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Hiring Strategies

How to Create a Perpetual Prime of Life

By | Hiring Strategies, Leadership, Training | No Comments

As recruiters, we ask candidates a powerful question which typically elicits immediate pause, reflection, and authenticity in the answer. It is a question that catches most off guard, creates a feeling of nostalgia, and sometimes even prompts a smile. “At what point in your career did you feel most fulfilled? When did you feel you were truly in your prime, or at your best?” Unfortunately, more common than not, the answer is a story of the past. This creates a dual-sided dilemma; how do we expect others to be inspired by our vision and actions if we ourselves are not inspired by them? How do we create a perpetual prime of life for ourselves and for those we lead?

Perpetual Prime: Yourself

A commonly cited quote (original author contested) reminds us that “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.” It might help to know that celebrity chef Julia Child worked in advertising for the majority of her life and did not release her first cookbook until age 50. Legendary comic creator Stan Lee did not create his first comic until he was 39. Colonel Sanders of KFC fame did not start franchising his company until the age of 62. The individual responsible for inventing instant ramen noodles did not do so until he was nearly 50. However, this is not an article about the possibilities of succeeding later in life. It is about how to take the environment of previous success and push yourself to stay in it, year in and year out.

The best place to start is by learning from the past. What is your answer to the question above? When have you felt truly in your prime, and what circumstances were in play at that time?

  • Commonly, the following four statements are generally the answers we hear most often as recruiters:
  • I had a team around me and we were all rowing together, hard, to achieve a goal we all believed in.
  • I was busy, maybe even overwhelmed, but overwhelmed doing meaningful work.
  • I was tasked with a challenge and given autonomy but support to solve that problem.
  •  I was surrounded by a team or a leader who pushed me to be more, learn more, take on more and grow more.

Sound familiar? You might identify with some or all of those experiences, whether they are in the past or in the present. The remaining question is “what changed?”

As leaders, we are in a position of power – a position to recreate the very circumstances that once made us feel we were the zone or at our best. We have the ability to take control of the variables that put us in those situations and control of the variables that detract.

Consider instead:

  • What is our collective vision, and what can be done to make it a more purposeful goal?
  • What mundane tasks should be outsourced, freeing up time for the most fulfilling and highest gain daily activities as a leader?
  • What can you do to create an ongoing learning environment with new challenges to overcome?
  • Are you surrounded by the best, both peer-level and those on your team? If not, what changes need to be made?

It is normal to find yourself entrenched in the day to day routine of work, family, and life. Many people go through the day on autopilot of knowing what is expected and performing to that expectation. It is not necessarily easy or comfortable to take the time to answer the questions posted in this article and start to understand true aspirations, motivations, and desires. It is certainly not comfortable to initiate change and uproot unproductive teams or face the reality of uninspiring objectives, but it is necessary in order to create an environment in which everyone feels at their best.

Perpetual Prime: Your Team

Being a leader can often times feel like being a parent, where every word is heard and every action is emulated. That leads us to another question: who was the best boss you ever had? Most answers include things such as “he/she had a vision and could articulate where we were going and how we would get there” or “their impact was felt daily as they worked tirelessly towards our goal” or “he/she put me in a position to succeed and I felt there was a strong belief in my abilities and potential.” Sound familiar? Although we are all different, we are also often alike. Creating a professional environment in which your team feels they are all in their prime takes work, but it is not a unique challenge.

In fact, someone once felt it with you; think about it! The best boss you ever had took responsibility for inspiring you, for making you feel heard, and for believing in you at times more than you believed in yourself. As leaders, we owe it to those who have put their careers in our hands, and the formula exists for what to do. It has been done for you already in the past. In fact, Google has even made leadership a replicable quality! Google’s people analytics team started by researching the qualities that make managers great at Google and then built a training program that teaches those exact qualities. Once the program has been completed, Google measures the behaviors of the leaders to ensure that they’re making improvements and morphing into managers that Googlers want to work for.

