During the 4th of July holiday, I was binge watching an Australian cooking competition show with my family. It was pretty mindless and entertaining stuff. The gist of each episode was that contestants competed in a theme-based challenge. One was selected as the best for the day. Two others were deemed the poorest performers and then they competed to stay on the show. What I found most interesting was that they task they were given to avoid elimination (getting fired) was harder (by design) than the original one.
Of course, there is not necessarily a straight line to be drawn between entertainment shows and the work place. But this did get me thinking about how we develop poor performers. While it seems intuitive that resources spent on improving their performance would have a significant return-on-investment, data show that high performers generally benefit more from training than low ones do.
HR needs to consider how to develop all levels of talent. With the current low unemployment rates, companies are losing some of their control over their talent levels, especially now there is more job hopping. There are a few considerations in developing low performers:
• Are you rewarding progress until the person is capable of delivering results? The key here is that improving performance requires changes in behavior. If they are reinforced, the new behaviors are more likely to be learned. Telling people “try harder” or dangling a future carrot are not good strategies for improving performance.
• Are they sufficiently skilled in the tasks you expecting them to do? Before concluding that the person is not going to be a good employee, be sure that they have the basic skills/experience to perform the job. You should not expect someone to be a pastry chef if s/he does not know how to make a cake. This is where valid pre-employment testing programs are valuable.
• Are there other areas of the business that appeal more to their interests? I have a client that staffs its own call center. They have higher than average turnover in the call center, but somewhat lower in the company overall, because after people spend 6 months there they can bid for any other open position in the company for which they are qualified. Allowing easy lateral transfers helps you keep good employees who may just be in jobs they do not find engaging.
Low unemployment rates mean that new talent is going to be more expensive. It may indicate a good return-on-investment in developing under-performing talent than usual. However, getting people in the right place and having alternate reward strategies are essential to getting the most out of their development.
I’m always curious to hear of innovative (or, crazy, depending on one’s viewpoint) methods of increasing employee engagement and productivity. I wrote about a year ago about a company in Seattle where the CEO increased the minimum wage to $70,000 (and they are still doing just fine). And there are some companies that provide a time-and-a-half incentive to employees to take vacation. One company upped the vacation incentive ante with paid for trips for up to one week.
What is with bribing people to go on vacation? And, besides getting people to take some time off, do these ideas even work?
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There is some data that suggests that more vacation time makes executives more efficient. Though, this might be because they have to get the same amount of work done in less time. And there is plenty of studies that show that work breaks during the day help productivity.
My feeling (and I have zero data to back this up) is that another benefit of vacation time is that is allows us to come back with, if not a new perspective, at least a chance to look at a problem fresh, without only looking at previous solutions. Think about how a crossword puzzle clue may have had you baffled at first, but then becomes easy after you spent time away from it.
Assuming that the above is at least partially true, it seems to me that having frequent time away may be as beneficial as long vacations. Regardless, the key idea that in the long run we are more engaged and productive when we do not stare at the same problems.
Sure, at the end of January people are not spending that much time planning vacations (well, maybe skiers are). But, this is when HR should be considering the impact of current paid time off policies, such as:
- Does management support people taking time off by altering their workload pre-post vacation?
- If you are in a work culture that does not support taking time off, do you understand why they are not? Are you offering incentives for people to do so?
- Are employees who are not taking their time off counseled so that they do so?
Yes, it seems odd to have to manage the vacation process. But, like any other engagement and productivity tool, it does need to be monitored and cared for.
Happy New Year!
Today I came across a specialized leadership development program for LGBT executives. It’s offered at Stanford, and it ain’t cheap, so I’m thinking it’s not a fly-by-night kind of thing. But, it did get me thinking about the wisdom of leading by identity.
If nothing else, leaders need to be authentic. I never bought into the idea that women needed to be more like men (whatever that means) in order to be effective executives. Rather, leadership effectiveness is a combination of desire and developed talent, regardless of (fill in the demographic variable).
White men have had their own networking group since the beginning of the industrial age, so I don’t see specific groups for LGBT, women, Asian, etc executives as any sort of reverse discrimination. There’s great comfort and learning to be had from sharing with those who have had similar experiences to you. And just because Tim Cook of Apple came out doesn’t mean that challenges facing LGBT executives have disappeared any more than President Obama’s election eliminated racism in the U.S.
But, I would caution against leaders overly “branding” themselves in a category other than that of their organization. It is almost like when you hear someone in your organization refer to “you” rather than “us” when describing an issue. Aren’t we all in this together?
I support leaders developing their skills where they can and universities making extra money. But, consider this: Wouldn’t there be more benefit of these programs if the attendees were 50% LGBT and 50% straight? I’d like to hear your thoughts about this, or similar programs.
For more information on leadership development, please contact Warren Bobrow.