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What Do You Have to Offer Top Talent?

Hiring is ramping up and as always, highly talented, successful job candidates are in high demand. There never seem to be enough. Even in the depths of the recession we heard that companies had openings they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find the right candidates.

What if it wasn’t the candidates but the companies? What if those candidates stayed away because they couldn’t see value in what the company had to offer?

When we hire, we tend to look at hiring as a one way street, i.e. I have a need and I need someone who meets my specifications. That’s a problem. Hiring is a two way street. We have a need for someone to meet our specifications. As we should, we always want the best. The most talented candidates also have needs and specifications that they want companies to meet. Top talent has the upper hand in the hiring scenario. They know that what they have is in demand in the marketplace. They can be selective about where they will work.

To attract and hire the best you need to know what you have to offer that’s attractive to a top tier candidate. While money is important to them it is by no means the only thing that’s important. For many, it ranks third or fourth most important.

In order to compete for top talent, define an employer brand. Ask yourself:

  • What are the values, mission and purpose of your organization? Top talent want to be part of a company that is going somewhere that resonates with them. They want to work for a company whose values align with their own. 
     
  • What’s the culture? How do people talk about what it’s like to work for you or your company? Is it a family? Are you at war? Do you work hard, play hard? Cultural fit is a key indicator of a candidate’s long term success. Top talent look for a sense of community. If they can’t identify with your culture or if you can’t define your culture in ways that speaks to them, they don’t want to be part of it.
     
  • What opportunities will they have to grow and develop? Top talent doesn’t want to stagnate. Even if they’re in the same role for five years, they want to know that there is opportunity to grow within that role, to take on new challenges and build their capabilities. 

During the interview process, candidates will ask “what’s the best thing about working here?” Don’t let your answer be just ‘the money’ or some vague answer like ‘the opportunity.’ Be able to articulate a strong brand and provide examples that can bring the brand to life. Show top talent why working for you and your company is the best decision they can make.

What is High Potential?

I am often asked to take a look at company’s talent review processes. The talent review process usually involves plotting talent in the 9-box matrix on the basis of performance and potential. Invariably, potential is described as “ability to move up 2 levels within the next 3-5 years.” My question is what do you base that assessment on? Usually it has to do with how well the individual is doing in his current job and his track record. Or it may be based on something similar to the definition of obscenity “I just know it when I see it.” Too often this causes high potential identification to be a bit of a beauty contest. Various ideas of what creates high potential go into the decisions when in reality these characteristics may have little to do with the ability for someone to grow rapidly in the organization.

I believe there are five key characteristics that differentiate high potential talent from other talent.

The individual wants to be a senior leader: There is always at least one person on a company’s high potential list who has no desire to move to ever higher levels in the organization. He may be very talented and meet the rest of the criteria I have listed here but if the desire for increased leadership responsibility is not there, he is not a high potential.

Adaptability: high potential talent is able to quickly adapt and adjust to changing circumstances. When a high potential is placed in a new situation, she is able to quickly assess the situation, learn what is critical to success in that situation and adjusts to it.

Continual learning: high potentials are always learning. He continually wants to grow and expand his understanding of where the industry may be going, how the business environment is changing, different approaches, different perspectives, and different components of the business. The high potential then integrates this understanding into how he gets results.

Impact on others. Being a senior leader means getting things done through others and leading others who often have more expertise than you. This requires the capacity to create a compelling vision and strategy that engages and motivates others to go on that journey with you.

Performance: This is usually the first characteristic people list as what differentiates high potentials. Usually, a high potential is a consistently high performer. Her performance is distinctly different from others. That said, high potential talent is at times in the wrong job. Yes, it’s true, even high potentials are not successful at everything. You may have a high potential that performs poorly in a role because of a mismatch. It is important to look at that situation and determine if it’s an anomaly or a new pattern.

Look at the high potentials in your organization that have been successful as they’ve moved up in the organization. See if these characteristics are what made the difference in their trajectory and how others moved in the organization.

Smarter Goals

 

The idea of S.M.A.R.T. goals has been around for a long time. Many of you who have attended management training have at one time or another been exposed to this concept. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the elements that make up a well written goal. I’m advocating for a new acronym —S.M.A.R.T.E.R. This approach keeps the S.M.A.R.T. components and adds what I view as two critical elements.

