5 Strategies to Find and Keep the Best Employees

As seen on The Wall Street Journal.  

1-5 Interview Tips to Find the Long-Term Employee

TOM GIMBEL: Any hiring manager know the basics: You’re seeking a person with the skills to do the job and can grow the business, as well as having a positive attitude, a good sense of humor and a strong work ethic.  Everything else (for the most part) can be taught.

But after 20 years in the hiring game, I’ve learned that to find those people who will stay with your company long-term, they have to fit your culture.

How can you know, in the course of a short meeting, if they do? Posing the right questions, observing certain aspects of their demeanor, and shaking things up a bit during the interview will reveal a lot. Here’s how I approach it:

Try the airplane test. Can I see myself sitting on an airplane next to this person for four hours, or being stuck with them for a long layover and not want to pull my hair out (hard to do because I’m bald)?  If the answer is no, then they’re not the right person. You’ve got to enjoy their company, especially in a startup, because you’re going to be spending 50, 60, 70 hours a week with this person.

Ask, “What do your best friends do for a living?” This question shows me how curious they are. I don’t care what their friends do, but if someone doesn’t know what the people closest to them do for a living, in detail, they won’t take the time to get to know our clients.

Arrange random interruptions. I’ll have someone pop into the interview unexpectedly to see how the candidate reacts. Do they stand up and shake their hand? How do they introduce themselves? Are they able to hold the conversation? This gives me insight into how they would act at a client meeting.

Ask, “When did you not get what you want?” I want to know when they were denied something they really wanted, and how they reacted.  If they are a recent graduate, did they not get an internship they wanted, or were they passed over as captain for their team? I want to know how they reacted because, in business, not everything goes your way.

Observe their emotional intelligence. In my line of work, our hires have to have a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ), which includes soft skills such as empathy, patience, understanding and great listening skills. People with EQ don’t just answer the question, but they explain the how and why. They talk about how something impacted them, their teams or the business. People with EQ are also very observant. If the candidate interviews with several people, I’ll ask, “If you were to select one person to work with among those you’ve met today, who would that be, and why?” How they answer this questions reveals how observant they are and their ability to pick up on different personality traits, assessing which best complements their own.

A final tip, which is common sense but often neglected because, when you’re fully staffed, it’s easy to focus on other priorities. You should always be interviewing so that when there is a sudden opening you’re not scrambling to fill that role. You need to have an understanding of the marketplace and who is out there. You need a pipeline of qualified candidates at all times. Otherwise companies will hire quickly to ensure the work gets done rather than methodically searching for and landing the highest-quality candidate. Hiring quickly only leads to more turnover, lost time and wasted training resources.

Tom Gimbel (@TomGimbel) is founder & CEO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm headquartered in Chicago. 

2-How Startups Can Avoid Hiring an Employee With a Victim Complex

JOHN GREATHOUSE: In a small business, where every hire is crucial, one of the most dangerous hires is someone who sees himself or herself as a victim. These productivity-and-morale killers are disproportionately poisonous to a small company’s culture.  Here’s how you can spot them during the recruitment process, before it’s too late.

1) They play the blame game. Throughout their professional and personal lives some folks are unable to internalize responsibility for their actions. Every time something goes wrong in their careers, it is always someone else’s fault, invariably someone who was “out to get them.”

Now, it’s possible for anyone to become embroiled in a bad employment situation. Nearly everyone at some point in their professional career has been treated poorly in some way. However, if a candidate’s repeatedly negative comments make it clear that such “mistreatment” is a recurring theme throughout their careers, the warning bells should sound and you should quickly cut bait.

One of two things is happening in such cases. The person either repeatedly exercised bad judgment that led them to accept unsuitable jobs or else they lack the self-awareness to accept and share the responsibility for their career setbacks. Either way, you do not want them to taint your team.

Seek the reasons behind the candidate’s setbacks. Invariably, the blame will lie everywhere except with the prospective employee.

Red Flags: “The marketing department never gave me enough qualified leads, the VP sabotaged my team.” “The developers wouldn’t build the features we needed to win the market, they never listened to me.” “My competitors were crooks who lowered their prices just to win deals. It was clear they were out to destroy the company.”

2) They externalize failure. Healthy startups have a culture of accountability. Victims cannot be held accountable, because it is never their fault. There is always some other factor responsible for their failures. This mentality limits their ability to learn from their mistakes and fosters a culture of finger pointing and blame.

Effective employees internalize their failures and setbacks. They honestly assess what went wrong in order to avoid similar mistakes in the future. For instance, if a sale is lost to a competitor, self-aware employees examine what they could have done differently during the sales process, rather than deriding the lost customer as “stupid” or alleging that a competitor beat them using nefarious tactics.

