How to Attract and Retain Talent in a Labor Shortage

After a recent team meeting, I realized I have not been practicing what I preach. We have been so busy these days taking care of clients, filling programs, training SAGE Forum facilitators, keeping our website current, developing marketing initiatives and more – that I have neglected to ensure that we are achieving the authentic alignment so critical to our success.
From my years of experience and observation, I have come to recognize that authentic alignment is the key to attracting and retaining talent. As we navigate challenges from a global pandemic, economic crisis, and high rates of retirement, we face a deeper challenge that’s difficult to see, yet lies at the heart of all others— supporting our people to acknowledge and fulfill their authentic selves. Our deepest calling is to find fulfillment and satisfaction along our path of authentic service and our workplace can provide the perfect opportunity realize this calling.
They say that race car driving is often won not on the track but in the pit stop. In our workplace it is in the pit stop that we take a pause to ensure there is an authentic alignment, an alignment of our values, unique talents, and purpose, with what the organization requires. However, we are usually so focused on driving on the racetrack, we aren’t taking time for a pit stop.
The pandemic was one giant pit stop of self-reflection and even a time to get out of the rat race altogether for some. Indeed, more than 300,000 Canadians have already retired so far in 2022, according to Statistics Canada, up from 233,000 last year. Plus, the number of people nearing retirement age is higher than ever – more than one in five Canadians of working age are between 55 and 64 years old. With the average age of retirement now 64, many more Canadians are set to leave their jobs.
I bellieve that this migration of workers out of the workforce indicates that we haven’t ensured an authentic alignment along the way. If we don’t stop to ensure an alliance between their hearts and the work they do, should we be surprised if one day our people resign? Maybe instead of being surprised that people leave, we should be surprised that they stay.
It’s no secret: there’s a mismatch between what employees deeply desire and what the current workplace is providing. We can realize the importance of culture and let people know that they are valued and appreciated. We can offer a competitive salary and benefits package. We can offer opportunities for development. We can promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage work/life balance and a flexible, hybrid workplace. We can administer yet more employee engagement surveys and keep working at communicating openly and frequently. We can address burnout and mental health challenges and offer effective exit interviews.
While all these actions may make an increment of impact, unless we address the issue of authentic alignment, retention of talent will remain elusive.
I propose that we use “pit stop conversations” and “pit stop agreements” to foster authentic alignment and offer here some sample questions for your onboarding or ongoing relationships.
Pit Stop Conversations:
  • Our mission is focused on… Why is this mission important to you? What meaning does it have for you?
  • Our values are focused on… How were these values formulated in your life? How do they align with your own personal values?
  • How do you define success in your work – and in your life?
  • Describe your ideal workday… What would you be doing throughout a day in your ideal job?
  • Answer this question: “I’m happy when…” (at work and away from work). How does your ideal workday align with what we are offering you here?
Pit Stop Agreements:
  • Here are the behaviors we expect from every team member (including us, as leaders) that demonstrate our values… Can we count on you to behave this way here? Here’s what you can count on from me…
  • What expectations do you have of us to ensure you will stay engaged? What is the best way to talk to each other if we aren’t meeting each other’s expectations?
  • What agreements would we make to each other?
  • What kind of environment do you need to inspire you to come to work every day? What do you see as the leaders’ responsibility to make that happen? What do you see as everyone’s responsibility to make that happen?
  • Have you ever worked in an organization where leaders did not demonstrate their values? How was that experience? We don’t want that to be your experience here. How can we work together to ensure that we live these values?
  • What are things I do that make it hard for you to support me?
Wrapping up
The pandemic and current world disruptions have provided fertile ground for reflection. Many are examining the meaning of their lives and where their work fits into the larger context of their existence. If we, as leaders, don’t take the time to pause and have pit stop conversations and make pit stop agreements, we will continue to have a challenge keeping our best people. While the answers to these questions are not always clear, and we must respect that not everyone wants to be this open with their boss, it’s on every one of us to care enough to earn the trust of those under our care and understand and support their deepest calling. Ensuring authentic alignment requires continual intention, investigation, and vigilance.

Balancing Work And Rest: Be Productive by Making Time To Be Unproductive

My good friend, Fr. Max Oliva, a Jesuit priest and author of several books, has an MBA and leads retreats and ethics seminars for parishes and business professionals across the USA and Canada. Years ago, I asked him “How do you renew yourself in the midst of such busy and full life?”

