Thursday, December 2, 2010

Contagious Employee Behavior

Ever have an employee that is less pleasant than you hoped? Someone that is a bad influence on your team? Even if you are aware of negativity, it can be very difficult to deal with. For many, it's easier to hold their breath and hope the problem goes away. But letting a bad apple go unchecked is serious business - and can quickly ruin the whole barrel.

Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management, helped us see the high stakes involved here.

Felps’ wife was unhappy at work - she felt it was a cold and unfriendly environment. Then, a funny thing happened. One of her co-workers who was particularly caustic and was always making fun of other people at the office came down with an illness that caused him to be away for several days.

“And when he was gone, my wife said that the atmosphere of the office changed dramatically,” Felps said. “People started helping each other, playing classical music on their radios, and going out for drinks after work. But when he returned to the office, things returned to the unpleasant way they were.

Will Felps teamed up with Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization in the Business School and UW psychology professor. In an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team, they divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.

It's hard to believe our smart team could be susceptible to a simple psychological event. But these researchers found a single “toxic” or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations. Teams with a disagreeable member were much more likely to have conflict, have poor communication within the team and refuse to cooperate with one another. Consequently, the teams performed poorly.

Even your pile of stalwart and loyal employees can't 'unspoil' this mess. That's right - Felps and Mitchell found that the negative behavior outweighs positive behavior. “People do not expect negative events and behaviors, so when we see them we pay attention to them, ruminate over them and generally attempt to marshal all our resources to cope with the negativity in some way,” Mitchell said.

Is this where you want your resources going? Is it possible your fleet of talented engineers are spending most of their hours ruminating? Is time in your organization spent concentrating on the negative behavior of one employee?

You've got to pay attention - make sure you have a beat on employee attitudes, behavior and morale - and address these problem people promptly. Call them out on their behavior and determine if it is possible to address the source of the negativity. If you can't change things around, it's time to cut the employee loose.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Garbage on the Beach

A small beach on the northeast coast attracted loads of tourists and locals alike. It was the perfect summer getaway.

With the crowds came garbage. Lots of it. The city spent more and more money increasing the number of trash cans and frequency of pick-ups. With each effort, bottles and wrappers would still pile up at the base of the overflowing trash cans and liter lay on the beach.

A city council member came up with an interesting proposal; remove all trash cans and stop all trash pick-ups. Where the trash cans used to sit, a simple sign read "Take out what you bring in" - or something like that. Maybe the sign read "Take out your own Trash." You get the point. Unfortunately, I forgot where I read about this story (thus no citation).

In any case, this seemingly counter-intuitive (and creative) solution worked. The beach was cleaner than it had ever been before.

Imagine your team are the beach goers. Instead of taking the burden of solving problems from them, push them to be part of the solution. When you are notified about a broken process, don't take on more to fix it - give them power and accountability. Expect more.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's Not Financial Rewards

Suppose a friend asked you to move. You'd might grumble, but you might also show up to help. If they offered you $20 for your trouble, it becomes easier to just say 'no.'

My point: Money alone is not what makes us do something- like our jobs. Salary increases and bonuses do not equate to better performance, or engagement.

In one study, University students were divided into groups and got a financial reward for correct responses on a GMAT test. Groups that perceived the reward as too little, did twice as poorly as those who were NOT paid. The money actually served as a disincentive. On the flip side, there are loads of examples showing higher incentives leading to worse performance. For more on this, check out Dan Pink's fantastic (and animated) talk at the RSA: Surprising truth about what motivates us.

Compensation is obviously a complex topic. And sometimes money is an important part of the equation - for example, if there isn't enough to live on or when peers are making loads more. But, throwing more money at employees doesn't lead to increased performance.

Instead, you need to invest in creating a self-directed and purpose-filled work environment. Employees need a sense of autonomy, they need to be given the opportunity to improve themselves (challenging assignments, learning & training opportunities, etc...), and they need purpose (working towards something they believe in, understanding a mission, strong sense of team).

