Stay in Touch! Sign up for:

Our Blog: Daily Dairy

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 "Fresh Milk"
our free Leadership and Employee Engagement newsletter
 Sign Up Now
 Delivered by Constant Contact

Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

9//9/19

Learning and development professionals tell us that $billions are spent each year in the U.S. on professional development. Having worked in that arena for better than two decades, I agree with that characterization, and hasten to add that a good bit of that money (and time) is being misspent. Rather, it is being wasted. Why? Two reasons: The efforts and expenditure are not particularly focused (well targeted), and they are almost never followed up. Let’s talk about that last one a bit because it harbors a lot of low hanging fruit.

 

We tend to treat such efforts as events… We read the book, watch the webinar, hear the speech, attend the seminar, (WHAT) roll over, and move on to something else, without much thought or planning regarding how (if at all) we’re going to interpret (SO WHAT) and apply any learnings (NOW WHAT) to our own situation.

 

The small bandage on my right arm at the moment reminds me that I had blood drawn this morning for a CBC blood test. In a few days my physician and I will review the results, discuss his interpretation and action plan steps to take in order to maintain and improve my health. To be sure, we’ll track results over time.

 

In our professional lives, we tend to draw the blood and just move on, with little to no consideration for the “So What” (make meaning) and “Now What” (take action) parts. A suggestion:

 

As leaders, it is our duty to at all times be aware of the developmental needs of our team, and provide teammates with opportunities to close the gaps. But it mustn’t stop there. It’s incumbent upon us to verify that:

 

The learning opportunity was what we and they hoped and expected it to be…The desired learning did in fact occur, and… That the new knowledge or understanding is being applied. Here’s a simple suggestion in that vein. Whenever someone on your team participates in a formal learning event or process, immediately upon the conclusion, personally ask them:

 

1. What they learned, relative to what they had hoped to learn,

2. How they plan to apply it,

3. What help they need (if any) and

4. How they want to be held accountable for doing so.

 

Try it. I think you’ll be amazed at the difference.

My friend, business partner, and co-author Bill Catlette is passionate about many things, not the least of which is fishing. And he’s good at it. One reason for his success may be something he told me the first time he took this novice out for a day on the water: “I’ve never had a fish jump, voluntarily, into the boat,” he told me. “I always have to keep a line in the water.”
 
The same goes for recruiting talent to help grow and power your organization.
 
Audience members often tell us, “There’s no one out there who’s qualified to fill all these jobs we have.” Nonsense. They’re out there. They’re all just working somewhere else! Have you really been looking?
 
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that about 40 million people will quit their jobs this year. Not fired. Not laid off. Quit. Of their own volition. Presumably to move on to something better.
 
Furthermore, the BLS says that more than 25% of employees nationwide are actively looking for a new job. Right now. Both Forbes and Inc magazines ran articles recently, claiming the real number is actually more than 50%.
 
Think about that. If unemployment is at nearly at an all-time low, where are these people conducting their job searches from ? Gulp…
 
If so many people, who already have jobs, are actively looking, shouldn’t you be doing the same from the other end of the telescope?
 
  • Keep your line in the water, and your eyes wide open. The Associated Press recently published a story about Mycorporation.com CEO Deborah Sweeney, who was so impressed with a barista at her local Starbucks that she wondered if the young woman, who could obviously “manage an environment where there’s a lot coming at you and...stay responsive and keep a good attitude” might be a good fit for her company. She hired her, and Sweeney’s speculation proved valid; “She turned out to be a rock star,” the CEO reported.

In the work world, “Culture” represents the values, norms, aims, customs, rules, the way of life if you will of an organization. It is an amalgam of the non-talent ingredients required to be happy, productive, and successful in that organization at a particular time.

For nearly 30 years, I have been one of the louder proponents, (see “Contented Cows” leadership book series) of the notion that, in order to form and maintain a high performance labor-intensive organization, it is vital to have a collection of people who can live with and perform well within a particular culture. As a result, I’ve been (and remain) a zealot about the notion that achieving cultural fit with prospective teammates must be one of, if not THE first aim of corporate recruiters and hiring managers. A person who is magnificently “qualified” by virtue of talent, skill, and experience, but whose pace, preference, values, temperament, et. al. are out of sync with organizational norms will almost certainly not be a good long term fit.

