5 Ways To Reinvent Your Recruiting Strategy

A client of mine is a multinational company with a vibrant, fast paced culture has been through the ringer lately. We talked about the talent issues they are dealing with, which were precipitated by losing two big accounts. The hit to income and profits distracted the CEO, and eventually, after months, led to a restructuring of the business to focus on different verticals. Suddenly everyone was tasked with business development, even junior staff. Needless to say, not everyone is comfortable with sales, so it didn’t go very well.

Things got worse. The loss of revenue and shift in focus to new kinds of business meant senior leadership was forced to evaluate employee skills. This forced layoffs, although the company talked a lot about how it was ‘helping’ displaced staff find ‘more exciting’ opportunities. Not surprisingly, people were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and many chose to head for the exits. This led to unplanned employee loss. In the end, what also happened, and what management may not have foreseen, was huge damage to the enterprise’s workforce culture and to employee morale. The vibrant and fun culture was hollowed out; people became wary, political and unpredictable. Today, when the CEO speaks in the language of the old culture, no one listens. CEOs in a crisis situation have to consider finances; they should also, to preserve talent and the culture, look to themselves.

I’ve seen this happen before: even the very best in-your-face, cult-like workforce culture can’t survive a profits meltdown.  What drew employees to the thriving company – bragging rights, benefits, big salaries and big personalities – will push them away when the shine is off the company, salaries and benefits are frozen, and career advancement is slowed. And forget about trying to fill those empty seats when business picks up – news of a shaky workplace and broken culture travels fast. (All news about culture travels fast, as this ReadWrite piece by tech leader Matt Asay shows.)

It takes a long time to build a robust workplace culture and almost no time to damage it beyond repair. Thus it’s critically important to have senior managers brainstorm scenarios that pose a culture and business threat, and make plans to preserve both – especially when dealing with talent.

Five Things To Consider About Your Recruiting Strategy:

  1. Think about geography.Many employees today are geographically distant, which only works if the culture and work systems support remote operations. Do you want a culture that’s steeped in the norms of one physical location – say Cambridge or Palo Alto?  Then you have to socialize remote employees early and often, support frequent travel, and make them feel like members of the club. This may not work;Apple, for instance, is a Silicon Valley culture, and has its admirers and detractors; GitHub, on the other hand, was built to be a geographically distributed workplace.
  1. Think about office environments.Open workplaces are all the rage now, and suit Millennials’ needs to collaborate. But many employees have a hard time sitting at a long table that’s reminiscent of being in elementary school. If you’re going for a ‘we’re in this together’ culture, open workspaces are an interesting choice. If you’re building a culture of power and influence, think about keeping more private offices. See where I’m going with this?
  1. Think about your customers. If you’re building a service business – and most of us are in service businesses these days – diversify your customer base. Don’t concentrate more than 25% of revenues in more than one vertical. Look for verticals that are complementary to your best clients. If you have a lot of advertising technology clients, think about analytics companies. If you have a lot of software companies, look to the verticals they serve for new prospects.
  1. Think about your compensation.The more remote your workforce is, the more you may need support systems like employee wellness and employee assistance programs. These seem like big-company trappings but they are useful: wellness programs encourage employees to take care of themselves; employee assistance programs offer a safety net when wellness isn’t enough.
  1. Think about your management mix.Do you want a tight group? Nurture and promote from within. Reward employees for referring friends and peers. Do you want fresh thinking? Bring in enough outsiders to challenge established thinking but not so many they overpower the culture. Help your HR and Recruiting teams source candidates who come from similar cultures but have slightly different backgrounds.

When financial disaster strikes, workplace culture may be downgraded to a second or third-level concern. It’s natural to want to focus on building revenues back, but consider the contribution a vibrant culture makes to a workplace. You may not be able to put a dollar value on it, but you’ll know – and the bottom line will show – when it’s broken. It’s time to recruit again – a new cycle begins.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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The #1 Reason People Leave a Job Might Surprise You

Do you know the number one reason employees leave a job? It isn’t because of their title, salary or workload. They leave because of their managers.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It makes sense, and we have the research to prove it.

Multiple surveys have confirmed a manager can make or break an employee’s experience. A study by employee engagement firm TinyPulse identified various behaviors impact retention, such as micromanagement and a lack of opportunities for development. Gallup found “at least 75 percent of the reasons for voluntary turnover can be influenced by managers.”