“To be productive, I regularly make time – usually a full day a week – to be unproductive.” He had good friends who were ranchers and he would spend a day a week just hanging out at the ranch – being unproductive.

In today’s world, with its relentless emphasis on success, achievement, and productivity, we have lost, in the words of Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives, “the necessary rhythm of life, the balance of work and rest. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. We long for time with friends and family, we long for a moment to ourselves.”

All of life is a fluctuation between effort and rest. We need both – every day and every week. Effort is not truly effective unless we have properly prepared for it by resting and renewing. Times when we are unproductive to renew and rejuvenate, and away from the tyranny of the urgency, gives us the power necessary to make our best effort. It is not good to rest too long and it is not good to carry on great effort too long without rest. The successful, productive life is a proper balance between the two.

We all require Sabbaths in some form. What are you doing to rest, to renew, to be unproductive?

Achieving Engagement From Productivity

I’m concerned about the focus these days on employee engagement as if it were some kind of “special thing” to be pursued outside the usual day-to-day operations of a workplace. Engagement isn’t a goal to be sought. Rather, it’s an outcome of good leadership. The goal should be a well-run organization. The best run organizations have engaged employees, not because they are necessarily pursuing “an engaged workforce,” but because they are committed to a well-run organization. If you keep your eyes on the right priorities – on the right prize – engagement will naturally follow.

An adaptation of Gallup’s Q12 Index (https://q12.gallup.com/) provides a suggested checklist for leaders. If you sincerely pursue these endeavors toward a well-run organization, employee engagement will follow. In other words, these behaviors can assist the leader to do a much better job.

Don’t try to accomplish this massive list all at once. Start with getting a read on how your employees might perceive your leadership and begin to take action in any of these areas. Action on any one item on the checklist below will result in a better, well-run, engaged organization.

  • Are you doing everything you can to clarify the kind of employee you need on your team? Are you clearly assessing the kind of skills and attitude required of an employee before you hire them, so that in the hiring process you get the right kind of people on the bus? While you may refine behaviors, don’t count on changing people’s fundamental values.
  • Are you explaining to your people exactly what you expect from them, both in terms of operational results and the kind of behaviors you need to see demonstrated to support your values?
  • Are you doing everything you can to give them the skills, tools, resources, and capabilities to succeed at their job?
  • Have you linked your expectations with the purpose of your organization so they feel their contribution is valued?
  • Have you assessed their strengths so they are doing what they do best every day?
  • Are you getting out of your office at least every week and catching them doing their job well? Are you recognizing and celebrating success?
  • Do you genuinely care about them as people? Have you listened to what matters to them, what they value, and how you can best support them to use their job to achieve their personal goals?
  • Are you encouraging your employees to grow, learn, and develop themselves? When was the last time you recommended a good book for them to read?
  • Do you allow genuine input and collaboration from your team so their opinions actually matter? While you can’t possibly make every decision by consensus, do you explain – and demonstrate – that their input on as many decisions as possible will be taken seriously?
  • Do you set high standards and hold people to account to those standards? “Everyone knows who is and who is not performing, and they are looking to you, as the boss, to see what you are going to do about it.” (Collin Powell)
  • Are you encouraging the development of good friendships at work?
  • Are you openly talking with people about their progress toward the achievement of both personal and organizational goals – so there are no surprises if/when you do an annual review?
  • Are you bringing humility to your leadership by being honest, vulnerable, and teachable?
  • Are you making it safe for people to risk making mistakes, while ensuring that they learn from these mistakes?
  • Are you creating a culture of ownership, so that employees are encouraged, and held accountable to create conditions for success on their own rather than depending solely on you, the boss, to deliver this?

Moving into a position of leadership does not give you more power. What it gives you is more accountability. Leading a well-run organization takes time, patience, and a clear intention. Set a goal for a productive workplace and employee engagement will follow.

Stop Evaluating People and Start Holding Them Accountable

In recent months, smart companies are finally seeing the futility of the old, outdated rule-based, bureaucratic “evaluation systems” of performance management. Many organizations I work with are abolishing their “rank and yank” systems that assign employees a performance score relative to their peers, while punishing or firing those with low grades. Other organizations are wisely rethinking their practices. Whether you agree or disagree with UCLA researcher Samuel Culbert’s assessment that performance reviews are “a curse on corporate America,” it’s nonetheless clear that performance reviews and evaluations are finally losing their appeal.