Before going any further, let’s clear something up: Within the context of a workplace, culture has nothing, repeat, nothing to do with diversity, or socio-ethnic characteristics. Have there been occasions where culture creep or misguided leadership have allowed something more resembling a ‘club’ to form underneath the culture umbrella? You betcha. It’s not pretty to watch, and seldom ends well.

In a recent tweet, Katrina Kibben posed the question, “Can you be a culture fit if you’re a culture add?” BTW, if you spend time anywhere near the talent zone, read her stuff, because it’s really good. Anyhow, here’s my take:

Cultural conditions and requirements change… they evolve with the organization. Having been involved with FedEx (nee Federal Express) in its infancy thru teen years, I was witness to (okay, neck-deep in) the organization morphing from newborn to teen to young adult status. Revisiting this evolution thru the lens of my own employment with the firm, in eleven years, I went from being a very good cultural fit and a happy, very productive  purple-blooded warrior to one where it was time for me to go. The main limiting factor in my case was discomfort in adapting from a “what lines?” coloring style to a highly bureaucratic mode which, by necessity, becomes the norm when you cram 100,000 people into a highly integrated machine traveling at 550 mph. The person who took my place was in fact a “culture add”, and should probably have been on the company’s radar a year or two sooner.

So what? Why am I taking up 4 minutes of your life with this? Two reasons:

    1. The first thing that Katrina’s question sparked for me is the realization that we (business and organizational leaders) need to do a better job of tending our organizational culture, making sure that it  is (and will remain) appropriate for the organization as time passes and requirements change.
    2. You’ve no doubt noticed that in many respects, labor markets have gotten extremely tight. In the US, for example, there are currently somewhere around 7.5 million job vacancies. By virtue of the fact that many of us practice reactive recruiting, the pressure is on to put reasonably qualified butts in seats ASAP, without much consideration for cultural fit. We’ll pay for that, and so will you, or your successor if you succumb to the pressure.

In the words of Fleetwood Mac, when it comes to organizational culture, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." 

Improve Your Talent Hunts… Get Good With Crayons

 July 1, 2019 • Memphis

Much has been written and said recently about the incidence rate of job candidates’ outright refusal of job offers, and the unprecedented ghosting of interviews and start dates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that one central cause of this behavior rests outside the terms of the deal. Rather, many candidates are balking because they’re not particularly wowed by your story, especially the part about the organization’s core purpose, where you’re going, and the chance that they’ll actually get to make a difference. I think we can agree that recruiters are having to work too hard to face this headwind. So, what can you do?

 

In his book, Beating the Street, legendary money manager, Peter Lynch posited that investors who can’t explain a company’s core purpose and strategy with a simple blunt instrument, a crayon, have no business investing in the company because they don’t understand it well enough.

Memphis • June 15, 2019

 

Almost universally, the leaders I have the good fortune to coach find that one of the skills they most need to work on is listening… really listening. That need has been ever-present, but in an age when we’re attempting to multi-task, to compress more activity into each day, and babbling more (because we can), the time and energy spent listening is decidedly on the wane. Lest there be any doubt, the people around us have noticed. Indeed, lack of listening has been a top tier item of concern on every engagement survey I've seen in the last three years.

 

Because of the aforementioned activity compression, when interacting with others, we do basically two things: We talk, and then while the other person is saying whatever is on their mind, we formulate our reply, while sorta hearing them in the background. In short, rather than listening, we’ve been “waiting to talk.” And because very few of us have decent acting skills, our feigned listening (I so wanted to use the work f_ke but couldn’t bring myself to it) is noticed, every time. Three suggestions that you may find useful:

Memphis • June 2, 2019

by Bill Catlette

Yesterday, on International Flight Attendants Day, I was reminded of two things:

 

  1. My admiration and appreciation for the women (mostly) and men who work hard to assure our safety and relative comfort when traveling by commercial air.
  2. The phrase that I’ve heard them use more than five thousand times in the interest of safety: “Please put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.”

