He Knows When You Are Working, He Knows When Are Logged Out

As long as there have been workers, management has looked for ways to manage performance.  In the case of piece work, it was mostly used to provide incentives for productivity.  As the economy became more service oriented, performance was also measured so that throughput could be forecasted more accurately (think about a telephone center predicting the number of call to be handled on a certain day).

The use of this data has traditionally been used to “gamify” work as well.  That is, make reaching certain performance level an incentive in and of itself.  Sales competitions are a great example of this.  The logic being that if something is like playing a game it will be more fun (read: motivating) than something that seems like work.

Big data gives companies more ammunition to gamify work.  It also provides opportunities for the application of it to go beyond making or selling widgets.  As this article points out, Uber is at the forefront of this (though, make no mistake, they are not the only ones doing it).

Uber really has a love/hate relationship with its drivers.  Right now it needs them, but they foresee a day where they will need fewer people behind the wheel due to the automation of cars.  Uber needs a lot of drivers to provide high levels of service, but a glut of them leads to fewer occurrences of surge pricing (Uber’s version of raising prices and being more profitable when demand is high compared to the supply of drivers), which leads to fewer people being available since they will not make as much money.

Forecasting labor availability is key for the company in order to maintain service levels.  But, since Uber insists that the drivers are independent contractors who can work whenever they want, they cannot schedule the appropriate number of drivers to match anticipated demand.  So, to keep drivers logged in the app and behind the wheel, they have employed the same techniques that video game designers use to keep people playing.

In the article, the author clearly thinks that tapping into these motivations is “tricking” drivers into spending more time behind the wheel than they may want to.  But, is this really any different than traditional motivation techniques used by leaders such as providing intrinsic motivators like praise (“I appreciate the hard work you put into that presentation”) to reward and encourage future efforts?  Is it more coercive than, “You need to work at the store on Thanksgiving or your fired.”?

The answers really depend on whether the goals that Uber wants to achieve are aligned with those of the drivers.  If keeping more people in the app leads to more idle time (time spent without making any money), then I have a real problem with it.  If it helps manage the drivers’ time in a way that allows them to be more efficient and them and Uber to be more profitable, then I am good with it.

Worker performance has always been managed to help achieve organizational goals.  New technologies allow companies to look at these issues more closely than ever before.  HR should examine closely whether these efforts enhance engagement and, in the case of independent contractors, financial viability.

Lost Communication and the Death of Process

The business world is both transient and stable.  People and priorities change, but as long as the organization is in existence it has processes that continue on.  When the information gets disseminated is becomes institutional knowledge.  We often connect this with an individual (When Maria leaves we are in trouble because she has so much institutional knowledge.), but keeping this information available improves the understanding of processes throughout the enterprise.
download showbox for iphone

But, how we speak about things changes over time.  For instance, organizational commitment became employee satisfaction, which became employee engagement.  There are subtle differences between them, but what we have always been talking about is, “How much do people want to be here and contribute?”  Yet, if we did not have records about how we understood these concepts we would have some difficulty understanding how and why we conduct (or don’t conduct) employee surveys.

The challenge is how to keep track of the amount of information that organizations generate and keep it in an update language that makes sense as the business changes.  For instance, in my practice it is normally takes quite a bit of communication and presentations to keep validated testing programs going when there is a change in HR leadership.

Perhaps a more interesting example is outlined in this article, which describes how a group of volunteers are taking handwritten letters to reconstruct the English language during Shakespeare’s time.  You may say that 400 years is much longer than any business organization has been around, but think about the rapid changes in computer languages and how important understanding the “old” ones are in maintaining or updating systems.  The archaic can be useful

What potentially gets lost over time and change in language are the research and reasons for doing things.  We lose the ability to answer the most basic of business questions, “Why are we doing this?  Why are we doing it this way?”  Being able to communicate the answers those questions allows for adapting processes when the environment changes and prevents reinventing the wheel.



Who Really Delivers Your Brand?

A few years ago, I was doing consulting work for a well-known department store chain. They were doing well and were also looking to cut costs. One of the ideas was to contract out their delivery drivers. After some discussion about the numbers, I suggested that doing so would be a mistake. Their customers only interact with 2-3 people (retail sales, phone customer service, and the delivery team) from their stores. These touch points are what the customer remembers when deciding to shop with them again and/or talking about their experience with friends and family. Why would they want to lose the ability to manage that? They chose to keep the drivers.

I bring this up because there has been a lot of discussion lately about contractors vs. employees, especially in the sharing economy (see a general discussion here). Some employers are looking for ways to reduce labor costs and finding ways to classify people working for them as independent contractors is just one. However, by doing so they are setting the stage for less engaged people to be delivering their products and services. Telling the people working for you they are disposable sends a strong message.

