Category Archives: Talent Management

Promotions That Change Lives

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A close colleague recently received a well-deserved promotion, and I am thrilled for her and her manager.  I believe that this sort of thing – “promotion” in the very best sense of the word – has the power to change careers … and lives.

Why Promotions Matter

It’s always nice to get a raise (more money) or a promotion (a loftier title and/or higher-level job responsibilities), of course.  But I find that when done thoughtfully and purposefully, it can be much more than a “nice to have” or a brief shot-in-the-arm for morale purposes.  In my friend’s case, the promotion:

  • Showed her that she and her contributions were valued by the organization
  • Gave her increased standing and confidence to interact with clients, colleagues, and vendors on a more equal footing as professional peers
  • Changed her own thinking about what future steps her career might hold in store —what possibilities could become realities for her
  • Increased her already strong appreciation for her manager, knowing that he had gone to bat for her when he didn’t have to
  • And, in part that she’s not aware of yet, the promotion sets her up for other jobs (inside and outside the company) for which holding her new title/level is an unstated (but very real) requirement.

In the manager’s case, the promotion demonstrated: Continue reading

Unleashing Potential

Do you have employees who you are penning into a limited role — but whose skills and background (if not current position) enable them to contribute great things to your organization, if only “discovered” and given the chance to excel?

An under-employed friend recently shared her frustration at not being permitted to contribute at the level which she is capable. Empathizing with her plight (one that is shared by millions), I wonder whether companies need to attend more directly to this post-recession phenomenon.  Is there a way to unleash the potential of this vast untapped reservoir of talent, energy, and ideas?

Point of Reference: The Survey Says

While pondering this, I noticed that SHRM’s latest national job satisfaction survey included a shocker.  For the first time, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” displaced job security (63% to 61%) as the most important aspect of job satisfaction.   The bottom line: we want to be secure, but even more than that, we want to be fulfilled in our work.  President Kennedy once defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along lines of excellence.” In this way, we all want to be “happy.”

Recognize These People?

Do any of these folks work at your company?

  • MBA-educated customer service rep—She has fifteen years of prior professional experience, but when she makes process improvement suggestions, she’s told “We tried that once and it didn’t work” (with the unstated subtext being, “Besides, managers make those kind of decisions here”).
  • Non-degreed manager—You’re happy to have him managing the day-to-day HR affairs of your large retail operation (keeping you out of expensive lawsuits on a daily basis)—but when it comes to managing a high-visibility nationwide project, those are tacitly reserved for designated “high potential” (degreed) junior executives only.
  • Receptionist-Playwright—Did you know that your friendly receptionist spent a dozen years as a budget analyst and project manager for a major bank and, in her spare time, is a playwright who founded and leads her own non-profit, community theatre group?

If so, you may have individuals who are vastly under-employed—i.e., highly under-utilized assets.

Unleashing Potential

So, what can be done?  Each company and individual circumstance is different, of course —but just using the three examples above, how would it improve your organization’s performance if …

  • You sought out the MBA-educated customer service rep, let her know that you appreciated her process-improvement suggestions, and you wanted her to keep them coming.  Separately, you ensure that the status-quo manager changes their tune and opens up to change in no uncertain terms.
  • You realize that you’ve advertised a senior HR director role for months without success—all the while possibly having an ideal candidate in-house.  You loosen the degree requirements, focus on who can truly do the job, and invite the non-degreed HR manager in for a serious interview / career planning discussion.
  • You’re reorganizing a chronically under-performing department and are about to advertise for a project manager to lead the effort.  Then, you remember the receptionist’s background and wonder if this is the sort of thing she has done in a past life.  When she jumps at the opportunity and hits the ground running, you smile in satisfaction (and relief at finally solving the problem).

With managers at all levels just as overwhelmed as their employees—having little time to think deeply about the latent skills, talents, and experience of their employees—the “what if” above might strike some as unrealistic.  But what if it’s not?  It might just take some time and a  commitment to dig a little deeper to see answers that might be right in front of us.

Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

A discussion with a friend about his recent performance review reminded me that, as human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion.  Sometimes we can do something well, and still miss the point of the exercise.  This is such a story.

The Story

Looking somewhat dejected, my friend handed me a copy of his performance review and asked me to read it.  Seeing his demeanor, I was expecting to find nasty comments or low ratings on the review.  As I read through it, though, I saw that it was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments –even ending with a handwritten note from his boss thanking him for his service and looking forward to even greater success in the coming year.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he replied.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a Continue reading

Delegation, Trust, and Satisfaction

Recently, I saw an episode of Restaurant Impossible that reaffirmed an important lesson about managing:  everyone wants their boss to trust them, and there’s nothing like delegation to show trust.  When trust isn’t present, it can crush an employee’s spirit … and organizational performance, right along with it.

Restaurant Impossible

On the Food Network show, Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert Irvine works with once-thriving and now-floundering restaurants to turn them around (in 48 hours or less!).  Each episode features innumerable business lessons about failing to listen to customers, slowly degrading quality standards, and not keeping up with industry trends—and the stories are often heart-breaking (i.e., owners who have put their lives into an establishment, only to see their dreams slip away slowly day after day as business declines and debts mount).

This particular episode told the story of a once-successful family steakhouse that had lost its way—with the husband-and-wife ownership team working more and more hours and seeing fewer and fewer customers.  Chef Irvine helped the husband see that his need for control was one of the central problems in the operation. Example:  He spent hours each day portioning out the meat into 8 ounce filets, 12 ounce chops, etc.  When asked why he couldn’t have his chefs do this as part of their daily routine, he replied: “Because I have to do it.”  When asked how long his chefs had been with him, I was stunned by his answer: “25 years each.”

25 years and he didn’t even trust his chefs to trim meat.  Not surprisingly, they Continue reading

The Power of Clarity

Are our managers weighed down by doubts about their roles and the organization’s purposes? Simple clarity can help release powerful performance.

I was reminded again last week how important it is for organizations to communicate clear roles and purposes.  Simply knowing where the organization is going and what it expects of you dramatically affects how you feel about—and how you do—your job.  So simple … and so easy to forget.

The Situation

As I was helping a group of front-line supervisors implement a new performance evaluation system, the question of “trust” kept coming up.  At first, it was difficult to get a handle on what exactly the issue was.  I kept talking about how the system would free them to coach, mentor, and support their employees—and they kept asking, “Really?”

The system itself was pretty simple, so I was confused, until it finally became clear that they weren’t questioning the system—only their role in it.  The “really” was, “Are you sure that the organization really wants us spending our time coaching and mentoring? They’re really going to let us do that?”

Clearly there was some emotional baggage to overcome before any new system could take hold.

The History

In the last ten or so years, they had experienced a number of short-term leaders.  With each new leader—some more communicative than others—the role of the front-line supervisor had shifted, leaving them confused and dispirited.  The common theme, Continue reading

Changing Our Views

I have a confession to make: I was wrong about LeBron James.

I thought that he would never win an NBA Championship.  While possessing other-worldly talent, I didn’t think he had the depth of character to lead his team to the mountaintop.  Yet, somehow, there he was last month, celebrating a championship with his teammates—one that he had largely willed them toward.  I was wrong.

Of course, many mis-judgments of talent are made in sports—and business—every day.  The question is, what do we do when the facts change and we recognize that we’ve under- (or over-) evaluated someone on our team?

LeBron’s Story

As brief background for non-basketball fans, LeBron James has been regarded as one of the most talented basketball players in the world since he was in high Continue reading

We Can Do Better

Has contacting candidates after an interview to let them know their status become as antiquated as a rotary-dial telephone?

It’s become apparent to me over the past few years that—somehow—it has become acceptable for even the best HR departments not to follow-up with candidates after an interview  to let them know their status … ever.  As a 20+ year HR professional, I’m embarrassed for our profession by this.  We can do better.