Are you as willing to invest in communicating your mission and goals as you are in salary increases? Do you have a culture that empowers employees to be effective on their own? How do you motivate your team? How do you drive productivity?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Disengage Your Disengaged Employees

Your success is dependent on your people. Do you know who your people are? According to the market research firm ORC there are six common types of employees.

Elizabeth the Engaged—Composed of 35 percent of the survey respondents, “Elizabeths” are ideal employees. They are highly motivated, go above and beyond, and are adaptive to change.

Lucy the Laggard—This next largest group, at nineteen percent, is the most disengaged. These employees don’t hate their job and don’t plan to quit, but they tend to do their work half-heartedly and make careless mistakes.

Colin the Comfy—Those in this category, representing16 percent of employees, have no intention to leave their safe environment. Getting little sense of accomplishment from their work and rarely complaining, they simply put in their eight hours and go straight out the door.

Alison the Ambivalent—Twelve percent of the population are unhappy because they are often disconnected with the job or the organization.

Simon the Saboteur—Eleven percent of respondents tend to be very negative about the organization. They dislike changes and are quick to criticize because they feel like they are voiceless.

Peter the Promiscuous—This smallest group from the pool are positive and proud of their organization. But because they are usually motivated by money or personal development, it won't take much for them to leave.

This employee makeup may be surprising and you'll certainly think 'this is not us,' but according to the stats the majority of your employees are disengaged! Indeed, according to a Gallup poll (a survey of 3 million people), 71% of Americans are not engaged in their work and 16% are actively disengaged. Their disengagement comes from burn out, not feeling listened to, lack of recognition, fear, outside issues... or all sorts of things.

Disengagement is costly. As noted in the Journal of Applied Psychology "actively disengaged employees erode an organization's bottom line (analyzed by productivity, profitability, safety incidents, absenteeism, and earnings per share growth rate) while breaking the spirits of colleagues to the tune of $300 billion per year in the US.

I've always believed in pushing to engage employees as a primary and ongoing organizational mission. I'm also proposing to work the other side - to actively work to eliminate disengaged employees. Do you think your company is full of engaged Elizabeths? Do you have an Allison? Who is your Simon? What efforts do you take to spot and eliminate those cutting into your productivity and morale?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Know When to Fold 'Em

The vendor you've chosen seems slow on hitting the milestones you were counting on.... You hope they pull it together so you can hit your launch date. The new hire you've been interviewing said something to raise a flag... You convince yourself it was out of context and will work itself out when she starts. The incentive plan you envisioneered is rewarding the wrong behavior. You want to give it more time.

You have invested time and money into . You've made a commitment and you don't want to risk a diversion, even though it's irrational.

Exhibit A: In the book Sway, the Brafman brothers describe a Prof. Bazerman's negotiation class at Harvard Business School and his "$20 auction." Prof. Bazerman puts a $20 bill up for auction before his class. The first rule is that bids are to be made in $1 increments and the second rule is that the runner-up must still honor their bid. The auction inches up in price... $14, $15, $16 - until most students get nervous and drop out, leaving just two bidders. The students hanker down - they don't want to be the fool and are committed to paying not to lose. The price soars and always, the Prof. reports, gets to $20 or more. Student's continue bidding, $30, $40, and once getting as high as $204!

Harvard Business School is filled with smart people. Some as smart as you :-). But commitment and loss aversion pull us towards irrational behavior very frequently. You are committed to win (to succeed), and you'll do anything to avoid losing what you have already invested.

Change is a fact of startup life. The best intentioned plans deteriorate, the winds change direction. They change frequently, and often significantly. Business models are tossed and new ones formed. You get the wrong person or a function you don't need anymore. Cut it out! I know much of it's human nature. But think about your decision and state of affairs more often -and try to stop the bidding at $22. Lose the $2 instead of $102. Realize the psychological pull of your commitments and make the uncomfortable and rational corrections. Risk can be good.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Set Goals! Give them something to aim at.

When given a target, we can achieve more.

My proof today is a fly. A fly painted in a urinal reduces 'spillage' by as much as 85%! Simple as that. There is also an optimal spot to paint the fly to minimize spilling and prevent splash back.


