can severely damage it.

Let me give you an example. I recently came across an organization which invests heavily in the professional development of its technical staff. For anything beyond a conference or seminar, they would pay for the employee to take the course (typically post-secondary or certification based) with a 2-3 year payback period. Meaning, if they paid $3000 for you to become certified in something, if you left before the three mark, you would owe back $1000 for every year of service not completed after that. I.e. you take the course, 1 year later you leave; you owe $2000 – pretty straight forward and pretty fair.

Recently, the company started losing a lot of good talent to a competitor for a multitude of reasons. Some were based on pay, some were based on work culture and some were based on leadership. So what did the company do in response to this? Well, first off, they changed their professional development policy. If you left within 3 years you now owed 100% of the money back…no sliding scale! (Way to address the cultural issue you have!) Talk about using a good retention program for evil…or at the very least, with the wrong application!

A more specific example that occurred with this company is when one of their rising stars accepted a role with a competing company. She went to her manager to give him her two weeks’ notice. This employee had been there approx. 7 years and was a solid performer. So, what was the manager’s response when she resigned you ask? First thing he did was check to see if she “owed” the company anything. Sure enough, 3 years ago they had paid a few thousand bucks for her to take a certification. They told her she would owe the full amount back as she was a week short of the three year commitment. What made this truly slimy was that that this course was taken before their most recent policy change! (i.e. she was still on the sliding scale plan.)

So what did this employee do? She changed her notice period to three week’s (because the company she was going to was more than happy to wait one more week for her) and then she didn’t owe them anything. This was an employee who previously didn’t have anything bad to say about her current employer and was leaving on good terms, albeit for a new opportunity she couldn’t get there. However, this completely soured her on her previous company. She felt like her time there didn’t mean anything and that all they cared about was getting the last nickel out of her.

Now, instead of leaving and speaking highly of her time there, and possibly returning in the future, she left angry, upset and would not refer anyone there. Talk about using your retention program for the wrong reasons! The amount of damage done to this company’s brand in a short period of time is immeasurable. Word quickly got around (the industry and skill set this person works in is very niche) about how her previous company used their retention program as a hammer. Now there are even more employees there looking to move on!

The bottom line is this – HR Professionals, you have to be the stewards of your organizations and make sure this type of crap doesn’t happen. If you have retention issues, the answer isn’t to make your retention program(s) punitive and restricting and create an environment of indentured servitude. You need to dig deeper and get to some root cause analysis about why people are leaving your company. For the company referred to in this post, my guess, based on how this employee was treated, was that they may some short sighted leadership. But that’s just a guess. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

What is the (strong) matrix?

One of the more effective, but often complex, types of organizational structures is that of a strong matrix design. According to the project management lexicon, a strong matrix organization is “a type of matrix organization where the project manager has moderate to high authority and in most cases is in a full-time role. The project manager has more control over the budget and resources compared to a functional manager and PMO is generally staffed full-time.”

Matrix Meme

Simply put, the strong matrix takes the traditional matrix driven organization and puts even greater authority in the hands of a project manager. You often see this type of structure in consulting companies, I.T. organizations or project engineering firms. It is (often) a very effective way of leading project teams to accomplish desired organizational goals of on time delivery, improved quality, revenue and gross profit/cash flow targets. It is also an effective structure for providing career development for staff in organizations that are either traditionally flat (due to smaller size) or for those that want technical staff to be able to develop their career without having to pursue a position in management.

As a writer and HR Pro, I am neither pro nor con when it comes to an opinion of the strong matrix structure. I believe in the right environment, with the right organization and the right leadership, it can be a highly successful structure. However, in my experience, it either works (or it doesn’t) based on one key factor. That factor is TRUST. Simply put, in order for various functional heads to work together and have their people operating under different project managers but still report (competency and career-wise) back to the functional head, you have to have a lot of trust. Department heads have to trust that the structure exists to support the broader organizational goals. They have to trust in each other that everyone understands and is working towards accomplishing these broader organizational goals. Above all else, in order to instill this trust, organizational leadership has to provide the vision. They have to clearly articulate the organizational vision and goals and then trust their managers to execute on these goals within the construct of the strong matrix.

