One Big Difference Between The Naturals In Your Company - and Everyone Else...

First up, let's define a natural in your company.

A natural is someone who:

--Performs at a high level in their current job, and Natural

--Everyone with common sense understands they are promotable at least 3 levels above their current job - all they need is time, experience and a bit of guidance. 

There are many things that define a natural. This post isn't meant to be a comprehensive listing of those things.  This post will only feature the following characteristic of the natural:

The Natural fields inquiries from managers/execs 2 or more levels above them with a incredibly high sense of urgency and always seeks to overdeliver on work product and service related to these inquires.

I know what you're saying. Is this really that important, Kris?

Yeah. It is. 

There's a quote from Don Draper on Mad Man I'd like to throw in here. Enjoy:

"People tell you who they are, but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be."

We want to believe that all of our employees have the ability to do great things.  It's not true.

I was talking to a CFO I served at a past company and she was expressing frustration at getting things done across the team she had inherited.

She had identified one team member on a team of 20 as being high potential and had tagged the rest at being disposable. The criteria was pretty simple - it was related to how quickly the team members acted when she needed something or gave them an assignment.

Unfair? Maybe.

Are some of those team members good at their jobs? Probably. But most of them aren't naturals who are poised for great things in their careers. How do I know this?  When I think back across my career about the naturals I have known in my career, they could be juggling 30 things and when a request came in from a VIP in their domain, they always made that person feel like they were the most important person in the world.

--They didn't return the email 30 hours or more later.

--They didn't let the request go into the void without updating the exec on how it was going or a status that it was done.

--They didn't fail to engage the exec with their opinions about what might make the project better or how they went out of their way to do the best they could.

Average employees do all the things listed above.  Naturals never do those things.

You can be a good employee and not be a natural. You're just probably not going to be promoted on an annual basis.

As leaders, treat employee urgency and responsiveness to your requests as the test that it is.  Step back and observe who steps up and who doesn't.

"People tell you who they are, but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Your commitment to coaching is noted. But you can't coach someone into natural status, so don't try.  Take it all in - the naturals are identifying themselves, all you have to do is watch and listen.


But Will They Stay? (Weak Things HR and Business Leaders Say)

Ever hear managers, executives and even HR say some weak things?

Of course you have. For me, there's one thing that rises to epic level when it coms to weak: Kawhi

"I like them as a candidate. I'm just worried they won't stay."

This mindset values retention over talent, performance and more. The candidate is strong and wants to come. Yet, there's something about the work history (too heavy), the comp (we can't provide as much as we would like) and a myriad of other factors that make your hiring manger wring their hands about offering a job to the candidate in question.

As I write this, the Toronto Raptors are set to clinch the NBA championship tonight over the dynastic Golden State Warriors. The Raptors are up 3 games to 1, and their success is driven by the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, for whom the Raptors traded another all star for, even though Leonard only had one year remaining when the deal was made.

That means contractually the Raptors traded for an employee who would open up their recruiting process one year later, and faced a heavy chance they wouldn't retain him.

"I'm just worried they won't stay."

The older I get, the more I'm convinced that if you can keep great talent in your company for a stint of 2-3 years, you're better off for having had them, reaping the contributions they make - than never having them at all.

This obviously refers to the top 10% - the most talented among us.

The Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard and knew that it was highly likely they would have him for a year. They did it anyway. Now, they're about to win a title.

Unwillingness to bring in top talent - long term retention risk be damned - can say a few things about your organization:

1--I don't think we're very good and I'm sure they won't stay.

2--We're OK, I know we can get better, but I'm not sure we'll improve quick enough to retain them.

3--We're not going to be able to comp this person they way they'll need to be comped to retain them.

4--I'm personally threatened by hiring someone this good. I'd prefer to have village idiots around me.

But what if you put any and all of those fears aside and hired the best person available, then got the **** out of the way and let them do their job?

They might be gone in a year. But that year might have been a hell of run.

Just ask the citizens of Toronto.


Better Marketing For Corrective Action in HR...

I recently dropped a post titled "Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?", which explored the fact that all too often, corrective action/progressive discipline is the beginning of the end. When an employee gets that document, all too often they have the opinion they can't save their job.
 
Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. What if we entered into the corrective action world actually
expecting that the employee could make it? That's the way it should be in my eyes. Of course, that The planmeans a couple of different things:
 
1--Our companies have to go into any type of corrective action plan thinking the employee can make it, with the right type of support.
 
2--The employee in question has to want to raise their performance to meet the requirements of your plan - not always the case.
 
3--No one can act surprised if the employee makes it.
 
Which brings us to the garden variety corrective action/progressive discipline plan.  Here's a couple of things to think about:
 
--It's not over just because you "wrote them up".  Identifying what the performance is and why it's not great is only half the battle.
 
--The other half of the battle? Actually telling them what they need to do to get off the plan.
 
What's acceptable performance look like?  Too often corrective action/progressive discipline documents don't describe what performance that meets expectations looks like.  That's a miss.
 
