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Hiring Someone Else’s Superstar Could Be an Astronomical Mistake- 3 ways to hire YOUR own Superstar!

shooting star

The big score- recruiting the superstar of a competitor! Feels like a big win, doesn’t it? Not only are you taking something from a rival but this individual is going to do great things for your company. Hmmmm….I am not so sure about that. Here is why:

Hiring for talent is easy. It is not challenging to find out if someone is good at what they do because usually there is something measurable or somewhat tangible that you can rely on to validate this. It could be past performance, test or assessment scores, education or other metric. So the big question is, why do so many hires turn out to be less successful than you hoped? Because hiring for skills is not enough, you also have to hire for attitude. This is why, although someone may be a great success at one company they can struggle with another company even if the job itself is identical.

Hiring the right fit, means hiring for the right attitude. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Google and (Tony Hsieh, CEO of, won’t hire stellar candidates if they don’t fit the Zappos culture–and he fires those who don’t inspire it.) take hiring the right attitude very seriously and there is no reason why you shouldn’t either. So, where to start? Here are three steps to help:

  1. Define your culture. You can’t hire someone to fit what you have not identified. While this should be a given, I am always amazed that 5 people in the same company can have 5 different opinions of what the company’s culture actually is. Culture guides behavior and should not be left to chance. Define it, share it and live it!
  2. Determine the attitude that supports this culture and makes it great. Is it important to drive creativity (think zany and fun), to concentrate on facts and figures (try someone who is introverted and detail orientated) or to elevate customer service (think approachable and personable)? Decide who you are and you can then begin to look for the person that embodies that philosophy.
  3. Find people with those attitudes. Once you decide what the attitude of the next great employee should look like, your task is to develop a way to be able to identify it in your applicants (for a great story about Southwest Airline’s “brown shorts” test, grab a copy of Mike Murphy’s book, “Hiring for Attitude”

Not only can hiring the right person with the right attitude (remember skills can be taught, attitude can’t) make a big difference in the success of the new employee, it can also help to make the rest of the team better. Putting a square peg into a round hole (poor cultural fit) just because that person was a superstar at your competition not only causes distress for that person but can easily negatively impact your whole team. So don’t look for someone else’s superstar- go out and find your own!!


Mirror, Mirror…why we have to look at ourselves first before trying to change our employees.

snow white magic mirrorThe Wicked Queen always consulted her Magic Mirror before starting her day. She needed to know she was the person she wanted to be before reining over the kingdom. While, of course, this is a very superficial example, not to mention a fairy tale, it does drive home a particular point. You need to look at yourself first and make sure you are the person you want to be before you can ask for changes in others (…something about the pot calling the kettle black.)

My fascination never ceases when I see executives and managers who expect others to do what they can’t or won’t do. What kind of message are you sending? One of the most difficult things to do- yet the most life altering- is to take a good hard look at ourselves and make changes to things that don’t meet the standard of who we want to be.

Unfortunately, like the Wicked Queen, that means consulting people who see us for who we are as opposed to who we think we are (or want others to think we are). Sometimes, those messages can break our hearts. Nonetheless, if we want to make real and substantial changes we have to ask the difficult questions and prepare ourselves for difficult answers. Like the Queen, we have to ask those questions of individuals who are compelled to tell the truth no matter what. Interesting that managers always want to ask their “yes men” these questions. It certainly ensures they get the answers they want to hear and can continue on their happy little path blind to reality-but that’s not gonna help, Folks! Ask the questions anonymously if necessary to get the real answers (people, in their attempt to keep their jobs, often avoid telling their bosses their honest opinion- go figure!)

It was easy for the Queen to blame Snow White for her shortcomings just as it is easy for us to blame others for ours. But with a little reflection, we can work on our areas of opportunity so that one day we will hear, “You are the fairest one of all!”

Layoff Landmines- tips for employees and employers during this troubling time.

landmineIn the rough economy we are in right now along with the escalation of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs are becoming a common occurrence. Even though it is considered “just business”, the emotional upheaval for both the employee (and the employees that remain) and employer can be quite significant. How it is handled can lessen the impact to all involved- and head off litigation whenever possible.


First it is critical to recognize that even if you knew it was coming (and you should have if you work for a company that has a good communication infrastructure), it is important to allow yourself to acknowledge the emotions involved and how those can lead you down a path that you may later regret. It is common to feel anger, resentment, sadness, betrayal and other high energy emotions. The first instinct is to lash out at whomever you perceive is causing you to feel such pain- this is, of course, a normal human reaction. But what can you gain by negative actions (whether it is a social media blitz telling everyone what a horrible company XYZ really is, to making threats to physical violence)? While you think it will make you feel better, chances are that the feeling is at best fleeting and really does nothing to improve your situation. So what can you do?