In more typical, hierarchical driven organizations, trust is important to organizational success and health; however, individual departments can still function together and deliver with only limited amounts of trust. In the strong matrix organization, because of the various touch points on employees and (on the surface) competing priority demands, trust is key. Project managers need to trust that line managers are developing their people and providing them with the best resources. Line managers need to trust that Project Managers are effectively deploying their staff so as to best maximize their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Remember, the line managers are on the hook (or should be) for staff retention, project managers are on the hook for effective, on time project delivery. The challenge, is trusting that all these seemingly competing demands come together to realize the greater organizational goals. Trust – it is the single greatest currency in the strong matrix driven organization. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Going to the well once too often

Have you ever heard of the saying, “They went to the well once too often”? It is a 14th century saying that basically means that one shouldn’t repeat a risky action too often or push their luck too far. Unfortunately I have seen this expression play out when it comes to talent and performance management in the workplace. Organizations/managers tend to go to the well once too often with their best people.

Goint to the wellHere’s what I mean – in any given organization, somewhere between 10%-30% of your employees are your top performers or your “best.” The rest of your talent is somewhere between average to good with a small percentage of your staff that are “not quite cutting it.” Those are completely unscientific facts based simply on years of HR work experience; however, since this is my blog, I am allowed to make up stats! I do feel confident that most people would probably agree that if you were managing a department of 10 – 20 people, about 3-6 of them are your “go to” folks. So there you have it, the math works!

Here is the danger in what I have seen/dealt with in my experience. During tough times or boom times (the approach tends to be the same during both) organizations tend to over rely on their best people. Instead of “stretching” their average to good performers, or god forbid, culling and replacing their poor performers, they tend to heap more responsibilities on their best people. Companies and managers tend to continue to push and ask for more and more from their best folks. They take performance excellence for granted. Why do they do this? Because their best people continue to deliver!

You see, those elite folks that you have are driven by a desire to succeed. They never want to fail and they take great pride in their professional brand. However, this approach to mis-managing top talent this way comes with a cost. Sure, you will have a few of your best folks that will be vocal about things. They will be loud and clear about how unhappy they are with the current situation. Most will suffer in silence though. They will put on the brave face as they continue to work more and more hours. They might politely ask for help/more resources or they might possibly express some veiled concern about not being able to deliver. Most won’t say anything though. They will soldier on through. There might be more requests for vacation days and/or sick days as they try and recoup and recharge for the continued onslaught of demands. Most managers won’t clue into this though as they will be too busy continuing to add to the work demands and show their leaders that “they” can deliver.

Beware though – there is a tipping point. You can’t continue to go to the well time and time again with your best people. You see, your best people have options. They can get other jobs. They can and will leave. They don’t have to put up with the incessant demands and unrealistic expectations. Your poor to average performers – they will stay because they usually don’t have options or at least not as many options. If your best talent leaves, are you going to ask more of your poorer performing employees? I doubt it and if the answer was “yes,” then why aren’t you asking for more now instead of jeopardizing the retention of your best folks?

At the very least, in the short term, you had best be rewarding and compensating your best people for their ongoing extra efforts. You can rest assured, that if they have done all the heaving lifting for a 6-12 month stretch (or longer) and all that is in it for them is a 2.5% raise, then you won’t have them for much longer! Don’t go to that (top talent) well once too often. Recognize the warning signs, performance manage the low performers and “stretch” your average to good performers. Those that excel will become part of your elite talent group. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/Tom Sodoge

Invest in those that invest in you…or something like that

I am not entirely sure this is the right title for this post, and this theme is a bit different than what I usually post, but here goes: It has been some time since I last posted on The Armchair HR Manager. I could come up with a ton of blogger excuses – work is too busy, too much stuff going on outside of work, it’s summer, etc., but most of that would be crap.

For those that know me well on a personal level, they know that I am a very private person, which I know is a bit strange considering my social media footprint. However, most of my social media time revolves around my professional brand, save for some fun I have on Instagram (check me out at hr_scottboulton). The real reason that I have been absent on the blogging front for the entire month of July is that I have been going through some challenges in my personal life. The beauty of these challenges is that it has opened my eyes to what is really important in life and what truly matters.

One of the things that has come to light during the past several months for me is the fabulous support network that I have. I mean, I always thought and felt I had great friends and family; however, the amount of support I have seen, felt and realized over the past few months has been overwhelming. I have always prided myself on building close, personal friendships over the years. While I have a large circle of ‘acquaintances’, I have maintained a smaller circle of close friends. In fact, many people I was friends with growing up, still remain some of my closest friends.