So if you're going to do corrective action/progressive discipline the right way, you have to provide a path where they are off the plan. Most of us don't do that. We're just taking a "step".
 
If you're different than that, you probably should consider renaming what you call corrective action/progressive discipline at your company. I know what you're thinking - just because I call it something else doesn't mean anything has changed - and you're right.
 
I'm only telling you to change what you call it if you're actually open to someone getting their performance together and coming "off'" the plan. By all means, if you're just taking steps, keep doing what your doing. I hope the corrective action/progressive discipline process goes well for you.
 
But, if you're doing it differently and providing the aforementioned path, you should rename it.  Here's some real options, all with elements of truth in them:
 
Real Options/Recommendations
 
--Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) - Frequently used by sales teams with hard numbers to back it up, the ole' PIP means what it says. Do this, and you're good.  Don't do this, and we probably can't keep you.
 
--Back on Track Plan - This name for the plan does what it says it's going to do. You're off track. We need you on track. Here's the plan to do it.
 
--Individual Development Plan (IDP) - I know, I know. This is usually centered around true employee development in the L&D space. But if you don't currently have IDPs as part of your human capital stack, this name is available to you for to use for performance situations.
 
If you had the exact right culture, you could also use naming conventions like the "Get Them Off Your Back Plan", which is 100% honest but likely way too cheeky for the seriousness of what's in front of you.
 
The bottom line is this - if you don't have corrective action that shows the path to get off the plan, you're signaling a lot of bad things. I understand those bad things are likely to happen in a lot of circumstances, but aren't we better than that?
 
Change the name if you're willing to work on it and provide clarity in feedback to those that are struggling in your organization.  Keep it as is if you're not - don't destroy the opportunity for others.

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 Non-Working, Non-Credible Executive at Your Company...

Let's talk about something that impacts every organization - The perception of whether your executives do anything, and in a related topic, whether they are viewed as credible.

There's 4 buckets every executive at your company falls into: Magic

1--Works hard/does stuff and viewed as credible.

2--Doesn't work hard/do stuff but is viewed as credible.

3--Does stuff/works hard and isn't viewed as credible.

4--Doesn't work hard/do stuff and isn't viewed as credible.

The gold standard is to have execs in #1 - Does stuff/is credible.  Engagement is always easier when this is the case.  For the most cynical of executives, they'd love to be viewed as credible without really trying to dig in and work or understand what's going on 4-5 levels below them.

Entire TV series have been based on the disconnect - Undercover Boss, anyone?  The CEO puts on a stupid wig, goes to the front lines and finds that special person they want to help moving forward - everyone cries and the CEO is now aware of how hard the work is.  Check. Then it's back to the corporate jet and the Ritz.

Why am I posting about this today? I was reminded of the four buckets of Executive perception when Magic Johnson resigned as the President of the Los Angeles Lakers (pro basketball).  For the uninitiated, Magic is a top 5 player all time in pro basketball, and he's royalty when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers. So the Lakers hired him 2 years ago to return their organization to glory.

There was just one problem. Magic wanted the job, but he didn't want to have to work hard. In addition, the fact he didn't work hard in a job he didn't know how to do destroyed his credibility in his workplace, which for him was the community of other GMs doing work within the NBA.  You can get a good rundown of the Magic Johnson scenario here.

But back to your company.  Evaluating whether an executive works hard and is viewed as credible is tough for the following reasons:

a--It's not necessarily the executive's job to understand what everyone does and how the sausage gets made. They have a job that's different that the first layers of your company, and at times, just as important.

b--Employees love to hate. Just because they don't know what the executive does doesn't mean the exec in question doesn't work hard.  But it might tell you they need to connect more to be credible.

So how do you determine whether an executive works hard and is credible?  My first suggestion is to ask their executive peers who rely on them for services.  If the peers don't feel they work hard or are credible, it's likely you have a problem.  After all, peers at the executive level are aware of the demands of the job.  They're slow to say, "I don't know what he does", because they've heard that before about themselves.

Finally, look for command related to talent management 2 to 3 levels below them. Someone trying to understand the work and add value to the way your company's product or service gets delivered is likely to know who's good and who's not, and base it on tangible items clearly linked to success in the job, not politics or rumors.

There's a lot of people at your company who think your executives don't do anything.  They might be right.

You should try to understand if you're dealing with Jeff Bezos or Magic Johnson and take action accordingly.


Suck Less: The Reality Behind Your Small Failures at Work...

Let's talk about small failures at work. The kind that stack up and make you feel like you had a crappy week.

Some of you think everyone is watching you when you fail small.  The dirty little secret is no one is watching you unless you beat them (good for you, but watch out) or lose to them (at which point they'll tell others or discretely imply that they crushed you). Of course, life at work doesn't have as many true "L's" as we think.

People are hopelessly self-absorbed.  No one is watching you for the most part, or has time to stop thinking about themselves to evaluate - wait for it - you.  Bask in the fact that your small failures are not really seen or evaluated by those not directly impacted.
 