  1. Allow yourself a few days to rest, recalibrate and recharge. Do nothing work related and simply give your mind and body a chance to regain some of the strength that this event has undoubtedly sapped from you.
  2. Remind yourself that this is not a reflection of you or your abilities.
  3. Things happen that are out of our control- layoff’s being a prime example. One thing that can help is to begin to direct your energy toward things you can impact; freshening up your resume, reviewing your professional goals, tightening up your finances if necessary, increasing your networking efforts. All of these things will return the power and the feeling of strength it gives to you.
  4. Remain cordial with former co-workers if possible. Chance are very few of them- if any- had any impact on the decision to lay you off and are most likely at some level feeling impacted by your dismissal. Treating each other as if no relationship ever existed or that there is some reason to become enemies at this point serves no purpose and can increase the stress being felt by everyone.
  5. Try to forgive and move on as soon as possible. I realize this is difficult- after all you were discarded without any consideration to your feelings- but in the end it will free you to move on to bigger and better things. I know that sounds hollow if it is something you are going through right now but if you look back over your life, I will bet that you find that there are many times when you felt like a situation was devastating only to have it lead you to a truly better place. This is no different!


  1. Make sure that this is what has to be done. Never lay off employees unless every alternative has been explored first.  One company offered the option to the employees of across the board pay cuts or layoffs- the employees chose to accept the cut in pay to save jobs. The damage that a layoff can do to the remaining staff and the overall culture of the company must be weighed against any gain and should never be underestimated.
  2. Once the decision has been made to eliminate one or more position, do it immediately. Delaying the layoff is never a good idea as the employees are going to pick up on subtle indicators that something is going on behind the scenes. Even if they do not figure out that there is a layoff pending, they will know you are hiding something and that erodes trust. Once the layoff comes to light, it is likely that the employees will feel used and this may escalate negative feelings which can increase the likelihood of a lawsuit.
  3. Do your homework and be totally prepared for the meeting. Think ahead to how the employee may react and plan accordingly. Some tips to remember:
    • Have tissues handy. Understand how intense this will be for the employee and be ready for a flood of emotions.
    • Make sure all paperwork is in order (even if you verbally tell the employee the information they need to know, chances are the shock will keep them from processing the information)
    • Position yourself between the employee and the door (you never know when an employee may become aggressive and you will need to leave yourself an out). It is also a good idea to have the supervisor and an member of HR or other manager in the room as well.
    • Keep your message direct and to the point. Do not tell them how bad you feel about this- guess what, they feel worse!
    • Have the answers to as many questions as possible and allow them the choice to pack their belongings or have that done for them. Some feel that not allowing them to take their belongings is treating them like a criminal (of course they can be observed while they are packing); others are of the opinion that forcing them to take that “walk of shame” with all of their stuff causes undue embarrassment.
  4. You SHOULD feel horrible about doing this. It does not mean you shouldn’t do it but you need to remember that there is a possibility that the employee will now be facing serious issues- everything from depression to foreclosure. Nothing about this is to be taken lightly and if you don’t have trouble sleeping while this decision is being made- you may need to rethink your chosen profession. Leaders need to have empathy and social intelligence- these traits will carry you through this tumultuous time.

The aftermath:

The faith of the remaining employees will be shaken. Understand that there is a likelihood that some employees will look for new employment because they cannot rest easy that they are not next- especially if this was not expected. One company that had begun a merger with another company, held a meeting to reassure employees that the plan was growth- not to get rid of employees.  Once the redundant positions started to be eliminated, all trust was gone. This is tough to recover from and was an error in judgment to be sure.

Lay-off’s, down-sizing, right-sizing; whatever we choose to call it is life altering for the employees and culture altering for the company. It cannot be taken lightly and all things need to be considered before undertaking such a proposition.

Situation Sour? Let’s make some lemonade!


Thursday was a pivotal day in my professional life; the past year has been a year of serious firsts if I really look back on it. My first time to go through an acquisition, my first time to go through a merger (sort of), my first time to be “down sized” (or whatever the vogue term for having your position eliminated is now). These kinds of things change you. But change does not have to be viewed as a negative.

So here I sit on a Sunday morning- just a few short days after losing my job- trying to look on the bright side of things. It is easy to feel sour, but I just can’t let myself go there…so loving the old cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, I decide that is the way to go for me.

What can be considered sweet in all of this or any workplace adversity for that matter? Well let’s see if I can discover at least three things that are positive (three seems to be a good starting point when something seems overwhelming to me):

  1. In my short time there, I learned some truly valuable lessons. While it was awful putting up with certain inequities and unethical behaviors, I did learn that trust is paramount to an organization’s overall health. Once it is gone, it is gone. I have never seen this in practice in such a blatant manner before but I certainly was able to gather many “What not to do” stories that will help me bring life to my teaching and will serve as a reminder of what I never want to be. My dad says, “You have to experience the bad to appreciate to good.” So that is my first positive- I can now truly appreciate the good and can use my experience to help others improve the health of their organizations.
  2. I met some really great people. I made some very good connections- both professionally and personally- which I would never trade for the world. I know that staying in touch is difficult once you are gone from their daily life but I know there are a few people that I will work very hard to continue to communicate with on a regular basis.
  3. While free-falling is a terrifying feeling, I believe that if I had not been pushed out of the nest I would not have propelled myself forward as hard or fast to begin my own company. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten there eventually but I certainly would have taken my time and approached it in a very methodical manner. I do think that often times this calculated approach stifles our creativity. While emotionally difficult for me- the rejection you feel when you are told you are no longer wanted somewhere is painful, even if you know that to them you were not a person but a number-being laid off gives me the opportunity to let the creative juices flow free and makes me have to work extremely hard to ensure the success of my new endeavor.

