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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




Do your Values MEAN anything?

Corporate Values

Company Values

What do those phrases mean to you? Does the organization you work for even have corporate values? If so, do you know what they are? Quickly…without looking. What are they? Or do you have to look at your intranet site or some chart on the wall? Unfortunately, in far too many companies, their values are simply a flashy poster on the wall. Lots of companies like to present themselves as having “strong corporate values that guide how we do things.” Prime example is Enron who, as part of their values, identified “Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.” We all know how that story turned out.


On a more practical level, these are also the same companies that at the first sign of trouble do things that are the complete opposite of their “values.” For example, one company I know of quite well, that shall remain nameless, has a corporate value of “People” defined as, “Above all else, we value our people. They make the difference to the success of our organization and its customers.” This same company, back in 2009, at the first sign of some economic trouble, laid off 25% of its workforce. No other cost savings measures were looked at, but the knee jerk reaction was to conduct layoffs. This, coming from the company that values its people…see where I am going with this? To this day, 7 years later, they still have a tough time attracting people due to the damage done to their employment brand. Companies need to understand – people aren’t stupid. They see/know double speak when they hear it. They know when you are not being genuine.

At the end of the day, you are better off not having any type of values then marketing them and not following them. You see, when done right, your values will ultimately define a huge part of your workplace culture. So, a focus needs to be placed on bringing your company values to life. How do you make them real in your workplace? Are your managers and employees recognized, rewarded and compensated for displaying behaviours that directly support your values? Do people in your organization get promoted based on competency AND by living and demonstrating your company values? If the answer is “no” to any of those questions, your values will not be able to come to life and they certainly won’t define your culture. They are words on the corporate poster or something to go into a glossy shareholder report and nothing more.

Far too many companies fall into the trap of having very generic, catch-all types of values – Teamwork, Customer Service, Quality. Really? What do those mean? Those could be the values for a burger joint, a muffler shop, a clothing store or a software development company! Basically, any type of business could have those values – there is nothing in there that defines WHO you are as an organization. You really want to have values that help shape and define your culture and ultimately define your employment brand – then you need to make them mean something!

For example, how would you feel about working for a company that held values like this:

“We value getting sh*t done – we hate bureaucracy and red tape. We don’t like roadblocks impeding our employees’ success and we don’t micromanage. We hire good people and expect them to get sh*t done”

“Truth and Honesty – we don’t like liars and people who go back on their word. We value people who deliver the message straight up and never ever lie.”

Seriously though? Why can’t we have values like that? They mean something to the individual employee and they certainly help govern decision making. It is also pretty clear what kind of culture that company has – and if you like what you hear, that is probably a place you want to work. If you don’t like it, then you self-select out. Bottom line, by having real values that MEAN something for your company and its employees, you will have brought them to life and helped establish the type of workplace culture you desire. Don’t be generic. Be brave. Be bold. Be different. Live your values. Reward your employees that do the same. Establish the type of culture you want as an organization. Be a place where people WANT to come to work. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Employees only want one thing

There are many things that are important to employees. Depending on who you are, what your current personal, social-economic, familial and educational situation is like, you will have different things that are important to you when it comes to choosing and staying with a company. Some people need to make as much money as they can and are willing to put up with doing a job that is not what they want to be doing, or they will commute longer to make more money, etc.

Conversely, if work/life integration is important, some people will take less money to have a shorter commute, or fewer benefits or less training and development dollars to have a better balance. At the end of the day, the mix you strike as an employer is all about how well you market, recruit and understand your candidates. You need to be able to identify what is important to them, what you have to offer and then see if there is match by selling your employment brand features that you know will appeal to them.

respect saying

However, this post is not about recruiting. It is more about retention. You see, you can do a fantastic job of selling your company and all the great things you offer – whether it is top pay, great location, sexy work environment, professional development dollars, etc.; however, if your company is missing one key ingredient, the entire brand becomes organizationally bankrupt. You see, nothing will ever work out long term for you and your staff if there is no RESPECT.

