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Business Management Training

The business owner’s guide to virtual training

If you’ve been reading my previous articles, you’ll know that I’m very cautious when recommending training to fix performance problems. Although training is a fundamental part of the performance management systems that I implement, it is not sufficient in and of itself to achieve lasting change. Knowing that, I’m always a little bit skeptical when I see webinars offering to fix any host of problems in just thirty free minutes. At the same time, as a learning and development professional, with a heart to help smaller businesses find scale-able solutions, the affordability and flexibility of webinars and online training is irresistible. So how can you make sure you’re not getting ripped off?

First, consider the different types of online training. There are a lot of variations, but let’s first consider two sub-categories: Instructor-led and self-directed. In instructor-led, the participants are typically in a teleclass or webinar with someone taking them through material. In self-led, participants have access to the course content, whether it’s video, audio, transcripts, and progresses at their own speed through the curriculum. This is contrasted to traditional training, where an instructor takes participants through theoretical and practical applications, in real time, in real life (radical, I know).

I have been both a consumer and provider of all of these and there are clear pros and cons to each that should be taken into consideration when choosing the best training for your needs. But first, it’s important to put training into the correct context, to understand what it can and cannot do for your company.

Training is always an antecedent intervention. This means that it happens before a desired behavior, in order to elicit a behavior. Training purports to achieve change by a) notifying recipients of expectations, b) providing information about how to perform desired behavior, c) provide practice in performing desired behavior, and/or d) creating a desire in recipients to perform desired behavior. These conditions all need to be met in order for behavior to change, but just doing these will not get you lasting change. After all, how many of us aren’t doing the things that need to be done because we don’t know we’re supposed to, or don’t know how and how many of aren’t doing them because we find other things more important (I’m talking about YOU, exercise!).  Knowing the purpose and limitations of training can help you make the best choice.

That being said, if it’s truly training you need, let’s start with the two extremes; traditional and self-directed.

Traditional

Biggest Pro: Live interaction is highly effective, because questions can be addressed, and a skilled trainer can evaluate learner comprehension and task acquisition.

Biggest Con: This is usually the most costly training. Not only is there usually travel involved for either the trainer or trainees, there is also the possibility of lost work time as training typically is done during work hours.

Self-Directed

Biggest Pro: This is usually the most cost-effective training, as you’re not paying for the cost of the trainer, and the training can often be done outside of work hours.

Biggest Con:  Without significant follow up, it can be tricky to ensure course completion, and skill acquisition can be difficult to attain (or quantify).

Then there are the hybrids, where I think one can find a lot of gold. We’ve all participated in webinars. Some are incredibly valuable and some less so. Instructor-led webinars, with a chance for Q&A, offer the best of both worlds. The more opportunity for participant interaction, the more valuable the webinar will be received.

Finding the right type of training is like finding the right solution for any need. I would recommend doing your research and asking lots of questions. If you ever feel pressured to buy, are not encouraged to ask questions, are told customization isn’t an option, or the provider makes unrealistic promises, this is probably not for you. Wherever possible, try to seek out solutions that include the other requirements for performance change: feedback and ongoing reinforcement.

For example, I specifically work with small and medium-sized, growing businesses, mostly outside the tech space. I use a combination of traditional training and instructor-led virtual training because it allows me to overcome  geographical challenges and also keep costs reasonable. I also highly customize my training for my clients. When it comes to my OBM training (which is an 8-week course) I add a second Q&A or practical application session for my clients to ensure they’re able to apply the concepts correctly in their organizations.

Training is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. This is good and bad for small business owners. The good is there is a solution out there for you. The bad is the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals, or help. Good luck with taking this important measure to improve performance and productivity.

If you’re a leader who wants to learn more about various training solutions, click here!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, come hang out with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and please share the love.

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Categories
Business Management coaching New Managers Training

The skinny on executive coaching – is this really helpful for smaller businesses?

The discipline of coaching has been around for a while, but there are still some misconceptions. Many people think of therapy sessions, complete with couch, bespectacled observer, and a notepad. Others may imagine a hyper-positive cheerleader, chanting that you’re good enough and people like you. Either way, with all the daily fires that are part of owning and managing a growing enterprise, many business owners view coaching as overly indulgent at best, and a waste of money at worst.  On the contrary, coaching is a very powerful tool in developing managers that larger companies have been utilizing for quite some time. Is coaching valuable enough to invest in when you’re in those lean, chaotic growing years?