Why Performance Management Fails

First, the world has changed. Today’s employees want open communication and collaboration with their peers and with their bosses. They want partnerships, not parents. Today’s employees are also far more apt to want to know more immediately how they are doing and if they are meeting expectations and heading in the right direction. The world isn’t on an annual cycle any more for anything.

Second, being evaluated is demeaning. It’s based on an outdated parental, parent/child model of supervision that is founded on the belief that because a person is given a title they have authority over people. What right does anyone have to evaluate another person? No wonder performance reviews breed all kinds of unnecessary fear, resentment, and resistance. Leadership today is about service, not submission, supervision, and self-centeredness.

Third, if organizations want to develop highly engaged, contributing performers, managers must be equipped to coach and empower them. Today’s workers don’t see their managers as experts in specific subject areas the way their predecessors did. After all, the information they think they need is readily available to them online. Instead, they look to their managers for coaching and mentorship and find purpose through learning, contributing, and growing on the job.

The truth is that employees don’t need annual performance reviews to know how they stack up against their peers. Companies need to stop merely managing performance and start actually developing it.

The Alternative: Accountability Agreements

Instead of evaluating people, start holding them accountable. Here’s how:

Step 1. Build trust. Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Genuinely invest in people lives. Be interested in what matters to them, what motivates them, and how you can support them to grow. People need to feel safe so they can be honest without fear of punishment. The key is not just walking around; it is opening up, paying attention, and being in touch. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Step 2. Engage. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Do all you can to help and coach your employees to find their unique abilities, passion, and goals and how work fits into the context of their life. Be sure you have done everything you can to help them find a fit. Fit people; don’t fix people. Stay away from evaluating people and focus on how to support each other to grow and achieve clearly defined success.

Step 3. Clarify Expectations. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify operational (competency) expectations, as well as describing in behavioral terms the kind attitude that is required and what results are promised. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place.

Step 4. Clarify Agreements. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.

Step 5. Clarify Support Requirements. To be committed and engaged, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. They need to feel that you are committed to do all you can to help them find the resources and capabilities to do their job and grow in the process. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.

Step 6. Clarify Consequences. With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.

Step 7. Follow up. Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often you need to meet and with whom to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other.

Is Your Boss A Bully? Or Just A Poor Communicator?

In recent months the topic of bullying has surfaced in my leadership development programs. Although I haven’t thoroughly researched the topic, my observation is that there is an increase in abusive and bullying behavior in the workplace. Perhaps it is related to the economy, increased stress at work, or maybe people are getting more courageous, bringing it to the forefront and are no longer willing to be abused. Even if you are not experiencing bullying, I hope the following will help you to communicate in any of your relationships.