Respect, and to an equal extent trust, are/is the most important ingredient(s) in your employee value proposition (EVP). No amount of smoke or mirrors, I mean, great compensation and benefits, will overcome a workplace that is void of respect. As well, any efforts made by a company to improve retention, engagement (although I hate that one), and the overall work environment will always be wiped out if your employees feel they aren’t being respected and/or they don’t trust you.

Now, I am not talking about a company that has one or two managers that don’t respect employees. Good organizations that vet their manager/leader types well, have good HR peeps and have support systems established that give employees a method and a voice to address concerns will have the ability to stamp out these types of singular issues appropriately.

The real problem is when your organization has a lack of respect at its core. This often permeates subtly throughout the organization and shows up in different ways, such that it affects managers and employees at all levels. Organizational disrespect is often like mold and rot forming in your house. It starts out slowly and subtly and before you realize it exists, you have a major problem. Quite often a lack of respect in organizations is not what you would typically think of. Most people think of disrespect as managers yelling, embarrassing or berating employees. They also think of disrespect often when it comes to a (bad) manager’s tone, delivery, cadence, etc. I think in organizations that have major respect issues it is much more than this.

If you want to make sure you are treating your employees with respect, you need to make sure as an organization you aren’t doing any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Asking for opinions and then ignoring them. In other words, doing employee surveys and then not responding or doing anything to improve specific areas. Nothing shows a blatant lack of respect (time and opinion) more than this.
  • Not communicating to staff. Essentially this falls into the “need to know bucket.” This typically manifests itself in an organizational culture in several ways:
    • employees are not informed about important matters that affect them (ever).
    • employees hear about changes after the fact, or from members outside their organization.
    • the rumour mill is more accurate and detailed then what is cascaded to staff.
    • the organization waits for “perfect” information before communicating anything, because, you know, “we can’t tell them a bit about something and then it turns out not to be true or happen.”
    • all employees hear about changes at the same time – there is no delineation based on role, importance of message, support required, etc.
  • Poor or no change management practices. Essentially organizations that don’t believe or follow any type of basic change management practices are being disrespectful to its employees. You can’t, as an organization, expect to implement significant organizational changes without a proper change/communication plan. This would include things like organizational/structural changes, geographic changes, major acquisitions, changes to benefits plans and changes to performance management practices to name a few.

By just “informing” your staff of something you are not only poorly communicating and not helping them manage change, you are also showing a general disrespect to your employees. The message you send is that whatever the change or information is that you have, it is simply not important enough to you (and your employees aren’t important enough) to be done properly through a communication plan and change management approach. It is simply something that needs to get checked off on the proverbial “to do list.”

Believe me when I tell you that in almost all organizations you have smart people that work for you. They “get” this stuff and understand the subtle message here. They know when they have been shown a lack of respect and they know when the message is “you aren’t important enough.” They may not voice their displeasure, but you will feel it through a lack of productivity, increased absenteeism and ultimately attrition. Oh, and that employment brand you have been working on marketing to new candidates to help improve your recruiting efforts…good luck with that.

Ironically, out of all the things companies can do to improve their brand, as well as their recruiting and retention efforts, communication and change management, for the purposes of showing respect to your employees, will be the CHEAPEST “initiative” or “program” you will ever launch. I just don’t understand why some companies don’t get that. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kimpel/Flickr.com

HR, Football & Hugs

Not the typical title for one of my posts but it pretty much captures what I experienced today at the HRPA 2016 conference. I was one of the crazy fools who got up early to attend a 7am session (good thing the body was still on Atlantic Time!) I am really glad that I did. The speaker was Mike “Pinball” Clemons. Mike is a former professional football player who played and later coached the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Mike is a great example of how “the little guy” can still make it in a big man’s game.

