Sunday, June 26, 2011

Uncovering Talent

"A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said, "I love your pictures -- they're wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera." He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: "That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove." --- Sam Haskins

As the economy continues to heal from its scratches and bruises, we've seen business leaders getting creative in discovering the strengths and skills of their employees and the impact that has on the bottom line. We see the smart players rewarding those employees wearing different hats and saving the business leader from having to hire a new employee. But, we've also seen some leaders let the good ones get away.

It is estimated that a employee departure can cost an organization between 30% to 150% of their salary. That will put quite a dent into the balance sheet, but even more so when you consider the unnoticed and untapped talent that is also walking out the door.

Today we'll address five best practices for recognizing talent, getting them on board, and keeping them:

1.) Recruiting -- A new hire should be someone that has invested in themselves, made good career decisions, understands why they want to be a part of your organization, is an excellent communicator and a team player. Don’t hire quickly based on gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the candidate get a feel for your culture and your company. Don't oversell the company and be sure to disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so that the new hire can make a good, sound decision.

2.) Training -- I cannot stress this practice enough: You must conduct ongoing training in order to keep your team seeking the same objectives and working toward the same goals. In order to create a homogeneous culture and to have a continuity of messaging everyone, regardless of experience, needs to go through the same training process. Training and continuing education programs need to be available to encourage and stimulate professional growth. Training programs is one area where you begin to uncover hidden talents.

3.) Leadership -- Leaders can and should serve as mentors. Mentoring can include coaching, troubleshooting, inspiring, motivating and leading an employee to achieve success. Often, poor performance is indicative of poor leadership and can stifle true talents. Good leaders uncover and assist in developing real talent.

4.) Support -- Retaining talented employees is largely an issue of building a platform and culture that positions your employees for success. If your employees are not given the administrative, marketing and leadership support necessary to successfully thrive in their role, then you have set them up to fail. Talented employees, the ones that you want on your team, will not stay with you very long if there is not information sharing as well as the freedom to use their talents in a way that best serves your business.

5.) Recognition -- Recognition includes everything from compensation, working environment, advancement/promotion, ownership, participation, and internal and external awards. If your culture doesn’t reward your employees for their contributions they will close up their talents like a clam and not share their efforts toward your goals. Take time to offer a handshake (sometimes with a $20 or $50 in it!), a genuine "Thank You," a dinner for two, or anything creative that shows how much it means to you that they used their talents for the good of the company. You might be surprised how many other uncovered talents show themselves in the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Five Steps for Handling Employee Conflict

Mark Twain said, “Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.” Too bad more employees have not learned to confess when they are at fault. There is no doubt that most conflicts would resolve themselves if this were the case, but since the opposite is true, we need to educate ourselves and implement best practices to be followed when the time calls for it.

There are five basic steps an employer can take to resolve dissonance in the workplace within safe legal territory:

1.) Acknowledge the conflict

- This seems obvious at first glance, but more often than not, the employer or HR manager may sense the tension in the office or shop, but with so many fires to put out, they usually hope that the dispute simply fizzles out. Inaction is likely one of the worse and costlier choices.

2.) Meet, Share and Agree

- Meet with the parties involved and have them list situations in which they must work together. Ask both parties to carefully listen to what the other says and repeat it in their own words to make sure both sides are communicating and understanding each other. This can take time, but it defines the issue and builds the foundation for resolving it.

Legendary communicator, Dale Carnegie, said "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." That is the foundation of step number two. Get agreements on the type of behaviors employees will exhibit in order to get their tasks accomplished. Behind closed doors, let both parties agree in the process and also emphatically let them know what's at stake: no one wants to be perceived as a trouble maker or as difficult to handle.

To some extent, expectation defines the result. If you indicate, by your actions, content, or voice tone, that you expect less than full adult behavior, that's what you are likely to get. Remind them that words, even idle chitchat, have meaning and consequences.

3.) Create an issue resolution process

- This fundamental tool for reducing wasted time spent on what is often frivolous quarreling should be incorporated into your employee handbook. Several templates to accomplish this task are available through SHRM and other online resources. Giving appropriate praise to employees willing to navigate this process within a positive frame of mind will divert the attention they get as either the victim or perpetrator.

At Delta Faucet, in Jackson, Tenn., it is understood that team leaders should not be involved in refereeing disagreements on the team because it takes time away from important tasks. Instead, employees are trained in conflict management and required to follow a specific course of action when conflicts arise. Perhaps not all companies have the time to invest in this kind of training, but having a process in place is an acceptable runner up to achieve the desired result.

4.) Focus on behaviors, not personalities

- This is a crucial tool that helps others understand that their entire person is not coming under scrutiny and that the challenge at hand is solely based on one or more particular behaviors instead. By understanding this concept employees walk out of meetings feeling engaged instead of defeated.

5.) Strike an open-door policy balance

- Encourage accountability and growth and let employees know that open door does not mean "open dumping ground." But also remind them that you are available to coach them on how to work through specific situations. This will give them a sense that they truly are your most valuable asset and will ignite a desire to self-arbitrate future challenges.

It's been said that conflict is inevitable and resentment is optional. Protecting your business begins with creating a culture that understands this and values conflict management. In addition to including conflict-resolution action steps in your employee handbook, be sure to clearly communicate that management or HR must always be notified of and involved in certain types of conflicts. Particularly those in which there are indications of physical violence, harassment, theft, or illegal substance use.

Conflict is not always the evil it is made to be. In fact, when teams learn to capitalize from this friction is when groups take positive action, reexamine decisions, and ground-breaking ideas are born. A good fire is impossible without friction; it is up to you and your leadership teams to funnel this friction into a catalyst for innovation and productivity.
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