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.  

 

Should we hit the Easy Button?

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It’s a question worth pondering.  Is easy indeed always better? The fast, intuitive response might be a resounding “YES”, but given more thought would you change your mind?  While easy gets the job done, does it leave us with the same level and sense of satisfaction of overcoming a challenge, something that was hard, something that, because it didn’t kill us, made is stronger?  Do we need to feel a sense of accomplishment at overcoming something that was not easy, in order to grow as human beings?

In the words of Margaret Thatcher “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”  And, I might add, exceedingly well in spite of it being exceedingly hard.

Perhaps that is because the level of accomplishment that leads to success and promotes self-esteem requires that you do estimable things.  Taking the easy way out does not result in these feelings and does nothing to further predict your ability to undertake great endeavors in the future.  This is part of the reason that colleges would rather see a student who takes Calculus and gets a “C” than a student who takes Pottery and gets an “A”. It is because undertaking something that is hard is a better predictor of success than simply achieving something easy.  

A look at accomplished individuals who regularly win awards and medals shows that they are driven by the effort rather than the result. It is the striving rather than the reward that is long-lived.  The striving, the risk taking, the hard won spoils of war are what build self-esteem, not the awards and trophies that are handed out to both teams, win or lose. 

Self-esteem feels good because it calls on the emotion of pride. Pride in turn arises from one’s sense of confidence and capability. Esteem and related emotions instill a sense of success and the confidence that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

So, are we cheating ourselves when we take the easy way out?  When we cut corners just to get to the result faster? Are we telling our selves that the result is all that matters?  I think “yes”. I think striving to do our absolute best against formidable odds, even if we take a few missteps along the way, is better than taking the easy way out.  It yields accomplishment rather than simply achievement, it builds self-confidence, and it forms a habit that is a predictor of success for the rest of your life

The Case for Transparent Compensation Practices

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Years ago you could find policies written in Employee Handbooks threatening termination if you were to speak to another employee about your salary or bonus.  The whole process was hush hush and no one really understood how salary increases or job worth was calculated.  Only the select few could afford the salary surveys that were published annually.  Gone are those days.  Salary surveys for your industry, revenue size, employee size and market are now only a click away.  Compensation is finally coming out of the black box and into the light.  So why should you subscribe to this new trend?

 

It’s the Law

Perhaps the most basic reason is that it’s the law.  Employers can no longer prohibit employees from openly discussing their salaries and bonuses or threaten them with termination for doing so. The NLRB specifically ruled “You cannot forbid employees – either verbally or in written policy – from discussing salaries or other job conditions among themselves. Discussing salaries is considered a “protected concerted activity” by the NLRB and it’s protected regardless of whether employees are talking to each other in person or through social media.”

 

Takes it out of the realm of mystery

There are a myriad of other reasons that you shouldn’t prevent employees from understanding their own salaries and others.  One of those, is that it shouldn’t be a mystery. Employees should understand that creating salary structures is a science based on market data.

 

Encourages well thought out salary ranges and structures

Once you know that you aren’t the only one looking at and depending on the salary structures to make hiring decisions, give increases and calculate promotions, it behooves you to take an extra hard look at your structures.  Could you defend them to the outside world?  Are they updated?  Have you properly defined your market?  Does the work force slot in where they should with no one falling below the minimum and only a few over the top?

 

Defocuses people on pay disparities

Employees can spend an alarming amount of time thinking about pay and whether they are compensated fairly to both the market and the person sitting next to them.  Being transparent about you pay practices puts people at ease.  They trust that they are paid fairly because they understand the process and have full access to the data.

 

Better management of promotional opportunities

Employees will frequently bid on jobs without have any concept of whether the job they are bidding on is actually above or below their current job in terms of salary grades.  By allowing employees to have access to the structures, you decrease the number of bids you get for jobs that, once the employee finds out it is a decrease in pay, is no longer interested.  

 

There are many reasons to run a more transparent compensation practice, but perhaps the biggest is trust.  When you are trying to build a culture of trust, it is significantly easier when you are open and willing to answer the questions your employees have.

 

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.

Some of the Best Things are Free

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That statement is never more accurate than when talking about employee satisfaction.  Employers often create employee surveys to discover ways to boost employee satisfaction and retain employees.  They think of programs with hefty price tags including, incentive pay, additional benefits, and perquisites. When reviewing results of such surveys, many employers are concerned they won’t be able to respond to employee needs/asks that surface. However, they may be missing existing internal satisfiers that are already in place but are not being utilized. In some cases, attention to current programs and opportunities can reap great rewards and be real opportunities for employee satisfaction.

