Square Pegs: Keeping Good People At Your Company

From the dusty archives…

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565Have you heard the expression you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole?

Well, you can.  You can get creative and smash it in there or fill up the edges with other items.  In other words, you can make it work temporarily.  But, what if you are that square peg?  What does that mean for you?  What does it mean if you are the leader and notice a strong employee not fitting into the department they are part of?

As a human resources professional, I’ve had my share of discussions with employees and leaders about not fitting in.  What we don’t talk enough about is our mutual ability to positively impact retention and how we can avoid the high cost of unnecessary turnover. According  to a study by AARP, replacing an experienced worker at any age can cost 50 percent or more of the individual’s annual salary in turnover-related costs, with increased costs for jobs requiring specialized skills, advanced training or extensive experience.”  That reason alone should compel organizational leaders to look across the company and determine who the strong players are and how best to collectively retain them.

As leaders:

  • Why do we let good employees go just because they are not a fit with one supervisor?
  • Why do we let that historical knowledge walk out the door?
  • Why don’t we do more to find a fit internally for that individual?

Recognize a square peg

Most articles on leadership and management focus on developing your own team or your skills and ability to manage and lead.  My challenge for you today is to look at another team in the organization and see if you find a square peg.  Is there someone who may be in the wrong role and struggling in fitting in there who would be a shining star in another part of the organization?

As leaders, it’s our duty to work toward what is best for the organization and part of that is ensuring we keep the best employees.  Retaining top people is a group effort and if you know that there is someone your organization is at risk of losing, look deeper.  Reach out. You may just save someone from leaving an organization where they could excel and push things forward.

Social Media for HR Executives

section_social_media_marketingI’ve been heads-down at work all conference season and excited that June brings some great speaking opportunities for me.  If you’re still deciding where to spend your conference dollars, one event I always recommend is the Social Media for HR Executives conference.  The Conference Board hosts this event and it always exceeds my expectations.

This year’s event is June 25- 26 in New York City.  You can click HERE for the agenda and registration.

I will be leading the Employee Engagement in 2013 and Beyond session.  You can also catch speaking royalty Jen McClure and Ben Brooks.  Jen will guide you through Maximizing Social Channels for Talent Management.  Ben is leading A Game Plan for Social Transformation at Your Firm.  Add in the other working sessions and it really is a great value.

I encourage you to attend.  If you can’t, be sure to follow us on Twitter using the tag #TCBsm4HR.

Benefits of Connecting Disengaged Employees

Picture the scene: You’re the HR manager at company XYZ.  An employee calls to schedule time to speak with you about an issue.  The employee arrives and begins to explain that he feels his career is stalled.  He was hired as a xxx (could be any level employee) and he tells you he has skills that are not being utilized.  He is able to give specific examples of times his supervisor has not recognized his abilities.  He is now unchallenged, disengaged, and ready to leave your company.

Does this sound familiar?  Well, if you’ve worked in HR for any length of time, I’m certain you have had this conversation and likely, more than once.  The problem is that once an employee reaches the point of coming to HR, it is often too late.  Why do companies do this, and what can HR do to help managers shape the culture so that they do not lose valuable employees?  The key is getting employees connected.

To start with the “why” of it all, we need to go all the way to the beginning of the employee life cycle.  Sourcing/hiring.  Many companies have a reactionary style of hiring.  Managers wait until there is an unexpected resignation and a position opens that they need filled “yesterday or sooner”. The recruiter of HR manager must scramble to write a job description, get it posted, and begin looking at potential candidates. This knee-jerk reaction to hiring does not lend itself to finding employees who truly have the qualities and skills that will make them most successful in the position.

“Connection Fact” #1:  Companies need to have a well thought out recruiting strategy to be most effective in hiring people with skills that closely match those required in the position. When skills match position requirements, employees are more likely to be engaged in the work.

So, assuming your company has not used a well thought out recruiting strategy, the manager will now have to deal with the issue of keeping the employee challenged.  The problem now becomes how does the manager know that the employee is not being challenged?  One would think that there should be regular feedback for employees throughout the year.  It is during these conversations that the employee could tell his supervisor that he needs more challenging projects.  But let’s face reality.  There are thousands of employees who do not have the opportunity to take part in regular performance feedback conversations.  This leaves the employee feeling like no one at the company cares if they are under-utilizing their skills.  No one cares if they are engaged in their work.