To answer that, it’s helpful to understand the purpose and process of coaching. Coaching can be done individually or in a group, with most executive coaching being individual. Unlike therapy, where there is an assumption that some sort of dysfunction exists that needs to be resolved, in coaching the assumption is that the client is already functioning well and is using coaching to get to another level. Coaching is also unlike training or consulting, where the consultant is retained as an expert in a particular field, providing answers that the client does not have.

Coaching is unique from all other disciplines in that while the coach may, and usually does, possess expertise in certain areas, their role is not usually to provide these answers to the client, but rather to help the client arrive at their own answers. In a typical coaching session, a coach will hear the client’s issue and ask questions designed to help the client reframe their perspective, or understand the issue in a different way. There is almost always an ‘Aha moment’, when a client is able to view the situation differently and reach a solution they hadn’t considered before, which is very empowering.

The value of coaching is in how extremely powerful it is in helping clients get to a place of strength and confidence in dealing with various aspects of their lives. Oftentimes new and even seasoned leaders feel stuck; whether it’s because they are struggling giving or receiving feedback, unfulfilled in their role, or unsure of how to handle a particular challenge. Senior leaders, in contrast, can be uncomfortable sharing their uncertainties, sometimes rightfully so, because of the unsettling effect it might have on their employees.

Practically speaking, a leader or business owner benefits from coaching in these ways: They receive a sounding board to discuss issues, problems, or new ideas. They work through frustrations or conflicts they are experiencing in their roles. They learn to identify their areas of strength and weakness, and explore ways to capitalize on those strengths for maximum effectiveness. In addition, business and leadership coaching can often be combined in some form with training or consulting in order to provide more guided development.  The one-on-one interactional format ensures rapid advancement, far greater than classroom or virtual learning.

To wrap it all up, the impact coaching can have on one’s effectiveness in the areas of leadership, communication, problem-solving, strategic planning, conflict resolution and other areas is so great compared to the cost of the investment that it’s one of those things to put at the top of the list when budgeting for training and development.

If you’re interested in coaching and want to learn more, or take advantage of a complimentary coaching session, click here.

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Business Management Leadership Development Training Uncategorized

What kind of leadership training does a small or growing business really need?

If you’re a small or mid-sized growing business, what do you think of when you hear the term leadership training? If you’re like many people, it’s akin to getting your car serviced. You don’t want the problems that not having it will cause, but you don’t have any symptoms now and you really don’t have the time, resources, or patience to deal with it right now. There’s time later for all that, right? To add to the confusion is the fact that so many leadership programs that are offered are frankly overkill for smaller business, and can be very expensive and/or offering large company, cookie-cutter solutions that are awkward or less than relevant to smaller players. The temptation can be to put this aside until you’re bigger.

Resist! The fact is that there is no better time than now to start working on your leadership program. It may seem hard to believe, but as you grow it’s only going to get more difficult to be proactive than it is now. Time and again I’ve seen business make less than productive hiring and promotion decision out of necessity, not planning, and quickly regret it. The trick to being strategic about your leadership training is NOT to start with the training.

What? Yes, you heard me right. Before you begin training your leaders or managers, you need to decide what your end goal is. This is where your vision of the kind of company you want to be is so important. This will be foundational to the kind of training you provide, the types of people you select to be leaders, and the expectations you have of them. The truth is that no matter what the brochures tell you, there is no one size fits all. For you to truly get your money’s worth out of your leadership training you need to be very clear on the environment you’re cultivating.

Think culture’s not important? Think again! The leader who excels at Amazon is going to be very different from the one at Google. They’ll espouse different values, use different tools, and have vastly different management strategies. Selection strategy is very different, as is training. Your company is no different. It’s so easy to buy an off the shelf communication, conflict resolution or management skills training program, but is that really what you need?