Career growth and even professional relationships are often motivators of satisfaction and engagement. One of the reasons employees leave a company is career growth opportunities.  Career growth does not have to be the typical upwardly mobile, vertical track, but can be horizontal growth as well.  Many employees would relish the opportunity to become more involved in a different part the business.  A reason employee stay is the relationships made in the workplace. One survey showed 25 percent of departing employees revealed that they would have stayed in their position with the company if they had a more respectful and connected relationship with their direct manager.  Employees are human beings who want to feel that others care about them and that includes their direct supervisor.

Employees want to learn and experience healthy professional relationships. Management must connect with workers both professionally and personally, and, depending on the work atmosphere and nature of the company, create a fun work environment.  Initiating conversations about things outside of work is one way managers can show an interest in their employees’ lives. Other things managers can do to build employee satisfaction are:

  • Allow employees to use and demonstrate their strengths. Everyone wants to be valued and make a difference. Know where to place each employee for the greatest results. Ask what an employee wants to do in the company and look for opportunities to create the experience.
  • Ensure employees understand the goals of the business and how the work they are doing impacts those goals.  Make sure they understand how they fit into the big picture. Individuals on a team create winning scenarios when everyone knows their role and the rules of the game.
  • Enhance communication. Really listen to your employees. Ask what is and is not working and take action to explore where the company can and cannot implement idea changers. Have managers meet with employees on a regular basis and report on performance, engagement, and employee feedback.
  • Consider stay interviews to understand engagement and exit interviews to understand turnover better. Especially for your HiPo’s, conducting regular stay interviews pays off with better engagement and less risk of them turning elsewhere.
  • Create a learning environment. Foster internal opportunities to learn from one another and expand upon existing skills. Implement programs like “a Day in the Life” where you employees get up to eight (8) hours a year to shadow someone in a job that they would like to know more about.  While this may cause a hiccup on that particular day, future projects led by a well-rounded work teams will create greater quality, be more productive and come up with winning solutions faster.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it costs thousands of dollars to ensure that your employees rank high in satisfaction.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of thought and a lot of care.  

Workplace Giving

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There are a number of ways that employers can support employees in their desire to give back, especially during the holiday period.  Employers themselves, can, of course, contribute to a charity directly, but, in the spirit of engagement, it is more special to allow employees a say over how the dollars or donations are being distributed.  Some employees will want to give to a specific charity that supports a cause near and dear to them.  Others will want to give to a specific person who they know is in need over the holidays.  Below is a description of the many ways that employers can facilitate the spirit of giving.

Workplace Giving through Deductions

If you work for a company, organization or the federal government, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to participate in a workplace giving program. Workplace giving is an easy and efficient way to make tax-deductible donations to the charities you care about with donations taken directly out of your paycheck. 

This type of giving can be set up through payroll and can be a one-time gift or can be set up as per paycheck deductions of either a percentage or dollar amount.  Many organizations will choose to match, at least to some degree, the dollars that employees contribute.

Employer Provided Donations

Some employers give their employees each a certain amount that they may contribute to any charity or person of their choosing.  The employers only ask, in return, is that the employee share what they choose to use the dollars for.  This can yield especially heartwarming stories of how the employee “spent” the money and what the surprised recipient’s reaction was.  Sharing these throughout an organization can spur others to think about ways they can actively better the life of another.

Non-cash Donations

Certainly not all contributions need to be in cash.  Opportunities abound over the holiday period for employees to bring in food for food drives.  Numbers of organizations will welcome the extra set of hands if groups of employees are available to help sort, shelve and package food items for delivery.  Some services, such as Meals on Wheels will allow the delivery of the food baskets also.

There are wonderful opportunities to make a child’s holiday bright be buying an extra gift or two as you are shopping for others on your list, to brighten a deserving child’s holiday.  Large organizations such as the Marines run annual campaigns like Toys for Tots, but smaller neighborhood organizations run gift drives as well.

Organizations may choose to set up an Angel Tree where an employee picks the name of a family or child and on the back is a description of the wants/needs of that family.  Companies can provide ornaments to replace each card that is chosen until the whole tree is filled with beautiful ornaments, a reflection of what has been given back.  

These are just a few ways that each and everyone one of us can feel what the true meaning of the holidays is all about- giving freely of our time and love to those around us.  

