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?”

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.

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

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.  

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!