To that extent, I have always tried to “invest” in these friendships. This was done not with the intent of reaping some sort of benefit or anything from the friendship, but simply from a “give” perspective into the friendship so as to make it work. I feel you need to do that in order for a friendship to grow, develop and be maintained. Here is what I learned big time over the past few months – if you invest in those friendships, those true friends are there for you when you need them the most. The amount of support I have received from my “inner circle” over the past few months has been overwhelming to say the least. These are friends that have their own families and commitments but that make the time for you. These are friends that drop things on short notice to make you a priority and friends that shift their busy schedules and lives around on a moment’s notice to provide you the support you need…all without even being asked to do so.

I am sure I have neglected some of these friendships over the years. We all get busy in our lives and end up going separate ways; however this is an important life lesson for me. Keep investing in those friendships. Make time for each other. Don’t get too wrapped in your life and surviving the “daily grind.” Reach out to each other, check in and be present. Keep investing in those friendships and maintain your inner circle. If you are like me, those people are some of the most important humans in your life. As always, I welcome your comments.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

 

 

Promises, Promises

Leadership is a risky proposition at the best of times. Those that “sign up” to be in leadership roles have agreed to take a lot on their backs and shoulders. Being a leader isn’t for everyone but if you have accepted the leadership challenge, then it is incumbent on you to embrace the role and be the best leader that you can be. Because I believe whole heartedly in developing and supporting leaders, a significant chunk of my blog is devoted to helping leaders become better at what they do. Often what I share is based on lessons learned in my job, my career, my experiences and discussions with others.

Broken Promises

One of the big pitfalls I have seen leaders fall into (often newer leaders, but not always) is that in their exuberance to want to “make a difference” they often over promise and under deliver. Now, my experience has been that that is done with the best of intentions. Meaning, in their role as a leader, they want to effect change, make their imprint on things and do things better for their team/department/organization. Often when they are new to their environment, their excitement and enthusiasm to “improve things” gets the better of them as they try and change everything in the near term.

The danger here is that these leaders bring a sense of great hope with them. For example, a department has been run for years by someone with a micromanaging style with no vision for the future and no focus on developing talent. This person is then replaced with a new leader, one who brings an exciting vision for the future and a renewed employee focus. The employees get excited, energized and (re) engaged. There is optimism and hope abound. The leader asks for their trust and faith to be placed in him/her as they change the way things were. Promises are made and expectations are set. Then…the bubble bursts.

Often these new team/departmental/organizational leaders do not have the actual autonomy and authority to make the promises (changes) that they have articulated to their staff. They had the best of intentions but ran into some form of bureaucracy, or senior management control. Worse yet, they have run into the oversight of a Board of Directors that refuses to take a hit (read: investment) to their near term cash flow in order to make the company even better longer term. The end result – the new leader is now compromised in their role after having rolled out a platform of hope.

Now, the struggle is that the employees are told formally or informally that all those promises that were made now need to be tempered. The danger is that this often results in cynicism at best, disengagement at worst. You can almost feel and hear the collective “here we go again” emanate from the staff.

So, my advice for new leaders in that type of situation is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your operating boundaries and parameters before you make promises to employees. Better yet, the old adage of control the controllable’s best applies when first starting out with a new team. That is, promises of things like, better communication, regular coaching, more rigor around quality control, etc. will get you more traction. Employees aren’t looking for the sun, the moon and the stars from you when you first come out of the gate as a new leader. BUT, if you promise that to them, you better be able to deliver. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Picture courtesy of vimeo.com

 

Leadership Secret #9

I don’t know why I picked this as secret #9.  It was a completely arbitrary number but it is my blog so I can pick whatever number I want I guess!  As well, this really isn’t even a secret but more like a tip.  Stay tuned, but first a bit of preamble.

SecretIn my experience and role as an HR Pro I have been fortunate to have worked with some great leaders and managers and some not so great leaders and managers.  The great ones help you drive your organization forward and grow. The not so great ones, well, let’s just say I have learned a ton from them as I have built my experience as an HR Pro.