As I discussed in a guest post over at Aquire last year, employee engagement has a direct effect of stronger company performance. So, it is critical that a company be able to evaluate which employees are becoming disengaged so they can correct the problem as quickly as possible.

“Connection Fact” #2: Companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

Whether you are the HR manager or the direct supervisor, there are numerous ways to increase employee engagement.

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.
  • Communicate more, not less- Being transparent, even in economic downturns, builds trust with employees.  They will be more likely to hang in there for the long run.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- this one seems obvious to me.  HAVING SOME FUN AT WORK= employees who don’t dread being there.

The point is we should be seeking out ways to improve this in our own work environment.  And, if you find that the company is not encouraging increased engagement, it may be time to find something new.  Although employee engagement is holding steady during the economic downturn according to a recent Towers Perrin survey (June 2009), companies should still focus on proactively managing this aspect of the business.  It just makes sense.

Social, Branding and Recruiting: HR Happy Hour

hr happy hourIn my last post, I mention things you can do while driving to spend your time productively learning.  One of the recommendations I made was to listen to the HR Happy Hour podcast.  If you’ve never listened, HR Happy Hour is a radio show that Steve Boese and I co-host every other week.  We talk about human resources, technology, recruiting, business and culture.

Last Thursday night, Steve and I interviewed friend of the show Jessica Lee; Director of Digital Talent Strategy for Marriott International. Jessica shared how Marriott is using digital strategy to move boldly in the global recruiting space.  Additionally, she shared her insights and experience on building both a corporate and personal brand.  

We covered topics such as:

  • Big trends and themes in the intersection of social, brand, legal and HR
  • Mobile strategy
  • Video technology

Be sure to check out the show and share with your colleagues.  In addition to listening, you can read the show backchannel on Twitter – hashtag #HRHappyHour.

Catch us March 21st  at 8:00 pm EST when we’ll be talking about the upcoming Health and Benefits Conference with guests Jen Benz, Fran Melmed and Mark Stelzner.

5 Strategies To Coach “Institutionalized” Employees

~ He’s just institutionalized…The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood, fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man, he’s an educated man. Outside he’s nothin’ – just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn’t get a library card if he tried…these walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s ‘institutionalized’…They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.~ Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding

Gold Watch for RetirementI was watching the Shawshank Redemption this morning.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time.  It’s one of those stories that has so many poignant lessons about relationships, trust, fear, motivation, and well, life in general.  Even though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, one part really hit me this morning.  There is an older gentleman, Brooks, who has spent his whole life in the prison.  When it comes time for him to be paroled, he breaks down and wants to commit a crime in prison so that they’ll be forced to keep him.  His friends prevent him from committing the crime and Brooks is paroled.  Brooks tries to fit in out in the real world, but having been in prison so long, he just cannot adjust.  He eventually commits suicide.

Institutionalized in the Workplace

The movie made me think about the workplace and employees who have worked their whole career at one organization.  As I was growing up, my dad taught me that it was an honorable thing to choose a career and then stay with that employer for the entire time.  Think about it, many people born in the 1930’s- 1950’s have been able to accomplish this.

There are certainly employees who fit this description and who stay engaged and are the best representatives of  the organizational culture.  But, most workplaces have those employees who are just there and going through the motions.  They do this year after year.  They continue to come to work and just do the minimum to get by.  They might as well be carving a hash mark into the desk to represent each passing day.

So, what can a manager do with these employees to turn being “institutionalized” into a positive?