If you’re like most growing companies who have not formalized your management or leadership structure yet, your needs are a mix of tactical and strategic. It’s likely that many of your managers need help with things on a range of topics that include interviewing, performance coaching, understanding P&Ls, communication, casting a vision, and creating employee development plans. It’s usually difficult to find an inclusive program that has all of these, and the off the shelf are typically a little too generic to really work for smaller businesses.

Fortunately, this is one of those areas I’ve written about previously, where an outsourced solution might be a perfect fit. In addition to my own business, I’ve networked with some exceptional leadership experts, executive coaches, cultural alignment specialists and others who offer customizable, flexible, and best of all cost effective programs for smaller businesses. It can be confusing or overwhelming but it definitely doesn’t have to be! With so many options, it’s simply a matter of finding someone with whom you resonate, and feel you can trust. After that, the magic happens!

If you’re interested in diving deeper into where your business might most benefit from some consultative strategic and tactical solutions, take our free business success factors assessment.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

Categories
Business Management Organizational Behavior Management

Getting down and dirty with Performance Management

Fellow writers may appreciate the incredible amount of angst involved in trying to write about this highly technical subject in a way that conveys how exciting and powerful it really is without boring the stuffing out of all the non-geeks. Performance management, simply put, is the single greatest tool I can think of to drive tangible, measurable performance improvement in your company that results in more revenue and more profit. All the time. Every time. The problem is that it’s not particularly sexy, or magical. It’s just the thorough application of six behavioral science-based interventions. I write about it because it’s my passion to share this with small and medium sized businesses, to give them a strategic advantage in the marketplace. But it’s a constant internal geek/entertainer struggle, and the struggle is real!

In my last article we talked about targeting and about purpose. The geek in me loves targeting, because that’s where we get to dissect your company down to the gnat’s behind and figure out exactly which behaviors will drive your success. The coach in me sees the value, but would much rather talk about purpose. The purpose of your company is your ‘why’, and will keep you excited about it even after that strange letdown that occurs when goals are achieved. And they will be achieved.

The great thing about this performance management system is that it always works. The bad thing is that it works even if you’re ‘managing’ the wrong thing. The very first step, identifying your critical behaviors, is done by working through, together, the processes and workflow of your company until we’re all confident we’ve hit on the critical behaviors.

One of my business mentors always said that if 51% percent of your decisions are good ones, then you’re doing well. So there is at least the possibility that the behaviors or accomplishments in the targeting phase are not the ones that actually drive your success. Hold on to this scary thought, because it’s coming up later (and don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think, just something to be aware of).

The next steps are task clarification and tracking. In laymen’s terms, that means explaining to your employees what, why and how to do the tasks you’ve targeted, and then figuring out a way to measure those tasks to make sure they’re occurring.

So to recap the process; you figure out what the most important behaviors are, you explain all this to your employees, and then you start measuring these behaviors. In a perfect world, we’d collect baseline data and do a whole ABA thing (which I’ll explain if you’re interested…just email me). I’ve rarely seen this happen in organizations for two reasons. First, once companies see improvements, they’re reluctant to do something out of scientific interest to see if the improvements go away! Second, some of the interventions just can’t be taken away. You can’t take away the information employees receive in the task clarification.

Task clarification and tracking WILL increase the behaviors you’ve targeted. But what if we picked the wrong behaviors to measure? For example, perhaps we want to even out a revenue stream that is too unpredictable. Maybe during targeting we identify that they problem is the customers we’re going after, and decide we need to pursue clients in Industry X to avoid the fluctuations. We go through the sales process and decide to track initial meetings with clients in the new demographic.

After explaining this, and tracking the meetings (and conducting random, unpredictable cross checks to ensure the meetings are actually taking place), after about six weeks we see a definite increase in these initial meetings. It’s working! Depending on the length of the sales cycle, we find out that we’re proposing and closing more of these clients. Great! But is the revenue really evening out? That’s why you’re doing this, after all. If you are seeing results, fantastic! Mission accomplished and now let’s make sure your operations team is doing all the right things to keep up with your sales demands.

On the other hand, if you’re getting significant improvement across the board in calls, closed sales and revenue in industry X but it’s just as cyclical as before, we might need to dive back in and see if we can even out the revenue, or if it would take you too far away from your core competence and you are better served figuring out how to manage to the fluctuations. In any event, measure the calls, measure the closed sales, AND measure the outcomes. That will allow you to course correct as necessary.

