How can you make everyone happy with your workplace culture? (Hint: you can’t)

Working with leaders to create high performing cultures of engagement while maintaining true to the owner’s vision for her company AND staying on the right side of ever-restrictive employment law is not without the occasional, small challenge.  If I wrote a book about my real life stories and experiences, no one would believe me. In one day alone, for example, I was coaching an HR Director about some challenges she’s having with her employer – a company owner who insists upon interjecting in every employee relations issues and in using workplace gossip as his primary source of information – and wanting to act on it (for example…John J, who I really like, told me that Edgar E is a bad employee. So let’s fire Edgar E!) That same day, I stepped into a mini-minefield after participating in an online discussion forum about bible study at work. It brought home for me just how very complex the ‘culture’ question is when it comes to employment. Besides just HR legalities, discrimination and all that there are also a host of factors inherent in a positive or less positive company culture that make it a very difficult field to navigate.

A lot of times, company owners feel frustrated and resentful that they can’t just run their company the way they want and the way that makes sense for them. Some comments I’ve heard along these lines are:

·       I’m a private company, why can’t I have bible study if I want to?

·       I need someone to work a very physical job. If they come in limping, or appear to be too old to do the job, why can’t I ask them about it?

·       I would much rather hire friends and family than strangers. I know I can trust them.

·       I don’t want to create job descriptions, because things change too fast and I don’t want people telling me that’s not their job description.

·       Why don’t my managers care about all the wasted time and money these mistakes are costing me?

·       I think a dog friendly environment is awesome and I want everyone to bring their pet to work.

These may seem like different concerns but at the heart of it is the same issue. The business owner has a vision and a dream for their company. Not everyone’s vision and dream is the same, but everyone who starts a business has a picture in their head of what it’s going to be like. I have never met a company owner or leader who consciously had malicious intent (well, maybe one but that’s another story). Everything they do is either for a good reason, or is the result of an oversight. Unfortunately, a lot of times what starts out as a great idea can go awry. Some organizations that had the very best of intentions have elicited employee comments like these:

·       After I told the COO that my religion was (insert different religion than COO’s) I noticed I stopped getting invited to events with all the other managers, and soon after that I was laid off.

·       I don’t go to the company bible study, and one time someone left a note on my desk telling me I should start attending. I feel like I’m getting singled out.

·       My supervisor is my boss’s cousin. He’s very rude to me, but there’s no point complaining because he’s already told everyone he’s got a ‘job for life’.

·       I have no idea what my job here is. My duties have nothing to do with my title, and I haven’t had a review in 2 years. I just do what I’m told every day and figure that no news is good news.

·       I’m allergic to dogs and I think it’s disgusting to go into the break room and find animal hair on the floor.

Hearing the disparate comments from managers and employees is far more the norm than the exception!  In response to what is sometimes horrific discrimination and unfair treatment, legislators have enacted workplace laws that sometimes feel chafing or even devoid of common sense at times. It sometimes seems impossible that workplaces can have personalities anymore. So what can be done?

Obviously, the fix is more complicated than a paragraph in an article. If you own a company, a great starting point is to make sure you are completed connected with your vision. Sometimes we can get hung up on the how’s and forget the why’s. Do you really want a dog-friendly environment to be the hill to die on, for example? Or is allowing pets at work HOW you get to something bigger? By thinking of the WHY, you are more likely to come up with a solution for the talented, creative, non-dog-lovers on your team. Remember that no matter how passionate they are about something, a good leader will take care not to create an environment that excludes people for anything other than lack of performance (because the management consultant in me is happy to inform you that as of today, you can still fire people for doing a terrible job). And not to enflame an already touchy situation, but if the result of your bible study is that people feel judged and hurt you just may be missing the why. Just maybe.

Company owners may argue that in this day and age, everyone is always getting their feelings hurt, and it’s impossible to please everyone. I suppose, but I have found that most people, on an individual basis, are pretty reasonable and just want to feel included, accepted and that they are able to contribute to the best of their ability and be recognized for that. Surely there is room in your vision for that! And, as an extra bonus, you will reap unbelievable benefits in performance and loyalty once you’ve made that intentional.



From the Recruiting Desk – Tips for your job search

Part of the services Limitless HR Solutions offers is recruiting, so part of my job is matching job searchers to people who are hiring.   From a recruiting standpoint, there are really three things to take into consideration: Does the skill set of the candidate match with what the company needs; is the culture a ‘fit’ for the candidate, and lastly, does the candidate demonstrate social/emotional intelligence?  Much of the time, it’s like gold mining, and sometimes it’s like gold mining in reverse.  

