How to Help Your Employees Set Goals

November 8th, 2019

You want your employees to fulfill their assigned tasks with energy and commitment. But if you’re a great employer, you also want something more: you want your direct reports to look into the future and make moves now that can both help the company and build their careers. The status quo is fine, and it’s okay to simply punch in, complete the day’s work, and go home. But excellent employees want to set long term goals and focus on growth. And excellent employers want to help them do this. Here are a few simple moves that can help you keep their attention on the horizon, not just down at their desks.

Conduct personal check-ins.

At least once a month (ideally much more often), sit down with each of your direct reports individually for an informal chat. Ask them how they feel about their current work. Do they find it appropriately challenging? Can you help with these challenges? And if they’re ready for more responsibility, how can you help them choose a direction and obtain the training and exposure they need to move forward? These chats should give you some insight that can help you connect them to the right mentors and opportunities.

Keep the goals SMART.

Smart coaching leads to smart goal-setting. Which means choosing goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. It’s easy for employees—especially those with minimal work experience—to wander off the rails when it comes to goal setting, and loose, poorly formulated goals can lead to disappointment and discouragement later on. Rein in goals that are not realistic, and shape goals that are not well defined. Help place timelines on vague goals, and keep workplace goals focused on the workplace.

Attain the minimum standard before climbing higher.

Everybody’s human, and it’s common to encounter an employee who sets his or her sites on brilliant achievements (he wants to be the CEO!) before mastering ordinary ones. (His last several reports were subpar, he often shows up late, and he hasn’t earned the trust of his teammates.) This employee needs a clear performance improvement plan that can get him on track to basic competence. Set a two-week, three-month or one-year plan that leads to success with clear consequences for falling short. If he gets where he needs to be, he can start setting his sites on the next level.

Become an advisor and confidante.

If your employees don’t like or trust you, they won’t share their personal information with you, including their personal career goals. To get them to open up honestly, listen before you talk. When they tell you something, commit it to memory. And most important: give them advice and coaching that works in their benefit. Avoid advice that benefits the company at their expense.

For more on how to coach and manage your teams in ways that bring out their best, turn to the staffing experts at PSU.

Can Unfilled Job Posts Affect Your Business?

October 4th, 2019

A snapshot of the job market in this quarter of 2019 suggests that the competition for talent is still tight, and candidates still perceive a landscape in which their options are wide and there’s no need to settle for a role they don’t like, a company they can’t support, or a salary that doesn’t meet their needs. So what does that mean for company leaders and hiring managers who may be scrambling to fill essential positions? Here are a few key ways you may suffer if you fall behind, and a few simple moves that can prevent this from happening.

Talent Shortages Increase Hiring Costs

Hiring can be an expensive prospect in any job market, but when competition tightens and candidates hold more of the cards, the price tag naturally gets higher. Open jobs stay open longer, which can drain company resources, and the interview and selection process can involve a high number of overall candidates since more are likely to drop out of the running along the way. Employers have to work a little harder and shine a little brighter to entice candidates to apply, and of course, those who receive offers may be less likely to accept them than they would in easier markets. A competitive edge can help your company stand out.

Increased Turnover

Candidates who do respond to posts, apply, and maintain interest throughout the interview and selection process may not accept an offer, and those that do accept may not stay for more than one calendar year. This churn can interrupt the social fabric of the workplace and prevent employers from gaining a return on their investments in hiring and training.

Finding the Right Skills can be Difficult in Tight Markets

If you manage to track down candidates who hold the exact skill sets you need, these candidates are probably receiving plenty of other offers. This increases the temptation to settle and accept a shorter list of required skills, or trade one strong skill set for lesser skills in other areas. You may find yourself with a candidate who can bring some of what you need to the table, but not all.

Salary Negotiations can get Tougher

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to pay candidates more (though that may happen). But it does mean that you’ll need to polish your offer and be willing to give a little in order to get a little. If raising salary offers isn’t easy to do, you’ll need to improve your benefits package and take a second look at the perks you can provide that other employers can’t. (Keep in mind that savvy candidates know that free coffee isn’t a perk.)

If you stay focused on the goal, make sure your workplace culture speaks for itself, and get ready to treat your employees fairly and well, you’ll thrive in a tough market. For help, turn to the experts at PSU.