The benefits of embarking on this far outweigh any costs, even including the risk of targeting the wrong thing. A properly executed performance management project has far reaching benefits to your company and more than pays for itself with the financial improvements you’ll reap. Are you interested in trying out this powerful technology in your own department? I’d love to chat with you. We have a variety of options for small and medium organizations to take advantage of this powerful tool.

If you’re eager to get started, click here to get a free targeting tool so you can begin to identify the mission-critical behaviors in your company.

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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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Organizational Behavior Management organizational development Training

The number one reason executives feel frustrated with training and development programs

If you’re a senior leader or company owner I can lay good money on a few facts about you. First is that you believe your employees are the most important aspect of your company, along with your customers. Second, is that you believe in order for your company to grow and remain competitive, you need to invest in the training and development of your employees. Third is that it is surprisingly (or maybe not) difficult to free up the time and resources for this task that everyone acknowledges is critical. Fourth, and this is that part that might be hard to admit, is that significant investment into in-house or outsourced training has not produced the results you want.

If this is you, you’re not alone! The training industry, in the US alone was $161 billion (yes, with a ‘B’) in 2016 with worldwide training estimated at $359 billion, and these figures do not include additional expenses such as paying for workers’ time while they are at training, or the cost of their replacements while they are out of work. Of course some training is essential. If employees don’t know how to do something, you’d be mad not to train them. There are some highly specialized fields in which safety and proper execution absolutely depends on acquiring knowledge, and there are also governing bodies that require you to perform X hours of training in order to remain compliant with their regulations.

And there are also millions if not billions of dollars invested annually in training geared towards making your employees function more as a team, or your managers more effective, or your communication more meaningful, or your conflicts more resolvable. You get the idea. And let me state very clearly that I’m not saying this training is unnecessary. However, I am stating, categorically, that it is not sufficient to attain the objectives you want. I’ll lay out the evidence proving my point.

Let’s look at the science behind it, first. Applied behavioral psychology puts it like this: At the center is a behavior that you would like someone to perform.  Because the behavior is a discrete event in time, things can occur before the behavior and things can occur after the behavior. As it happens, things that occur directly before the behavior (antecedents) do have an impact. A short term, quickly extinguishing impact, but an impact. Things that occur directly after the behavior (consequences) have a much greater impact on that behavior, and if those things occur consistently, and contingently upon the behavior, you can ensure the continuance or extinction of the behavior. There’s a significant body of work dedicated to the types of reinforcers (consequences) that work best to strengthen various behaviors but the law of behavior remains in place. Training is an antecedent, in that it always occurs before the behavior you are hoping to elicit (as are motivational talks, by the way).

The anecdotal evidence certainly backs this up. I wonder how many of us have ever found that simply telling someone what you’d like them to do results in them doing it? Certainly telling them how in addition to what (a condition surprisingly missing in a lot of corporate training) helps, but just walk into the lunchroom of any office anywhere in this country and I guaran-darn-tee you that you will find AT LEAST one sign taped up somewhere ‘reminding’ people to not steal each other’s lunch, to flush the toilet, or to clean up after themselves.

Clearly, telling people what you’d like them to do doesn’t even work for something s basic as lunchroom etiquette and yet we expect that training, even when accompanied by pastries, is going to mobilize a company of individuals to go against self interest (in many cases) in favor of the company? And those of us who are parents can relate doubly to this. I highly doubt the plethora of kid-junk on my living room floor right now is due to the fact that I have neglected to ‘train’ them in the fact that they are supposed to PUT AWAY THE STINKING LEGOS!

Last is just something I’ll pose to you. If training is so effective, why is it no training ever comes with a guarantee of better performance? No one is willing to put their money down saying that training WILL improve performance because it almost never does, on it’s own. Furthermore, not to sound completely cynical (maybe just 99% cynical), is it possible there’s more money to be made treating the symptoms than in treating the disease? Just saying. I know many professional trainers and all the ones I know are amazing people with a heart for helping. That doesn’t mean that training will get you the results you need. I know I said it before, but after this paragraph it probably bears repeating. I am not saying training isn’t necessary, only that it is not sufficient in most cases to get you improvements in performance and goal achievement.

