Teach employees how to pitch their ideas and hire for it as we well – Dreamworks http://usat.ly/NDqeBW#.UA6E4gYZDjM. #EmployeeEngagement
First a Story
While addressing a group of employees at a town hall meeting, I saw a CEO once take a twenty-dollar bill out of his pocket and drop it on the floor. He said the first person to put their twenty on top of his could have both. For a few seconds everyone looked at each other. Then one employee stepped up and laid down his cash and then look at the CEO who said, “I wasn’t kidding take them both and put them in your wallet.” As the employee did, our CEO turned teacher said, “Let me ask you this, do you participate in our 401k?” The employee said “No.” The CEO smiled and responded, “Because I’m trying to give you money that way too.” He went on to remind the group that the company matched, to a cap, the employee contributions. “If you don’t participate at least to get the full match, I’ve offered you a tax deferred raise and you’ve said ‘No, thanks’.”
The Match is Back!
In 2008 and 2009, many companies suspended or cut back their 401k match programs. Many employees followed cutting back in their contributions. Retirement seemingly so far off, especially for people just starting out. Bills and rising costs or debt such immediate needs.
So my point here is simple. If you’re employer has a 401k match, make sure your contributing at least to take advantage of the match.
Trust me, you can.
That said, I understand that many people struggle to meet their financial obligations. Savings of any kind, especially for that far off retirement, can feel impossible. If you’re working to pay down debt or living paycheck to paycheck, even the smallest deferral can be a big dent. That’s where I encourage you to check out any resources your employer has around financial planning. Many companies, like ours, employ financial advisors who can help employees create a plan. Your company might also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP),that offers free access to experts who can help.
Start small. Find out when you can start contributing and how often you can change your contributions. Some companies allow employees to enroll at any time after you’ve met the eligibility requirements and make changes frequently. If that’s the case where you work, try 1%. See how that goes for a few pay periods. Then increase it.
When you get a raise is another great time to increase your contributions. Before you’re banking on or spending that money, increase your 401k deferral.
401k plans also frequently allow you to set up an automatic increase for the future. Set it to increase a percentage point a year until at least you reach the company match.
So the next time the company throws $20 and the ground, be the one who picks it up.
Often in HR, a normally articulate person will come to me stumbling to explain a situation with a co-worker, manager or employee. At some point in the first few sentences, the person will say, “I’m trying to find a nice way to say this.” My response is always the same. “Don’t. Tell me exactly the not-nice way it’s forming in your head.”
A few seconds of silence later, I get a no-holds-barred honest full description of the issue at hand. That unfiltered information puts me in the best position to ask questions and ultimately advise the person.
There are two reasons I find this helpful.
First, it takes the guessing part out of my job. I no longer worry about details I don’t know, the true impact on the business or the emotions the issue is bringing up. Believe me, HR people have heard it all and worse.
Second, it’s a catharsis for the person who is talking. Before taking the step to bring this to me, that person has mulled, pondered and, in some cases, stewed about this. Get it off your chest and we can start working on the solutions.
Later, if we need to bring other people into the conversation, I can help you phrase it in a more constructive way. Right now, treat me like your doctor. I need all the ugly details.
Good HR people have an amazing ability to separate out what you are saying from how you are saying it. How you say it, also gives us important data.
Not sure the HR person across the table takes the same point of view as I do? Tell them that’s what you need. “I want to tell you something but I’m not sure how to phrase it. I need you to help me pull apart the negative feelings and frustrations this is causing me and help me get to the root problem.”
My next step in the conversation is to echo back the problem. We might go through several iterations of this until we get to the heart of it. The Emily Post approach has an important place in this world and in the workplace. That place is not when you’re talking to HR about a problem you have.
So let me have it.
Very rarely am I accused of saying something just to make someone feel better. I am not warm and fuzzy at work and I encourage the use of tough love every chance I get. When someone who is interviewing for an HR job with me or considering a career in HR tells me “I do this because I like helping people.” I want to tell them to consider a different career.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ogre. I like people and I do want to be helpful. I particularly like the people I work with at 2tor. To really help them, I know I can never tell them something just to make them feel better. I have to tell them what they need to hear, especially when they don’t want to hear it.
As a manager, particularly as a new manager, people often believe that their employees will work harder for a manager they like. Where they are mistaken is in the reasons managers are liked. It’s a blend of encouragement and honest feedback. The best compliment a manager can receive is “I always know where I stand with you.”
Warm and Fuzzy
The problem with warm and fuzzy is the fuzzy part. That tends to lead to soft language which gives a false impression that things are better than they really are. Warm and direct is what you want. “I know this is hard to hear but” is a good opening for a frank conversation.
A few years ago, I had an employee come to me after a conversation with his manager. He was confused. He laughed nervously as he told me he was sure he was either about to get fired or about to get a raise but he wasn’t sure which one. Having spoken with the manager, I knew it was the former.
I asked him to tell me about the conversation they had. The manager told the employee what he was doing well and said “it would really help me lobby for you if you could improve in some areas.” The manager did tell the employee what those improvements needed to be. What he left out was what he was “lobbying for” and why “lobbying” was even necessary. The employee admitted to me he was afraid to ask.
When I went to the manager, he felt the conversation had gone well. He thought the employee clearly knew that immediate changes had to be made. I asked a simple question, “Did you tell him that his current performance is bad and if he doesn’t make the changes, he’s in danger of losing his job.” The response? “Not in so many words.” If you haven’t told the employee in “so many words”, you haven’t told him in any words.
