Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Short post today about an important topic.  

Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

First, definitions for some of my readers who aren't HR pros.  Corrective Action is a formal process where you tell an employee, usually in a written document that is delivered in a formal Kick in the meeting with a witness - that their performance is below standards and unless they improve, they likely will be removed from the company in time.

Corrective Action is usually a three to four step process in most companies.  It's designed to reduce legal liability in firing someone, even in "at-will" employment environments.

Back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Well, that depends Sparky - what type of manager are you anyway?

Here's what corrective action means to the players involved:

The Company - "the employee in question isn't going to make it."

The Employee him/herself - "I need to look for another job."

Who's missing?  Oh yeah... The manager.  What corrective action means to the manager depends on what type of manager you are:

The manager as coach - to this type of manager, corrective action is just a escalated tool to show an employee they've been coaching that things are esclating.

The manager as bureaucrat - this type of manager isn't a coach and may in fact be a bit of a coward.  He/she hasn't really coached the employee from the heart, so when they show up with a formal corrective action document, the employee feels like he needs a lawyer.  Of course, they don't have that right.

Again, back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Corrective Action is never a death sentence to the manager who's an effective coach.  That manager is going to keep coaching for improvement and wants the employee to recover.  They've used corrective action to show the urgency and hope is turns around.  Unfortunately, to all other types of managers, corrective action IS a death sentence - because if you aren't actively coaching, your struggling employee has no shot at turning it around.

Which one are you?



The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#1 - Acknowledge High Performance)

Capitalist Note - I finally got around to binge-watching the former AMC hit Breaking Bad on Netflix, which follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White's journey through a lung cancer diagnosis and his subsequent turn to becoming a world-class meth producer.  This series (The Heisenberg Rules) represents what I was reminded of as a HR leader by Breaking Bad.  If you haven't seen the series, you can view a synopsis by clicking here. Spoilers abound in this series.

Rule #1 in the Heisenberg Rules is ACKNOWLEDGE HIGH PERFORMANCE:

The biggest transformation you'll find in Breaking Bad is the growing confidence of Walter White (WW). Once a high school chemistry teacher working a Walter_Whitesecond job where he's routinely berated by a car wash owner with a unibrow and 3 fewer degrees that what he holds, Walt's transformation into a capable meth producer delivers one important outcome - he's now good at something the world values and will pay for - even if it's highly illegal.

As WW explores how to best make meth, the following things occur in a pretty rapid fashion:

--He learns that his background in chemistry makes him uniquely qualified to produce the product, including a purity level unmatched by any other producers.

--The world displays that it will pay large amounts of money for his product.

--He learns that the people who know about his talent treat him with a form of respect that has rarely felt since college.  Of course, they're criminals, but that respect has been something that's been missing in WW's life for years.

Breaking Bad goes to great lengths early in the series to show Walter White as an emasculated man.  He doesn't earn a great living, his family takes him for granted and a key relationship - his DEA brother-in-law "Hank" - is cast as an alpha male to show the contrast.

As a result of WW's emergence as an expert, his confidence grows, but so does his frustration.  His new identity is hidden from his family for much of the show, which results in him having to do things like provide a cover for how he pays for his top grade cancer treatment - relying on a lie that former college friends (now rich) are paying the bills rather than disclosing that his earnings from meth production are the source of payment.

Through it all, Walter White smolders at the continuing emasculation.  He's treated as a bit player by his own family and an object of pity as he earns hundreds of thousands of dollars - in secret.

Eventually, Walter's wife becomes aware of his new life as America's top meth producer. While that's a story arc of its own, it's an important contributor to WW's frustration.

Skyler (Walter's wife) is rightfully fearful of what's going on.  But she never really turns the corner to acknowledge what's in front of her - that the emasculated man that's been the object of pity actually has skills that will result in a ultimate stockpile of 10 million dollars.

What's the tie in to the world of HR and talent?  It's pretty simple.  We routinely error in our companies by failing to do the following:

--recognize what individuals are best at and what makes them unique from a performance perspective.

--use references to what people are best at when we are coaching them on things they need to improve on.

--understanding the need for recognition - about true high performance, however small it may be in some cases - provides a deep connection that will deliver many managers through difficult circumstances with the employees who report to them.

I was reminded by Breaking Bad that failing to stop and acknowledge when someone really kicks ass (not in a public way, but 1-on-1) is a missed opportunity and is probably at the core of a lot of relationship dysfunction in the workplace.

