The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today

The most important commodity at any work environment is the people.  Without a motivated, well trained and talented team behind it, even the best technology will falter and fail.  Companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have pushed the boundaries on working conditions to attract new employees, with impressive catering, unlimited holidays and funky office space, a trend many smaller companies are trying to replicate.  Unfortunately however, just by looking at company review websites such as Glassdoor.com, it is evident that companies of all sizes are falling into the same pitfall, one proving to be poisonous to a company’s workforce, culture and eventually, their bottom line.

The meritocracy – being promoted on one’s deeds, rather than the length of time an employee has remained at the company – is used by companies to show fairness and encourage each member of staff to give their all rather than sitting back and waiting for advancements to come to them.  Without a doubt, a meritocracy is better than the aforementioned alternative of time-based promotions, but company executives should be thinking of the type of promotion, rather than the method.

Entry level positions become executives, executives become managers, and managers become directors – this is the status quo, and it is a poison slowly killing companies, large and small, in all sectors. Mastering one’s craft must be key to a person’s growth at a company, but the reward should not necessarily be promotion out of that specific skill-set, and especially not to team management.   A master programmer should not be elevated to a position where they are no longer programming, but managing others – likewise a master copywriter should not start leading a team at the opportunity cost of writing themselves.  Skills must be passed on to new blood, and mentorship programs, peer training, and good, solid teamwork are all constructive mediums to do so, however elevating someone to the position of manager without proper training, experience and the right personality is toxic to a team.

If employees are the lifeblood of an organization, the managers are surely its heart – they are responsible for getting the right person to the right place at the right time.  Almost every process in an employee’s lifecycle in a company is depended on their manager, from onboarding to setting goals, achieving targets to reviews, promotions to dismissals – the management is central.  Management skills are not something that can be ‘picked up on the job’ and though leadership and management are two skills that can be learned, though it is very difficult to teach.  It is an ongoing process rather than a lightbulb moment, and one which the best and brightest say is a skill to be honed and refined every day.

Thought leaders in the field of leadership and management have produced excellent resources for developing one’s skills, such as Simon Sinek (check out his YouTube video Why Leaders Eat Last – also his book of the same title), Andrew Gove’s glorious “High Output Management”, Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and of course, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  Reading and absorbing resources such as these can go a long way to opening a person’s thinking to be more ‘managerial’, but it must be practiced over time.

Glassdoor shows that one of the most common complaints from employees is bad managers.  People get over lower pay, fewer office comforts and even longer working hours, but as Victor Lipman puts it, “People Leave Managers, Not Companies”.  A trend that starts a downward spiral that is difficult to break out of.  One of the biggest struggles for most companies is hiring the best talent, this in-turn helps create the best product or service, which attracts the best or more clients, turning over higher income for the company.  When top talent starts to leave, the product suffers as does the customer experience, leading to falling income, this then causes companies to squeeze out some of the staff benefits, causing more staff to leave, and so on.

Big data analytics company Palantir have been experiencing exactly this problem – originally seen as the place to be, it has been receiving lots of bad press and has experienced staff turnover of around 20% in 2016, twice as much as the last three years.   According to an article in BuzzFeed, this spike happened at the same time as three major clients have seemingly left – Coca-Cola, American Express, and Nasdaq.  Seemingly to stem the exodus of staff the company raised salaries 20% for employees who had been there for over 18 months – but as mentioned earlier, pay isn’t everything.  Recent reviews on company evaluation sites have commented that managers just don’t possess the right skills for the job.

Employees want this promotion to management predominantly because they don’t understand it, and because companies have yet to work out how to promote to maintain top talent, without changing the role to management.  Employees often see managing others as a badge of pride, not realizing the immense responsibility that comes along with it – managers work harder, have higher pressure and often get less recognition than staff not holding these management roles.

Marketing agencies use a model for their creative teams where salaries are increased, as is flexibility, autonomy and prominence in the company, all as methods for keeping staff happy and loyal.  Granted, teams usually operate as silos, separate from other similar teams, however, this model could work for other organizations.  With the proper company culture, managers can be “in charge of” people more experienced than them, getting higher quality work done at faster paces, providing that the goal of everyone at the company is pulling towards the same goal.

Until companies can adequately compensate well-performing staff, promote the right candidates with the proper training to management positions and create a culture that supports a clear objective rather than the politics of self-promotion, this poison will continue to spread throughout businesses around the world.