 

S = Specific. All goals should be focused on a specific outcome or behavior.
M = Measurable. Effective goals can be measured. You define what success looks like. The measure can be quantitative (percentages, earnings, numbers) or qualitative (behavioral differences observed).
A = Attainable or Achievable.
Goals need to be seen as something that can actually be reached. Otherwise, they are just viewed as a pipe dream and have little impact on performance because nothing you do will ever be good enough.
R = Relevant. They need to relate to what someone does and what someone has control over. If a goal really doesn’t relate to what I do, then why does it matter?
T = Time bound. Too often, goals are set without a specific end date in mind. If a ‘goal’ is open-ended and ongoing, it’s not a goal. It’s a task or a process.
E = Engaging. Goals are often thought to be very objective and numbers-driven, i.e., very intellectual, not emotional. Or, in the case of behavioral goals, sometimes people view them as not really that important. For people to take ownership of achieving a goal, they need to be emotionally engaged with the idea that achieving this goal is important to them, not just to the company or group.
R = Recognized. People need to see that achieving the goal makes a difference. They need to see that something positive will result or something negative will cease. Recognition, rewards and reinforcement are all important for goals to be effective.

Expectation Busters

What kind of expectations do you set for your team? Most people I speak with believe they set clear, concise goals that help their people focus on what’s important. For some people, that is probably true. For others, setting expectations does not seem to be working as well.

Setting expectations is about more than just setting goals or objectives at a point in time. Expectations are set and reinforced every day by your actions and reactions to situations that arrive. When that reinforcement doesn’t happen, you have what I often call expectations-busters. Have you ever experienced one of the following expectation-busters?
 

    • Goals are set and within two to three months most of the goals are completely irrelevant or have been re-prioritized to the bottom of the list. Business priorities change. That’s a given. However, if this is a regular occurrence in your organization it sends the message that leadership really isn’t sure where things are going or can’t make up its mind. The result is an attitude of “I don’t really need to put a lot of effort into whatever the stated goals are because they’re just going to change anyways.”
       
    • Once a goal or expectation is set, it’s never discussed again. If I’m given a goal and we never discuss progress against the goal, I will assume it’s not a very important. I’ll assume you are really interested in other things. 
       
    • Objectives are set but rewards and recognition are given for things completely unrelated to achieving them. Remember the adage what gets measured, gets done. Well, when an expectation is set I assume it has some relevance to my performance and, in turn, my salary increase, promotion consideration, and general recognition. Nothing busts expectations like seeing people rewarded for things that have nothing to do with meeting expectations and achieving results.
       
    • There is no differentiation in recognition when expectations are achieved. This is a corollary to rewarding things that are unrelated to achieving goals and objectives. If people who meet expectations and those who exceed expectations and those who do not meet expectations are not recognized and rewarded in distinctly different ways, a high performer will become disengaged quickly and you’ll see overall performance migrate to mediocrity.

Setting expectations is not a onetime event. The relevance of those expectations is established on a regular basis. How you integrate those expectations into your leadership approach will mean the difference between achieving expectations and moving towards excellence and mediocrity.

Looking in the Mirror

Valentine’s Day is the one day a year that is set aside for those who love us to tell us how much they love us and what they love about us. As we bask in the glow of these wonderful sentiments, we recognize that there are things that our loved ones don’t love so much about us.

When we lead others, in some ways, every day is Valentine’s Day. You see it’s very hard for those who report to us to tell us anything except what they love about us. It’s inherent in the system. We are the people who make key decisions that impact these people every day. We decide what assignments they get. We assess their performance and give them salary increases. We decide if they’re ready to be promoted and whether or not we’ll advocate for that. And human nature being what it is, people don’t want to ‘get on the bad side’ of the person who makes these decisions. So, while we’re expected to provide developmental feedback as part of the job, it doesn’t usually come our way from those who work for us.

That means when we think about our leadership performance we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “If I worked for me, what would I be dying to tell myself but probably never say?” It’s a hard question, but one that we should really think about. One of the traps of success is that we begin to believe a little too much of our own press. At times, we forget that with success comes new challenges and with those challenge come new behaviors we need to exhibit and lessons we need to learn. We’re not always good at everything that is required of us in our job. We can become guarded about seeing things that don’t reinforce our successful vision of ourselves. Sometimes, those things we are guarding ourselves against, are what keep us from being as good a leader as we can be.