I'll leave you with a final thought.  Let's say you have a problematic employee you're coaching in a lot of areas.  The one thing she's good at is being aggressive towards people who aren't getting things done and forcing them to act.  She's a bit of a bully, but damn - she get get results in that circumstance.

Of course, what makes her great there serves as a relationship noose everywhere else.  She's a one-trick pony, trying to bully everyone all the time.

Why not acknowledge her super skill in getting people to get things done (only using in limited circumstances) while coaching her on her crass, abrasive personality everywhere else?

Acknowledge high performance where you can, even if some view it as negative.  It's the bridge to coach the same person where it really matters.

Great Careers Live At The Intersection of Niche and Grind...

I remember being in High School and somehow ending up at the VFW where my dad liked to knock back a Seagram's VO or two.

On the night in question, my dad was at the bar with a guy who he introduced me to and said the guy had some great advice for me, as I was interested in communications at the time.  The advice went like this:

"Don't major in journalism or communications.  Find another major and minor in journalism or communications." WOJ

His point was simple. People who were subject matter experts in a specific field had a much better chance of great careers in writing than those who were generalists - because they had depth and knowledge that gave them authority others didn't have.

The year was 1986. That dude looks like Nostradamus these days.

Like most HR leaders, I didn't come out of college looking for a job in HR.  I kind of slopped into it and then found out it was a good match for me.

I'm asked for career advice a lot by friends, family and people I don't know as part of this blog and my career in HR.  I've never forgotten that Seagrams-influenced advice given by a journalist passing through a town of 2,000 in the middle of Northeast Missouri.

These days, my version of that advice is the following:

Find a niche you're interested in that has enough action to pay well, then fully invest yourself in becoming that absolute ####ing expert of that niche.  Then make sure people can find you, which means you're going to have to self promote a bit. 

The world has enough generalists.  There's nothing to say you can't do both.  You can be a generalist by being a financial analyst early in your career, but at some point you need to find a niche that's going to be in demand by someone who wants to pay you more in the future.

So you're a Financial Analyst.  Why not dig deep and make yourself the expert in metrics that help evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of a sales function?  I guarantee you there's a CFO who will double your salary for that focus.

Generalists are the ones that get laid off in the next economic downturn.  Specialists who have a unique skill who can also do the generalist work?  Protected.

Find a niche and grind at it for best career results.  I leave you with the case study of Adrian Wjonarowski, pictured in a snapshot below from my smartphone this summer.  

He goes by the handle of "WOJ".  Woj is the guy that breaks 80% of the news in the NBA, and the NBA hates him, as evidenced by the picture below that shows him interviewing people outside a ladies bathroom in Las Vegas.  That's where the NBA put him, because he's got more power than they'd like and they're trying to knock him down.

Too late.  Woj didn't even blink an eye on this day, he just powered through the insult and solidified his power base for future rumors/news by interviewing 20 people he didn't have to.  If you're into Game of Thornes, he's Varys.

Woj found a niche and grinded his way to domination.  Whatever your field, you can do the same.

But only if you... 1) find a niche, and...2) grind like hell. #noshortcuts

(email subscribers enable images or click through to see embeded post below) 

Judgment Should Always Factor Into Decisions Related to Direct Reports (Anthony Weiner Edition)...

I haven't written a lot about the election. But this post is related to that.

It's about the baggage you assume when you believe in talented direct reports or candidates, but they have people who are freak Huma and hillaryshows in their lives.  They can be spouses, family members, friends, etc.  The bad actors they refuse to distance themselves from feels like loyalty and is seemingly unrelated to their work. 

That is, until the relationships harm your ability to do business.  It happens in a variety of ways, and Hillary Clinton just felt the reality 10 days before our presidential election.

Hillary Clinton generates a lot emotion on both sides of the aisle. But this late October surprise has nothing to do with her voting record, her foundation or Bill.  It has to do with Anthony Weiner.  Damn, that's a hard one to get your head around. More from The New York Times:

Carolyn B. Maloney, the congresswoman from the Upper East Side, was riding in a taxi on Friday when she heard the news: Emails discovered in an investigation into Anthony Weiner’s sexting had revived the F.B.I.’s interest in the case of Hillary Clinton’s private server.

The fury that many leading Democrats feel toward Mr. Weiner had been building for years. His sexting habits embarrassed them. His attempted political comeback in 2013 disgusted them. But their high regard for his wife, Huma Abedin, always kept them from going public. On Friday that was over.

