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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Leadership Lessons Learned from Laborers Leaving

Forgive my over-reliance on alliteration... I struggled to find a catchy title for this one!

Let me open by saying that I am NOT a Human Resources specialist. Any certification I've received in this realm comes from the School of Hard Knocks. But over the years (and especially in the last year or two) I've had several clients come to me with burning questions like:

  • How often should I do performance reviews for my employees? And um, while we're at it, HOW do I do one?
  • How do I fire someone?
  • Should I do reviews for new hires? What questions should I ask?
  • How do I motivate an employee to improve?
  • How do I stop employee turnover?
In the world of #metoo and situations like the one Starbucks is facing right now, I will be the first to acknowledge that the whole HR world has gotten really complicated. In the past, Human Resources handled benefits and payroll, but was mostly available as a listening ear and a place to help mediate some sticky workplace conflicts. But now, most clients I talk to say that HR is so consumed with the administration of compliance and benefits that it has little to no time (or ability) to address the pressing questions I've listed above. This now falls to managers and leaders. And frankly, I think that is best.

Where do we start? Here are a few fundamentals I always make sure to ask:
  1. CONFLICT. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you handle conflict? This is always my first question, and crucial to the conversation. I often find that situations are allowed to escalate to an unmanageable level before being addressed, which makes things all the more difficult to handle. I always try to have someone complete a StrengthsFinder assessment at the start, which really helps in assessing someone's capacity for handling conflict. And then I am able to coach them in the best ways to address tenuous and challenging situations sooner rather than later. Additionally, here's a quick article on getting a jump start on overcoming your aversion to conflict: Conversations When You Don't Like Conflict.
  2. PERSONNEL FILES. Do you maintain up-to-date files on employees? This seems really basic, but I am always surprised at how often this gets neglected. In the hustle and bustle of daily office life, it is something easily put off for some other time. Yet it is imperative that managers and supervisors maintain up-to-date personnel files, and here are details on some best practices for how to do that. I would make sure to include significant communications through email that have been conducted as well. May I add that it becomes very difficult to let go of a difficult employee if you haven't maintained these files?
  3. PERFORMANCE REVIEWS. How often do you conduct them? I am a huge fan of conducting 60- to 90-day reviews for new hires (letting them know at the outset that you'll be doing so). Let me know if you need help formulating a plan for that. I also heartily recommend that you conduct consistent performance reviews. However, we can all perhaps agree that the tradition of Annual Reviews feels rather useless, and has simply become an excuse for an employee to ask for a raise. This is a missed opportunity! Performance reviews can be a chance to develop your employees into leaders. But we must keep in mind that all research indicates that Millennials (currently aged 20-38, roughly) want more regular feedback in a much less structured way, in real-time. This may feel like additional work for the managers, but I find it also improves employee engagement to really commit to this form of leadership development - I recommend quarterly reviews, at minimum. Gallup is doing some good work in this arena. Here's a longer article, with my highlights to save you time! Re-Engineering Performance Management.
  4. PIP. Have you ever done a Performance Improvement Plan? Sometimes I cut straight to the chase on this one. If you have never done one, it's time to learn! Here's an online article that I've used with a couple of clients. I like it because it takes the positive approach -- ideally, PIP's will help employees improve, rather than serve as a perfunctory step to cover one's behind in preparation to fire someone.
  5. EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK. Do you even have one? I am WAY over my skis on this, but want to mention it. I know of resources to refer you to, but it is IMPERATIVE that your handbook be kept up to date -- everything is changing constantly, from online usage to dress codes to FMLA to harassment to so many other things, so cover your bases and schedule an annual update at the very least.
  6. EXIT INTERVIEWS. Take the time to do these. In a time of low unemployment, I am hearing the woes of many employers - they are having a harder time than ever in keeping good employees. Glassdoor has written up a resource on how to conduct exit interviews that might be helpful. I'm hearing from some clients that they are gleaning useful data on how to tweak their employment numbers by doing this.
My goal with everyone I talk to about this is to encourage them to see these situations as opportunities to LEAD rather than as onerous burdens. If you want to create a culture of excellence, it includes paying attention to this. Let's get going!

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