Give yourself and your people a Valentine. Look in the mirror and ask the hard question. Then commit to making a change so that next year when you ask the question, you have a different answer.

Being an Innovation Leader

Being an Innovation LeaderHave you ever been told that you or your team needs to be more innovative? That word — innovation — is scary to a lot of people. It’s like the word creativity. People think that it applies to other people who have some special gift or some different way of seeing the world.

I think many people view innovation as the next big thing, some lightning bolt idea that comes from nowhere and is completely, radically, something-the-world-has-never-seen, new. In reality, innovation is most often about a series of small changes that add up to something very different or about putting together things that already exist in a new way or a new form.
 

Try these 5 tips to bolster innovation:
 

1. Ask why. The first step in innovation can be asking the question “Why?” so that you can really step back and think about why something is done a certain way or designed a particular way.

2. Look at it through the eyes of someone who’s never seen it before. This can be difficult when you are so close to an approach, a process or a product that you can only view it as it is. Ask someone very unfamiliar with it to look at it and tell what she sees. Include different perspectives, different areas of expertise, and different backgrounds in a conversation.

3. Take people out of their usual environment. We get into patterns of thinking when we always engage in activities in the same place. The environment creates that box we’re always told to get out of. Have a conversation in a different place. Go outside. Meet over a cup of coffee. Go to a museum.

4. Ask those closest to it what they would change. The people who are closest to a process or product or way of doing things, can tell you about what isn’t working or is frustrating or could be done differently. Ask for their creative ideas about how to change things up.

5. Ask ‘Why not?” When we hear a new idea we often respond immediately with thoughts of the obstacles we will run into not the potential it holds. Stop. When those thoughts invade the conversation, push them aside and focus on asking “Why not?”

Innovation=Conflict

All innovation, big and small, involves conflict. Innovation is about coming up with what I call the ‘third solution.’ It’s not my solution or your solution but a third solution that may or may not have elements of our original solutions. The problem is that getting to that third solution can be really, really hard because it involves conflict.

Most people don’t like conflict so they avoid it, sugar coat it, see it as a necessary evil, or quite frankly, just handle it badly. That’s a problem when there are statistics that show 42% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict and
when one of the key characteristics of innovative firms is a culture of robust conversation and debate.

A framework developed by Elias Porter, PhD. is a helpful tool for taking a more effective approach to conflict. The foundation of this approach is that relationships are based on motivation under two conditions. These two conditions are when things are going well and during conflict. The four premises are:

1. Behavior is driven by the motivation to feel worthwhile as a person. The first question we should ask ourselves about why someone else is behaving is ‘what in this situation may seem threatening?” How is what is being proposed threatening to the other person?

2. Motivation changes in conflict. Early in a conflict we focus on ourselves, the problem and the other person. If the conflict isn’t resolved, soon we are only focused on ourselves and the problem. When we’re at loggerheads, it’s only about me. The more quickly we work on resolving a conflict, the less likely we are to lose our focus on others’ needs.

3. When our strengths are overdone, they become weaknesses. Someone may be very flexible and in many situations that can be a strength. If it’s overused in conflict the individual can be seen as wishy-washy or unable to commit to a course of action or solution. Someone whose self-confidence makes them an effective leader can be seen as arrogant when they seem overly confident in conflict. Ask yourself if you are relying too heavily on a strength when you are faced with a conflict and how could it be perceived negatively. What impact is that strength having on achieving the third solution?

4. Our personal filters add color to the situation. We often believe that people are doing things for the same reason we are doing something and when we think it’s different, we assume it has a malicious or negative motivation. Our filters make us focus on certain factors because of our reasoning but miss important information about where the other person is coming from. Think about what questions you are not asking in a situation. Are you making assumptions that aren’t true?

He Seemed Such a Perfect Fit in the Interview

 

“…But, he seemed like such a great candidate in the interview…”

 

 

 

Anyone who has hired people over any length of time has had this experience. The person seemed so perfect in the interview only to be far less than perfect once he was on the job.

