Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Clarke’

Don’t Let Behavioral Issues Hamper Strong Performance

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

Employees succeed with the right combination of aptitude and attitude. Technical skills are insufficient if poor behaviors dominate. Great behaviors cannot overcome basic technical failures.

Most managers are effective when discussing a hard-skills gap with employees. “Liz, when you seal a sterile container, make sure this checklist is followed, including a label with the seal date.” Easy. The discussion is all business, not personal. The skills can be trained. There is often a right way and a wrong way.

Behavior and attitude issues are different. Employees (and managers) bring their own versions to work. Our genetics and years of living formed patterns. No training class or checklist can cure behavioral problems quickly. There are fewer rights and wrongs. It seems too personal.

Because it is hard, many managers avoid conversations about behaviors until something blows up. “You make me crazy when you act like that!” “You are hard to work with, everybody says so!” “You’re fired!”

When we train managers in communications skills, tools and acronyms help them transfer new knowledge to the workplace. One of my favorites is B.I.T. Instead of getting angry and ranting, have a “Behavior-Impact-Tomorrow fit” the next time behavioral problems cause work problems.

Behavior

Focus on the observable behavior, not your guess at intent. For example, if you tell an employee “you are rude to team members during our project reviews and shut them down,” you are assuming the intent to shut people down. The employee will become defensive and never agree they meant to be rude or to stifle debate.

Instead, describe the observable behavior: “Several times during our last team meeting, you interrupted before the other person finished their thought. This has happened in other meetings as well.”

Impact

Next, describe the impact of this behavior. “When you interrupt someone who is trying to explain their idea, several things happen. It can prevent us all from learning something valuable. It can chill others from challenging your ideas. It also hurts your ability to receive a fair shot for your own ideas. For example, I saw Mary back off her idea yesterday when you interrupted before she finished a sentence.

Tomorrow

“Tomorrow, I expect you to listen well to teammates and work hard to understand what they are saying. Ask them questions to understand their ideas. Hear them out before you ask them to hear you. Tomorrow, spend time listening to the speaker to understand, rather than inserting your response. Sit on your hands if you need that reminder. It will benefit you and the team.”

“Stop interrupting people!” is better than ignoring the problem, but providing a tool or technique to improve behavior works better. Describing the future state and giving more feedback after the next meeting make your expectations concrete.

Getting the very best from every employee is a manager’s main purpose. Motivation, rewards, clarity, engagement and recognition all play a part. Coaching and corrective discussions can be just as important, especially when behavioral problems prevent excellent performance.

If you have any further suggestions as to how managers can improve behavior and attitude issues, please let us know in the comments! For questions, please contact our Advice & Resolution team at at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746 if you encounter any further challenges with the growth of your small business.

Put Your Mistakes Under the Microscope to Improve Your Work

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

We spend too little time celebrating our workplace mistakes. They deserve dissection, truth and reflection. Too often they receive denial, excuses and burial.

There is so much focus today on finding your strengths. Consider the common parenting advice to use only reinforcement in redirecting child behavior. There is even a movement to replace “weaknesses” in the time-tested business SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis because the word is too harsh!

This over-emphasis on positive is having a negative effect!

Mistakes are the mothers’ milk of change and growth. All the praise in the world (while it feels nice and has good effects) will not create needed change. Mistakes have the power to mold our thinking and our skills in ways that triumphs never will.

If you define mistakes broadly, and not just as small errors and omissions, they include bad habits and unproductive traits. Until you decide to understand and own your mistakes, the path to improvement remains hidden. Robert Frost wrote of the road less traveled. A truthful and open review of mistakes (big and small) is the less traveled, and shortest, road to real improvement.

Open discussion

Celebration of mistakes means applying the same passion to weaknesses as you bring to successes. Think of a person at work who takes their mistakes to the team or manager, and has responded well to criticism. Did your opinion of them go up or down? Did their impact at work improve or decrease?

Owning your mistakes and using them to grow makes good things happen.

Learning from mistakes is the most basic benefit of owning your mistakes. Only skeletons come from buried problems.

Trust develops between you and others if you are just as willing to discuss your problems as your strengths. Imagine what could be accomplished if everyone behaved this way!

Open discussion of mistakes and needed changes helps you work harder to improve. Think of it like telling your friends you stopped smoking.

Ownership of all behaviors, good and not-so-good, is the best way to demonstrate to others the treatment you expect in return.