So what does? If you go back to the science of it, the only way to really get the behaviors you want is coupling training in what and how with a schedule of consistent reinforcers contingent upon the behaviors occurring. In other words, you need to define what you’re looking for, explain it to your employees, and then be diligent in catching them doing something right and rewarding that, and that only. Now you can do this the effective way or the ineffective way (and guess which one is the easy way?).

Ineffective is what most people do first after they see the logic spelled out for them, Which is of COURSE to identify the productive behaviors, explain to their staff that these are the keys to success, and make an effort to reward those behaviors. And then life kicks in and guess what? This amazing endeavor goes the way of the team-building obstacle course and the employee of the month initiative. Don’t beat yourself up about this though. Your exposure to these concepts is, also, an antecedent. Presumably you are human and so therefore not immune to the laws of human behavior, even if you are the boss. So the impact of knowing this only has a short-lived affect on the behavior of you and your managers executing it.

So is all hope lost?

Yep. Sorry.

Actually, far from it. A solution is in not only the understanding, but also the systematic execution of the interventions proven to cause lasting behavioral change, including interventions that set up rewarding consequences to you and your managers for completing your part (and that’s in addition to the increased revenue and profitability you’ll see from doing this, of course). And yes, I am talking about OBM (Organizational Behavior Management). Again. There’s much more to this than I’ve spelled out as briefly as I could here, so if you’re interested in hearing in more detail about each of the interventions, please give me a call or an email and I can walk you through it in about 30 minutes and gift you with the overview and slides for you to share with your teams.

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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Uncategorized

Winning where it counts

If you are a business owner or leader, I can tell before I’ve even met you that you have high standards for yourself and don’t like to lose. Part of the journey of becoming successful not only in business but in life is learning to channel that high-achieving spirit into things that both matter and offer the highest return for your emotional and time investment. If you are a perfectionist type this can be a particularly difficult journey because it necessarily (as in always, as in no exceptions) means that you will at some point in your life need to delegate and/or outsource functions in order to maintain and grow. This transition, although inevitable, can be a struggle if you’re not prepared.

Depending on your circumstances, this is tough for various reasons. If you are a manager or leader, it probably means that you will at some point need to delegate functions to people who may or may not have your experience and skillset, may or may not be as invested in the success of the organization as you are and may or may not (although probably not) do things the way you do them. Most of us who have led individuals or teams have learned that peace of mind comes only when one releases oneself and one’s subordinates from the stifling yoke of perfection. Celebrating progress, effort and improvement the key to loving your job as a manager versus being continually frustrated and burned out.

If you’re a business owner or senior executive the premise is the same – if you want to grow, be successful, and/or have a life you can’t do everything yourself. Obviously entrepreneurs just starting out sometimes do have to wear all the hats, but if this keeps up indefinitely, you may be just a really overworked independent contractor.

Fortunately for all involved, we live in an economic period where outsourcing and freelance assistance is available for almost every function. This means that companies can focus almost exclusively on their core service or product and pay experts for whatever else they need. If you own a fitness business, or a sign-making shop, or develop software, you can focus just on that and pay others to perform HR, Financial Reporting, Payroll, Marketing, Accounting and Recruiting to name just a few examples. The beauty of the outsource model is that you can scale up or down as you need. There are providers for every size of business. For example, my business provides small scale talent searches for companies who need help with recruiting while my partner, Source2 provides high volume Recruiting Process Outsourcing for employers who are spending time and money on more than 10 hires a month.

I love the outsourcing models for a lot of reasons. As a coach and consultant, I love that it allows business owners and managers the ability to really streamline their core product, drive efficiencies and become leaders in what they do. It speaks to my coaching philosophy of playing to your strengths, because I believe that’s how you become exceptional. The alternative is usually becoming proficient at best, mediocre or even dangerously poor at performing tasks for which you have no skillset or passion.

Is outsourcing right for you? A good first step is to determine what is working for you right now and where you need help. Ignorance is not bliss here, by the way. If you are not doing anything at all regarding HR compliance, for example, continuing along this path is probably not in your best interest. Your pain point may be that a) you are constantly in a state of low level anxiety about what fines or penalties you may be risking or b) you are actively in danger of a lawsuit or audit. It really shouldn’t be a question of IF you are going to get compliant but how? Do you hire an HR person, learn it yourself or outsource? The answer depends on many factors.