Pulse Surveys

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Pulse Surveys can be called many different name, employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, employee experience surveys, etc.  One of the reasons I like PULSE, is because they are truly designed to measure the pulse of the employees and of the organization, as a whole, at a given point in time.  Not all employees who take them are satisfied or necessarily dissatisfied, nor are they engaged or disengaged.  However, all employees have an opinion, and when give a chance to air it, usually do not disappoint.

Pulse surveys take on three primary forms- Annual Surveys, which may measure a broad level of employee satisfaction, Weekly check ins that might tackle a topic or two and Reaction Surveys, which measure the employees reactions to a certain initiative.

 

Annual Employee Surveys

Annual Employee Surveys are common amongst employers pursuing an Employer of Choice philosophy.  They provide management with the knowledge and tools to build positive employee relations and a corresponding positive work environment. Employee attitudes, burnout tendencies, engagement, loyalty and workplace environment are key indicators for employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Effective businesses focus on creating and reinforcing employee satisfaction to get the most out of their human capital. Properly constructed employee satisfaction surveys provide the insights that are foundational to creating and reinforcing productive work environments. These surveys can address topics such as compensation, workload, perceptions of management, flexibility of schedules, teamwork, appropriate resources, etc.

 

Weekly Check-ins

Weekly Check-ins provide management insight into a particular topic or issue that is important in the near term.  Frequently organization will adopt Guiding Principles or Corporate Values and choose to focus their efforts around one of these initiatives per quarter.  Guiding Principles are principles that guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or the top management.  These can be quick questions, maybe just one or two, that give an organization directional guidance on that particular topic.  These can also be useful for a department when you don’t necessarily want to check in with the organization in its entirety.

 

Reaction Surveys

Reactions surveys are just that.  They test the reaction of employees to a specific initiative.  You may have rolled out copious communications on a a particular initiative and yes, when it goes live, you hear a rumbling through the grape vine that not everyone is happy, there are misunderstandings.  Reaction surveys give everyone an anonymous voice.  Both Survey Monkey and CustomInsight offer employers a free vehicle to use to create these surveys and analyze the data collected.

In all cases, once you have collected and analyzed the data, give the feedback and have a plan of action to present an implement.  Collecting data and not acting on it is worse than not collecting the data in the first place. Use this as an opportunity to show your employees that you really do care and you will be rewarded with their honest thoughts and opinions going forward, helping you, as an employer, to create a truly great place to work.

What do most start-ups have in common?

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There are as many types of start ups as there are investors to invest in them but most have a few things in common.  Knowing what these are, in advance, will help you to stay one step ahead of your investors, your market and your competition.

 

VC’s are an impatient bunch

Venture Capitalists, commonly referred to as VC’s,  are those that invest dollars in multiple start up business enterprises with the hopes of hitting it big in 1 out of 10, in my experience, although different VC’s may tell you otherwise. Various VC’s play in different niches established by the stage of the business.  For instance, idea generation, proto-type product, mature product, revenue, growth and profitability.  However, they share at least one thing in common which is impatience.  Impatience to get a product to market, to show profitability, to attract later stage investors at higher valuations and to make a very profitable exit.  

Fail fast is a fact worth remembering.  You are less likely to burn investor bridges with $1M in when you determine that your idea or product has little chance of success than after you have $10-20M in.

Don’t underestimate the marketing spin

No matter how good your product is, whether it be software, SaaS, or shoes, it needs to be marketed effectively.  What will you brand around and how will you differentiate in the marketplace should be the first questions you ask yourself and your team.  Keep your head in the sky and think about the ways you want people to “feel” when they hear about your product.  Stay away from long lists of functionality.  People buy, for the most part, on emotional reactions.  

Shelter your employees

Start ups are volatile and not everyone needs to know every brutal truth.  There will be times when you are putting payroll on the execs credit cards, but you don’t necessarily need to share that with everyone in the company.  Trust me, I have been one of those execs floating 1,000’s of dollars for a couple of weeks before funding closed.  Some who join your start up will be true entrepreneurial types and for those the uncertainty will not matter.  Others, however, will be employees looking for stability, with families to support.  You don’t want to shrink your candidate pool any further than is necessary.  Portray a positive, stable and growth oriented environment.  

Act bigger than you are

Allocate a few dollars into presenting a professional image.  Maybe that is the receptionist in the lobby who doubles as the AP specialist.  Maybe that’s a phone system where you can look like you have lines for a variety of different functions.  To some extent, it follows the old adage of “Fake it till you make it.”  If you have 20 employees and someone asks the response is still truthful if you say “we are still under 100” but send a very different signal to a potential customer.

