Secret to Retaining Young Employees

When the economy heats up, the question of “When will business pick up again?” is quickly replaced with “Where do I find talent?” A number of high-skill industries are struggling with finding younger employees to succeed aging Baby Boomers.  Before companies plan glitzy recruiting campaigns, it is best to make sure their house is in order. Jim Clifton of Gallop wrote, “The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing.” The owner and the management team create the vibe that will attract and retain top performers.

Managers are tasked with bringing positive change to the organization. This is tricky when societal values and consumer preferences are changing at a blinding rate.  Yet, companies too often overlook investment in developing management skill and give a pass to ineffective managers. I believe that managers need to be adept in the following roles:


Manager as Coach At a seminar recently, I made the assertion that managers need coaching skills to develop soft skills in sales and management employees. I was surprised to get push back from a participant. There was a concern that if the manager developed close relationships with employees, they might lose objectivity in assessing performance. In my world, close relationships are indeed what we are looking for.  To be a coach, a manager must have clear understanding of the job roles, communicate the desired results for each role, and possess the ability to teach employees required skills to perform the job. If a manager can shift accountability for job performance to the employee, the employee will have a greater sense of achievement and development. Retention of young employees depends on a perception that the company is committed to their development.

Manager as Motivator A successful manager keeps an eye not only on what motivates each employee, but also on what demotivates. Managers need to be skillful at building a level of rapport that permits them to ask appropriate questions that reveal why they came to work for the company and what draws them to perform.  Organizing work assignments and offering recognition that touches those motivators will gain peak performance.

Manager as Leader Whether you are a CEO or first line supervisor, it is vital to have a vision and sense of mission for your organization. The younger generation has little patience with companies that cannot describe a brighter future that will provide opportunities for employees. Positive management values that will build trust and cooperation will shape culture and support the mission.  A question that every business leader should reflect on is whether their managers value, or even like, their employees. Younger workers prefer collaborative work environments that respect their thoughts on systems and work rules. Industries that have been stereotyped as having hierarchical authority and repetitive work assignments need to consider undertaking cultural change.

Manager as Gatekeeper Businesses today need an aggressive, strategic hiring strategy. Managers need to make hiring decisions based on character and skills without compromise. Interviews need to pose questions that discover how the candidate’s values and mission align with the company. A common interview question is “Where do you want to be in five years?”  Strong candidates will have a clear answer to this question. The question for you is, “Can you get them there?”

Habits that Kill Growth

Every business leader wants to see their business grow. All too often, the business owner that launched the business relies on their intuition to sustain it. While Operations professionals study process and collect data, rarely does that practice extend to the front office. Growing skills to build relationships, implement measures, and collect relevant data are vital to growth. Here are three growth-inhibiting habits to consider:

prooduct-acceptanceAvoid what you don’t understand – Whether it is business planning, Internet marketing, or appreciating the difference between order taking and sales, it is a good bet that the skill set that helped start the business will not sustain it. Many business owners forego writing a business strategy because they do not appreciate that the underpinning of all marketing activity is built on the business strategy. If one can answer these questions, “Why are we in business?”, “Why will people buy from me rather than my competitors?”, and “How much revenue can I capture from this market over the next three years?” their business plan will be better than most of corporate America. The fundamental skill is engaging customers and prospects so to understand what they want and the trends that are driving their interest. This skill comes naturally to a small group of gifted people. The rest of us need to learn a process and practice, practice, practice.

Avoiding development of high-skill employees – The skills and traits that make managers and sales professionals successful are almost identical. The most important of those skills are leadership and interpersonal skills. When I talk to business owners about how they evaluate sales performance, the most frequent response is, “My folks are very skilll-continuumexperienced.” While this response dodges the question, interpersonal skills are usually developed with maturity and growing self-awareness. In the sales world, experience can be a two-edged sword. On-the-job experience needs to be balanced against how professionals have updated skills to remain relevant with the changing nature of sales. Skill development does follow a logical progression. A sound “on-boarding” process should engage an employee with the position and company. Skill in setting and managing goals will accelerate development of interpersonal skill. Development of interpersonal skills requires modeling of desired behaviors and coaching employees on how to achieve results. While engagement and goal management can be measured with surveys and percentage of goals achieved, evaluation of interpersonal skills and leadership require close observation to verify desired skills.