#1) When you don't set goals, it's like peeing on the floor. Ponder the possibility of achieving an 85% improvement in something (or half that) just by setting a goal?

#2) Just setting goals to set goals might cause some splash back. Think and refine your goals so they are best positioned to benefit your company's goals.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wanted: Integrators with Vision

For the third time in less than a week, I've heard about CEOs who shoot ideas from the hip without including any 'real' parameters about how they get accomplished. They are passionate, often eccentric and not always practical. Is this you? Have you noticed it impeding progress? What can you do about it?

In small to mid-size companies, the owner and founder often runs the show. They are an entrepreneur with vision and loads of ideas. They are creative, connected to the emotions and culture of the company, see the big picture, and are super smooth with investors, key customers, and suppliers.

They are also a barrier to success. They do not hold people accountable or manage the nitty gritty that turn the crank and move the company forward.

This is what Gino Wickman writes about in his book Traction. I read the book awhile back and, to be honest, wasn't real excited by it. But it does cover trends and concrete steps that can be applied across companies - like a manual. This trend I see now this is exactly what he was talking about.

He calls these two roles the Visionary and the Integrator - and they couldn't be more different.

The Visionary is described above. They are creative and work through the big, hairy, thorny problems. They inspire employees and inspire confidence in investors and customers. The Integrator, on the other hand, works logically to eliminate problems and integrate the major functions of the business. They manage the day-to-day details, lead, and hold the team accountable.

It's common to have a visionary and no integrator. It's also common to have an integrator and no visionary. But most good partnerships have one of each. Wickman cites a University of California professor that teaches the need for both at the top - the entrepreneur and his lust balanced by the prudence and discipline of a manager.

So what are you? The Visionary? The Integrator? There ... that wasn't so hard now was it? Wickman walks us through the steps of outlining these tasks and building the right structure. However, I'd wager your first step is to be aware - and think about how all the organizations needs are being met. If your organization doesn't have both roles, what are you missing? What are you doing about it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chart a Path; share your vision

A Harris Interactive/Franklin Covey poll of over 23,000 employees showed 37% didn't understand their companies' priorities. Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their organization's goals, and only 1 in 5 saw a clear connection between their tasks and their organization's goals.

That should be a concerning number. Chances are a whole mess of folks in your company are less effective, and certainly less engaged, than they could be.

One reason for this is a lack of communication and absence of effective goals for your team. Another issue is that employee's don't share your vision for the company. Gene Wickman, in his book Traction, says the number one reason employees don't share a company vision is that they don't know what it is. Your employees need to hear the vision 7 times before they really here it for the first time. before it sinks in. The first couple of times employees will roll their eyes and say 'here we go again" but around the 7th time folks understand and act on that vision.

Be patient. Communicate often. Discuss and set goals tied to the vision.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Do You Know Jack?

I remember seeing Jack Welch on a speaker's panel here in NY a couple years back. He is direct and real - and hard core. He has plenty of actionable strategies, including the controversial axing of bottom performers. Agree or not, you can't deny his overall business results.

In the 20 years Mr. Welch (can I call you Jack?) was CEO at GE, stock went up 4,000% making it the most valuable company in the world.

Most importantly .... Jack seems to legitimately and seriously value HR. Whoa. Yes. You heard me. We don't often hear of a mega-successful business person who respects and utilizes HR. Jack likes using a sports analogy to explain.
If you owned the Real Madrid, for instance, would you hang around with the team accountant or the director of player personnel? Sure, the accountant can tell you the financials. But the director of player personnel knows what it takes to win: how good each player is and where to find strong recruits to fill talent gaps. That’s what HR should be all about. And, it’s usually not.

Look, HR should be every company’s ‘killer app.’ What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted or moved out the door? After all, business is a game, and as with all games, the team who puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together, wins.
People are a leading indicator - while it's easier to focus on last weeks sales or number of widgets produced, it's your people that maintain the status quo or bring your company to the next level. Do you focus on your people as much as you do your finances?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Internal Interviewing Schedule

Most startups initially line up everyone in the company to meet with potential new hires. Early on this works - it aligns everyone with the direction of the company, helps build a cohesive group and gets real collaboration. At some point, usually pretty quickly, your have too many people and the process is just too much.