We don’t need to make it as complex as Google has. Start with becoming the boss you most admired and recreating the circumstances that used to make you feel you were in your zone. So goes the leader, so goes the team; once you feel you are in a perpetual prime of life, you will be surprised by how many others follow.

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Retention Tips: How to Retain Your Best Talent for the Long Term

By | Executive Assistant, Hiring Strategies, Leadership | No Comments

Retaining your best employees is an essential strategy in growing your business. Poor retention drives up an organization’s costs and can negatively impact the team’s morale and confidence. Here are some retention tips to help retain your best talent for the long term.

Overcommunicate Expectations and Details

One of the main reasons new employees quit is because the job isn’t what they expected. Throughout the hiring and onboarding processes, overcommunicate expectations and other important details. New hires should know exactly what to expect when it comes to their job responsibilities and the company culture. Also clarify what their priorities need to be in order to succeed in the role.

Establish What it Takes to Accomplish Their Goals

Employees need to know what to do in their position that will allow them to accomplish their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals within the company. Often, employees leave because they don’t see how they are contributing to the company in a meaningful way. Instead of putting out fires, they need to know they have a purpose. Part of your job is to communicate to employees clearly and consistently how the role will allow them to contribute to the company. If you make that clear from the start, then they will have a much greater chance of reaching (and exceeding) those goals and feeling the sense of accomplishment that comes along with that success.

Set Employees up for Success, Not Failure

To ensure that new hires are happy at the company, set them up for success from the beginning. During the onboarding process, help new hires understand what challenges they will face in their new job, and provide them with the appropriate resources, such as a mentor, to overcome these challenges. You also want to give them tools to learn about the company and their role as quickly as possible. Finally, you want to provide new hires with opportunities to socialize with their peers so they can start to feel like part of the team right away.

Give New Hires Time to Train and Attend Regular Meetings

The most common complaint that new hires have is that they don’t feel like they have adequate time for training and meetings. New hires need the appropriate amount of time to train and attend meetings so they can learn their role and learn what they need to about the company and its culture. Otherwise, they might not figure out how to perform their job fast enough, become overwhelmed, and leave.

Have a System Place

With the above in mind, you have a system in place for training new hires and providing them with the onboarding they need to succeed. You might also want to incorporate a mentorship program to help accelerate the learning process and help make the new hire feel more comfortable.

Retention is essential for a successful business. You need your best employees to stay loyal to the organization so you’re not wasting time and money constantly searching for talent. To improve retention, make sure expectations are clear, establish how the role will help them accomplish their goals, provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed, and give them sufficient time to train.

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Loss Aversion in the Workplace

By | Hiring Strategies, Leadership, Training | No Comments

Imagine this scenario: a colleague offers to flip a coin and give you $20 if it lands on heads. If it lands on tails, you give him $20. Would you accept that bet? For most of us, the answer is no. Behavioral science experts Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman performed an experiment which resulted in a clear example of human bias towards losses. The experiment involved asking people if they would accept a bet based on the flip of a coin. If the coin came up tails the person would lose $100, and if it came up heads they would win $200. The results of the experiment showed that on average people needed to gain about twice as much as they were willing to lose in order to proceed forward with the bet. This tendency reflects loss aversion, or the idea that losses generally have a much larger psychological impact than gains of the same size.

You likely experience this phenomenon daily. Have you ever purchased something knowing you’d likely return it, but the longer you keep it the more attached you get? Sending the item back now feels like a loss. The longer we wait to be seated at a restaurant, the harder it becomes to leave, because it feels as if the time we’ve invested would then be lost. The more we try to fit a new couch through a too-narrow entryway, the less inclined we are to give up and accept that we need a smaller couch, and the more steadfast we become in making it fit. It seems that sometimes we will persist with a belief or course-of-action long after it is rational to do so. We feel trapped by what we have already committed.

