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The Art of the Skip Level – Redux

The #1 most read post on The Armchair HR Manager is “The Art of the Skip Level” from July 2014. It has had over 10,000 views on my website along with almost 18,000 views on LinkedIn. For little old me, those are some pretty good numbers!

Skipping Businessman

The best part about the post is the amount of comments, interaction and engagement I have had with my readers. I truly enjoyed the exchange of questions and ideas. To that extent, I have had so many questions and comments that I figured a follow up post on the subject matter would be appropriate. So, what I am providing now are some other key points to consider before and after you conduct a skip level meeting:

  1. How do I get the manager who is being “skipped” onside with this? Conversation is critical here. It is important to set the proper tone and let the manager know in advance how information that is gleaned from the skip level will be shared (with them) and actioned (when/where appropriate.) Involve the manager in the process because if you alienate them, the trust will be eroded. This part is really tough – I am not going to lie! Be upfront with them about the “why’s” in terms of why you are doing the skip level. You need to talk to them well in advance of conducting the skip level meeting. Often you can position the skip levels with a continuous improvement and/or employee engagement approach in mind. As well, you need to let the manager know that the skip levels are NOT going to be performance impacting. They are to be used as information gathering that will help you as their manager do a better job of coaching, developing and supporting them.
  2. To share or not to share, that is the question: My readership has often asked me if they should share the questions in advance that they are going to ask at a skip level. There are several things to consider with this question, beginning with, should you share with the employees and should you share with the manager who is being “skipped.” First and foremost, if you do in fact have a planned series of questions you want to ask (always a good idea) you need to share these with the manager being skipped. This will help alleviate a lot of the stress and anxiety they will likely be feeling, especially the first time you conduct a skip level. As well, it will help build trust with them as they will clearly see that there is nothing being “hidden.” The next consideration is whether or not you should share in advance with the employees that will be attending. The answer, as with all things HR, is that “it depends.” If the questions are going to be time consuming to read/understand, then yes, give them time in advance to read and contemplate. If you want the session to be fairly formal, and typically larger groups need more structure and formality in order to keep on track, then you should share the questions in advance. However, if your group is smaller and will lend itself to be more conversational in nature, there really isn’t a need to share the questions in advance. What is most important is that you focus on the “pulse” of things and let the conversation be a bit fluid; remember, it is all about creating dialogue.
  3. What is the most important thing to consider with regards to the employees AFTER the skip level is done? The single most important consideration with the employees is that you need to follow up with them, in relatively short order, with regards to what you are going to do in response to the information you received during the skip level and/or follow up with what you are going to do differently as a result of the skip level. You can’t commit to responding to everything, but you have to follow up with something, otherwise they will feel they wasted their time talking to you. It could even be as simple as committing to providing the generalized feedback to the manager within 1 week of the skip level being completed and letting employees know you will use the information to work with the manager to help improve BLANK at the workplace. Get some quick, easy wins out of things first. This builds credibility.
  4. What is the most important thing to consider with regards to the manager being skipped after the skip level is done? With regards to the manager, you need to follow up with them re. how the meeting went. If you picked up on some general themes (positive or negative) you need to have a discussion with them soonest. You have to remember, all that your manager is going to be doing, until they hear from you about the meeting, is THINKING about what might have been said at the meeting. They will want to know what was said, discussed, committed to, etc. You owe it to the manager to NOT leave them hanging.
  5. How do I avoid having done a skip level meeting not look like a “witch hunt”? The easiest and most effective way to avoid this scenario is to make conducting skip levels a regular event. If you only do them when something appears to be wrong (i.e. complaint driven, bad employee survey, etc.) then the manager being skipped will always feel like you are out to get them and won’t trust the process. However, if you do them on a regular basis (and regular can be the last Friday of every 4th month), then employees and your manager(s) will come to expect them as part of your regular feedback and improvement process. In other words, it will just be part of a regular day at the office.