Think carefully and strategically as this process evolves. Who participates in the interview process is key. The right people don't only aid in evaluation and selection, they are also critical in building consensus and support needed when candidates become employees, and they give candidates a well rounded view of the company.

Be a champion of this process. As soon as you have a hiring need, define clearly how the interview process will work. Who will be involved, at what point, and what will their role be? Who MUST be in agreement for the hiring decision to be made?

These answers depend, and changes with time and with the position you are hiring for. But as the process for interviewing transitions, you may find these general tips helpful;
  • Be concerned if a candidate has over 4 separate interviews. You begin to waste everyone's time and point to the disorganization of your company.
  • In the least, a representative from each group that works directly with the new hire should meet him/her and have their input considered.
  • Consider a casual group 'introduction' interview where more/all employees can meet and chat with candidates. Employees can pair up for an interview. This allows you to get buy-in and input from more people and keep the number of interviews down.
  • Most companies have an 'influencer' - sometimes they are the critic, the leader, or a negative nelly. These people have the power to make the new hire successful. They do this by sharing or not sharing critical information, by introducing others to decision makers & informal processes, and by criticising or questioning the new hire. By including them in the interview and decision making process they have a vested interest in helping the new hire be successful.
  • Pay attention to the order of the meetings - you can build ownership by having team members interview and sign off on a candidate before you meet them. Ideally, you have an agenda for each participant and 'round' of interviews, allowing for depth and focus to your discussions.
We always hear 'people are your most important asset'. As you decide to bring new people on board, you should be pulling every trick from your hat. You should be learning new tricks. You should have a strategy. How do you do this?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interviewing: What's your Agenda?

In my last post, I talked about approaching an interview with skepticism and working to extract useful and objective information. I want to build on this by suggesting an interview format, particularly for the first phone screen.

1. Prepare
. You don't walk into a client meeting with no prep whatsoever. You already have surprisingly little input about this person you will be spending your time with and entrusting with your company! So dig in.
  • Re-read your awesome job posting, and think again about the type of person you need in the role. What do their accomplishments look like? Their expertise? What do you expect their demeanor to be like?
  • Read the resume and cover letter. Are they directed to you personally and address the challenges of the company? Do they want your job or just a job?
  • Google the candidates name and past employers. What did the companies they work for do? How big (or relevant) are they?
  • Reflect. Why might this person want a job with your company? Why do they have 10 jobs over the last year?
2. Agenda. Have an agenda and stick to it. An agenda helps you be at ease during the interview and ensures consistency across candidates.
  • First, tell the candidate the agenda for the meeting.
  • Ask the candidate questions.
  • Then tell the candidate more about your company and the open position. You'll likely be tempted to explain the role and company first, so candidates can explain how their background fits your needs. Resist. You want people to rise to the top because they naturally have the past experiences and mindset that fit the role - like a missing puzzle piece. Plenty of the candidates can tell you how they are like your open role and can fix your challenges. If you make them 'go first' it just makes your job easier.
  • Have a hiring time line, communicate it and then stick to it. Tell them if you have another week of interviews, when your review team will look at resumes and meeting notes, and when they will hear back (i.e. you'll here from me in the early part of the week starting May xx). Let the candidate know they can check in, give more info, or ask questions before this time if they see it valuable.
  • Leave time for questions.
3. Put the candidate at ease. Be conversational and make small talk. I know I just said stick to the agenda and to make them give their experiences first. BUT, if someone is in 'interview mode' you'll likely miss what they are really about. It is ok to find some common ground, talk about where they live, a hobby they've listed on their resume, or what not... Set them at ease and feeling as natural as possible - this is the person you will work with, not the regurgitating polished interviewee.