How to Confront an Underachieving Worker without Demotivating them Further

September 6th, 2019

As you review your list of direct reports, you see one or two who stand out, but not for great reasons. For example Sally, who used to be a superstar but who just hasn’t been crushing it this week (or this year). And Steve, who showed great potential during his interview but who never seemed to fulfill that promise. His “new-hire” grace period started in 2015 and still seems to be underway.

In both cases, you know these employees well enough to know that yelling at them, criticizing them, or threatening them won’t bring the results you desire. Besides, those methods don’t reflect your style as a manager or as a person. So what should you do? How can you confront Sally and/or Steve with some rough news about their performance?  And how can you do it without making things worse?

First, look at the big picture.

If the employee is truly a drain on the company and its culture, don’t waste time asking these questions. Just gently but firmly explain that you’d like to see three specific areas of improvement within a clear time frame, or the employee will face probation and/or termination. A long-term action plan will only be necessary if the employee genuinely wants to be here, but seems to struggle with motivation.

Second, allow the employee to talk first.

Invite Steve (or Sally) into your office to talk. Ask him how he feels about his situation, his workload and his performance. Then just listen. Chances are, something is wrong. Steve may be suffering from depression or burnout. He may be facing an unresolved conflict with a coworker. He may not fully understand the parameters or expectations of the job. He may be sick or in pain. He may be disappointed that the job isn’t taking him where he’d like to go. Any of these are possible, and so are an infinite number of other options. Listen carefully before you develop the next stage of your strategy.

Be kind.

Once Sally has described her issue, pause. Recognize that your job is not to help Sally at the expense of the company. And it’s not to help the company at Sally’s expense. Your job is to use your ingenuity and management skills to identify alignment between the needs of both parties. You need to help the company gain from Sally’s labor while helping Sally feel more engaged. How can you satisfy both sides of the table? Ask for her help and input.

Do the next part on your own.

Sally may need more training, a raise, a coaching plan, a promotion, a demotion, a different office, more resources, or more support. Make a plan to provide these things. Set a timeline. Then take one step at a time toward a better and more productive relationship.

For more on how to encourage an employee while also delivering a difficult assessment of their performance, talk to the staffing team at PSU.

7 Ways to Spot When Someone is Lying During an Interview

July 5th, 2019

Is your candidate blowing smoke or trying to sell you on skills, talents and a work ethic that aren’t quite what they seem? If you think you may be hearing a lot of sizzle but not seeing any steak, here are a few ways to confirm your hunch and move forward.

Implausibility plus urgency

Implausibility alone isn’t necessarily a sign of lying. Plenty of candidates have accomplishments that seem unusual or career-growth timelines that seem very short (personal assistant to senior manager in just five years?) and over-the-top claims are true more often than you might think. Urgency, a desperate demeanor or a rapid, aggressive speech pattern are also not signs of trouble on their own. But if you see all these things at the same time, the claims in question deserve a closer look.

Vague statements with no follow-up

“I led the entire team on that proposal” is a claim that sounds excellent. But then what happened? What were the circumstances? Did the candidate face any special challenges or learn any interesting lessons during that episode? If the claim appears to stand alone and getting more information feels like pulling teeth, something may be wrong.

A seemingly perfect track record or an unwillingness to recognize failure.

Strong candidates embrace their failures and understand how these episodes brought them where they are today. Questionable candidates claim to have unblemished records and see failure as something that only happens to losers—something that has never, ever happened to them. Ironically, “perfection” is a huge red flag.

Inconsistencies.

Feel free to ask questions if you hear claims, timelines or statements that conflict with others you heard earlier.

A one-sided dialogue.

Conversations always feel a bit suspect when the words flow in only one direction. If your candidate can’t change his setting from “transmit” to “receive” and you feel like you’ve been cornered by a relentless guest at a bad party, you may be on the receiving end of misinformation. Does he ever ask you any questions? Does he wait for your answer? Does he really understand and listen to your words as you speak? Or does he seem to be on stage performing a one-man show? Performers, bad conversationalists, and con artists often have one thing in common: issues with believability.

Anger

Don’t trust candidates who show anger or poor emotional control during a job interview.

Thin or ambivalent references

Be suspicious if your candidate offers few references, unreachable references, no references or references who give neutral, unenthusiastic support.