Misconception that the value is the product– Pride in company and product offerings is almost always a good thing. Customers, however, focus on what value they might gain by consuming the product rather than the product itself. Customers’ perceived value can only be fully understood by objective, yet empathetic inquiry with the customer. Again, interpersonal skills are essential for sales and marketing staff to understand current and future customer wants. Business leaders that shy away from developing interpersonal skills will shy away from gaining adequate customer focus.

Accelerated Achievements is an advocate for Marketing Quality Management (MQM). Lasting improvement is achieved through a comprehensive assessment of process, people, and skills and implementing real-time performance measurements. Please contact us, and we will be happy to share ideas on how you can upgrade your marketing capabilities.

The 3 A’s of Sustainability

The topic of sustainability has been a source of stress since the earthday_picbeginning of humanity. Around 600 B.C, Aesop wrote the fable of The Grasshopper and The Ant. The Grasshopper was the opportunist who lived for the day and enjoyed the summer sun while the Ant industriously stored food for the winter. The Greeks understood sustainability to be obtained only through the most moral and noble virtues.  The continuity of nations, civilizations, and institutions could be preserved only through sacrifice and the acceptance of change for the common good.

Whether your concern is for the planet, your business, or family, your attitudes toward change will determine your future. While some experience the Green Movement as an unwelcome intrusion on their lifestyle, “the Ant” understands that reducing, recycling, and reusing are the keys to preserving cash, growing the bottom line, and a cleaner planet. For me it’s not so much that I want to hug trees; rather it’s just that I want to have trees. I believe there are three key elements to sustaining the institutions and world around you.

Awareness:  It is vital that leaders succeed in building a shared understanding of what’s valuable, what’s essential, and what has the potential to disrupt. Like the Greeks, it is best that value be defined outside of yourself. Successful businesses give their customers exclusive purview over value. Enduring communities look at what its members commonly hold most dear. What’s essential is that necessary to build the value and what’s disruptive is that which can destroy the value.

Accountability:  Planets and businesses are sustained when each of their members allow examination of their actions and decisions by the rest of the community. If a business wants to improve the performance of a department, there’s no better way than to have the employees measure their individual performance and report the results to the department. Accountability is built on the clear, shared goals and values described in the previous paragraph.

Adaptability: Aesop wrote about the small reed that will bend in the wind to survive the storm. For planets and business to be sustained, the members of the community must be willing to undergo constant change. After laboring hard to create something we’re really proud of, most of us will succumb to the temptation to impede change in order to preserve the status quo.  We’ve all heard the expression, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The fact is that impeding change assures failure.

This Earth Day I hope that you will all pause to think about what’s truly precious and what changes you can make in yourself to best preserve what is precious. And then tell everyone who shares that precious thing what your intentions are and request they keep you accountable to your plan. Happy Earth Day!

Managing Like the State of Connecticut

connecticut-flagI cannot remember a time when government had such a deep credibility problem. The juxtaposition of reality TV actors with long-time incumbents reciting the same tired lines has energized the electorate. But, energized to do what? As one who follows Connecticut politics closely, I am exasperated with the leadership being modeled by our legislators. Ironically, I observe many businesses that mirror this style; albeit on a smaller scale. What follows, are two leadership patterns that make me cringe the most:

Murky Intentions and No Measures: Last week I studied SB 1, a huge bill titled to suggest it paves the way for Connecticut becoming an Innovation Center.  The bill talks about creating a new quasi-agency that performs functions already are performed by existing agencies, renovating communities to provide a lifestyle attractive to younger professionals, and expanding access to technical education programs. Nowhere does the bill state the results these costly changes are intended to create and the measures the State can use to evaluate success. The logic is that if we copy the activities and environment of successful innovation centers, we will become innovators. The question is whether these investments address the critical barriers to innovation.   For example, does beautifying our communities change young professionals’ behavior if they still cannot afford the cost of living in Connecticut? The lack of measures eliminates accountability and explains why government programs never die.