Some start-ups are bucking the contractor approach and are viewing employees as the best people to deliver their products and services. As one business owner puts it, “The vision says that it’s really smart to make them employees, so we can get the best people to deliver the best service.”

The quote implies a few things:

  • While there are talented people out there who want to free-lance, the majority of job seekers want the benefits that go along with being an employee. I remember being in several call center staffing meetings and hearing managers rationalize their contractor status model with statements like, “Single moms will appreciate the flexibility of our part-time schedule.” That was, of course, a bunch of crap. Every single mother I know wants the paycheck and benefits that come with full time employment.
  • There’s a strong relationship between the quality of your talent and the quality of the service that’s delivered. Why? Because you can apply valid pre-employment test techniques in hiring employees to ensure you are hiring people with the knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job. Also, when a company treats people like they are part of the mission, rather than a commodity, they are more engaged. More engaged employees are more likely than contractors to feel as if they are part of the brand and they want to build and protect it.

There is very little always or never to the contractor vs. employee conversation. I’ve had Uber drivers who are retired and just like making a few extra bucks here and there and others who will drop the gig as soon as they find full time work. Of course, part of the brand is that you’re just catching a ride with a friend as opposed to hiring a professional driver, so the contractor model works well for both sides.

However, the best way to ensure that whoever delivers your product/service to the end user is committed and engaged is to hire them as employees. Why would you trust your brand to someone who is not as invested as you are?

For more information on using pre-employment tests to hire engaged employees, contact Warren Bobrow.


The Fish Stinks From the Head

Whether or not you are a soccer fan, you’ve likely heard about the scandal at FIFA (the world body that oversees the sport). The long and short of it is that executives in the organization, leaders in some country soccer committees, and sports marketing companies are accused of accepting bribes. They alleged payments were made to FIFA to ensure that tournaments were played in specific locations, including perhaps for votes for the site of the World Cup (the international soccer championship held every 4 years).

Things like this can happen for two reasons: Lack of transparency/poor governance and support by the organization’s culture. The latter comes from the top executives, which is why the President of FIFA resigned yesterday. Many feel that he jumped before being pushed by sponsors (it always comes down to the money) or the FBI. This culture he established led the organization to be arrogant and be closed to scrutiny.

How does one change a culture which is damaging to the brand? There is not any good science behind this, but one train of thought is that a sick patient cannot heal itself. In the link above, it’s suggested that there be a mea culpa through a truth commission so that all of the dirty laundry can be aired. Another thought is to have the bylaws and governance policies be rewritten by an outside organization. Both of these remedies would perhaps satisfy (to an extent) outside observers, but they also paint those who remain (and didn’t participate in unethical activities) with a brush of suspicion. This could lead to the exodus of top talent. However, in a sport as large as soccer, I have to believe that there are talented people outside of FIFA who could run it well.

I believe that a commitment from a top executive to change may help a culture shift in some cases. I’ve been working with a client on their team building. One barrier to them moving forward is a terrible mistake made by the president last year. It genuinely affected the trust between her and her team an among the team members.

When presented with this before a planned offsite, her first reaction was surprise that people were still bothered by it as she had previously apologized. At the time I thought this attitude would be a significant barrier in improving the team’s performance. Something must have clicked in her mind because at the beginning of the offsite she addressed the issue head-on. She took ownership of the error and for being the reason for the break in trust. Without being defensive, she outlined a path forward and what she would be doing to win back the trust. Her statement lifted a dark cloud and allowed the group to make progress during the session.

Does culture change in a day? Of course not. But this leader had the courage to shift it and, just as importantly, modeled accountability and humbleness to her staff. It’s a good beginning.

For more thoughts and insights into organizational change and employee engagement, contact Warren Bobrow.



Fostering Engagement

Employee engagement is getting a lot of attention now. The thinking is that this will lead to higher productivity and lower turnover in ways employee satisfaction never did. The question is really what employers can do to foster engagement.

Engagement is a two-way street. While you could select people who tend to be more engaged, the behavior is really derived from the culture. In other words, management has to create an environment that employees what to be engaged with.

At a talent management symposium last week, I heard some interesting ideas about engagement. One was that it should be fostered from the very first day. The speaker gave an example of how during the interview she asks candidates if they like sweet or savory snacks as an ice-breaker. If the person gets hired, s/he has his/her preference waiting at the desk the first day.

What I like about this idea is that it shows new employees that the company listens to them. There’s an old adage that you only want to ask survey questions that you are prepared to respond to. Otherwise, why would people provide you with feedback or other process improvement information? Having the first day snack shows in a very tangible way that management is willing to have a two-way conversation. I can see how that would foster engagement.

