Saturday, December 26, 2009

Don't Be the Person Who Forces Us to Create Yet Another Policy

From new hires confused by our 'wear anything' dress code, to managers planning a team outing, our employees are familiar with my anti-policy viewpoint. They all seem to get it and I actually hear them reinforcing the mantra "Don't be the person who forces us to create a policy" to others in the company who are about to do something that might be considered…well, stupid (aka. policy worthy).

The reason for my anti-policy stance? I think too many HR professionals avoid creative solutions and wash their hands of a problem by writing another policy. This policy then gets added to the already too long and rarely read employee handbook where it sits dormant until an employee gets sent to the principals HR office to be scolded.

A few weeks ago, I read an article in BusinessWeek that literally had me shouting profanities at the consultant whose advice to companies was to combat a problem with a policy. The reason I was so fired up was because, in typical policy form, the actual problem wasn't even being solved.

Titled, "Gossip In the Workplace" the author defines gossip NOT as malicious talk about the personal lives of co-workers but as "talk between co-workers, managers, and executives about work-related matters to someone who can't do anything about it". She goes on to call employees who gossip "chickens" and "cowards" and attacks their integrity.

Her solution? Create a "gossip ban"; a "zero tolerance" policy of sorts which requires senior leadership to gather all employees together, stand in front of them and in a stern voice declare, "No more gossip." In a final attempt to sugar coat the policy (and to completely insult the employees) the author suggests we "encourage employees to think of it as a game, with the prize being open communication and a positive work environment".

Unless your employees are in kindergarten, my guess is that this solution isn't going to solve the problem. Here's why:

She defined "gossip" as being between co-workers and "about work-related matters":

If employees are gossiping about work related matters, it doesn't mean they're "cowards" or "chickens". It means they're confused, unsure of something, or scared about how changes are going to impact them. Employees turn to each other (aka gossip) when HR and Senior Leadership haven't done a good job of clearly communicating with employees and/or haven't given them a safe forum to express their concerns.

Rather than suggesting a policy, this consultant should have coached the company on finding new ways to open communication and create feedback loops. They should fire her, hire me, and do some of the following:

  • Coach managers on how to solicit feedback from employees.
  • Require managers, as part of their performance reviews, to ask employees about their biggest roadblocks. This doesn't mean asking while passing each other on the way to the bathroom. It means scheduling coffee with them, getting out of the office, and really asking them how things are going and what their concerns are.
  • Hold managers accountable for removing those roadblocks and escalating issues to Senior Leadership.
  • Find creative ways to use the biggest gossipers in the office to your advantage.
  • Stop spending so much time behind your expensive desk and spend more time out there communicating with the employees.
  • Consider that not all gossip is bad. New research shows that some gossip might actually be good for your employees and your company

If your gossip problem leans more towards being malicious, hurtful, and aimed at attacking the personal lives of your employees, then you'll have to take more immediate measures to stop it. For those of us who just barely made it out of high school alive, we know how this type of gossip can hurt morale, productivity, and engagement, so your best bet is to act quickly to eliminate it. Even in this situation, consider ways that you can focus on "building a culture of respect by having zero tolerance for those who disrespect." 

While workplace gossip is bad, creating a deadbeat policy is even worse. What are some of the ways you've been able to work around creating even more policies in your organization?

Thanks to Fistful of Talent / Editor's Note - Marisa Keegan is a Culture Maven (for real, that's her title...) for Rackspace where she works to create fanatical experiences for their employees, like bringing in life size Sudoku boards, hosting Wii Champion of the Universe competitions and introducing pie-your-manager days. When she's not involved in planning the next take-your-aggression-out-on-your-manager-day for Rackspace employees, she's dreaming up ways to make culture-focused roles standard in every organization, including yours. Culture rules, my friends...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Strangest Secret

George Bernard Shaw said, "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, they make them."
Well, it's pretty apparent, isn't it? And every person who discovered this believed (for a while) that he was the first one to work it out. We become what we think about.
Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn't know where he's going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety and worry - his life becomes one of frustration, fear, anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing... he becomes nothing.
How does it work? Why do we become what we think about? Well, I'll tell you how it works, as far as we know. To do this, I want to tell you about a situation that parallels the human mind.
Suppose a farmer has some land, and it's good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice; he may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The land doesn't care. It's up to the farmer to make the decision.
We're comparing the human mind with the land because the mind, like the land, doesn't care what you plant in it. It will return what you plant, but it doesn't care what you plant.
Now, let's say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand- one is a seed of corn, the other is nightshade, a deadly poison. He digs two little holes in the earth and he plants both seeds-one corn, the other nightshade. He covers up the holes, waters and takes care of the land...and what will happen? Invariably, the land will return what was planted.
As it's written in the Bible, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."
Remember the land doesn't care. It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants - one corn, one poison.
The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. It doesn't care what we plant...success...or failure. A concrete, worthwhile goal...or confusion, misunderstanding, fear, anxiety and so on. But what we plant must return to us.
You see, the human mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.
An Excerpt from The Strangest Secret By Earl Nightingale / Thanks to Simple Truth

