Listen to the Silence

sherrie-suski-emptyEach day we surround ourselves with noise from podcasts and social media alerts to incessant Zoom meetings with colleagues, to radio and TV.  Our world has conditioned people to crave noise.  When we aren’t listening to input, our minds are just as noisy with thoughts that are swirling about often hopping from one topic to the next as we convince ourselves that this is what is necessary to gain as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time.

How often do we stop to think that the most insightful learning sometimes comes from listening to the silence?  We have been conditioned to be silence avoidant.  If someone is not speaking for too long, we have a general feeling of malaise where we will jump in to fill the void.  Sometimes, however, the silence truly does speak louder than the words. And sometimes, the words that follow a long silence are more sincere than those that tumble out of our mouths so effortlessly.  

According to experts who spoke to the sound insulation company, Acoustical Surfaces, the fear of silence, or “sedatephobia,” is becoming more and more common, causing people to feel uneasy in quiet places or situations (think the library and awkward pauses in conversation). Interestingly enough, leading hypnotherapist, Dominic Knight, said the phobia has only surfaced within the last 50 years or so, which could suggest we live in a “much noisier world” than, say, the environment our parents and grandparents grew up in.

There’s no one root cause of a fear of silence, according to doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC. However, she tells Elite Daily, “silence generally stimulates us to be able to notice our automatic thoughts,” aka uncontrollable, and often-uncomfortable thoughts that occur when triggered by something else. Because these thoughts often cause stressful emotions to ensue, she says, “most prefer to not sit and notice their thoughts, and sound provides that relief.”

Imagine the infamous employee reference check.  You ask the prior manager if they would rehire the applicant and there is a pause that you did not expect.  You have two choices: 1) gloss over it and repeat the question or move on to something else or I have even seen recruiters answer their own question just so that the silence does not hang in the air like an early morning fog or 2) allow the pause to hang in the air and then listen very closely to what the person has to say after that pause.  There is a reason it happened.  

Being comfortable with another’s silence requires that we become comfortable with our own silence first.  Practicing mindfulness can be one way to become more comfortable.  Engaging in a daily meditation practice, whether it be for a quick five minutes in the morning or a lengthier hour in the evening, does incredible things for the human mind, such as relieving built up anxiety, quieting mental chatter, improving focus, and increasing self-esteem and feelings of confidence.

So the next time you find yourself avoiding the silence, take time to explore what is triggering your need for constant noise distraction. Appreciate the learnings that can come from silence.  

Preparing and Selling a Business Use Case

sherrie-suski-businessimageThe Business Use Case 

is a reference point before, during, and after a project. As the project begins the Business Use Case establishes the ultimate goal of the project for all stakeholders—including the project manager and sponsor. There are invariably concepts in the minds of the key project participants of what they expect the project to accomplish.  The vast majority of unsuccessful projects fail not because of poor project management, but because of poor decisions with respect to the choice of projects. A good business case helps to make right decisions and avoid a waste of time and resources. 

A Business Use Case should include the following categories:

Executive Summary

An Executive Summary should speak to the overarching goals of the project.  What is it, how does it benefit your company and what type of evaluation process have you gone through to narrow down the field to the top 2-3 vendors.

Vendor Recommendation

Here it is key to speak to differentiation amongst the top vendor selections.  What does each offer and why does your selection stand out as the right choice

Overview of Business Case

This is the meat of your presentation.  Talk about the purpose and scope of your projects, what the key deliverables are, who the stakeholders are and key team members that will participate in this implementation.  You can also include a brief financial summary here if warranted.

Cost Analysis

Here you can begin to break down the costs of both the software licensing and the implementation fees.  These are likely best served by breaking them into two sections as the software licensing fees are on-going where the implementation fees should be one-time costs.  It may also be helpful to add the number of hours required of the vendor and of team members in this section. 

Implementation Phases

Especially for large projects, you should break them down into phases.  Usually you will see somewhere between 3-6 phases depending on the length of time necessary for the implementation.  If various modules have been purchases, it’s a good way to showcase which modules will be implemented when.

Anticipated Benefits

This is your opportunity to sell!  Think about not only direct savings in terms of cost, time or headcount, but also costs savings that might result from decreased turnover, automation of processes, lack of errors, speed and efficiency.

What Disappointment Says about You

sherrie-suski-disappointmentWhile I know some of you will disagree, your feelings of disappointment in another person generally have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with you.  Saying “YOU disappointed ME” is not only a morale-killer, but it backfires and reveals more about you than anyone else. Whether in a personal or professional setting these words speak to how you handle life when things invariably don’t go the way you had hoped.