The beauty of Mike’s talk today was that he was able to talk a little bit about football and tie it all in with a lot about HR and people. Mike’s energetic and engaging style quickly grabbed my attention – as well as his propensity for dishing out hugs to anyone and everybody (Tim Sackett are you listening?) Mike’s message to HR was that we are in an incredible position to display servant leadership. In fact, one of his best quote’s from today was, “good HR is the best medicine for any organization.” When you really think about that, he is right. If we as HR Pros are doing our jobs well and providing effective servant leadership, we ARE good medicine for our organizations…we can fix what ails our companies!

Mike ClemonsMike did a great job connecting everyday challenges to what we do as HR Pros. He did, however, make one comment that absolutely struck a chord with me – more on that in a second. During his speech, Mike spoke a lot about the value of teamwork and how HR needs to lead and model the way in terms of organizational teamwork and showing the impact it has on our companies. He also spoke a lot about how HR should never forget that it is there for the people and to support those that can’t support themselves. His specific quote that really got me was:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

When you think about that for a minute, he is absolutely right. When we look at what we do as servant leaders in our companies and the “value” we provide as HR Pros, we need to evaluate our success by looking at the experience of the most marginalized person (people) in our companies. Here is the thing, unless you are some major conglomerate, you know who this persons/people is/are. We just have to open, honest and objective about taking a real hard look at their real or perceived work experience.   How are they treated? Are they listened to? Do they have a voice? Do they experience equity in their job?

At the end of the day, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and evaluate and determine what our level of organizational and HR success is. If the overall work experience of our most marginalized employee is still a positive one, then rest assured you are being successful as an organization and as an HR Pro. Of course, the opposite is painfully true. We may think we are doing AWESOME HR work, but if our most marginalized employees are having negative work experiences, then we are not successful…and yes, it is that simple to evaluate.

So for me, the message hit home today…and hard. I need to be a better HR Pro. I need to take a hard look in the mirror at myself, my HR practice, my company and our employees. I need to objectively ask myself what is their real or perceived work experience like? Are we being as equitable as we can be? Am I leading the way with servant leadership? Am I making this about me…or them? Am I finding a way to make things happen and effect change? Am I leading with kindness? Am I starting with the heart? Am I finding a way? Mike, thanks for making me look at myself and for challenging me to be a better HR Pro. For all of us as HR Pros, let’s try and use this as our barometer of success moving forward:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

HR – Let’s fix these things!

One of my goals as an HR Professional and HR Leader is to continue to try and elevate not only the status of our profession, but also to try and guide and provide some perspective to our upcoming HR Pros. Part of the mission of The Armchair HR Manager is to dispel some of the myths and fallacy in thinking that HR Pros have about themselves and their profession. I have written many times about what it makes to be a good HR Pro and what good HR Pros should be doing and I find each time that I do, some HR Pro reaches out to thank me for the advice and information as it has typically provided them some fresh perspective on challenges they are facing. (Mission accomplished!)

Fix ItIn that context, I wanted to lay out some things that we can, and should be doing, as HR Pros that will not only help our organizations, but elevate the status of our profession – i.e. add VALUE. Some of these may be obvious, some are easy to do and some are hard. Some are quick fixes and some are longer term solutions. The degree of all of this will vary from organization to organization and HR Pro to HR Pro. My goal is help draw your attention to these items, help you feel like you are not alone in the “fight” to bring respect to HR and hopefully the list will bring some focus and clarity to your own HR role. To that extent, I present The Armchair HR Manager’s list of stuff that HR can and needs to fix:

  1. Onboarding – simply put, this is one of the greatest areas of opportunity for most companies. If you can do anything to help improve, fix and refine this process you should be doing it. Frankly, it is horrible to think that in many companies, employees still show up for their 1st day of work and managers aren’t ready for them, the new employee has no computer access or even a place to sit/work. This is typically capped off by the new employee going to lunch by themselves – uggh.
  2. Communication – another one of the big organizational pain points we can help fix. HR Pros should always be looking for ways to improve organizational communication. Use your hidden IT skills to develop an intranet or SharePoint site. Write a weekly “letter from the President” to update staff on high level organizational stuff. Anything you can do to increase and improve communication will go a long way to enhancing your company’s brand and the status of HR in general.h
  3. Forms – if you are one those companies that have paper forms for everything, than find a way to reduce, eliminate and move online anything that has to be filled out. Get your forms developed in Adobe format and have staff complete things online. No one, and I mean no one, likes to fill out hard copy forms. This may seem trivial, but it is a big improvement!
  4. Job ads – quite simply, they suck. Stop posting job descriptions. Start describing what the person in the job will do and how they will impact things. Focus on a performance profile and less about responsibilities and qualifications. Trust me; your hiring managers will thank you for it!
  5. Supervisor/employee relations – if you have a manager or managers in your company that are acting like a**holes, call them out on it. Speak to them, coach them, work with their manager but do whatever you can to keep the spotlight and heat on managers who treat their employees like crap. If they don’t change, push your organizational leaders hard to get rid of them – you don’t need these types of cancers in your company. Here is the thing, believe me when I tell your employees ALL know who the bad managers are and they are always wondering why you aren’t doing anything about it.
  6. Harassment in general – whether from managers or peers, I am still appalled by the amount of sexual harassment and harassment in general that occurs in today’s workplaces. Despite greater awareness, “mandatory” organizational training and court awards for damages, harassment is still a MAJOR workplace issue. I am disgusted by the stories I hear of how employees are being bullied (my managers and peers), are sexually harassed or harassed due to their gender, sexual orientation or for other means. I am blown away by how employees still think it is “ok” to make inappropriate comments, touch/grab or otherwise make contact with their fellow employees or simply partake in the use of sexual innuendos. Worst of all, companies still tend to turn a blind eye to these issues, or only “try” and deal with them once they become a formal complaint. Having policies is one thing, it is all about your ACTIONS. As HR Pros, we need to FIX THIS – NOW!
  7. Confidentiality – most of all, as HR Pros, you HAVE to maintain confidentiality in your dealings with staff. No one likes or trusts an HR Pro that can’t maintain confidentiality. The most valuable currency you have is trust – don’t break/lose it. If the problem is with your managers, see point #5 above – work the manager and their supervisor and make sure they understand the impact of their actions and then coach their supervisor on holding the blabber mouth manager accountable.

What about you? Are there any other fixes that HR can provide? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Simple Rules for Employee Survey Success

Employee surveys – love them or hate them, are a part of corporate life, whether you are in operations or HR. If managed properly, they can be an effective tool in helping to retain your employees. Done improperly, they are an administrative exercise that leads to frustration for all involved and resentment from your employees. In order to make this all work, your organizational leadership has to believe in the value of the feedback they received AND have a desire to change. So, your Survey Feedbackcritical equation you need to remember is Belief + Feedback + Desire to change = Survey Value. Therefore, my advice to organizations is that you need to decide if or why you want to do a survey, before you first launch into one. It you want to conduct a survey, there many important elements to consider. If, after evaluating the criteria, you decide you don’t or shouldn’t conduct a survey, than that is ok too.

So, here are Scott’s rules for deciding on whether or not you should conduct an employee survey:

  • Rule #1:
    • As an organization, are you prepared to act on some of the feedback you receive? Notice I said “some.” You can’t necessarily act on everything, but you need to acknowledge the feedback and then tell your employees what you can and cannot do. If the answer to this question is “no” (and you need to be honest) than don’t do the survey.
  • Rule #2:
    • Communicate the results to your employees and then commit to an action plan. If you don’t want to do, or can’t do, both of these things, than don’t do a survey.
  • Rule #3:
    • Are your managers accountable for the results and action plans that are derived from the survey? Or is it an “HR thing.” If your managers and organizational leadership aren’t accountable, than don’t do a survey. No matter how you position it, if managers aren’t accountable, your staff will see this is a paper exercise with no value.
  • Rule #4:
    • You don’t have to have an action plan for everything because not all questions you ask are of equal importance to your employees. For example, they may score you low on a question pertaining to work/life balance; however, perhaps that isn’t that important to them at the moment because you are a start-up that is trying to secure venture capital financing and everyone is working like dogs to push your first product release out the door.
  • Rule #5:
    • Therefore, based on Rule #4, before you go creating action plans, ASK your employees what IS important to them. If you identify 6 areas of opportunity, get them to rank what is most important to them. Ask them, “If, as an organization, we could address/improve 3 things, what should they be?”
  • Rule #6:
    • Involve your employees in the creation of the specific action plans and communicate progress (frequently) on the action plan. Operational leaders need to own the execution of the strategies. Make sure you tell your staff what you can’t do/improve at the moment – could be due to budget, timing, etc. Your employees will appreciate your candor.
  • Rule #7:
    • No “check in the box’s” allowed. Meaning, you don’t just create a couple of action items, half-heartedly address a few symptoms and then move on with operational life. You have to get at the root cause issues, create a tangible plan and then continue to monitor it. Surveys and action plans need to be fluid and ongoing – not a singular moment in time.