As a Certified Professional Resume Writer, I am well aware that a resume is a marketing tool and sometimes it’s not an entirely accurate one.  Behavioral interviewing is my best tool for determining whether someone has actually done what their resume claims.  For example, the resume might say ‘Managed customer accounts worth $250 million’.  Behavioral interview questions will address what specific things they did when they say ‘managed accounts’ and you may find out they did exactly what you need them to do in this role or (reverse gold mining) by ‘managed’ they mean ‘took orders when established clients called them in’.  

So tip number one for job searchers:  You will greatly increase your chance of an interview if your resume makes it easy for me to determine the things you did and the results you got.  I’m sure I’m not the only recruiter who is also a resume writer so please do not ‘fluff’ up your resume to make it sound more impressive.  We can tell.  And do you really want to land a job that is way above your experience level?  

Recruiting for cultural fit is as important as skill (see previous article).  This is relatively easy to get a sense for; and especially when both sides are honest.  I firmly believe that in any relationship-dating or working, there is a lid for every pot.  If not having established policies for things gives you a rash, please don’t say you thrive in chaos.  

Tip number two for job searchers:  If you haven’t done so, please take some time to figure out what you’d really like to be doing.  If you’re feeling desperate to land a job, this may seem like a luxury you can’t afford but trust me.  You’ll stand a much better chance of getting by the me’s of the recruiting world if we sense this is a good fit and not that you’re saying whatever you have to because you’re worried you’ll never, ever get a paycheck again.

The last thing is emotional or social intelligence.  I’m not sure if this can be learned or not.  After some of the candidates I’ve spoken to I’ve wondered if they are playing an elaborate joke on me.  Why would someone go to the trouble of applying for a job they clearly don’t want?  

Tip number three for job searchers:  Unless a recruiter calls you out of the blue, you will be aware that you have an interview.  If you don’t at least do a cursory google search of the company you are interviewing with as well as a review of the job description…of the job you have applied for…you will NOT endear yourself to the gatekeeper…ERRRR recruiter.  

Tip number four for job searchers:  It’s a good idea to be pleasant to the recruiter.  If you berate them for information, or demand a higher salary before the interview has started, or complain about the job description, we will think you are a jerk and will not recommend you for hire.  It saddens me that this cannot remain and unstated rule, but alas, it cannot.

Happy Hunting!


The “We Value People” Series Part 3: Communication

We’ve been talking about what it means when an organization says ‘We value our people” (and they almost all say this).  We’ve discussed why it means different things to employers and employees and how to recruit for culture versus just skills.  Another thing I have found in every organization I’ve worked with or in is that they have identified ‘communication’ as an issue.  Because this is so endemic, I thought it useful to unpack this.
When ‘Communication’ is identified as an issue, it is because a pain point is being triggered.  Employers and employees have different pain point around the topic of communication, but the pain points usually center around:

Delivery:  The person communicating is perceived as rude, abrasive or untrustworthy
Frequency: The communication doesn’t happen often enough, so people feel uninformed
Promptness:  It is taking too long to receive a response to your request for communication
Content: There is not clarity about instructions, roles, responsibilities or expectations

Everyone has different thresholds about what is acceptable in terms of delivery, frequency, promptness and content.  If your needs are being met, you think there is good communication.  If your needs are not being met, you will not.  It is not possible to satisfy everyone based on this.  The answer is not simply to push more ‘information’ throughout the company.   So what is the answer?  

Again, it lies in expectations.  Unmet expectations always result in frustration, so it is critical for leadership to develop a communication protocol.  Decide for your organization what your protocol will be for the four factors.  Be realistic but optimistic when developing this.  Hopefully, your goal is to create as pleasant and functional a culture as possible, so you want to make sure you are creating standards that will result in efficiency and positivity.  On the other hand, you also want to be practical and create something that will work based on you as well as the industry you are in.  

Let’s take an example.  You have identified that delivery is an issue.  You are in a fast paced environment where attention to detail is paramount and it has been communicated that employees find some leaders ‘abrasive’.  You do not want rude or abrasive communication from your leaders, but you also know that you are not going to get particularly ‘warm and fuzzy’ on a regular basis.  You can set an expectation that communication will be direct and succinct, and also work with leaders on adding more warmth.   

Go through each factor and develop your communication strategy, then COMMUNICATE IT.  

