Customer Service-Smile-Headset

I must confess that when employee engagement surveys started to become popular, I was skeptical about their value. I chalked them up as another passing fad that created lots of sizzle, but little substance.

As luck would have it, I joined an organization just as they were launching their annual survey process and I had the responsibility to lead the process for my business units. Since I was new to the company and this would be one of my debut projects, I had to replace my skepticism with a determination to ensure that the survey process contributed high value and high impact for my client leaders and their teams.

It worked! I am now convinced that employee engagement surveys can be an excellent tool to gather relevant data about how employees feel about their organizations. ­­But the potency of the process is not in gathering the information or even understanding the results—the heart of the process is translating the information into meaningful action. Employee engagement surveys will only make a difference for your organization if you support them with realistic action plans to which leaders are held accountable.

The use of the employee engagement survey is a fairly common practice for many organizations. This is no surprise, since the link between employee engagement and company performance is well established. According to Gallup, companies with highly engaged employees have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to those with low engagement scores. Yet there is no common agreement on many aspects of the process, what to measure or even the definition of engagement. However, there are some guiding principles that will greatly enhance the effectiveness and value of using engagement surveys.

Guiding Principles

Confidentiality and Anonymity: People must be able to complete the surveys anonymously without exception. Use a third party to distribute and collect the surveys and to compile the data. Remember the power of engagement surveys is to obtain candid, unfiltered feedback, which is easier to gather when employees aren’t concerned about being identified.

Leadership Commitment: Be absolutely certain that the leaders from the top executive down support the survey process.  This means that:

  • You must clarify how the leaders define engagement and what they want to measure. Identify any issues on which they do not want to solicit feedback. A general rule of thumb is never ask a question when you don’t intend to address the issue.
  • Leadership must be open to “listening” to the feedback, be willing to communicate the results (both positive and negative) and translate those results into action. There may be situations when the organization does not choose to act upon specific feedback, but the reasons for those decisions should be honestly communicated.

Timing: There are three primary considerations when it comes to timing:

  • First, talk to your business leaders to evaluate the “rhythm of the business. “ Are there segments of time when a significant number of people will be out of the office, when key product launch deadlines or tradeshows are looming, or other events that will impact participation? Schedule a time that is best suited to your business cycle.
  • Second, look at the HR calendar. No one wants to be inundated by HR initiatives, and you don’t want to overload your team. Avoid scheduling the engagement survey on the heels of other significant HR work.
  • Don’t assume that you have to conduct a survey every year. The real value of the process comes from employees trusting that their organization is listening to and acting upon their feedback. It is far more effective to space the surveys at intervals that allow the organization time to have great follow-up, than to rush through actions to meet the next year’s survey deadline. An annual survey may work for some organizations, but eighteen to twenty-four months is the guideline I prefer.

Identify the Employee Groups: While this may seem obvious, it may require some thought. Remove contractors from the distribution (including contractors in an engagement survey may jeopardize their non-employee status). Are there specific business units or categories of employees that are too different from the overall organization and should be handled differently? Once you have identified the people to be surveyed make sure everyone receives a survey—even if it means using different delivery methods.

Designing or Selecting the Right Survey: Now that you have the basics sorted out, you are ready to make the decisions about the survey content. Whether you design the survey in-house, select a product off the shelf or hire a survey company will depend on several factors, such as the size and complexity of the organization; internal skills, resources and budget; the need for language translation; in-house availability of people trained in survey development and similar issues. One consideration that is often overlooked in the decision process is the need for benchmarking. Regardless of what survey form you use, you will want to include a number of core questions that you will use in subsequent surveys. These core questions will become your internal benchmarks to monitor long-term trends.

Some organizations may also place a premium on external benchmarking in key areas. If this is the case, you will be best served to hire a vendor who specializes in employee engagement surveys. They will be able to provide core questions and results from other organizations that you can use for external benchmarking. If you are interested in external benchmarking, be sure you define the kinds of organizations against whom you want to be compared and select a vendor that can give you that data.

Next week we will take a look at finding the “hidden gems” as you review the survey results and the all-important Action Planning process.


Rose 1

It seems that one of the core competencies an HR professional must develop, particularly in smaller organizations, is the ability to handle frantic, panicky, anxious managers who feel victimized by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

No other HR law creates as much angst and confusion as FMLA. The law is simple in explanation, elusive in practice. Everybody who works 1250 hours a year after their first year of employment is entitled to twelve weeks of leave to cover absences related to serious medical conditions involving self or family members. Pretty simple on the surface.

The problem in really understanding the law is the use of the phrase “twelve weeks,” because that implies chunks of time that a manager can easily plan for, like vacations. It’s more accurate to say that everyone covered has 480 hours of leave, because the law allows for two kinds of leave that give managers fits: intermittent leave and reduced-schedule leave.