Early recognition

Skilled managers know how to help employees make the most of mistakes while preserving a motivation to grow. Less-experienced managers need proactive help from the mistake-maker to maximize improvements. Every manager should be pleased and impressed if you bring your mistakes to them in the right spirit and with a plan of action.

Owning mistakes may include early recognition of a skills gap or a troublesome personality trait. Both can be improved if addressed early. Allowing a reputation for poor aptitude or attitude to harden can make success at any workplace difficult. This is an important discussion to have right now with your manager to get on a corrective path.

So many of us hide our mistakes that there is little danger of overdoing all this openness. Employees who acknowledge problems and work toward solutions get the best work opportunities. It starts with owning all your mistakes, big and small.

For additional guidance, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

The Single Question Interview

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer  column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

“Come on, now.  A single question interview?”  I hear the doubters already, and I was one before I learned the method.  Suspend disbelief for a moment and see what I mean.

Interviews should not be about ball teams, whether you know the same people, or about your great company or product.  They certainly are not about how many people you can meet in 30-minute blocks.

The purpose of an interview is to determine whether someone is a fit for the role.  The best predictor of future fit and performance is past performance.  What is the best way to uncover past performance?  Ask, but ask hard and ask long.

Here’s what I mean:  At the start of your next interview of a candidate, ask that person to tell you the one work or career accomplishment he or she is most proud of, and say you plan to discuss that accomplishment with them.  Give people time to think.  If they come up with none, you know enough already.  Short interview.  Talk about ball teams for a while.

When candidates describe their most significant accomplishment, dissect it in every way possible.  Ask “Whose idea was it?  Why were you selected for the role?  What was your role in the project?  Who did you report to?  What hurdles did you encounter?  How did you overcome those hurdles?  What was the resource budget?  Did the project meet expectations?”

Request candidates to describe three crisis points and how they were resolved.  What was the impact on the team?  What was the impact on customers?  Have candidates draw a picture of the people involved and how they were able to influence those outside their team.  Ask “What help did you seek that was granted?  What help was denied?  How did you deal with the denial?  What one regret do you have from the project?  What did you learn?  What would you do differently today?  Why did you just say that?  If I interviewed the key team members, what would they say about the experience with you?  Who was your biggest critic and why?”

Ask manager candidates questions revealing how they handled key management responsibilities, communication, accountability, performance management, goal setting and conflict resolution.  Ask others about executing plans, steering around obstacles, getting clarifications or exceptions, meeting deadlines and getting the job done.

All of your questions so far should be about the single most important accomplishment in the candidates’ own career.  They should be the expert on this accomplishment.  They should be well-prepared.  They should not hesitate or sweat.  They should not bob or weave.  This is their own story, after all.

A serious effort will take you an hour or more.  Ask one or two others to join you to keep the follow-up questions fresh, responsive and useful.  Press hard and long.  Others will pick up on things you will not see or hear.  A good candidate may feel this was the best interview he or she ever had.  A bad candidate or poor fit may look stressed.

Afterward there is time for ball teams, tours, 30-minute meetings with others, selling the candidate on the company and such.  Try it and let me know how it went.

For additional guidance, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

The Problem with Time Off

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer  column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

What could be wrong with time off from work?  Plenty, if you are a manager trying to get things done, or an employee who cannot get time off for family issues.

Time off problems generate phone calls to our HR advisors every day.  Most of the problems come in three categories, each with an employee and employer viewpoint.

Do I Have To?

Government regulations mandate time off in several dozen ways.  No single requirement is back breaking, but their total weight causes employers to dread these regulated requests.  The question often becomes “Do I have to grant the time?”  It depends.

Earned vacation is owed to the employee and the only question is timing.  An employer can deny its use at inconvenient times unless the vacation is to be used during a “Family and Medical Leave” event.  These FMLA requests give employees and their doctors so much power over timing that employee abuse is too common, paid or unpaid.  Even if laws like FMLA do not apply, sick day and personal day policies are common.  Plus, everyone has a personal need now and then.

Help employees understand the business issues so that time off can be made to fit business AND personal needs.  Employees, if you will start out showing concern for business needs and some flexibility on timing, you will find the process is much smoother and more pleasant for all.  It is rare that something has to happen on Monday morning, or on the busiest day of the month.  Everybody wants to be met halfway. (Emergencies are different.)

Do I Want To?

