Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lesson #9: Feedback is the Key to Developing All-Stars

Imagine if your pay raise each year depended on you improving your bowling score.  Do you think it would be possible to improve your score over time if you had to roll the ball under a curtain that hid the pins from view?  Would it really help if someone met once a year with you to update you on how many times you rolled a gutter ball?  Wouldn’t you feel powerless and frustrated in this situation?
In business, we cannot continue to expect our employees to improve their performance by meeting with them once a year, reminding them of everything we can think of that they did wrong the previous twelve months and telling them that they need to “do better next year”.  Faced with this, your employees are going to be as frustrated as if they were bowling under a curtain.  It’s not fair to them and, frankly, it’s not fair to your company either. 
Supervisors must be in constant communication with their employees on what they are doing right (so that these actions can be repeated) AND what they are not doing right (so that the employee can stop doing a task wrong as soon as possible).  To achieve measureable improvement all year long requires constant feedback, both positive and corrective.
Done well, the annual review process should really be a “no stress” composed of simply documenting at year end a conversation that has been occurring all year long. There should never be a surprise in someone’s annual evaluation.  If there is, the supervisor has not been properly doing their job.
Remove the curtain your employees face every day.  Let them see and understand the results of their actions.  Their performance will improve and your team will performance will also.  They deserve it.  You deserve it.  You company deserves it. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lesson #8: Welcome to the TEAM!

Smart coaches never hire great players and just hope that they figure out on their own how to best become part of the team.  This is far too important to leave to chance or luck.  They carefully manage the transition of a new player into a productive team member.  That often means a well-planned and detailed orientation to the team where they learn the history of the team they have joined, what the strengths of the team are and what goals have been set for both the near and long term.   This helps the new player get into the right mindset of the team. 
To help the new player become a productive part of the team in the shortest time possible, they assign the new player a roommate who can help incorporate him into the team and what is expected of him as a part of that team.  This gives the new player a person to learn from and ask questions of.  As part of this process, the roommate often takes the new player to make introductions to the key staffers he will need to know…coaches, trainers, therapist medical staff, payroll staff, etc.  This is never left to chance because there is far too much money on the line to risk having the new player become isolated, a loner or jaded on whether he should have joined this team in the first place.  The team needs him to start “earning his keep” as soon as possible, and this detailed orientations process is the best way to accomplish this. 
In business, it is equally critical to transition from “finding” to “keeping” your great employees. The orientation process helps to introduce your new hire to the company and the company family. Matching new hires to a partner who can look out after them during these first few critical days, weeks and months really helps them start earning their keep much sooner than just handing them a shovel and saying, “Get to work.”  Even little things like “Here’s how to use the time clock,” can help to ease the transition of a new hire from “outsider” to “key team member”.  This is vital to the success of your company and should never be left to chance.   
At my company, we introduce every new hire to everyone in their chain of command in the first day of their employment.  This goes from the supervisor, to the department manager, the operations manager and the general manager.  They also meet critical personnel such as the customer service representatives in the front office as well as the HR and finance managers.  Each person they meet welcomes them and reiterates that they have joined a great, winning team!
Help protect your investment!  Orient your new hires in a carefully planned way.  Marry them up with a steady, reliable worker on your staff so they will very quickly have someone to teach them the ropes.  Introduce them to all your key staff in the first day so that they can feel that everyone in the organization really wants them there.  The money you save will be yours and the team you run will be all the better for the efforts! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lesson #7: Workforce Retention Starts on Day One

Earlier in my career, I worked in a major state university and remember being surprised that the university was going to institute a mandatory meal plan for incoming freshmen.  Like a lot of people, my first thought was that this was simply a plan to drive up food sales at the campus cafeteria.  I was intrigued to learn that, in fact, a mandatory meal plan is one of the most effective tools to increase student retention a university can adopt.    
New college freshmen, away from home for the first time and thrust into a whole new social environment, can easily become isolated and alone.  They get up (alone or with at most a single room mate), go to class and sit surrounded by strangers, grab a burger (alone), eat it alone in their dorm room and repeat this pattern day after day.  Many students have difficulty with the transition and lack a support group of friends to socialize or study with.  They get frustrated and their grades suffer.  In a very short while, they are leaving the university to return their homes and friends. 
However, by taking part in group activities such as regular meals in a cafeteria, these same students quickly feel like they belong.  They develop support groups and make friends…all of which result in increased student retention. 
At our company, we adopt this lesson to increase our workforce retention over the long term.  One a new hire’s first day at work, the entire department takes that person out to lunch.  In the casual social environment of a quick lunch break, away from the pressure of learning a new job skill and proving yourself to the team, a new hire can start the process of fitting in very quickly.  It builds on the relationship between the new hire and their supervisor.  It helps the new hire talk about things other than work they may have in common with everyone else at the table. It helps them begin to understand what kind of company they have joined and see the pride that everyone else has for our team.  It’s a great way to form a bond that can last for years…if it is started effectively (and casually) on day one.  What are you doing from day one to ensure that your workforce stays intact over the long term?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lesson #6: Effective and Complete Job Offers