Intermittent leave seems to be the most difficult to deal with. Essentially, an employee with, or caring for a family member with, a serious medical condition that involves occasional flare-ups or continuing treatment can spread those 480 hours over the entire year, often at very inconvenient moments for managers. Although the law asks that employees give notice of potential absences, the phrase “when practicable” applies to FMLA. Sometimes a condition (migraines, for example) is inherently unpredictable and may even prevent the employee from calling in. If the medical practitioner writes something like “may be absent 2-3 days per month at unpredictable intervals,” that means that all of those absences are protected absences that the employee has the right to take. This can give managers migraines as they try to deal with the impact of slipping deadlines and coverage issues.

Equally problematic in the small organization is reduced-schedule leave, which occurs when the medical provider indicates a person can only work a part of his or her weekly schedule. Managers who had been counting on a key person being there for an important launch or to finish a critical project on time find themselves in a difficult spot.

These two situations invariably cause the frustrated manager to storm into HR and interrogate the HR professional about loopholes, exceptions, second opinions and suggestions to hire private detectives to see if the employee is really does have a “serious medical condition” or is just trying to avoid work. Some managers even go around HR and try to get people to work from home in defiance of the medical practitioner’s restrictions.

While I have known a few employees who have used FMLA improperly, the vast majority of people on FMLA don’t want to be there. They don’t want to have a serious medical condition and live in constant state of anxiety. They want to work and they want to get back to work as soon as possible. The last thing these people need is a flipped-out manager who cares only about getting the work done and shows little or no concern for an employee who needs care and compassion.

The problem isn’t that people go on FMLA. This is life; stuff happens. The problem is managers who don’t know how to plan to save their lives.

My advice to HR professionals on how to deal with managers who make FMLA more difficult than it needs to be is as follows: when you train managers on FMLA, open your talk with a single slide free from graphics that contains one message: “FMLA is the law. Get over it.”

Once they’ve recovered from the shock, explain to them in simple terms how FMLA works. Then tell them how to prepare for it:

  • Plan your overall staffing needs based on the assumption that at least one person in your department will always be out on FMLA.  Double that number for every ten people in the department.
  • Ensure that all processes in your department are documented and easy to follow so that anyone can step in and do the essential job requirements with a tiny bit of refresher training.
  • Make sure you have at least one (preferably two) backups for every job in your department. Implement a cross-training plan and stick to it. Make sure the backup is regularly informed of what’s happening in the job they’re assigned to cover.
  • List all of the resources you have available to fill a position temporarily: temp agencies, temp pools, interns, floaters, borrowing people from other departments.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow managers for help when you’re tight on staffing.
  • Learn how to do all the jobs yourself. Particularly when it comes to intermittent leave, you may find that you are the backup.

The law expects that management will make whatever preparations are necessary to comply with FMLA requirements. With a little planning and forethought, managers can avoid panic, keep things running and focus their energies on encouraging a person with a serious medical condition to take the time to get better soon.

And that’s exactly where they should be.


champagne on iceWhat is the purpose of employee recognition? It is to express appreciation for and validation of a person’s extraordinary contribution, extra effort or other accomplishment above and beyond the daily expectations. This is a simple concept. After all, one of the first things we teach our children is to say, “Thank you,” to others. So why, is showing appreciation or saying, “Thank you” so difficult in organizations? I believe the answer is that many organizations focus on implementing Employee Recognition programs instead of working to create a culture of high performance standards and sincere appreciation. And, since most of the programs are designed, implemented and managed by the Human Resources department, all too often the action being recognized and the moment of recognition becomes diminished by red tape, committee review, final approvals and the passage of time.

One of the most mind-numbing meetings that I have ever attended was a presentation by a Director of HR at one of my former employers. She had been leading a task force comprised of managers, HR Business Partners and employee representatives throughout the company to create a new Employee Recognition Program. While I don’t remember the details of the program, I vividly remember the two-hour meeting in which the team talked about their proposal. I sat there as they reviewed detailed categories of the types of things employees could do to merit recognition and how the various contributions aligned to certain levels of recognition in the program. This was followed by pages of guidelines that defined who was qualified to be recognized and how often; the specific categories of allowable recognition; and how it was all going to be managed and monitored to ensure the program wasn’t abused. I remember thinking, “Geez, employee recognition should be a lot more fun! It should be a heart felt “thank you” to the person receiving the recognition. Recognition should create a buzz that inspires others, not be one big blob of bureaucratic red tape!” My mind drifted to the words, “Encouraging the Heart,” which is how Kouzes and Posner describe employee recognition in their book, The Leadership Challenge. This program had no heart! I left the meeting depressed.