Businesses can also launch projects without clear intentions.  It is common for managers who are feeling strapped for cash to direct their sales force to get more sales. A sale is the result of a customer identifying a need that your product can satisfy. There are many obstacles that can prevent sales and most of them are outside the control of a salesperson.  Weak products, noncompetitive pricing, ineffective marketing, and lack of sales productivity can all be a problem. Without measures that clarify where issues lie, sales initiatives can fall flat and frustrate an organization.

Allocating Inadequate Resources to Be Successful: Connecticut has many unfunded mandates that direct agencies to take an action without identifying where the resources will come from to carry out the act. This can be an environmental regulation where the agency lacks equipment or expertise to consistently enforce a new regulation or a call center that has been tasked to deliver a new customer service without clarifying the existing services to be discontinued.

Resource allocation is the most common reason I observe for strategic plans failing in small businesses. The underlying cause is often that executives lack clarity on how their human resources are being spent. Executives will assume a staff can juggle a key initiative without delegating at least some activities tied to customer product and service delivery.  The result is that businesses miss opportunities to grow due to an inability to adequately identify the tactics that will obtain the goal.

As always, feel free to comment. Please take a deep breath and stay engaged in the electoral process.

Donald Trump’s Wisdom on Employee Engagement

D TrumpFor months, pundits and experts have been predicting the demise of the Trump campaign. As we start the Republican primary season, Donald’s campaign is stronger than ever. While theories abound regarding the Trump success, it is clear that an angry, disassociated electorate is demanding wholesale change. Business executives would also be wise to observe how Mr. Trump has ridden this wave of discontent.

Anatomy of Disengagement Last month I discussed how traumatized employees can disrupt and derail an organization with active disengagement. Business restructuring, extended periods of unemployment, underemployment, and the increasing number of jobs offering partial employment are all sources of stress for American workers. Add the inability of Federal government to act, mindless “tax and spend” State government policies, and the threat of violent crime and domestic terrorism, and we have an electorate ready to toss institutional conventions and embrace radical change promised by Mr. Trump, Cruz, and Sanders.  Mr. Bush, national political parties, the news media, and other fading institutions are being ignored pushed aside.

On, Matthew MacWilliams presented research that concluded the most dominant trait of Trump supporters is an inclination toward authoritarianism. People with this trait are obedient to authority, drawn to strong leaders, and react aggressively to outsiders. MacWilliams estimates that 49% of Republican voters have this trait. Whether through profound wisdom or sheer luck, Donald Trump has done an outstanding job resonating with this voting bloc and it is becoming increasingly clear that this group has little interest in candidates tied to past government dysfunction and the institutions that have supported them.  Will skipping this week’s debate over a disagreement with a Fox journalist harm his popularity? Not likely.

Readers familiar with style assessments, like DISC or Meyers-Briggs, might see an analog in the business world. Business organizations have a group of decisive, results-oriented executives and a much larger group of detail-oriented workers that build and deliver the products of the organization. The latter group prefers consistency and is usually loyal to the organization. When this group accumulates enough traumas and stress that they disengage, bad stuff happens. In addition to deteriorating productivity, key employees can quit in mass, executives get fired, and boards get dismissed.

Recovering Engagement Restoring an organization’s trust in leadership requires time and commitment on the part of the leaders. There are three general steps to recovery: emotional connection with the disengaged, validation of their worth and role in the organization, and a clear vision for how the organization will move forward.

While Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration, the “Mexican wall,” and labeling some candidates as low-energy have mortified much of the country and global community, they have struck a chord with his target group and demonstrated an understanding of their frustration and insecurities. I believe Establishment candidates’ difficulty in getting traction with their campaigns is rooted in a perception that they caused workers’ distress and their inability to establish an emotional connection.  Without that connection, their candidacies are going nowhere. In the book Critical Conversations – Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, the authors write of the importance of an executive publicly owning their role in creating a conflict or crisis and hearing workers’ upset before any discussion on how to move beyond the problem proceeds.  The goal of the conversation is for workers to feel their worth to the organization has been revalidated.

