You Can’t Put a Sweater on a Jellyfish

culture

A local friend, a hiring manager at her company, recently expressed frustration with the state of hiring in her organization.

“We get plenty of applicants,” she said. “Obviously some are better than others but we really have no problem with quantity and are able to hire pretty easily. Plus we’ve got decent benefits,” she added, “and above average pay.”

“But why,“ she wondered out loud, “do we lose so many new employees before they hit the 3 month mark? I’m super clear on job expectations and tell them WHAT they’ll work on and HOW they’ll spend their day. So why are they leaving?”  

(side note: she’s quite sincere and most assuredly not one who laments “no one wants to work anymore!” in which case I would have pointed out that our state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest point since March 2008).

So why don’t people last beyond the 3/6/12 month timeframe? (And yes; we could unpack this forever and come up with numerous reasons. I’m quite partial to this simple nugget BTW).  But here’s what I think is one of the primary reasons for poor retention in those critical early stages:

Companies hire for the culture they want…NOT for the culture they have.

Nutshell.

Because a fair number of organizations, in the holy name of employer branding, share glossy manufactured versions of reality. They check all the boxes: creating great content, shooting Day in the Life videos, and having employees write reviews on their webpage. Good on them for having the right intent; candidates want to see that stuff since it’s better than 99% of the HR-developed job postings on the average company’s website (bullet points ad nauseum!!). But those videos – those “employee testimonials” – those employee authored blog posts – are merely ethereal pixie dust. 

  • No HR leader or recruiter is posting videos of the dudes back in the warehouse sweating in 100-degree heat with no Gatorade (only water!) and one 10-minute break every 2 hours.
  • No one asks Joyce in Accounts Payable (who has toiled for the company for 28 years and is bitter, frustrated, and pissed off because her salary capped out 6 years ago) to write a “testimonial” for the company career page.
  • And the Call Center Reps who churn and burn and cycle in and out within 30 days of hire? Do you think they’re going to make it onto the “Employer Branding Reel” that the Head of TA showcases at 4 Recruiting Conferences next year?

Of course not.

We want to hide our warts. So we take snapshots of parties and balloons and smiling, laughing, dancing employees. We’re certainly not going to post a picture of Bob in Accounting, forlornly cradling his head in his hands, at end-of-month close as he is once again waiting for the A/P team to get their act together.

Instead we share visions of the future – the hoped-for-state of endless sunshine and remote work (for those who want it) and ping pong tables on every floor (for those who crave coming to the office) and groups of employees volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.

“We have to get the right people on board to make that shift…to get us there,” we tell ourselves.  

“We know we’ll be able to innovate once we get the right people on board.”

“We intend to be better communicators!” (sotto voce: although, of course, we know we suck at it today).

We do care about our employees!” (well the HR policies are a bit rigid and draconian but we intend to change that once we hire the right people!)  

So we hire for our future state and bring on the people we think will plant the seeds for what we hope to become. The super innovator! The stellar communicator! The go-getter!  The light-the-world-on-fire manager with bold new ideas!

Then they come to work in the real culture. And leave at the 3-month mark.

Once again we’ve tried, too hard, to wrangle our jellyfish into a sweater.

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The Break-Up: Managing Employee Departures

employee departures

The way in which an employee is treated when departing your company is just as important as how you handled the process when they joined.

Remember that intoxicating time? You wooed and courted and promised them the moon. You shared your hobbies (“look at all our ‘employee engagement activities!!’”) and pet peeves (“please read our HR policies”). And even though your out-of-date and heavily photoshopped profile picture (“branding”) didn’t resemble reality (“actual culture”) in any way, you managed to convince them to come aboard.

But now they’ve decided to leave. The romance has soured or a more attractive suitor has arrived and lured them away. When an employee tells you “It’s not you – it’s me” (even though it may, in fact, be you) there are a few situations to avoid as you work through the break-up.

The Bloodletting

Asking an employee to leave immediately upon resignation is at the top of the list for inane moves. Granted, this may seem sensible for a salesperson who’s not going to be filling the pipeline with new leads if he’s walking out the door in 2 weeks, but what’s the point of tossing Carol in Accounting out the door the moment she gives notice?  Yet there are companies who apparently assume all resigning employees are going to gather all the corporate intel they can and sell it to the highest bidder. I’ve joined organizations where this was such the norm -and expectation – that resigning employees who had to work out a 2 week notice were actually offended they weren’t asked to depart forthwith.

The Shunning

Bob tenders his resignation and is immediately a pariah. He’s no longer invited to meetings and his name disappears from email groups. He can probably live with all of this but it pains him just a bit when his boss, the division director and, so it seems, the entire leadership team don’t even offer greetings in the hallway. One step removed from Hester Prynne. Poor Bob.

The Cortege

For those working on-site, a resignation (yes, even a voluntary one – see “The Bloodletting”) may result in a Security Guard (or HR staffer) materializing in one’s office door with a box. The box is for packing up photos of kids and assorted office knick-knacks (“Ma’am – is that YOUR coffee mug or does it belong to the company?”).  The Guard is the accompanying attendant for the mournful procession out-of-the-building while everyone in the building furtively avoids eye contact.

The Farewell Party

This is nice, right?  Sally gets treated to cake and punch and her manager gives her a gift card to Outback Steakhouse after he makes a speech about all her contributions and how she was an integral part of the team’s success. Her co-workers sign a card (funny and slightly ribald because Sally has a sense of humor) and wish her the best of luck. There are hugs all around with promises to stay in touch and get together for the occasional lunch or happy hour. But Sally feels a bit sad as she wonders “why didn’t they say these things and treat me this way during the 4 years I worked here?  If I knew this is how everyone felt I might not have looked for another job…”

Break-ups are hard; they tear off a little bit of your heart. And when an employee decides to move on and enter a relationship with someone else you may not be ready to say “I’ll always love you.”

