Monthly Archives: February 2015

There’s Too Much at Stake to Leave it Up to “Dwight”


Did you know that 22% of turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment, according to The Wynhurst Group?

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the description of the job in posting and the interview was not a realistic portrayal of the realities of the job. Some people adapt. Most feel disappointed or even betrayed, and these are the ones that begin their search for another opportunity pretty quickly. If they stay with you for more than 45 day, you can bet you don’t have their full engagement.

Another reason for this turnover rate is the lack of a structured on-boarding process. The Wynhurst Group study indicates that new employees who went through a structured on-boarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years.

I understand that you are busy and your plate is full, but seriously, showing a new hire their desk, getting IT to set them up on the computer, giving them a key card to the door, and having them sit through an orientation session does not qualify as effective on-boarding.

The definition of a high performance culture is SHARED vision, values, purpose and expectations. How do we expect a new hire to acclimate to “our way” of doing things if we don’t have a structured process for getting them to that point?

I often ask managers how new employees gain their perceptions of them as managers. Most of the time they say they gain it over time by observation. Then I point out to them the psychological truth, that people buy with their emotions and justify with facts. Without a structured onboarding process a leader is allowing others in the organization to shape the new hire’s emotions about them and about the organization. Once those emotions are shaped, whether positively or negatively, the new person will begin to see or interpret “facts” to justify their conclusions.

Consider this. I come to work as a new employee in your company. I don’t know anyone, but I have gone through the typical unstructured onboarding and orientation process. I mean, I sat through a full day of meetings with person after person parading in front of a group of new hires telling us about everything from culture to benefits. I even had lunch with a bunch of other new hires that I am likely to never work with again.

So the next day I come to work with my new key card and computer log-in information and sit down and muddle my way through the morning.

Lunchtime roles around and most of us newbies are outta of there, headed for the nearest taco truck where we can get some space.   But not me. I was actually hoping that you would offer to take me to lunch to further our onboarding, but that would have been expecting too much. So, I am courageous enough to head to the break room and get my lunch out of the fridge. I don’t know a soul and it feels a little like the first day at a new junior high. I am feeling a little awkward and out of place, but I gut it up and try to make it through.

And then, Dwight comes along and plops his lunch down at my table, introduces himself and asks if I mind if he sits with me. And I’m thinking, “Whew! Finally someone who will rescue me from this awkwardness.” So Dwight sits down and begins telling me about who he is and what he does. He even asks about me and my new job and what brought me to the company. As the conversation proceeds, Dwight says, “It’s a good thing we met. You’re gonna need someone to show you the ropes.” And he proceeds to give me his perspective on everything from the CEO, to the benefits, to you, my new manager whom he has heard about through the grapevine.

If you are lucky, Dwight is a person who enjoys his job, feels productive, has embraced the mission and vision of the company. If you’re lucky. If you’re not so lucky, Dwight has been through the same onboarding process that I went through. On top of that, the job he was hired for hasn’t turned out to meet his expectations and his supervisor tends to be a little low on the EQ side of the equation.

What you may not understand is that Dwight may very well be my new best friend at work. Think about it. He is the only person who had good enough taste to sit down with me at lunch. But even if he is not my new best friend, he is now beginning to shape my emotions and perceptions. While I may still give you the benefit of the doubt, I will certainly be keeping my eyes open for anything that may reinforce what Dwight has told me. And there are always plenty of things that can be interpreted either way. For example, you may actually be on your way to a very important meeting when I meet you in the hall and you blow me off as if you hardly know who I am. And there it is, the beginning of the reinforcement of my emotional connection to my new friend. And there you are, without a clue as to what just happened.

By the way, this is not the only way people gain their perceptions of you as their new manager. Remember, they have had managers before you. If they were poor managers, like Dwight’s manager, then their perceptions of managers in general may be negative. They have also had other authority figures in their lives, such as parents and teachers and principals and police officers. These experiences serve to shape how they perceive and interact with people in positions of authority.

With so much at stake, why leave it to Dwight or to luck? Make sure the first 30 to 60 days of a new hire’s experience with you is fully structured with interactions, training and instructions from the people that you want to be shaping their perceptions and emotional connections to you and to your company.

Building High Performance Teams Requires Competence and Courage

Remember_the_Titans_r620x349I have always been inspired by movies such as MiracleRemember the Titans, and We are Marshall, which depict leaders turning rag-tag groups of players into winning teams.  I am sure you can recall dozens of similar stories that haven’t been made into movies, e.g., the 1990’s Chicago Bulls NBA Championship teams, the Atlanta Braves World Series teams of the late 90’s, or the SEC’s powerhouse football team the Alabama Crimson Tide.

You may also dream about being the leader of such a team.  I am here to tell you that this is not an impossible dream.  It requires two things:  Courage and Competency.

I recently surveyed 200 senior business executives (CEOs, COOs & CFOs), asking them about the competencies required of their supervisory leaders.   The overwhelming majority of these executives said Building Effective Teams was what they needed most from their supervisors.  When these leaders were asked to rank their supervisors’ proficiencies in this skill, 82.9% of them were ranked average or below!

Go back and watch the movies, or read the stories of these miracle teams. Pay attention to the coaches.  You will see that they exhibit the following six Competencies, and they do so with exceptional Courage.

The same executives again ranked their supervisors as average or below average in proficiency for these Competencies:

  • Talent selection, hiring and onboarding – 74.2% average or below
  • Setting goals, holding others accountable, and engaging in courageous conversations – 88.8% average or below
  • Talent development and delegation – 89.8% average or below
  • Conflict management – ensuring conflict is healthy enough to work for us rather than against us – 88.7% average or below
  • Leading and managing change – 84.1% average or below
  • Inspiring with vision and purpose – (This competency was not surveyed, but is required for the kind of teams we are discussing.)

Very few of these executives said they had engaged in what I call “Courageous Conversations” with their supervisors, where they communicated their definitions of, and expectations around, these competencies.  It’s no wonder there was a disconnect between the supervisors’ performances and their executives’ rankings.  The primary reasons given for failing to engage in these conversations were: assuming the executives “should already know these things;” not having clear behavioral definitions of these competencies that would allow constructive conversations; and confessing they didn’t know how to have these courageous conversations.

The executives also admitted that they had not provided training and development to support the specific behaviors they believed were critical to building the teams they were looking for.

When you watch those movies or review the behaviors of the aforementioned coaches, it is readily apparent that they were clear about what they expected of staff and players, and then they trained and coached them to perform to meet those expectations.

Before leaving this topic of Courage, let me just say that it is just one of many character traits required of great leaders.  Courage implies risk.  So be careful not to run off too quickly in a show of “courage” and destroy everyone and everything you are trying to build.  Take it one step at a time.

The first step is to take a good look at yourself, and ask the following questions:

  • Do I believe these are the competencies required to build a high performing team?  If not, get clear about which competencies you believe to be essential.
  • Then, have I clearly defined these competencies in behavioral terms such that they can be easily understood, followed and evaluated against?
  • Next, am I stepping into courageous, respectful conversations with my supervisors to help them know how I see their performance in these areas, and to help them improve, or determine whether they really want to lead on my team?
  • What am I doing to provide my team training that will ensure that these competencies are understood and consistently applied?
  • Do I have the courage and other character traits necessary to be the leader I dream about becoming?