Coaching Strategies for Managers

  • Be Direct- Don’t ignore the situation.  Even if your organization has a “contribute and stay” mentality, a lesser engaged long-term employee can cause real morale issues in your department.  Often, these employees have been there many more years than you have as the manager.  The only approach is to be direct.  Have that tough discussion and find out why they stay, what would make them more challenged at work, what makes them feel valued, etc.  Then, act on what you learn.
  • Find their strengths–  When you get to know your staff on a more personal level, you may learn that they use skills outside of work that will benefit the organization.  For example, if you have someone who is a deacon at church or who is very involved in planning and organizing at functions for their children’s school, capitalize on those skills and use them in that capacity on the job.  When you recognize someone’s skills and praise them for is, they will be more engaged at work when they get to use the skills.
  • Loan them out– With the economy the state it’s in, we’re all working to do more with less.  This includes staff.  But, if you can find opportunities to give up a long-term staff even for a couple days a month, you can improve their engagement.  Loan them to another department to help expose them to another type of work.  This will also spread the good will and demonstrate your willingness as a leader to look out for the organization as a whole.   Each time the employee returns, have them tell about the experience at the next staff meeting.  Other people on your staff will see the enthusiasm and may learn something as well.
  • Job Shadow–  I recommend using this strategically.  For example, if you have an employee who could use a specific type of coaching, pair them up with someone from another department who does really well in that area.  This will be a non-threatening way to coach the employee.  I also use this technique when I need to assess how a particular employee is doing in their role.
  • Capture their knowledge–  One of the things that managers struggle with is losing the long-term employee’s knowledge when they retire or resign.  A way to address this is to find ways to capture that knowledge before they leave.  Start a private collaborative site online and teach your staff how to use it. Ask them to write about everything from processes to ideas on how to handle issues.  Not everyone is a writer, so provide training on how to write and edit.  Make sure they feel comfortable sharing their knowledge, then recognize and praise them when they do.

By focusing on ways to improve engagement of long-term employees, you may actually turn them into your greatest asset. What techniques have you used as a manager in order to coach your staff?  Share them in the comments.

Using The 5 Love Languages for Business

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I thought I’d share a little resource for work that has a touch of LOVE in it:

I’m a believer that our personal lives and professional lives are intertwined and that it’s nearly impossible to separate or compartmentalize them.  So, when a manager or employee comes to me for advice, I try to look for clues to the big picture instead of just that situation.

5-love-languagesOften when I’m assessing a situation, whether it is in my personal or professional life, I think back to a book I read ten years ago.  The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.   Dr. Chapman is a well-known and respected pastor, author, and speaker.  And, while this book was written to assess and address the language of love that is meaning to someone on an individual level, I”ve found that there are many business uses for the book.

The basic premise Dr. Chapman asserts is that there are five “languages” of love and that each one of us has a primary language.  If your partner speaks a different “language”, there is a good chance you will not feel loved.  So, the idea is to identify your primary love language and your partner’s, then work to use the language the other person responds to best.

The five love languages

  • Words of Affirmation- This person identifies most with compliments and other words that say you value them.  If you insult this person, it will affect them more deeply than other people.
  • Quality Time–  This person values your undivided attention.  If you miss a meeting or appointment  with this person, they will truly be hurt.
  • Receiving Gifts–  It’s not just the gift that is important to this person, but the thought behind it.  If you miss this person’s birthday or anniversary, they may be crushed.
  • Acts of Service- This person feels happiest when you are showing your love by helping them.  Whether it’s pitching in on a chore at home or helping with a big project at work, this person will feel valued and cared for.
  • Physical Touch- This is not a language just about sexual contact.  The person that speaks this language feels important when they are hugged, get a pat on the back, or your hand on the shoulder.  This one is harder to demonstrate at work due to sexual harassment laws, however, it can still be demonstrated in moderation.  The pat on the back, fist bump, shaking hands, or high five can fill in and still show this person they are valued by using physical contact.

If you think about the people you work with; your team members, colleagues and peers, subordinates, try to figure out which language seems to apply most to each person.

Let’s imagine you’re the type of leader who is very busy and recognizes performance only with money (pay increases, spot bonuses, etc.).   You are speaking the Receiving Gifts language.  But if I am the person who works for you and my primary language is Quality Time, I will not feel valued or cared for.  The one thing that would make my day is to have you show up for a meeting on time or meet with me one-on-one.  Or, if I feel valued when you notice that I’m carrying a heavy workload and you offer to pitch in and help me meet a big deadline, you’re speaking my language of Acts of Service.

There are many benefits of learning your own love language and how you can use the love languages model to communicate more effectively with people in your personal and professional life.  You will build stronger relationships and have more engagement with the people in your life.  To take a quiz to find out your own love language, click HERE.  Then, tell me what your love language is in the comments. For anyone who has met me or knows me from reading my blog, there will be no surprise to my results.

Mine is physical touch and words of affirmation almost equally.  Must explain why I’m a hugger who likes compliments!  🙂

What’s yours?