4. Focus. When talking about past experiences or how a candidate would deal with a situation in your workplace, keep them on target. It's easy to find yourself listening (with head in hand) as they digress into tangents.
  • Hone in on actual results reached. Ask for data points and facts. Candidates may reveal their feelings, what they think they contributed, and they will analyze ... but dig for facts. What was their sales quota? Actual sales? Biggest account? What was the targeted release date for the software they worked on? Target budget? Actual budget?
  • Instead of company and team achievements, get at personal achievements.
5. Manage. Keep notes - you'll want them after meeting with 10 folks. Have a rating system for key criteria (use even numbered scales so you force good/bad).
  • If/when you have multiple interviewers, avoid asking all the same questions over and over. Share your notes and outline what each interviewer should be focusing on. You can have some similar questions, but in general some folks should verify technical skills and others looking for company fit (for example). Asking the same questions over and over can reveal your disorganization.
6. Challenge your instincts. You form an opinion in the first 20 seconds with someone. In person, they may dress more casually (or formally) than expected. They may try to control the interview or seem quiet and unapproachable. Recognize that you have formed an opinion and then try to prove it wrong.
  • If you assume they aren't technical enough, ask specific details about how they accomplished their last project.
  • If they seem scattered ask about their organizational tools.
  • If they come across as bossy and direct ask about their personal relationships.
  • Take your opinion of the candidate, imagine the opposite and ask questions about it.
Interviewing is one of the most important things you will do. It's also a time consuming task that teaches you very little about the person you will entrust with your company. You need to make the most of it. An agenda should help things going smoothly and help you to use every tool at your disposal. What's in your agenda?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Interviewing 202

What is your greatest weakness? Well, I often stay out way too late drinking and come to work late and struggle to be productive.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I'm hoping to be the benefactor of some crazy lawsuit or come into a huge inheritance so I can be sitting on a beach.

No. This does not sound like your typical interview. But, to be honest, I think I would enjoy hearing these answers from time to time. It would be ... refreshing. Instead candidates give answers that sound good. They can prepare an 'acceptable' answer. So what can you ask to really let you learn more about a candidate?

I've been interviewing quite a bit recently - more often than not, I take a casual approach, generally knowing what information I want to cover. It turns out, most folks follow a similar 'unstructured' interview format. I learned, unfortunately, this format (and typical interview questions) just don't allow you to see the realities of the person. You are judging a book by its cover. Candidates manage their 'cover' closely, acting to create the most favorable impression. The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, as well as numerous other sources, quote Prof. Allen Huffcutt, who has done some serious examinations of interviewing and the link of interview assessment as a predictor to performance on the job. In the book Sway, he posits that most interview questions provide little value. He recommends focusing instead on job-related hypothetical scenarios, past experiences based on data and verifiable accounts, and/or aptitude tests.

These are some real and helpful points to consider! I still see value in the interview, so with Prof. Huffcutt's comments in mind, here are a couple good things you might add to your interview:
  • What do you know about our company?
A solid starting point. Did they take the time to research your company? Did they find relevant aspects of the business? Were they able to identify what might be core issues? Did they see how their position and possible contributions might fit in?
  • Specific past experiences
Dig in to the resume and ask about their role on the Deloitte project or how they reduced spending by 40%, or whatever! Even asking specifics about how they managed their team, enforced milestone achievement, or stayed in touch with an off-site worker. The process of answering these can be revealing.
  • Job-related hypothetical scenarios
What would you do if you your sales support staff never wanted to follow-up with difficult people, your receptionist always came in late, or your CEO never gave you details needed to accomplish a project? Think of a real scenario in your company the candidate might face ask how they might deal with it. First of all, they can't prepare for that question, and secondly you will have an idea if their answer will work for you.
  • What was the largest personal conflict / power struggle you have seen at work and how was it resolved? Or what do you think people might misunderstand about you?
Perhaps candidates can prepare for these questions, but I still find the answers revealing. I like to just listen and have candidates expose themselves.
  • If talked to someone at Your Past Company, what would they say about you?
Like the last question, this can help draw out characteristics or performance your candidate might not have volunteered. If they have something to hide, you are likely to hear about it now.

