How to Keep Good Employees from Straying

Feels like the workforce pool is shrinking. We don’t want to lose good people who might get offers from other employers looking for talent. We want to link pay increases to results: you learn something, now you’re worth more money. What should we do?

Thoughts of the Day:  As the economy heats up, it’s normal for employees to consider their job options. People will stay put for lots of reasons – because they seek security, love the job, think highly of the company – but only up to a point. Big annual pay raises can be deadly unless they’re handed out in a more productive fashion, linked to the company’s performance. Also consider options for alternative forms of reward.

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Irreplaceable? Think again…

When I hire people, after awhile many of them get comfortable with their jobs. Even worse, some of them come to think they’re untouchable. I know they’ve grown into important roles, but that kind of attitude isn’t good for the company. What should I do?

Thoughts of the Day: Build an organization of team players by giving people goals and challenges. Remember, no matter how key an employee may seem to be, everyone is replaceable. Use regular reviews to tell people where they stand. It all comes down to what you’re willing to accept, and whether or not you’re willing to make and enforce demands.

A team of employees focused on a common goal, working together to understand and overcome a set of challenges, can accomplish substantially more than any single individual. Assign all employees to teams. Look for opportunities to have people overlap duties and back up other positions.

Target the people who are isolated, either by job function or by personal choice. For starters, ask them to join a group project, with a clearly defined goal and a leader who is good at including team members. Make it clear that part of their performance review is based on how well they perform as a team member. Ask the team leader for regular updates. If necessary, provide one-on-one counseling to the people you’re working to turn into collaborators.

Sometimes you may run into a fit issue: as in, the persons you’re counseling are having trouble fitting in as productive team members. Document the work they do. Start cross-training others to do some, or all, of their job. Keep in mind that your responsibility is to the company overall. With enough documentation and cross training, even key players can be replaced.

Meet individually and explain that sub-par performance on a team could get in the way of making progress in the company. If behavior is especially disruptive, or if you’ve been through multiple counseling sessions and there’s no real progress, make sure that person knows that they could be facing consequences up to, and including, termination, if they don’t shape up. Don’t be subtle at this stage. Make sure the message gets across.

At the same time that you’re telling people they’re in trouble, post their jobs and look for potential replacement candidates. Many times managers and business owners hesitate to draw the line with disruptive or uncooperative employees because they fear no one else can do the job. Looking for replacements, and training others to do some, or all, of the job will give you options.

In general, it is wise to conduct reviews with people once or twice a year. Try to keep people on their toes by finding the balance between giving them new tasks to master, and allowing them sufficient time to get good at existing assignments. Everyone should have a mix of some new things to learn, some things they can do really well, and a bunch of things that they’re working towards mastering.

Set the tone for the company as you conduct reviews. Give people realistic stretch goals. Put it in the context of what the company has to achieve in the upcoming year, and how their success at mastering new goals is essential to that progress.

Make time to review company results, and to plan out what’s needed for the company going forward. Make it your job to demand excellence from everyone around you, starting with yourself. Create a culture of accountability, responsibility, and striving to achieve.

Limit the time you spend with marginal performers, energy suckers, and self-serving individuals. Recognize and reward the people who perform in an atmosphere of collaboration, cooperation and acting in the best interests of the company. Give them 80% of your time. After all, the team players are your future.

Looking for a good book? Try HR from the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business, by Martha Finney.


Don’t Rush to Get a New Employee on Board

33% – 46% of new hires fail within 18 months; majority fail for attitude. More than 50% of the time hiring managers regret their decision

I was in too much of a hurry last year, and hired the wrong person. It turned into a real headache as we clashed about nearly everything, from how to do the work, to who was responsible for what. Finally I let her go. It cost me a lot of time, energy, and lost opportunity. I don’t want to go there again. What can I do different next time?

Thoughts of the Day: Assessing pre-hire is crucial, if difficult. Understand your company’s culture. Take the time to build a hiring system. Train new hires on culture as well as skill. Build bench strength. Deal with mistakes quickly.               

