Workforce Surveys

Alexandra Levit

In the HR Daily Advisor, Steve Bruce recently reported on the keynote Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave at the SHRM Annual Conference.  Hsieh shared that the Internet shoe business places so much emphasis on hiring for cultural fit that it interviews the receptionists and shuttle drivers with whom candidates interact to see if they should get the job, and it also mandates that trainees hit the call center phones during their first few weeks.

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But here’s the really interesting thing.  Once new employees are finished with training, they are offered a $3,000 bonus to quit right then and there.  According to Hsieh, this is Zappos’ way of saying, “we only want people who really want to work here.”  Two or three percent of trainees take the bonus and leave, and the employees who remain are more committed to the company’s mission.

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Obviously, only a certain type of employee is going to survive and thrive throughout the interview and training process at a company like Zappos, but that’s exactly the point.  Even in a poor job market like this, I still hear of organizations succumbing to desperation hiring so that they’ll have warm bodies to fill gaping holes.

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Before the age of 28, Aaron McDaniel had been appointed regional vice president at a Fortune 10 company.  He has managed over 100 people and has been responsible for a variety of job functions from business development to network operations.  I asked Aaron, who now writes the Young Professional’s Edge blog, for his top tips for how to succeed as a manager who is younger than or the same age as most of your direct reports.  Here are some of his key recommendations:

Don’t Readily Reveal Your Age

Don’t make references to college or other things that show your team you are younger than (or the same age as) they are. Instead of describing your experience by highlighting the amount of time you have worked, emphasize the concrete results you have achieved.  You will be more likely to be taken seriously.

Set and Maintain Expectations

Especially with a younger manager, people like to see how much they can get away with, so sit down with your team and outline your expectations at the very beginning.  It is also important to understand what your team’s expectations are of you.

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It’s that time again.  You need to interview for an open position on your team, a position that you need filled yesterday!  Giving advance consideration to the questions you will ask your candidates will go a long way in terms of making the process as smooth and streamlined as possible.

While it’s appropriate to tailor some of your inquiries to each candidate, it will be easier to compare apples to apples if you develop a core set of questions that all interviewees are required to answer.  Create at least two questions for each of the criteria identified in your job description.  Each question should also have a rating scale attached to it.  For example, you might determine that an answer will be rated from 1-5 (with 1 being poor, and 5 being superior), providing a description of what encompasses a “superior” response and a “poor” response.

What are the best types of questions to ask? Several full-length books have been devoted to this subject, but I’ll share some guidelines from Martin Yate, author of Hiring the Best:

Adaptability and Suitability Questions

These show the candidate’s skill set and test his understanding of the problems that must be solved, the problems he is there to avoid, and what he’s there to produce.  Examples:  What would you say were the most important responsibilities in your previous job?  What was the most difficult project you tackled in your previous job?  With all of your responsibilities, how have you planned and organized your workload?

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When I remember new hire orientations of jobs past, I think of watching cheesy, outdated videos, completing a marathon of poorly photocopied forms, and being escorted to an empty cubicle three hours before the end of the business day, left to wonder how I should pass the time until my new boss got back from an offsite meeting.  I think about how homesick I was for the job I just left, how I’d had this sick feeling in my stomach, how I’d feared I’d made a terrible mistake.

My experiences are not unique.  Despite notable innovations in other areas of leadership, the new hire orientation continues to be an overlooked area.  And if you think about all of the time and effort you just spent to bring the new hire on board in the first place, this doesn’t make sense.  If your orientation makes an off-putting impression, it may take months to overcome the bad taste the new employee now has in her mouth.

Poor orientations also slow time to productivity, increase error rates, and adversely impact recruitment efforts, and incredibly, improving orientation can increase retention rates by as much as 25 percent. Read on to learn more about the goals of well-designed programs and how you can implement one without relying exclusively on the HR department.

Goals of Orientation Programs

The first step in turning around your new hire orientation is to realize that it’s not just a formality, or something you do as a goodwill gesture.  Good orientation programs accomplish the following objectives:

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As a manager, this issue is near and dear to my heart.  Fortunately, television writer Patricia Forrester sent me some great tips from her new book, Nice Girls on Top that I thought I would share with you:

