How to Get Good Information from References


“Given the information on his job application and his performance during interviews, you would have thought he could leap tall buildings in a single bound,” a manager said about a recent hire.  “I called his references.  All parties reinforced our assessment.”

Three months into the job, the employee’s good spirits morphed into mood swings.  Bad habits sprung up like weeds after a spring rain.  Whining seemed to be in his DNA.

To get better information from references, you have to dig deeper and go beyond the candidate’s hand-picked supporters.  Say to the applicant, “When I call your references, I will ask each of them for two or three other names of people who knew you.  You don’t mind if I do that do you?”

Most candidates will say, “Sure, go ahead.”  But if a candidate hesitates to give permission, a serious red flag emerges in my mind.

With cooperative applicants, I have nine to twelve potential references, most of which have not been screened.  Although it is tedious and time consuming, information from second-tier references is much more revealing.

Getting the right people on the bus is critical and reference checking is no place to take short cuts.

 

How About A Different Kind of Resolution?


More than fifty percent of us make resolutions for the New Year, usually to lose weight, exercise more, or eat better.

News Flash!  Only about one in ten of us keep our commitments for more than a few months; most engage in serious backsliding before the groundhog looks for its shadow.   While these are better odds than winning the lottery, they are still pretty dismal.

I remember one resolution I kept.  I resolved to give up drinking sodas.  For more than a year, not one sugary soda entered my esophagus.  Confession—as sodas were not part of my routine anyway, maybe my success was too easy a layup.

I have a suggestion for improving our woeful success rates.  Research tells us that we have a better chance of improving our strengths than correcting our weaknesses.  Think –Shaquille O’Neal’s failure to improve his free-throw shooting.

This year, pick out something that you do well, for example:  I am organized, I am respectful of my colleagues, I communicate openly, I meet deadlines, I am good with metrics—you get the idea.

Pick a couple or three and enter them into your electronic calendar.  Put them on the first working day of each month.  As each month emerges, score yourself: A = nailed it; B = got it, mostly; C= oops, I’ll try harder next month.  I predict you will end the year with an A average.

And if you wish to lose weight, you can but that on your list also.

 

 

More Structure or More Freedom?


“I believe in empowering my employees,” a manager said to me.

“What do you mean by ‘empowering’?”

“They know what we need to do.  I let them to do their thing. If they have questions, they know how to contact me.”

Another manager, taking a different approach, remarked, “I like to tell my team how I want tasks performed.  I use checklists, status reports, and deadlines as tools.”

“Do your people complain about micromanagement?”

“Not really, if they have suggestions they tell me and I listen.  I think they like to know what I expect.”

Recent management trends are clearly in the direction of the empowering, employee-freedom model.  Some companies even allow employees time to work on items of interest outside of their job responsibilities.

However, seventy-three percent of my workshop participants say that their organizations would benefit from more—not less—structure.  Suggestions for increasing structure include:  performance tracking, standardized processes and consistent application of policies.

High-performing employees tell me they like managers who tell them how they want things done and also listen to their suggestions for doing things differently.  Perhaps the key is to be both clear about what you want and open to employees’ ideas.

 

 

Employee Retention: Promotion versus Respect


“With such a strong economy, it is getting harder for us to retain our good employees,” a manager said to me.  “It’s especially hard to keep younger talent.”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We are developing promotional paths for the people that we really want to keep.  We also try to keep our wages competitive.”

“Have you looked at your front-line managers?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do they relate to employees?  Do your managers treat employees respectfully?  Take a personal interest in them?  Seek their suggestions occasionally?  Show their appreciation?”

About two-thirds of the participants in our management workshops, when given a choice, say that opportunities for promotion are more important than employee-manager relationships.

However, research clearly tells us that the number one reason good employees quit is because they did not respect their managers.  It is true that many employees do get a pay increase when joining another company.

But as an employee said, “I did increase my pay but I just got fed up with my supervisor.  You could never please him and he had his favorites.”

Managers who develop professional relationships with their employees have much better retention records.

 

How to Handle a Negotiation Dirty Trick


After reaching an agreement on responsibilities and salary, the vice president (VP) said to a general manager (GM) candidate, “Well, I think we understand each other, but I’ll need to check this out with the president.”

A few days later the VP said to the candidate, “The president is OK with most of our agreement but wants you to be responsible for warranty settlements.  He also thought that we were about five percent too high on the salary.”

This is an example of a negotiation “dirty trick.” The GM candidate negotiated in good faith with the VP believing that the VP had decision-making authority.

The candidate faces the following options:  (1) accept the revised offer, (2) reject the offer, or (3) continue negotiating.

Option 1 is too soft. Option 2 is too hard.  Option 3, continue negotiating, might include such responses as:

“You gave me the impression this was your decision.  Now, you say you did not have the authority?  How do you expect me to accept that?   Here are some other options we could look at . . .”

The intent is for the GM to identify the VP’s behavior and continue seeking options that are reasonable.

 

Leaders Show Up and Speak Up


In describing his approach to problem-solving discussions, Felix said, “I like to sit back and listen to what others are thinking.”

“Not me,” countered Marilyn.  “I get my ideas on the table first and then I encourage others to challenge my views.  The give-and-take helps me clarify, and often improve, my suggestions.”

“Aren’t you afraid you will suppress others’ thoughts by speaking so quickly?” asked Flex.

Marilyn answered, “No.  I encourage others to chime in.  In short order, we get our adrenaline flowing with rapid-fire comments and counter points.  We get more creative suggestions.”

“I see it differently,” Felix said.  “I’m very cautious about putting forth suggestions.  I want my team to own the solution.  I don’t get that if I talk too much.”

Most of us can recall verbal colleagues who express views on everything–including topics they know nothing about.  These people do lose influence because they eventually expose their lack of preparation.

Still, leaders do talk more than most during meetings.  Managers overlook some very capable people because they are reluctant to express their opinions.  To increase your influence and your value to your company, prepare well for your next meeting then show up and speak up.