Then get ***ing better.  Because you might have a problem if you never get a "W".
 
Signed - Your agent KD
 

Chill Out: It Really Doesn't Matter Where Your Kids Go to College...

I've got a senior in High School, and you know what that means - time for admission envy, parental handwringing and everything that goes with along with that.

Sarah's going to Vanderbilt/Harvard/Stanford.  Man, I wish my kid would have worked harder...

I get it - we all want more for our kids. To the extent they've worked hard, we want them to go to the best school.  When that doesn't happen, we start worrying, because not being admitted to a top school is a classic 1st World problem. The volume gets amped up when your kid is a high performer and can't even get a sniff to a top school with a 4.4 GPA and a 32 ACT.  See this post (spend more time on the comments from parents who feel they've been wronged) for some crazy stories, accusations of unfairness and helicopter parents losing their minds.

It's easy to understand your paranoia.  If the school your kid is going to isn't up to par in your mind, or if you think he/she has been wronged by an admissions process, it's easy to rant and wish for more. C-siue

Until you figure out the following 2 things:

1--Comparison is the thief of joy, and more importantly;

2--By the time your kid has his second job and/or 5 years into the world of work, it's not going to matter where he/she went to school.

Couple of things to offer up. First, consider this study that estimates the economic return of attending an elite college, a summary of which appears below:

Stacy Dale, a mathematician, and Alan Krueger, an economist, collaborated in two large-scale research studies (Dale & Kruger, 2002 & 2014) in which they effectively controlled for the background characteristics of students attending colleges that varied in selectivity (based on average SAT scores of the entering class). The first study was of students entering college in 1976, and the second was of those entering in 1989. Essentially, their question in both studies was this: If people are matched in socioeconomic background and pre-existing indices of their academic ability and motivation, will those who go to an elite college make more money later in life than those who go to a less elite one? The overall result was that the college attended made no difference. Other things being equal, attending an elite school resulted in no income advantage over attending a less elite school, neither in the short term nor in the long term. 

The key, of course, is students matched in socioeconomic background, academic ability and motivation.  Match kids up by those factors, and there's no outcome difference in attending Kennesaw State vs Georgia Tech (Atlanta example, plug your own in for your area of the US).

And when it comes to the factors considered, give me motivation over the other factors once a decent level of academic ability is present.  The average GPA of millionaires is said to be 2.9 - I'll be back with more on that later this week.

I see it all the time as a recruiter - people from elite universities with average careers, and people from schools I've never heard of killing it and running the world.

I was blessed to have my first son do the minimum at a really good high school to get a 3.7 GPA and mail in a high 20's GPA.  So my expectations are managed, that's easy when your kid knows not to apply to elite schools.  But he was an absolute grinder in other things in his HS years, so I know he has a shot via transferred motivation to do great things and outperform a 34 or higher ACT.

I'm a recruiter by trade. If you're still recovering from your son or daughter going to the state school, chill out. He or she has a 50/50 shot to outperform the kid of the mom who stuck the Stanford admission in your face.  But only if they grind and the motivation is greater than their peer group.

BONUS - Video below shows a kid wanting Ivy and coming to the realization it's University of Illinois (from Risky Business, click through if you don't see the video player).


Saying "No" Helps Train the Recipient What "Yes" Looks Like...

If there's a big problem in corporate America, it's that we say "Yes" too much at times.

Yes to that request..

Yes, I can help you..

Yes, I'd be happy to be part of your project team...

Yes, your response to my request is fine...

There's a whole lot of yes going around.  The problem?  Only about 1/2 of the "yes" responses are followed up with action that is representative of all of us living up to the commitment we made.

That's why you need to say "no" more.

Of course, simply saying no with nothing behind the no positions you as jerk.  So the "no" has to have qualifiers behind it:

Say "no" more to peers asking you for things, but then qualify it with how the request could be modified to move you to say "yes".

Say "no" more to your boss, and qualify your response to her by asking for help de-prioritizing things on your plate - which might allow you to say "yes" to the new request.

We say "yes" in the workplace when we want to say "no". We do it because we don't like to say no, and because we are horrible at negotiation.

Say "no" and tell people how the request could be modified to get to "yes".

Or just say "no" and walk away.  Either way, you've helped the organization's overall performance by providing more clarity. 


4 Ways to Determine If a Candidate Has Ambition...

“I’m tough, ambitious and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” 

— Madonna

Ambition. As much as many of us are uncomfortable saying publicly that it’s a value/feeling/potential factor we want in our organization, ambition is needed in your company to get great results.

You know your high-ambition employees. They are the ones that often do great things and occasionally put tire tracks across the back of some teammates in the process. Are you better with or without these people? And if everyone is happy with their current status, who moves the company forward?

I'm up over at Workforce Magazine giving you 4 Ways To Determine if a Candidate has Ambition... Get that whole article by clicking here...