Compensation, culture, colleagues, and balance all play a role—but the crux is the person who holds the role of supervisor.

When Good Intentions Lead to Bad Management
Bad managers aren’t uncommon; most people have survived at least one. But bad managers aren’t bad people; more often than not, they just don’t have the skills they need to be effective or to recognize warning signs. Consider this:

Skilled workers aren’t automatically great managers. Companies often promote internally, rewarding skilled employees with a move to management. Moving some into management can be a solid strategy, but you can’t ignore the corresponding need for professional development. Before you promote an employee, you need to vet them carefully and provide access to appropriate training. Without that, new managers feel like they are expected to “wing it” and to learn as they go. And, over time, the bad habits that arise from inadequate training can cause real problems.

Enthusiastic managers can overwork good employees. “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” Benjamin Franklin once said—and it’s true that good employees often work more efficiently, produce more, and take on more than required. Instead of rewarding above-and-beyond contributions, however, some managers push for more by consistently turning to the best people on their team. This can leave top performers feeling taken advantage of and burned out, spurring them to leave for a job that respects their time and dedication.

Positive working relationships must be a priority. People spend much of their waking hours at work. Managers are responsible for helping their teams be productive, and for improving morale and developing each team member’s skills. Employees who are boxed-in or feel unsupported will stop producing at the same rate, and they may leave entirely.

Anyone can handle a bad management situation temporarily, but… A good employee won’t hang around for years. Employees need to feel appreciated, challenged, and supported in the workplace. Good management doesn’t just help the individual, it helps the team, department and organization succeed.
Treat Employees Well Without Sacrificing Business Goals

Unfortunately, many managers miss the warning signs. And then? It can be too late. According to HR consultant Bill Rehm, managers often fail to think about retention until the moment someone hands in a resignation notice. They’re often so focused on the battle for recruitment that they miss the internal weaknesses. Then, they write off the departure as something with an external cause.

To build and nurture strong teams, you need to start with each manager. You can reduce turnover rates and eliminate the number one reason for talent loss by encouraging sound management techniques. Where do you start? How about by:

Getting to know the person, not just the worker. What someone writes on a resume or does on the job isn’t their full biography. Take time to get to know team members; ask about their motivations, hidden skills, and outside interests. Learn what the company can do to support their professional growth.

Finding the right talent—for management and your team. Good recruiting finds the right employees to fit a company’s corporate culture and leadership. According to Smashfly,* of the 2015 Fortune 500 companies, 57 percent share employee stories as part of their strategy to attract great candidates. Use employee advocates and authentic stories to help build teams who will work well together.

Embracing a culture of transparency and engagement. Engage employees in decision-making discussions and give them context for the work they do every day. A deeper level of understanding can be a motivating factor and may present an opportunity for innovation.

Celebrating good work. As often as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” a good job deserves attention, too. Plus, celebrating it may offer more benefits than drawing attention to errors. When employees do well—go above and beyond, or take initiative—recognize their work with verbal praise and earned rewards.

Remembering that change is good. Companies need constant innovation and new thinking to gain or keep a competitive edge. Employees who feel stifled or unchallenged won’t contribute to that evolution.

Providing ongoing feedback. Annual performance and engagement reviews are falling by the wayside, replaced by regular surveys and reports. Company leadership should consider continually offering employees both data-driven and personal feedback about their performance.

Companies need strong managers—and strong leaders. Be a strong leader. Invest in your management team. You’ll not only encourage innovation and growth—you’ll keep your employees happy and eliminate one of the key factors that can have them heading for the door.

* is a TalentCulture client but the views expressed in this post are my own.

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5 Leadership Lessons: Listen, Learn, Lead

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! We all go through life half-aware sometimes. We have to – there’s so much input these days that if we actually paid attention to it all, we’d be in a straightjacket within weeks. Advertising, social media, music, TV, mobile devices and apps, games, big data, the crazy-quilt cacophony of social media life — a million voices all competing for our hearts, minds and pocketbooks. It’s all too much to handle. So we don’t. We basically hit the mute button on the vast majority of the sensory tsunami. It’s really a matter of self-preservation.

Except when it’s a matter of self-destruction. For a leader – or anyone else who wants to succeed at hiring and retaining the very best talent – listening is a crucial skill. Because when you tune the wrong people (talent) and information out, you’re depriving yourself of priceless tools that will enable you to take your career, and life, to new levels of workplace fulfillment, reward and fun.

