leadership dot #3413: otherness

There is a sweet spot between hiring people who are different from the norm but not so different that the culture does not accept them. One clear example comes to mind where I hired someone who pushed the envelope — just what we needed — but was ultimately let go because his “otherness” was seen as a negative by the wrong people. Previous employees and professional association colleagues also have played a contrarian role or brought a perspective that was outside of the rest of the group but were dismissed because of this.

To ensure that the differences are an asset instead of a liability, it helps to be clear from the start what you are looking for in your hire. If the hiring team (and those above them) agree that the organization needs someone to shake the status quo, ask the tough questions, offer perspectives that will be uncomfortable to hear, it’s helpful to return to that agreement when the new hire actually does those things.

People often say that they value someone who is different than they are but in the end, many revert to someone like themselves as it is often easier to dismiss the “other” rather than to integrate them into the culture and learn from the view they bring. Be intentional that it’s not the case with your organization.

leadership dot #3393: belong

It seems that everyone is scrambling to hire employees. How would the focus be different if instead organizations placed their emphasis on retaining good staff?

In Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code, he describes an experiment at a call center in India that had turnover rates between 50-70% per year — embarrassingly normal for that industry. Attempts at raising salaries and adding benefits did not yield many results but a one-hour experiment did.

During employee onboarding, one group received an extra hour of orientation that focused on the employee rather than the company. Trainers sought to understand more about the people as individuals and what they brought to the organization. At the end of the session, instead of the company-branded shirt the other groups received, this experimental group received a shirt with the company name and their name. Those were the only differences in their initial intake process.

Seven months later, the group who received the personal emphasis was 250% more likely to be retained than those who only received company information and 157% more likely to stay than a control group. Wowza — that’s a difference from only one hour of intervention.

It wasn’t the hour — or the shirt. Coyle describes it as creating “psychological safety” — a culture-defining moment by the organization to engage people from the start and signal that they belonged. Keep scrambling to hire great people — but when you find them, put in the extra effort to connect them to your organization to make it more likely that they will stay.

Source: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, 2018

leadership dot #3370: labor

Recruit for this job: pick corn every day during the summer starting at first light. Or stand outside all day at a farm stand to sell it. You would think — in this environment of a tight labor market — that those positions would remain unfilled, but our local farm family has learned that people are attracted to work for more than money.

Farm stand manager Carol Fincel is quoted as saying: “My staff are like my own children. They have to be 14 (years old) to start, and a lot of them stay through college. They learn so much, and I get to see them blossom.” Her relationship-building efforts not only earn her accolades with current staff, but multiple siblings rotate through the years and serve as a pipeline for future labor. Word travels, and the buzz is that the Fincel’s are great employers (and great farmers!).

Organizations today are offering all kinds of incentives to entice front-line or assembly-line workers to fill their positions: sign-on bonuses, college tuition, four-day work weeks, free meals, extra vacation time, and more. But people have always worked — and quit — because of their manager.

On this Labor Day — and the other 364 days — take a lesson from the Fincel’s and treat your current employees in such a way that they become life-long ambassadors for the company and actively recruit their friends. It’s the ultimate competitive advantage.

As quoted in “Sweet corn delights tri-state palates” by Sage Smith in the Telegraph Herald, July 7, 2021, p. 1A

leadership dot #3363: dirty work

What a week. Between Covid, Afghanistan, and now Hurricane Ida I think of all the people who are risking their lives to provide us with health, protection, or even news. The armed forces, health care professionals, weather reporters, FEMA staff, or front-line rescuers — we expect them to be there when we walk into a hospital, dial 911, or tune into emergency reports, without always considering their sacrifices to do so. Moments after Ida made landfall I was seeing pictures, but someone had to be in close proximity to the 150 mph winds to take and share them. In order for Louisiana staff to be at the hospital to serve patients, they had to allow their families to ride out the storm without them.

Even ordinary circumstances require people to work in risky or undesirable positions. In his book Dirty Work, author Eyal Press highlights prison employees, laborers in chicken slaughterhouses and processing plants, and drone warriors who all fall into the “dirty work” category. For the most part, we never think about any of these positions or what could be done to make the conditions more tolerable for those who hold them, yet we expect people to work in those roles.

As you start the week, take a moment to reflect on the many layers of people you unknowingly rely on to keep your community functioning in the way to which you have become accustomed. Someone is keeping the power on, the cows milked, the grocery stores stocked and the schools open. People are walking into dangerous situations to keep terrorists at bay, fires under control, and jails locked down.

If you think it is difficult to find employees for a retail operation or in the hospitality industry, consider what it takes to recruit and retain quality staff in the undesirable roles — yet we all need people to be there. Raise your awareness, appreciation, and advocacy to create safe and sane working conditions for all.

leadership dot #3298: snapshot

The Major League Baseball game that will be played this summer near the Field of Dreams is about 30 minutes from my house — so I applied to be one of the Game Day workers. As part of the process, we naturally had to fill out an online application and then I was notified that I would be interviewed via Zoom — for five minutes.

It turned out that five was being generous; I was on the call for literally three minutes flat.