For more on how to get the most out of your candidate interviews and select only the best employees for your team, turn to the pros at PSU.

Team Builders Don’t Always Have to Involve Alcohol

June 7th, 2019

Here’s a short story about Ed, a department manager at a regional publishing company. Ed worked hard every day to do right by his team, and he tried his best to give them everything he had as a boss, coach, and mentor. In addition to reading every management blog he could find, he arranged fun activities to support bonding outside the workplace, including the creation of a company softball team.

Every spring Saturday, the team hit the field, and Ed brought the balls, bats, and a cooler full of beer, exactly one beer for each participant. Ed worried endlessly about the cooler and its contents. Would each person be sure to have their single beer? Would they like the brand? Would it be cold enough? Would the event be fun without becoming dangerous? Would everyone stay safe and drive sober? If someone got hurt, would the company’s insurance cover it? Would Ed get in trouble with the corporate office? Each time he packed the cooler, he worried and worried.

Each time he hit the field with the team, they all had fun. With all the swinging bats, fly ball catches, laughter, outs and home runs, memories were made. But Ed still worried.

One day, he forgot the cooler and left it at home by accident. He felt terrible! Would the team ever forgive him? Would they mope and sulk?

They didn’t! They played in the sun, joked and shared stories. And not one person mentioned the missing cooler. From that day on, Ed decided to leave the cooler behind every Saturday.

Literally nothing changed.

The lesson: Nobody needed that company-sponsored beer after all. Later, Ed found it easier to plan events for the team, since he stopped making alcohol an essential part of every gathering. After a few months, the savings added up. But nothing else changed. In fact, Ed began to schedule events at places that didn’t involve alcohol at all, like mini-gold courses and ice cream shops. Outing options expanded and the team loved it. They began starting activities on their own, like book clubs and stream clean-ups. And all of them lived—and worked—happily ever after.

Do you really need alcohol at all of your company events? If you aren’t sure, try cutting back or removing booze from a few select events altogether. See what happens. Chances are, your employees will miss this minor detail less than you anticipate. They’ll keep showing up and they’ll keep having a good time, booze or no booze. And the next morning they’ll arrive at the office with clear heads, ready for the day.

Need more encouragement or ideas? Contact the staffing team at PSU!

Four Reasons to Have Employee Reviews More Than Once Per Year

May 10th, 2019

If you’ve been holding formal employee performance evaluations once every year, usually in early January, then you’re not alone. This traditional review cycle has been the standard for a long time, and plenty of businesses still manage employees using this strategy.

But it may be time for an upgrade, one that better reflects the realities of modern work life and effective employee coaching. Here are a few reasons to drop the old model and embrace a review schedule with more flexibility and frequency.

It’s more memorable.

If you sit with your employee in January and give a directive, for example, “Here’s how to handle a crisis that’s likely to surface once a year, if ever”, you can’t expect your instructions to be remembered when the moment arrives and it’s time to apply them. That’s just not reasonable. But if you deliver you guidance, mentoring, tips, directives, and coaching prescriptions once every quarter or so, they’re more likely to stick.

It’s more actionable and fair.

The same way you wouldn’t issue a directive six months in advance, you can’t reasonably deliver correction and coaching six months after the fact. Watching an employee make a mistake in June and waiting until January to lecture her about it won’t fly. She’ll resent this treatment, and rightly so. Instead, stop her at the moment and deliver your feedback and coaching informally—On the spot if possible. An extra bonus: she won’t keep repeating the mistake over and over for the next six months while you check the calendar and wait.

It gives you an opportunity to observe and praise improvements.

If you had to scold or criticize someone during their once-annual formal evaluation, the moment may have been awkward for both of you. Such moments can be so uncomfortable or discouraging that they often start the wheels in motion that eventually push the employee to seek work elsewhere. Here’s how the old model works: In January, you shine a light on a performance issue. By May the employee is struggling to correct it and simultaneously keeping an eye out for new job opportunities. By June she gets an offer and by July she’s gone. Here’s the new model: In January you deliver your critique. By May you see clear improvements and deliver a new evaluation with a very different tone. By July the employee is fully back on track, up to speed, and thriving.

It helps you reap the benefits of positive feedback.