To reach our full potential, we must master the art of listening. Really listening. Which means awareness. Which means thinking about what we hear. Which means applying it, if possible, to the leadership challenges at hand.

The art of listening isn’t difficult to master. And when you have, new worlds open up. It’s exciting.

Here Are 5 Steps To Help You Keep Your Best Talent Happy:

1) Take An Input Inventory. There’s just too much stimuli and information coming at us. We would drown in the tidal wave if we tried to absorb it all. So take an inventory of where the valuable information and insight lies. Who in your work life should you be listening to? Who in your personal life? Which social media channels are relevant? Can you apply online filters to automatically filter some of the useless clutter that assaults us? Write down your inventory. Expand or contract it as your listening skills improve.

 2) Stretch Your Muscles. Now that you have an idea of who and what you should be listening to, start to practice. Within the next 24 hours, seek out someone who you think is smart and insightful and pick his or her brain on a specific topic. Thank them, and then go write down what they said and anything actionable that you have gleaned from it. This exercise starts to train our ears and brains to be in sync. It gets easier with time. And it’s fun!

 3) Listen To What Is Unsaid. In both our professional and personal lives, absolute candor can be tough. For a variety of reasons, we often communicate obliquely, especially when a topic is uncomfortable. Disagreeing with your boss, expressing unhappiness with a project, colleague, or assignment can be tough.  Successful leaders learn to listen between the lines. They encourage direct expression, but understand it can feel risky for people. In the next 24 hours, have a conversation in which you’re listening for what is unsaid. Then go write down what was said and what you feel wasmeant. This exercise is closely related to emotional intelligence. Master it and your learning and leadership toolbox will have a powerful new tool.

4) Refresh Your Ears. We all fall into patterns, which can lead to stale performance and career ruts. The visionary, contrarian investment manager Dean LeBaron, who founded a local company in my universe Batterymarch, shuffled the cubicles (including his own – I know this for fact btw) in his office every few months. This workplace culture reorientation refreshed everyone’s creative juices and boosted employee morale. It also communicated loud and clear that LeBaron cared about his people and understood human nature. Refresh your ears by changing your listening patterns. Tune to a new radio station as you drive or ride to work. Trade Lady Gaga for Bach (or vice versa) for a day. Visit a new social media site. Trade Under the Dome for Storage Wars for at least one episode (yes, you can record Dome!). Ask the cashier at CVS how she’s feeling and really listen to her answer. Ask a follow-up question.

5) Keep An Open Ear (And Mind). Moliere said, “I take my good where I find it.” Smart words. Start listening to people who you never listened to before. (Yes, I know this seems to contradict Step1, but actually it compliments it, and keeps it fresh and spontaneous.) This means seeking out people who you never really paid a whole lot of attention to, and actively soliciting their input. You’d be surprised at what people have to offer when asked. The receptionist, the cleaning guy, the head of another department, someone you don’t click with on a personal level, an acquaintance who works in a completely unrelated business, a high school classmate you reconnected with onFacebook. This exercise works best when applied to a specific challenge. Ask for ideas. Listen to them. Write them down. You might be surprised at what you learn (yes, 90 percent of it may be useless, but …remember the 10 percent)

Learning to listen is a blast. It makes us fuller, smarter, more empathetic, more successful people and leaders. Lets all take our earplugs out and tune in to the wondrous wealth of inspiration that surrounds us. Your future and current employees will thank you.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 08/04/2013

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Open Up and Lead

This week we found out that the federal government tracks every phone call we make. On the one hand, it’s unsettling. On the other, if it helps stop terrorist attacks, it may be worth it. In some ways what was most disturbing about the revelation was its secrecy. Our instinctive response is mistrust: our government wasn’t being open with us. And we all want open leaders.

That’s the lesson in business for companies that are striving to recruit and retain the best talent. When leaders are honest and forthcoming, people feel respected, engaged and invested in the enterprise. Unfortunately, too many leaders still don’t get it: open leadership is the foundation of 21st century success. We live in the age of the individual (some might say narcissist) and old-style, top-down, command-and-control leadership just doesn’t work. It makes employees feel devalued and wary. Just the opposite of what success demands: active, fulfilled employees who are bringing their full talents to work every day.

How can a leader achieve this open ideal?

1) Open door: Everyone in the organization should have access to their leaders. Leaders who welcome input change the entire atmosphere of an organization. Keep your door open, it’s a powerful metaphor for an open organization. And when someone walks through it, no matter who they are, welcome them.

