Sensationalism in the Workplace

Usually when we hear the word “sensationalism” our thoughts immediately turn to some form of media coverage be it through the internet, TV, or radio.  The news is often blamed for sensationalism. Wikipedia suggests “Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are overhyped to present biased impressions on events, which may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story. Sensationalism may have reporting about generally insignificant matters and events that do not influence overall society and biased presentations of newsworthy topics in a trivial or tabloid manner contrary to the standards of professional journalism.” However, are we often guilty of the same type of sensationalism in the workplace?

In the workplace, it is likely that the same motivations are at play, minus the advertisers’ dollars perhaps. People probably sensationalize in order to attract attention, promote an agenda, or distract from an issue.

To Attract Attention

There are two primary reasons that people feel the need to attract attention to themselves:

Lack of self worth can be a cause for attention seeking behavior. Some people think that they are overlooked and so they think that the only solution to restore their balance is to bring back the lost attention. The attention they will get in this case will provide them with reassurance and will help them think that they are worthy.

Arrogant & overconfident people may seek attention because they have the feeling that they deserve to be in the center of attention. Because they aren’t mature enough they still think with their inner child’s mentality which makes them believe that they are the center of the world.

To Promote an Agenda

People often feel if they can appeal to the emotions of others, instead of having to put in the hard work of creating a case using data, that they can push their ideas through.  This approach is often used in combination with the desire to distract from real issues

Distract from an Issue

In most circumstances, sensationalism is used to distract from or deflect the real issue.  It is created to serve a small subset of the population, or, in the worst cases, only the person creating the sensationalism.   When someone starts asking logical questions, asking for data to back up the accusations, it falls apart quickly and the person will respond with additional emotion or accuse you of not wanting to deal with the problem.  Staying calm and continuing your quest for the data is usually the best approach.

Sensationalism in the workplace is driven by hidden agendas, self-serving  scenarios and egos. Let’s make sure we approach discussions with open agendas, data based decisions and a calm demeanor.

Identifying Lead Measures

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Many organizations go to great lengths to track and report on lag measures.  A Lag Measure measures the ultimate goal you are trying to accomplish, such as an increase in sales or profits, or a decrease in turnover, however, it is always in the past.  While useful, the challenge, and benefit, comes when we spend the time to figure out the lead measures. How do we impact turnover or how to we move the needle on cost per hire?  It is impossible to reliable impact your lag measures without understating all aspects of lead measures.  Lead measure are the measures of the activities most connected to achieving the goal.

Lead measures have two advantages, they are both predictive, meaning they lead to the accomplishment of the Lag Measure or goal, and they are influenceable, meaning you can do something about them. Lead Measures are about narrowing your focus down to the 2 or 3 things that “trigger” success, or your end goal.  If you understand your lead measures, you can more consistently and predictably replicate your success

In the example of employee turnover, a lag measure, what might influence that?  If our goal is to decrease turnover to 10% per year, what leading measures do we need to focus on to achieve that goal?  Some examples could be employee satisfaction, employee engagement, time to respond to an interview request. All of these need to be measured and focus needs to be given to 2-3 that can reliably be shown to have a positive impact on reducing turnover. Choosing only 2-3 will allow you the best chance of success.

Spend time thinking about where your focus lies.  Does it lie on a lag measure that is out of your control or on a lead measure(s) that you can actually control?  Lead measures track the critical activities that drive, or lead to the lag measure.  They predict success of the lag measure and are influenced directly by the team. A common example of a lag measure is weight loss. Which activities or lead measures will lead to weight loss? Diet and exercise! Proper diet and exercise predict the success of weight-loss and they are activities that we can directly influence. Simple enough but be careful. Even the smartest people fall into the trap of fixating on a lag measure that they can’t directly influence. This is because lags are easier to measure and they represent the result we ultimately want

In summary, Lag measures give you the score, but Lead measure tell you how to win!

