Sunday, 20 November 2011

Interviewed in the Globe and Mail - November 2011

Tyler refuses to submit weekly progress reports, assuring you he'll “get the project done on time.” Mindy gets in after 9 most mornings, and often cuts out early. Kevin frequently chit-chats about his after-work activities with co-workers, loud enough for everyone to hear. Dana always “forgets” to fill out her time card. Chris texts during meetings and regularly takes personal phone calls at work.
You've got an employee who seems smart and capable, and generally does a great job with the tasks you assign them. But even though you feel you’ve given them plenty of guidance and leadership, they still aren't doing things the way you want them to. How do you handle an employee when their work is good, but their behaviour is a problem?
David Zweig, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says the first step in dealing with problem behaviour is to determine why it's happening.
“The challenge of a leader is to find out what is motivating this negative behaviour, or lack of behaviour, and get to the bottom of that,” he says. “You really need to sit down with someone and say, 'What's the issue? Explain to me what's going on. Why is it you're having difficulties with these aspects of your job and what can we do to resolve the situation?’”
Although irritating habits might make you think someone is being defiant or lazy or just has a bad attitude, something else might be at play, says Cissy Pau, principal consultant for Vancouver's Clear HR Consulting.
“Sometimes it could be a generational thing – if this is someone who's new to the workforce, or just out of school, they may need more explanation of what it's like in the work world,” she says. “A lot of times it has to do with communication, the explanation of what's important – here are the tasks you need to perform, but also how you need to perform them.”
Ms. Pau points out that sometimes the bad behaviour could have been picked up from others in the office environment, perhaps even the boss.
“If you are saying to employees, 'You've got to be on time to meetings, and don't be texting or tweeting,' but then the manager that's leading the meeting takes a phone call, you're setting the example that it's okay,” she says. “Look at yourself, what are you doing or not doing that's contributing to the behaviour?”
Employees could have personal reasons for things such as lateness or leaving early, says Toronto-based HR consultant Sari Friedman.
“Find out what's behind this need to leave,” she says. “Maybe they have to take their ailing parent for a treatment, or it's because of something they are passionate about that isn't work, like they teach spinning class.”
Both Ms. Pau and Ms. Friedman agree the key to keeping bad habits in check is regular, consistent feedback – not just a once-a-year performance review.
“If a person came late for a meeting, tell them today, don't wait for two weeks,” says Ms. Pau. “Give them specific examples, convey the consequences of what impact the behaviour has on co-workers, the project, the client,” she said.
“It's not realistic that every work relationship is going to come easily,” says Ms. Friedman. “I have a lot of managers who say, 'That's going to take a lot of my time.' But I have to remind them that's why you're called manager, that's what a lot of your time is going to be taken up by. You're not meant to be the ‘do-er’ 100 per cent of the time; at least 20 per cent of the time you've got to be managing people and that means talking to them and giving them feedback in a timely way.”
Ms. Friedman also warns against the “off-the-cuff” admonishment.
“If they're leaving early and you say, ‘Oh, big date tonight?’ – you think you've told them that it bothers you, but you haven't,” she says. “So how seriously have you conveyed that message? You can't expect that they know what you're talking about.”
But if you've determined what's behind the behaviour, given the employee direct feedback and the behaviour stills persists, the question becomes – what can you do to change that behaviour? Is it better to take the carrot or the stick approach?
“Definitely carrot,” says Mr. Zweig. “We know from research that punishment doesn't often work. The problem with the stick is if you're not there to apply the stick, the person is going to revert back to their old habits. And they're also going to blame you for using the stick. When you use punishment, you're teaching them what they're not supposed to do, but you're not teaching them what they're supposed to do. The carrot takes a little longer, but it's much more effective in producing long-term behaviour change.”
Mr. Zweig believes the easiest incentive you can use is simple praise: “Praise is a very effective and underused motivator.”
Ms. Pau suggests that incentives can also be used to encourage good performance. “You pay a person a wage to do a job and if they do their job, they get the wage,” she says. “But if you want someone to do something above and beyond, if you want them to stretch a little bit, that's when you can incent them. That value differs from person to person – it might be money for one, time off for another, a trip to Hawaii to another.”
You can also use performance objectives to communicate to your employee that their bad behaviour might affect advancement, perks and remuneration, suggests Ms. Friedman.
“If you tie it to performance and are doing reviews properly throughout the year, not just a one-hit wonder at the end, you can say ‘You're not trending well in this area, you have been coming late, leaving early, you're only getting 6 per cent on that and not 10 per cent and that affects your bonus,’” she says.
If an employee's behaviour is affecting your bottom line or company morale, that's when it's time to consider termination, says Ms. Pau.
“For example, we have a client who said, 'We have employees who don't fill out time sheets,’ she says. “They're a service company, so the company bills their clients based on the hours employees work. If it's the only way you can invoice a client, at some point it's a really big issue.”
“If you've given the explanation, you've set up the expectations, you've given them feedback, you've given them a reward or the discipline and it doesn't work and you don't see a way out, then maybe that person doesn't fit,” says Ms. Pau.
On the other hand, says Ms. Friedman, it could be that the employee's strengths outweigh the behavioural weaknesses.
“Sometimes you'll say, 'This person's worth it, they're quirky, they're creative,' she said. “I also think that you have to pick and choose – you're not going to be able to change everything about everyone ...You decide which things you can more casually approach and which you need to put your foot down about. There's something about everyone that might not be ideal in a business context, so are you maximizing the good stuff?”
If you find an employee is worth holding on to despite their negative habits, you may need to alter your policies to accommodate them.