Avoid accountability

First, and actually the most important — as the manager, you own the work of people who report to you. Their work is your achievement or lack thereof. If they have not delivered a quality product, it is your responsibility to help them figure out why. It is not your job to point fingers, deflect blame, and pronounce that the failure was somehow an inherent part of their being.

Show disrespect

You do not see your employees as colleagues working together toward a shared goal, and you are not showing appreciation for their effort. Your words reveal an out of place parent-child dynamic, in which the focus has become your approval rather than the work itself.

Ignore learning

These words have such a sense of finality that they would bring anyone to a crushing halt. You essentially show a lack of faith that the other person can change and grow from the experience

You also make them question their own competence in the job.

Condemn quickly

You think that you are maintaining high standards, but you show that you are a harsh judge of people who are simply trying their best. Disappointment should be a last resort and should be reserved only for people who do not, repeatedly, give their full effort.

Display insecurity

You think you are calling out the other person’s shortcomings, but if you dig deep, you will find you are mainly disappointed in your own effort

Your expectation did not match up with the reality of the situation, and in frustration, you blamed someone else.

Reserve the word “Disappointed” for situations where it is no one’s fault.  “I am disappointed that the Company picnic got rained out” or “I am disappointed that the flight got delayed and we missed the presentation” In these situations, everyone is empathic and agrees.  It puts into words what many people are feeling and can unite a team.

Internal Corporate communication Strategy

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When we think about the terms branding and communication, we often think about external efforts targeted at consumers of products or services which are normally the purview of marketing agencies or internal marketing teams.  However, internal corporate communications to our employee base is critically important in determining our ability to align our teams around one united purpose or mission and to effectively launch programs in support.

Developing an internal communication strategy necessitates that we consider the following:

Audience –  Who is our audience and what do we want them to hear?  Are we speaking to senior executives, investors or to our employee base?  If to the employee base, t what level should the communication be written?  Speaking to a group of data scientists may be different than speaking to a group of retail employees.

Channel/Format which channel(s) will be most effective when delivering this message?  IS this a message that can be communicated in writing or is the intent likely to be lost?  Should a live feed be followed up with video available to all who may not have been able to attend?  Is the expectation for all people leaders to waterfall the communication down through their teams?

Goals/Objectives this can be further broken down into the following categories:

Decision Making where the goal of the communication is to listen, understand all viewpoints and come to a consensus in order to be able to move forward

Information Sharing where the priority is around getting the information out and disseminated quickly, efficiently and accurately

Status Update meant to connect employees to areas of focus

Team Building crat alignment around short and long term goals and foster personal relationships on your team

Problem Solving often linked to a discussion focused on deliverables and how you as a manager, can remove roadblocks to allow your team to progress

Innovation brainstorming sessions that can focus on how to drive the company forward and gain a competitive edge

Schedule – decide how often and when this type of communication needs to occur.  There is a fine balance between over and under communicating

Responsibility – who should have the responsibility for crafting the communication and who should have the responsibility for delivering the communication.  Inherent in everyone’s responsibility is the need to follow up to ensure that the message you wanted to deliver was indeed received.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that communication plans and channels will take care of themselves.  A well-orchestrated plan with all of the above components will help to ensure that your company is both aligned and informed!

 

Employer Value Proposition

In this economy, defining your EVP, Employer Value Proposition,  is critically important.  Each candidate you speak with likely has multiple offers and if you can’t clearly explain how and why you are different and better and what you stand for, it is likely their decision will be to take their desirable skill set elsewhere.

For those of you with knowledge of basic psychology, think of the EVP as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are base needs where you need to stay competitive.  Those include compensation and benefit offerings.  There are differentiators which include whole wellness initiatives and career growth and there is the unique reason why you r company exists.  More employees today are looking for alignment between their personal values and the values a company espouses.

Competitive Offerings

Remaining competitive in this fast moving economy is no small challenge.  A scarcity of qualified people to fill positions a makes this a buyers’ market.  Ensure that your midpoints are truly targeted at around the 60th percentile of the market and consider developing a lead/lag or lead/lead structure that will allow you to stay ahead of the market not only at the beginning of the year, but throughout the year as well.   Benefits are another area that you need to just take off the table in the candidate’s equation.  They should be competitive, your employer to employee cost ratio should be average or better.  You might consider adopting a safe harbor 401(k) plan where all employer contributions are immediately vested.  This is appealing to the millennial crowd who are expected to have upwards of 15 jobs throughout their lifetime.