How to Evaluate Organizational Performance In Economic Hard Times

We've all made the decision to improve our appearance at some point in our lives.  Maybe we've decided we were going to lose weight by dieting and exercise.  Or maybe we've decided to gain strength by lifting weights.  The first thing we did was stepped on that scale and said "Wow, I need to lose a few pounds".  Or we ran to the gym and measured our strength and endurance at various exercises.

What we were actually doing was creating a baseline.  We were creating a snapshot of our current selves.  Let's just pretend that we didn't baseline our current self, we didn't have our measurements, and based personal goals based on Miss America, or Mr. Universe's appearance.  We wouldn't capitalize on the available data (our current selves) and set realistic goals.  Shortly, we'd become frustrated, lose motivation, and eventually fail.

Likewise, businesses often don't capitalize on available data to get them through difficult times.  With a new year beginning and growing concerns of our economic future, now is a good time to evaluate our current environments and identify our organizational strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvements and cost savings.  This article discusses the value of baselining organizational performance, different baselining approaches your organization can, and overcoming variables that add complexity to your performance baselines.

Baselining involves using historical performance data to calculate averages and standard deviations.  The average establishes the baseline and the standard deviation is a percentage change in the baseline deemed acceptable.  When performance exceeds the standard deviation, some specified action is usually required.

If your organization has clear, specific goals and objectives, the data to be used in the baseline is easier to determine.   And of course, if goals and objectives are vague or unclear, it can be difficult to identify important baseline data.  But given these tough financial times, it is probably most beneficial to focus on financial performance and key processes.

A performance baseline is performance information gathered to evaluate your current state and measure variations to gauge successes and failures within the organization.  Baselines may also be used to establish goals and standards, to set SLA metrics and performance thresholds, and to make important decisions.   But perhaps the most important, but overlooked reason we do performance baselines is to refocus our organizations on what's important.  You may have done a baseline a couple of years ago, but chances are you are still measuring the same things you measured back then.  Performance a new baseline forces us to re-evaluate what's important to organization as it endures the constant changes brought on by this dynamic economy.

Types of Performance Baselines

There are three types of baselines:  rolling baselines, recurring time-based baselines, and specific date baselines.   Rolling baselines compare current performance metrics with a period of time preceeding the current period.  An example would be comparing last month's performance to the average performance of the previous 12 months.  Recurring time-based baselines compare current performance metrics with performance baselines calculated for the same length of periods.  Daily or weekly baselines are good examples of recurring time-based baselines.  Specific date baselines compare current performance metrics with the metrics from a specific date.  For example, gathering baseline sales metrics for the day after Christmas.

Complexitites of Baselining Performance

Historical baselines often answer the question "how many?" such as "how many tickets were created over a given period of time?"  The historical baseline data are the averages of such counts over that specified period.  Baselines can be relative to any arbitrary point in time. 

While this seems simple, it gets more complex when you take into effect some of the following variables:  processes that take several days to complete, business hours calculations (e.g. M-F, 9-5, excluding holidays or specific dates), calculations involving multiple time zones, and calculation involving phased implementations.

When processes extend for multiple days, counting and time calculations become considerably more difficult, especially when a reporting tool is not utilized.  Processes executed on business days and during business hours are also more difficult.  In this case the proper divisor at the Day level is the number of business days in the last 365 calendar days, taking into account weekends and holidays.  The divisor at the Hours level is the number of business hours in the last 24 hour period.  Calculations with Multiple Time Zones can span across multiple cities around the world, reflecting different holidays and work norms.  The baseline divisor thus becomes a function not only of Time but also of Location, thus further complicating the process.  Projects utilizing phased implementations where new locations or divisions go "live" as the enterprise expands (such as in a phased Enterprise Resource Planning implementation).  In this case, the baseline calculation must take into account how long a particular location has been live in order to obtain an accurate baseline.

Understanding Variables and Standard Deviations

Variance and Standard Deviation are measures of how spread out a distribution is. In other words, they are measures of variability.  The spread is the degree to which scores on the variable differ from each other. If every score on the variable were about equal, the variable would have very little spread. Standard Deviation is the square root of the variance. It is the most commonly used measure of spread.  An important attribute of the standard deviation as a measure of spread is that if the mean and standard deviation of a normal distribution are known, it is possible to compute the percentile rank associated with any given score.   In a normal distribution, about 68% of the scores are within one standard deviation of the mean and about 95% of the scores are within two standard deviations of the mean.

