Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Show Them More Than The Money

"Love 'em or Lose 'em" (image shown here from Amazon) is a book that came out over a decade ago, currently in its 4th edition.  It was a popular management resource during those years when jobs were plentiful and thus staff retention was critical. 

For many organizations, the arrival of the recession and job eliminations put retention concerns on the back burner.  For those organizations, it's time to dust off the tools and get busy. 

Back in 2000, I attended a workshop developed around the book and its concepts.  One of the key messages I remember was that once an employee was at a certain level of compensation, the retention strategies that were most effective had little to do with money.  Employees will always say they'd like a raise.  But when asked why they stay with a job, retention has far more to do with the behaviors of their direct management and the quality of the work assignments than it does with the size of their year-on-year raises. 

Well, that was over a decade ago, you say.  And today we still have companies who are just getting back to giving out those annual raises, at a much smaller percentage than they once were, so the money matters. 

True, but the lesson is still the same.  Money matters to a certain point, but once you cross the threshold of a solid compensation package, it's the manager that shows their employees more than the money that holds on to their team.   And for the managers that kept on showing the love all through the recession, employee loyalty will be there even when other opportunities come knocking.

There's a great one page tool that we received with the workshop based on a key concept from the book that the authors call What Matters Most?  Employees select the top three behaviors out of a list of 26 (A-Z) that they need from their direct manager - and none of them include monetary compensation.  I used it with my management team for many years during annual performance reviews.  It's a good tool when getting to know new direct reports, and it's interesting to see how the requests change over the years for the same person.  For example, after a few years. "encourage me to expand my skill set" may evolve to "recognize my accomplishments" or even "give me autonomy and power to make decisions".  And the employee you hired who was single and selected "talk to me about my career ambitions", may find behaviors like "support my need for work/life balance" more important once married with children.  Or not.  But that's the thing, you don't know if you don't ask.

So don't assume - ask.  Ask before the recession eases, ask after it eases.  Ask your entry level employees, ask even if they're senior management.  The dialogue itself shows that you see each member of the team as a unique individual, and that's showing them more than the money.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crossed Wires

We have a cell phone family plan with AnyPhoneCompany USA (seriously, just insert any phone company name here and it will suffice).  Over the summer, they alerted us that they were ending a partnership with another company that allowed us to include our vehicle phone in the family plan.  As a result, we needed to either cancel that line or move it.  No biggie, I could move it.

To say this was a challenging endeavor would be an understatement.  Long story short, 6 phone calls and 2 retail store visits later, the line was moved.  What a waste of time, theirs and mine.   

After the switch finally went through, we started getting calls from AnyPhoneCompany USA saying they were sorry to have lost us as a customer and would like to talk.  Now since we were actually still customers, just not for that line (the line they told us we had to cancel or move), I ignored the first two messages.  But after the third one, I figured someone needed to tell them they were wasting yet more time trying to reactivate me.   

I called customer service and sure enough, the rep told me there was a "glitch in the system".  I had been put into a general pool for follow up reactivation calls.  And I was not alone - all the other customers affected by this change were getting calls, too.

Been there, right?  As consumers, we all have stories like this we could share.  And that's unfortunate, because these kind of changes just don't have to be so painful for businesses nor their customers. 

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that for AnyPhoneCompany USA, an experienced project manager working with the right crossfuntional team at the onset of this change initiative would have made all the difference. 

But then again, it usually does.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Letting Them Grow Up

My son started high school this year and I miss him already. 

He'll only be home with us for four more years and then off to college he goes.  It's incomprehensible to me on so many levels, not the least of which is being able to see him as someone who is capable of making this big transition.

Don't get me wrong, as his mom, I'm his biggest fan, but I've also got a front row seat to all the areas where he still needs development to be ready.

Ever felt like this in the office?  You're behind your team 100%, but as their manager you also know better than anyone where each of them still needs to work on their development. 

The risk in both cases is continuing to see an individual as they were rather than who they are.  None of us is ever done with development.  Ever.  But, we can work to get ourselves to the point where we're ready to move on, and we need the people around us to recognize the growth and support us as we make the shift. 

My litle boy is growing up.  In a few years he'll leave the nest.   I miss him already.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Choose or Decide?

In an earlier blog, "Feed the Brain, File the Papers", I shared my new approach to tackling bothersome paperwork clean up - find something interesting to listen to while I work.  And this is how I came to hear Sheena Iyengar speak about Choice on Ted.com

Having just finished reading her book, I highly recommend it.  It's a great learning opportunity about how we view choice the world over, and particularly applicable to those in the field of marketing.

The book got me thinking about how business leaders (here in the US) use the word Choose versus Decide.  Using different language can shift the way we think about a situation or are perceived in a given situation.

As Sheena spells out in her book, for Americans, choice is a very important part of our definition of freedom and thus our history and identity.  Our connotation for choice is a positive one, perhaps even more so than in other cultures.  For us, lots of choice is good, little to no choice is bad.  Having lots of choice implies plenty of good options, meaning that they align to our preference, our style, our taste, or maybe just our mood du jour. 

Decisions incorporate the application of judgement which is likely why "decide" is more common in business language than "choose".   

Consider the following use of these words in specific business situations:

"I've decided to make Mike the lead on this project" - Manager speaking to the team
      The manager uses "decide" over "choose" in this instance because choosing could imply favoritism, or that there were several good and even equal options to select from, which may or may not have been the case. When the manager says they've decided, it's less likely to be put into question and sounds final. 

"I had no choice" - Manager speaking to the team about a layoff/downsizing
     Actually, the leader did have a choice to make - participate in the process and contribute to the final outcome, or opt out and let someone else make the call about who stays and who goes (but then, a true leader wouldn't take that second option, would they?).  This particular expression is not one I'd ever recommend a manager use because it weakens employee perception about that leader's authority and erodes confidence.  But I know why it happens - saying he/she chose a specific team member to be laid off feels too personal and goes against our concept of choice as a good thing.  And since judgement is applied in the selection process, we'd use the term decide rather than choose.  Additionally, HR and Legal implications factor in on the final outcome in a layoff, thus contributing to their sense that they had no "choice" in the matter.   

 "We'll need to decide on a strategy by the end of the quarter" - CEO to the senior leadership team
     Depending on where they are in the process, decide may actually mean develop, document, discuss, and then decide, but the focus is on getting to the results by a certain target date, so decide is used.  Choose is not used in this situation because strategy involves judgement as opposed to preference.

"I'd like your input before I make the final decision" - Leader to a trusted team member
"I'm trying to choose between these two, which do you recommend?" - Leader to the waiter at a business lunch
     Both statements indicate that the speaker is looking for more data, yet the language of the first first has more of a "the buck stops here" message.  The leader is asking the team member for input, but not asking them to make the final call.  During the business lunch, he/she is saying "I could go either way on this, which option (final outcome) would you pick?" under the assumption that the waiter has a good knowledge of the menu offerings. 

It's interesting to listen for when people use these words, choose and decide, and in business, it's important to understand how they are each perceived when spoken.