Differentiation

Here’s your opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.  Make sure you can answer the questions around a prospective employee’s career path within your organization.  What percent of your positions are filled internally?  Do you have Individual Development Plans?  How often are they updated?  What type of training do you offer? What is the most likely next position and how long might it take to get there?  How are high potential employees identified in your organization?

Workplace lifestyle or total wellness is another area that you can make a name for yourself.  Employers are waking up to the fact that employees who are struggling with emotional, social, physical or financial issues outside of work are not able to bring their best selves to work.  Employers are increasingly focusing on wellness platforms that are not only fun, with contests and prizes, but offer employees a wealth of education opportunities.

Unique

Ultimately, your purpose statement needs to explore and clearly state your WHY.  It should be a unique expression that sets your company apart and tells you candidates what you truly stand for.  One of the better books on this topic is Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  Make sure that it speaks to what is unique about your organization and is not compiled of generic statements.

Overall, the more you understand about why a candidate should select you, the better able you are to convince the candidate of that fact!

Why you shouldn’t post a job description

sherrie-suski-descriptionsJob descriptions most certainly have their place.  Written accurately, they spell out the specific requirements for each position within the company, list essential job functions, any physical requirements and the education or certifications necessary.  However, few individuals are compelled to join a company based on a very dry outline of what the job entails. Employees today are looking for the story behind the company. What do they stand for? What is important to them?  Are they aligned with a candidates’ personal values? And how do the employees fit into that equation?

Zappos is a perfect example of a trend setting company that has done away with posting job descriptions altogether.  Instead of applying to specific jobs, their careers page allows candidates to opt-in to the Zappos community. People get to know the company on an informal basis instead of focusing on a job.

Here’s how they describe it on their Insights blog:

Anyone coming to our new careers site will see information about each department — our employees, the department’s unique culture, and which roles that department typically fills. Job seekers will have an opportunity to make an introduction to that department rather than apply for a specific position. The whole concept is to “take a look Inside Zappos.” Job seekers will get to take a look “Inside Finance,” “Inside Merch,” etc. If they look inside and like what they see, they can introduce themselves and become a “Zappos Insider.” Without the ability to apply for specific roles, we will no longer need to send inhumane rejection templates. Instead, we can begin to focus on long-term engagement.

Focusing on the company and attracting people who are aligned with your values is critically more important than sourcing for a specific skill set.  Often times, the skills for the jobs being hired for can be taught, but it is an uphill battle to convince someone who is not aligned with your culture that it really is the best way to do things, treat people, speak with residents etc..

Think for a moment about the difference in these two statements:

  1. Responsible for developing, enhancing, modifying and/or maintaining applications in the Global Markets environment
  2. Launch new trade application in the Global Markets environment

Which one is a call to action?  Which one says something about where the company is going and what is important to them?  And which one has the better chance of attracting a driven, high potential candidate?

This is a great picture of a skill set that was almost certainly not outlined in a traditional job description.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and to emphatically state who you are.  The old adage :if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing” is an immediate turn off to today’s top candidates!

Talent Optimization

sherrie-suski-optimizationI was recently nominated as a finalist for Optima’s Talent Optimization awards. As I was completing the forms, I stated to think about what really constitutes talent optimization.   How do we, as HR professionals, ensure that we are getting the best that each of our employees have to give each and every day?   At Tricon American Homes we truly have a people first strategy. Our contention has always been that if we treat our employees well and show them, not just tell them, that we truly care about them as whole individuals, then our employees, in turn, will show that same care and concern towards each other and our residents.   Our Purpose Statement “to go above and beyond with our time, care and service, so that lives and communities are enriched” says it all.  

Acquiring Talent

Optimizing talent begins with acquiring talent.  If you can’t get the right people in the door, you will never have the opportunity to optimize.  Therefore, external branding from a candidate perspective becomes important. While not the biggest fan of Glassdoor, we do have a rating of 4.7, one of the highest on Glassdoor.  Candidates will constantly tell us that the reason they applied is because our employees routinely rank us so highly on Glassdoor and they are looking for a culture that supports the employees.  This year we also won Fortune’s Great Place to Work designation. This designation means so much to us as it comes directly from our employees’ hearts and is completely anonymous.  Website design is another area of focus. Career pages should tell a story and be ever changing and engaging. Potential employees are looking to engage with current employees to find out what it is like to work there before they actually apply.  