Red Flags: “They never gave me the resources I needed to succeed.” Or “My team was weak. I could never hire good people because my boss wasn’t willing to pay market salaries.” “The founders couldn’t raise the capital I needed to execute my strategic plans.”

3) They claim single-handed success. To the victim, success does not have “one hundred fathers.” Rather, it is the result of their intellect and hard work. Victims overvalue their contributions and exaggerate the degree of their involvement in successful initiatives. Few successes are achieved by just one person. Self-aware candidates freely acknowledge the contributions of their teammates, bosses and other stakeholders.

Red Flags: Frequent use of, “I and me” instead of “us and we.” “I generated 53% of the company’s sales.” “My deals kept the company afloat.”

4) They distance themselves. Victims describe their past co-workers as if they were never a member of the organization, using pronouns such as, “they” and “them.”

Red Flags: “I tried to tell them that their target market didn’t make sense, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

5) They believe everyone is clueless. Victims are the sole source of wisdom in their universe. Co-workers are clueless because they fail to appreciate the victim’s brilliance.

Red Flags: “My boss didn’t know what she was doing. She was totally clueless.” “The CEO and the investors didn’t have a clue, despite my repeated warnings that their strategy wouldn’t work.” “Marketing couldn’t generate decent leads and their collateral materials were terrible.”

Marriage counselors advise young lovers to never marry someone with the intent of changing them. Follow this advice when recruiting. You may feel empathy when interviewing a victim, but never allow your emotions to result in a bad hire. No matter how much support or praise you heap on them, it is highly unlikely you will change them.

If left unchecked, a victim’s vitriol can lead to an “us versus them” divide that will impact your organization’s productivity and morale.

John Greathouse (@johngreathouse) is a partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture-capital firm, and previously a serial entrepreneur. Mr. Greathouse also teaches at University of California at Santa Barbara.

3-The New Tech Tools That Can Give All Employees a Voice

BRAD GROSSMAN: It’s no secret that giving employees an outlet to be heard can not only improve retention and engagement, but also enable senior leaders to identify and reward the best ideas. But companies often struggle to create workplaces that enable open and productive communication and collaboration.

In attempting to address this particular problem, businesses have saddled employees with a host of other woes. Employees spend much of their day going from meeting to meeting. Their email inboxes are out of control. And in attempting to create physical workspaces that promote co-working (think of the classic image of a startup office with its open floor plan, ping-pong tables, speakers and bean-bag chairs), some have neglected to give employees space where they can get their own work done.

Thankfully, we may now have a solution that lends employees a voice and enables them and their teams to be more productive. It’s all owing to what I like to call the “Slackification” of the workplace.

You may or may not be familiar with enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, HipChat and Lua that have been adopted early by more innovative departments in organizations. These applications bring the mechanisms of social media in-house to facilitate greater coordination and knowledge management in large, decentralized environments. These software tools not only provide an internal community of shared communication, but also a way to build on and track ideas and trends that the rest of the company is talking about.

Imagine this scenario: A senior executive tells her team of 500 that they need to read a particular white paper on customer service. To do so, she posts it on her company’s Slack as part of a separate channel completely devoted to customer service. Her employees can now read, comment and exchange related articles on this same channel, much as they would with a group chat on Facebook.

By doing this, she isn’t just explaining her interest in this report and how it could be valuable to her team; she is also allowing anyone on her team to comment or build on it. Now imagine one person, perhaps a more junior-level employee, offers a brilliant comment. Now all 500 employees can see it. In the same way that you can like a comment on Facebook or retweet on Twitter, that younger executive might get an overwhelming amount of reactions on the channel, making the person feel heard and feel like the boss is noticing the idea, which otherwise might never have reached the higher levels of the company.

And, perhaps just as importantly, it takes the conversation away from the clutter of an email inbox and into a platform that allows everyone at the company to easily track and compartmentalize the conversation. This is especially valuable as companies become increasingly international and rely more and more on seamless communication between employees in multiple time zones.

We’re in a cultural climate where people want purpose at work and to feel that their ideas can be considered by those beyond their peers and mid-level managers. They want to be part of the conversation and to have access to ears all the way to the top. They want the CEO to know them – even though in most cases, the C-suite doesn’t even know they’re on the team. This is especially so for millennials.

Social-enterprise tools can, as social era expert Nilfer Merchant once said, make “the 800-pound corporate gorilla act more like 800 gazelles – fast, nimble and collaborative.” She said that four years ago. Now it’s essential for corporations to finally buy in, whether they use services like Slack, HipChat, or create their own platforms to foster transparency and a better way to communicate. And, just as importantly, as a way to build purpose, community and put the entire company on the same page.

Brad Grossman (@bradgro) is founder and CEO of Zeitguide, a cultural think-tank. He consults with executives about new developments in media, culture and technology.