Positive feedback oils the gears of the employee-employer relationship. If your team is like a garden of plants, your encouragement falls on them like fresh rain. So don’t put it off! Water those plants as often as possible. Formally, informally, in quick meetings or drawn-out sessions, if they’re doing well, let them know!

For more on how to coach and evaluate your teams, turn to the pros at PSU.

3 Things You Can Do to Ensure a Smooth Onboarding Process

April 5th, 2019

The selection process is over, and you’ve chosen your final candidate and convinced her to accept your offer. Her first day will take place two weeks from now, so you have 14 days to arrange an onboarding process that’s efficient, smooth and most important, enjoyable for your new employee.

First impressions mean everything, and your new hire’s introduction to her tasks, her teammates and her work station can leave her feeling satisfied with her decision … or counting the days until she can walk out the door. Make sure she’s happy at the start and you’ll pave the way for a long and productive relationship. These moves can help.

Build some hype.

Before she arrives, make sure your existing employees are prepared. They should know her name, her role and at least little bit about her background and accomplishments before her first day. A warm welcome from peers and co-workers can generate memories that last forever. If she gets a few upward glances and a lukewarm “hey” before each new face turns back to a screen, she’ll feel like she’s having a solitary adventure that begins when she chooses and ends when she finds something better. A warm welcome means she’s now part of a team. Consider arranging lunch invitations for her during each of her first five days.

Avoid hassles and hang-ups.

Welcoming a new employee is a bit like planning a party or an event. Be optimistic but think a few steps ahead and anticipate what might go wrong. If she can’t connect to the network, if there’s an HR holdup with her paperwork or if she has to spend the whole morning standing in the lobby while someone scrambles to find her a desk, that doesn’t look very good. Besides, every hour she spends not integrating, learning and working is a loss for the company.

Be clear about your expectations.

You expect great things from your new employee! But what are those things, exactly? And have you given her the resources to deliver them? How long will her training period be? Does she have a schedule in hand that breaks down who, when and how that training will be delivered? Does she have a clear employee handbook that covers regulations and policies she might otherwise not know about? Does she know exactly who to turn to if she has questions? Get these issues settled as early as possible, ideally a few weeks before she walks in the door.

For more on how to provide your employee with a positive and meaningful experience starting on day one, talk to the hiring and onboarding experts at PSU.

How to Write Better Job Descriptions

March 8th, 2019

Want better candidates? Try writing better job descriptions. Even if your company has a strong reputation, your product practically sells itself, and the job comes with great perks and benefits, you’ll still need to confront a universal truth about job seekers: They tend to place themselves in the job as they imagine it, and if they can’t see themselves doing this type of work day after day, they aren’t likely to apply.

So make sure they imagine themselves into a role that’s appealing, challenging in a good way, and a necessary step on the path to larger career success. Here are a few ways to make that happen.

Be honest and descriptive.

Too much text can backfire (more on this in a minute), but within bounds, provide as much honest information as you can about the daily realities of the job. Using vague, empty terms won’t help. For example, skip phrases like “a dynamic environment” or “We need a real go-getter” or “Looking for a high-energy individual with the skills it takes to succeed!” What skills are those, exactly? You’ll accomplish more if you can be more specific.

Keep your description short and readable.

You don’t want your readers to tune out and move on before they reach the best part. So keep each sentence and phrase short and packed with substance. No empty, endless rambling. Your best candidates are busy and they’re in high demand. They can get jobs anywhere they want, so don’t expect them to read five long pages of obvious or non-valuable information. Start with three short paragraphs: 1) why your company is great, 2) what the job entails and requires, and 3) the perks and benefits that come with the job.

Offer what others can’t.

Of course, this can be challenging if you genuinely don’t have anything to offer that sets you apart from similar employers. For example, maybe you expect the candidate to file reports all day, and you intend to pay a fair wage and standard benefits in return. Big deal, right? Not really. But think hard; what is it about this place that makes your company special? And what can you offer that might light a spark of interest or help your reader understand that this job could boost her career? Will she learn a unique skill while serving in this role? Will she be up for advancement within one year? Will she be able to travel or set her own hours?

For more on how to add something special, catchy, or attention-grabbing to your job description that can help you nab strong candidates, turn to the staffing experts at PSU.