But you can surely tell them “I hope we can still be friends.”

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The Road Untraveled

road untraveled

I have several friends who are avid hikers. They love nothing more than strapping on a pair of boots, grabbing a backpack and heading out for a long and vigorous walk criss-crossing the local trails.  

I understand the allure as some have described it; setting out in peaceful solitude through a tranquil and unspoiled forest. Traversing a windswept dune adjacent to a large body of water. Climbing rugged hills and descending into wild flower filled ravines with only the sounds of chirping birds to break the silence.

Yet, even in these seemingly pristine landscapes, they may come upon, quite unceremoniously, a discarded beer can.

The thought the hiker had, when setting out in isolation, was they were the sole human in years and years to access this pocket of nature. I would imagine there’s a bit of a letdown, even sadness, as they can’t ignore the irrefutable evidence they are not the first person stepping foot on uncharted land.   

After all, we like to think that our choices – the paths we view ahead and upon which we choose to walk – are unique. We search for importance and meaning. We don’t want our decisions to be trivial; we want the weighty choices in our life to have significance. 

It’s part of the human condition, isn’t it, that we inevitably find ourselves wondering at later times in our life… What if I had…” “Would it have meant more if I had done…?”  “Why didn’t I…?”

Yet we are forced to make choices. We must determine which road we shall go down even when we have neither guidance nor enough facts upon which to base our decision.

So choose a path we must.

There is, at the end of our days, no need to look back (perhaps with a sigh of regret) and wonder what we missed. It’s fruitless to speculate on the unknown that we never encountered.

While there may not be one right path there is, inescapably, the path we choose. And then there’s the other path.

Not better. Not worse. Merely untraveled.

The Road Not Taken

(4th stanza)

(by Robert Frost)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

*****

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Death to Shorthand

shorthand

“I hate dealing with Joe; he never remembers anything I tell him.” (“Oh… you didn’t know that Joe has hearing loss in his left ear?”)

“Jane always looks so mad; she’s just unpleasant to deal with.” (“I guess you hadn’t heard; Jane’s husband has terminal cancer.”)

“Carmen is pretty rude.  Do you know she’s the only team member who didn’t come to the baby shower the team hosted for me?” (“Maybe you didn’t know this but Carmen had a miscarriage last year; she finds it difficult to attend baby showers.”)

**********

Ah yes.  Who among us doesn’t jump to conclusions based on an interaction (or several) with another person?  We use mental shorthand to quickly categorize someone’s behavior and then we toss Joe, Jane and Carmen into one of the filing cabinets in our brain that we’ve labeled –“the difficult one” – the unfriendly one” – “the bitch.”  Task completed, they’re neatly labeled, and we decide that’s all we need to know about them. 

But in the workplace further problems arise when we neglect to review and examine those categorizations down the road. When a manager, co-worker or (heaven forbid) an HR professional keeps an employee in one of those file drawers and doesn’t attempt to gather more data or develop greater understanding.

I’ve known people who’ve worked together for over a decade who still rely on initial cataloging (and assumptions) from 2010. This is disappointing amongst peers but downright damaging and destructive when it occurs with managers or HR practitioners. (“Oh; I’m not interested in Susie for this internal opening. I interviewed her when she applied 3 years ago and she wasn’t a fit.”)

Shorthand is a dying skill.  Mental shorthand needs to follow.

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There’s Nice. And Then There’s NICE.

service

Last week a video was posted of a customer’s drive thru experience at a Popeye’s here in Louisiana. It captures one of the most joyous service experiences ever; even without considering the customer also got to leave with some delicious chicken.

Ms. Cynthia (just “keepin it real over here!”) needs to be promoted to the customer service hall of fame.

But Ms. Cynthia’s exuberant spirit and warmth (I just want her to envelop me in a hug!), while registering at a 15 on a 10-point scale, is fairly representative of what I often experience in service interactions. Whether at the gas station, grocery store or a restaurant there’s a natural human element to the simplest transactions. At the corner gas station the patrons and store clerks always catch up – “how’s your daddy doing Mr. Jimmy?”. A quick trip to grab some snacks and adults beverages on game day often includes a discussion about plans – ”now you have fun today baby! Who dat!” A trip for an oil change will lead to a group discussion amongst the mechanics and customers in the waiting room about everyone’s favorite seasonings, preferred ingredients (artichokes always a plus IMO), and methodologies for a crawfish boil.

When we moved to Louisiana I was initially taken aback at how interactions seemed to be on a whole new level here. I was accustomed to “midwest nice” which was all about efficiency and (stern) politeness. Were people friendly in the midwest?” Yes. Was it customary to help others? Absolutely. Was it ingrained to apologize (“Whoops! Sorry!”) when one happened to bump into a fellow citizen in a crowd? You betcha. But the “niceness,” I decided, felt different here.

And I become more cognizant of it whenever I return home after a trip to the land of my birth.

I recently spent a week in Wisconsin and experienced surly staff at a restaurant when I went to pick up dinner. (After I had to practically climb over rude patrons sitting at the bar to even reach the server and get her attention). I found myself being the only person in the checkout line at the grocery store who said “hello” to the cashier who then, after not making eye contact, mumbled a reluctant “oh… hey” before glancing back down at the conveyor belt.

Do I have shitty customer service experiences close to home? Of course I do; I run into my share of sullen service workers. But, in general, I give them a modicum of grace and don’t question why they are cranky. At all.

But the Ms. Cynthia’s of the world? They do exist and we need to celebrate them

You already know.

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