Recruiting is another example. This is not most managers’ favorite activity (to say the least) and is usually not a manager’s strongest skill and yet finding good, quality employees is almost always on the top five list of strategic objectives of a company. If you only hire one or two people a year, you probably suck it up and go through the process of writing job descriptions, placing ads, interviewing and all that. Unfortunately, the more you need to hire, the more complicated it becomes and the less likely it is that you have the time, energy, passion and/or know how to utilize all the best practices like branding yourself as an employer, leveraging that brand across social media and job boards, qualifying applicants in a timely manner etc.

Sound overwhelming and like something that could pull you dangerously away from your core business? Guess what? There are providers for whom your headache IS their core business. At the end of the day, you only have so much time, energy and resources. It only makes sense that you, as a business owner or leader, should spend as much as possible of all of these on the things that you and only you are best suited to do. Forget about ‘rounding’ and instead keep your edges sharp and competitive by winning where it counts and adding other thoroughbreds to the stable when you need them. 

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Uncategorized

Managers: Are you killing your pigeons?

When I was fresh out of university, I had the incredible privilege of being mentored by a pioneer in behavioral psychology, Dr. D. Chris Anderson. Dr. Anderson was a professor emeritus at Notre Dame University and by the time I met him, he was working with organizations across the United States and Canada applying the principles of behavioral psychology in the workplace. Behavioral Psychology (think Skinner’s rats pressing levers for food) has gone somewhat out of vogue in the advent of Cognitive and Positive Psychology in terms of leadership tools but in my opinion you just can’t beat it for developing solid management systems that work. Chris was very passionate about different ways his technology could be relevant in the marketplace and he definitely infused me with the same passion. As I began to develop myself as a coach, I was happy to augment more of the ‘touchy-feely’ transformation leadership and positive psychology research into my work, but still use organizational behavior management as the cornerstone of my work with managers and company owners.

One of the stories Chris used to tell was how, back in the sixties, it was popular to train pigeons to do un-pigeonlike activities, such as walking in a figure eight (rarely if ever necessary in a pigeon’s natural environment, as you might expect). You could train them to do anything, Chris used to say, as long as you were consistent in your reinforcement schedule.  In the case of walking in a figure eight, you can wait around for years, and will never ‘catch’ it just doing it spontaneously for you to reward it. So, when you are training a pigeon to do something totally unfamiliar, you need to give small and frequent rewards for every new behavior getting. You might tape the eight on the floor and put pellets along the path the pigeon is to walk. Then remove the tape after several sessions. Then remove more and more pellets…you get the idea. Basically, you reinforce progressive movements towards the goal with frequent and contingent reinforcement. Simple, right? However, once in a while a tired or drugged out (this was the sixties, remember) lab assistant would drop a pellet outside the proscribed figure eight and the pigeon would get derailed. When that happened, the pigeon was never, ever able to forget about the time he/she wandered off track and got an unexpected reward. Because times were hard in those days for lab pigeons, the fate of a mis-programmed pigeon was, sadly, death.

Now, please note, employees are different from pigeons and I am a huge Daniel Pink fan and completely agree that the types and schedules of reinforces vary to a tremendous extent and that you would never, ever use delicious food pellets to elicit spontaneous creative behavior (free snacks nonwithstanding). However, I WILL pretty much go to the wall and state that managers can metaphorically kill their employees with inconsistent rewards or punishments.

Most managers or company owners I work with consistently bemoan the fact that their employees don’t care about the company as much as they do. By this they are usually talking about stewardship of company resources or customer goodwill. They want employees to bring up solutions, carry a high sense of urgency and problem solve.

Unfortunately, in nine times out of ten, the owner has killed that pigeon. How? By accidentally punishing desired behavior or rewarding undesired behavior. The most common things I see is making it painful for someone to tell you bad news, or, conversely, ‘rewarding’ substandard performance with less work and a raise.

