Smart Hiring Practices

In a New York Times interview, Kathy Savitt, founder and CEO of Lockerz, talks about how to hire employees. Her emphasis is on intelligence and wit. She is looking for people with active listening skills and people who enjoy talking to others. One of Savitt’s most important rule is: “no jerks, no divas.” Although a jerk or diva might be highly intelligent and/ or very experienced, “life is too short.” Plus, Savitt thinks that they are the kind of people who may create cynicism in a company.

In the interview process, Savitt typically asks these questions:

  1. “What did you love most about the work you just finished doing?
  2. If you could design your life in terms of work, what would that job actually be?
  3. If you could take 100 percent of your abilities and create a job description, what would it look like?
  4. What were the qualities of the best or worst manager you have ever had?
  5. If everyone here was a CEO and I was to make you the CEO of something on day one, what would you be the CEO of?
  6. Can you laugh at yourself?
  7. Who’s your wackiest friend?”

Savitt’s questions allow her to really understand the person being interviewed. She wants to ask questions that provide her with insight on the interviewee’s cultural fit. In the end, Savitt is looking for the best people, not the person who plans ahead to make his/her experiences fit the job description.

To read more of Kathy Savitt’s interesting interview written by Adam Bryant, check out the December 4, 2010, New York Times article, entitled“The Dangers of Cynicism at the Office.”

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Eliminating an Organizational Culture of Blame

According to businessdictionary.com, organizational culture is “the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.” A company’s organizational culture does not develop in a day. Instead, it develops over time and is based on the values the company’s founders and its employees. (Robbins & Judge).

According to Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game: How Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure, many companies have a culture of widespread blaming. This problematic culture causes employees to play it safe — rather than take risks — and not try new ideas because of fear of blame. Dattner says that companies should replace blame with problem solving. Companies should focus on the future instead of focusing on what went wrong. Dattner, however, says that all great leaders accept blame. They “look in the mirror when things go wrong and out the window when things go right. If a leader isn’t self-reflective, the organization can’t adapt and evolve.”

Dattner thinks the toughest problems facing the workplace today are teamwork and getting people to sacrifice for the common good. People need to believe that they will be rewarded in order to take risks. If not, then they will focus on themselves.

For more information, check out the May 19, 2011, Wall Street Journal interview of Ben Dattner with Francesca Donner called “The Workplace Whodunit: Navigating a Culture of Blame“.

Job Loyalty Yields Benefits

Research suggests that there are benefits for employees who are loyal. Employees who work for a single company rather than job-hop, tend to be better compensated. According to a Stanford University study, most workers benefit if they stay put for five to ten years. Employees who job-hopped typically received raises of 5% a year, whereas employees who stayed at least five years with a single employer typically received raises of 8% a year. Although this research was conducted only on software employees, Kathryn Shaw, the conductor of the study, says that she also found a similar pattern among workers with relatively less desirable skills, such as car windshield installers.

Most employees are better off if they stay at the same company for 5 to 10 years. However, Shaw does provide an exception – young workers. She believes that young workers should search for a company that “offers the right match for their talents and interests.”

Research also indicates that loyal employees tend to be more creative and productive. Mark Keefe, a human resources manager at Atlantic Health System, says, “[t]he more that you’re familiar with the organization… the more you can look at it and say there’s another way to do it.” Atlantic retained 98.5% of its employees last year by merit-based pay increases that are higher than competitors as well as other incentives.

To read more about the benefits of staying loyal, please read the Wall Street Journal article written on June 21, 2011, entitled “A Health Dose of Loyalty: Being Loyal Is Our Innate State, Scientists Say; It Yields Benefits” by Shirley S. Wang.

Robert Gates on Leadership

Robert Gates, who served four and a half years as defense secretary, was not always a good manager. When he was head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s analytical division, he was considered a bully. His managing technique turned many subordinates against the changes he wanted to implement. He learned many lessons in his first senior management job.

Gates has developed important managing guidelines. He understands the need to listen to professionals and hold them accountable. Gates also believes that it is imperative to show respect to the professionals who staff and help lead an institution. Otherwise, managers will find their ideas ignored or actively resisted. Gates has learned that symbolic gestures and symbols are important.

Current and former staff explained, “Mr. Gates has an open leadership style and doesn’t dominate meetings, but relishes making decisions at their conclusion.” He encourages participation until a decision is made and then expects people to adhere to his decision.

Gates believes that new leaders should not bring a large group of their own people into a new job. Instead, they should arrive alone. While being the defense secretary, Gates wanted his ideas to be embraced by all military statuses: mid-ranking military officers and junior military officers to top generals. Gates worked to ensure his ideas were embraced by teaching classes at the service academies and giving speeches to various war colleges. Furthermore, studying the Soviets taught Gates that “when multiple generations of lower-ranking officials believe in reforms, they are much harder to undo.”