Locus of Control

Most recently I heard Locus of Control referenced on an episode of Bull I was half watching on my way to Tampa.  The question he posed to prospective jurors was “Why do you catch a cold?”. Those with an external locus of control answered “ because I was exposed to germs” or something along those lines.  Those with an internal locus of control answered “Because I let myself get run down”. You can quickly discern the difference. One believes things happen to them and the other believes they are in control and they make or allow things to happen

Locus of control is a psychological concept that refers to how strongly people believe that they have control over the situations and experiences that affect their lives. A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes, while someone with an external locus of control blames outside forces for everything.  Infrequently does anyone fall exclusively in one category or the other. Most people fall on a continuum somewhere between the two

Your locus of control can influence not only how you respond to the events that happen in your life, but also your motivation to take action. If you believe that you hold the keys to your fate, you are more likely to take action to change your situation when needed. If on the other hand, you believe that the outcome is out of your hands, you may be less likely to work toward change.

Think about that for a minute in terms of your workforce:

Those With an Internal Locus of Control

  • Are more likely to take responsibility for their actions
  • Tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people
  • Often do better at tasks when they are allowed to work at their own pace
  • Usually, have a strong sense of self-efficacy
  • Tend to work hard to achieve the things they want
  • Feel confident in the face of challenges
  • Tend to be physically healthier
  • Report being happier and more independent
  • Often achieve greater success in the workplace

Those With an External Locus of Control

  • Blame outside forces for their circumstances
  • Often credit luck or chance for any successes
  • Don’t believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts
  • Frequently feel hopeless or powerless in the face of difficult situations
  • Are more prone to experiencing learned helplessness

Which set of characteristics do you believe yield more motivated and productive employees?  Perhaps we should add to our long list of questions during interviews, “Why do you catch a cold?”

How to Handle a Workplace Bully

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We have talked about how to identify a workplace bully.  Now, how do you handle the bully that you encounter? Bullies, in general, prey on people’s insecurities and emotional nature.  The key is to remain calm and portray an air of confidence.

Don’t respond to emotionally criticism or offer explanations

Although this sounds counterproductive, the bully will often make outlandish claims in order to reel you into a fighting match.  You don’t want to give them fuel for their fire.  Instead of defending yourself in an emotional manner, simply state the facts.  “I don’t believe that happened” or “that is not how I recall the events” When your reply emotionally you let the bully know that he/she has gotten to you.

Do ask them to clarify and to speak slowly

The bully depends on being able to throw out accusations at record speed without anyone actually questioning them.  When forced to slow down, repeat themselves or offer actual facts, the bully will often feel deflated.

Document

If the bully is really out of line, no one deserves to be harassed.  Document the conversations, the way someone looked, what was said, threats made, etc..  All of this will be necessary if you ever have to claim a hostile work environment which will require that you have multiple examples. 

If you happen to be in a state that is a single consent recording state, record.  It is legal for you to record any verbal exchanges you have with the bully to be used when you make a formal complaint.

Teach People how to Treat you

In other words, don’t teach people that you are someone who will allow unprofessional behavior to occur without consequences.  If someone is yelling at you, calmly state “ I am not going to allow you to yell at me. We can continue this conversation when you have been able to calm down” and walk out of the room. 

Use your Allies

Everyone in business needs allies. Build them early and spend time reinforcing those bonds. They will serve as a double check that you are not doing anything to instigate this behavior and help provide support the next time the person is out of line.

Unfortunately, bullies are found in all walks of life and at all ages.  Educating yourself, in advance, on how to handle a situation before it occurs is one of the best ways to be proactive and ensure that you will look back on the situation, proud of how you handled yourself.

The Workplace Bully

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The word bully conjures up many images.  Perhaps, an elementary or middle school playground and physical intimidation. Maybe, in the technological age in which we live, bullies, the cowards they are, hiding behind social media and conducting their campaigns with anonymity but no less vengeance.  Seldom, though, when we hear the word bully, do our thoughts turn immediately to the workplace. And yet, bullies exist in the workplace as well. These bullies are a bit more calculating than their schoolyard counterparts. Not often will you find a workplace bully who comes up and pushes you to ground.  Instead, these types of bullies take great care to plant the seeds that they hope will 1) lead you to fall in line with their own selfish initiatives or 2) lead to your demise.

The most effective bullies employ a skillful blend of charm and aggression that can carry them to the top of their profession.  The below are the basics of how most bullies operate:

Intimidates through verbal aggression and spreads rumors

This verbal aggression could be directed at you in an angry voice but could also be something more insidious said about you that is intended to plant a seed of doubt in someone’s mind.  Bullies will often use words such as “obviously” and “you can’t possibly think…” to undermine your credibility and have you second guessing yourself.

