Category Archives: #employeeengagement

The A Team

Charles Dudley Warner, a co-author with Mark Twain, once wrote “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” In my experience working in industry and as a talent management consultant, this phrase accurately applies to employee performance. Many business leaders, managers, and supervisors complain about issues related to performance or behavior, but do little to improve the situation.

During my tenure as Vice President of Human Resources at a regional healthcare provider, we began a process of identifying those employees who were not meeting expectations. We called it our “C” player list. Now before I am accused on being heartless or not being compassionate, please know that my definition of a manager is one who provides all the tools, resources, support, and encouragement for all employees to be successful and reach their full potential. We had an expressed goal to help every identified C player to become an A player. All actions were positive performance improvement measurements where the manager had just as much responsibility in affecting a positive outcome as the employee.

The first big question that surfaced from leadership was how an A or C player is identified. This is very important because many managers will identify the top employee based on the personal relationship he or she has with that person. Who gets along better is sometimes the measurement of our good employees. A more objective way was necessary, so we spent a great deal of time developing those characteristics to identify where certain employees fell in the list. The following are a few characteristics of an A player.

An A player has a very positive outlook on their position, the responsibilities, and the company. Even with obstacles and difficulties, an A player has a “glass is half full” frame of mind.

An A player sees his or her roles and responsibilities as fluid and are very versatile in changes or revisions that may occur to compliment the needs of the business. An A player can easily adapt to changing circumstances and add or revise tasks to overcome obstacles.

An A player is always dependable. No matter what task needs to get done, an A player will be the first to raise their hand. They are unquestionably reliable in accomplishing or at least giving their best shot to any activity, whenever needed.

An A player is selfless and does not think “what is the best thing for me” when doing the job. An A player looks at the whole to evaluate and pursue what is best. In the end, this pursuit creates a win-win situation.

An A player has an inclusive approach that involves the ideas and opinions of others. An A player realizes that everyone is connected and that a collective knowledge, wisdom, and thought will provide better results.

An A player realizes the need for constant learning and takes every opportunity available to increase knowledge and skill. Even if there is not a structured continuing education program, an A player looks for ways to learn new things independently. An A player also looks for ways to make those around better by bringing new found knowledge to others.

As easy as it may seem to recognize an A player, C players can also be easily identified….if you pay attention.

A C player gets defensive very quickly when asked to explain why something was or was not done.

A C player frequently blames other people for any shortcoming in their performance. It is never their fault.

A C player will be very protective of their own turf and will not share crucial information to solidify their perceived importance.

A C player constantly makes excuses for not meeting expectations and generally perform just enough to do what is necessary. A C player will rarely take extra measures with any assignment or task.

A C player is very good at always coming up with reasons why something will not work. In a project setting, a C player will be the constant naysayer.

A C player has little motivation to develop personal or professional skills. A C player will look at learning and growth opportunities as just another burden on top of other responsibilities.

A C player also believes that they know what is best and truly feel they bring value. They have rationalized an unrealistic sense of importance to the organization.

The other groups of employees are those who exhibit the characteristics of an A player, but lack consistency in performance and meeting expectations; and those who exhibit some of the characteristics of a C player, but may seem to try and meet performance standards and expectations.

The primary goal is to develop everyone up. The steps are: Clearly communicating expectations; providing constant feedback on performance; holding all accountable for meeting the expectations; and administering consistent consequences for performance and/or behavior issues that do not meet the expectations.

The success of the process of moving employees up is very much dependent on the attitude of the manager. A good manager recognizes that all employees have the potential to be A players and has a passion to help all succeed. A good manager sees worth and value in everyone and works hard to develop everyone up. A manager who does not look at this way may be, I don’t know, A C player? It is worth the effort to create the A Team.

To your success!


Is This The Real Life?

As a Baby Boomer, my high school years in the 1970’s consisted of listening to the best rock and roll bands of all time. The classic music of numerous groups has survived a couple of generations and many Millennials (including my kids) are fans of some of the great ones. I never thought I would use one of these groups and one of the greatest songs in an article about talent management. But after conversations with my wife and several friends this past week, it just popped into my head. The first two lines of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Ah, I hear you singing it now! I am hopeful that my little explanation will make sense when I am finished.

My entire business life is focused on talent management. The tag line for my business is “We help companies bring out the BEST in their employees”. It might seem kind of weird to some, but it is a passion of mine. I dream of business cultures and environments where we wake up in the morning excited to come to work. Not that we don’t want to spend time with family and chill from time to time, but we are inspired everyday by our co-workers, supervisors, managers, and business leaders. Those with whom we work make us better people and we are motivated to work as hard as we can toward success of ourselves, those with whom we work, and the company. Every day we work toward our PIPability-Peak Individual Performance™.

My wife and I talked about my dream for the worker world and she commented that she does not think it is possible. She opined that the work itself creates a myriad of obstacles that impacts how we think about our work regardless of the nature of the work environment. She said “it is nice to think about and a good goal to pursue, but in reality, it will never be like that”.