Mr. Weiner, who lost his seat in Congress and his mayoral hopes after repeated episodes in which he sent lewd messages to women, is now under federal investigation for allegedly sending sexual messages to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. In that inquiry, the F.B.I. earlier this month seized a laptop that contained thousands of messages belonging to his now-estranged wife, Ms. Abedin, a top aide to Mrs. Clinton.

Huma Abedin stood by Weiner, her husband, when some of the first sexting scandals came out a few years back.  More importantly, Clinton stood by Adedin as she stayed with Weiner. That's what you do with talented people who have life issues out of their control - you stand by them. Right?

The problem is that when you stand by great people who have issues going on in their life, eventually the lack of distance can become a perceived judgment issue for those you support. As time goes on, you can be co-opted into the judgment issue not because you did anything wrong, but because you failed to distance yourself from the crazy.

What's in the emails related to Clinton, Abedin and Weimer? Who knows? But the late October surprise has nothing to do with Clinton - that we know of - but the fact we're talking about means she's hurt by her ongoing decision to stand by a talented leade/direct report in her org with some public slime in her life.

Here's some non-POTUS ways you can get hurt by related decisions:

--You hire a member of your leadership team with a spouse who has some allegations towards them personally flying around. You then stand behind that person when the spouse is criminally charged. The rest of your leadership team seems to have a higher occurrence of raised eyebrows toward you and the body language that comes with that facial feature.

--You hire a great leadership team member and two years later their spouse takes a great job with your biggest competitor.  What do you do?

--Two leadership team members have the following conflict. Either they're in a relationship with each other or one of them is having a relationship with the other's wife/husband. It wasn't that way when they joined the team, but that's your current reality.

What do all of these things have in common?  They may or may not be reflective of your direct report's judgment, but the response of that direct report - what they do next - should guide what you do next.

They may choose to to act like nothing's changed, and maybe they're right.  But you have to continously evaluate whether you, your team or your company can get hurt by the evolving circumstances - and make the call to end the relationship if it's time to do that.

Hillary Clinton has stood by Huma Abedin time and time again. Now conversations that she's had with Abedin about Weiner's sexting to a 15-year old may come to light.  Who knows what's in those emails?

The good news for Clinton is she's running against a train wreck of a candidate in Donald Trump and may survive.

You?  You don't need an October surprise of your own. Be loyal with your direct reports, but when judgment and reality moves past a certain threshold, be prepared to move on.

CASE STUDY: When The Private Equity Bears Show Up To Eat Your Company

True story - I was once on a business pitch and waked into a company that had been taken over by a multi-national private equity firm that shall remain nameless.  One of the things that blew me away was that as we walked into the lobby, the PE firm had the "new values" in a big display in the lobby - at least 25-30 feet high.

Once of those values was "meritocracy".  "Hmm", I thought - I hadn't seen that as a value before.  And I'd never seen it 30 ft high. BEARS

Anyway, we went to the pitch and it was obvious that the private equity firm was making a lot of changes - many that needed to be made - on the people side.  The change to a more performance-based culture was on thanks to the PE firm.

The problem?  The private equity firm had the right idea related to meritocracy and many other people ideas. But one thing they got wrong was they took a sleepy little company that had people who probably weren't competing as hard as they could and they created a sweatshop of sorts - creating the expectation that people had to stay until 7pm or after or risk being outed as "non-competitive", etc.

Oh yeah - on the ride down the elevator, the doors closed to show the values on display again - this time on the inside of the elevator. My travel partner and I looked at each other - the value "meritocracy" had been scratched by keys repeatedly.

I tell that story to share this - when private equity firms look for the upside of investing, they're often looking for bloated costs they can take out of the company to ensure they make money on their investment.  But what they're also looking for is bloat on the people side - not just too many people, but performance processes that are non-existent and full of bloat and non-focus they can exploit.  

That's why I loved this case study from Marc Effron and The Talent Strategy Group:

"The rules for avoiding a bear attack are simple, clear and repeatedly reinforced to anyone visiting bear country. But, with regularity, people ignore those rules and are injured or killed by bears.

The rules for your company avoiding a private equity attack are similarly clear and violated even more frequently. Companies worldwide tremble as they consider a PE bear attack but then act in the ways most likely to attract a hungry carnivore.

We use the case study of 3G capital – acquirer of Heinz, Burger King, Anheuser Busch and others – to show you how to bear-proof your company. We don't expect that you'll follow this advice, so don't blame us when bears eat your company.

Download the article here."