If time off is discretionary, do you want to say “yes” to the employee for an inconvenient day off?  Managers might say “Yes to my best employees and no to my worst.”  You can use some discretion here, maybe rearranging work so that a star can get the day off he or she needs in busy season, but be sure you can defend that choice when the poor performer seeks the same. “Sally works exceptionally hard each day, and you do not” is what you may feel like saying, but refrain.  Describe ways the employee can earn future approvals.

Employees who want time off or certain vacation days in this “discretionary zone” should bring either a good plan for getting needed work done, or a record of always doing so, or both.  I have never met a manager who liked to say no to a personal request if it is reasonable and if the employee always meets them halfway.

Should I?

Maybe no law requires it and maybe the employee does not deserve it based on past behaviors, but sometimes it is good business to grant that inconvenient time off request.  You gain nothing by punishing an employee’s family member, for example.  Maybe you should have dealt with this poor performer more directly last month rather than indirectly punishing him or her through a time off denial today.  It is a judgment call, but denial of needed time off is an act this employee will not soon forget.

Time-off discussions require adult behavior and open discussion on both sides.  Approach your next time off discussion with that in mind.

For additional guidance, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

When an Employee Has a Serious Complaint

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer  column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

It happens in every workplace.  The same serious and unlawful misbehavior we see in our communities sometimes find its way to the job.  People are the greatest asset of an employer but can be the “crabgrass in the lawn of business,” as my friend says.

What should happen when harassment, discrimination, abusive treatment and other serious misbehaviors rear their ugly heads?

Managers, please view a complaint as an opportunity to make a situation better AND the long-term relationship with the victim stronger.  Psychologists in workplace studies say that an emotional crisis is a key point where your response can make the employee’s attitude much better OR much worse.  Some even say that the best predictor of whether a problem will end in a lawsuit is how fairly you process the problem, not the problem itself.

Good managers do several things.  They embrace the complaint, rather than avoid it, and focus on finding the right solution.  Neither of you caused the problem, so let the chips fall where they may and avoid prejudgment.  You will create a much better investigation and solution if you remain neutral on the outcome.  If you cannot be objective, ask for help.

Follow through with good listening, appropriate pushback to the victim for the whole story, and appropriate speed and discretion.  Take any quick steps needed to prevent repeat behavior while you work.  Ideally, keep the victim informed of your progress.  Get help from HR or a mentor.  Follow your company’s complaint process, at a minimum.  Precedent can be important to consider, but avoid a foolish consistency as the saying goes.

Employees making complaints have an equally important role.  Follow the complaint policy if there is one, but skip to another manager you trust if needed.  Your manager wants to hear how you feel, but must have facts to investigate.  Focus on the facts.  Who can help support your story?  Bring the problem to a trusted manager sooner rather than later.

Be honest about any part you may have played in the problem or steps you have already taken, good and bad.  Have some discretion and give this time to work.  What is your manager going to hear when he or she investigates?  For example, be prepared to hear some things about your performance you may not like (but need to hear) if work quality is an issue.

An important question that employees and managers often fail to ask is:  “What is the ideal outcome here?”  I am often surprised at how reasonable employees can be even in serious situations.  They know employers cannot guarantee perfect behavior by all.  But they have the right to expect help when they seek it.

Solutions to early-stage problems handled properly by all can be simple and effective, preserving relationships and protecting careers.  Problems that are buried like a bone in the backyard will only get worse with age.

For additional guidance for handling serious complaints from employees, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Handling Stress in the Workplace

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer  column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Few workplace environments are totally stress-free.

Most of us must work for money and benefits to provide our basic needs.  Yes, it would be nice if the job was fun and challenging, but too many are not.  Or maybe your manager does not know how to make it a good job!

If you have done everything you can to change things, and you must stay in the job for now, try some ways to limit its effect on the rest of your life.

NUTs

Scientists say much of our stress comes from NUTs,”Nagging Unfinished Tasks,” forcing us to think about things we should do but have put off.  Do you have a long list of workplace to-do items delayed for another day that cycles over and over in your head?  That’s NUTs.  The best way to get rid of NUTs is to do the unpleasant parts of the job first.  When you go home, there is much less to run through your head like a bad movie.

Go have that conversation, fix that mistake, do that boring task, finish the useless project your boss keeps asking about, produce that run for a difficult customer, finish the work you just do not like to do.  This really works!  You may even find the job is not so bad after all.

Flexibility

Work gets in the way when it has rigid time and place demands.  More and more, work can be done with flexible schedules and locations.  Many jobs have some room for flexibility where there is a willing manager and a good performing employee.