Then, in a weekly social gathering with college classmates, we discussed the work environment in which they spend their time. They talked about leaders who don’t lead, work that doesn’t get done, and behaviors toward other people that are negative and punitive. After providing me numerous examples of what I call “management maleficence”, the bottom line was stated bluntly; “people just don’t care”.

So, I find myself wondering, “do I live in a dream world?” Can a work environment be created where everyone is inspired, motivated, happy, encouraged, driven, and working toward the good of all and not just themselves? I still say “YES!!”

A business owner I met a few months ago, said that their daily goal is to “delight and surprise their internal and external customers”. I believe the environment and culture at his company is close to my perspective of what is possible. When expectations are clearly communicated; when supervisors, managers, and leaders are providing all the tools and resources to help all be successful; when feedback is constant; when all understand that accountability must exist for success; and when consequences are fair, consistent, and transparent, a business will thrive. I guess I will leave it up to you. “Is this the real life” or “Is this just fantasy”?

To Your Success!

Richard Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Twitter: @hirepowerhr

Effective Talent Management

Early in my career working in the medical device space, I was promoted to a regional management position and transferred from Charleston, SC to Boston. I was responsible for all service operations in 15 offices throughout New England, Upstate New York, and Northeast Pennsylvania. I was fortunate to have 6 managers divided among the offices providing support to over 50 employees. Soon after moving to a suburb of Boston I set out to visit each office, get to know each employee, and assess the management style and ability of my direct reports. Regardless of information I had received from others, I evaluated each of the managers from a blank sheet of paper. I wanted to hear directly from them about their struggles, successes, and perspectives on how to best deliver world class service while developing high performing teams.

It became evident that the former management support was lacking. Each manager was doing what they thought were best practices while operating in silos from other locations. Most of the employees in the service locations just came to work each day without thinking about the purpose of the job and how they made a difference within the organization. It broke my heart that so many hard and caring workers were just going through the motions to get the job done. Within 3 months of my assuming my new position, I had replaced 5 of the 6 managers. On the surface it may seem harsh, but herein lies the lesson and purpose of this post.

I strongly believe that a manager’s primary responsibility is to provide all the tools, resources, support, and encouragement to help each employee under his or her span of control to be successful and happy. No employee should be surprised when their employment is terminated. None of the managers whose careers I freed were surprised. Here is why.

The expectations were clearly communicated. I spent a great deal of time with each manager discussing what each location needed to accomplish to meet the objectives of the corporation. We reviewed in detail the plan of action they felt was best to meet the goals, what I would do to support their efforts, and how we would measure success. I made sure the what, why, how, and when questions were answered. Everyone agreed to the plan.

Positive and frequent communication was provided. I made a point to visit each location often to review performance, redirect when necessary, and provide continued encouragement and motivation. I asked “what can I do to help” with every face to face and phone conversation. There was no doubt that I wanted to be each manager’s advocate for success.

Each manager was held accountable for their performance. I encouraged each manager to treat each location as if it were their own business. I wanted them to feel personally responsible for each employee under their supervision. I would always listen to the reason why things did not get done or why something happened, but each manager was still held accountable for performance or behavior issues for which they had total control.

The consequences for behavior or performance issues were enforced consistently. As difficult as it may be, I followed through with what I said would happen. I was consistent. If I said “if this occurs, then this will happen”, it happened. Of course, I always allowed for extenuating circumstances and I always tried to be fair. But, I always did what I said I would do.

Over the years, I have implemented and coached others to follow this formula for effective talent management. I have always cared deeply about those who fell under my area of responsibility and I want everyone to be successful and happy at work. For me, this formula has always worked. Is it easy? No. But, in the end, the goal is to create high performing teams with highly engaged and inspired employees. That makes it fun for everyone….and it is well worth the effort.

To Your Success,

Richard Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Twitter: @PIPability

The Key to a Happy Employee

The Princess Bride is an entertaining fairy tale for young and old that was directed by Rob Reiner and released in 1987 by Twentieth Century Fox. If you have not seen it, you are missing a very fun and funny movie. The production featured a giant, a fire swamp, lightning sand, rodents of unusual size (R.O.U.S.’s), and The Cliffs of Insanity. Throw in a six finger man and a priest with a lisp and you have the makings of a classic.

In the movie, Princess Buttercup is amazed that her sweet Westley is still alive after being captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts on the open seas; “And the Dread Pirate Roberts never takes prisoners”. Westley later explains that he is now the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) and that the previous DPR was not the original one either. As a way of keeping the name DPR alive, each DPR would choose an understudy, replace the entire crew, and begin a new voyage as the first mate of the new DPR. If that is not clear, watch the movie.

Since I am a talent management consultant, I guess I need to tie The Princess Bride into some kind of management lesson. Well, in working with many business owners, leaders, and managers, I have heard the expression often “Gosh, it would be so much easier if I could just replace everyone and start all over”. It might work for the DPR, but it certainly would not work for most business operations.