 

At first blush, the oxygen mask thing sounds a little selfish until you contemplate the reality that, without oxygen at cruise altitude, you will be quickly transported on a one-way journey to a destination other than the one intended. That same principle holds true for managers: We’e got to get our own act squared away before having any hope of successfully leading others. To wit, good managers take pains to always be in game form with things like:

Retuning Your Talent Hunt for a Tight Labor Market

 By Bill Catlette

Earlier this week, we completed a 4-part webinar series on “Finding Great People” for the management and ownership team of a Florida-based business.The webinars focused on ways to counter the headwinds faced by businesses in an ever-tightening labor market. Here are three quick takeaways from these programs:

 

  1. Recruiters Can’t Do It Alone - In the same fashion that small and medium-sized businesses count on everyone to do some selling, today’s labor market necessitates everyone contributing to the recruiting effort, using their network to broadcast openings, make referrals, and participate in the interview process where appropriate. Smart managers see to it that such efforts are appropriately encouraged, recognized, and well rewarded.
  2. Talent Hunting is an Always-On Process - As I suggested to one of our client’s senior leaders, the odds of a great candidate having a hole in their dance card at the exact moment that a job in his business opened up are remote indeed. To wit, the hunt for talent, especially for core jobs needs to be an always-on proposition, even to the point that good candidates are occasionally taken on in advance of the need.
  3. The Recruitment Process Needs to Get a Lot Friendlier - One easy way of doing this is to use ample doses of information, artfully presented, to make it easier for applicants to screen themselves out of the process. Another involves apprising candidates as to their status on as near to a real-time basis as possible. This second factor has been an annoyance to job candidates forever, and with the advent of ATS and all manner of information handling tools, there is no good reason for it to continue.

Oh, and one last thing, show your recruiters some love. They’ve been working their tails off for a while now.

 

by Bill Catlette

04/02/19

 

What

Like bolts from the blue, less than a month before the expected announcement of his Presidential plans, former VP Joe Biden, who has been in the national spotlight for nearly fifty years, and under the watchful eyes of a U.S. Secret Service detail for the last decade, is beset by allegations that several years ago he “inappropriately touched” or “violated the space” of a small but growing list of women.

 

For the record, I don’t doubt the claims of the women involved, at least the two we’ve heard from thus far, or Mr. Biden’s recollection of events, together with his pledge to “be more mindful about respecting personal space.” Yet, I’m given to wonder if we were not in the midst of a federal election campaign in which he is a likely candidate, would anything have been said at all?

Stop Ghosting, Keep Your Word, Your Reputation. It’s All You’ve Got!

Lately, I’ve observed unprecedented levels of people ghosting scheduled appointments. One involved a wasted 400-mile drive (grr!). I learned of others in conversation with two independent businesswomen, both of whom complained of NCNS by clients with confirmed appointments. Still others reported that post-interview ghosting by corporate recruiters remains very much in vogue, and as aggravating as it has always been.

At a time when as individuals and businesses we spend $billions burnishing our image, why would you want to blow that investment by doing something that can only be attributed to clueless rudeness? It’s not like we don’t walk around with technology that will make, keep track of, and remind us of appointments, then effortlessly cancel those appointments upon a simple voice command. Moreover, this behavior seems to ignore the fact that that same technology can just as readily be used to publicly besmirch our reputation for engaging in such behavior. So, why would you want to? C’mon man! This isn’t hard. 

Memphis • 02/25/19 

 

Our work with leaders in the healthcare, hospitality, and financial services sectors often begins with some derivative of the statement, “I can’t get enough managers (all levels) hired, trained, and performing adequately. Can you help?” Though the perceived need often is for the delivery of more or better leadership development, the reality is that’s often a “right church, wrong pew” scenario, stemming from the fact that we’re asking too much of our leadership development resources. How so?

 

  1. Late to the game. Most of those being moved into 1st-time leadership roles are transitioning without the benefit of ANY leader preparation. That’s akin to giving a person a scalpel, scrubs, and a license to practice medicine prior to any med school. The results are entirely predictable.
  2. Square peg, round hole. Too often, those promoted into management lack vital but untrainable attributes like courage, character and humility. Odds are, they can’t learn it, and you can’t teach it.
  3. Bad examples. In too many cases, the example that’s being set for our newfound leaders to follow and emulate is, in a word, awful.

Playing Favorites

by Bill Catlette

Key West • 1/1/19

Several of our recent employee engagement survey projects have indicated the presence of elevated levels of perceived favoritism within the surveyed population. It has occurred enough to cause us to pause and probe further for understanding. We've not yet wrapped our arms completely around the universal (as opposed to organization-specific) learnings, but here’s one consistent theme that has emerged.