Disclaimer

Over the years, I have found recruiters to be among the hardest-working, most dedicated employees in an organization.  They are almost invariably over-worked, underpaid, and putting in the maximum effort, day after day.  Therefore, the “not calling back” phenomenon is certainly not due to lack of effort or commitment on the recruiter’s part.  Yet and still, this isn’t acceptable, and we need to change it.

What’s Happening

Here’s the scenario that often plays out:

  1. Candidate responds to an internet posting with a resume and cover letter.
  2. If they’re lucky, candidate receives an automated response saying, “We’ll be in touch if you’re a match.” (No problem there).
  3. Candidate is called for an interview (either on-site or by telephone). Hopes rise.
  4. Interview occurs.
  5. Candidate checks their e-mail/voicemail regularly … in vain. Hopes are dashed.

Collateral Damage

Here’s the part companies don’t see (or don’t want to think about).  If they’re like most people, the candidate shares their potential good news with family and Continue reading

Avoiding Rookie Hiring Mistakes

They say that “to err is human.” Indeed. Even after more than twenty years in human resources, I recently found myself guilty of some rookie hiring mistakes. Here’s my story, offered as encouragement to help others avoid similar errors.

Situation

I was helping a senior manager hire for a frontline supervisory role. When I tell you that the prior supervisor, though highly competent and a hard worker, had a contentious relationship with customers, wasn’t able to analyze or streamline processes, and couldn’t help but see the glass as half empty, I’m sure that you could predict every mistake we made in trying to find his replacement.

Hiring Mistakes

  •  Throwing out the baby with the bathwater — We were right to focus on the candidate’s customer service skills and general workplace attitude, given the shortcomings of the prior supervisor. We were wrong to focus on these aspects to the exclusion of the core skill needed in the job—competence in the subject matter.Unfortunately, this is a common error: trying to hire the opposite of the prior person and forgetting about all of the good skills they did bring to the job.
  • Seeing what you want to see—When your assessment of the candidate’s answers is more hopeful than it is realistic, this is an indication that you’re “reaching”—and we were. In addition to being Continue reading

Leading by Teaching

What does a great pastrami on rye have to do with leadership? Read below.

I’d like to share with you a story about my deli guy.  Why a story about a “deli guy” in an HR/leadership blog? Because, in addition to making great sandwiches (“I’ll take a ‘Gerty’— corned beef and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing and a side of coleslaw— thanks!”), he’s also one of the most natural teachers that I’ve ever observed, and therein lies the story.

Dad’s Deli (and Training Academy)

Doug, a longtime restauranteur and caterer, co-manages Dad’s Deli with his wife, Debbie.  Located in a nondescript building in a suburban setting, Dad’s has developed a loyal following.  Beyond the quality of the sandwiches, this is due in no small part to the friendly, everyone-knows-your-name atmosphere (think “Cheers” in a deli) that starts with Doug’s greeting as you enter the door.  A natural networker, Doug goes out of his way— even in the busiest rush periods— Continue reading

Encouraging New Managers

During the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a few new managers grow into their jobs.  I wanted to share a few observations about their struggles and successes that may apply universally to all new managers.

  • Learning their craft
    My young friends have viewed management as a skill to be learned, and they’ve dived into it with passion.  They’re trying to read and learn and think about management skills and techniques wherever and whenever they can.  Sometimes the mind gets ahead of the body, as it were (i.e., their desire to learn outpaces their actual skill at using the techniques they are learning) … but this brings with it hard-earned experience and, ultimately, greater skill.
  • Learning to delegate
    This might be the hardest skill to learn for most new managers (who have generally been promoted due their technical excellence in their field, not their managerial skill).  They understand that their job is now to get work done throughother people now, rather than solely operating as an individual contributor. For the most part, they remember this and try to provide their teams with the resources, support, and autonomy they need to do their jobs.  Every once in a Continue reading