As an HR leader, you might think that a private equity firm's decision to take over your company is all driven by financials.  You'd be wrong.  Go get this case study and read up - it might serve as great justification to get the buy-in from your leadership team you've needed to get meaningful change in areas that are important to you.

The Process For Creating Potential Factors (Rather Than Company Values) At Your Company

One of the things I've always been a fan of is having potential factors as an alternative to company values.
Background: At Kinetix, we have potential factors instead of values.  They're designed to identify what we value most in talent and as such, should be our guides in how we hire, promote and reward, and at times, fire.

You can find all of our potential factors in an online document/handbook we call The Kinetix Code.


If you want to rethink your company values and think about subbing them out for potential factors, here's your process:
1. You meet with your leadership team.  There’s a lot of fancy ways to frame this, but it really comes down to answering the following question:
“Let’s think about the stars at our company. What is it about them, regardless of position, that makes them successful at our company?  Give me single words that serve as adjectives to describe what our stars have behaviorally cognitively (no skills!) that other people don’t, and any word you give me has to be descriptive of the group of stars in your opinion – no words that apply to one or some and not the others.”
2. Do that, and you’ll end up with a brainstorming session about words they think are descriptive of the highest performers in your company.  You’ll get as many as 70 words out of this process.
3. You take the raw list of words and start combining things that mean the same thing, or close to the same thing.  For example, initiative and drive are closely related.  When you find words that mean the same thing, your job is to put them on the same line and then decide what word best describes the behavior in your culture.
4. Once you do that offline and knock down the number, you’ll have a list of 20-25 words to choose your initial potential factors from.  There are a lot of ways to pick the ones you want. Your CEO can look at it and tell you what he/she wants, you can pick and tell the team, or preferably, you can have a working session to discuss, maybe cull it down to a list of 10 factors the team generally believes are the best – then figure out how you’re going to cut it to ones you want to launch.  I’m big on a shielded vote for those, which still allows you and your CEO/ops leader veto power without doing that in a public setting.
What's the right number of potential factors to have?  Same number as values.  5-6 seems to be the sweet spot, do more that and you'll lose the capability to position themselves as important.
Good luck if you undertake this process - it's worth the time to take a look at.


VIDEO: Giving Interns Real Experience Is Really The Most Important Thing...

If you came because of that title looking for a serious post on intern programs, think again.

I was in Auburn Saturday night for LSU/Auburn and Auburn has a kicker that kicks it out of the end zone... every.single.time.

After an Auburn FG in the first half, Auburn did what it always does - it kicked it out of the end zone.  But an enterprising young girl who works in the Auburn video/photo department and was a former ESPN intern thought she could shuffle from her position on the ground in the end zone and make the catch of the dead ball - from her knees.

The result was priceless.  Email subscribers, click through for the video.  Of special note is that she actually calls "I got it" before she takes it to the face.  Good news is that she was fine.  Obviously caught it on the cheek rather than in the nose.

I'd show this to your intern classes.  If you're doing it right, the normal work equivalent of this is at least part of the experience they should get with your company. 

When Employees Bite Back: Prepping for the 1-on-1s That Are Going to Suck...

It's September. Getting near halfway through the year. Might be time for you to actually give some feedback to the people who work for you. Or, if you're an HR pro, to encourage managers of people to give that feedback to the masses. But we wait.  Because the people who most need the feedback don't always take it well. All the training in the world isn't going to help the reality of performance feedback---it would be easy if it weren’t for those pesky employees asking questions, throwing up objections and generally being disagreeable. And that’s one of the biggest rubs in doing performance management/mid-year feedback, isn’t it?

“This session is going to suck because they’re going to ___________ . ”

What do employees who most need your feedback do during performance sessions? If they’re quiet, the session is easy—if somewhat strange. If an employee is quiet, you probably haven’t encouraged them to participate enough or be honest with you. Once you’ve made them comfortable, they’re going to tell you why they can’t give more performance to you, and the reasons will be unique to their personality and performance profile. But some of the objections can be trended, all the way to the point where we can create personas that you should expect to see during your session. The key is to know the people you're talking to, then have a general feel for what your approach is going to be as you walk into the session when you tell them how they are doing for the year. Available starting approaches for you as a manager of people as you walk into a feedback session that's going to be hostile/going to suck:

1. The Flame Thrower - In this approach, you go on the offensive quick since you're dealing with someone who's going to be pretty hostile back to you.  This approach is also used because you're dealing with someone who's going to try to bully you, because the only thing they'll understand is brute force.  So, you hit them hard early and put the pieces together late.  Best used with highly assertive, low-sensitivity employees.

