Archive for the ‘Onboarding’ Category

Keep ‘Em Once You Find ‘Em!

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

The Importance of Great Onboarding Increasingly at Roselle Leadership, we are called upon to help leaders new to their positions and new to the organization get off to a good start. There are at least two very compelling reasons to invest in the onboarding process of new leaders:

  • Those new to a position who fail to build and maintain effective team and individual relationships, or who do not recognize quickly enough which are the most important results to pursue, have a higher probability of failing in the role.
  • Those new to an organization who do not feel fully part of it are much more likely to leave after the first year, most probably before their first anniversary.

These two facts put an exclamation point at the end of the phrase, “keep ‘em once you find ‘em!” Here are the data that support the importance of a thorough and engaging onboarding process:

Most leave before their first anniversary. A new Harvard Business Review article (OCT) cites a 2015 study in which it is clear that the greatest percentage of new employees leave after just one year! The conventional wisdom has been that exits tend to occur after four or five years, but these new facts indicate that fully 10 times as many people leave after one year than those who leave at five years, and that these exoduses peak around first anniversary dates.

There is a scarcity of qualified leaders. Recent data from a couple of 2014 studies cited in a recent Training and Development journal indicate that 40 percent of business owners are having difficulty in finding qualified candidates for their job openings across the organization. While this figure lumps all levels within the company into one single pool, a portion of this scarcity effect certainly occurs at the manager/executive level.

Your best talent is easily lured away. It is becoming easier and easier for corporate recruiters to find your new employees through their Internet presence, especially now that the recession continues to fade. Social media and data-crunching tools make it simpler to identify potential candidates on LinkedIn, for example, where someone’s combination of competencies catches the eye of a recruiter or a search algorithm.

Even your leaders who are not actively seeking an alternative to their current roles can be flattered and tempted by an interested recruiter. As the first study cited here pointed out, this can be particularly appealing to leaders who have not had their first anniversary yet, and who are disappointed with their onboarding experience.

Good news: the longer people stay with your organization, the less likely they are to leave. As employment continues to shift from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ market, your organizational leaders must pay closer attention to what job seekers indicate they want. Our own data at RLSI indicates that the new people you hire are looking for a chance to develop new skills, grow in their careers, take on greater responsibility, receive real time feedback and developmental coaching from their boss, and do meaningful work in a culture that fits them.

What are best practices for recruiting and retaining new hires? I discussed this question recently with a principal of a search firm in Minneapolis, and we agreed that the best recruitment/retention strategies typically include the following:

  • Clear and honest job and organizational culture information. In any materials you send out or publish, from as far upstream as possible, let potential hires know exactly what you want them to do in the role and what the culture will be like around them. By the way, this “official” culture description should match the “word on the street” about your organization.
  • Search firm trusted partners to help find candidates who fit. Work closely with a search firm that knows your company very well, or is willing to spend the time upfront to get to know it. Look particularly for firms that offer a kind of guarantee that their placements will stay.
  • In-depth interviews with key stakeholders. Make sure the candidates talk with their manager, manager’s manager, direct reports, and peers at some point during the interview process. This helps your team assess long-term fit, and it helps candidates better assess if this will be a good fit for them.
  • Accurate pre-hire assessments. While multiple interviews can help screen candidates to a degree, they typically don’t provide much objective data. Some candidates interview extremely well, but are poor fits six months down the road, while others interview poorly, but would do great work for you in the actual role. Leverage external psychological assessments to provide a deeper, more accurate picture of the bright and dark sides of candidates, to make sure they will be a good fit over time.
  • Thorough, engaging onboarding process. When you bring new leaders onboard, make sure key stakeholders are present (not travelling, on vacation, meeting with customers, etc.), so that the first 1-2 weeks is filled with meaningful conversations and the beginnings of strong relationships. Encourage new leaders to take the time to fully investigate, influence, and build interrelationships before they try to have real impact in their new role. Tailor your ongoing onboarding process to fit each new hire, making sure there is plenty of dialogue about what each person needs to help him or her feel a part of the organization. Encourage the building of friendships, perhaps with a buddy-mentor who is a peer.
  • Periodic check-ins. At regular intervals, the new hire’s manager and human resources business partner should check in to see how their first year experience is going. Do this at least once a quarter, with particular emphasis on the third quarter of their tenure, since this is just before the time when the most new hires seriously consider leaving.

Please weigh in at with suggestions for keeping talent once you find them. We would love to hear from you!

Everyone Looks Good on Paper!

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that
actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Some of our client organizations use psychological assessments to help them hire candidates, others do
not. In the current marketplace, with multiple candidates for every open position, you might decide
that it’s a “buyer’s market” out there and every candidate is a great one. You might conclude that your
current hiring process already does a good job of filtering out the worst candidates and netting the best
ones. If that is your firm mindset as you begin reading this, you can stop right now; this Leadersynth
edition will not be helpful to you!

