Date: Mar 23, 2007
If you're not finding the talent you need in this super-competitive market, Vince Thompson suggests you look in another direction: toward the staff you already have. With a bit of effort, you may be able to turn your "losers" into "winners."
- Worldwide, 40% of employers are having difficulty filling positions due to the lack of suitable talent available in their markets.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shortage of skilled workers will exceed 10 million by 2010.
- Forty-five percent of workers say they want to change jobs every three to five years.
In light of these facts, smart managers realize that they need to retain people on staff in order to keep the company running. So while under better circumstances they might move along those "less spectacular" performers, they know that in a tight talent market, the key is to work effectively with what you have.
Fortunately, you can take steps to help the people on your team perform better and meet expectations. After all, hiring someone is costly (both in time and money), and any turnover has a potentially negative impact on the company. Following is a process that will help you work with your current staff and gain the competitive advantage in doing so.
Step 1: Take a Look at Yourself
Look at how you’re evaluating your team. Many managers who work under—or have been influenced by—command and control hierarchies live with the belief that you should rank your employees and cut those at the bottom. Ranking may be valuable when people perform identical jobs in an identical environment, such as in call centers or sales organizations with territories that have no uniqueness, but the fact is that such environments count for a minority of the workplace population. Most people work in organizations where teams tackle diverse challenges with diverse solutions. Therefore, when managers rank people, their perception of each individual is often blurred by a lack of clear criteria, or the potential to play favorites.
Getting great performance from your team is about working with individuals. Therefore, you need to look at each individual on staff and ask yourself, "Is this person doing what I expect of him or her?" Then clarify what your expectations are for that person. If he or she isn’t meeting your expectations, how are you communicating those expectations? Often, managers communicate a lot with their best players, but communicate less often and in a less meaningful way with marginal performers.
It has been said that we hire people for what they are and fire them for who they are. That is, we hire someone because he’s a Harvard graduate who worked at the top advertising agency in NYC, but we fire him because he was a dishonest jerk who didn’t respect people. Therefore, most of our dissatisfaction is not with what people are, but with who they are. And when we deal with the "who" side of the equation, we often find that the dissatisfaction stems from a general lack of communication of expectations from the manager, not lack of performance from the employee. In other words, we’ve set the job specs, but we’ve failed to talk about how we expect our people to treat each other and our customers.
Step 2: Take a Look at Your Staff
Are the people on your team committed or compliant? Here’s the difference: You give person A and person B packages to deliver to a key prospect. Person A takes the package to the prospect’s office, leaves it with the receptionist, and then heads back to work. Person B takes the package to the prospect’s office, waits in the lobby to meet the prospect personally, and spends time talking with the prospect to answer any additional questions. Person A is compliant—she did what she was told (delivered the package to the prospect’s office) and nothing more. Person B is committed—she did what she was told, and then went a step further to win big for the company.
So let me ask again: Are the people on your team committed or compliant?
- If someone on your team is committed and still not performing to your expectations, you need to talk with him and learn where his commitment lies. Is it to the team? To you? To the company? To personal success? Maybe he’s committed to the team but not to the company. If so, you need to show him how what he’s doing affects the team. Understand what each employee is committed to, and communicate your expectations in relation to that individual commitment.
- If someone on your team is merely compliant, you need to uncover why. Is the mindset temporary, due to challenges at home? Is it a lack of passion for the work? Are the employee’s motivations misaligned?
If you can’t move a compliant employee toward commitment, that’s the first person you have to consider firing. Realize, though, that firing can be mutually beneficial—and needs to be, in a tight talent market. The fact is that it can take several months to find a replacement. Therefore, it’s better to tell that person, "You’re not enjoying your job, and it’s obvious that this isn’t a good fit. So let’s agree that we’re on a path here for me to find someone to replace you and for you to find employment elsewhere. As long as you commit to doing your daily work during this time, I’m committed to figuring this out with you." Managers who have taken this approach find that it works out well. The employee who isn’t a fit appreciates the honesty and the time to find new work. The company appreciates having the coverage it needs to meet deadlines and goals. The keys are being honest, communicating openly, and building trust to make it all work.
Step 3: Develop a New Plan
Finally, for each employee, you need to create a plan that will help that person move forward to the level of performance desired. Your plan needs to include the following:
- Communication. Communication is the pathway to trust. Therefore, you need to find ways to communicate more frequently, so your team trusts you and wants to perform for you. To do so, hold regular mini-meetings that emphasize face-to-face interaction. Many workers don’t interact personally with their boss; they communicate solely by email, even though the boss is just down the hall. As Zig Ziglar so profoundly said, "People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care." Communication equals caring.
- Expectations. What do you expect of your employees? Are your expectations realistic? Does the team member have the time or skills to meet those expectations? What can you do to support the employee and prioritize the expectations?
- Motivations. What’s the reward to the employee for meeting an expectation? For some, the reward may be the satisfaction of a job well done. For others, the reward may need to be something tangible, such as a bonus or time off with pay. In order to motivate people, help them to see value in their work by explaining how the project affects the company or the industry.
- Assistance. How can you help your staff? Maybe helping your staff means being a mentor or taking a piece of the workload. Maybe it’s just guiding the group. If you have a low-performing employee, you need to coach that person actively to be more successful.
Maximize the Talent You Have
Realize that this process isn’t a one-time quick-fix. You’ll need to invest time in these steps on a regular basis in order to see results. When you make that effort, not only will you gain a much deeper understanding of your team, but you’ll find some surprises. Some of your "lost causes" will take on new value; and for those who don’t, you’ll experience a lot less stress as you move them along, knowing that you gave it your all. In a market this tight, be assured that your competitors are facing the same issues. Getting this right can give you a real competitive advantage.
Vince Thompson, a former executive for AOL, is a principal at Middleshift, a consulting company focused on creating revenue for Internet businesses by empowering those in the middle and super-serving customers. His book Ignited: Managers! Light up Your Career for More Power, More Purpose, and More Success is available from FT Press. Register for exclusive content and updates at http://www.BeIgnited.com.