Often I am asked by managers and leaders (both within and external to organizations I have worked for) to provide tips, tricks, secrets on how to be a better manager or leader.  When I reflect on the good and not so good advice I have given over the years, one thing stands out.  That is, one of the key secrets to being a better manager is to TALK TO YOUR PEOPLE.  Yup, that is where it all starts.  There is no magic, no secret sauce.  It all starts with dialogue.  If you simply make time in your day to talk to your people – in the beginning it doesn’t even matter about what – you will be in the top 5% of all managers.  (In the spirit of Tim Sackett quantitative data science, I simply made that up).

It is UNBELIEVEABLE the number of managers who go day in and day out without talking to their employees.  They are too busy being in meetings, on the phone, or “producing ” something.  The other one I hear all the time is the concept of a “working manager.”  That is, when the manager is responsible for a threshold of billable hours – usually north of 50%.  Which means, at most, they spend half their time on their people…and we all know how that story ends.

So, if you want to get out of the blocks as a better manager, start to talk to your people.  Walk the shop floor at the beginning and end of the day.  Carve out 30 mins a day to spend 5-10 minutes with each of your folks.  Start by asking them what is happening that is impacting their ability to do their job effectively.  You would be amazed at what that little conversation starter can do!

Here is the thing – you need to be sincere.  You have to want to do this.  You need to care.  You need to want to help your employees be better and do better.  If you are not genuine in your approach, they will see right through this…and you probably shouldn’t be a manager to begin with. So, starting tomorrow, when you get to work, talk to your folks.  About anything.  Right away.  Right now.  No exceptions.  No excuses.  No pass throughs.  As well, this really isn’t a secret so feel free to pass this on to anyone.  Your employees will thank you for it.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/London Scout

It All Takes Time

Inherently, I am not a patient person. My mother reminds me of this all the time. She thinks it has something to do with the fact that I was born premature and that I had some burning desire to get on with life at an early age! Regardless, it is a character flaw that I am aware of and have worked hard on, especially professionally, to improve.

When I first got into HR, I wanted to set the world on fire with all my new ideas that involved developing and/or implement cutting edge HR programs and initiatives. Pretty quickly you realize that the real world doesn’t work that way and in fact, most of your “great ideas” are actually pretty stupid. At least looking back on mine, I can say that they were!

Time WatchAs I matured in my career, I learned to take more time to think things through and develop/recommend “things” that would lead to longer term gains and sustainability for the organizations that I worked for. To this day though, I still find it hard to cultivate and “wait” for the fruits of mine/our labour. When we do something that is aimed at improving retention, dammit, I want to see the results like, now!

So, because I know I carry this flaw around with me, I constantly focus on trying to be patient with the “growth” of great HR initiatives, mostly so I am not too quick to judge them as being successes or failures! So having said that, I think I am now qualified to advise younger HR practitioners on how/why they need to be patient with things because it all takes time!

Case in point with my current organization, we had identified 2+ years ago that an area we needed to focus on was employee recognition. Our survey feedback, focus groups, stay interviews, exit interviews and casual conversations all “told” us that recognition was important to our staff and that we needed to make improvements in this area. So, we set about to improve all things related to recognition. Initially, we made the mistake coming out of the gate by tackling this as a “program” or initiative. While we made some short term gains by doing it this way, it became obvious that the sustainability factor just wasn’t going to be there.

So, we ended going back to the problem as redefined it as being a need to shift our culture and our way thinking. Simply put, we needed to instill a culture of recognition throughout our entire organization. Easier said than done! As with any culture shift, it takes time…far more than this impatient guy was ever used to! However, we had a dedicated core group of believers that knew this was the right way to go and were emotionally invested in making the shift happen. Yes, it involved the development of “materials” to support this; however, the real change came about working directly with managers, providing training, constant communication with all employees and above else, accountability. We were all accountable for making this culture shift happen.

What is the moral of the story? For us HR folks, it is all about recognizing the problem at hand. Typically, the solution is not a new HR program or initiative. Quite likely, it is about changing attitudes, behaviours and culture. Programs and initiatives are quick, short term hits/wins. They feel good in the moment, like we have done something tangible, but they often have little sustainability. Culture shifts take a lot longer to achieve but the payoff is huge. Over two years has passed since we truly set about trying to make this culture change and we can now see it paying dividends as the needle has finally moved. Recognition HAS become part of our culture. Our employee surveys and retention data show this to be true. Do we need to continue to improve, adapt, adopt, modify and get better? You bet we do…it just takes time. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Niklas Rhose/Unsplash.com

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