  • Pick Your Team Carefully – Always try to find the best person for the job. This doesn’t just mean basic skills, but personality traits that indicate the individual won’t take advantage of kind and generous conditions. Always check with previous employers about each job candidate and ask about his or her integrity.
  • Trust Your Team – Whether you chose your team or not, you should relax and just trust everything will be fine. If you are a boss who constantly worries about his or her employees taking advantage, then you are sending out the vibe that you don’t trust them. Your employees can sense such a vibe and can feel demoralized by it. This will lead to resentment and will get in the way of productivity. You should always trust your employees and give each person the benefit of the doubt until something happens to disappoint. Trusting your people will not only create a healthy work environment, but will make it easier for people to do their best work.
  • Treat Everyone Equally – Part of being the “nice” boss is treating everyone equally and not playing favorites. The way to do this is to have structured rules or guidelines. For example, if someone meets certain requirements, he or she can be granted time off. This fair play is effective and productive. No one will feel slighted. On the other hand, if you play favorites, feelings of resentment may set in with employees who are not getting the special treatment. Such feelings of resentment may lead to certain staff becoming careless and wanting to take advantage of their work situation.
  • Be a Great Role Model – Always lead by example. If you don’t take advantage, then chances are your staff won’t either. Rather, being a great role model that goes the extra mile for your staff will make them go the extra mile for you.
  • Stand Up for Yourself – Nice bosses are not weak people. If you do think one of your employees is taking advantage of your kindness, stand up for yourself. Talk to the person in question in private and express your concerns. Let them know how you are feeling and allow them to change the situation with your guidance.

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2010 is quickly coming to a close, and fortunately, so is the recession that left most leaders fearing for the future of their organizations.  As you think about strategies for managing your team(s) in 2011, here are some predictions to keep in mind:

Retention over layoffs

For the better part of two years, you had to focus on how to let some employees go, and now it’s going to be the other way around.   The recessionary workplace has been a difficult one, and many employees will attempt to leave as soon as they feel it’s getting better out there.  You will need to take extra care to motivate your team members and provide real-time recognition and perks.

Re-emergence of innovation as a priority

While everyone was just trying to keep their heads above water, the emphasis on creating and delivering superior new products and services rather went by the wayside.  Expect leaders at the highest echelons of your organization to start “talking the talk” and think about ways to “walk the walk.”

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I recently learned that healthcare management and technology is the fastest-growing field in the world right now. By 2018, one in 10 American jobs will be in this sector. Expanding coverage and an aging population are two major reasons for this shift, but we also have to consider the exciting developments inside the top healthcare organizations.

Uri Neren is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Generate Companies, which created The World Database of Innovation, a repository of the world’s innovation best practices and experts. Nuren says that instead of looking to companies like Google and Microsoft to reliably deliver innovation, we should more carefully consider best-in-class healthcare organizations like The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. According to Nuren, here are the three conditions that form the basis of The Mayo Clinic’s innovative culture:

Limited Resources: The town of Rochester was only an outpost when Mayo began and today, as a world-renowned provider, it is still situated in the midst of cornfields in this town of 100,000. Scarcity of resources is the single strongest driver of innovation.

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Today’s business environment can be a harsh place, and in addition to being difficult to cope with, it can also negatively impact your health.  Check out this eye-opening research courtesy of U.S. News and World Report’s Liz Wolgemuth and learn what you can do to improve your situation.

Stop eating at your desk

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, workers who sit at desks covered with crumbs from the last few weeks of lunches may be typing on keyboards and touching spaces that have mouse droppings.  If infested fingers come near your mouth, there’s a good chance you’ll get sick.

Add plants to your area

A Washington State University study measured the effects of indoor plants on students performing a slightly stressful computer-based task in a university computer lab. When researchers decorated the lab with indoor plants, they found that their subjects’ reactions were 12 percent quicker on the task, and their systolic blood pressure fell.

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In every talk I give at a corporation or conference on intergenerational communication, someone raises their hand and says that people of different generations don’t vary in their styles and that it’s all in my head.  If you’re tempted to think that, here are some examples of the types of remarks I’m always hearing:

Born before 1945, they’re the loyalists, the ones who spent a lifetime at the company and expect to be rewarded with a Rolex:

How can I help YOU?

Flexibility is a code word for less work getting done.

If I’m not yelling at you, you’re doing fine.

Baby Boomers

Born 1945-63, they’re the hippies and the yuppies, the ones who worshiped the Beatles and clawed their way to the top:

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Team leaders, heed this warning: good upfront communication is critically important to successfully integrating a new employee into your team.

If you do not make your expectations known, and you do not provide the new team member with the information he needs to do his job well, then you cannot complain when he falls short.