Although a fascinating piece of knowledge about human behavior, what does the concept of loss aversion have to do with the workplace?

As leaders, knowing that losses have a tremendous psychological impact can cloud judgement when it comes to truly evaluating employee performance. We have a tendency to double down with those we’ve invested time with yet who continue to underperform.

“B” and “C” Players

A less enjoyable component of management is the act of working with and coaching the perpetual under-performers. Every department has them, every leader has struggled with them, and some may even have a few who come to mind immediately. They are the few who we try to encourage, who we try to train, and for whom we hold out hope that change will come, but it can seem like an endless cycle of performance management and frustration.

We all recognize “A” Players. Within most organizations, there is even room for the competent, steady “B” performers who balance their work and personal lives while still performing a significant amount of tasks that need to be done. They stay in their lane, don’t require a great deal of attention, and they get the job done.

On the other end of the spectrum, “C” Players sometimes make up the smallest segment of the team yet require the most time and attention. They are the employees with a constant litany of excuses – a vehicle is broken, someone is sick, excessive days are missed, and the workload either gets passed to someone else or delayed altogether. They walk the fine line between “good enough to get by” and “fireable offense worthy of termination.” They are granted continual employment primarily because the act of hiring, training and managing someone you don’t know is sometimes more intimidating than continuing to deal with the perpetual issues of the presently employed “C” performer.

Stop Doubling Down

It’s time to step away from the fear of losing $100 and focus instead on the opportunity cost of not winning $200. The obvious unintended consequence of having a seat filled with an under-performer is having it not filled by a significant contributor. What rarely is considered is the impact on those who are current significant contributors; there is little more frustrating than having your own success consistently hampered by another person’s incompetence. If the majority of your team is working hard, producing great results with tremendous collaboration, what message are you sending by supporting the 10 percent who are doing the opposite? How long do “varsity players” want to be surrounded by sub-par athletes?

Beyond performance issues, it is likely time to top-grade when:

  • The individual is the central cause or perpetual perpetrator of office drama
  • Co-workers (or possibly worse, clients) have taken note of the incompetence
  • The employee has an apathetic attitude
  • He or she ignores actionable feedback
  • The individual handles emotions poorly, mistaking the work environment as a therapist’s office
  • You spend more than ten minutes a week, week after week, dealing with issues created by the employee

Toxic Workers, a Harvard Business School study of more than 60,000 employees, found that “a superstar performer–one that models desired values and delivers consistent performance” brings in more than $5,300 in cost savings to a company. Avoiding a toxic hire, or letting one go quickly, delivers $12,500 in cost savings.

Sometimes, it truly is best to return the item, leave the overcrowded restaurant, or succumb to a smaller couch. Instead of experiencing a loss, you might actually gain the improved morale of the entire workforce. Instead of experiencing a feeling of loss over time invested, you might actually gain more time to invest in those worth investing in. Instead of feeling the loss of an employee, you might actually gain a key contributor you would not have otherwise hired.

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Who Thanks Whom? It May Be Time to Evaluate Your Hiring Process

By | Hiring Strategies, Interviews | No Comments

A recent article penned for Inc. by Suzanne Lucas made the bold statement: “Dear Hiring Manager, Perhaps You Should Write the Thank You Note.” She continues: “The traditional thank you note is from candidate to hiring manager. That’s wrong . . . Just what are you exactly thanking the manager for? Taking the time to talk with you and consider your application for the job, right? But what were you really doing? You were taking your time out of your day (and often using vacation time from your current job to do so) to try and solve a problem for the hiring manager.” At first glance, most would read these statements and think “thank goodness this wasn’t a candidate I interviewed; seems quite entitled.” However inverted a perspective this author seems to hold from standard interviewing protocol, there is an underlying message communicated by her article. It may be time to evaluate your hiring process through a new lens.

If we assume it is the candidate’s responsibility to pen the thank-you note, doesn’t that inherently mean that we also assume it’s the candidate’s responsibility to be thankful for being granted an interview to begin with?