2. The Fraiser Crane - You remember the spin off from Cheers, right?  The tagline he used on his radio show based on personal therapy was, "I'm listening," so it stands to reason that's your approach early with the people who need some therapy before you can get to how they're going to improve.  Best used with low-assertive, high sensitivity types.

3. The Jester - Some people are wired to love the stage banter, so give these people what they want: lots of small talk about company topics interesting to them. You're basically warming them up to be comfortable, then you're going to transition and have better conversation post-warm up. What do you talk about? Any thing that they have opinions on and build momentum for you to agree, because it's going to be hard for them to come after you after that momentum is built. Best used with employees who are extroverted and high on the people scale.  Let them talk, and then try to keep them talking/reacting once you go into feedback mode.

The best stage banter to model yourself after? Paul Stanley from KISS of course (email subscribers click through for video):

4. The Stat Geek - Numbers never lie, and if you're fortunate to have numbers to back up the performance issues you see, you lead with the digits to a certain subsection of your feedback sessions. Be sure to have numbers that clearly define INDIVIDUAL performance with this group and you'll be set.  Best used with employees that have high cognitive scores and are low on the team scale (which means you can best ask for more performance by presenting them with a individual scoreboard).

Bottom line: Your one-on-ones or check-ins matter.  It's about who they are, not who you are.  Play offense early in your session with each employee and you'll have the best shot at success with minimal blowback why you get to what's real.

Self Assessments and 360 Feedback Systems Are A Crutch for Managers...

We love features like self assessments and 360s in our performance solutions.  But they're a crutch.  Here's why:

  1. Self Assessments - your best people are harder on themselves than you are.  Your worst people and even those in between give themselves more credit than they deserve - setting your managers up for something they're not good at - conflict.  Meh.
  2. 360 Reviews - the more I talk to people using these as part of the review process, the more often I hear that the feedback coming in isn't great.  It's either cheerleader type stuff, "Jenn is the best!" or people are very, very cautious in giving negative feedback if they perceive that it will be used directly and more importantly, if the review is tied to pay.  

Managers - Do your job and have a take on whether someone is good or great.  And stop saying everyone is great - they're not.  

HR Pros - I'm not saying you shouldn't use self-assessments or 360s - but you can't let them be a replacement from a manager truly owning whether someone is crushing it or just getting by.

You're better than that.  I know you are. 

Apple Eliminating Headphone Jack = Companies Eliminating Performance Reviews

Think about it...

In case you missed it yesterday, Apple announced the iPhone 7 and the feature getting the most buzz is - no wired headphones.  Why did they do it?  Observe the high and mighty talk from Apple courtesy of The Ringer:

"Perhaps because the company’s stealthy public relations team sensed the impending anger of their customer base (which, lol, includes Alan Cumming), Schiller offered an explanation to as to why the company chose to take the dive into Apple über-minimalism.

“Now, some people have asked why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone,” Schiller began. “It really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.”

Mmmm-Hmmm.  Which made me think that the people who eliminate performance reviews are a lot like Apple at it's worst - when they make decisions for consumers.  Let's count the ways:

1. Apple - we had the courage to do this.  Anti-Performance Review People - You know reviews suck, we're just brave enough to end it.

2. Apple - if you still want to use the wires, here's a 4 inch dongle that will make you look 70 years old.  Anti-Performance Review People - you can totally still do reviews, but we'll be over here being interviewed by Fast Company.  We're confident that will work out well for you, do what you're comfortable with (imagine patronizing tone).

3. Apple - we're trusting the consumer to go with us- to the future.  Anti-Performance Review People - we're trusting managers to coach on a more frequent basis.  You're right - they can't even advise their direct reports on strategic moves by our company without blaming the leadership team, but we're sure their going to battle through the confrontation and coach weekly.

4. Apple - our move to eliminate the headphone jack isn't about money/selling accessories.  Anti-Performance Review People - our new process isn't tied to money in any way. We haven't figured out how to do merit increases in the new world order yet, but we're confident we'll have a plan soon.

5. Apple Consumers - we love the new phone!  Wait, what am I supposed to do with my wired accessories again?  Employees in companies eliminating reviews - Yes!  No reviews, I hated those things. Wait, how am I supposed to know how I'm doing vs my peers?  My managers going to organically give me that data over time?  Huh?

Apple = Anti-Performance Review People

If only there was a big phone dongle the Anti-Performance Review People could hand you when they find out you're still doing reviews.