Quoted in Canadian Business - October 2011

Survival Guide: Career

By Jacqueline Nelson  | October 19, 2011
For most people, losing their job is the biggest threat posed by tough economic times. Should you be worried?
Before a corporate squall, there are usually warning signs. One of them is a spike in meetings. If private gatherings or quiet tête-à-têtes have grown more frequent at work, it’s likely change is brewing, according to Alan Kearns, head of Toronto-based consulting company Career Joy and author of Get the Right Job Right Now! “You should also look out for managers or leaders at the company acting cooler or under obvious stress.”
Kearns also suggests talking to the company’s salespeople, who are “usually upstream on what’s happening in the organization.” If they’re not hitting their numbers, it could be a sign that cost savings will have to come from somewhere else in the company. Lost contracts or failed bids can also precede cuts.
When fellow staffers are being shown the door, you might have to work harder, or it might be time to look beyond your own firm or even industry for opportunity, says Sari Friedman, a human-resources coach and consultant. “You might decide that ultimately you don’t want to slug it out in this industry doing two people’s jobs at once. There are other industries that are more financially secure and my skills are transferable.” If you were working in finance for a media company, perhaps a move to pharmaceuticals or resources would be beneficial.
Claude Balthazard, a vice-president at the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario, suggests looking for the industries that are growing. “For example, in Ontario you can go to the Job Futures website and it will tell you what the prospects are,” he says. “Health care, with the aging population, is a good place to be. Manufacturing, maybe less so.”
If you decide to stay put, Balthazard advises, “don’t be deadwood.” The easiest way to ensure your security is to be the best at what you do. “Both internally and externally, everyone has a reputation, and the best will be the last to go, and will land quickly in other roles if they find themselves laid off,” Kearns adds.
If the company conducts regular performance reviews, take a second look at those to make sure you’re approaching your objectives. Even if you’re not the company’s star employee, there are other ways to increase your odds of success. “One good way to build stickiness in an organization is by building relationships in different divisions of the company. People with deeper relationships are harder to let go,” he says.
Employees should also look for ways to add value to the company, either by increasing revenue or saving money. Through all this, Kearns notes, being a positive influence on the team can save hard-working people with average skills. “Having a resilient attitude and keeping the team upbeat and motivated is extremely valuable in times of flux and uncertainty.”