Evaluate Your Hiring Process

You may have this mindset and not even realize you have it. A few questions to consider:

  • How much time do you expect a candidate to prepare for the interview with you? How much time do you spend preparing for that same interview?
  • You likely have asked the question “so why should we hire you” without batting an eye – how receptive are you when a candidate questions “why should I come to work here?”
  • Checking candidate references from past employers is a probable interviewing step; candidates volunteer these regularly. What would your reaction be if a candidate asked to check references from those who had worked under your supervision in the past but were no longer with the firm?

These are just a few scenarios to help challenge your hiring process. Lucas ultimately summarizes this mental shift: “When we think of all the things we demand of job candidates, we should realize that they are the ones doing the hiring managers big favors. You need that position filled, and these people are graciously helping you to do so.”

Start with Motivation

Secure more insights than exist on paper. Schedule time with your recruiter to go beyond more than “the individual is looking to take that next step in his career” and instead have a solid understanding of what the candidate does not have currently and is looking to have within your organization. Know what is most important for this candidate to learn from your initial meeting as it relates to what he is looking to accomplish in this career move. Additionally, make sure you know “why your firm” – why this candidate wants to talk with your firm as opposed to others. What is it that initially sparked their interest, and how you can expand on that to have the candidate walk away with their own motivating factors addressed? Finally, know “why not” – any concerns this candidate has in areas such as the cost of living (if relocation is involved), or stability, or any other detail no matter how large or small. This is the opportunity to address them, either openly or candidly, throughout the interview.

It’s the Little Things

Small things stand out, especially when candidates are in a thriving economy and may have the opportunity to interview with multiple organizations. Take a moment and look at your physical office space through a new lens. What does someone entering your space see and experience? Is your boardroom, interviewing space, or personal office dated and could use some modernization? Do you have anything on the walls that showcases your organization’s accomplishments, or highlights your culture? Think through the impression you make as it relates to your physical office space.

When the candidate arrives, give them bottled water without them having to ask or accept it. When the candidate leaves, consider an exit gift of some sort – a small item with your logo on it or something personalized based on what you know about their interests or background.

The Sell

Take some time to consider your hiring process and craft concrete answers or success stories around questions such as the following:

  • What are the primary reasons someone would join your organization instead of another firm?
  • What is the specific and measurable career path?
  • What in-house resources do you have that give people a competitive advantage? What external resources?
  • How does your company differentiate itself from other competitors in your niche, and what would this mean to someone joining your firm?
  • What is the tenure of your senior staff? What benefit does that provide a new associate?
  • What future growth plans do you have for your firm? What opportunity does that create for someone?

Even if the candidate does not ask the direct question, you want to remain confident that you are articulating “why you” just as much as you are trying to determine “why them.” If, during the interview, a light bulb switches on and you have the revelation that this is the exact person you need to hire, the better you can articulate your true value proposition the higher the chance that candidate will want you as much as you want them.

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Opportunistic Outsourcing: Career Path Advancement for Key Contributors

By | Hiring Strategies, Interviews | No Comments

Business coach Peter Drucker was known for dispensing some sage advice that still rings true decades later: “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.” What comes to mind when you hear that mantra? An immediate list likely appears of all the tasks you know are not the greatest use of your efforts and energy. In the few seconds you spent thinking about what pops to mind you may already have vowed not to waste time any longer on select mundane projects or responsibilities that fill your plate and don’t leave room for much else. “I really need to hire someone to manage my schedule” or “someone else should be responsible for compiling our weekly reports” are certainly reasonable solutions, but the outsourcing we will cover next is far more strategic.

Instead of viewing outsourcing as a chance to create more time for you, shift instead to think through how outsourcing could actually create an opportunity for others within your team.