Keep in mind, as I imagine Prof. Huffcutt might remind us, the interview may give you nothing of value. So, I say make sure to take the opportunity to prepare the candidate and to sell the company! Give them a realistic picture of the company (yes, the bad stuff) and see how they react? Do they embrace it constructively and have suggestions for improvement? And of course, get them excited about the position, the team, and the company. If they turn out to be the dream candidate, then they need to be intrigued and enticed after talking to you.

What are some of your favorite interview questions?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Core Values

HR is often tasked with drafting Core Values. It can be a daunting task - especially when most folks yawn at the mere mention of the words. Like 'mission statements', core values are often perceived as a fruitless exercise. I agree in many cases! I'm against immature start-ups creating values that will just need changing in a month.

However, I think it's good to know that those core values already exist in your organization - they've just been buried in all the busyness. And, when the time is right there is real value in having and living your true core values. In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras spent 6 years researching organizations that have endured recession and depressions. One of their key findings was that in every case, these companies defined their core values in the very early stages and built a culture of people around them.

The creation process is often one of the problems with core values - without meaning and accuracy they become worthless. And setting them is not an easy task. In his book Traction, Gino Wickman's gives step-by-step instructions to set up your core values.

Get the leadership team off-site for a couple hours.

Step 1: List 3 people (preferable in the organization) that they could clone if the could
Step 2: List the characteristics those people embody ('is never satisfied', 'personal integrity', 'extremely detail oriented')
Step 3: Narrow down the list (edit, circle, combine)
Step 4: Discuss and debate, narrowing down the list to 3-7 values

Let simmer for 30 days, regroup quickly to finalize, and share with the rest of your team. When relaying the values to your team, you need to use stories, anecdotes, and analogies to show your values in action. Once established, use your core values to help you through decision making, in the hiring process and insert it into the common language of the organization.

Do you have core values that are actually helpful? That communicate your mission and enforce the behaviors you need to be successful? Core values that help you stay focused and make decisions?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Everyone Hates Performance Reviews

The Wall Street Journal just posted a piece about how Performance Reviews suck.
This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities.... Pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing...

Ouch ... now that is some nasty name calling. But, we already know everyone hates HR, and especially performance reviews. This article just feels like a strip of flypaper - attracting those that share a displeasure in their under-performing managers and antiquated, broken systems. It's not too hard to do.

The author, Samuel A. Culbert, claims there is a better way - simply 'asking and listening'. He throws in some belittling to boot, "Imagine that. It's called a conversation, and it's a rarity in workplaces today." Well, well, well ... Good Day Sir!

Really, all of this is NOT about the performance review, it's about bad performance reviews. It's about poor managers and management. I agree a bad review (i.e. rigid, irrelevant paperwork) and bad management is harmful to the company, to relationships, and productivity. But I can't help think Culbert's gratuitous and cavalier flogging of the process solves nothing. Except, perhaps, it perpetuates the dogma that the review is the problem.

Culbert's suggestion of 'asking and listening' (or ideas of 'straight talk' and 'previews' he has previously suggested) can go just as wrong as a review! It can be ignored, it can be inconsistent, and it can subjective. It can be . At the end of the day, there's no greater contribution to operational effectiveness and success than honest and timely assessments of a worker's performance - an ongoing partnership and conversation. Don't blame the concept of a performance reviews to cover up for a poor process or a lazy manager.

Don't be such a hater. If you really care, let's focus on ways to give employees consistent and worthwhile feedback, rather than eliminating the only feedback some folks get. Can't we use our time to find real and positive ways to gather the ideas and challenges of employees and work together to solve problems and drive performance?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Traits of a Successful Business

I just started reading Traction by Gino Wickman. Wickman sees common problems with entrepreneurial organizations and sets out to give the tools to address them. I think his summary of successfully operating businesses can be a great reference for all of us.

Successful businesses:
  • operate with a crystal clear vision that is shared by everyone
  • have the right people in the right seats
  • watch and manage a handful of numbers on a weekly basis
  • identify and solve issues promptly in an open and honest environment
  • ensure everyone documents and follow processes
  • establish priorities for each employee and ensure that a high level of trust, communication, and accountability exists on each team
Sounds simple enough. How do you score on these bullet points? Wickman claims, and I agree, that most companies operate at less than 50% in these key components of operation. Do you focus on these things on a regular basis?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Offer Letter

Do you give actual offer letters when bringing on someone new? Of course you do. Yes, even when you've reached a verbal or email agreement, you still go through with all that old formality.