If I worked at it a little longer, I bet I could have come up with a few additional blessings that this hardship has bestowed upon me. Life is messy sometimes and we can either choose to cry over the spilled milk or embrace the challenge as an open door to a bright new opportunity. I am choosing to make some really delicious lemonade and I am excited to pour a nice cold glass and bask in the glow of a sunny future- care to join me?

Want to Increase Employee Productivity? Look at psychology not policy.

images productivity 2

If you are shooting for higher productivity, look to psychology not policy. Productivity is the result of motivated employees. Motivated employees are not the result of policies….let me repeat that. Motivated employees are not the result of policies.

Managers worry about when employees come and go, when they take a break and for how long, how long they spend on the internet, and on and on. So their first instinct is to create a policy to limit what the employee can do. Sounds sensible, right? Hmmmm….I don’t think so.

To find out what really motivates employees, you need to have an understanding of motivational theories. Motivational theories are psychological understandings of what can inspire people to extend their abilities and to perform to the best of those talents.

There are many great theories out there and it is certainly worth the time and effort required to at least garner a basic knowledge of some of the most prominent. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory and Alderfer’s ERG Theory are three good ones to investigate.

You will find one theory after another out there and most have their merits. Bottom line is each will discuss what people need to be motivate in the workplace and most will discuss what can kill that motivation.

People want to feel trusted, they need to be able to express creativity, they want growth opportunities, they want what they give to their job to equal what they feel they get in return…not once will you hear that people want to inundated with rules, micromanaged and controlled. Yet, that is exactly what some policies do.

Now don’t misunderstand me, policies are necessary to run a smooth operation just as laws are necessary to have orderly neighborhoods. There is a line however, between laws for an orderly neighborhood and a military state where people are oppressed by the government. It is exactly the same with an organization and its policies- less can be more; more creativity, more trust, more loyalty and more productivity.

Understanding your employees and learning what motivates them will give you the productivity you are looking for without writing a single prohibitive policy. Give them a try!

The Blind Side- Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Help Your Employees Achieve Greatness

I just finished watching the movie about the NFL football player, Michael Oher. Of course, the movie is very inspiring and has wonderful life lessons weaved throughout. Today as I contemplated those lessons I had a thought not about what did happen to this young man but what could have happened. In one scene, Lee Ann walks on to the practice field and has a talk with Michael to motivate him to make the right plays. That scene was absolutely pivotal to Michael’s success and it occurred to me that it was because Lee Ann knew how to motivate Michael that he was ultimately able to succeed.

It wasn’t that the coach did not want Michael to succeed. He did what he knew to do to improve Michael’s performance- it just was not the right thing for this player. If Lee Ann had not stepped in, could Michael have ever reached the level of success he now enjoys? Or would he been doomed to mediocre performance because he never discovered the right motivation to become great? Is the same thing true for our employees? If we don’t find the meaningful way to reach each individual employee, could we be missing out on the opportunity to help make them great?blind side

If there was ever a glowing example on why it is vital that managers get to know their employees and work to discover what motivates them on a personal level, this is it. So, how in the world can you figure out what makes your employees thrive? Start with the basics and work from there.

  • Mission and Vision  Statements– Do your employees know where they are going and why? With well articulated statements, an employee can understand their role in your      organization and will feel part of the big picture. Everyone wants to feel part of something bigger than themselves- this helps achieve that need.
  • Human Resource Strategies– Your employees are your greatest asset and your HR      policies need to reflect the fact that you understand this and that you are striving to care for your employee’s best interests. This would include basics like compensation and benefit packages as well as internal motivators like training and development opportunities.
  • Extra-mile incentives– Performance based incentive programs help to motivate      employees to go the extra mile. Identifying opportunities to provide bonuses, flex time, additional education resources, and anything else that rewards the employee for high performance or enables them to increase their performance levels can be great motivators.
  • Daily encouragement– Please do not discount the impact of a kind word and the gift of time. Sincere appreciation and acknowledgement of the employee is a hugely, often overlooked way to motivate your employees. A simple thank you, giving your employee your time to listen to their ideas and concerns, understanding and providing the tools that they need to be effective in their jobs are effective daily things that managers can do to help your employees become successful.

There is no magic formula to employee motivation because what moves each person is as individual as the person himself. It is an understandingly daunting task to uncover this information but using the basics above begins you on the path to providing the strong foundation needed to create a motivation program that will develop super-star employees.