Your communication strategy needs to be communicated to new and existing employees often.  And it goes without saying that leaders in the organization must model this, adhere to it and live it.  What will happen is that you will define your culture through this process.  This does not mean you will retain every employee.  Those for whom your communication philosophy is unacceptable will not stay.  That’s okay because you will attract people for whom this is the perfect environment and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.


“We value people” Series: Part I-Overview

One thing I have found to be pretty much constant in every organization I have encountered, whether as an employee, consultant or other is that they all describe their culture as one that values their people.  Every one.  Another thing I have found is that it is relatively uncommon for employees in organizations to say they feel valued.   The disconnect is puzzling.  I have worked with leaders who sincerely want their employees to feel engaged and appreciated and just don’t know why nothing works.   My theory about what causes the disconnect can be summed up in two words: Clarity and Expectations.   Part of this lies in our culture and part of it in simple human nature but I do think that if organizations are clear and intentional about what they can provide employees and what employees can expect in return, then more employees will feel fairly treated and invested in their organizations.

It seems like there always has been tension between employer and employee: 
Our European feudal roots were one of aristocracy and peasants.   If one was not born into the aristocracy, one was likely to live on a farm owned by a rich landlord.  One’s life was spent eking out a living and any excess went to the landlord.   As scientific ‘advances’ were made, it became easier to accumulate excess everywhere.  This allowed for factories, mass production and industrial revolution.  Now, it was possible for an individual to hire many employees and for people to make a living working for someone else.  

Over the last few hundred years we have seen such extremes as owners brutalizing, endangering and even cheating employees and employee groups refusing to work unless owners provided benefits and wages they could not sustain.  Around the middle of the twentieth century a sort of détente was realized.  Organizations acknowledged they could not be successful without the willing participation of employees (aided perhaps by the rise of communism and a genuine fear of what could happen if laborers were pushed too far) and employees began to realize the power they had, as well as the choices that were available.   

In an effort to retain the best of the best, and aided by a booming post war economy, organizations began to offer things like job security, pensions and entitlements.  This seems to have ‘stuck’ in the collective consciousness of our society, despite the facts that the world is very different.  With several economic crashes in the last twenty years and more looming, more people than ever have experienced the dooming sensation of being let go from a job they thought would sustain their family until retirement.  We’ve seen corporations intentionally steal people’s pensions and we’ve seen lives and health endangered to increase bottom lines.  People don’t trust big corporations anymore and we have seen an upsurge in entrepreneurs like never before in response. 

Today, we say we know that job security doesn’t exist and that our employer is not expected to provide for our every need.  But do people really believe it?  What do we really expect from our employers and what does it mean to feel ‘valued’?  We’ve all seen the surveys that support the idea that what workers really want is to be appreciated and empowered and that pay is not really the issues.  We’ve also all been exposed to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and understand that if one is not earning enough to acquire basic food and shelter, that one will not be happy.   

When organizations say they value people, they usually mean that they acknowledge that without people, the basic functions of the organization could not be accomplished and that therefore the organization wants competent people to agree to work there and contribute.  Some company owners generally want people to be happy as well, but if they honestly had to choose between a productive worker and a happy one, they would choose productive.  So they walk a line and try to figure out ways to make workers be productive AND happy.

When employees say they want to be valued, they don’t usually mean they want to come work for an organization and contribute their very best to the bottom line.  They usually mean they want to be liked, appreciated, well compensated, afforded flexibility and essentially treated as friends or family members and not just numbers.  

There is a gigantic potential for unmet expectations here.  There is the unrealistic expectation on the part of the organization that people’s humanity can be ignored, and the unrealistic expectation on the part of the employee that the organization is the one responsible for their emotion and financial wellbeing for life.  An organization that is clear from the outset of what it can and will provide employees by way of emotional support, financial compensation, opportunities for creative and independent thought will go a long way to attract and retain the types of employees whose needs mirror what the organization can offer.  Promising what everyone wants to hear and not delivering is THE biggest contributor to dissatisfaction. 

There are some clearly established milestones in the employee lifecycle:  Recruitment, Onboarding, Employment, Termination and each one is a significant opportunity to ensure the right people are in the right organization and are engaged, effective and ambassadors for the organization.  Companies, either intentionally or unintentionally, invest a great deal of resources in each stage; sometimes more with a bad hiring decision than with a good.  

In the next installment, we’ll review what can be done from a recruiting standpoint to ensure realistic expectations and effective matches.