Many executives stumble by failing to articulate a vision for how the organization will move forward. Mr. Trump has yet to address such a vision and could stumble, as well. The vision requires enough detail and thoughtfulness that an audience of detail-oriented people can understand the plan and their role in it.

Watch Out for New Paradigms  Many of the articles I have read recently about Mr. Trump’s success share the idea that Mr. Trump’s campaign is revolutionary and a harbinger of what is to come in American politics. David Von Drehle, in the January 7, 2016 edition of Time, presents the term “disinter-mediation.” Mr. Trump entered politics which an established brand highlighting an aggressive, successful businessman. He has bypassed the national party, big-money PACs, and the news media to take his message directly to the people over social media. Using Twitter, @realDonaldTrump gives access to people to ask questions and feel closer to the candidate without mediation from traditional power centers.

There are changes afoot in the business world that will impact employee engagement. America has long celebrated the “hands-on” manager who remains involved with vocational activities while juggling managerial responsibilities. The increasingly critical scrutiny that all leaders are facing will drive managers to focus more on management. The ever-tightening labor market will give talented workers increased leverage to demand that managers focus more on leadership, communication, and employee development. Disappointment will result in turnover.

Want to Hire Talent? Here’s 3 Ways to Fail.

Despite all the bad news that pours in over the air waves, I continue to find evidence that our economy is strengthening. The most striking evidence is the number of business owners that are looking to increase the size of their workforce. It’s also striking that the desire to hire is almost immediately followed by the complaint that you just cannot find good talent.

I’m old enough to remember the malaise the US fell into after the OPEC oil embargo and the taking of US hostages in Iran. It seems that the 2008 recession and the divisive politics that followed have had the same chilling effect. Changing the conversation from Carter’s “what to do about inflation” to Reagan’s “we are a great nation and it’s time to show it” was all it took to get the economy in high gear. Focusing positivity on hiring strategies will also bring improved results. Here are three common attitudes that can derail your hiring initiative and business:

“I need to find talent” Too often, I hear people say they need to find good talent. My response is always, “Do you want to find good talent or attract it?” If you find good talent, there’s no guarantee they’ll accept the job or not leave after a few months. Whether you’re “finding” or “attracting,” you know employees of high skill and character are in short supply. Successful companies create two or three viable reasons for why someone would want to work for them. In addition, they have a compelling story for where their business is going.

“I’ve have had problems with younger employees, so I’ll keep looking for older ones” Never mind that it’s against the law, it’s just bad business. My career has spanned…umm…several decades and I cannot remember one time that a company did not draw on the fresh ideas of youth to carry the business forward. Younger employees will bring in innovation and ideas that will position your company for the future. It is worth tackling the challenge of adapting your company culture to embrace younger employees’ work preferences.

“If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” I read an article last week that half of Millennials surveyed were dissatisfied with how they were “on-boarded” at their company. For those not familiar, on-boarding refers to initial employee training and orientation. Younger employees expect companies to be more socially responsible and motivated to build relationships with their employees. A relationship includes some empathy for the reality that employees face today and a willingness to take the time to explain what is expected of them and how they will be developed to meet those expectations. Employers wanting a simple labor rental agreement will have difficulty.

Please share your thoughts on hiring. And as always, if you have questions I’m glad to help.

Management Case Study: State of CT

EnpowermentExcessive employee turnover undermines the growth of companies. I am struck by a statistic that over half of the residents of Connecticut would leave the state if they had the means to do so.  That measurement occurred prior to passing of a $1.8B tax increase. Living in Connecticut has become a lot like working for a poorly managed company.  Here are a few of the skills I wish that Connecticut government would master:

Long-term vision and proactive decision making: Employees are motivated by understanding the purpose and intention of the company and seeing how goals influence decision making. Vision can maintain stability in tough times and protect against crisis-driven decision making. Nobody likes to pay more taxes. I believe the greater dissatisfaction in Connecticut comes from the lack of understanding for how the State will get out of this mess. The strategy rests on the economy turning around while enacting fiscal policy that will slow the economy.  Hmmm……..