Play Mind Games to distort the thinking of others

They keep people off-balance through half-truths, hearsay and misstatements. Their distorted version of events is intended to obscure and confuse the truth.  The only truth the bully is interested in is their own that will further their personal initiatives.

Blames Others

It is a very rare bully that will utter the words “I was wrong”.  In their mind, it is always someone else’s fault and there is no one quicker to point it out than a workplace bully.  They will often claim that they understood all along that the path being pursued was incorrect.

Disguises their true intentions

A bully puts on a good act to gain your trust and respect. They never reveal their true intentions, which are self-serving and at most times harmful to others. They conceal their innermost attitudes and emotions, which are self-absorbed and disrespectful of others. They maintain an image of strength, vision and leadership, and thus avoid exposing their underhanded, manipulative nature.

Pretends to Care

The bully will pretend to care about the employees and the workplace, but their actions will speak louder than words.  The bully will make suggestions and want you to carry out actions that are not in line with a strong employee culture built on trust.

Bullies have no place whether it be on the playground, on social media or in the workplace.  It is imperative that Human Resources be vigilant in identifying and addressing bullying behavior before the ramifications of high turnover or stress related disabilities start to take their toll.

The Employee Experience

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There are a multitude of ways, and just as many reasons,  to design a positive and unique employee experience. Developing a strategy to create an employee experience should takes into account the physical environment your employees work in, the tools and technologies that enable their productivity and learning to achieve their best at work. All of this is part of continuously evolving our employee capabilities. The Future Workplace and Beyond.com study entitled “The Active Job Seeker Dilemma” found that 83% of HR leaders said “employee experience” is either important or very important to their organization’s success, and they are investing more in training (56%), improving their work spaces (51%), and giving more rewards (47%). 

Companies are also forced to focus on creating a compelling employee experience as the war for talent heats up. With unemployment rates at less than 2% for 25+ year olds with college degrees, the experience you are offering becomes more important than ever.  Mercer predicts that 90% of employers anticipate more competition for talent, especially in India, North America and Asia. So, making the workplace an experience allows companies to embed their culture and values in the workplace and use this to their advantage.

Branding

Define your employment brand. Just like a company brand that helps customers understand who you are, how you act, and how you differentiate, companies also have an employment brand, whether it is conscious or not. It’s best if your employment brand is created consciously. Define your employee brand and deliver on your promise. Be sure that if your recruiters are promising a fun-filled work environment, the new employees won’t find drudgery and old technology awaiting them.

Work Space design

Most workplaces are “designed mostly for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation.” Introverts are highly talented individuals with a very different set of needs and characteristics. So, companies should ask, “How can we accommodate both our introverts and our extroverts in our work spaces?”  Spaces should be designed to allow employees a choice of where and how they work. Some may choose high cube walls, where they can recoup form the pressures of interacting with others all day. Others may choose a very open environment where they are bombarded by noise, chatter and stimulation.  Both types of employees have much to offer but will be more highly engaged if allowed to meet their individual needs.

Free to Share

Gallup’s data revealed that just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count and matter. However, they found that by moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.  Reason enough to conduct regular Pulse Surveys on a variety of topics, ensuring that you feed back the results and the follow up action plan.

 

Trust in Leadership

Little else matters to employees if they don’t trust their leadership and the leadership of the company.  In the old adage “actions speak louder than words” we need to say what we do and do what we say. Trust is built a little at a time over a long period of time yet can be destroyed very rapidly.  Employees know when you truly care about them and their lives in and out of work.

There is no magic to creating an employee experience.  It’s all about understanding what your employees want and need and then finding a way to consistently deliver.

Predictive Analytics in Human Resources

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Unemployment rates across the nation are at 3.9%, the lowest we have seen since 1969. Unemployment rates in the college degreed 25+ age group are even lower hovering around 2.1%.  In this kind of an economic environment, it becomes critically important that we can retain our good employees and attract the kind of talent that can ensure we stay ahead of the competition.  The question is HOW??