To illustrate: What happens when an employee brings you news about a major equipment malfunction? I’m assuming TELLING you about the malfunction is a good thing. It allows you to engage in damage control. If the employee who communicates this to you gets sworn or yelled at or denigrated – guess what? It won’t happen again. Trust me, this is not a good thing and if your employees can’t get past this, it is metaphorically fatal for them (and eventually you). Similarly, if someone brings you an innovative idea or plan, and you scoff at them because it’s a bad idea (and we’re not in grade school so of course there ARE bad ideas from time to time) or worse, remonstrate them for wasting company time daydreaming, you will have very effectively eliminated any more creative thinking. 

The second most common example of improper reinforcement is when a poorly performing employee is relieved of responsibilities (which are usually given to a highly competent employee, without the requisite pay increase). Poor performer is 8/10 not written up and often still receives a raise on his/her annual review. Maybe not a big one, but they’ll probably get something. It is almost impossible to redeem this situation.

Now, I’m not convinced that one incident can destroy the employee’s desire to contribute forever…but I’m not saying it never does, either.  The ability of our reactions as leaders to impact others are astoundingly more powerful than we tend to believe. I encourage the folks I coach to be very intentional about the behaviors they are hoping to see from their people and extremely cognizant of their own reactive tendencies to try to reduce the chances of inadvertently creating the exactly opposite effect they are hoping to create.

So think before you react, and save the pigeons!

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I couldn’t make this stuff up….my 5 favorite HR stories

I have found that any time 2 or more HR people are gathered, sharing war stories, someone is always bound to mention that based on things they’ve seen or done they’d like to write a book.  I am also guilty as charged and probably would write one but can’t decide the genre.  Here are some of my favorite stories.  Some are hilarious (although they didn’t seem like it at the time) some are horrifying and some just make you roll your eyes.  They all definitely have a lesson embedded somewhere.   Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent and although I’m writing them all first person, some of them maybe happened to a friend, or a friend of a friend.

1)    “I Spy”
I will never forget the time a local manager called me to ask for advice on a situation.  In this facility the male and female restrooms were separated by a wall.  Apparently, the men had drilled a hole in the bathroom wall and were attempting to spy on the women.  They were unsuccessful in the attempt, as the women a) noticed the 2 inch hole in the bathroom wall and b) heard the giggling.  These were grown adults, mind you!  The manager called me about a week or so after he had discovered the incident with a question.  His solution had been to rent a porta-potty and forbid any males to use the indoor facilities going forward.  He might never have told me about the incident but one of the men was confined to a wheelchair and the manager wasn’t sure whether to make an exception for this employee, or have him use the female’s restroom.
Lesson:  Be very explicit about expectations and when overt harassment occurs, investigate thoroughly and deliver consequences to (only) the offending parties.

2)    “Fight it Out”
We had a production manager whose crews were having personality conflicts.  The manager told me his solution when people couldn’t get along was to make them partners, riding and working together, until they could resolve it.  It wasn’t until months later that he also confided the second part of his magic formula.  If they still couldn’t get along, have them fight it out behind the equipment shed after hours.
Lesson: Ensure management understands and is compliant with your workplace violence policy.

3)    “But my girlfriend is my best assistant.”
I found out that one of our Directors was having an affair with his direct report after his wife phoned to complain about it.  I confronted the Director with the information and he admitted that the information was accurate and acknowledged that he had not shown the best judgment.  He was quite contrite until I informed him that the ‘love interest’ would no longer be able to report to him, at which point he became belligerent, insisting that she was necessary to his success and it would be a hardship to have her off the team.  I stated the obvious and moved the assistant (who then proceeded to have an affair with our client). At this particular company, I eventually learned that nearly half the senior leadership team was engaged in similar behavior.  
Lesson: Ensure management understands and is held accountable to your sexual harassment policy.

4)    “The broad got knocked up”
In a management meeting one time, a senior manager asked me for permission to fire one of his account managers, because she had just disclosed she was pregnant.  I informed him about her legal rights and why he couldn’t do that.  His response was “I get all that but I asked her point blank in her interview if she was going to have kids and she said no and now the broad got knocked up so I want her gone.”  This, by the way, was a highly educated business owner.
Lesson: Train all levels of management on legal interviewing as well as discrimination laws.