The Shift

Stop thinking of outsourcing as the things you no longer want to do and look instead at the opportunities you could create for others. A great leader is always one step ahead of career path advancement for key contributors. Take a moment (or a few hours) to evaluate each direct report you have; who are they each capable of becoming over the next few years and beyond? Now, what do you need to teach each of them to advance their responsibilities and skillsets?

You have now defined your first round of opportunistic outsourcing.

Think less about performance management and think more about professional development. Do you spend the same amount of time talking about where you see a key contributor’s career going as you do talking about how they are doing with deadlines or quotas? Is your coaching equally dedicated to skills that will help them achieve in their current role just as much as prepare them for the next step you believe they could grow into? Do you purposefully put key contributors in situations in which they may fail, but that failure propels growth?

At times, you may need to believe in others a little more than they believe in themselves. The best leaders help their team members discover their genius.

Survivorship Bias

When you focus too heavily on the “survivors” of a given group, you tend to ignore essential qualities about the rest of the population. Take entrepreneurship; we tend to gravitate toward the most successful entrepreneurs in the world when we study examples. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school; after learning about them many people conclude that a college education is not necessary to succeed.

But for every Branson, Gates, and Zuckerberg, there are thousands, if not millions, of other entrepreneurs who dropped out of school and failed in business. We just don’t hear about them, and so we don’t take them into account. The misconception is that you should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.

How does this relate to our topic at hand? Until now, we have been focusing on key contributors – those whom you feel strongly will continue to play an integral role in the success of your organization. What about those who hover just below that line?
One option is certainly to “top grade” and perpetually focus on proactive hiring that improves the strength of your bench, not just hiring that fills empty seats. Spend less time addressing reoccurring performance issues and instead craft a hiring plan that proactively attracts the “A” or “B+” contributors to the team.

An additional option is to opportunistically outsource. Give others the chance to take on tasks and responsibilities they can succeed with and are passionate about. Be sensitive to the skills and interests of individuals; match the dreamer with more creative tasks and the perfectionist with the detail-oriented projects. Just think how much more would get done if people only did jobs for which they had a talent and a passion. Don’t focus only on the already successful individuals within your team but outsource thoughtfully to those to whom you are still trying to uncover their fullest potential.

Just Ask

Not sure what to outsource, and to whom? Challenge yourself to get to know those on your team. Ask questions to assess the present and design the future:

  • When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  • What are you learning here? What have you not yet been given the chance to take on, that you’d like to?
  • Is this what you want to do?
  • What can I do to make your experience here better?
  • What would you be excited to take on? (projects, responsibilities, clients)
  • When was the last time you feel like you massively over-delivered on something? What was it, and why did you work so hard?
  • What would make you listen to a call you’d get from a recruiter? Be honest; no judgment!
  • What’s on your personal and professional bucket list?
  • Fast-forward a year (two years, five years) from now; what would you be most proud of having accomplished?

Even when individuals are assigned difficult challenges, when they are involved in the decision there is a huge increase in performance. Those who volunteer look at projects as developmental, while those who are assigned regard the task as hard labor. Take the initiative now to truly engage the hearts and minds of your team, so they one day will have the ability to outsource opportunistically to the next generation of future leaders within your firm.

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How to Use Behavior-Based Questions to Gauge Emotional Intelligence in the Interview

By | Hiring Strategies, Interviews | No Comments

One of the goals of an interview is to assess whether the candidate has the emotional intelligence needed to succeed in the job. An emotionally intelligent person demonstrates self-awareness, empathy, motivation, and strong social skills. These tips will help you develop behavior-based questions that can effectively gauge emotional intelligence during the interview.

Facing Challenges

An important aspect of the candidate that should be assessed is how they face challenges. One way to do this is by asking about professional demands they have faced. Have the candidate tell you about past trials they encountered in their job and have them explain how they overcame it. This will give insight into how they approach problems. The focus of this question should be on finding candidates who are excellent problem-solvers and aren’t afraid to take on new challenges. Finding employees who can take a difficult situation and turn it into a positive is essential.