Recently, I was at a swim meet for my youngest son and had the opportunity to speak with a couple of fathers who happen to be business owners. We were taking a break from the action in the pool and catching each other up on what was happening in our individual business worlds. One of the dads was expressing gratitude for being busy, but began talking about some employee issues. Specifically, he mentioned a former business owner who was on his team. He talked about how this individual was alienating other employees and was a negative element in the business environment. After detailing some of the employee’s performance and behavior issues, he said “I just don’t think he is going to make it”. I could not let it go and asked “have you sat down with the gentleman, reviewed the specific performance and behavior issues, and developed a plan to help him improve?” The response was what I hear often. “No, I have not”. I then asked if he was aware of any personal issues in this gentleman’s life that could be impacting his performance or behavior. The response was “No, I do not”.

My friend’s responses are the equivalent of just replacing the whole crew. I am confident that this business owner wants to help this individual, but the business is booming and he is busy taking care of the tactical steps to success. It is not that he does not care. He has other employees that also need his time and attention. Taking the time to develop a performance management plan for someone who seems not to care does not seem like the top priority in the midst of just getting the job done and satisfying clients. But shouldn’t it be THE top priority?

Imagine for a moment a work force comprised of employees who come to work every day fully engaged, enthusiastic, excited, and motivated to do the best job they can and to reach their full potential….their full PIPability-Peak Individual Performance™. I am passionate about helping companies bring out the best in their employees and I do not think it is a Utopia that is out of reach. I mean, if the employees in an organization are the most important asset, then why is this asset not treated with the care and attention to maximize the potential?

It takes a willingness to discover the root cause of a specific behavior or performance issue and then develop a plan to help the employee improve. It requires us to show patience, have compassion, display empathy, and gain understanding. It requires a human approach to managing others, not a tactical approach.

Does it always work? No, we have all experienced employees who just don’t want to meet expectations. But if you have ever experienced working with an employee who is not meeting expectations and then helped them transform in to a top performer, the incredible feeling will never leave you. Human potential is amazing and it is just waiting to be unleashed. Once you tap the potential, great things happen and a business can soar. Wouldn’t that be fun….and you don’t have to worry about pirates!

To your success,

Richard Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Twitter: @PIPability

Why Employees Leave

The first job I had out of college was in the transportation industry. I went to work for a regional trucking company and the plan was for me to experience all the departments to better prepare me for management, and in the words of the owner, to maybe take the company over from him one day. I was excited about the opportunity and created this expectation in my head of a structured, well developed process to round my experience in logistics, safety, personnel, dispatch, and maintenance. I went to work each day with the mindset that I would learn something new and exciting.

It did not take long to realize that I was on a trip that was not well planned.

I took it upon myself to seek additional learning opportunities and didn’t say no to any task that was given to me. Even the 3 days straight of loading used and dirty truck tires filled with mosquito laden water into a trailer did not discourage me. It did motivate me to ask the “what’s next” question and I was moved to another department. After 10 months of more questions than answers, I finally went to the owner to ask about his long term plan.

His response still resonates in my head, even though it has been over 32 years ago. He said, “I don’t have anything planned right now, but I am sure something will come up”. Needless to say that one statement sapped any remaining motivation I might have had to stick it out and make a career at that company.

The biggest surprise of all was when I went to him to submit my resignation. He was shocked and very angry. He went on to rant that he had invested a great deal of time to train me and I just used it to get a better job. He accused me of taking advantage of this great opportunity to gain experience for my new employer. That meeting provided me the greatest learning experience than the previous 10 months and formed the basis for my management style.

The reaction of the owner is similar to the reaction of many managers and business leaders when employees leave. They are surprised and shocked and have no idea why the employee is moving on. So, why do employees leave?

• They don’t know what is expected of them. This may seem like a no brainer, but I have seen it, heard it, and lived it. I have worked with clients on projects where the leaders were totally convinced that everyone was on the same page only to find out that basic expectations were never communicated and understood. Totally out of touch leaders will comment that “they should know what to do”.

• They don’t have the tools, space, authority, or resources. It always amazes me how companies will hire a new employee and then leave them to fend for themselves. It is rarely intentional, but in the end, the result is the same. Confusion, frustration, marginal performance, low engagement, and finally departure.

• They don’t get feedback on performance. Baby boomers, of which I am one, heard often that you know you are doing a good job if you keep getting a paycheck. Besides the fact that not paying someone for work performed is illegal, this type of behavior does not fly in today’s employment world. As millennials continue to make up a larger and larger portion of the workforce, it is crucial that employees receive continual, objective, and constructive feedback. A company without a well-designed and implemented performance review process/system fails to maximize the performance potential of their employees.

• They don’t know how to do it. Yep, there are managers that just assume that since an employee was hired to do a job, they know how to do it. That may be the case in many instances, but it should never be assumed. The Boy Scouts make it simple. We use the EDGE method. We Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and then Enable. There is no moving on until competency and comprehension is shown at each step. Take the time necessary to make sure each employee actually knows how to do the job.

• They don’t feel part of the mission of the company. Want to keep employees? Make them feel like they are making a difference to the company’s success and what they are doing is important. Employees need and want to feel like they are truly appreciated.

Nothing I have presented is rocket science. It is just common sense. Even better is that it really is easy and very inexpensive. Small, medium, or large organizations can benefit by focusing on the “why” to change the outcome. What a difference that could make.

Richard Davis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Twitter: @PIPability