As life’s lessons often go, I walked straight from that meeting to my monthly one-on-one with the SVP of Product Development. One of the topics he wanted to talk about was a special recognition bonus for an employee who had just completed a complex project that was of great value to the company. He was seeking my support to recommend a large spot bonus cash award. Given the details of her work and contribution there was no question the award would have been approved, and I told him that. However, I was still thinking about meaningful recognition, so I suggested a different approach. Drawing on the principles of “Encouraging the Heart,” I saw this as an opportunity for the leader to really do something special, something personal, something that would have greater impact than a check. So I helped the manager brainstorm some other ideas that might have more of a wow-factor. I asked him what the employee liked to do and he said she was an avid hiker. I thought we were on to something, so I suggested he do something along those lines. In the end we agreed to give the employee an extra day off for a long weekend and a significant gift card to a local sports store. He really embraced the idea and off he went.

The following week I received a visit from the manager who was brimming with excitement. The employee had been deeply moved by the personal recognition. She had told him it was the most meaningful “thank you” message she had received in her career, even though she had been the recipient of many cash bonuses in the past. Furthermore, the impact of that personal and heartfelt recognition stayed with her through the years. She went on to be one of our top managers and carried that same level of thoughtfulness as she led her teams. (By the way, the final cost for this personal recognition was less than one-tenth of the amount the SVP original wanted to pay in the cash bonus—a win-win).

I have since used this approach many times with my own teams, or when designing organizational recognition guidelines and coaching leaders. It’s simple, it’s meaningful and it is often more impactful than cash. Why? Because personal recognition is sincere. It demonstrates to the employee that their unique contribution deserves unique appreciation and that you have invested some thought to make the moment special.

Of course, there are other aspects to developing a culture of appreciation, and there are budget, guidelines and governance issues that always need to be considered. But you will never go wrong if you remember the following tip: “While recognition programs and similar organizational rituals have their place, the best encouragement is always given personally, according to the individual’s own value system. Find out what your direct reports, leaders and peers find meaningful and recognize each individual accordingly.”


Running Track

What better way to reward and recognize a superstar employee than putting them on a career track to management?

Hold that thought!

That myth still holds power in many organizations. The reality of a modern workforce contradicts that assumption. The lure of a management position no longer holds the appeal it had decades ago. Many employees have no desire to go into management, particularly those in technical and scientific fields. They like the work they’re doing, they care more about work-life balance than status and they really don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing people.

The more important truth is that most employees seek validation for their contributions in the form of career growth. Countless articles and reams of research identify the lack of internal career opportunities as one of the top reasons employees leave an organization, and that data applies to those who want to go into management and those who are management-averse. For the management-averse, it’s a matter of providing career paths based on the continuing expansion and application of the technical skills the field demands.

For those who want to give management a shot, the path up the hierarchy seems relatively simple. However, research shows it is a much more complex situation than simply entering the person’s name in a different box on the org chart. As Kouzes and Posner demonstrated in their research on the subject, eighty percent of the people promoted into management are promoted for their technical skills, but seventy percent fail because of a lack of people skills.

Early in my career, I had to learn this lesson through personal experience, as I tried to correct a situation involving an internal promotion that was going bad—fast. I worked for a organization that had multiple locations, each location had a their own Customer Service Team led by a Customer Service Supervisor. Jim was a Customer Service Representative (CSR) at one of our largest branches and he was fabulous—an über-CSR.  Jim could handle any customer and every technical problem that came his way and was the person who trained all of the new CSRs, sometimes even for other locations. When the supervisor of Jim’s team retired, he was selected as her replacement.

At first, the team was proud and supportive of Jim. They were a close-knit team who often socialized together. But it didn’t take long for the friction with team members to develop and not much longer for the complaints to start flooding into Human Resources. Comments that he made to people to improve their work were heard as excessive criticism. Changes he wanted to implement were resisted. The productivity and morale of the team plummeted. One female team member actually complained of harassment when Jim invited her to lunch, even though he had extended similar invitations when they were peers.

What Jim missed was that the dynamics between Jim and the team had changed. Jim’s words and actions were no longer viewed through the lens of peers, but through the power of boss-to-subordinate. Jim hadn’t changed, but his role and the meaning his old friends attached to him had shifted. He was now Management, and people have different expectations of someone in Management. Jim failed to perceive that the boundaries of his relationships with his former peers had fundamentally changed.

Within a couple of months this high-performing team began to experience significant turnover and the quality of work plummeted. Jim soon resigned. While this situation occurred over fifteen years ago, I have never forgotten how sad and defeated Jim felt when he gave up. I felt badly that we hadn’t done a better job to help prepare him for a successful transition into management.