 

Attributed mainly to the movement of very large numbers of people into first time management roles over the last decade, mostly without the benefit of any leadership development, we are seeing these emerging leaders learn how to ‘get the daily wash out’ by leaning hardest on those team members who prove themselves to be capable workhorses. That stands to reason, but so does the inevitable employee response. Not wanting to be taken advantage of, those who find themselves doing extra work seek extra consideration.

 

And they get it, in whatever currency the new manager has at their disposal: Preferential time off, plum assignments, special dispensation for minor infractions, extra visibility, opportunity to learn, et. al. Meanwhile, since this isn't taking place in a vacuum, others notice and begin to wonder (and seethe) about why they aren’t sharing in the largesse. This is particularly evident and inflammatory to a population whose education and social orientation has been largely thru the lens of a group project environment rather than a meritocracy. So there you have it. What do you do about it?

 

You can only ignore the object in the punchbowl for so long. Here are three suggestions:

It was Q&A time after a speech I’d just made to a large audience of small business owners, in a somewhat conservative retail field. As the speech featured some tips on how to be successful engaging younger workers (hint: “Complain that they aren’t like Baby Boomers” was not one of the tips), I wasn’t too surprised by this question:

 “What do you do about these kids who want to wear beards, nose rings, and tattoos?”

As is often the case, the best answers come not from the speaker, but from the audience. A hand shot up near the back of the room, and the fiftysomething woman attached thereto offered, “Well, I’ll tell you what we did at our company. We decided to get over it. Best decision we could ever have made.”

She went on to say, “We’d had this rule, since, like forever. No facial hair. No visible tattoos. No piercings except earrings. And only two. If you were female. None for the guys.

That Leadership Bench Won’t Grow Itself

by Bill Catlette

7/4/18

 

Better than half of newly appointed, first-time business leaders fail in their first two years, resulting in their removal from position, either voluntary or otherwise. I hesitate to wonder how many more are left to quietly and more slowly drown on their own.

 

If new doctors failed at that same rate, hospitals might find it necessary to build larger morgues to temporarily house their mistakes. In the business world, we wonder about persistently low employee engagement levels and why, in an era when there are more microchips deployed than ever, our national productivity growth rate remains mired in the basement. Subprime leadership from ill-prepared managers has a lot to do with it.

 

By the time a new physician is allowed to practice medicine on their own in the U.S., they will have completed seven to twelve years of post-grad medical education, complete with certified, hands-on training, medical residency, and strict licensure protocols. By contrast, elevation to a leadership role in most organizations (including healthcare) is a lot quicker. It often goes something like this: When there is an entry level management position vacancy, the job will often be awarded to a team member who is recognized by virtue of their production, seniority, or butt kissing skills, not necessarily in that order. Overlooking the fact that moving from individual contributor to leader is one of the hardest career transitions to make, the promotee is often informed of the good news on Friday, and told, “You’ve got all weekend to get ready.”

Leadership Is About Blood, Sweat, Fears, and Occasional Tears

by Bill Catlette

Memphis 6/21/18 

In the time that I’ve served in a leadership role, in both for profit and non-profit venues, I have tried mightily to operate with a short list of simple, understandable maxims, like…

 

  • Take pains to hire adults, and treat them as such
  • Ensure that, from day one, everyone on the team understands and shares our mission, values, and priorities
  • Set high expectations for everyone (especially leaders) for conduct and performance
  • Care about people, and act like it, even when the wheels are coming off

 

Do these guardrails completely preclude making mistakes and hitting bumps in the road? Of course not. Every successful journey involves some potholes, but also a lot of unmitigated joy at being able to do great work while in the company of capable and Committed (capital ‘C’ intentional) teammates. Here are a handful of ideas that make that a little more possible:

 

Leaders Need to Be Blood Donors

Part of my deal with teammates is that as long as you’re behaving lawfully, as an adult, and doing what you genuinely believe to be “the right thing”, I will have your back, period. More than a few times I’ve had to back that up and endure a visit to the corporate woodshed because we made a mistake, and someone above me in the food chain wanted to see some blood. Fair enough. I believe that leaders, at every level, should be frequent blood donors for good causes. But in return, over the years I have gotten the full measure of effort and Commitment from hundreds of people who otherwise might not have been so generous. As a result, we’ve generally earned a reputation for getting more done, and had fun (mostly) doing it. If as a leader you’re not operating with at least one warning letter in your file, you’re probably not risking enough skin. 