I understand that this is a one-day job so it doesn’t require an in-depth assessment but what can you really tell in three minutes, especially when two of the minutes were spent giving me disclaimers: I wouldn’t see the game, had to stand all day, would need to pass a background check, etc.? The interviewer called it a “snapshot conversation” which is one way to describe it but I am hard-pressed to consider its value.

If you are going to go through a complex logistical process (like scheduling an entire week of five-minute interview slots), weigh your time investment against the likely return. Are you truly going to gain a week’s worth of value above and beyond what is written in the application? It’s noble to perform due diligence, but there are times when the risk to act with less information may be prudent. Hitting a single instead of a home run might be enough.

leadership dot #3244: draft

I caught some of the NFL draft on television and, even though the process was COVID-modified, it still got me musing about their recruitment process. Think about all the teams know about the players before they are ever chosen — scouts have seen them performing the job responsibilities on film, have measurable statistics for their performance over multiple years, and have similar information for all of the leading aspirants for every position.

Can you imagine if other organizations hired people the way the NFL drafts players?

Instead, too often a manager or human resource professional meets with a person for an hour or so and makes a judgment based on that interaction and what the resume says. There is no hands-on assessment to see the person actually perform the work or something similar to it. Often, there are no objective criteria to outline what is important or how the candidates fare on that scale. The hiring manager may check references for the last position or two but likely does not extensively investigate everything about the applicant’s history.

While you may not be able to obtain “game film” on your next recruit, you can ask candidates to perform a relevant task and you can ascertain how they fit within your team through extended, interactive group interviews. Spending the time to hire the right player is a worthwhile investment, no matter what kind of team you’re coaching.

leadership dot #3243: signing

In a creative branding of their hiring event, Dick’s Sporting Goods opted to call it “National Signing Day” instead of the generic Open Interviews. It not only ties with their business but going to a signing day sounds much more exciting than interviewing — and it predisposes the person to actually being hired and working at the store. This isn’t a come-check-us-out event; the intention is much clearer.

How could you brand your hiring process or do something to align it more with your organization? Schools could have an enrollment day — for employees instead of students. Banks could have an investment day — where potential hires invest in their future by working with them. Software or tech firms could offer an update day — encouraging new staff to update their employment by switching to the company. You get the idea!

Securing good talent is one of the most important — and most difficult — tasks that a manager faces. Use your marketing skills to stand out and have people consider you for their next job.

leadership dot #3160: hiring

You may have expected yesterday’s lineup of Super Bowl players to be filled with A-list players but a closer look reveals that many came to the NFL with a less-than-stellar pedigree. Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady was not selected until the 6th Round, the 199th choice in the Draft. Kansas City has 22 players on their roster who were drafted in the 3rd Round or later, some not ever being drafted at all. Several of the Chiefs starters joined the team in later rounds.

While many teams create profiles of the athletic abilities sought in their future players, these championship teams sought characteristics beyond running speed or bench-press limits.

“It’s not that we said we wanted to draft a tall, lanky quarterback that ran a 5.3 [time in the] 40 [yard dash]. Those weren’t the traits we were looking for,” then-member of the Patriots personnel staff Jason Licht said at a press conference before the 2014 season. “But we were looking for the mental makeup…”

The Chiefs operated with a similar philosophy. “When they’re looking for guys to add to our roster,” Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck said, “they’re looking for guys that love football, love to compete. Self-starters.”*

Take a lesson from this year’s Super Bowl teams and look past the basic stats for your next hire. Having a solid resume is important, but a mindset is what creates a winner.

*Source: Talented, but overlooked by Dave Skretta for the Associated Press, in the Telegraph Herald, February 3, 2021, p. 5B.

leadership dot #3158: mainstream

February has been designated as Black History Month since 1969 but have you noticed how it has gained prominence this year? Michael’s has an entire section of craft materials. Kohls features special shirts. Hallmark has a line of cards. Local billboards tell the story of African-American inventors or artists. In almost every store there is themed merchandise or displays commemorating the month.

Embrace the growing focus and learn more about the background of those around you. Widespread cultural change occurs after small shifts in what is considered mainstream.

leadership dot #3101: exposure

At the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Doris Kearns Goodwin relayed a story about Eleanor Roosevelt who was the first First Lady to hold routine press conferences — but Eleanor added a restriction: only female reporters could attend. Because of this caveat, many curmudgeonly male editors across the country were forced to diversify their workforce, often for the first time.

At the same conference, Admiral Michelle Howard recounted how her supervisor intentionally sought to add women and people of color in the entry-level administrative or assistant roles, not because they were lofty positions, rather because it gave those folks exposure to how the system worked and gave them experience to apply for higher positions someday.

All of us, in our own spheres of influence, have the obligation to create opportunities for others. Can you invite people to shadow you to gain exposure to operations that can benefit them later? Is there a way to expand your talent pool to include those without the direct experience normally hired into your roles? Maybe you could restructure your hierarchy to provide more deputy or entrée positions that could feed your leadership pipeline with diverse perspectives? Or could you perhaps mentor someone and help boost their confidence?

The more doors we help to open, the bigger our world becomes.