Category Archives: Talent
For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Jeffrey A. Fox is a management and executive consultant, and a great leadership author. I enjoy reading his books for a number of reasons, some of which are because he succinctly gets to the core point of what he’s saying. Each chapter is a precious nugget of richness, solid in truth and invaluable to those yearning to grow.
While not his latest book, “How To Be A Great Boss” is a read that I have thoroughly enjoyed every page of the way. One of the chapters hits the nail on the head about where your time should be spent among your people. It’s entitled “Spend 90% of Your Time With Your Best People”.
It seems that so much of leaders’ time that they spend on their staff is consumed with the so-called “high maintenance” employees. They are the ones that literally cost the company precious time and money due to their lack of performance, disruptive behavior, or both. A few years back I reported to a C-level executive who confided in me that 80% of their time was lost constantly on 20% of their “problem children”. While they didn’t know how to swing that around (and couldn’t see how they themselves had created this culture that they were drowning in), I used my personal experience to shed some light and help them understand what Jeffrey Fox layed out for the rest of us.
Years ago I knew a manager who was charged with creating a new department for an entertainment company. This department was an offshoot of an existing one, yet it was to run co-dependently at first then become self-sufficient within 60 days. It was an on-the-fly task that was literally dumped on him; part of his benefit package for being promoted.
The staff that he and his supervisory team were given were the employees that none of the other supervisors wanted to invest time in. They were deemed “unproductive” and by jettisoning them to this new area, they were relieved of any further obligation to work with these employees. So this manager had a staff of about 50 untrained and unmotivated employees to start a department with.
He immediately started to recognize three types of employees: those that worked hard no matter what, those that worked well but not always consistent, and those that were never motivated and failed to do the job at all. Unconsciously, he started investing the bulk of his time with the hard workers, as he needed them to anchor the day to day tasks. He then spend most of the rest of his time with the second group, realizing that they had potential but were never properly trained or shown they had value. He did spend time with the unmotivated group, mostly in corrective action, but never let them consume his valuable time.
Well, a peculiar trend started to happen in this manager’s new department. He noticed that the hard workers dug in and worked harder, and set a great attitude and pace for the entire team. He then saw that the middle group felt needed because they were given attention finally, and, seeing the first group energized, started to perform on a pace close to the hard workers. But what the manager saw in the unmotivated group literally shocked him. He noted that many of these workers, previously deemed problematic, started to perk up and step up their game. Their attitude and performance improved remarkably. When asked, they generally said that they had never been a part of such a team before, and didn’t want to be left out, or left behind. Granted, there were a few dissenters that needed to be groomed out, but the vast majority clicked with the team dynamic and their first year brought incredible sales success and profitability that they did not forecast they would attain for at least 3 years.
By focusing on your 90%, Fox states, you invest in the biggest return in your company. If you invested in those underperforming stocks, you would most certainly look for better returns in higher potential stocks. Why should it be any different with your staff? Invest where it counts, and you’ll be surprised at the results. And so will your team.
Years ago when I was an area manager of a regional chain, my regional director and I were talking about staffing strategies. He said something that I disagreed with at first, but came to know the wisdom of in the years that followed.
His advice to me was:
Always be in hiring mode. You’ll never know which person comes across that will build your brand better.
Initially I bucked against that advice. Why, I asked myself, should I continue to hire when I need to invest my time into the people I already have?
Then over time I realized the rationale for why companies should always recruit even when their staffing levels are full:
- Talent will never slip through your fingers. Like the fisherman who let the big one get away because they went out when the fish were not biting, talent that is not caught will go into another company’s pool. Being able to constantly recruit will help you identify and land the talent needed instead of waiting for the right time for talent to bite.
- It creates healthy competition internally. This was my biggest objection to this approach. As long as you invest in your people, and are above board with them to let them know that you are always looking for complementary talent, people will be engaged with the efforts to look out for a great colleague. And in those instances when people aren’t fully engaged, you will create a healthy culture that everyone knows to not be complacent. It requires the correct leadership mindset to do this, but when done right it transforms your culture into a productive and supportive one.
- Your hiring skills stay sharp. By keeping your organizational mindset in recruiting mode, you’ll be more keenly aware of talent when it appears. You’ll also develop better questions to ask instead of going over the same old ones again and again. In addition, you’ll be able to tailor your search to the current needs to the team instead of reacting to a past problem.
- You’ll build a future talent pool. If you found a talented person but just can’t justify bringing them on board right now, you’ll develop a bench of people that you can easily recruit. Having conversation with them to let them you will indeed be contacting them when the circumstances are there will allow them to be ready to jump aboard when it’s time. Without a depth of talent in the waiting, you’ll be further behind the hiring process when you do need them.
- It allows you to hire on a dime from pre-qualified talent. This last point sums up the previous two. Many times companies hire after the need is identified, which is usually past the best time to hire and meet that need. Compound that reaction time to the typical hiring process, and it may be at least 4-6 months before a key person is on board. In today’s business climate, that’s too late. Constant recruiting involves ongoing dialogue with candidates and being able to get certain aspects done ahead of time: interview questions, background checks, references, etc. The company that can hire immediately today has huge advantages over those that lag behind in their process. Having this recruiting mentality every day greatly helps you to be in position at any given moment.
Be in recruiting mode all the time. Keep you eyes, ears, and social media open for great talent that you’ll need. It’s an advantage you’ll be glad you have.
You’ve successfully onboarded your new employee and trained them in the skills needed to do their job.
That’s a great accomplishment, but it is just the beginning….
Here’s a question to ask yourself:
How does our training ensure our people strengthen their learned skills and understanding over time?
Many organizations have realized, and are realizing, the value of reinforcement training. Not remedial, but reinforcement. This is the type of training that keeps certain skill sets sharp and increases retention of methods, behaviors, and procedures to keep their people at peak performance on an ongoing basis.
It is a powerful antidote to the tyranny of the “one-and-done” training so many companies employ. That’s the method where employees get the basic training they need, and the company assumes full proficiency and competence without any further enhancement of those skills.
It is also not a positive or negative reinforcement training, as used by some companies and even dog trainers. It’s the cultural mindset to ensure behaviors and knowledge are continually reinforced, shored up, and strengthened over time.
There is a difference between reinforcement training and ongoing training. Ongoing training means learning new skills, whether methods, policies, or products and services, and folding them into the current pile of items employees are juggling. Reinforcement training gets back to the basics of each area to ensure that each one does not atrophy but continues to stay solid and grow.
A well thought out plan will identify certain intervals for this to occur. By keeping the material fresh and in front of the team, (and also with alignment to the company goals and core values) they will not forget those tools and methods they need to excel at their jobs and help achieve the vision of the organization.
There are new tech companies that even assist in online/device training called microlearning. One example is Duolingo, a microlearning app that allows you to learn a foreign language in small intervals, and then prompts the user to rehash certain word skills to keep their fluency up as they learn. This is a great example of reinforcement training and how the “one-and-done” does not work. This is a growing segment that one simply cannot afford to miss tapping into.
Make a plan to get your people further along in their training. Build them up through the year, not just one time. Like exercise, you cannot see results by working out just once.
Remember: Training is a process, not an event.