Enter the world of Predictive Analytics. It is, at its core, a technology that learns from existing data and uses this to forecast individual behavior. This means that predictions are very specific.  Instead of predicting turnover as an aggregate number for the end of the year, using PA, we can stat to predict which employees have a greater chance of turning over. Predictive analytics involves using a set of various statistical (data mining) techniques used to predict uncertain outcomes.

People analytics today brings together HR and business data from different parts of the business and is now addressing a wide range of challenges: analyzing flight risk, selecting high-performing job applicants, identifying characteristics of high-performing sales and service teams, predicting compliance risks, analyzing engagement and culture, and identifying high-value career paths and leadership candidates.

To put theory into practice, we first need to gather clean data.   This may prove more difficult than you originally thought but stick with it.  You need to identify as many variables as possible. Think of basic pieces of information like homes address, to calculate driving time and distance to work, gender and pay grade and comparatio.  Think also about collecting more obscure data like number of vacation hours or sick time used, personality or behavioral assessments and whether or not they elect health insurance through your company.  You are looking for any data where you would find a stronger correlation between that variable, or set of variables, and employees who terminate versus employees whom you retain. Once you have designed the algorithm, it will be time to put it to the test.  Give yourself at least 6 months to collect data and test the validity of the algorithm.

Although 79% of organizations consider people analytics to be an important trend, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends (2016) report, only 8 % of the organizations had this capability in 2015.  It is one of the best tools we have for bringing HR out of the emotional, gut feel realm and into the world of  data based decision making, yielding quantifiable and sustainable results.

Behavioral and Cognitive Assessments

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Following up on last week’s article where we learned that the best predictors of future job performance are cognitive assessments and behavioral interviews, there are multiple tools that have been developed to accomplish both.  One of the best I have personally used is Predictive Index- a Behavioral Assessment tool that has recently added a validated Cognitive Assessment portion.

The Behavioral Assessment

This portion is broken down into four categories, as many of these types of tools are.  They categorize individuals based on their tendencies in the categories of Dominance, Extroversion, Patience and Formality.  The PI is most beneficial when combined with the job profile. Each manager should complete the job profile prior to beginning recruitment for the position.  As each candidate completes the PI, their profile is compared and contrasted with the job profile and a list of behavioral questions are generated for any area where there is not a match.  This is a perfect set of questions to forward and assign to your interviewers.  This serves three purposes.

1) it ensures that each category where there might be a concern is covered by someone

2) it prevents the candidate from being asked all the same basic questions over and over

3) we all have a tendency to want to hire people just like us which may or may not be the best choice for each position

This approach forces us to interview and make decisions based on the merit of the individual candidate.

 

The Cognitive Assessment

This is not your typical IQ test, which, oddly enough, are not particularly well correlated with job success. This is a online survey measuring the many dimensions of human cognitive abilities based on verbal, numerical and visual reasoning. It is a balanced mix of 50 multiple choice question of various types and difficulty levels which are all designed to address the perception and processing skills of the candidate or employee.   Pace of learning is strongly associated with successful on-the-job performance making it an integral part of any recruitment process. Higher scores do not imply higher levels of intelligence simply certain ranges are more suited for certain jobs. Making sure you have the best idea of your candidate’s learning capabilities and their ability to adapt to changes help you to streamline the selection, on-boarding and training of a new employee or manager.

Combined, these are good predictors of success on the job.  The challenge is deciding which of your jobs need what level of cognitive capability.  Not all positions require someone in the top 10% or, to be honest, even the top 30%. Once you have the benchmarks identified, some of the validation is simply collecting the data.  Did you decide that the Accountant needed to be in the top 30%, but a number of the Accountants you have hired are not wildly successful? Perhaps you need to adjust it to look for those in the top 20%.

Combined, these approaches are significantly more effective than the typical “So, tell me about yourself” interview.  

 

The Gig Economy

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The Gig economy references a trend towards on demand hiring, an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent, of American workers would be independent contractors and MBO Partners predicts that by 2027 over 60% of the US workforce will be a part of the gig economy, which is up from 30% today.  There are many implications this has for HR organizations.

 

Communication

Developing a communication strategy early on in the process is the key to success.  If your company is used to having everyone in one place, how will you communicate to multiple remote employees?  How will you brand differently to create the unification that exists in more traditional workforces.  Are your communication systems as on- demand as your workforce is?