Armed with this information, along with the information from the original post, you should be in great shape, pre and post skip level meeting, to utilize skip levels as a communication and improvement tool . Be open, honest and candid with your manager(s) and their employees. If you aren’t, no one will trust you or the process. If they don’t trust, you are wasting your time. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of ambro/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

Don’t make the group pay for individual sins

One of the biggest short comings of ineffective managers is taking performance or conduct issues that they have with one or two individuals and making them a group or team issue. You know what I am talking about – a manager has a team of 10, of which 1 or 2 seem to have a problem coming to work on time. The next thing you know, there are memos and emails being issued about the need to arrive to work on time and it then becomes an agenda item in team meetings. Everyone is regularly lectured and threatened about the need for punctuality. The end result is that for the eight people that this doesn’t apply to, they become frustrated, resentful and angry about hearing this message (when everyone knows who it applies to) and the for the two people it does apply to – well, it goes right over their head.

SinThis is a common issue in many workplaces and with many managers. If individuals aren’t meeting their performance targets or goals, you have to have this coaching conversation with them 1:1. Making individual problems into group issues causes resentment, creates division and results in alienation of staff members. For the manager, it will cause them to lose the respect of their team, erodes trust and breaks down communication. Ultimately, people don’t feel appreciated and then they start to look at all the other areas in the workplace that irritate them and find ways to voice/express their displeasure. People who previously weren’t unhappy at work now become dissatisfied. This basically results in the proverbial Pandora’s Box being opened.

Case in point, a personal friend of mine recently relayed a story to me that supports this (information). She has been with her company for over 3 years now and for the most part is pretty happy, motivated and generally engaged in her job (which is a sales job). However, over the past two quarters, her local office has been under tremendous organizational pressure to meet sales targets for which they have been falling short. Primarily this has been due to turnover and the new(er) staff is just not experienced enough to make up the sales shortfall (and in some cases, are already disengaged themselves). Regardless, the problem exists and the Sales Manager (my friend’s boss) is feeling the heat. So, what does he do? As part of his regular staff meetings, he openly throws down to the group about how they are not meeting their targets, how they need to do more and for each week they are not meeting targets, everyone needs to come in on weekends to try and sell more so that the targets can be met. Pretty bad huh?

Of course my friend, along with over half the team who are meeting/exceeding their targets, is pretty P.O.’d about this message and treatment. She felt she was treated with disrespect and is now being “punished” along with everyone else, regardless of what her performance has been like. The second mistake the manager made was to have the top performer in the group get up and basically lecture the rest of the team on how she meets her targets and how if they did what she did, they would meet them too. This employee went on, without the manager stopping her, to lecture about how as a team there was no reason they couldn’t meet their targets and they all need to step up, blah blah blah. The manager concluded the meeting by basically telling the team, “You all need to copy/model what ‘Janie’ does so that you can all deliver higher sales volume.

Just when you think this story couldn’t get any worse it does and I will now show you the danger of making the group pay for individual sins. Unbeknownst to the manager, this “top” performer was actually manipulating the sales recording system to make herself look better. Yes, she is a great salesperson, but she found a way to record/bundle sales activity to make her hours sold look better than everyone else’s. Her peer group all knew it because she wasn’t very discreet about it and, up until this point, no one wanted to “rat out” a member of the team. The problem now is that because everyone was scolded and embarrassed and held up to false comparison, people came out swinging. The resulting fall out hasn’t been pretty. “Janie’s” methods have now been brought to the manager’s attention who now needs to figure out:

  1. How he is going to deal with this issue before it gets escalated above his position
  2. How he can repair the damage done to the team’s morale and his own credibility after he basically told the team they needed to model the behaviour of a cheater!

