The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's the Little Things You Say

Some employers wonder why they just achieve full diversity in their workplace and then it suddenly collapses when an exodus of five to ten people occurs. The pay is good. The benefits are excellent. The working hours aren't excessive. Work-life balance issues are addressed. There's everything going for the environment. So why are these five to ten people leaving after a year or two? The scenario is repeated year after year, department after department.

Maybe that's the problem. The things that are being held constant but not examined. Undoubtedly, the interviewers are people who have been in the organization for a good amount of time. They've become acculturated. They speak and reflect the culture. That's one of the reasons they were selected to be interviewers. They represent the corporate culture in addition to knowing all of the details about the position and the best fit for it. As interviewers, they don't grill the candidates; they have conversations. They tell anecdotes that are actually open invitations to share information and personality. They relax and begin to spontaneously react to things said by the candidate and then reveal a little more of who they are and why they've been with the company for as long as they have.

There were faux pas during the interviews that the candidate chose not to address or acknowledge. But as time passed, the new employee realized these were not aberrant. These instances are part of the corporate culture and they keep getting repeated in various ways.

Coupled with watching the practices is the listening. The listening started from the moment the phone call reached them for the phone interview and the invitation to come in for a personal interview. The listening was happening as they sat in the reception area and as they made their way through the halls from one office to the next. The listening was happening as they walked into the front doors into the elevator from the commute to the office.

It was the little comments that were made in response to something that was willingly volunteered in order to show how motivated the candidate was. It was an observation that over-reached the situation but simultaneously came crashing down on a particular class of individuals. It was an observation that was basically pandering to some part of the candidate's identity and the observation was completely wrong. They were asked where they expect to see themselves in five years. The honest response was met with a muttered, "Yeah, right." During their tenure with the company, some executive asked them to reserve some time because they wanted to meet with the employee. The employee had been doing the right type of networking and politicking to move into that department and commented to their supervisor that the meeting would hold a lot of opportunity for them. The supervisor's comment was something on the order of, "I doubt it."

One of the things these corporate emigrants realize is that there is no place for them in the higher rungs of the company. They've been there long enough to have watched the various types of personnel who are pushed along and who has been diverted or discouraged from following a particular path. The pattern repeats itself without benefit of gossip nor sniping remarks.

Perhaps there was good follow-up and the candidate was contacted by phone or letter or email. The message was essentially that although the candidate's qualifications and background are exceptional, they simply were not the right fit for the position. Good luck in [your] future endeavors. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Or perhaps there was no follow-up. A person who looks just like everyone else in the company was hired and life just went on. If either of these situations occurred, the candidate who was passed over had little to say aloud. In fact, they may have even forgotten they interviewed at your company. Why? Because of how under-whelmed they were. They were relieved to be out of the way of the sniper shots.

In the alternative, they were hired for some reason. Maybe it was because they are of the ethnicity or gender that was required at that time. But they've reached that exodus threshold and just tendered their resignation. That's when a disappointed at the resignation notice is made and thoughts about losing a worker of that quality are mulled. Where to find more of that type of worker to do exactly the same thing but more of it. After all, that's why they were hired. More importantly, how do you keep them?

"Sam[antha], you're such a great [insert job title]. You're conscientious and hard working. You get things done and don't need a lot of supervision. You're not like the others of your kind. You're an exception. We'd like to keep your kind with us in the family. Is there anything we could do to convince you to stay, to keep doing your exceptional work for us?"

It's about this time the key to the door has been turned and locked. Sam[antha] doesn't need to say anything but will probably respond with, "I don't think so. But thanks."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Battered Woman Syndrome

Whether in the office, at home, in an organization, or just in the public, there is a symptom of stress that can affect everyone in the immediate area. You need to be aware of it and have some ideas about how to effectively handle it.

Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) has been denounced in courts as not a legitimate excuse for retaliatory acts of violence, self defense, or other acts of violence. It is coming to be known under a different terminology (adult physical abuse is one term) and no longer attempts to have a single term serve the many dynamics that can present when the sufferer reacts to a motivating incident.