A coaching client shared a recent experience with her boss that went something like this:
“My boss asked me to come to her office. As soon as I sat down she laid into me about how unproductive I was, how my performance had slipped drastically in the past six months, and how I needed to step up my performance or in my next review she would start to document my work with ratings that would put my future career in jeopardy.”
While this behavior is obviously indicative of a controlling, bullying person, how do you determine if this is a bully or a boss that doesn’t handle stress well and is a bad communicator?
Following is a process that I suggest you can use to find out.
Step 1. Don’t communicate when you are in a high emotional state. As I learned from my colleague and friend, Valerie Cade, an expert in workplace bullying, “to be honorable, you have to meet dishonor with honor.” Getting angry or defensive in response to destructive communication is only throwing fuel on an already damaging fire. If you are hurt, angry, or in any way upset by this kind of feedback (and who wouldn’t be), take a few more moments to listen, then give yourself permission to say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I want to get to the bottom of this, and in order to do so I need to step away and get some perspective. Let’s come back when we can problem solve this rationally and strategically.” Then politely excuse yourself.
Step 2. Get support from a confidant. Allies are trusted friends, colleagues, or coaches who provide perspective, wisdom, encouragement, support, and honesty. It is vital, in the work of leadership, to know we aren’t alone. The most important kind of allies are confidants: people in your life who create a safe space to be who you are, who will listen to your truth and will, in turn, tell you the truth and help hold you accountable. Confidants ask questions like, “What’s going on? What can be learned from the mistakes and failures? Can you learn something for the future? What are your options?”
Step 3. Once you let go of the emotional reaction, schedule a time to meet with your boss to problem solve a solution that responds to their concerns. When you meet next, bring a notepad and ask only one question, “What do you need from me to ensure that I get my performance right, so that you will never again accuse me of these things. I want to understand exactly what I need to do to turn this around.” Then sit and listen and make notes. You don’t have to agree or disagree. The goal is to understand what your boss is asking for. If they need more time to clarify this on their own, then of course, give them the time to do so.
Step 4. If your boss starts to attack you, stop and ask them to clarify what behaviors they are expecting. Reiterate that you are here to solve the problem, to be a part of the solution moving forward, not the problem going backwards. In any of these steps, do not allow yourself to be put into a situation where you are being criticized, demeaned, or bullied. Take charge of the conversation to shift it from criticism to identification of solutions or requests.
Step 5. Once you hear your boss out and list the behaviors they are asking you to change, then negotiate an agreement between you. Conflict comes from unmet needs. You don’t resolve conflict with more conflict. You resolve conflict by getting to the root of the problem. The negotiation process may take a few meetings. Give yourself and your boss the time and the space to carefully clarify the expectations, agreements, and needs for support from each other.
Step 6. Assess Intent. This is the step where the rubber hits the road, where you assess if your boss is a bully. Bullies have no intent to work toward a solution. Bullies have themselves been bullied. They have no interest in problem solving, in helping you find a solution, and in helping you succeed. They only have interest in criticizing, controlling, and manipulating with the intent to bully. You can assess their intent by giving them (with an open mind and a spirit of generosity) a few chances to move toward a solution. Give them the benefit of the doubt in the first meeting. Maybe they are just stressed and are communicating poorly. But if after a few tries they still have no interest in moving toward a solution and helping you understand and change your actions, take the appropriate action toward taking care of yourself. If they are, in fact, a bully, here are a few options to consider:
a.    Get support from a trusted outsider – either an HR manager inside your organization or an outsider who specializes in bullying. Don’t ever attempt to deal with a bully who has positional authority over you on your own.
b.    Take full responsibility for your willingness to work on a solution, and be honest about what you are up against.
c.     You may have to consider leaving your organization. Be sure you have  covered all your bases, documented all of your interactions and done everything possible on your end to resolve the issue.
Please note that these are very general points. If you need support with any of these steps, contact our office for a confidential and complimentary half hour consultation, and we’ll help you find the resources and support that you need.

Seven Steps To Holding An Employee Accountable

“Everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” – Collin Powell, former US Secretary of State

Last week, in a two-day culture and leadership development workshop with a group of executives, one of the leaders made a fascinating statement: “I’ve been a positional leader for almost thirty years, and I’ve never learned an actual process for holding people accountable.”

I find this fascinating. We talk about “holding people accountable” all the time. We all know we need to be doing it, and we all think we know what we talking about. But do we? Far too often, tasks are assigned to employees in a haphazard way, hoping that the worker will ‘figure it out’ and deliver an adequate, even superior, performance. If this is your accountability process, you will soon realize that ‘hope’ is a better strategy for frustration than it is for results.

I have observed three reasons why managers don’t hold people accountable:

  • They aren’t clear about how to do it. There isn’t a clear accountability process in place.
  • They don’t want to be the bad guy. A recent Harvard study showed that many managers, hoping to get promoted, refrain from holding their people accountable because they want to get good performance feedback and stay in line for promotion.
  • It’s too hard. Let’s face it. It’s tough holding people accountable. It takes courage. Leaders must be prepared to put in the time and to have the tough conversations.

Seven Steps To Holding People Accountable

  1. Build Trust – Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Make the connection.
  2. Discover the Reason – Accountability without a vision – without purpose and passion – is drudgery. If someone lacks accountability in their work, it usually means that haven’t found a reason to be accountable. They don’t have a why. Before you talk about results, if at all possible, help your employees discover a fit – between what they are passionate about what is expected of them. Even if you find out that their primary passion lies outside of work, at least you are supporting them. Fit people; don’t fix people.
  3. Clarify – Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify expectations, including what kind of attitude is required and what results are promised. People also need a clear line of sight between how their contribution makes a direct impact on the success of the organization.
  4. Get an Agreement – I define accountability as: The ability to be counted on. Accountable people never make a promise they can’t keep. But we need to get better at making promises. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.
  5. Support Requirements – To be committed, engaged, and ultimately accountable, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.
  6. Consequences – With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.
  7. Follow up – Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often we need to meet and with whom, to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other. If you end up getting to negative consequences, then follow up means you must now be accountable to follow through on the consequences that were put forward to your employee.

If accountability remains a challenge for you or for your organization, I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps I can be of some assistance. http://www.irvinestone.ca/contact