 

Software support

Few software packages are adequately focusing on managing a large temporary workforce.  Anil Dharni, CEO of Sense, a staffing platform, told HR Dive that initiatives are just beginning to target gig workers for improved methods of communication, for example. He said although gig workers expand in number each year, they had not been the focus of HR technologies. He said he expects that to change as the contingent workforce continues to grow. 

 

Classifications

One of the biggest risk related to the gig economy is ensuring that workers are properly classified as employees or contractors. Penalties can be stiff for noncompliance or inaccuracies. HR managers should make sure they understand whether the on-demand worker should be an employee or can be a contractor and whether, if the former, he or she is exempt or non-exempt. That all comes down to the nature of the work, the level of direction and control required and what is provided from the company to the worker in order to perform the work.

 

Pay

Outsourcing to temp agencies is expensive and you can save upwards of 25-30% by finding your own on-demand workers and simply payroll servicing them or, alternatively, bringing them onto your payroll system in a classification as a temporary worker.  Depending on the length of the assignment, it may be easier to payroll service someone who is only with you for a short period of time.

 

Succession Planning

To make the most of this fast, on-demand workforce, businesses should have a clear strategic direction, a compelling and well integrated corporate culture, and a sense of leadership continuity to truly become, and remain, a successful live business enterprise supported by an on-demand workforce.  Succession planning rules may apply differently to the on-demand workforce. Beyond the mere access to available talent, succession planning for on-demand workers should provide measures to ensure cross-functional collaboration, quick ramp-up times, and cultural integration. This approach increases employee engagement and effectively leverages a constant flow of workforce insights coming from a myriad of old and new resources.

There are a myriad of challenges for integrating an on-demand workforce into your current processes, but a combination of the more traditional 9 to 5 workforce with an on demand contingency can reap the best of both worlds.

Technology Startups and the Case for HR Leaders

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Technology start-ups may not be on every corner these days, but depending on your location, they are still prevalent.   The economy is doing well, the DOW crested 26,000 and the VC community has money to spend and to invest in promising series A startups. Entrepreneurs and founders who are fortunate enough to pitch an idea and retain an investment go about the arduous process of actually building a team to grow the business. They strive to build a team of dynamic, qualified and adaptable people. However, the labor market is tight and there is a significant amount of competition for these individuals.  The best and the brightest.  And not only do they have to attract them, they have to retain them.

Few startup companies have the resources or the desire to invest in a senior level Human Resources.  They are normally very focused on hiring the development team and maybe a Operations or Marketing resource, but almost never HR.  Below are a few reasons it makes sense, however, to consider a senior level HR resource, whether regular employee or consultant, earlier rather than later

 

Entrepreneurs and developers often lack the experience handling people 

Tech tends to attract a very young workforce and it’s not unusual to find an average age in the late 20’s to early 30’s.  They lack experience in hiring, training, and retaining people. This is a skill set possessed by seasoned HR leaders who are experienced in multiple industries. An HR resource can ensure that you bring the best talent on board and that you retain that talent through the critical phases.  Nothing halts a software company faster than losing their lead architect.

 

Business Strategies

As new age-ish as it sounds, it is important to develop vision and mission statements focusing on the company’s core philosophies up front.  Getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction is critical to getting out in front of the competition. An experienced HR leader who has experience synchronizing the overall organizational goals can be of great help in formulating strong business strategies. 

 

Neutral Third Party

It is not unusual to run into divergent views in a startup.  How to execute a business plan, which direction to go, how much money to spend on what are all potential pitfalls.  A neutral HR leader will be able to organize a meeting of the minds and prevent valuable time from being wasted arguing about who is right. 

 

Keep the energy up

HR leaders should be responsible for energizing the organization.  Providing ways for employees to stay engaged, whether it be all night hack-a-thons, nerf gun wars or contest.  It’s easy to be energized in the beginning before the product or process hits multiple snags, but in order to be successful and come to the other side, you need someone to keep that energy flowing right through a profitable exit or IPO.

Although it sounds cliché, people are truly any organizations biggest asset and getting it right from the start will pay huge dividends in the end.  An experienced HR leader, as an employee or consultant, can save startup organizations from a multitude of woes from expensive hiring and firing mistakes, to poor retention to lack of management of change initiatives.