The Impact a Bad Hire can Have on Your Team

February 1st, 2019

When you calculate the cost of a hiring mistake, you can easily add up the obvious costs: the post you’ll need to publish to attract replacement candidates, the cost of background checks and interviews for those new candidates, and the cost of onboarding for the replacement you ultimately choose. But there are few costs and expenses associated with a hiring mistake that are intangible—They can only be estimated, and while difficult to precisely measure, these costs can be shockingly high.

For example, a hiring mistake (usually defined as a candidate who leaves within one year) can have a dismal impact on the productivity and morale of your entire team. Here’s how.

An underprepared candidate lowers the bar.

Your new hire came on board unprepared for the job and lacking the skills necessary for the role. He struggled for a while before he left, and though he tried, it was unrealistic to expect him to gain meaningful expertise during a six-week training period. What does this hiring decision tell your other employees about an “acceptable” level of competence in the missing skill area (for example, SQL, Photoshop, customer service, language fluency, written communication, or basic math)? The bar of expectation drops with every day the unprepared hire stays on the team.

Attitude problems are contagious.

If your candidate failed because he was sullen, uncooperative, or had anger issues, that’s unfortunate, and a contagious bad attitude doesn’t always show up during an interview. But even more unfortunate: the impact of his sulks and complaints may stay in the air even after he’s shown to the door.

“Work ethic” is a shared metric.

What would you call an appropriate work ethic in an office where most workers leave at 4:00 pm? How about an office where the “slackers” are still at their desks at 7:30? “Hard work” is a relative term, and if you introduce an employee who vanishes in a cloud of self-congratulation at exactly 4:59 each day, others are inclined to follow suit.

Bumblers create roadblocks.

Sometimes the nicest candidates in the world arrive in the workplace and spend more time standing in the way than helping the team. If you hire one of these, you’ll have messes, mistakes, and derailed projects to fix after they leave, plus all the back-ups and work-bottlenecks you’ll need to re-open.

The hidden cost.

Unfortunately, hiring the wrong person can also put tiny cracks in something very valuable: trust. Your teams trust you to make smart decisions when it comes to assessments of character and background, and their success depends on your ability to get it right. One mistake can be easily forgotten, but with each additional misjudgment, the task gets harder. Choose the best candidates available, and your existing teams will thank you.

For more, contact the hiring and staffing pros at PSU.

Are Your Employees Burned Out?

December 7th, 2018

Great managers wear lots of hats. They’re coaches, organizers, schedulers, budget masters, and when necessary, they’re teachers, speakers, conflict negotiators, and diplomatic liaisons. They’re also great at taking care of the company’s most important and most valuable assets: its employees. Employees don’t just walk in the door already knowing what to do and contributing at maximum levels. They need managers to make sure the right people are assigned to the right tasks and every employee can access the tools they need for success.

Unmotivated and disengaged employees are NOT contributing at their full potential. And when teams are burned out, it’s the manager’s job to step in and set things right. Here’s how to recognize the signs and take action.

What does burnout look like?

Burnout takes several visible forms, but here’s something it DOESN’T look like: an employee walking into your office and saying, “I’m burned out.” That doesn’t happen. The signs are subtle, and it’s your job to spot them. Look for weariness, distraction and vague responses to new assignments. If your employees accept tasks by saying “I guess I can try” or “I’ll see what I can do,” take a closer look at the situation. The same should be applied to excessive sick days, quarreling and chronic bad moods.

Start honest conversations.

If you think your employee may be overloaded or disengaged, ask them to join you for a chat or take them to lunch. You don’t have to say, “You look burned out,” but feel free to diplomatically ask them how they’re feeling and how their days are going. If you hear signs of trouble, make note. Find out what you can do to help.

Keep an open mind when choosing a solution.

Your burned-out employee may be any number of things: overworked, frustrated by specific obstacles, distracted by non-work events, or simply bored and dispassionate about a job they once loved. Each of these will require a different response from you, so listen carefully before you develop a plan of action.

Keep career development on the table.

If your employee is overworked, take some jobs off their plate; that’s easy enough. But if they’re unmotivated because they’re outgrowing the job or in need of new challenges, bring the full force of your training and connections to bear. Find new ways to help them advance within the company, provide training in-house, provide resources that can help expand their education outside of the workplace, or learn more about their goals, so you can help them reach them.

Get burnout under control before you have to deal with a bigger problem: high turnover. Start by contacting the management experts at PSU.

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