Then I came across this article. It describes an amazing piece of employee recognition at a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania. You can be as cynical as you want about this, but in an industry where turnover is the norm, I was impressed that a senior executive did this in response to a customer letter and not some internal metric. He recognized an employee being engaged with a customer. Imagine the effect on customer service at your business if senior executives recognized it like this (or even 1/10th of this).

Employee engagement primarily emerges from your culture. What these two examples show are ways that management can foster an environment where engagement can thrive. What they have in common was management being pro-active in reaching out to employees rather than reacting to a crisis and saying “Trust us.”.

What are you doing to create an engaging workplace?

For more information on measuring and improving employee engagement, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or  warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

Can a Step Back Really Be a Step Forward?

I was talking to a leader of a non-profit group today about leadership transitions.  He came right out and said, “This is a flaw of mine.  I can’t step back as a leader.  After I call the shots, I can’t be in the background.  I either have to be in charge or be out of the picture.”

In his candor, he admitted something that a lot of leaders cannot:  Once they have been the boss they have a difficult time staying in the background after they have “moved on” or taken a consultant role.  Why is this so difficult?

One reason is ego (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense).  People who lead a process or program for a long time have an emotional commitment to it.  If they’ve done a good job, things run smoothly due to their efforts and it is tough to see someone else doing it better (or even trying to).

Another reason is lack of preparedness.  Not having a succession plan gives the outgoing leader anxiety.  What if the next person messes it up?  The stress can be relieved by developing the next generation of leaders.

At the same time, the outgoing leader has to realize that nothing is forever.  It would be great if he could step away and provide sage advice on an as needed basis without having to be in charge.  The organization will profit from the experience.

For the benefit of the new leaders, boundaries should be set during the transition.  The old and new leader (and probably a 3rd party) should be specific about the outbound leader’s role and responsibilities.  It will probably take an iteration or two before the right mix of involvement is struck.  And that might mean the old leader gets completely out of the picture.  But the leader who finds how he can be useful and allow future leaders to succeed will find a longer lasting legacy than just his contributions.

For more information on leadership development, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

Do You Have the Culture You Want?

I know that it’s not in fashion to talk about organizational culture anymore as the concept of engagement has taken over.  But there is something still to be said about how people think they should act and the social norms that influence them.  These influences exist whether you talk about them at the country, state, or organizational level.

A good example in the US is a recent story with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Employees in one office admitted to putting more scrutiny into tax-exemption applications from political opponents of the president than other groups.  Best that we can tell now, there wasn’t an effort coming from the White House to do this.  But, at some point someone thought that the new approach was a good idea and went ahead with it.  Maybe there’s data which shows that those types of applications are more fraudulent than others.  Or, the culture of that office was one that made assumptions about one political group versus others.

Every company has a culture.  Some, like Hewlett-Packard and Google, wear it on their sleeves.  Others only think about their culture when something that completely goes against it occurs.  For example, a utility company may have an unspoken cultural norm of “keeping the lights on” that’s never really talked about until they suffer a massive failure.

When working with companies on their culture, it’s amazing how consistent employees are in describing it, even across departments.  Comments about what it is like to work at a company, such as “Do what you are told,” “You can question authority,” “It’s all about profit,” or “It’s all about the customer” are heard consistently.

Where does culture come from?  Sometimes from stories passed down (apocryphal or not) from something the founders did or said.  More likely, culture comes from the behaviors that are rewarded.  If working 18 hours a day gets people promoted, then people will work 18 hours a day.  If doing outside charitable work in the company’s name gets recognized, then employees will think of the company as one that gives back to the community.  If you want to change your company’s culture, you must examine what truly gets rewarded and recognized.  Only after those changes are made, and the passage of time, will you see a difference.  There is no culture change because a leader says so.

Your engagement survey results should be able to tell you quite a bit about your culture.  You can get a sense of your company’s culture by looking at your performance appraisal form.  If you want to be innovative, are you recognizing and rewarding (reasonable) risk or cost containment?  If you want engaged employees, are you recognizing managers who have low turnover?  While the saying “What gets measured get done” is a cliche, it also happens to be true.  The corollary is “What gets measured and recognized is your culture.”

What steps are you taking with senior management to develop the culture you want?

For more information on employee engagement, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

Mentoring Lasts

Several years ago, my graduate school mentor was talking to me about family trees and the conversation moved to academic ones.  We talked about some people in the field and who their mentors were and how these branches formed different thought areas.  I’m sure the exercise can be done in any area of study (it’s been done extensively in mathematics) and in the business world as well.

