Employees, the Performance Review Revolution Can’t Happen Without You

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For the past few years, employers have been ditching annual performance reviews for alternative approaches—more frequent appraisals, informal one-on-one discussions, and performance coaching, to name a few.

The list of reasons behind this exodus is as long as your arm: annual reviews happen too infrequently to be of any real help; they’re based on opinions, not data; too often they’re a one-way conversation; they fail to address long-term employee development; they’re too closely tied to salary. And so on.

Normally, employers take the blame for the shortcomings of annual reviews. Take Victor Lipman’s 2015 Forbes article, for instance, in which he writes, “The real problem isn’t the annual employee review itself. It’s management. It’s the way annual reviews are all too often administered.” Dozens of other articles make the same case.

I believe there’s a lot of truth to Lipman’s argument. But another Forbes piece, this one by performance strategist Laura Garnett, reminded me that employers and front-line managers aren’t the only ones culpable for the quality of performance reviews. As Garnett puts it, “The individual needs to take ownership of their own performance. One of the biggest myths of managing performance and one’s career is the idea that we must look to others and outsource performance management.”

Employees Need an Internal Guidance System

Garnett states there are five principles that guide great performance: mindset, perceived impact, challenge, effort, and enjoyment. These five principles are “a distillation of all the latest psychological and social science research on what creates peak performance.” And it’s the employee who must continually track these performance keys.

“You need to be conscious of your confidence, your impact, and if you are challenged or bored—and why,” writes Garnett. “Nobody can do that for you. We have been taught to be told what to do, which is why there are so many people who are not truly engaged in their work. We need a revolution, and that starts with individuals learning the habit of managing their own performance.”

She’s dead right. Individuals should continually monitor and assess their own performance—in other words, hold ongoing self-guided performance reviews. This would be a tremendous boon, not only to their performance but to their career planning and advancement as well.

Clearly, employees can’t “learn this habit” on their own. They need to be trained to assess and manage their own performance. And where will this training come from? You guessed it—their employers.

The indisputable truth of performance reviews (regardless of form or frequency) is that employers and employees share responsibility for the review’s ultimate quality and value. A performance review revolution simply can’t happen without commitment from both parties.

One small postscript from a 2017 Bloomberg article: the shift from annual reviews to more frequent ones hasn’t been a cure-all. “More feedback in smaller doses can still be time-consuming, and employees don’t always find evaluations fair. And companies that ditched numerical ratings have seen declines in worker performance.”

In short, the search for the perfect performance review, unsurprisingly, continues.

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Technology Alone Won’t Make Your Organization Agile

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What’s the difference between agile working and flextime?

As Alison Maitland explains in her Financial Times article, the difference is profound: “Flexible working arrangements, which have been around for a long time, are individually negotiated, require management permission and are seen primarily as an employee benefit and an exception to the norm. Agile, or smart, working is business-driven, harnessing technology to create a new norm where everyone may work anytime anywhere, provided business needs are met. It is based on evidence of benefits such as higher employee productivity, lower office costs, a reduced carbon footprint and more motivated workers.”

So, although people often use the terms “agile working” and “flextime” interchangeably, they’re not the same at all. Plus, the evidence-based benefits of agile working accrue to both employer and employee. To be fair, research supports a similar argument for flexible working but in a truly agile environment the benefits are far more extensive because the entire workforce is involved.

There’s another key difference between an agile organization and one that simply supports flextime: agile organizations have agile leadership.

Technology Enables Agility — It Doesn’t Create It

To gain agility, many organizations focus deeply (if not solely) on technology. Without a doubt, technology is essential to agile working. However, as Maitland points out, agility can’t flourish unless the company’s senior leaders are on board. And the strategy driving agility “needs to be business-wide, with heads of departments such as finance, human resources, IT and property driving it together.”

In his blog post, “How Business Leaders Can Create Agile Cultures for Digital Talent,” Zenith Talent’s CEO, Sunil Bagai, notes that “companies must not only become digital, they must transition to cultures of agility. A virtual workforce ensures that pressing projects can be completed in real-time, from any location. By rethinking bygone management structures and embracing the fluidity of digital ecosystems, we can develop high-performing virtual teams that deliver real results.”

Hierarchical, command and control type structures fail to support agile working, says Dr. Simon Hayward, chief executive officer of Cirrus, a company that specializes in leadership, talent and engagement. In the recent Forbes article, “Cultural Barriers To Agile Working,” Hayward states, “If a company wants to become more agile, leaders and managers need to devolve responsibility and decision-making across the business. This requires that they ‘let go’ and trust others.”