These seven simple rules should help guide you, organizationally, through the survey process. The key is to make them part of your business plans with a strategic focus on retaining your talent. If your goal(s) is anything else, you are wasting your time and that of your employees. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

All I want is a simple Thank You!

Deep down, most of as human beings, appreciate a sincere thank you. A thank you for the work that we do, the effort we put forward and the results that we have achieved. Yes, it takes more than just that to ultimately engage and retain staff, but a simple thank you is at the heart of any type of employee recognition. If your managers do not understand that this is an important part of their job, you need to get them gripped in ASAP on this.

Thank You SignBased on my time in HR, and after having gone through many employee surveys, focus groups and action plans, I can honestly say that I have seen that employee recognition is at the heart of many engagement challenges. Specifically, most things seem to come back to informal recognition (or lack thereof) that staff receive from their manager.

Regardless of age/generation, role, salary, etc., the majority of employees I have spoken with and have encountered during my career all say pretty much the same thing – that is, “It would be nice to get a thank you every now and then.” Here is the irony: it costs NOTHING to provide that thank you! Funny thing, companies spends thousands on recognition programs and service rewards each year, yet miss the boat on the most fundamental part of recognition which is the 1:1 touchpoint from a manager to an employee, where they simply thank them for their hard work/effort/result.

You have to think of the thank you as building the foundation of your house. Everything else is irrelevant and of no value if you don’t have a solid foundation. I coach and encourage managers to make “thank you’s” a part of their daily management routine. Get out and about and walk around. Look for areas and ways to recognize and say thanks. You will be surprised at how many of these opportunities present themselves in the run of a day when you are actually “looking.” Again, you need to keep the criteria very loose. Anything that falls into the categories of extra effort, results, overall performance, organizational/departmental/individual impact should “qualify” for a thank you.

The challenge here is to change the mindset of your managers. I have personally dealt with many managers whose typically response is, “I don’t thank my employees for just doing their job, that is what they are paid for.” The response to this is simple – yes, you do (need to) thank them for doing their job…that is YOUR job! These little moments of positive reinforce serve to build trust and establish an effective culture. Employees want to know that their manager notices what they are doing. So, as a manager, you looking for those moments of recognition because it is part of your job, therefore, it is incumbent on you as a LEADER to establish this type of culture and provide those moments of thanks to your staff. Get out of your office/cube, talk to your people, observe their work and engage with them. You will be surprised at what is actually going on with your people and just how much is worthy of your time, attention and recognition.

It drives me nuts when a manager sets some artificially high standard that must be achieved before they “thank” their staff for doing something. I mean, what warrants a thank you? Saving a life? A multi-million dollar sale? Are you kidding me? Large scale achievements like these warrant much MORE than a thank you. The daily interactions and micro achievements are what you need to focus on, day in and day out. This is how the managerial foundation is built and this is where you will get your gains as a leader.

Bottom line, let’s all work together to get better at identifying those little moments of recognition.  Let’s make it a point to say “thank you” more. Trust me, it will fit into your budget and your staff will appreciate it. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback…..thank you.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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