We’ve all had mentors and there is a good deal of research done on what makes a good one.   Many companies have formalized mentorship programs, often to improve the promotability of women and racial minorities and/or to increase employee engagement.  The data also shows that the process is good for the mentor as well.  These relationships tend to be long lasting, even past the initial setting.  In fact, you’re probably thinking of a mentor or a protégé right now.

This all came together when I read an interview with Ilene Gordon on the importance of mentors.  She provides a very concrete example of how her mentor helped her early in her career.  It’s clear that the lessons she learned from him are still affecting her some 30 years later.

Now, she provides her high potentials with opportunities to be in front of her board.  Interestingly, she gives them 3 minutes to talk about themselves, adversity they have faced and how they bring value to the company.  That’s a lot for 3 minutes!  I would think that this exposure leads to some of these managers finding mentors (and probably doing some great networking among themselves).

Gordon returns to this theme when asked about interviewing.  She asks candidates who their mentors were to get a sense of the person’s knowledge lineage with the idea being the person’s thought process is highly influenced by his/her mentors.  There’s certainly a discussion to be had as to whether this unfairly places the candidate in a particular box, but it does show the importance of what we learn from mentors and how we are perceived differently based on who they were.  Whether that’s considered baggage or a seal of approval is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether it’s through the opportunities it provides us or how people think of us, mentoring relationships stay with us far longer than when we actually interact with the person.  Something to think about when choosing a mentor or a protégé.

For more information on pre-employment testing, leadership and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

What Does the Presidential Election Tell Us About Executive Decision Making?

While this post is about the election, it is NOT about politics.  Rather, it’s about decision making and how letting pre-determined analyses about the facts affect the process.

In this case, the facts were the polling data regarding the presidential election (you can see which ones were the most accurate here).  For the last 40 years, the polls have been pretty accurate and their errors are evenly distributed among the two political parties (see this link).

So, I’m at networking business lunch the day before the election discussing what might happen on Election Day.  Most the people at my table were pretty strong Republicans.  When I talked about the tracking data and their historic accuracy, they dismissed those facts with anecdotes.  For instance, saying that Obama wasn’t drawing big crowds but Romney is, etc. as being indicative of turnout, when pollsters explicitly base their data on those who say they are likely voters.  They clearly had an idea in their heads and nothing would have convinced them to let it go.  I’m sure if the situation was the exactly opposite (sitting with a group of Democratic partisans talking about the Republican candidate’s lead) it would have been the same conversation.

This reliance of going from the “gut” instead of with facts is something I see from some (certainly not all) supervisors, managers, and leaders all of the time.  The question is how do we consult with managers to help them make better (read: unbiased) decisions in the HR arena?

One approach is to find out the person’s biases upfront.  If the person already knows the “right” answer to the questions s/he is asking you, ask them what kind of data would change his/her mind.  If the answer is “nothing,” then you at least know how much time you want to spend on the project.  You have to pick your battles.

When it comes to selection, managers have a built in bias towards systems that have (or haven’t) allowed them to progress.  If they’ve passed tests to help them move up, then all test results are accurate.  If someone else got the promotion after going through an assessment center, they are a waste of time and money.  The challenge here is to get them to see the pattern of effectiveness, not just a single result.  There are plenty of good analytic tools for doing this.

It’s important to remember that when a person has this type of bias there is a reason for it.  The bias itself comes from some other experience.  Learning more about how the person developed the strongly held opinion gives both of you a better understanding of it.  This will also allow you to present data that may be more acceptable to him/her.

Finally, remember that the person’s bias may lead him/her to the best decision (just because someone’s has their mind made up does not make him/her wrong).  However, the process is important.  And presenting solid HR data can only help you in the long run.

For more information on leadership, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

Self Selecting Out

So, you have spent a lot of time recruiting for an open position.  You get some good resumes and some of those people you talked to actually sound as if they could do the job.  This group gets whittled down some more through your interviews and you want to ensure you make the best hire by doing a more formal assessment of their skills.  But, your best candidate hems-and-haws, puts off the assessment date and finally drops out of the process.  What should you do?

Send the person a present and a thank you note!  S/he has just done you a terrific favor!

We can hypothesize all we want about why someone doesn’t want to be assessed (found a better offer in the meantime, doesn’t want the pressure, etc.), but it all comes down to that they did not really want to work for you and by not doing so saved themselves and you a lot of heartache.  Whatever you do, don’t back off of your commitment to assess and evaluate your candidates just to make the process easier for them.  There’s a lot of research that shows that people who go through a difficult process to join a group are more loyal.  Also, we know that people who do well on valid assessments do well in their jobs.  Sure, it makes your recruiters’ work harder, but the quality of the talent that gets through the full selection process is worth it in the end.

For more information on pre-employment testing, skills assessment, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

Thanks for coming by!

Please provide this information so we can stay in touch.