On the other hand, if you look at the success rate for your new hires over the last several years and think
“there must be a better way,” you might learn something here. This is the story of a recent hire for a
client organization that illustrates an effective series of steps to insure the best hires.
TQX, a mid-sized manufacturing company, was looking to hire a senior design engineer. At the
beginning of their search, they were contacted by Tom, an engineer from a competitor, about possible
job openings at TQX. The COO and CEO were somewhat familiar with Tom and his career at the
competitor. In fact, the COO lived near him; their kids attended the same high school and had played in
the same soccer league growing up. The COO knew Tom as a friend and neighbor, and she was
favorably inclined to hire him. However, the CEO had a nephew who worked at Tom’s current
employer, and the nephew’s sense of Tom was that he was arrogant and difficult to work with,
sometimes responding with inappropriate emotion when upset.

TQX called me in to conduct a pre-hire psychological assessment. The COO, CEO, and I met up front to
discuss the position and what their desires were for the successful senior design engineer candidate. I
left with a clear sense of what they wanted in the position and what they liked and disliked about Tom
from their first interview, as well as their knowledge of him from other sources.

We sent a couple of personality tests and a critical thinking assessment to Tom as pre-work, and then I
met in person with him to conduct an in-depth behavioral interview. In particular, I focused on his
challenges, successes, and failures in previous roles and projects, as well as the aspects of his work that
had motivated him throughout his career. At one point, we talked about the last couple of years at his
current employer, and it was clear that he had been involved in a project that did not go well and had
caused him a great deal of stress. He obviously had not felt supported by senior management in the
project, and, in fact, there had been legal issues for which he was called to testify in court. It had been
very unpleasant for him.

At another point in the interview, I asked him what was motivating him to leave his current employer.
As he answered, he began to tell me about how his wife had been involved in a serious car accident
about a year ago, and how stressed he felt traveling out of town for projects and leaving his wife and
kids at home as she recuperated. At this point, tears began to well up in his eyes and his voice became
choked with emotion.

He was able to finish the interview, and, after he left the office, I thought about these new data points
he had shared. First, it was clear that he was on the rebound from a very negative work experience in
which he felt unsupported by his management. Second, it was clear that he had a tendency to become
overwhelmed and uncomfortable reaching out for help when he needed it on projects. Third, I began to
understand why others might have experienced him as arrogant and difficult to work with, with all the
upset related to his wife’s recovery and his extensive travel schedule.

After writing a report describing the key attributes of this candidate, I met again with the CEO and COO
to discuss the report and dig more deeply into our collective overall impressions. They found it helpful
to ask questions and hear me elaborate on his potential strengths and development areas. In particular,
they were a bit surprised that Tom became emotional in the interview. I described him in the report as
someone who expresses his feelings openly, in part due to my interview observations, but also due to
several scales on the personality tests. This discussion helped us pull together the various bits of data
from his workplace, the interview, and the test results that supported the notion that he was likely to
wear his feelings on his sleeve.

Other than these couple of concerns, however, Tom was a very strong candidate. He was smart,
personable, strategic, creative in problem solutions, and a hard worker. Just the kind of person they
wanted in the senior design engineer role. To allay any lingering concerns, they circled back to Tom to
discuss their perceptions of his style under pressure. They liked his responses and decided to hire him.
This story, for which the names and other specifics were changed, illustrates several key steps to build
success into any organizational hiring process:

  • Be clear upfront what you want/need in a candidate for a particular position
  • Conduct initial interviews internally to narrow down your list and screen out poor candidates
  • Use additional resources to screen candidates beyond internal behavioral interviews. In this
    case, it involved using an external psychologist to administer tests and an additional interview; it
    also included data from an insider at the individual’s current job and the perspective of a
    neighbor in the community. Using standardized tests, particularly personality and abilities
    assessments, can provide a helpful norm-based perspective for hiring.
  • Discuss the candidate in the light of all the data and use the discussion to explore the possible
    meanings of the data you have on the candidate. Use this time to identify development areas
    for the candidate that, if you hire the individual, you can begin to address when he/she first
    begins to work.
  • Circle back to the candidate to discuss potential concerns and see how he/she responds
  • Make your final decision

Remember: everyone looks good on paper, and most people can manage to look good for at least a first
screening interview. Use objective and standardized sources of data to help you paint a picture of what
a candidate will really be like six months after being hired! Roselle Leadership Strategies offers valuepriced
Selection Assessments to help build success into your hiring and promotion strategies. With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Throw Away “The First 90 Days”!

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Since I have lived most of my life in the Midwest, I typically moderate strong feelings I might have on any topic. In fact, I usually just get so mad that I ALMOST SAY SOMETHING! However, in this case, it’s time someone stood up to The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. When I suggest that you throw away the book, what I really mean is that you either read and apply the whole thing, or throw it away. Since my experience tells me that most leaders who try to apply the concepts in the book do so selectively and with disastrous effects, I still think throwing it away is the best course of action. I will leave that to you to decide for yourself.