So you can now see the danger, as a manager, in making the entire team pay for the individual’s sins. Performance and conduct issues should be dealt with in private, 1:1, between manager and employee. You go to the group to solicit their help in solving a problem that is affecting everyone. Ask the group for solutions, input or support in something…don’t scold or lecture the group. If you do, the end result will never be what you are looking for. If in doubt, read this post again about what can happen if you take the wrong approach to the group! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of April/Flickr.com

Recruiters: Can you answer THIS question?

As part of one of the ongoing themes of The Armchair HR Manager, I like to blog frequently about recruiting and all things talent acquisition. My writing, while often focused on Recruiters and HR Professionals, also tends to have messaging focused on job seekers as well. You see, I firmly believe that in order for the job seeker/recruiter relationship to work well, both parties need to be on a level playing field. That is, both parties are as transparent as possible with each other, as this helps promote candidate credibility and recruiter/organizational branding.

Recruiter QuestionIn order for recruiters to establish credibility as trust agents (credit to Chris Brogan for this term) of their organizations (whether they are in-house or third party recruiters) they need to first build trust with job candidates. A major step in doing this is to properly understand the position you are trying to fill. You don’t have to be a technical expert on the role but you do need to understand what it is you are recruiting for (so you can convey and evaluate) so you can explain to candidates what the expected performance outcomes are for the position, how success will be measured and how the role fits within the organizational structure. This knowledge will also help you to close, but more on that later.

Savvy job seekers will ask these types of questions in interviews (above), so recruiters, you better be prepared with the answers! With all of the focus on “passive” candidates these days (although I am not convinced that passives are the Holy Grail for recruiters) and the much improved job market, many recruiters are finding the scales tipping a bit in terms of the balance of power. That is, many job seekers are more informed, more patient and more selective than they ever have been. So recruiters really need to up their game to compete and land the best candidates.

For me, there is one very important question that recruiters must be able to answer in order to keep a top candidate engaged in their recruiting campaign. As mentioned before, the savvy job seeker will ask this key question EVERY time they interview and HOW the recruiter answers it will influence the candidate’s continued interest and involvement with the position for which they are being interviewed for.

The question is pretty straight forward: “Why should I come and work for your company/client? “ In essence, this where the recruiter demonstrates that they have been listening to the candidate so as to determine what is causing them to look for other employment, what their motivators are for making a change and what their job acceptance factors are. If they have truly been actively listening, the recruiter, vis-à-vis answering this question, can now sell/close the candidate on the job opportunity.

Let’s be clear, the “answer” to this question is not things like:

  • Free parking, free coffee, etc.
  • Great location
  • Great/fun co-workers
  • Vacation policy
  • Flexible Hours
  • Social events/social committee
  • “Good” pay and benefits

I think you get the point. Those are all “nice” things that can help define your culture, but for many candidates they are just perks. What the candidate wants to know, and what the recruiter needs to show, is that there is a potential match here for things like:

  • Ability to greater utilize their skills (which are perhaps very underutilized where they are now)
  • Opportunity to work on projects that provide them with a greater/different scope (i.e. as Project Manager)
  • Enhanced opportunities for professional development which may also include the opportunity to obtain a designation (PMP, P.Eng, CHRP, SPHR, CPA, etc.)
  • Opportunity to be mentored by a more senior professional
  • Greater alignment between their personal demands and work life
  • Greater career path for them – whether horizontally or vertically

There are many more “good” answers to this question, but you can clearly see the difference between rhyming off a bunch of work perks to a candidate vs. providing a deeper response(s) that align(s) with their professional goals. At the end of the day, that is what good recruiters can do – align the brand, culture and selling features of the organization with the candidates professional goals. So as recruiters, next job opening you are trying to fill, make sure you can answer that very important question. If you can’t, you have some homework to do. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Talent Attraction – It’s spelled like this:

Chris Lavoie is the creative and executive producer at Lavoie Entertainment. He is currently in the middle of filming and/or completing multiple recruiting related (film) projects that are well worth checking out:

Chris really creates a high end product and provides a lot of interesting perspectives from many industry experts on the subjects on which he films. I have previously blogged about the Top Recruiter series and what my impressions were of that particular production. Currently, Chris is wrapping production on the Art of Recruiting Docufilm and will be filming and producing the Talent Attraction Docufilm in March.