Start ups are, by their very nature, challenging in many respects.  Knowing a few of the most common pitfalls can help to guarantee yours is that 1 in 10 that everyone is looking for to hit it big!

A Good Culture = Caring about Others

pexels-photo-169915We have talked it the past weeks about how to understand what your company culture is, how to create the change to what you would like it to be, how to incorporate your Purpose Statement and Guiding Principles and how to align your Performance Management system and goals with the culture in order to get the best results.

Especially at this time of year, it is important to remember that creating a great culture, one in which employees will feel inspired to do great things and will give their all, all of the time, comes down to creating an environment of caring.  All of the words and posters, e-mails, employee newsletters and team building sessions don’t really move  you to your end goal unless you truly care about each of your employees as human beings and actively show and encourage that on a daily basis.

Over and over again, studies have shown that employee engagement is a better predictor of both productively and turnover than employee satisfaction is. When employees feel cared for and valued, employee’s engage.  They engage with each other, they engage in their work and they engage with management.  Engaged employees take less sick days, are far more productive, do not file litigation and are generally happier.

Truly caring is not about handing out big bonuses and merit increases or about officially recognizing someone for the best sales performance.  Truly caring starts at a much more basic level.  Truly caring is asking for someone’s opinion and then taking the time to really listen and understand what they have to say.  It means following up with an employee who mentioned they were going house hunting or has a parent ill in the hospital.  It means promptly and courteously responding to each and every request as if it were the most important one.  We all get 100’s of emails each day and it can be tempting to just ignore the never ending onslaught, but take the time to respond if only to say “I am swamped, but can get back to you over the weekend”  It means setting and meeting or beating expectations.  There is nothing worse than committing to deliver something to an employee and then letting it just fall through the cracks.  If you are not truly committed, you are better off, not setting the expectations.  People need to know you care about them as individuals and once that connection has been established you will be amazed how willing they will be to go above and beyond in all aspects of their jobs.

So, as we enter this holiday season, take some time to show those around you that you truly care.  They say if you practice a new skill for 30 days, it becomes a habit.  What an amazing 2017 we would create if caring became a habit.

When Startup Culture Changes

startup-photos-largeIt is a very intense time when a startup first goes into business. Everyone is working full-tilt and you likely have a small, close-knit staff that appreciates a fun and free atmosphere. But there will always come a time when a startup is no longer a startup. Either it goes out of business or continues to mature into a regular company. This is a transition few, especially young people, tend to think about when they dream of beginning a new startup. But the fact remains that startup cultures, by definition, are ultimately unsustainable for a number of reasons, and it’s critically important to have a vision for your business beyond the early stages and a plan for when the inevitable transition occurs.

Fix The Typical Weaknesses Of Startups

For example, spending often gets out of hand at startups because you want to have a good time around the office, offer fun perks and haven’t gotten around to hiring an accountant yet. If you don’t have an accountant or finance person to manage, interpret and advise you on the numbers, it’s critical that you bring one on. Know also that many startups fall into the trap of making emotional rather than rational decisions. This is especially true when it comes to creative differences and underperforming employees. You may like them and want them to stay around. They may be old friends. But at some point you’re going to have to start making the tough business decisions, and that includes letting people go if necessary.

You’ll Need To Bring In New Employees

Of course it’s possible your new employees will hold the same passion for your company that you and your original team do. But it’s also likely that they’ll be a step down when it comes to engagement. It’s the responsibility of you, your employees and the established company culture you’ve built to get any new employees as impassioned about your work as you are. You will not only need to bring in these new employees, you will have to train them. Sometimes, that means abandoning your startup’s stereotypical laissez-faire attitude for some micromanaging. It’s very important to develop a good training program at your company as well – without one, you risk new employees getting confused or lost and ultimately dissatisfied.

Your Organization Will Start Getting More Complex

When an organization starts to get more complex, it will require more complex methods of managing it, many of which are typically adopted by more “normal” businesses. You will need to choose your leaders carefully at each level. You will need to be able to distribute workload more fairly, so typical long startup hours are not needed to be worked by large numbers of people. Long hours are usually a necessity at the beginning, but it’ll only be so long before disillusionment and burnout set in.

Keep Your Startup Culture Alive!

While by definition a “startup culture” never lasts forever because your company isn’t a startup forever, there are some things you can do to ensure that “new startup feel” continues. Perks are nice, but they aren’t going to keep employees invested in your business in the long term. Make sure to always listen to the suggestions of other employees while having a defined hierarchy. Hold onto your established values. Reflect upon them, and live them every day during your startup.This will help ensure continued growth and employee engagement.