Employee Programs

Our people first strategy has a number of different components.  Every employee participates in a 90 day on-boarding program that covers the basics as well as our culture and philosophy.  We ensure that each employee is given feedback on no less than a quarterly basis from their manager. This keeps the lines of communication open and helps to resolve small issues before they become big issues.   We have both ladder (vertical) and lattice ( horizontal) training opportunities for our entire workforce. With over 1600 course online that are all aligned to our performance-based core competencies and to our potential behaviors aligned with our talent planning programs, there is truly something for everyone!  Our Wellness program is another way we show our employees that we care.  This program focuses on social, emotional, financial, and physical wellness with opportunities for individual goals and team contests with prizes all around.

Results

The results of this approach speak for themselves.  We have driven turnover down from a high of 45% four years ago to under 20% today and under 10% in the professional level positions.   That is no easy feat in today’s economy where there are more jobs than there are people for the first time in 50 years.  This people first strategy has helped us to drive our time to hire down to under 21 days for non-exempt positions and under 30 days for exempt level positions.  With over 25% of our hires coming from internal promotions, our employees know that we take their career growth seriously.

 

The bottom line is that can’t go wrong treating people right!

Past Performance and Future Results

sherrie-suski-businessYou know those caveats that are posted on every website about every investment transaction?  The ones that say, “past performance is not an indicator of future results”. Those same warnings should be adequately displayed on every employee.  Past performance in one role, does not necessarily predict future performance in a different role or even the same role at a different time

 

Looking backwards- Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisal do a decent job of reflecting backwards.  What did an employee accomplish during the year? What goals were met? Where were their biggest wins?  There are a number of ways to conduct them, some infinitely better than others.

Annual- Annual performance appraisals are quickly, but not quickly enough, in my opinion, going by the wayside.  They have a tendency to really only be focused on the last quarter because asking any manager to remember what accomplishments their 5-10 direct reports had a year ago is a hefty task.

Quarterly- Many companies are taking steps in the right direction and moving to quarterly reviews.  These have a few benefits: They decrease the time between action and remediation if necessary, allow for more frequent communication between a manager and his/her direct reports and help to align individual objectives more closely with ever changing company objectives.

Realtime- a few companies have successfully mastered real time feedback. An open social media type platform where feedback is given on a continuous basis, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, but it an ever-flowing stream of communication similar to a SnapChat streak, but without the pictures- don’t want to miss a day!

360- the really advanced organization have mastered the art of 360 feedback. This is quite a bit harder than it seems because the landmines are around accepting feedback, not just giving it.  For this method to be effective, you have to have a self-actualized workforce who is mature enough to handle and disseminate meaningful constructive feedback at all levels throughout the organization.  

 

Looking Forwards- Talent Planning

Organizations have realized that doing an annual performance appraisal and setting a few goals for the next year is far from a perfect process.  They know they need to develop leaders to be able to assume increasingly complex roles, but how? In steps Talent (sometimes known as Succession) planning.  Talent Planning looks forward.  It asks the question- what skills do I need to be able to have a greater impact on the organization? What is my potential?

Impact and potential are defined differently depending on who you talk to and what the organizational culture is.  In general terms having greater impact can be defined as having characteristics of Intellectual Curiosity, Critical thinking, Innovation, Agility, Change Management and Collaboration.  It is those traits that allow an individual to go beyond where they are today and tackle projects that will have a greater impact on the organization going forward. Not everyone who is a top performer will automatically score high on potential, nor should they.  Every organization needs a core of employees who are content being specialists and growing horizontally and not vertically!

Executive Coaching

Does Executive Coaching deliver on the promised results? The answer to that question lies in setting the appropriate expectations at both the organizational and the individual level.  The best coaches in the world cannot affect change with an unwilling participant and/or in an unsupportive environment. But what about a willing participant in a supportive environment?  What is needed in the process to not only affect immediate change, but sustain long lasting change, the kind that can make or breaks careers?

Most executive coaches are, in fact, behavioral coaches. If an executive is displaying behaviors that are in conflict with the organizational values or are simply not in their own best interests as a leader, then a coach versed in behavioral theory may well be an effective solution. Coaching works best with high potential people who are willing to make a concerted effort to change. This effort requires hard and sustained work on the leader’s part.  Most executive coaches will not take assignments that are less than 6 months and many run for up to 18 months with longer check in times.  That’s because change takes awhile before it becomes a habit that is repeatable without having to think about it. The leader has to truly want to change.  There is no magic bullet an executive coach brings that will allow the leader to succeed without putting in the effort.