TrustHis Docufilm titles got me thinking though, as I personally deal with the “art of recruiting” and talent attraction on a daily basis in my job, as do many of my fellow HR colleagues. When discussing these subjects recently with some friends in the business, we got into a quite a discussion about talent attraction and what truly makes companies and individuals great in the recruiting business. For me, it isn’t about someone’s natural ability to source, write compelling advertising, leverage social media or pitch/close on an opportunity. It really is about one’s ability to build trust.

Having worked both the agency and in house side of things, I have seen my fair share of recruiters and people responsible for the talent attraction function come and go with varying degrees of success. Many of them were quite strong in one or more of the areas that I mentioned above; however, the very best in the business were those that were able to build trust with candidates and clients and I have always endeavoured to model my behaviour and approach after them.

In my humble opinion, in the talent attraction game, the only currency you truly have is your ability to build trust. Most of us aren’t recruiting for Google or Apple. We are trying to hire for our everyday organizations of which most people may never have even heard of (in terms of company name) or have no idea what type of product or service we provide! So, while we may not have the brand recognition of a Google, the recruiting budget of Apple or the technology of a Glassdoor, we all have the potential currency of trust at our disposal.

You see, candidates are drawn to organizations, and by extension their recruiters, that they trust. They want to work with and for people that they trust. Keep in mind, the entire candidate process ,which involves sending in a resume, having an interview(s), undergoing employment testing, discussing salary and having references verified is very personal in its inherent nature. Let me say that again – the candidate experience is a very personal one. There are intimate details that are being shared between candidate and recruiter and candidates need to be able to trust you, the recruiter, (with this information). They want to know that their job search is being kept confidential. They want to trust that you are being straight with them about organizational culture, benefits, expectations etc. They want to hear from you when you say you will call them back. They want the straight goods on how their interviews have gone and where things stand with their application.

Here’s the thing, while building trust takes time, it doesn’t have to be inherently difficult. Maintain confidentiality (of information, of the candidate’s personal info, etc.) whenever possible. Keep your commitments, follow up, don’t lie, don’t embellish, and don’t put lipstick on a pig. Be straight up with your candidates and your hiring managers – that is how you build trust. I have never regretted how I handled a recruiting campaign (whether successful or not) when I was straight up with all of my stakeholders. Ultimately, we are all looking for the Win-Win (or Win-Win-Win for agency recruiters).

Be upfront with your candidates about your objectives, approach and what they can expect. Keep your word and follow through when you say you will. It has been my experience that many recruiters, in fact, don’t do this. If you want to get ahead in the talent attraction game, than build up your trust bank with lots of currency. Oh yeah, and check out Chris’s projects – you will be glad you did. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Show them The Authenticity!

One of my favourite topics to write about is leadership. If you search my blog you will find at least a third of my posts link back to the theme of leadership. Heck, if you Google “leadership,” you will get over 489 MILLION hits. So to say that leadership is a relevant topic would be an understatement!

AuthenticDepending on who you listen to, or what you read, there are many elements that go into defining good leadership. Truth be told, at times, it does seem like the whole reality of “good leadership” is a bit of a holy grail search as it seems far too many of us are always on the lookout for good leadership but struggle to actually find it! In my experience, while there are, without argument, many things that define great leadership, I believe it all starts with authenticity. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, authenticity means “real or genuine, not copied or false.” So think about that definition for a moment and think about the leaders in your current or past organizations. Now, don’t you think that good or great leadership starts with a foundation of authenticity?