The Chemistry of Employee Retention and Engagement

chemistryIn the January 2013 issue of Go Magazine, I read an article by Helen Fisher that caught my attention.  Ms. Fisher, author of The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love stated, “Your partner might not look so great at the breakfast table for the tenth year in a row, but if you see her on a seat in Mexico City, she’ll look amazing.”  The point is, that if you see a person in a different, more exotic locale, it can increase dopamine levels in the brain which cause you to feel happier and more satisfied with that person.

While the workplace is not about romance, it absolutely needs chemistry to keep employees engaged and on the job.  For companies or departments with low turnover over many years, you may begin to experience loss of creativity or engagement with the job, resulting in loss in revenue.  I wonder if we’ve run into a similar situation as the married couple that no longer finds each other as attractive.

Now, think back to those first few weeks or months on a new job, or of someone new joining your team.  Remember the feelings of:

  • excitement of meeting and working with new people
  • having your senses piqued by a new office or cubicle and new work “neighbors”
  • A jolt of energy from using your skills in a new and exciting way or having a team member who is ready to take on any challenge

See, much like romance, some of the same sensory perceptions are surely tapped with a new job.  The dopamine levels likely skyrocket during this time.  So, what happens over time?  Well, what is the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt?  If my line of thinking is correct, then the solution to employee engagement and  retention is variety and finding ways to keep creating opportunities to raise dopamine levels.

Variety and wellness?

Yes.  Chew on that.  Roll it around in your head a bit.  Are you, or your leaders, doing all you can to add those components?  Whether employee or leader driven, it seems that a major overhaul in location, job duties, or colleagues could be the variety and dopamine generator needed to drive higher creativity, optimism and yes, engagement.  Have team members switch desks.  Change up the job duties once a year.

But what if you can’t make a major change?  This brings me to your challenge.  What small efforts can a leader make to drive small dopamine increases?

  • Provide foods rich in dopamine like fruit.  A weekly fruit basket would be an inexpensive approach and fruit like bananas, blueberries and strawberries increase dopamine levels naturally.
  • Protein has an amino acid needed to stimulate dopamine production.  This means that having healthy, high-protein snacks available for employees can help the positive effects.
  • Encourage time to have physical activity.  Provide a wii, encourage employees to hit the gym before work or during lunch, or create a walking or workout challenge.

What if you can’t make all those changes in the workplace?  Well, start with you.  Start making the changes in your own lifestyle and gradually spread the good habits at work.


An Apology Letter To Your Staff

Crimson Studios 2007It’s a new year, 2013, and as you look in the rear-view mirror on last year, what does it reflect?  What kind of leader were you?  Were you one who appreciated your team?  Did you challenge each of them?  Inspire each of them?  Did you do your best to meet the needs of the organization while still being a patient teacher?


Maybe not.

IF you didn’t, it’s ok.  It’s not too late to set the right tone for the new year.  It will take a bit of an attitude adjustment and a conscious choice to think about the “work” you put in front of the team each day.  The good news is that you can turn this around and get the team on track to have even better performance than last year.  It can also help you with your retention efforts.

As with anyone you have not openly appreciated enough, the best way to clear the air and have a fresh start is with an apology.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…..”Trish, I’m a pretty good boss.  I try to be nice to people.  I just can’t give personalized attention to everyone on my team because I’m BUSY.”  I’m sure you are busy, but I call BS.  People don’t need you to hold their hands every day, they just need to know that you care and that the work that they produce for you, for your department, is valued.  So, I’ll give you a head start on an apology to your staff.  Feel free to use it; email it, post it in the department, or say it in your next meeting.

Dear Team, 

I want to thank you for your effort in 2012.  It was a good/bad year for the company, but a good one for us as a direct result of the ____________ you were able to achieve.  Your results from the _____________ project exceeded all expectations and I’m proud to be a part of this team.  

I also want to apologize to each of you.  As your team leader, there were times where you may have seen me distracted or appearing unappreciative of your work and effort.  I sincerely apologize.  My goal is to make this year one where I actively spend more time giving you feedback and using your ideas to make our department better.  I will also commit to ensure each of you further develops your skills because of the way we’ll approach learning.  I will teach and each of you will teach.  

2013 will be a year where our team faces some challenges too.  I am proud to be part of such a fine group of people and I know we’ll pull together and make this year our best yet!  Thank you for all you do.



Now, go out there and start showing some appreciation-

I guarantee you’ll find that the positive results you see, hear and feel will come back to you ten-fold!