The organizational environment has to be supportive as well. Organizations are made up of people, all with their own agendas, some noble and others not so much.  It sounds simple enough, but everyone involved in the coaching exercise has to want to person being coached to succeed.  If a senior member of the management team secretly hopes the coach returns after the initial assessment to say that the leader is not coachable, unwilling to participate or that it is some innate character flaw that cannot be addressed through behavioral change, then the likelihood of success is low.  For this reason, it is important for the coach to take the time needed to ask the hard questions and to continue to probe until he/she is satisfied that the coaching exercise is being pursued for the right reasons.

The Benefits of Executive Coaching

Enhanced Productivity

An effective coach can assist the leader in prioritizing multiple initiatives ensuring that the focus remains on those most critical to driving the business forward.  The coach can also serve as another person to hold the leader accountable for deliverables and can push back when excuses are given.

Empowered Decision Making

Executive coaching focuses on what is important and can support the leader in making empowered decisions that they may hesitate to make otherwise. Executive coaching assists in gaining clarity and helps to develop plans to minimize distractions and focus on actions that align with the business mission, vision, value, and goals.

Effective Feedback and Communication

The key to evaluating performance and driving change is truthful feedback, and there can be no better way for you to get quality feedback than by using a coach. Effective communication and collaboration in a business setting are key areas that drive the business outcomes. Good coaches will solicit feedback from 4-6 constituents across the organization to gain a well rounded view of the leaders communication style.

Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Emotional intelligence is the “the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they’re telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.” In other words, your own emotional self-awareness serves as an aid to understanding other people’s emotions; furthermore, you respond with empathy to their needs. You can see why emotional intelligence is so crucial to leadership positions. A coach can point out areas where they think leaders are misreading or ignoring situations calling out for EQ.  

In closing, executive coaching can be extremely useful in situations where the leader and the organization are willing, honest  and hopeful participants in the process.

Organizational Culture

sherrie-suski-cultureWelcome to 2019! It’s hard to know where to begin on your journey toward improving organizational culture if you don’t know where you are currently.  There are a number of different ways to measure culture……… satisfaction surveys, pulse surveys, MBWA, but it is sometimes helpful to have a framework in which to fit your feedback results.  Do you know what your end goal looks like and the steps needed to get from here…. to there?

The journey toward assessing and improving your organizational culture can be roughly broken down into the below five stages.

Functional

Learning and talent are often separate processes. Both are regarded as necessary for HR operations, but they are distinct from how business is done. Most employees do not regard the culture as engaging. Culture is frequently hierarchical. HR may conduct an engagement survey periodically but the inertia behind addressing some of the engagement challenges is low.

Cross- functional

Executive support for learning and talent is more evident but the culture is still principally characterized as a top/down command and control philosophy. The organizational structure is fairly hierarchical, but employees see opportunity for career advancement and mobility. Senior leaders are not purposefully driving efforts to enhance the culture or the level of execution and engagement among employees.

Building

Learning and talent begin to converge based on an awakening of how they can be leveraged to achieve better business outcomes. It is frequently at this stage that the organization becomes focused on quarterly or annual goals.  Employees recognize a shift toward more people-centric strategies as executives support more initiatives that strengthen the culture. Key to success in this phase is the degree of middle management support. Information flow becomes more organic.

Enhancing

An inspired, growth-minded organization is recognized as a true learning culture with a people-first philosophy. The organization is innovating and responds quickly to market changes, often seizing first-mover advantage and outstanding talent. Execution and engagement studies are regularly conducted to measure the tempo of the employee culture and there is wide-spread support for adjusting tactics when signs of engagement begin to drop.  Goals and a goal-based philosophy are adopted across the organization and embedded into the culture.

Optimized

A self-developing ecosystem drives change at individual and organizational levels. Collaboration and transparency in career and development abound. Employee ideas are valued and encouraged regardless of level. The organization is agile and consistently at the front of its field. The people culture is at the heart of the organizational philosophy. As such, multiple measures of employee engagement are used and there may be a dedicated function aligned to the candidate and employee experience. Highly sought after employer.

Not every organization will achieve the optimized state, but it is, nevertheless, a worthy goal.  The closer you can get, the better your organization will be from both an employee and investor perspective!