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

New team members “don’t know what they don’t know.”  It is your responsibility as the leader to share protocols on your team and in your organization, how business is conducted with co-workers and clients, and best practices for delivering work product.   Never assume that unspoken rules should be understood by the new team member, especially if he is young or inexperienced in your type of company.  If in doubt, spell it out.

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There are currently four generations in the workforce, so chances are you’ve foundyourself in the position of having to work closely with someone older. Maybe you’re even in a powerful position in which you are trusted with weighty responsibilities. Good for you!

Now…don’t let it go to your head. In particular, you’ll want to be careful of having an attitude of superiority. In dealing with an older co-worker, show humility and demonstrate respect for her years of experience. After all, she may have been doing her job while you were still in high school, and having a younger colleague with a similar title might be a tough pill for her ego to swallow.

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Many employees are entrepreneurs at heart and believe they have to leave the corporate world in order to fulfill their dreams.  This is not necessarily so.  If you’re lucky, your organization is one that supports intrapreneurship – or the practice of entrepreneurial skills and approaches by or within an established organization. Employees, perhaps engaged in a special project within a larger firm, are encouraged to behave like entrepreneurs even though they have the resources and capabilities of the larger firm to draw upon.  Intrapreneurs focus on innovation and creativity and transform good ideas into profitable ventures.

Seek sponsors for your idea

If this sounds interesting to you, your first step is to identify a good idea for a new or improved process or product.  Then, seek a network of peers and sponsors to help you evaluate it and get it off the ground.  You might approach a more senior manager who can open doors or someone with technical expertise who has know-how and credibility.

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Says the always insightful Scott Berkun: “No one likes meetings and for good reason. In most meetings, most of the time, most people think most of what goes on is a waste of time. So what if you took out all of the stupid, wasteful stuff and left only the useful parts?”

Nicole Steinbok presented the concept of the 22 minute meeting at Microsoft a few months ago, and it’s brilliant. In fact, I’ve seen it used in my partnership with Microsoft, and as a result, I know that when I meet with my clients there, I know that my time will be used wisely. Here are the specifics according to Scott:

Schedule a 22 minute meeting:
Who decided meetings should be 30 or 60 minutes? What data is this based on? None. 30 and 60 minute meetings leave no time to get between meetings, and assumes, on average, people need an hour to sort things out.

Have a goal based agenda: Having an agenda at all would be a plus in most meetings. Writing it on the whiteboard, earns double pluses, since then everyone has a constant reminder of what the meeting is supposed to achieve.

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Claims Rebecca Keegan, the author of The Futurist: The Life and Film of James Cameron:

If you sat through the endless list of credits for Avatar, you saw that it took about 3,000 people to make the CGI epic, which has now grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide, shattering box office records, earning nine Oscar nominations and reinventing cinema for the digital age. The boss of all those people was director James Cameron. Cameron is still roughing it by Hollywood standards. From my seat on the Avatar set, these are the rules he manages by:

Break New Ground: “It’s Avatar, dude, nothing works the first time,” read a whiteboard in the spare Los Angeles warehouse that served as the sci fi film’s motion capture soundstage. Breaking new ground is Cameron’s raison d’être — nothing interests this man unless it’s hard to do. But innovation has also become a way of bonding his teams, both on Avatar and on his deep seaexpeditions. For Cameron, a sense of exploration isn’t just personally enriching, it’s a crucial tool for motivating and uniting his teams.

Firing Is Too Merciful: Many Cameron alumni will share a story from their first film with him, a day they were sure they were going to be fired, almost hoped for it. But Cameron rarely fires people. “Firing is too merciful,” he says. Instead he tests their endurance for long hours, hard tasks, and harsh criticism. Survivors tend to surprise themselves by turning in the best work of their careers, and signing on for Cameron’s next project.

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I recently did an interview with Jessica Stillman at BNET on strategies for reinventing yourself during a recession. Here are some snippets from the interview:

Statistics show that the average young American will change jobs nine times by the time they’re 32, which is many more times than in the past. Do you think younger workers have a different attitude towards career change compared to older workers?

Yes — on the whole, younger workers are looking to adapt their work to the lifestyle changes they’re making as they mature. They cannot relate to their parents’ one-career lives at all — for them a career is a journey without one particular destination.

That said, the most active career reinventers right now are Baby Boomers. They may have had one career for 30 years, but they are looking for new and different challenges now that traditional retirement age is approaching and they don’t have the desire nor the financial ability to pack up everything and move to the beach.

Career change can be great, but Gen Y is often accused of taking it too far. How can a job hopper know they’re a job hopper? Or is the whole idea of the job hopper outdated?

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