For lots of companies, these issues of leadership and trust are the biggest barriers to agility.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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Two Great Reasons To Get Your Company Culture Right

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Google the term “company culture” and you’ll find yourself, like Alice, falling down a very deep rabbit hole. Only this one doesn’t lead to Wonderland. It leads to a mind-bending universe of conflicting ideas and opinions.

For example, you’ll discover there are five types of corporate culture, seven types of workplace culture, nine types of organizational culture, strengths-based cultures, values-based cultures, acquiescent cultures, positive cultures, dysfunctional cultures … and on and on and on.

Unfortunately, this glut of viewpoints hasn’t exactly helped business leaders. In fact, it’s made things curiouser and curiouser. Many leaders are as uncertain as ever about the type of company culture to nurture within their own organizations. Their basic problem is succinctly summarized by Deloitte: “While culture is widely viewed as important, it is still largely not well understood; many organizations find it difficult to measure and even more difficult to manage.”

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 82% of participants believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage but only 28% believe they understand their culture well. Even fewer (19%) believe they have the right culture.

Despite all this uncertainty, there is one thing more and more business leaders are sure of: company culture is a matter that deserves their attention.

Reason 1: Culture Drives the Bottom Line

The link between company culture and key performance indicators—including profitability, employee engagement and turnover—is well documented. Recent studies by Deloitte, the Great Place to Work Institute, Glassdoor, the Journal of Organizational Behavior, SHRM and LinkedIn all show that culture has both direct and indirect impacts on the bottom line.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported on a study of car dealerships showing stronger bottom lines are the result of corporate cultures that engage and motivate employees. Companies that showed no improvement in culture generally became less profitable over time.

A few weeks later, Fortune published a piece, “Corporate Culture and the Bottom Line,” that stated: “The publicly traded companies on (our) annual list of the 100 best workplaces outperform the S&P 500 3 to 1. Privately held businesses also enjoy superior performance: Overall, the 100 best companies to work for average nearly twice the annualized stock market return of the general market. Not only that, but these organizations also report lower turnover, less shrinkage, and a higher caliber of job applicants than other businesses.”

Clearly, figuring out the culture challenge is in the best interest of business leaders, not to mention their companies, employees and investors. It’s also essential to solving one of their top concerns—finding the right talent.

Reason 2: Culture Determines Your Talent Strategy

“Get your culture right and your talent strategy will follow.” This brief but brilliant line appears on the website of exaqueo, an employer branding firm that, for my money, gets the culture/talent equation right.

The firm’s philosophy is that employers “need to define the culture of their business and then create a plan to infuse and manage that culture to keep it alive.” Only by taking this crucial step can they consistently draw the right people to their companies—people who truly fit their culture and who will bring passion, dedication and innovation to their work day after day.

Of course, exaqueo isn’t the only organization that believes in this philosophy of aligning company culture and talent. It’s been spreading among employers and talent firms for the past several years. But creating this alignment can be tricky. Once you begin wading into issues such as values, behaviors, beliefs, practices (and all the other fuzzy concepts encompassed by culture and talent) it might feel like you’ve fallen into a bottomless rabbit hole.

The best way to fight this feeling is by taking small steps, as outlined at the end of the Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Let Your Company Culture Just Happen.”

It takes real effort to get your culture right but the payoffs can be substantial—not only for your company’s bottom line but for your talent strategy as well.

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8 of the Best Retention Strategies of 2016 (But Should You Even Care About Retention?)

30373126726_73a39b2f8c_b2016 delivered a bumper crop of advice on how to keep your best employees from walking out the door.

HR pundits and talent experts produced literally dozens of articles, blog posts, research reports and videos focused on retention. Here are eight of their key recommendations in condensed form:

The Fundamentals

  1. Don’t keep changing performance goals and expectations. While a certain level of fluidity is unavoidable in some organizations, nothing kills retention like continually shifting performance targets. In fact, the most loyal and productive workers are those who know exactly what’s expected of them day-in and day-out. Changing goals and expectations frequently not only drives your top talent crazy but it also leads them to question your leadership, strategy and vision.
  2. Reward good work. Sounds simple enough, yet lots of employers do it poorly or not at all. If you truly want to reward your best employees in a way that improves retention, you need to learn exactly what makes them feel appreciated. For some it might be a simple pat on the back; others might prefer formal recognition in front of the team or a bonus. Only by talking with your people in advance can you be sure you’ll reward them effectively.
  3. Provide growth opportunities. Workers get bored when they’re forced to remain in static roles, according to Jacqueline Whitmore, contributing writer to Entrepreneur. That’s especially true of your high-potential talent. She recommends offering them new challenges, ongoing opportunities to learn, and cross-training them in other areas of your business. One additional thing to keep in mind: growth might mean promotion for some of your top performers but that’s not always the case. Some of your best people don’t want to climb the ladder to the c-suite. They love what they do and only want the chance to tackle fresh challenges from time to time.
  4. Tools, time and training are the easiest problems to solve. This is terrific wisdom from Susan Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant, because it speaks to issues every organization faces no matter its size or type—and these are issues you should be actively addressing anyway. As Heathfield observes, employees must have the necessary means to do their jobs well or they’ll move on to employers who do provide them.