2) Open mind: Brilliant ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. Open leaders listen carefully, welcome off-the-wall suggestions, and understand that clinging to the status quo will soon leave you behind the curve. Refresh and renew your consciousness. Take a class, talk to a consultant, explore a museum. Stretch your mind – like a muscle, it will grow stronger.

3) Open laptop: Many leaders still don’t grasp the power and necessity of engaging and enabling online. Find ways to integrate social media, expert networks, videos, forums, and blogging into your leadership toolkit. This is where employees live nowadays – open leaders must join them.

4) Open standards: Your mission must be stated, but more importantly it must be lived. You have to treat everyone by the same rules. And when a challenge arrives, keep people informed. Nothing undermines morale more than whispers and favoritism.

5) Open heart: All great leaders transcend the sometimes prosaic demands of their organizations and reach people on an emotional level. Make a list of the five leaders you most admire. Bet they all touch something in your heart and soul. I’m not talking about turning your company into a group therapy session, or saying you have to dispense hugs (though hugs can be a very effective leadership tool if done in a way that makes sense to objectives of course), but open leaders aren’t afraid to show some heart in how they lead.

All five of these Open Leadership tools must be employed with sincerity and follow-through. Paying lip service is worse than doing nothing. It’s hollow and people see right through it. Most successful companies born in the Internet Age practice open leadership. Think of Google, Quicken, Zappos, and Facebook, just for starters. Openness is baked into their business and social media model. The old closed system of leaders hiding out in their executive suites is a relic of another age. Why? Because it just doesn’t work in these connected, open times we live in.

So open up and lead and build this into your company culture. What are you waiting for?

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 6/09/2013


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4 Steps Of Leaders Who Win Stellar Talent

When I made my first foray into the big bad job market, I had some pretty crummy experiences. Sending out my resume, leaving a follow-up phone message and then getting in response: nothing, nada, zip. Not even the courtesy of a cursory “No, thanks.” Or being interviewed by an underling with sadistic impulses who asked me rote questions and then barely paid attention to my answers. I came away from those experiences and others equally demeaning with a real respect for the companies that treated me like a serious adult with something to offer, even if my talents weren’t a good match for their needs. Now to present day after being in the recruiting industry for many years. Guess what?

Too many organizations and leaders still don’t get it: the way you treat your job seeking candidates matters in your recruiting process.
A lot. It’s a reflection of who you are as a company and a leader. It reveals a great deal about how you run your other processes. It’s an opportunity to enhance your brand in the world of HR and beyond. In fact, it’s so important there’s an award – the Candidate Experience Award – given out by the Talent Board, a non-profit dedicated to improving the candidate experience. 2012 winners include such heavy hitters as Intel, Intuit, Mayo Clinic , Adidas, Deloitte, Hyatt and Stryker.

What is the winning recruiting formula these companies and leaders use?

1) First and last: Respect: C’mon, this is a no-brainer. You’re dealing with people’s lives here. Treat each and every person with basic human courtesy and dignity. Explain the process to them. Be direct and honest.

2) Keep your word: Once you’ve explained the process, stick with it every step of the way. Be consistent.  Give the candidate a way to contact you for any follow-ups or updates. Think of the candidate as a partner in the process, and a potential star in your organization.

3) End on a grace note: This particularly applies to candidates who are not hired. You want them to walk away with their dignity intact, understanding why they weren’t hired. Aside from just plain being the right thing to do, this bears fruit in many ways. These people spread the word about what a top-flight operation you are. They refer talented friends and colleagues. Your brand is bolstered. First and last impressions are lasting for job seekers.

4) Design your process to fit your needs: There are a lot of fancy recruiting and hiring software, tests and consultants out there. Many of them are well worth the money. But don’t lose sight of your goal: finding talent that fits your unique needs. If your process is designed correctly you’ll see very few truly unqualified candidates. This will enable you to treat those you do see with all the diligence and respect they deserve.

Implementing a winning candidate experience is an opportunity to strengthen your workplace culture. It dramatically ups the odds of making stellar hires. These hires come into the organization already “branded” with a positive impression, ready to hit the ground running and deliver amazing performance. They tell their friends, contacts and former colleagues. Word goes out on social media: this is a great company. What goes around comes around. Bring it all home with a candidate experience you’re proud to be part of.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 6/02/2013

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