Identifying the Right Data to Baseline

There's a basic rule to identifying the right data to baseline:  1) measure what your customers say is important, 2) measure areas where there are problems you'd like to solve, and 3) measure the business objectives you are aiming to achieve.  If your organization has clear, specific goals and objectives, the data to be used in the baseline is easier to determine.   However, if goals and objectives are vague or unclear, it is difficult to identify important baseline data.  Measurements should be aligned to your organization's objectives and should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely).

By Victor Holman    

Sunday, December 20, 2009

7 Things You Should Have Said at the Job Interview

One common complaint among job seekers is that they go on interview after interview and never receive a job offer. If you fit into this category, consider the possibility that you might be unknowingly sabotaging yourself by offering a weak interview performance.

Below are typical interview scenarios, common job-seeker mistakes and the best way to manage each situation.

Scenario No. 1: The interviewer came out swinging, asking tough but appropriate questions regarding a professional hiccup: your employment gap and job-hopping image. The question either left you stuttering with an incoherent message or sounding defensive because you were confrontational.
What You Should Have Said: When the interviewer read your résumé, she knew about your job- search challenge and invited you in for an interview. As such, your hiccup wasn't a deal breaker, but a negative response could be one. Explain your situation without getting emotional or hotheaded by saying, "In the past I made the mistake of accepting a position based on salary alone. That mindset led to hopping from one job to another, because I was never completely satisfied. Now, I'm looking to work for a company where I'm compensated well and the company values complement mine."

Scenario No. 2: The interviewer asked, "Why should I hire you?" You listed strengths that align with the open position. Although there's nothing technically wrong with your response, you could have taken your answer a step further.
What You Should Have Said: "That's a fair question. Instead of providing a canned response, I'd like to participate in an audition interview so you can see my work ethic firsthand." An audition interview is when you perform the tasks of the position as though you were hired. This way, the hiring manager can see your performance before extending an official job offer.

Scenario No. 3: "Why are you looking to leave your existing position?" is another typical question, one that you were expecting but weren't quite sure how to address. Your motive is grounded in bad feelings, and you blurt out, "My boss is out to get me. I'm tired of being looked over for promotions."
What You Should Have Said: Honesty is always the best policy when answering interview questions. There is a difference, however, between shooting yourself in the foot and providing a straightforward response. If you're leaving a position because of office politics, the interviewer doesn't need to know the specifics. As a result, a neutral response such as, "I've advanced as far as I can with ABC Co. So I'm looking for a position where I can manage a larger territory and bring in lucrative accounts," works well because it's truthful without  oversharing.

Scenario No. 4:  Since the average person searches for a new job about every two years, the interviewer wanted to know how long you planned to stay with the company if hired. Not sure how to respond, you said, "Until retirement." At first blush, the response sounds like a good one, because you're making a commitment to the hiring organization. But the response comes off as brown-nosing and not entirely believable in today's environment.
What You Should Have Said: Show your ambition alongside your dedication by saying, "I plan on staying on board as long as I'm contributing to the department and growing professionally."

Scenario No. 5: You committed an interview misstep by arriving late. Nervous, you rambled with a long excuse, bringing prolonged attention to your blunder.
What You Should Have Said: Apologize and move on quickly. Extend your hands and say, "My apologies for my late arrival. I'm enthusiastic about the position and am looking forward to discussing how my accomplishments support the open requirements."

Scenario No. 6: Toward the end of the interview, you were given an opportunity to raise questions. You asked typical questions, such as, "How soon do you expect to make a decision?" but stopped short of asking for the job outright.
What You Should Have Said: "Based on today's conversation, do you have any reservations about extending me a job offer? If the interviewer provides a reason for hesitation, resell your qualifications. If the interviewer says "no," respond with, "I'm interested in the position. Can I have the job?" You'll be surprised that many will hire you contingent on a referral check.

Scenario No. 7: At one point during the interview you were asked about your salary requirements. Based on advice you read over and over again, you throw back the question by asking, "What's the budget for the position?" Unfortunately, you did this one too many times, and the interviewer became irritated.
What You Should Have Said: It's acceptable to avoid answering the salary question one or two times, but answer the question when asked a third time. You can provide a range by saying, "Based on the responsibilities of the job and my proven success in driving profits, I'm looking for compensation within the $60,000 to $75,000 range."

With the right responses, you can turn those awkward interview situations around and land the job you want.

Linda Matias, JCTC, CIC, NCRW, is the author of the new book "201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style" (Amacom 2009).