A coach recruiting a great player would never say, “Will you be my running back for a salary of X dollars?”  The problem with this approach is that it bases the entire relationship moving forward solely on money.  This might be great if you will always have more money to throw at them in the future, but we know that this is not the reality in the real world!  If this great player will only join your team for X dollars, then they would be just as open to leave you and join another team for a dollar more than you have offered.  What will you have left to offer if there is no additional money for pay raises or promotions?
To build a better, stronger, more permanent relationship with the player, a smart coach lays out an offer that is much more powerful than just a dollar figure.  Sure, the subject of money comes up, but it does not rule the conversation, and money is certainly not the only thing discussed. 
When we think of “job offers” in the utilities industry, we focus too often on money. An effective offer should focus on FOUR KEY AREAS:
1)      Total Investment – That includes the full compensation package, not just their pay, including vacation, company-paid health benefits, sick leave, and other benefits…every dollar the company will shell out to have them working for you each year.  You should also mention the other costs that the company will bear such as the cost of their work truck, their tools, uniforms, initial training, etc.    It is not uncommon for a company to expend twice the worker’s salary just in year one of his employment to get this new hire outfitted for the job.  The company will often spend greater than 30% over and above each worker’s salary just on the company portion of the benefit package.  This means that a company needing to hire a new worker making $30,000 per year may spend $60,000 in year one of that person’s employment just getting them up to the point that they are fully productive and then spend more than $40,000 in salary and benefit costs every year beyond that.  Most workers are oblivious of this fact.  You might say, “Our company is willing to invest more than $55,000 in salary and benefit costs to have you come make widgets for us. It can be broken down this way…”
2)      Personal Growth – Explain what the company will invest in your personal development.  For example: “We’re going to keep on investing time and money in your professional development every year you work with us because it is good for both you and the company.  We’re going to work with you to build a career, not just have a job.  What we plan for you is this…”
3)      Work Life – What’s the mood or vibe of your company? What kind of events do you participate in at work and after hours? Softball? Bowling? Company outings? “Our company is tight knit like a family.  If you like working on a team where everyone pulls together to win, you’re going to love working for us.”  Whatever you do, BE HONEST about this!  Some companies simply don’t offer “work/life balance”.  Their offer is completely different.  “You are going to work hard and put in some long hours while you are here.  We are doing some cutting edge things and glad that you are going to be a part of it.  It will certainly pay off for you in the long run…but, for now, please know that everyone is putting in long hours and we expect you to as well.” 
4)      Corporate Future – Are company prospects good? Are you in a stable business environment or laying people off? Are you offering a career or just a job?  “We intend on being around for a long time and we intend to keep you around for a long time as well.  Sound business decisions by our top management and Board of Directors have positioned us well to ride out this downturn in the economy and we are poised for big things once the turnaround arrives. ”  What prospect doesn't want to hear that?
If you want to start each new hire relationship off in a strong, effective and powerful way, learn to weave these four points into your job offers.  You will be amazed at the difference they will make!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lesson #5: Three Magic Words: “I Want You”

When a team is trying to get a great player to sign with them, the coach always makes the offer in person, face to face.  The coach looks the player in the eye and says three magic words: “I want you.”  
They don’t send the human resource manager or the university’s athletic director or anyone else to do it.  It is never as effective that way.  They don’t do it by phone or letter or email.  They make the offer themselves because it’s a deeply personal thing that has a powerful and compelling message behind it. 

Think about it.  “I want you to join my team. Come play for me.  Let’s win together.”  
Is there any doubt in your mind that employment of a new worker would start in a much more powerful way if the supervisor the person was going to actually work for made each offer face-to-face?
“I interviewed a lot of people looking for just the right person to fill this slot.  I think you are the person who can do it.  I want you to join my team and help us win.  Its hard work but you will be part of a great team that has accomplished some incredible things.  I think you will fit in perfectly with us and help us win.  I want you to take this job.”  
What you say can be long or short…flowery or straight to the point…but it needs to contain the magic words, “I want you.” 
Of course you will have HR in the room to go over benefits and cover the paperwork that must be completed, but don’t leave it to your HR representative make the offer and miss this opportunity to start the working relationship off in a powerful direction. 
“I want you.”  Simply magical. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lesson #4: Tailor Fit the Job to the Candidate Who Can Help Your Team Win