NOTE: I have been fortunate enough to work with some phenomenal managers in the past – people who have been truly formative in building me into the person I am today, investing time and energy into instilling company values, good work practice, and continued professional development. This article is by no means, a comment on my own experience, but rather my take on what I see as an issue with the industry standard today.

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4 Critical Tips to Targeting Millennials (Hint: You’re Already Doing It Wrong)

It is no secret that the ‘Millennial’ market is one of the most coveted demographics in the market today.  They are arguably the largest consumer force, with some of the highest combined spending potential and have the widest span of influence compared to any others.  Why then are many companies finding it so difficult to appeal to this critical group?

Firstly, if you didn’t cringe throughout that first paragraph, you’ve already started down the wrong path.  When targeting any group, the golden rule is to speak in their language.  How many people born from the 1980s to the early 2000s (using the widest understanding of the term), describe themselves as a ‘millennial’? I’d be hard pushed to find one.  If you are using this terminology anywhere in your organisation, stop – immediately.  A shift in mindset is critical, the easiest way to build good channels of communication is to start acting and thinking as your target audience does.  This diverse group can be split into hundreds of subsets, find the one which best reflects your group and change your terminology accordingly.

Converse, Don’t Preach

It is important to remember that this diverse group have a few common values; a general resentment of being dictated to, paired with an attraction to mutual conversation is paramount.  As such, conversations must be two-way, this generation lives and breathes social media, and most brands understand the importance of having a presence in the space, but the importance of the conversation is often lost.  When you open a channel of conversation (like Twitter), thinking of it as a method of delivering content is a dangerous pitfall.  If you are fortunate enough to have consumers engage by sending messages or commenting, a lack of response equates to ignoring customers when they are talking directly to you.  It would be unheard of to do that to a 40-year-old standing in a company’s store or office, even if they are complaining, yet so many organisations end up do it to 20-year-old sending a Tweet.  It means the same to them and can be the difference between a lifelong customer and one that badmouths a brand at every opportunity.  Gary Vaynerchuk puts this balance between conversation and conversion beautifully in his book ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’, in my mind, one of the best books regarding communications, especially over social media.

Be Honest, Always

Yes, always.  More than functionality, reliability or even price, honesty is prized as the most important factor in brand loyalty.  All actions of a company must be honest, genuine and authentic – if a company lies, this tech-savvy group will eviscerate a corporation.  They communicate faster than any generation in history and know the ins and outs of social media better than any organisation can ever hope to.  If there are skeletons in an organisation’s closet, they will find and expose them – the best strategy, if a company is found out to have done something wrong is to apologise quickly, genuinely and move on.  Denying things, ignoring allegations and trying to brush anything under the carpet will only end up exacerbating the situation.

Add value

Many brands try to approach a new market segment as it will open up new streams of revenue for the company, ensure continued profitability and help with the bottom line.  These may be good reasons for the company itself, but is a lousy reason for the customers they are targeting.  To properly approach this market, it is core to understand and explain the value you are adding to your customer’s lives.  This extends beyond the product or service itself, and into every piece of content you distribute through social media or other channels.  Consistently adding value requires a huge amount of self-awareness – it is critical to know why you are targeting your audience, and why you do everything you do.  ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek should be essential reading for all companies attempting to influence their audience, and is especially relevant to younger audiences.

Be Consistent

Marketing can no longer be siloed to deliberate outward-facing content but needs to be ingrained within every iota of company contact.  Everything from corporate social responsibility to the interview process will have an effect on the way in which a company is perceived by its audience.  This age demographic will apply to more jobs than any generation in history, prioritising applications to their favourite brands and companies.  Their experiences from applications, interview, rejections and working conditions will affect how they perceive the organisation.  The internet age has guaranteed that nothing remains private for long, from political donations or affiliations to bad management practices or internal scandals.  Any inconsistency between how a company acts in private and its public persona will be uncovered, and the fallout can lead to ruin.

There are a whole host of other books that cover a nuanced approach to marketing to this generation, I wholely recommend Marketing to Millennials by Jeff Fromm, but by; conversing with your market, remaining honest, constantly adding value and remaining consistent internally and externally, you will have avoided four fatal yet basic pitfalls in opening this difficult to approach, but critical market.  Oh, and stop calling us millennials, you sound silly.