The reason you want to be aware of this condition in your role as a hiring manager or recruiter is because instances of bullying can also be considered a form of abuse and very possibly cause a reaction in someone who has survived an abusive relationship and is re-establishing their life.

The condition is real. The sufferer may have succeeded in masking the condition until and even held theirself in denial about it until a precipitating moment. But after a period of successive beratings, torments, insults, and even physical assaults, the person on the receiving end will no longer be able to tolerate the treatment in silence nor brush it off.

There will come a day when the insults to self are too much -- more than the ordinary person can and should tolerate. Or there will be a bump that sends them flying through the air a few inches and releases a flashback of a similar incident that involved flying several feet. A name-calling session will reach saturation point and no more tolerance. The reaction will ensue and seem disproportionate to what others saw. Unfortunately, others do not see the psychological scar tissue that's been building for years and not tolerating the new attacks.

The best way to avoid having some form of BWS erupt in your office is to:
  • Maintain a respectful decorum with every person from the lowest part of the hierarchy to the most powerful.
  • Be certain that everyone in the organization is focused on one vision -- the livelihood of the organization.
  • Also make certain your safety protocols address the needs and special circumstances of your organization.

Following these three disciplines will not guarantee the most wholesome environment. But generally following these practices will provide the first steps to addressing the many needs and priorities associated with what was formerly called battered woman syndrome.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Open to Suggestions

It isn't too often that a company will be receptive to unsolicited suggestions for improvement. But one of the FedEx Kinko's (now known as FedEx Office) facilities was ripe for change and accepted the assistance.

The site came to my attention as a customer. Morale was extremely low. Employees carped and complained about nearly everything. Gossip was running at a regular clip and all downhill. It was around October or November when things simply tanked.

The employees spoke openly among themselves and in front of customers about the poor management styles and the even worse training that were imposed on them. They recounted horror stories. The tales were reminiscent of others told in other places; I always thought they were manufactured for the sake of the publication in which I read them. These were real.

There came a day when the gossip reached a high point. The complaints were coming from three or four who were clustered in an area. Although their voices were modulated, the content of what was being said was more than understandable. People were being publicly belittled and chastised. Training and explanation were luxuries that seldom occurred.

I finally reached a point when I could no longer be silent. There was one complaint in particular that was being repeated by nearly all of the workers in the store. I took one of the employees aside and confirmed what I'd heard as a complaint. She was the one who recounted the story most recently. She had been belittled in front of customers and fellow employees. I recommended to her that if it occurred again that she ask the supervisor to please not say such things to her in public. Follow up that statement with a request that they set aside a time to talk privately in order to discuss the issues at hand. The employee acknowledged the advice and we parted. The subject was not raised between us again.

Usually issues regarding morale will linger until the subordinate can't stand the situation any longer and just leaves. This case was different. Withing a month, the gossip clusters dissipated. Open remarks about the lack of ability on the part of management also abated. A new air of professionalism took over all shifts.

At the beginning of this month, the supervisor brought two of his team members into an area where I was working. He wanted to have a brief coaching with them. What he did was compliment them on the work they had done and give them kudos for the way things were handled. He finished his words by adding a summation, "Good job, guys." And then he hi-fived them both.

The branch is still operating at a much higher level of morale and professionalism. The communication seems to be better. The verbal skills of the workers seems to have gotten better; there are fewer grammatical errors. In fact, the workers seem to be happy and enjoy what they're doing more.

This appears to have been a case where the supervisor did not have a need to push his point down everyone's throat. He had no mission to prove he was always right and a driving need to bully anyone and everyone in sight. He was open to that initial volley of talking this over privately rather than berate the worker on the spot in public.

The growth in turning this into a more professional office setting continues. I can only say this proved to be one of those times when the right message sank in and got implemented in the right way.