4-How to Identify Employees Who Are at Risk of Quitting Your Small Firm Share on Twitter

JOHN SULLIVAN: Retaining every employee is critical to a small business, because with a low number of employees, losing even one has an impact that even your customers will notice.

Because it is difficult to find talented replacements, managers should instead focus on preventative retention actions. Fortunately, because managers usually know what motivates their employees, the key success factor is simply having sufficient time to work with an employee who has just started thinking about leaving.

You can get that extra time with indicators that let you know who is likely to leave. This “assessing flight risk” process provides up to two months warning before an employee quits. For example, research by Dr. Tim Gardner revealed that if an employee demonstrated six disengagement behaviors, you can “predict with 80% accuracy that they were about to leave the organization.” Firms like Google, Entelo, Evolv and Xerox have also had success identifying “at risk” employees.

Managers should start out with a list of turnover indicators that have been accurate indicators at other firms and then they should use only the indicators that best predict for them. In addition to the obvious “increased job seeking” and “increased Internet visibility” categories, the most relevant factors for small businesses are these: 

Time-related factors—The top indicator is an employee’s work anniversary date because it is a time of reflection (along with their birthday and New Year’s Day). The average number of years between new jobs can also be an indicator. An extended time suffering from a long commute can cause 10% of all turnover.

Productivity and disengagement behaviors—There are 10 productivity factors that accurately predict coming turnover. Look for a reduction in their productivity, no longer working beyond expectations, reduced new ideas/innovations, and fewer contributions during meetings. Also, look for changes in behavior including no longer committing to long-term projects, being more reserved and having less interest in career advancement and development. They may also avoid social interactions with management and be less interested in pleasing their boss. Also, watch for less volunteering, and more complaints, errors and taking time off.

Career impact events—Events that cause employees to reflect include dissatisfaction with their manager, a troubling performance appraisal, being turned down for a promotion/project, completing a degree/certification, and a key colleague or manager leaving. Troubling developments that may cause reflection include disasters within the organization, family/life instability, health issues and reaching critical life/career phases.

Talk to people—Often the best identification approach is to periodically meet one-on-one with each employee in a “stay interview.” Ask them about the factors that cause them to stay and any factors that are frustrating them. Talking with their colleagues and the company “gossip” will often also reveal who is frustrated and why.

Finally realize that actions taken after someone announces they’re leaving (i.e. a retention bonus) are unlikely to work long term. Instead, focus on the early identification of flight risk, so that there will still be time to take actions that will actually reduce their frustration.

John Sullivan has been a professor of management for over 26 years at San Francisco State University. His specialty is human resources strategy and designing human-resources systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms.

5 –Why a Boss’s Appreciation Is So Crucial

JENNIFER DEAL: The importance of appreciation in the workplace is . . . under-appreciated.

Staff who feel under-appreciated are more likely to leave and find a position where they feel their contribution is appreciated. The simple answer, of course, is to show appreciation. But my research suggests that there are different ways to do that, many of which can be successful in making an under-appreciated employee feel better. Not feeling appreciated at work today is fairly common.

According to data Alec Levenson and I collected, 40% of people in the workplace do not feel appreciated at work. This is slightly more true for millennials (42%) than it is of older staff (37%). It is also true for people at most levels of the organization, though, not surprisingly, lower-level professional staff are less likely to say they feel appreciated (58%) than are staff at senior manager (66%) and executive level (76%). With such high percentages saying they don’t feel appreciated–especially among younger and lower-level staff who are likely to be critical to an organization’s future success–the organization faces a substantial problem.

The good news is that it is a fixable one. Managers at all levels need to remember that while striving for excellence is important, showing that you appreciate the hard work of your staff is fundamental to engagement and retention. While managers have good intentions and typically make an effort to express their appreciation for good work, we find that employees need to be told they are appreciated more often than they are currently hearing it.

Typically people think of appreciation as pats on the back, but that isn’t the only form appreciation can take. One executive talked with us about how he isn’t an empathetic sort of person, so rather than try to be fake-friendly with the people he manages, instead he helps them with their career strategy and to secure positions they want so they can improve their career. He also works to secure them larger bonuses for hard work. His employees may not think he’s particularly chummy, but they know he appreciates them because he shows it through helping them achieve their goals and to be paid well.

Another executive talked about how frustrated he was because he wanted to promote a direct report of his because he believed that was the best way the organization could show appreciation for her hard work, and demonstrate that they thought she was one of their future leaders. Unfortunately the organization prevented him from promoting her. While the executive was furious he couldn’t change the decision, he could– and did–arrange for appreciation to be shown. In cash. And as of now, she hasn’t left.

Leaders who want to succeed and groom future leaders of the organization need to emphasize–and model–the importance of appreciation within the organization. While there are many ways to show appreciation, it can be as simple as saying thank you often–and meaning it.

Jennifer Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. She is co-author of “What Millennials Want from Work.”

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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