Most interviewers focus on interviewing for job skill. Statistics indicate that hiring managers are doing a good job of figuring out which candidates have the skills needed to do the job, and which don’t. Only 1 in 10 hires fails for skill.

Spend more time learning how to perfect the attitude / behavior interviews. Recognize that every company is unique. Specific skills are needed to perform tasks specific to the company. There are also attitudes and codes of behavior unique to each company.

Entrepreneurial companies have cultures that tend towards throwing people into the deep end of the pool, asking people to solve problems with imperfect information, encouraging people who continue to learn new things and rewarding people who take initiative well beyond the defined scope of their job. That’s fine as long as you hire for those attributes. But watch out if that’s your culture and you hire someone who values a well laid out set of procedures, someone who waits for the boss to give direction, who avoids risk, and who values routine, repetitive activities. Right person, wrong company.

Make a list of attributes that do and don’t work in your company. Look at the strongest and weakest performers in your company today. Put skills aside, list successful and unsuccessful behaviors and attitudes.

Build a set of questions that help you find out where candidates are coming from, relative to your company’s success behaviors. Ask candidates questions about what they prefer. Ask candidates to describe their best and worst bosses. Ask them to relate attributes and behaviors of those bosses to what works and doesn’t work for them. 

Use the same questions on every interview and keep notes on candidate answers on file. Track successful and unsuccessful hires and compare to interview answers. Look for patterns.

While you don’t want a company of robots, it is important to recognize that culture and values can be the glue that binds employees together. Put new employees through an orientation program to help them understand the company’s stated and implied rules of behavior. Assign a mentor to each new employee. Encourage diversity of backgrounds, while developing a uniform code of behavior.

As much as possible, hire from the bottom, train and promote. Have every person in the company be responsible for identifying and training their replacement. Four things will result. One, new hires who don’t make it will be at the entry level, lowest risk, easiest to fill positions. Two, employees in line for promotions will have already proven themselves on culture fit. Three, employees will know they fit and have a future within your company. Four, it will be much easier to fill open positions, focusing on skill training rather than culture and behavior.

Even with a system to hire, a sound on-boarding process, and a program to grow talent internally, you’ll still make hiring mistakes. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time. When there is a problem address it quickly. Implement skill and behavior training and look for immediate results. Assess the facts of the situation and avoid living in the land of hope. If things don’t turn around quickly, be prepared to admit there’s a mistake and encourage the employee to move on. 


Looking for a good book? Hiring for Attitude; A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting Star Performers with Both Tremendous Skill and Superb Attitude, by Mike Murphy.

Here’s the PDF: 4.25.13 – Don’t Rush to Get a New Employee On Board


Say No to Being ‘Yessed’ to Death

One of our key employees  yes’s us to death. She tells us what she thinks we want to hear. I don’t know how to get across to her that we need to know what’s going on – good and bad – so she – and we – can deal with it.

Thoughts of the Day:  Make sure you’re emphasizing the right things. Set up a process for identifying and solving problems.  Log and prioritize issues.  Reward employees who seek to improve.

It can be scary to admit that something’s gone wrong or that one is in over his/her head. It’s natural to avoid risk. How you lead your employees will speak volumes about your company’s ability to make progress on big and little issues  – now and in the future.

When things go wrong, how do you react? Do you get upset? Or, do you put on a game face and embrace opportunities to make the organization better?

It takes time to change. People have to be able to step back and look at what’s going on. If they’re already overbooked, an interruption is a burden that leads to more overtime, less productivity, and more blaming when work doesn’t go out on time. Who wants to deal with that? Better to ignore the problem, hope it goes away. Instead, set up an environment where change can happen.

Look at workload. If employees don’t have some free time during the day to work on improvements, if they’re always behind, fix it. Look at how work flows through that area. Reorganize tasks and get additional staff. It may seem like it costs more, but until you make time to deal with problems at the root, they just keep costing you time, money and energy.

Even with extra time in the day, it’s impossible to deal with everything at once. Set up a log where everyone can record things that need to be worked on. Schedule work sessions to review the log. Assign people to work on items and review outcomes. Report company-wide about improvements that are being made.