When a team has a vacancy, does a good coach look only for a player who will fit the jersey he already has?  Does the coach only look for players wearing the same shoe size as the last player wore?   Of course not!  Great coaches will find the player the team needs to become better and then fit the uniform of their team to that player. 
Similarly, if the coach is focused only on finding a certain set of skills for a new player (such as a good passer if a football team needs a quarterback), he remains open to the fact that he may come across such a good running quarterback that it opens up entirely new opportunities for the team to win.  Instead of remaining blindly committed to what he thought he was looking for, a great coach will be open to adapt the position (and perhaps even his entire offense) to make best use of the skills he finds in the new player
Job descriptions are like this in many ways.  You may think you know exactly what you are looking for in a new worker, and there is a outside chance you might even find an exact match to the job description you have.  But more likely, you will find someone who has most of the skills your job description requires but is deficient in some other areas that may or may not be critical.  The best strategy when facing this is to alter the job description slightly to match the abilities of your new hire, emphasizing some areas and de-emphasizing others.   
Remember, job descriptions are not sacred.  Even if you cannot alter your company’s standard job description for a specific position, you should clearly understand that some “required skills” are more important than others.  Your “team” can benefit most when you remain open to minor alterations of the job description to person you actually hire.   A good rule of thumb is to find a candidate that has at least 75% of the skills you are looking for (and adapting to the non-critical weaknesses the person has), and be open to modifying the job description to capture the additional skills the candidate demonstrates as a “windfall”.   If the “total package” still looks good, you are well on your way to building a winning team!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lesson #3: Great players welcome a tough tryout.

To a great athlete, a brutally tough tryout is a welcome sight because it quickly and effectively weeds out mediocre players. The best players are anxious to show off their superior skills.
The very best utility workers, likewise, will not be afraid of a tough interview. In fact, they welcome it because it makes it easier for them to distinguish themselves from “average” applicants. Train your interviewers to ask the right kinds of questions, allow the candidate to answer fully and to shut up long enough to hear everything they say.  (Hint: Train your interviewers to look the candidate in the eye and count to five after each answer before continuing.  This will often make a marginal job candidate nervous and cause them to add more information… which is usually more honest than their initial “I read this is a good answer to give” memorized response.)
If you want to improve the interviewing skills of your staff almost instantly teach them this technique.  It involves them learning just one question that they can ask over and over. 
“At our company, we often deal with ___________________________________.
Tell me about a time when you dealt with __________________________________
and describe how you handled it.”
The blank could be anything that your company encounters regularly but needs to be extremely brief, such as:
Angry customers
Long and rotating shift hours
Massive overtime requirements
Hazardous working conditions
Highly confidential information
Critical decisions you must make with little input
The reason for the short question is to make the answer as open-ended as possible.  You’re trying to learn more about the candidate in this first interview than anything else.  If you lead the candidate to only one obvious answer by your question, you don’t learn anything at all.
The reason to shut up and listen is so you will actually hear the information the job candidate is giving you.  Many people ask great questions, but only the best interviewers actually listen for the answers and press for clarification if they feel like they are getting clich├ęd answers from some book on interviewing. 
What kind of interviewer will YOU be?  What kind of interviewers will be hiring YOUR staff?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lesson #2: Teach Your Supervisors “How To Drive”

My daughter just turned 15 years old and will soon go get her driver’s permit.  I think this is silly…they should just give her a driver’s license now because she has watch her mother and me drive for 15 years to date.  Surely she knows how to drive by now, right?
Does this sound strange to you? Well, sadly, this is the way most companies view training for their supervisors on how to properly interview new job candidates.  Most businesses just figure that, by the time you are promoted to supervisor, you have been interviewed for jobs so many times that you must know how to interview others fairly well by now.  It just does not work this way.
Think of it as “teaching them to drive”.  
·         New drivers have to learn something about the rules of the road before they can even sit behind the wheel.  Provide instruction to your supervisors on some of the key points first …what they can and cannot ask for instance.   Insure they understand the “why” as much as the “how”.
·         New drivers need an experienced person in the car with them at first.  Pair your new supervisors with experienced and effective interviewers on your staff so that they can see how it is done properly.
·         New drivers must pass a test before they get their license to drive alone.  Supervisors should pass a similar test with HR reps and experienced interviewers observing them but otherwise allowing them to conduct the entire interview “solo”.
·         Even good drivers get into accidents.  Hiring mistakes are not something to cover up.  Even the great Jack Welch claimed to only have a track record of about 60% on his hiring!  If a poor employee slips through with a great interview, the supervisor must be willing to do his job and get rid of the “bad apple”.  If he or she does so properly, they can still be considered great “drivers” of your company’s hiring efforts!
·         Poor drivers can get people hurt.  Poor interviewers can cause a lot of pain in your company ranks.  Both hurt and can be deadly!