Framing the conversation
People want to know what’s expected of them and how they measure up to those expectations. Failing at your job and not even knowing it is the worst place you can be. When talking to your employees start with the expectations and how success against those are measured. If they are meeting or exceeding those expectations in some areas, point that out.
Then comes the hard part.
“Let’s talk about where you’re falling short.” Be direct and specific in the feedback. Leave no room for interpretation. State how you’re going to be evaluating improvement. Define the standard you expect and that anything short that means getting fired.
If someone is in danger of getting fired for performance, say it simply. “I’m going to be looking for improvement over the next 60 days. If I don’t see you making that improvement or I don’t think it’s enough improvement, it will leave me no option but to end your employment with us.” Be clear about the time frame and the fact that at any point in that time frame you may make a decision either way.
If you’re a manager with an employee who is failing and that employee doesn’t know it, you’re failing as the manager.
Building on my thoughts on “argue like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong”, let’s talk about the herd. Every company I know says “we don’t do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.” They may even be open to new ideas and want to hear suggestions on how to do things differently. But do their employees really believe that’s true?
I heard from a former client after my post. He wants to hear his employees’ ideas and wants them to speak up but they rarely do. When something goes wrong, he’s frustrated to hear about the leading signs two or three of them saw and never called out. After receiving a customer complaint about the billing process, he put his head in his hands when the woman in charge of AR said “Yeah, I always wondered why we did it that way.”
He doesn’t have employees; he’s got a herd. Herd behavior is when a group follows the same behavior as the rest of the group without a plan. The interesting thing is the root of this appears to be self-protection not protection of the group. In other words, no one speaks up because they are afraid of what might happen if they call attention to the issue. There is safety in numbers and flying below the radar. The rewards are job security and low stress.
The best teams are the ones that don’t have herd behavior. They call out when a process is broken or they have idea for a new product. High performers make their voices heard. They want to be noticed. On high performing teams the rewards are advancement and recognition. High performers aren’t worried about keeping their jobs; they’re focused on not missing out on the next opportunity. They don’t do their jobs; they own their jobs.
Can you turn a herd into high performers? Stop telling them you want to hear their ideas. Show them.
Spend a day in the life
Sit with employees at the heart of your business. Tell them you want to hear their ideas on how to make their job better. Ask them to pick a process or procedure that they’re in some way involved in and tell you how as a company you can do it better. Be careful here. You’re not asking how that person can do it better. That’s a threatening question. Ask how the company overall and everyone involved can do it better.
Taking a team approach
Most processes involve more than one person. Get everyone together that has a piece of the process. Walk through exactly how it is done today. On the first run through, don’t judge or comment. Capture the steps as they are. At each step, what are the inputs, outputs and who is responsible.
Each step has an owner and a customer. If Kim hands something off to James, he’s her customer in the process. On the second run through, ask the owners and customers if they have what they need to do their part. Ask if there’s a better way or a hole that needs to be filled.
Keep it positive and solutions focused. If it deteriorates into finger-pointing, you’re only going to make it worse. For example, if James says he isn’t getting what he needs from Kim, the question to Kim is “Do you have what you need to deliver that? If not, what do you need to make that easy to do?” Remind them, the point is to make everyone successful and to improve the process not to assign fault.
Reward those who speak up
Whether you take the steps above to break up the herding behavior or you already have people speaking up, to continue that, each person has to feel like there is something he’s getting out of it. When you change something at the suggestion of an employee, let everyone know who brought it up. Praise not only the change but the fact they took notice and called it out.
If you can’t implement an idea or a fix, tell the employee why. Take him through how you evaluated the idea and the reasons it isn’t the right course. People who feel like they are heard and know you took the time to take it seriously, will speak up again even if the first idea doesn’t come to fruition.
Remember the fear factor
Herd behavior is about self-preservation. As you first start to try to get people to speak up, especially if you take the approach of “take me through what you do and how we could do it better.” That fear will be powerful. People will hold back for fear of getting into trouble for doing something wrong. Let them know your baseline assumption is they are doing what they believe they are “supposed to” be doing. What you are looking to find out is what they think is the right thing to do and if that instinct is getting squashed somewhere along the line.
Our recruiting team spends a great deal of time (and does an excellent job) explaining our company culture and finding candidates who’ll be a successful fit. When I try to distill it down, I always come back to a basic premise – Argue like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.
For me the first half captures passion, high-bar, speak up environment. The second half gets at trust, openness, guns pointed out not in. Without the first, great ideas never get heard. Without the second, the first becomes an aggressive breeding ground for misery and fear.
Drive “argue like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong” from the top and creating a great company culture gets a lot easier.
If you expect your employees to be passionate advocates, to speak up when they have a good idea or to be accountable for outcomes, you have to be open to hearing everything they have to say.
If you value your peers’ opinions and accept that you’re not always the smartest person in the room, the healthy (and even heated) debates help the company and help you.
Chances are, you’ve got the argue like you’re right down.
While the other person is talking, instead of using that time to formulate your next point or figuring out how to break down her argument, imagine you’re going to have to defend her point of view later – what argument would you make to do that?
When it’s your turn to talk again, echo back what you just heard. Compare it to your own argument. That helps you identify where the true disagreements lie. You might find out you’re closer than you think to resolution.
The simplest tip is the one your mom taught you. Let the person finish talking. Years ago, I was watching a political debate show. James Carville was making his point when, not so shockingly, another panelist barreled right over him with her opinion. When she finished he said, (paraphrasing here), “Excuse me for talking while you were interrupting me.” His words left her abashed as he went on to finish his point. I’ve used that line myself on more than once occasion and found it’s a handy tool to get the other person to “listen like you’re wrong.”