The Seriously Savvy

  1. Train your people well, then get out of their way. Among the worst things you can do to really talented people are micromanaging them and undercutting their personal creativity. It takes a secure manager to guide people with a light touch, intervening only when necessary, but that’s precisely what the best managers do—the ones who hang onto top talent, that is. Of course, to feel secure enough to get out of your employees’ way, you first have to train them well and set clear expectations.
  2. Ask your people for their ideas. “When you ask employees for their input it sends the message, ‘We do pay you to think around here’ and it demonstrates that you respect their wisdom, experience, and judgment,” says international business speaker Michael Kerr in a Business Insider article. He calls this the simplest form of employee recognition there is. But remember … if you ask people for their ideas and never implement any of them, it will have the opposite You’ll quickly be perceived as disrespectful and insincere, which will cause top talent to jump ship.
  3. Allow people to pursue their passions. As Dr. Travis Bradberry writes in his Huffington Post piece, “Google mandates that employees spend at least 20% of their time doing ‘what they believe will benefit Google most.’ While these passion projects make major contributions to marquis Google products, such as Gmail and AdSense, their biggest impact is in creating highly engaged Googlers.” If you’re worried these kinds of passion projects will hobble your organization’s productivity, Bradberry cites studies that show people who are able to pursue their passions at work “experience flow, a euphoric state of mind that is five times more productive than the norm.”
  4. Hire the best people from the start. Remember, your “best” people are deeply aligned to your organization’s purpose and excited by the work you’ve hired them to do. That’s why they consistently exceed expectations and outperform their peers. It’s also why they usually present a much smaller retention risk. However, hiring and retaining the best people often isn’t cheap. As a recent article in Entrepreneur put it: “To hire and keep the best, you need to pay them the best,” somewhere between 20 and 40 percent above the market rate.

So there they are—eight of 2016’s best retention recommendations. But here’s the million-dollar question …

Should You Even Aim for Retention?

pixabay_bulls-eyeIn his recent article for The Wall Street Journal, author Sydney Finkelstein wrote, “some of the best managers not only allow their top performers to leave, but actively encourage it.”

Finkelstein penned the book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent and spent a decade studying some of the world’s best and best-known bosses including Ralph Lauren in fashion, Julian Robertson in hedge funds, and Larry Ellison in technology. “These extraordinary leaders … weren’t afraid to lose their best people,” wrote Finkelstein. “On the contrary, most willingly unleashed their top performers onto the world, going out of their way to help them land outside opportunities. The leaders I studied built iconic businesses, transformed entire industries and in a number of instances became billionaires not by hoarding great people for themselves, but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations.”

That’s an astounding insight. But many employers will find it a tough pill to swallow, especially those who’ve felt the financial punch of steadily replacing top performers. A widely cited study by the Center for American Progress puts talent replacement costs at 20% of the annual salary of individuals who earn $30,000 to $50,000 a year and as much as 213% of the annual salary of senior executives and management roles that require high levels of education.

Given numbers like those, business leaders won’t likely be falling all over themselves to help their top people land jobs with other companies. Indeed, when it comes to mastering the flow of talent, employers typically favor the principle of preemptive intervention (attempting to predict which workers are at high risk of leaving so managers can proactively try to stop them). A recent Harvard Business Review article called preemptive intervention “a better way to deal with employees’ wandering eyes than waiting for someone to get an offer and then making a counteroffer.” The reason? Half of all employees who accept a counteroffer from their current employer leave within 12 months anyway.

If you’re interested in staging your own preemptive talent interventions, the eight tips above are a great place to start.

Main photo by danielfoster437 via Photopin (license)

Secondary photo courtesy of Pixabay

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The Best Predictor of Recruiting Success? It’s Probably Not What You Think

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When it comes to achieving your company’s recruiting goals, what’s the single most important predictor of success?