Leadership Integrity: The true test of leaders is whether anybody wants to follow them. Engagement requires that leaders do what they say and demonstrate they can bring results. Since 2010, the majority party has run on a platform of “No new taxes.” Yet, over the last five years we have had two of largest tax increases in State history and, even with these taxes, we are projected to have an $800M deficit two years from now.  Four more years?

Decision Transparency: Strong companies find a way to bring the thoughts and opinions of all effected parties into the decision making process.  People need to feel like they matter. The tax package described has been enacted with no public hearings and minimal floor debate.  I grew up outside Chicago during the Mayor Daley years where public policy was crafted in small, smoke-filled rooms and dead people voted.  Opposing the machine was literally dangerous. It feels a little that way in Connecticut. The major difference being that Chicago ran like a well-oiled clock.

Innovative thinking: Companies that succeed are driven to provide new and exciting products for their customers. The esteem in an organization rises when they prove they can solve difficult problems by “thinking outside the box.” This legislative session did have some traces of innovation with SB 1 addressing the notion of regional municipalities. However, the divisive choice between more taxes or discontinuing services to people in need permeated the budget discussion. That’s a lot like asking an employee whether they want an unpaid sabbatical or to lose all their benefits. It’s not a choice one can live with.

I find the Governor’s willingness to negotiate with corporations after the budget has passed disturbing.  (See Integrity) The fact that the negotiation is occurring signals that trust between the two entities has dissolved and it assures that a greater burden will be thrown on small business. A majority of employees who receive a raise in response to a threat to quit the company are no longer with the organization after one year.

Stay involved.

Top Three Questions in the CT Budget Debate

Like most business people, I have too often looked at our political process with bewilderment and Questionpassivity. So last week, I decided to change that and attended a number of events in Hartford intended to illuminate businesses’ position in the Connecticut budget debate. One of the advantages of a small state like Connecticut, is that the government is very accessible. My experience illuminated three questions that business professionals should ask themselves. (For a summary of the Appropriations Committee proposal, click Proposal Summary )

Is anybody really representing your view?  The Connecticut Mirror and CBIA have treated the state to an excellent series of panel discussions addressing the key budget issues. Last week I heard Governor Malloy, Joe Brennan (CBIA, President) and Oz Griebel (President, Metro Hartford) address a series of questions on the Connecticut business environment. What struck me the most about the discussion is that all parties seemed to infer that every Connecticut business is a C-Corporation. Most businesses are “Pass-Throughs” (i.e. S-Corporations, LLCs, and Partnerships) and are most impacted by personal taxes. Small business owners should understand that their priorities are highly underrepresented in Hartford. It is worth aligning with an association that actively lobbies your concerns.

What is the real question? Governor Malloy has successful steered the budget debate to a question of whether to raise taxes or cut social services to the most needy. When I hear Republican say that social program cuts are unacceptable and the Governor conceding that the Appropriation Committee’s revenue plan is unpassable, I conclude that these are not choices at all. I heard a representative from Yankee Group say that Connecticut public employees are compensated (wages and benefits) 42% higher than private sector employees in a position with comparable requisite skills. Connecticut’s budget problems are structural and it is striking that neither party is willing to address this issue directly for fear of retaliation. The real question is: “Do we restructure or not?”

What is at the heart of Connecticut’s business unfriendliness? Many in the business community are quick to point at taxes and regulation as the reason for Connecticut’s slow economic recovery. I agree that taxes and regulation are onerous. I observe that when businesses leave Connecticut however, they often don’t go more than 250 to 300 miles and take up shop in another high-cost state. I believe that lack of vision and leadership is a bigger culprit than cost of government. Connecticut’s economic development efforts are disjoint. While the Malloy administration has introduced some excellent programs for small business and startups, we are still willing to spend more money on keeping the jobs we already have than developing new ones. Does it make sense to spend millions of dollars to entice Jackson Labs to move here and then not surround it with a technology-based small business community to attract necessary talent?