Truthfully, if we conducted any other part of our business the way we approach hiring and interviewing, we would be fired. I know very few people who approach interviewing with the structure and focus it deserves. We start with a list of job duties and solicit resumes for people we think may be able to perform those duties. We then schedule interviews. We may include some other people to also interview the candidate. We often choose those people because they are who is available that day. Some people may spend a few minutes before the interview thinking about what questions they will ask the candidate others will wing it. We talk with the candidate for 30 minutes, maybe 45. After the interview, the feedback tends to be a quick hallway conversation about our general reactions to the candidate. We don’t really spend any time talking about what we are looking for in the candidate. We don’t talk about what kind of experiences we think they need to be successful. We don’t talk about the factors that really make someone successful in the job but aren’t in the job description — things like collaboration or teamwork or being a self-starter or one of a hundred other possible things that really make someone successful.

If you’re going to be hiring this year, turn the usual process on its head and actually approach it like a critical business process.

    • Plan for the interview. Identify what will make someone successful in the role. This should lead to a list of characteristics, competencies or experiences that set a successful candidate apart. When combined with skills and educational requirements, these become the criteria you’ll use to make the decision.
    • Involve people in the interview who will interact with this person in a meaningful way once he or she is on the job. They should know something about the role and what people do in that role.
    • Prep the people who will be interview the candidate with what types of things you want them to look for in the interview. Tell them what the most important characteristics, competencies or experiences are that you want to see in the person you will hire.
    • Ask questions in the interview that give insights into how the candidate has approached a similar situation to what he or she will face on the job. What was the situation? What did he do in that situation? What was the result or key learning from what he did? Ask for examples and then ask for a few more examples. You’ll find out a lot more about what the person really brings to the job than with questions like “Tell me about your last job.” and “Do you prefer to work with people?”
    • Go back to the criteria you set before the interview. Meet with everyone who talked with the candidate and talk about how the candidates stack up against the criteria.

Do this for every interview you conduct.  It will lead to fewer situations where you’ll find yourself saying, “But she was so good in the interview…”

Resolve to be Present

Another year is here and many people are thinking about resolutions. For some, resolutions are part of starting a new year. Others have turned their backs on them because, quite frankly, they usually don’t have much staying power. Whatever your personal bias on resolutions, I challenge you to resolve to make this one change this year — being present for those you lead.

One of the biggest challenges many of us have is being present. We are constantly distracted by texts, email, Facebook. Twitter, our to-do list, the economy, our kids, the weather…the list could go on. And, honestly, we would sometimes add the people we work with or who work for us to this list. I think we can all admit that, at one time or another, we’ve felt that sense of exasperation when there is a knock on our door and one or our people needs to talk with us. “Ugh,” we think, “this is getting in the way of my work.”

A quick reminder, as a manager and leader, your people are your work. Your job is to equip them to achieve results and to get work done through them, not in spite of them.

So, as this New Year starts, resolve that next time that knock happens, you’ll turn away from your computer or smartphone or tablet. You’ll turn the ringer off on your phone. You’ll clear some mental space and be present for the other person. Resolve to minimize the distractions so that for the 5 minutes or 15 minutes or 60 minutes this person needs of you, you are there to help him or her focus, to answer questions, educate, brainstorm, listen or direct so that that individual is able to move his or her work — your work — forward.

Issues 2012: Retention and Engagement

Workers in America are an unhappy lot. In 2010 The Conference Board reported that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations are not bringing anywhere near their best to work.

This statistic tells me that our #1 leadership issue in 2012 needs to be retention and engagement.

Wait a minute. You’re thinking, “In this economy, no one is going anywhere.” Maybe not in the current situation, but it’s beginning to turn around and soon resumes will be hitting the streets. What you do now will impact how many resumes from your team will be in the mix.

What we know about people who are dissatisfied in their jobs is that they will leave — either physically or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, our best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, our poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of our workforce won’t be the first out the door but will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 and walk out precisely at 5:00. And once they see top performers leaving, they too will begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, your new year’s resolution should be to retain and engage the performers on your team. Here are some things to think about: 

      • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans if a performer leaves.
         
      • On the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?
         
      • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
         
      • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say “I want to be part of this?”
         
      • People are satisfied when they perceive they are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress. As you set 2012 goals with your team, how meaningful are they? Will the person have a sense of progress?
         
      • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
         
      • Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths? Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching?
         
      • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and address what can be changed.
         
      • Finally, don’t throw money at it, unless that is the real issue. Money will only work in the short term. Meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress will motivate people in the long term.