Follow these simple steps to get your people driving down the road to success!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Find and Keep Good People in a Bad Economy – Lesson 1: Quit Hiring and Start Recruiting

As a manager in business today, you may never get a tickertape parade for our efforts or have statues erected in our honor. But you absolutely can build a winning team by taking the same approach used by top sports coaches like the University of Alabama's legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant.  Coach Bryant recruited only the very best people to work for him, in good times and bad, and played to win with them over the long haul. Applying his lessons to your utility can yield huge wins for your team as well.  Let’s look at some of them and how we can apply these to our businesses today. 
Lesson #1: Quit Hiring and Start Recruiting.
You’ll never see a “Help Wanted” sign posted for a winning sports team. These teams have recruiters out scouting for new talent constantly. They understand that, at any time, a key player could be recruited to another team, get injured, or just retire. Smart coaches don’t wait until they have an opening to start looking, either.  They go looking for great players, even when there are no open positions on the team. It's called “developing your bench.”
Business managers should do the same thing so that we constantly have a list of good people we could recruit in short order, should openings become available. To develop the bench of your business’ staff:
·         Always be looking. Keep your eyes open, and keep notes on great workers you run across day to day no matter where they may be now.
·         Advertise even when you don’t have an opening. Let your community know you are always looking to identify great people for that “call back” file. Accept applications even when you don’t have an opening.
·         Talk to your employees. Your employees can be some of the best recruiters. Let them know the importance of attracting great workers in good times and bad.
·         Have a great reputation. Recruiting means getting someone to quit what they’re doing to come work for you instead. Does your company have such a great reputation that people would be willing to leave their current employer to work for you? If not, you need to be working to make this a reality.
A good coach never rushes the wrong person onto the team just to fill a gap.  The only thing worse than an unfilled job opening is filling it with just a warm body to get through a short-term workload crunch. Don’t allow your supervisors to hire any old Bozo who lacks the necessary skills to be successful for you in the long term. To guard against this happening, management must meet with supervisors and managers regularly and remind them to hire only the best workers, even if it takes longer than hiring the next not-so-objectionable person who walks in off the street. Insist on holding out for only the very best.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Build Momentum

Running a great company is a lot like paddling a canoe upstream: when you stop paddling, you don’t just stay right where you are.  You are quickly washed back downstream where you were.  The best way to keep from losing ground is to constantly paddle hard and fast against the currents of mediocrity.

Remarkable companies never stop improving. They never stop pushing forward. Regardless of what achievement or milestone they just obtained, they never consider themselves “there” or rest on their laurels.  Keep the momentum going by constantly raising standards. As you achieve your goals, set new, even higher ones.

Remember that the challenge only means something if it is a tough one.  No one would be impressed if the top NFL football team beat a high school junior varsity squad.  When you are lining up challenges for your people, look for ones that you are not sure you can attain.  The best challenges seem to be just out of reach of our fingertips.  You want ones that make you stretch and reach and strive.  This stretching is where your staff gains strength and confidence. 

As you gain victories, take the time to celebrate them with your people.  This is an important step because winning is extremely fun and will motivate your people to work even harder at the next challenge set before them.  Winning against tough odds is rewarding even in the most difficult of times.   It’s hard to get tired of winning.  That is, it’s hard to get tired of winning as long as the challenge was tough!  Finding the challenge that will keep people motivated is the key challenge for managers today. 

Row, row, row your company to a GREAT future!   

Eliminate the Competition

One of the hardest problems to tackle in business is what to do when you sell products you can’t change in any way. It’s a difficult problem, yes…but it has a simple, highly effective and low cost solution.
You see this all the time.  You prefer eating at one certain Burger King over others even though the Whopper must be served identically at every franchise.  There are two different pharmacies across the street from one another yet you find you shop only at one of them…even though your insurance coverage makes the price the same at either one.  You stop at the same gas station every week even though the other three stations on the corner sell gas at the same price.
Why?   Most likely, it’s because the managers of these stores have changed the one part of their product that they absolutely can affect:  the customer’s service.
We all have competition, even in public sector agencies such as city  government or utility companies. Rising prices in typical household expenses (insurance, food, fuel, etc.) compete with us for each dollar we charge our customers for our services.  To maintain your fiscal health, every company must eventually raise their prices in response to various pressures such as inflation, regulatory requirements, etc.   We must constantly communicate our value to the customer to prove that we have earned this additional funding.   
Regardless of your business, you can “eliminate the competition” by making every interaction with your customer a remarkable one!  In this light, outstanding customer service is the best investment you can possibly make.  Think about it this way, a water utility company could spend a million dollars improving water quality and there is a very good chance that not a single customer would even notice.  Teaching your employees to smile at customers and treat them with personal care and concern doesn’t have to cost you a dime! 
Remember:  The product you sell is more than just the product.  It’s also interaction between your staff and the customer.  Create bright lines of distinction between yourselves and your competition by delivering superior customer service every day!  It’s highly effective and the price (free) is right for the times!