Interviewed in the Globe and Mail - November 2011

The first 90 days are crucial when it comes to a new hire. If the fit is right, it can be the beginning of a successful long-term work relationship that benefits both employee and employer. If the fit is wrong, it can cost a company a great deal – both in time and money.
“Turnover is upwards of 30 per cent in the first three months,” says Christian Codrington, senior manager of operations at the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association. He explains that the cost of replacing a new employee is one-and-one-half times the cost of any new hire, because “you have to recruit and hire a replacement while the work’s not getting done.”
For small businesses, these kinds of excess costs can be particularly damaging. But with some careful planning and attentive management during those first 90 days, companies can avoid the three-month turnover trap and help new employees integrate successfully into their new environment.
The orientation checklist: A must-have
Well before their new hire’s start date, employers should put together a detailed orientation checklist, according to Toronto-based human resources consultant Sari Friedman.
A comprehensive checklist will ensure that an employer won’t miss important (but often overlooked) details, such as informing the rest of the office a new employee is starting, or making sure the new hire gets the proper payroll information.
On their first day, employers should refer to the checklist to make sure the employee gets all the essential facts.
“Make sure [new employees] have an understanding of the things that are close to people's hearts, like benefits and when they are going to be paid,” says Ms. Friedman. “You need to take care of those basic things first.”
Ms. Friedman recommends reviewing the new employee's job description in detail that first day. Explain what it is they will do, what the people around them do, and the overall scope of the organization. “And walk them through it; don't just to plunk it down on the person's desk,” she says.
A workable workstation
Employers need to ensure that a new employee's workstation is ready to go as soon as they walk through the door, says Mr. Codrington – not the next afternoon or a week later.
“I was a co-op student for a financial consulting firm years ago and for the first two weeks, I had a chair ... from the lunch room,” he recalls. “I sat in the hallway and my desk was a bunch of financial management books and a phone they had wired up ... people are kind of chuckling at you as they walk by.”
Even the smallest things matter, “like making sure someone’s desk and drawers are clean,” says Ms. Friedman.
Structure the first two weeks
Mr. Codrington suggests giving new employees a schedule for their first two weeks, outlining who they should meet with and to whom they should talk. Meetings with key colleagues can be scheduled in advance, and managers should take the time in the first day or so to personally introduce the new employee around the office.
Just as critical are one-on-one sessions with the employee's manager, scheduled frequently throughout those first two weeks.
“You can say, ‘Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon we're going to spend some time decompressing from your day and just finding out how you're doing,’” recommends Mr. Codrington.
Employees are most engaged when senior management shows care and interest in their situation, says HR consultant Janet Salopek, president of Calgary's Salopek Consulting. In smaller organizations, it's important for the company's CEO or owner to schedule lunch meetings with a new employee, particularly if he or she is in a senior role.
“The owners can touch base with the new employee and give them some really good history of the organization and a feel for the culture, and we know that really excites people,” she says. “It's a good thing [to do] that doesn't take a lot of time.”
The buddy system
Good workplace integration isn't just about new duties and responsibilities, it's also about helping a new hire feel comfortable with the office culture. Ms. Salopek says a good way to ensure this is to assign your new employee a “buddy,” a fellow employee who can fill them in on everything – from where the bathroom is and how to use the telephone to where the nearest gym and good local eating spots are.
“Particularly with the young people, [this] is critical. They need to know where people go to connect,” she says. “But you have to coach the buddy and let them know what their role is and what the expectations are, because it’s an important role.”
Ms. Friedman says employers should select their buddies thoughtfully. “Be really careful about who you select to orient the new employee so they don't learn bad habits.”
Don't lead with the negative
Although you may want to involve your new employee in all the team meetings, Mr. Codrington says employers need to be mindful of what's being said, particularly during the new hire’s early days. Meetings about money-saving measures, restructuring or belt-tightening might be confusing for someone new to the organization.
“What you shouldn’t do is overwhelm them with the negative,” he says. “Help people interpret the information they are getting. Make sure the manager follows up one-on-one to say, ‘You just were in this meeting where you heard some talk about restructuring, you must have some fears or concerns, can we talk about anything?’ Just don’t forget your new person.”
After the first two weeks
Scheduled check-ins should continue throughout the first three months, says Ms. Salopek.
After the first month, she says both the buddy and the manager should check in with the new hire. During the second month, sit down with the new employee and set their goals. Finally, during the third month, review these objectives and look at further training and development.
Providing feedback is also critical, says Ms. Friedman. “Don’t wait. Part of orienting someone is giving them feedback, letting them know if they're meeting expectations.”
Although the first month or so tends to get the most attention, Ms. Friedman says employers should be mindful of their employee's all-important three-month mark.
“It is much easier and more cost-effective, if you need to sever the relationship, to do it in the first 90 days in terms of avoiding extra costs and extra legal liabilities,” she says.
“Every good manager should have the employee’s three-month date in their calendar.”