Unfortunately, the story of Jim is not uncommon. Glassdoor recently published an article titled Why Employee Quit Their Jobs. The most common cause is bad management, particularly bad management involving an internal promotion: “A lot of companies pride themselves on promoting from within, but sometimes that strategy can backfire if the person they are giving a management role to isn’t up to the task. “ Fortunately, an organization can take some very simple steps that will improve their internal promotional practices and help the new manager be successful.

First, help them understand the new dynamics between the would-be manager and the team they will lead. Talk to them about the change in the nature of the relationships and be candid about how boundaries move when a person takes on a leadership role. Include case-study interview questions that focus on how to handle management tasks and people situations that are common in your workplace so you can both educate them and identify learning needs.

Second, develop and adopt a process of “inboarding.” Inboarding is simply onboarding designed for internal promotions. Most organizations wouldn’t think of bringing in a new manager from the outside without a plan to get them up to speed. Yet internally-promoted managers are often moved into new roles and left to figure it out by themselves.  A good inboarding process will help the newly promoted manager be successful, so that their teams can be successful. An inboarding process cannot be one-size-fits-all because each person and situation will have different needs, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be costly or complex. The best inboarding is a thoughtful, tailored plan that includes these five ingredients:

1)   Pair up the new leader with an internal coach and mentor from within the organization and follow-up with them to make sure they are connecting.

2)   Make connections for the internally-promoted manager. Identify the key relationships the manager is going to need to foster and establish the connections. Make sure that they are on the mailing lists for key meetings and announcements.

3)   In addition to learning the new role, identify other technical areas in which they may need training, such as systems or processes that may be used differently by managers than by employees (for example, the performance management and attendance systems).

4)   Identify areas where they need leadership skill training and train them. Help the employee identify the areas that will enhance their leadership skills and connect them to training resources. Create a development plan with a timeline.

5)   Schedule time for the new leader to meet with an HR representative to review critical policies and legal obligations. The goal is to ensure that the new manager has a manager’s perspective of things like FMLA, ADA, employment discrimination and harassment.  This will help the new manager identify risky situations, so he or she can get the “experts” involved early.

Following these five simple steps will go a long way to set up the newly promoted manager for success and make your internal management promotions the win-win you meant them to be.

 


clocks

As a leadership trainer and organizational development facilitator, I get lots of requests for training. Usually the requests are in the form of “those idiots working for us need training,” because many executives believe they already know everything. I don’t bother to point out the obvious need for self-reflection, but instead dig deeper to find out the real needs and figure out what training (if any) is truly needed, within the bounds of the general thrust of the client’s request.

Over the years I have taught all aspects of leadership, management, communication, collaboration, group dynamics, diversity, strategic planning—you name it, I’ve probably taught it. But there is one topic I avoid like the plague.

I’m talking about Time Management.

If you want to learn how to organize your files and clean up your inbox, there are plenty of books that will help you do that. If you want a comprehensive appointment system, there are competing companies who will be happy to sell you all sorts of tracking tools and devices to help you feel like you’re really on top of the time thing. But until you absorb one fundamental concept, all the day-timers and Stephen Covey facilitators in the universe won’t help you.

The concept is this: time management is a choice. Your choice. You choose how you manage your time.

The reason why I resist teaching time management is that most people strongly object to the idea that they have a choice in the matter. They whine about the 2000 emails in the inbox, about the additional duties they’ve had to take on due to staff cuts, about the unreasonable demands of upper management that must be met and about the unreasonable clients who want everything yesterday.  They want somebody to give them a magic wand to make it all go away.

They conveniently forget that perception involves choice. We select perceptions from the thousands of stimuli at any given moment and ignore the rest. If you’re worried about the 2000 e-mails in your inbox, that is because you choose to focus on them and get your knickers in a twist. You aggravate the problem by keeping thousands of emails whose only purpose is CYA. The work continues to pile up, at least in your mind.

The common wisdom, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority” is true. Unless you have sufficient self-awareness to know when you’re responding from fear rather than from your native intelligence, no one can help you manage your time. Unless you develop the awareness that many so-called priorities are symptomatic of insecure people making a mountain out of a molehill, you’ll be trapped in reaction mode forever. And unless you have a clear idea of your purpose, both in your work and in your overall life, the stimuli generated by organizational fear and dysfunction will leave you helplessly flailing to manage priorities that aren’t really priorities at all.

So, stop playing the victim of the information explosion and take responsibility for your time. Organizations abound with fake priorities that have nothing to do with the alleged mission of the organization. Constantly ask, “Is this trip really necessary? Is this really worth our time, given all of the other things on our plate?” If the task is important, ask, “What current priorities are going to have to fall by the wayside? What additional resources will be available to help us with this new priority?”

I repeat: time management is a choice. Empower yourself and embrace that responsibility.