To learn more, read the June 20, 2011, Wall Street Journal article entitled “Basic Training: How Gates Grew” by Julian E. Barnes.

New Survey Reveals Growing Worker Discontent

According to a survey performed by Mercer LLC, a human resource consulting firm, about one in three (33%) employees is seriously considering leaving his or her job. In 2005, when Mercer last conducted the survey, 23% of employees seriously considered leaving their job. Based on Mercer’s surveys, American workers may be increasingly unhappy.

The key question is: will employee job dissatisfaction lead to more employees voluntarily leaving their jobs? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 1.4% of employees voluntarily left their jobs in April. That is down from 2% before the 2008 recession began. Because of the weak economy and the low number of employment opportunities, the turnover rate is currently low.

Although the U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that employees are staying at their current jobs for now, employers are preparing for higher turnover. Connie Spyropoulos-Linardakis, chief human resources officer at Zions Bancorporation, believes that more employees may leave at the end of the year due to competition for key employees. Therefore, Spyropoulos-Linardakis plans to research what employees’ value in their pay and benefits packages to keep them from leaving the company.

To read more, check out the June 20, 2011, Wall Street Journal article entitled “Unhappy Workers Stay In Current Jobs, for Now” by Joe Light.

Apple’s Secret Training Techniques

Current and former Apple employees reveal some of Apple’s secrets on its store training techniques. The Wall Street Journal authors, Yukari Kane and Ian Sherr, found that Apple exercises intensive control over how employees interact with customers. After they are hired, employees are trained at length. First, they attend classes to apply Apple’s principles of customer service. Next, they must shadow more experienced colleagues on the sales floor. New employees are not “allowed to interact with customers on their own until they’re deemed ready,” which could be two weeks or longer (Kane and Sherr).

The salespeople are taught Apple’s sales philosophy: “not to sell, but rather to help customers solve problems” (Kane and Sherr). Their main job is to understand their customer’s needs. Apple uses the acronym APPLE to lay out its steps of service:

  • Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome.
  • Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.
  • Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
  • Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
  • End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

Apple tells its salespeople to “listen and limit your responses to simple reassurance that you are doing so” (Kane and Sherr). It also tells its employees not to correct a customer if they mispronounce an item name because that would make them feel “patronized” (Kane and Sherr).

Apple store employees do not receive sales commissions, nor do they have sales quotas, but they are required to sell service packages with devices. If they do not sell enough service packages, they are re-trained or moved to another position. The most stringent criteria, however, is punctuality. If Apple employees are late in their shifts three times in six months, they may be let go.

To learn more, please read the June 15, 2011, Wall Street Journal article, “Secrets From Genius Bar: Full Loyalty, No Negativity,” by Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ian Sherr.

Cirque du Soleil on Teamwork and Creativity

According to Lyn Heward, the creative leader at Cirque du Soleil, “no matter what your product is, whether it’s computers, cars or anything else, your results lie in having a passionate strong team of people. People are the driving force. I think because the Cirque’s product is the sum total of people, it’s a little more evident.” Heward explains that team-work is critical at Cirque. No one person makes up Cirque. Heward believes that “[c]reativity is fostered in work groups where people first get to know each other and learn to trust one another.” She also states that the Cirque team has an interdependent structure, meaning that each person is “but a quarter note in a ground symphony.”

Not only does Cirque heavily rely on teamwork, but it also incorporates creativity. Lyn Heward defines creativity as “all about courage, a willingness to take risks, to try new things and share the experience with others.” Creativity is useful in decision-making because it helps the decision maker to completely appraise and comprehend the problem. Creative people also discover problems that others cannot see. Heward creates a list of nine ways to stimulate creativity in the workplace:

  1. Work outside your comfort zone.
  2. Take risks. Try something different.
  3. Use inventiveness and creativity to perform everyday tasks and solve problems.
  4. Build a nurturing environment that leads to productivity, creativity and personal growth.
  5. Incorporate teamwork.
  6. Encourage employees to express different ideas and provide feedback.
  7. Look at your work or product from the customer’s point of view.
  8. Stay connected with your product to see if the product still fits the demands of the marketplace.
  9. Expose your employees to your product, encourage a sense of ownership, cultivate their pride, and share with them your company’s success.

To learn more To learn more go to the selfgrowth.com article entitled, “Igniting the Creative Spark at Cirque du Soleil – Arupa Tesolin Interviews Lyn Heward Creative Leader at Cirque” by Arupa Tesolin.