Would you like to work fewer hours?  How about hours outside the normal schedule?  Could you open up for early bird customers (or late arrivals) that currently go unserved?  Can the work be done anywhere?  Would you rather do ten-hour days, or work all weekend?  How could you get more done in less time with fewer unnecessary interruptions?

The point is, what change in place or time would help you fit work to your life, and help the employer provide better services or products?  Focus on what is good for both rather than just your own needs.  Maybe you can find an example at a competitor or similar business where this works well.  Talk to your manager.

Action Plan

If your best efforts to make the job work with your life have failed, it may be time to move on.  The best moves happen when you know what you really want and have a plan to get there.  Too many people leave a job impulsively for reasons such as “no travel,” only to find they now travel even more.

An Action Plan means you know what you want and you are willing to take time defining the steps to get there.  More importantly, you must have the discipline to actually follow (and sometimes revise) the steps.  It works best when your goals are positive rather than mostly avoidance of pain.

Too much stress in the workplace will affect your productivity, to say nothing of your state of mind and physical well-being. Be honest with yourself about when it may be time to leave a bad job.

Give more time to your best employees – not your worst

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

We hear managers complain that too much time is spent on people problems. The same issues repeat with the same people. All the while, their best performers are quietly getting the job done.

Why do we let recurring problems keep us from mentoring, growing and rewarding the right people?

Managers make their livings solving problems. They do not like to fail and, believe it or not, they do not like to fire people.

They often overrate their ability to change employee behavior. Plus, they worry too much about getting the job done if they finally do remove a problem employee.

Put all that in a blender and you get lots of time spent on lots of problems that will never be resolved. More importantly, not enough time will be spent on the right people.

Turnover is not expensive; turnover of your best people is expensive. Ignore your best people, and another employer will spend quality time with them.

Here is a revolutionary idea: Spend at least as much time on the top 20 percent of your workforce as you do on the bottom 20 percent.

Reprioritizing time

Think about your neediest employee. Think of the hours spent with them, with your own manager getting advice, or with other employees complaining of the problems caused. Think about waking up at night worrying about how to solve those issues.

Now take that same number of wasted hours and imagine how you might use them with one of your best performers, someone who has the potential to grow, innovate, implement and maybe even take your role one day. How could you help them get ready to do more and learn more?

What if you involved them in more of your projects? Could you take them into negotiations or client problem-solving sessions? Would they learn from helping you to hire the next members of the team?

How about attending a conference together, talking about what they like doing and want to do next, helping them obtain short assignments in other areas, resolving work flexibility hurdles and doing anything that makes them more valuable and more loyal?

Less on problems, more on best

The managers who say they have no time for such things are often the ones who cannot find great applicants or retain their best people. They want a magic cure with little change in their own behavior when the truth is that the best people demand the best from their manager.

If you are a high-performing employee with an inattentive manager, maybe the problem is too many poor performers taking too much time. Be upfront about your need for a mentor, for regular discussion about your own growth and for opportunities to try new things. If you like the work and the culture, it is worth your effort. If you fail to get the help you need, you might have your answer.

Spend far less time on problem employees and much more on your best. Your life as a manager and your organization’s performance will both improve.

Advice for Handling Love at Work

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.

love at workCupid may be especially busy on Valentine’s Day, but the icon of love is unstoppable year-round in the workplace.

Statistics show that one-third of employees will date someone at work and up to 20 percent will find their spouse or partner at work.

Managers should recognize that people will fall in like or love at work, and there is no law or best practice requiring you to prevent or end these relationships (good luck with that, anyway).

Most employers understand this dynamic, but know the emotions involved can cause real workplace problems if mishandled.

Events are hard to predict. Office romance is known as a disproportionate cause of workplace violence.

When one or both romantics are married to other people who may also work for the same company, you have a potentially explosive situation.

Perceptions of favoritism may cause problems, too. Employee morale is easily jeopardized, especially if one of the lovebirds is a manager with the power to promote and give raises to his or her favorite Valentine.

What does your company policy say about consensual workplace romance? You need to stay in compliance or get guidance.

Less than 15 percent of policies prohibit workplace romances, but all employers want to ensure there is no harassment or pressure.

Stay focused on your policy and on the workplace impact of behaviors. Private conversations with the individuals involved to clear the air and state the company’s position without preaching can be difficult but very important.

Put the burden on the employees to prevent bad situations. Carefully consider with HR any issue around the transfer or termination of one or the other.

Romantic employees: Be the one to deliver the news (and not become the subject of water cooler talk or a security camera tape). People will know before you think they know, and they love to gossip. Be the one with a proactive plan to give your managers, focused on policy and preventing complications.