Don't get me wrong, no one should find out about an offer in an offer letter - it should have already been discussed it in detail. But the letter does make it official - like a referee with a whistle. Candidates like that. And you like that. Folks (sometimes you) forget or misunderstand what was agreed on. Not only can you use the letter to welcome your newest hire but it also ensures you are on the same page with all the details, and it prevent arguments in the future.

Here's what to include:
  • Expected start date
  • Supervisor's name
  • Job title - list exempt/non-exempt and FT/PT status
  • Primary job tasks - make sure to say these may change, expand or evolve over time)
  • Earnings (I think listing annual salary is fine, but some argue to only list earnings per pay period in - order to avoid any arguments the letter represents a contract). Stick an At-Will statement in their to cover all your bases. And definitely don't say any incentive payments are guaranteed.
  • Equity - include just the basics here, like # of options, strike price and vesting period
  • Benefits - Holiday, vacation, personal, FSA, 401(k), etc...
  • Expiration date - give a date they need to get back to you with a decision -typically this is a week, but listen to their needs and make your own call. Give time for, and encourage, discussion with family and friends.
  • Non-compete - add a phrase that by signing they are indicating they are not part of any non-compete or similar agreement that would preclude them from taking this job.
  • Contingencies: State that offer is contingent upon completion of an I-9 form as well as any other background checks, screens, or confidentiality agreements that you require employees to complete.
I know .... several of these items seem like too much. Well, they are until you have a problem and wonder how it could have been prevented. The whole thing should not exceed 2 pages and you should create a template to work from next time. Add some personal touches - like the writing about the importance of their hire, the exciting things on the horizon, or by delivering the letter via singing telegram or with a sweet present.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any offer letter success or failure stories?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Start-ups and Holidays

I know you don't want to think about it. Your start-up is cool because you don't have to designate Holidays. You don't need to. But, alas, I'm here to say you need to write down and distribute the Holidays your company is closed. It's good for recruiting, good for employees, good for the company, and good for you.

Do you give the Friday before the 4th of July off? The day after Thanksgiving? Imagine being a new employee recently completing a move to Boston. You head in to work on Patriots' Day to find out you are the only one in the office. Or worse, you come into work on Patriots' Day and only half your team is there. Do you get angry that nothing gets done? Do you give the staff that showed up an extra day off?

want to know in advance so they can plan that bbq or ski trip. And they'll remember when they work a day when others are 'off'. For your part, if an employee actually asks, you don't want to have to think about days off on the fly - especially when your answer is no. Worse yet, you don't want to get irked when 3 of your team don't show up on President's Day because they thought it was a Holiday.

In the US, on average, companies usually provide 10 paid Holidays.

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Washington's Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Source: 5USC Sec. 6103.

If you want to give more days, fine. Give 'em. At a moment's whim you can still declare National Administrative Professionals Day or International Talk Like a Pirate Day as a paid day off. You can decide at the bar that you'll shut down if there is enough snow to go sledding. It will even feel like a cooler place when staff get days beyond what was expected. But you'll also be laying the foundation of a strong company (think audit and legal), giving yourself a starting point to address problems, and employees want to know.

Friday, February 26, 2010

WOW: A Handbook for Living - Book Review

I was given a copy off 'WOW: A Handbook for Living' to review, by Zen Ohashi and Zono Kurazono.
Out of a hundred people there may be only one person who will actually use this book as intended , but for that one person, amazing things will certainly happen.