Let me explain by telling the story of Joe, a new VP of client services at a large advertising communications firm. As he entered this new role, the President of the firm informed Joe that there were productivity problems in the Account Services department, which was accustomed to a “country club” atmosphere. Joe was directed to “kick butt and take names later” as he established himself as the new sheriff in town. So, that’s exactly what he did, wanting to please his new boss and to have a large impact in his first 90 days. He had read the book, you see.

Joe had been applying this strategy for about two weeks when I received a phone call from the VP of Human Resources. She knew that many of the folks in Joe’s department already had their resumes on the street and were looking to bail as quickly as possible. I called Joe and set up a meeting within the next couple of days to discuss the situation.
When we met, Joe basically said he was just doing what he was told to do. He had accepted the President’s assessment of the situation without gathering his own data and had not made any attempt to get to know people before he started criticizing their work and making changes. In his mind, having read the The First 90 Days, he did not have much time to make a huge impact.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Diane, an individual I had coached in the past, accepted a new position at a competitor that offered a two‐level promotion. Before she began her new role, we sat down to discuss how she should approach her team as she came on board, and I suggested this strategy:

  • Gather as much information as possible about the team and the situation, the challenges and opportunities. You could do some of this in advance, but the bulk of it by meeting individually with team members and learning about them, establishing rapport.
  • Begin to develop relationships with team members and your boss, listen to them and how they perceive things. Learn what they want you to accomplish in the role, what they need from you and hope you can provide.
  • Then, work on building interconnections and coalitions with key stakeholders within the organization. Begin to create a vision and strategy, based on what you are hearing, and start to enroll others in the approach you intend to take.
  • Finally, after thoroughly listening and using others’ input and perspective to inform your strategy, begin to implement the plan and look for early wins. Continue to work at enrolling and actively involving key stakeholders as you roll it out.

I knew it was a great strategy. I had seen it work impeccably recently at another client organization when a new CEO took the reins, and I shared this success story with Diane. When we parted that day and she headed off to her new role, I was convinced that she would get off to a terrific start. I suggested that she take the first four to six months to work on the first three bullets, and then begin to look for early wins in the implementation.

Unfortunately, she also spent time talking with a few people from her previous employer. Having read The First 90 Days, to a person, they recommended that she dive in quickly, size up the situation in the first week or two, and then begin to implement large‐scale changes. She thought to herself, “Okay, I’ve got to do something big here in the first three months, but I’m not sure what that should be.” The weight of their suggestions obliterated my ideas, and she dove into the deep end—or perhaps, went off the deep end. After about three weeks of this approach, her new boss confronted her and asked pointblank what happened to the person he had seen during the interviewing process. She had so insulted people by ignoring what had been accomplished up to this point and pushing to affect changes with no input that her new boss was now second‐guessing his hiring decision.

In fairness to Watkins, his book does suggest things like “accelerate your learning,” “build your team,” “create coalitions,” and “match strategy to situation,” but these chapters do not focus enough on the importance of simply spending time with people and listening. In the mind of those who have used this book to affect change from a new position, the compelling chapters are those that prod you to “promote yourself,” “expedite everyone,” and “secure early wins.” It seems that most people, like Diane’s well‐intentioned friends and former coworkers, become fixated on the “early wins” chapter. Watkins’s recipe for success quickly becomes a concoction for disaster.

The answer. So, what should effective leaders do in situations where they step into a new role with a group that needs to quickly reach a higher level of performance? First, recognize that no matter how negative the perception is of a team’s functioning, they are trying to be successful and are proud of their accomplishments. The true story in any situation usually includes layers of complexity that you can only discover and appreciate by meeting with people and listening deeply to them. Withhold your judgment, ask insightful questions, and take good notes. Be encouraging as you observe them, keep your mind open, and do not share your early conjectures. Appreciate the obstacles they have overcome to get to their present level of effectiveness. Do not say anything negative about their former bosses or the decisions that led them to where they are.

As much as possible, follow the four bulleted suggestions I gave Diane. If you start telling yourself what a waste of time all this listening is, keep in mind that you will need an engaged team behind you when you roll out your changes. The best way to do that is to ask their perspective, use their ideas in developing the new direction, bring in a healthy dose of your own thoughts to shape the strategy, and give each team member an important role in implementation. Ignore your inner voice, and perhaps your boss’s voice, about driving change quickly.

The good news is that it is never too late to do the right thing. After rough beginnings, both Joe and Diane circled back to their teams, asked good questions, listened deeply to the answers, and used the information to build a new strategy. This time, they had the team on board, and they took the right amount of time, about 180 days, to do it.
I think they both decided to throw away their copy of Watkins’s book.