 

Sweat

Leadership is about sweating the little stuff, like:

 

Finding out how your people learn best - Out of respect for the different adult learning styles, I suggest strongly that leaders make it a point to learn early on (pre-hire) what the career / developmental aspirations and preferred learning style are for every potential new hire. Understanding (really understanding) how people learn best is just as important as knowing what they need or want to learn. Do they want to take in new information via the ears, the printed word, a demonstration, or a concrete experience? Paying attention to this small point will enhance the learning experience for everyone, while accelerating the process.

 

Getting new people engaged in their work ASAP - For two decades, our employee surveys have given credence to the notion that new employees often lose a lot of their verve during the first year on the job, so getting the on-boarding thing right is vital. Beginning on day one, if not sooner, give people the opportunity and encouragement to learn by getting immersed in what they were hired to do. Don’t immediately throw them in the deep end of the pool and walk off, but the sooner they can be meaningfully involved in their new job, the better. The same goes for quickly getting them up to speed on the ways and means of the organization, the cultural indoctrination if you will. Show them the secret handshakes a little sooner, okay? Check in with them regularly, not only to gauge how their experience is going, but also to learn about anything that might be slowing them down, and conversely, who, if anyone has been especially helpful to them. Make sure that their early initiation is being guided by your best and brightest, not just whoever happens to be available. One of the absolute worst things you can do is to put a new hire under the tutelage of someone who has mediocre skills and /or a rotten demeanor.

 

Coaching More, Bossing Less - One of the best ways to develop and retain A-players is to make sure people get frequent coaching, right from the start. Unlike most bosses, who tend to focus primarily on mistakes, a good coach focuses first and foremost on identifying and optimizing the player’s strengths, and then on mitigating weaknesses. Leaders who take a sincere and abiding interest in the development of their teammates are much more inclined to get the benefit of loyalty and discretionary effort.

 

Fears

It takes courage to be a leader, and that courage is a commodity that can neither be bought nor obtained in a course at your favorite university. Showing courage is not about an absence of fear. Rather, it’s more about recognizing a dangerous or uncertain situation for what it is, and then deciding to saddle up and face it. You’re scared, but you go anyhow. Courageous leaders…

 

  1. Speak truth to power. Smart leaders know when, where, and how to do that.
  2. Realize that waiting until all the facts are known causes a lot of lost opportunities.
  3. Take pains to earn and maintain a reservoir of goodwill, which stands them in good stead when an exercise of courage fails or backfires.

 

Each of us must find our own mechanisms for putting fear in its proper place and demonstrating the courage that our work requires. Absent that, no one is going to follow us for very long.

 

Tears

People don’t always live up to their promise, their capability, or the standards imposed by the organization. In other cases, we at times discover that the individual and the organization simply are not cut out for one another. Either way, it becomes the leader’s duty to recognize the matter and deal with it, fairly, affirmatively, and sooner rather than later.

 

Saying goodbye to someone in a work relationship is seldom easy, on either side of the fence. Yet, experience suggests that better outcomes will be achieved when we act with consideration, decency, and pace. No one’s interests are well served by avoiding a difficult conversation. Have it.

 

 

 

If you've got more to add on this subject, or care to take the discussion further, we would be glad to hear from you.

 

Convention season is in full swing, and if the groups I've been invited to speak for are any indication, one of THE heaviest concerns weighing on the minds of employers almost everywhere is this: Where, and how, am I going to find enough qualified people to grow our business? (Or in some cases, just to maintain the status quo...)

One association member, in a pre-event phone call with me, was pretty succinct: "The people who are applying...aren't qualified. And the ones we want...they already have jobs. It's not easy."

Of course it's not easy. And with unemployment running at historically low levels, and with many (as in MANY) of the most talented people opting out of the traditional workforce to do (quite successfully, thank you), their own thing, it's not going to get any easier.

And yet, some employers ARE able to find, retain, and engage the best. If you're not one of them, there are probably some reasons.

And so, with apologies to comedian Jeff Foxworthy of "You might be a Redneck if" fame ("You might be a Redneck if...you have ever financed a tatoo"), I'd like to offer some possible explanations as to why you, and/or your organization, might be struggling to get the best people to come and work for you:

Page 1 of 12