What to do?  I suggest that in the near future, you telephone (not email) your state representatives to discuss three points: the importance of restructuring state agencies to operate in the current revenue stream, which of the proposed new taxes are most painful for you, and what you feel is most necessary for a full economic recovery.

Overcoming Obstacles to a Younger Workforce

I hBINDear many employers in Connecticut voice concern about their aging workforce and their desire to attract younger employees. More often, these comments are prompted by anxiety over the eminent retirement of key employees. But I wonder if these employers appreciate the extent to which the “Net Generation” will transform the workplace.  I recently read that the most desired recruiting prospects in the Millennial Generation will have five full-time jobs before the age of 27. Much of the turnover stems from dissatisfaction with today’s corporate cultures.

I use the acronym, BIND, to summarize the key adaptions that will make companies more desirable to the Millennial Generation:

Balance: Millennials feel strongly about maintaining a healthy balance between work, family, and friends.  Companies will profit from understanding how to make flexible hours and work rules mesh with their business model. Employers need to make the effort to create a work environment that fosters comradery and acceptance.

Innovate: Young people today are schooled to be better at critical thinking and innovation than their parents and, especially, grandparents. Organizations are missing big opportunities if they don’t harness those skills and put them to work for the organization. It’s important for Baby Boomer Bosses to never confuse laziness with boredom. These minds need to be challenged.

Net-Centered: Whereas Baby Boomers appreciate the Internet as a great source of information, Millennials have moved beyond that to share their activity and understand how people in their network can help each other. Millennials are born collaborators and do not revere hierarchical authority like previous generations. As Millennials are network-savvy, companies need to be more proficient and mindful about the information and image they convey on the network.  The image needs to be fresh and invigorating.

Development: Unlike Generation X, Millennials are very open to coaching and guidance from their “more experienced” colleagues. To survive coming talent shortages, companies will need to take a more progressive stance on career advancement. At least part of the attraction with companies like Facebook and Google is their ability to create a position around an employee’s strengths. While Millennials are great team players, companies will need to intentionally invest in developing leadership and managerial skills to replace the retiring Baby Boomers in time.

My last comment is for those employers. Retaining young talent will require managers to collect timely feedback and measure employee satisfaction. Do you do this measurement today?

Five Points for Retaining Young Talent

Many Connecticut businesses, particularly manufacturers, are concerned about how they will replace their aging workforce. These concerns are elevated by graduating students’ perceptions that some industries hold no future for a career where they can find prosperity and fulfillment.  While parents, teachers, government, and industry need to set accurate perceptions, businesses need to honestly assess their readiness to attract younger employees.  A wise mentor once reminded me, “Every time we bring someone new into the organization, the organization changes.” An organization that is slow to adapt to change will struggle with retaining talent.

The following is a list of five issues every company’s leadership team needs to consider:

A Sustainability Vision: Every employee needs to have a sense why the business exists and how its mission will impact the community around them. Clarifying how young people’s talents will support the mission during recruitment will raise favorable attention.

Consideration of New Ideas: Innovative companies take the time to understand suggestions that at first seem a bit strange. Growing up with evolving personal communication services has instilled a new world view with young people.  Companies with a process to hear these ideas and give constructive feedback will nurture employee loyalty.

Flexible Work Rules:  Today’s technology enables professionals to collaborate effectively when not collocated. Work rules that allow some flexibility for employees to address family needs and reducing commute time will be appreciated and valued.

Training and Development: The need for some level of training and development may seem obvious. But I have heard executives express reluctance to develop young employees for fear that they will lose their investment if the employee leaves. I have found, however, that companies that do not develop their star performers are likely to lose them if they don’t develop them. Training decisions are strategic.

Career Planning:  Regular discussions with young employees that identify their valued talents and identify realistic career goals keep them engaged and loyal. To set realistic goals, it is important the management team have clear understanding of strategic investments and succession plans.

At Accelerated Achievements we help companies address these points. I would enjoy hearing any questions and experiences you have had with employee retention.