5)    Best Leader Ever
We’ve all seen examples of true leadership potential and we’ve all seen the powerful effects a leader can have in an organization, regardless of his level of authority.  The best example I ever saw of a natural leader was a field installer.  We had been grooming him to be a trainer, but he had no management or supervisory authority, although we had high hopes.  Our hopes, sadly were dashed one day when we received a call from the police.  Apparently, while working overtime on a construction site one day a group of framers from another company had cast aspersions of one type or another on one of our employees.  Our leader in the rough jumped to this person’s defense and organized THE ENTIRE CREW to come back to the jobsite to challenge the framers.  A full on ‘rumble’ ensured, the police were called, a gun was found and we had to fire the best natural leader I’ve ever encountered. 
Lesson: Identify your leaders and channel their influence for good.  Also, see the workplace violence point from point 2.

In conclusion, I’ve found that what is legal, what is moral and what is good common sense rarely intersect completely.  When you add a bunch of people in high pressure situations to the mix, who knows what may happen.  Do you have a great HR story?  Please share (but don’t use names!)

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Is your Human Resources department a help or a headache?

Quite some time ago, I got so tired of hearing HR referred to as a ‘necessary evil’ that I refused to identify myself or my department as HR.  I banned the term and rebranded us as OD (Organizational Development).   I believe passionately that the team responsible for Talent Development is a strategic partner at the highest level of the organization with one of the toughest jobs.  Besides being knowledgeable on all current/applicable state and federal laws, one must also be a skilled communicator in order to convey to management and shareholders the benefits and risks of compliance and non-compliance.  This necessarily requires training and persuasion and the ability to communicate beyond just a perfunctory “because I told you so”.  

So many people get into HR because they ‘like people’ and are then disillusioned because of the preponderance of paperwork and the requirement to deal with unpleasant situations (like dress code, or hygiene…ugh).  Sadly, many HR professionals are taught case law and statutes but are not operationally educated enough to make good business cases for their ideas.  They know that employee culture is critical but can’t ‘sell’ it to the owners or stakeholders effectively.  This is absolutely changing and SPHR or SHRM-SCP designees must demonstrate proficiency in business strategy to obtain their certification.  But as both HR professionals and those who interface with them can tell you from experience, the emergencies and demands of the normal workday have a tendency to derail best laid plans and the HR team can become embittered enforcers; finding their value in creating a bureaucracy.  

What’s the cure?  Having created highly successful support teams for years, I’m convinced that there are things an HR leader must insist on in order for their team to be accepted as a strategic partner and to achieve credibility throughout the company. 
•    Create a customer service department.  Even if this must be repeated weekly, drill into every member of the team that they are there to support the company, not vice versa.  
•    Train the team on operational concepts. This helps with the previous point.  It also engenders respect for the team’s internal customers.  I’ve found there can be an unconscious arrogance from people who have been educated in management and leadership concepts when they encounter those managers who may be rough around the edges.  Education in the core business can eliminate that and help find common ground.
•    Train the team on finance.  It’s vital for the HR team to understand the fiscal aspect of the organization for many reasons.  When communicating policy or changes, it helps the team’s perspective to know the context of organizational performance.  It also helps the team help you (as a leader) prepare cost benefit analysis for the ideas they wish to implement.  It’s easy for an HR person to recommend a learning management system to track training, but you’ll get a much more thought out proposal when they have to justify the cost and/or prioritize this spend with other team suggestions.
•    Get involved with talent management beyond ‘morale’.  Yes, HR is often the corporate event coordinators, but to be a true strategic partner and to bring great value to the organization, it is important to become and expert on the organizational short and long term goals and what the human resource requirements are to achieve them.  This includes head count, training needs, succession plans and leadership development.

•    Understand the business.  Every position I have ever taken has been in an industry that was new to me, because HR is transferrable.  That does not mean you don’t need to learn it. Knowing how the industry functions makes you more effective at recruiting, leading the culture and will build credibility with your cross functional peers.
•    Build a department mission and vision, reinforcing the above

There’s more, but these are the essentials as I see them, and what have helped make me successful.  If you are not experiencing these things from your HR department, consider implementing some.  If you don’t know how…get ready for it…consider an outside source, coach or consultant to assist you.  (I know a great resource, as a matter of fact).