4 Key Processes to Motivate Your Team

A well-motivated workforce is like a well-oiled machine – necessary or else it will tear itself apart.  Though linked, motivating and incentivising are very different, and though both useful tools, they should not be confused and used interchangeably.  An incentive will only yield results when everything is going right, the moment the incentive is removed, the behavior will return to normal.  As an example, by paying someone more money in return for working longer hours, you are giving them an incentive, but take away the bonus money, and the behavior will return, often with a sense of entitlement, and resentment if the same framework is not provided in the future.  Correct motivation will make the employee happy to work longer hours, often without the need for additional remuneration and without expectation for future incentives.  In short, it is a long-term imperative for a company to work out how to motivate its staff for consistent and sustainable positive results.  So how do we motivate?

The first thing that must be understood is that motivation is an art, rather than a science.  There is no magic formula that can be waved over an employee or team that will magically transform them into motivated, driven and hard working superstars.  Rather a motivation strategy must be curated, like a fine dining experience, with each interaction complimenting the last, building to a crescendo and leaving a profound and sustaining impression.  It, unlike incentives, cannot be turned on and off like a faucet – but has to flow constantly, building cumulatively and being ever present.

So with that in mind, how should a company, and indeed a manager go about creating such a process?

As with all things, a good motivational culture is simple to implement but challenging to master.  I have included below a few easy to start, highly motivational processes that can fit into almost any workplace environment.

Purpose

An employee who doesn’t know the why behind why they wake up in the morning and come to work will have a hard time being motivated when the going gets tough.  Where people know the impact of their work on the wider company, as well as the goals of an organization, the task at hand become part of something larger and as such, they become part of a community, all pulling towards the same objective.  I can’t recommend highly enough that people read Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’, it is a true guidebook to inspiring others through asking a few simple questions.

SMART objective

Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) goals for each employee, write them down and ensure that both the employee and manager has the same understanding of what is being asked, and review on a regular basis.  The smaller and more precise objective can be, the better understanding the employee will have as to what is expected of them, this will also give managers the opportunity to implement arguably the most important learning point from Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – managers should ‘be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise’.  Simply, managers should praise individuals frequently, genuinely, even for small wins – this will evoke a sense of pride (providing the praise is from the heart), that will drive them to work to the same standard in the future.

Engagement

Every employee should feel like they have a voice.  This may sound like an insurmountable task, but the implementation is easy.  Each employee, on a regular basis, should have a one-on-one conversation with their direct manager.  It should be formalized and scheduled but can take a format appropriate to the workplace culture, with or without a checklist, in a café or a meeting room, these points are irrelevant.  What is relevant is that the management is aware of not just what their teams are doing, but how they are doing, what is going right and what can be improved upon.  Regularly taking the pulse of your team can shine a light on problems in an organization, but that will only be translated into motivation for a team if they feel they are being listened to.  If you have yet to read Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, get it and read the chapter ‘A Good Place to Work’ – it will change your life.

Trust

In my last article ‘The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today’, scores of people (rightly) commented that a lack of trust in the workplace is slowly destroying the work environment.  Though I disagreed that this was the most divisive factor, a lack of trust is one of the top ways to demotivate employees.  If you needed any more incentive to invest in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, then here is an excerpt;

Without trust, communication breaks. More specifically: In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust. Consider the following: If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests. On the other hand, if I don’t trust you at all, then no amount of talking, explaining, or reasoning will have any effect on me because I do not trust that you are telling me the truth.

Lack of trust breeds suspicion, skepticism and the breakdown of communications, all of which will totally demotivate a workforce.  Conversely, by trusting that the employee wants what is best for themselves and the company, and giving them enough space to prove it, the results will be a motivated workforce keen to prove they are worthy of more trust in the future.

This is definitely a difficult pill for many managers to swallow, but in an article in the Harvard Business Review Patty McCord (Ex-Chief Talent Officer at Netflix) she explains, “If you’re careful to hire people who will put the company’s interests first, who understand and support the desire for a high-performance workplace, 97% of your employees will do the right thing. Most companies spend endless time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with problems the other 3% might cause. Instead, we tried really hard to not hire those people, and we let them go if it turned out we’d made a hiring mistake.”  This is the exact sentiment to create a fluid, well-motivated and focused workforce.

The final point, highlighted by Patty, is that if there is bad feeling for whatever reason, managers should not let it fester – attempt to address the root cause of whatever the issue is head on.  That being said, if there is no way of overcoming the negativity, the tough decision must be taken and   the individual removed from the rest of the organisation, as the bitterness, laziness or animosity will spread to other corners of the organisation, and when this happens, removing it can be very painful for all involved.

Motivation is a constructive, cost-effective and long-term strategy for growth, but must be worked upon and weaved into the very fabric of an organization from the top down.   Without this, key talent will leave, and long-term objectives will be sacrificed for short term wins.