Resilience and Stress Management

The ability to bounce back from adversity is a powerful life skill to have. One way to assess a candidate’s resilience is to ask them about past projects that required them to work under pressure. Have the candidate talk about professional projects they have worked on that were stressful or that ultimately failed. Executive support positions come with a certain amount of stress. There are deadlines and goals that need to be met. It’s important to understand how a candidate behaves under pressure. Do they shut down when things become too tough, or do they push through and make the best of the situation? The goal is to find talent who has the emotional maturity to thrive in intense situations.

Proactive Drive

To ascertain a candidate’s level of drive, ask them whether they have ever assisted in establishing new goals for a company. Allow the interviewee to discuss a time where they helped establish new goals or objectives for a company they worked for. This can reveal a lot about a candidate. Are they proactive? Can they identify shortcomings within the company? If they managed to convince management to implement a new objective, this shows they are persuasive.

Growth and Leadership

In executive support roles, it’s vital that candidates have great leadership skills, adaptability, and a willingness to grow. To get an understanding of their strength in those areas, ask them if they changed the scope of their role in their last job. How did they redefine the position and why did they feel like they needed to? Did other coworkers follow suit and redefine their own roles? It’s helpful to see how well the candidate can adapt and grow. A candidate who is confident enough to take on additional responsibilities and has strong leadership skills will rise to the challenges of a new position.

Behavior-based questions are the most important questions you ask during an interview. These questions allow you to understand how a candidate would perform if they land the job. One of the goals of behavior-based questions is to assess the candidate’s emotional intelligence– how they handle stress, if they are proactive, and if they have the skills to readily adapt to change.

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Good Leadership Can Help You Overcome the Challenges of Onboarding

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Retention of high-quality, motivated professionals is essential for an organization’s success. This is particularly true for C-level support. High turnover adds to expenses and can lower the morale of the entire company. It’s important to develop the full range of competencies needed to successfully onboard new talent and establish them in your organization. Here are some helpful tips on how solid leadership will help overcome the challenges of onboarding and improve overall retention.

Communication Challenges

A prominent challenge many leaders experience is making assumptions about expectations without actually communicating them directly. While intuition can be an important part of success, it can never be a substitute for clear communication. During the onboarding process, leaders need to speak with new employees often to learn what they need to feel comfortable. Most new employees want to set goals and milestones. Onboarding is a good time to set expectations so they have a clear sense of direction from the start. Talk with new employees regularly to learn about their career goals, current objectives and help them develop a plan. Search consultants can support managers with appropriate questions to ask as they understand the concerns of new hires as well as client companies and can align intentions to a mutually beneficial outcome.

Expectation Challenges

Another important issue for transitioning new hires is time management. Often managers who are new to onboarding think it’s a one-week process. Many new leaders grow frustrated because the process requires more time than they expected. A search consultant can help establish some guidelines for the process. They can make sure both parties understand what to expect from onboarding and training. Even the most qualified candidates will require thoughtful training and communication. They have an entire organization to become acquainted with.

Onboarding Tips

An effective onboarding process often takes several months to a year. In the first 90 days, the goal should be to make the new hire comfortable, while establishing clear expectations and ensuring that everyone understands objectives. An executive should have a 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day meeting with their new employee to review goals and share feedback in addition to daily action items and priorities. Our search firm offers a post-placement program where we meet with the leader and new hire on a monthly cycle, through some of the most difficult challenges and then move to a 9-month and 12-month check-in. The goal of the meeting is to exchange feedback and foster a connection and sense of shared accomplishment.

Good leadership and direct communication will enable a thoughtful and effective onboarding process ensuring your new employee is established in a timely manner and can begin meeting the goals and priorities you set together. Providing clear communication and immaculate guidelines are essential keys to a smooth onboarding process. Once an employee trusts you and feels supported, they’re much more likely to be productive and stay loyal to the organization.

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