Is it how much you spend on jobs ads? Which job boards and recruiting channels you use? The quality of your ATS and other HR systems?

Actually, it’s none of those things. As a 2016 Bersin by Deloitte blog post revealed, “the most influential predictor of TA (talent acquisition) performance outcomes is a strong relationship between the recruiter and the hiring manager.” In fact, this relationship is four times more influential than other TA performance drivers identified by Bersin, including “developing candidate pools” and “social media campaigns,” which were the second and third most influential performance drivers respectively.

An astounding 97% of “mature TA functions” (those with highly experienced, proactive recruiting professionals) report having strong relationships with hiring managers, according to Bersin. This figure is just 56% for organizations at the lowest level of TA maturity.

These Relationships Need a Little TLC

Let’s face it—recruiting is no cakewalk. Even successful companies struggle with the never-ending challenge of finding and nurturing the right talent. Often this is due to outdated recruiting processes. However, many organizations rarely (if ever) scrutinize the relationships between their recruiters and hiring mangers, despite the supreme importance of these relationships. As the Bersin research makes clear, we need to give recruiter/hiring manager relationships the attention and care they deserve if we want to improve recruiting outcomes.

Obviously, there are recruiters and hiring managers who work well together. But these two groups don’t always see eye-to-eye, as ERE’s State of Talent Acquisition Survey 2016 shows. The recruiters participating in this survey gave themselves a grade of B- for their work; the hiring managers, on the other hand, gave these same recruiters a C-. Perhaps even more troubling, the hiring managers scored the quality of candidates they found on their own “significantly higher” than candidates found by their companies’ recruiters.

Part of this rift stems from the fact that, although the two groups are working toward the same basic goal (hiring new talent), they face very different day-to-day challenges and they don’t always understand the pressures and demands their counterparts are working under. Plus, neither party has total control over all of the recruiting process’s moving parts—reviewing resumes, examining online profiles, conducting background checks, scheduling interviews, writing up post-interview evaluations, etc. Recruiters and hiring managers (along with others, in some organizations) have to collaborate on all of this and share responsibilities. It can be a daunting proposition.

Bridging the Relationship Gap

One way to strengthen the recruiter/hiring manager relationship is through content created especially for and by them.

As Candarine has observed, content creation and marketing are increasingly critical elements of an effective talent attraction strategy. To build relationships with your talent audiences, you need to develop content that’s tailored to their specific interests and needs. The same is true for your recruiters and hiring managers. You can improve their relationships by developing specialized content—content that’s written just for them and that helps them better understand each other’s needs and challenges.

In fact, you’d be wise to enlist your recruiters and hiring managers in developing this content! After all, they’re the subject matter experts. Nobody knows their issues better than they do. And having them create this crucial content may be exactly what’s needed to strengthen their collaboration.

This post was originally published on the Candarine blog, which offers insights on talent engagement using inbound, relationship-building strategies and proven content marketing methods.

Photo: Business meeting via photopin (license)

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Sick of All the Employee Engagement Talk? It’s Far From Over

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Some people have gotten fed up with the hoopla surrounding employee engagement, as evidenced by these articles from Fistful of Talent, HR Magazine and ERE Media. It’s not hard to understand their feelings.

After all, we’ve spent millions of dollars and countless hours on the engagement crisis over the past few years, yet we’ve hardly put a dent in it. According to Gallup research, employee engagement levels have barely budged in the last 10 to 15 years—either nationally or worldwide. That’s maddening. But it doesn’t mean we should abandon our efforts.

There are good reasons why many of our engagement initiatives aren’t paying off. Some of these reasons stem from our broken talent sourcing, evaluation and hiring processes … others relate to our failure to provide adequate education, training and development to our people … and still others are due to the ways we manage and mismanage our talent on both a daily and a long-term basis. Compensation, benefits and rewards also play their parts in stagnant engagement levels, as do our corporate cultures and work environments.

This incredibly complex web of factors makes engagement an especially tough nut to crack. And it doesn’t make things any easier that how we define engagement, attack it and measure results are all up for grabs.

But one thing is clear: our engagement crisis persists.

How Bad Is the Problem?

As Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report reveals, only 41% of the nation’s employees know what their company stands for and what makes their brands different from competitors’ brands. Forty-one percent. This is particularly alarming because it has nothing to do with the more subjective aspects of engagement—e.g., whether workers like their jobs or how well they get along with their managers. This is about whether workers understand concepts as basic as their company’s purpose, and not even half say they do.