I am not this one person. And (as a basic stats analysis would reveal) neither are you. However, WOW reminds us of some simple, powerful approaches to improve our work and life. Here is what I want to remember:
  • If you are in a good mood, good things will happen. If you are in a bad mood, bad things will happen.
  • Talking about what is working and going well will significantly improve the mood.
Try this when discussing a difficult problem and see how it works. This point also reminded me of the 'sandwich feedback' method of giving feedback I learned when consulting. Sandwich method: Put the delicious positive feedback on either side of criticism - it's received much more constructively.
  • Answer a question in 5 seconds, and you will answer with your intuition - you'll often have the best solution.
  • Confront a problem of challenge with the question 'HOW' not 'WHY'. This will productively get you to the root cause of the issue. Why were you late? Why don't I have money? ---> How are you going to be on time in the future? How will I get more income?
  • Make sure everyone has a voice and an opportunity to use it. If you can't identify who the pushy one in the meeting is, it might be you.
  • Write down important goals, tell them to a friend, and ask them to call you to see how you are progressing.
  • When a problem occurs out side of your normal area of accountability, it doesn't necessarily mean you are off the hook. As an example, if the parent in charge at home becomes sick and is unable to cook, the parent who works has to take over the duties or the child will not eat. Don't just be accountable, be responsible.
  • Try to live for a month with the premise that there is no one and only right answer.
Do any of these points resonate with you?

Now... don't get me wrong. I won't do all these things. Especially the points from the book I didn't list here. But to be fair, WOW's authors say you need to take each point slow and really let them sink in. And in fact, after putting the book down for a week I found many of the points more compelling than I during my first read. I'm thinking this will be a nice addition to the library.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What makes Company Culture?

Company 'culture' is the buzzword these days. Start-up culture often refers to a work ethic that sacrifices balance. My last post quoted some startup triplet advice - "Hire and invest in your culture." However, it seems talk of culture quickly becomes abstract. To understand and impact culture we need to be more specific.

For me, culture brings productivity and satisfaction through:

Shared purpose. Is there clear and common purpose to people's work? Do actions demonstrate a team approach towards accomplishing a common goal? Do employees understand the company's mission and their role towards accomplishing it? Awesome communication fits in here.

Accountability. Are employees given real responsibilities? Are those tasks followed up on (by leaders and peers) and implemented? We can stick rewards and recognitions here for now.

Opportunity. Do employees have lots of interaction with others, and ultimately an opportunity to learn?

Motivation. Are employees motivated to do their part towards the common goals on their own? (Or do they simply do the checklist requested to prepare for the weekly meeting?) Do employees believe in the value of their contributions? In the value of the company's goals?

Collaborative Decision Making. Are employees involved in the decisions that effect their work, even tangentially? Being part of the decision leads to more informed solutions and more commitment to the solution. Again, enter companies with good communication.

Flexibility. How much freedom do employees have about when and where they work, what they work on and prioritize, and stuff like how they dress. (Having flexibility alone does not make a good culture by itself).

Work Environment. What are the obvious on-site perks? We're talking free lunch, m&m's and Starbucks coffee, bean bag chairs and office slides. I guess we can throw pay, benefits, expected work hours, and whatnot here. Since visitors and job applicants notice this stuff first, it makes it important. (Again, this aspect of culture by itself is shallow and means little without some strength in the other areas.)

Defining what culture really means helps us talk concretely about measuring and improving it. For me, right now, doing well in these areas equates to a great company culture. Did I miss anything key in your culture?

Monday, January 18, 2010

HR Triplets

Not long ago, Dharmesh Shah at gathered his best start-up advice and reduced it down to exactly three words. When I read it, I saw loads of HR specific advice. Specifically, HR at start-ups should be focused on hiring, creating and fostering culture, rewarding/acknowledging/celebrating, and helping the organization function smoothly and with focus day to day. Triplets offer simple, easy to remember, valuable pieces of advice and focus.

Hire generalists early.

Hire specialists later.

Hire your Culture.

Invest in culture.

Recruit with zest.

Build your team.

Nurture your best.

Celebrate your successes.

Focus, focus, focus.

Encourage diverse thinking.

Encourage rational debate.

Make decisions swiftly.

Don’t break laws.

Cancel unnecessary meetings.

Improve employee's resumes.

Wisely allocate resources.

Keep it fun.

Smell the roses.

Share glory widely

Invest in people.

Do you follow this advice? How can you change your focus to support these causes? What triplet advice can you add?