Teach employees to consistently approach problem solving. Step 1: identify the problem. Step 2: Define the problem. Step 3. Make a list of all possible causes. Step 4. Decide who else to involve in the problem solving process. Step 5. Brainstorm possible solutions. Step 6. Try out solutions. Step 7. Evaluate results. Step 8. Assess outcomes. Step 9. Make adjustments. Step 10. Write it up for future reference.

Teach employees how to look for root causes. Talk about the importance of investigating why something went wrong, rather than fixing the surface. Make sure employees understand that permanently getting rid of problems requires tracing things back to their source of origin.

Sound like a lot? So is overlooking things that need fixing. A systematic approach to problem solving will lead to better outcomes and more permanent solutions. And long term, that means less stress, higher productivity and bottom line savings.

Make it clear that as problems come up, they are to be solved, not ignored. Make that a core value of the company. Teach employees that they contribute the most when they look to build better outcomes.

Look at what happens when employees come forward with issues. Are they promoted or penalized? Are they recognized for being outspoken, or shoved to the side as always complaining or challenging the status quo? Build a better organization by recognizing employees who identify problems and solutions over those who promote the values of being in control and covering up.

Loss of status, credibility or opportunity for promotion may go along with admitting a person can’t handle a situation.  Make sure this doesn’t happen in your company. Make people hero’s and winners because they continuously look for ways to improve what’s going on. Talk with your yes-ing employee about how her life gets better when she eliminates stress by working with openly with team members and management to make things work better.

Looking for a good book?

pdf version


Integrate Lead Generation with Sales

Q: When we’re recruiting for sales, I find that people get scared off when we tell them they have to generate their own leads. I have only two or three people on the sales force who make enough calls per day. The rest slack off and wait for me to give them leads to follow up or live in hope they’ll pick up something through networking. What should I do?

Thoughts of the day: There’s no school out there to teach people sales like there is for engineering or nursing or general business or any other professional discipline. Finding good salespeople – at any level from entry to experienced – is a process of looking for a needle in a haystack. Building a lead-generation program to supplement what salespeople can come up with on their own is smart business. Ultimately, you want people who are motivated, smart and willing to show initiative to master the job they signed up for.

Sometimes, people are just not made for this job. But don’t write them off because they don’t have much sales experience. Develop a training program within your company. Just like in school, create a syllabus for the program that outlines what you will cover and what your salespeople can expect at each session. Ask your senior sales managers to work together to create this program.

Every manager or executive has a story about a prime sales candidate, after investing money and time on training, this person turns out to over-promise and under-deliver. Often, we spend too much time focused on the “potential” that someone has, rather than accepting the reality. Sales is hard, but you hired these people to do exactly that, sell. Don’t be blindsided by a fancy résumé. Hire your salespeople on a probationary level, set a date for performance review and at that time if they’re not performing, it’s time to cut them loose. There are people out there who would kill for the job, so be tenacious.

Building a lead-generation program to supplement what salespeople can come up with on their own is smart business. Come up with measurable qualities that your customers need to have in order to be considered viable prospects. Whatever your parameters may be, if your lead-generation program is working correctly, these prospective clients will qualify themselves. You will be able to funnel a large amount of prospects and turn them into a list of qualified sales leads. This ensures that you always have quality prospects and have a big enough pool to choose great customers rather than mediocre ones. If you want to take your company to the next level, choosing your customers has to be a number one priority. In the beginning it was about quantity, but now, your sales team has to know that quality customers are more important. With a great lead-generation program in place, it will be easier to develop a large, quality driven, customer base.

Ultimately you want people who are motivated, smart and willing to show initiative to master the job they signed up for. But know when to cut them loose. Salespeople need to have drive, but this is not something that you can teach. If you interview someone who has all the qualities of a great sales person, drive, enthusiasm, ability to sell ice to an Eskimo, etc., but they’re lacking in the experience department, give them a chance. Enroll them in your sales training program and train them to be great salespeople.

Looking for a good book? Try “Coaching Sales People into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives” by Keith Rosen.

pdf version