Granted, your situation may be different from others’. But think about how management and co-workers are likely to react, not just how you want them to react.

Photo Source: Lori Branham

Persistence and Success

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

We talk much about education and talent but too little about persistence.

Success as a manager or employee usually has less to do with your degree, your natural talent or even your intelligence. It has less to do with where you were raised and whether you were privileged. It has much more to do with your own personal level of persistence and determination.

Yes, a degree may be necessary for certain roles or licenses, and it never hurts to have every advantage growing up, including involved parents and excellent teachers. However, personal determination means more to your successes and failures than any other factor.

Give me a qualified and determined person over a highly educated person with low “give a hoot” any day.

Each inspirational story you see proves my point. These success stories are about people who overcame a challenge and made something work for them or others. Overcoming obstacles. Pushing further, harder and more often than the average person. Finding ways to go at it in different ways. Saying yes rather than no. Persistence.

Look no further than your own extended family or group of friends for talented people (maybe geniuses) who struggle to make their lives and work function. You also know someone with modest resources who worked hard and long to achieve his or her version of success.

Ask any manager why so many good ideas sit idle. Do you know employees who stop and rest at each hurdle, making a nest and setting up camp until dislodged?

Think of the last team meeting where more time was spent on the lunch menu than on tasks at hand, the reasons things did not happen, and why more time was needed to execute projects rather than enjoy incremental success from dogged determination.

Leonard Mlodinow, the author of “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” helped me see the power of persistence another way. Because so many factors in the workplace and business are uncontrollable, unpredictable and even random, persistence increases the chance that a good idea (or good person) will take hold as conditions change.

Think of it like this: The job openings and available candidates at any point in time are fixed. The lack of a good fit today means nothing about next month, when the candidate pool and job openings have changed. Persist.

Success at work is influenced by many factors. It never hurts to have education, talent and other advantages. Sometimes unfair things happen. But the surest way to take what you have and maximize your effect wherever you are today is to double your level of persistence. Good managers recognize the power of determination and look for it in hiring and promotions.

In 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression, former President Calvin Coolidge said that persistence “has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” It is the one variable entirely within your control. Start with your role in your workplace and enjoy the difference it will make.

Is There a Good Termination?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The best job terminations resemble resignations. The issues are clear, and efforts were made to improve. Dignity is preserved.

The truth is, most firings happen under difficult conditions. A manager dropped the ball, or the employee behaved badly. How can a difficult firing be better?

The firing manager usually controls the “terms of the termination” and can make a difficult situation better. There is discretion on basic terms like time off payouts, future references, how an unemployment claim will be handled, and even a written release of legal claims. There is discretion on what others are told and what the employee record reflects. There is even discretion on the last day of work and whether the employee will stay to finish some projects. The facts vary widely.

A much more complicated and misunderstood category of discretion is how the employee is fired. Call it the “human treatment” option. It is much more powerful than you might think.

The key to “human treatment” is whether the employee views the termination process itself as fair, not whether the decision was correct.

Some questions that could come up:

Was my treatment on the way out the final insult in a long line of insults, or was it something quite different?

Did it recognize my humanity, my need for dignity, my need to tell others why I was fired, and my need to leave this group of work friends without a sudden and public divorce?

The most important way a manager can make the process fair is to tell the truth. “This is why we are firing you. This is how the decision was made. This is how we investigated the facts. Yes, we value the work you did for us on that, but the failures on this led to your discharge.”

This is not the time to say everything that is true, nor the time to debate, but it can often be a time to establish the basic fairness of the decision process itself. It is also not the time to destroy the last shred of an employee’s dignity.

The most important way a fired employee can encourage “human treatment” is to be capable of handling his or her end of the bargain. Can you as an employee depersonalize this firing? Can you disagree or agree on a point without coming unglued? Can you show you are ready to move on if the exit makes that possible? Can you set out your ideas for internal communication and future references, or say goodbye to your team without making matters worse? Can you be trusted?

Research by a Duke professor and his team found that employees who perceived the process as fair were much less likely to make claims against employers, even if they disagreed with the discharge. Employees who saw the process itself as unfair became vindictive and made legal claims at a much higher rate.

Giving no reason for firing is not perceived as fair! Fairness in the termination process itself may be a better predictor of future legal problems than whether the actual reasons for termination were valid or not.

You can make a difficult termination better or worse by how the exit is handled. Your choice.