This signals a failure on a number of levels and from many different parts of the organization. Internal communications, HR, hiring managers, leaders from the front lines to the c-suite, and employees themselves are all complicit in this situation. And it’s going to take real commitment from all of them to fix the problem.

However, I came across a Forbes article written by Karl Moore and Vincenzo Ciampi, who make a compelling case that the engagement crisis is NOT a group problem, at least not at its core. In “Leadership Engagement Always Trumps Employee Engagement,” Moore and Ciampi argue that “engagement is a leadership issue that the CEO must address, period.”

Companies with superior engagement have one thing in common, Moore and Ciampi write: “They have highly engaged leadership at all levels of the organization.” The authors insist that great employee engagement begins with great engagement among a company’s top leadership levels—and primarily the CEO.

Engagement’s Top-Down Domino Effect

I’m not an engagement expert by any means, and I have no empirical evidence or special knowledge to prove Moore and Ciampi correct. I’m only saying that I find their argument compelling, especially when they write, “One of the most common errors CEOs make is delegating the responsibility of creating and sustaining employee engagement to Human Resources, as if it were just another talent management or recruitment challenge.”

The authors recommend we “take a giant step back” and evaluate the engagement of our various leadership levels, from the CEO on down. And the CEO must “ensure that the leaders at the highest levels of the organization are in fact the best performers in their respective roles and are fully committed to the long-term success of the company.” It’s like a domino effect that eventually impacts employees.

One thing we can all agree on, which Moore and Ciampi also point out, is that pursuing employee engagement as an end goal is a strategic error. As plenty of research has shown, employee engagement is a means to a host of benefits that include greater innovation, collaboration and success—benefits that extend beyond our organizations to our customers, our shareholders and our communities.

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U.S. Workers Want 5+ Years Before Jumping Ship

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Plan on changing jobs/employers every three years for the rest of your life.

If you think that message from a recent Fast Company article was meant for Millennial workers only, think again. “There are a lot of arguments for jumping ship every few years,” the article notes. For starters, workers who remain with an employer more than two years are said to get paid 50% less. And people who switch jobs frequently build professional skills faster due to the continual learning curve they face.

Job hopping holds benefits for employers as well, the article asserts, including improved performance and greater loyalty. The reason? It’s believed that short-timers care more about making a good impression during the brief period they’ll stay with each employer.

To be fair, Fast Company’s guidance on changing jobs every three years isn’t all that radical. The Bureau of Labor reports the average U.S. employee stays at a job only about 4.5 years anyway.

But there is another side to this coin …

A large number of American workers want “a long-term relationship” with their employers, not three-year stints, according to recent analysis by Korn Ferry’s Hay Group.

Not a Lifetime Commitment But …

The Hay Group surveyed 1.3 million U.S. workers from 139 companies and 15 industries. One of the questions it asked was, “Given your choice, how long would you plan to continue working for a company?” Sixty-four percent of workers answered “more than 5 years.” Just 18% answered two years or less. Interestingly, the two industries with the lowest response percentages were consumer services and communications—but even their responses were 51% and 54% respectively.

So it’s fair to say the majority of America’s workers aren’t exactly thrilled by the notion of job/employer hopping every three years. It’s equally fair to say that quite a few employers see a downside as well: losing their best people to competitors.

The new 2016 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey of nearly 800 HR leaders shows that 46% cite employee retention as a top workforce management challenge. Other research has ranked the retention challenge even higher.

Whatever figure you buy into, Sabrina Son, managing editor of the TINYpulse blog, makes a compelling case for keeping top performers from jumping ship too frequently. In her post, The Importance of Employee Retention, Explained 8 Ways, Son writes, “Great businesses understand the importance of keeping their employees for a long time. In doing so, they don’t have to regularly spend the time and money necessary to replace employees—which could devastate their bottom lines.”

Among the eight reasons Son offers in favor of retention are: You Can’t Build a Business Without Consistency; You Lose Talent and Ideas; Constantly Training New Employees Is a Waste of Resources; and Your Competitors Could Benefit Directly.

If retaining your best people beyond a couple of years is something you care about, consider the insights offered by six HR executives in the Forbes piece, “Six Strategies You Can Use To Improve Employee Retention.” One of these insights—to be transparent—comes from Sarah O’Neill, HR Director at Digital Trends. While leaders often fear transparency, O’Neill believes it can significantly raise retention and employee loyalty when done correctly. “Be transparent about how your company is succeeding,” she says, “provide clarity on what can be improved, recognize who had a direct impact and offer direct data to support the claims. Leaders who speak to employees on these topics can secure a tenured workforce.”

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