Authenticity leads to credibility, credibility leads to trust and trust leads to engagement. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are looking for from our organizational leaders? We want them to ultimately be able to provide a work environment that effectively engages (and retains) its employees. They do this by being authentic with their employees. Employees want to believe and trust in their organizational leaders, but as leaders, we have to give them reasons to trust us. Much like Rod Tidwell’s “Show me the Money!” rant from Jerry McGuire, we, as leaders, need to “Show them the authenticity!”  Show me the Money 1

So, the next logical question is, “well what can/should leaders be doing to build and establish authenticity?” In my experience with coaching organizational leaders, there are five (5) simple, but key, things leaders can do and should be doing to build their authenticity:

  1. Communicate regularly – take every opportunity available to you to talk with employees and communicate information, update them on changes and talk to them on a personal (real) level.
  2. Admit if you don’t know something – seems simple but it is a hard thing to do. Sharing small moments of vulnerability like this actually establishes your credibility as a leader.
  3. Always tell the truth – another one that seems simple (but not always followed). Keep in mind, there is no flexibility with this you. When you don’t tell the truth, you lose your credibility and thus your authenticity.
  4. Keep your word – if you say you are going to do something or deliver on something, then do it. Don’t make excuses or brush things off because you feel they are not important (to your employees.) If you do, again, you lose credibility and your authenticity.
  5. Be visible – as a leader you have to “seen” by your employees and be approachable to them. Don’t hide out in your office or in meetings all day. At some point in time you need to walk amongst the people. This also ties in with point #1. Visibility leads to communication and both lead to and build authenticity.

Here is the other thing to remember, being an authentic leader also formulates an important part of your professional brand. If you think of it in terms of being able to market yourself and present yourself externally to industry, (and internally to staff) wouldn’t YOU want to deal with a brand that is known for its authenticity and credibility? Keep that in mind as you continue to build your foundation of leadership authenticity. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Stefson/Flickr.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Trust is the new currency

Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend the HR Florida State Conference in beautiful Orlando, Florida (my home away from home). The conference was a first rate affair that was well organized and had a ton of fantastic concurrent sessions. My focus for the concurrent sessions was on those that focused on employee engagement, retention and overall organizational leadership. While many of these sessions covered a lot of the usual fare when it comes to attraction, retention and engagement – i.e. promoting your brand, providing developmental opportunities, etc. there was one prevailing theme that permeated throughout all of the sessions. That is, that the employment relationship is built (or broken) on one key element – TRUST.

Trust WordAt the end of the day, people want to work for managers and organizations that they trust. They want to know that the people that they report to can be trusted – trusted to provide feedback, trusted to be candid in performance discussions and trusted to keep their word and support the employee. In the same vein, employees need to trust the organization that they work for. That is, they need to trust that the company will be ethical and up front with its employees. They need to trust that companies will work diligently to balance employee needs with business needs to achieve the best possible outcomes. They need to trust that the senior leadership team is being up front in its communications and interactions with employees.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if you pay your staff in the top percentile, have unlimited vacation, provide free lunches, have foosball games and ping pong tables, if you don’t have trust you won’t have staff. All those previously mentioned things are simply lipstick on a pig if there is no trust. Those things may get candidates in the door and may keep them for a short period of time; however, if they ultimately don’t trust their manager or organization they certainly won’t be engaged in their work and ultimately will not be retained.

So as leaders, managers and/or as HR Pros, we should be focusing on this area first – establishing trust with our staff. If we can get good at that, we will become good at engaging and retaining our employees. Let’s make sure we keep our word, are up front with staff, communicate, explain, provide feedback and establish accountabilities. Let’s agree that our employees are not disposable ‘assets’ on a balance sheet that can be moved around and/or discarded on a whim. Let’s accept that they are truly mobile assets and we need to earn their trust so that they stay and are productive for us. If we focus on those items, than we don’t need to focus as much on the latest employee survey tools or other “programs” meant to solve engagement and retention issues.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree that trust is the new currency? How do you go about building up your trust bank account with your staff? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/Freedigitalphotos.net

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