Mix and match experience. We are at our best when we have diversity in our work force, in particular, a diversity of experience. So we pair individuals well into their careers as mentors with new hires who are starting their careers. We see two things happen: good progress for those starting their careers and cost-efficiency with the performance of the blended group.
It helps in a couple of ways for the senior. One is, as a teacher, you develop a mastery of the subject matter in a way that you never could or would as a student. The demands to be prepared to lead and to teach are really an extraordinary professional development opportunity, so we’re seeing a level of mastery in subject matter among our senior people because their expectations of those they are mentoring is so high.
The junior person is getting a good chance to see where they can go in their career. The difference between the two may only be five years, but they develop so quickly in their careers that they are seeing a peer with intense experience and savvy, and for someone just coming out of college, that can be both inspiring and very humbling.
Let employees know what’s going on. We run a totally transparent company and give a monthly report to all staff on all of our metrics financial and performance. On a quarterly basis, we lay those metrics against our five-year plan to show progress.
That allows individuals to self-manage their performance against company goals. It’s really been interesting to watch because senior employees with experience at other companies have blossomed under this open management system, where before they were shut out as to the company goals. It’s been extraordinarily empowering.
For our new people, who’ve never worked anywhere else, it’s helping them understand what’s going on and progress much faster in their careers. It’s worked differently depending on where you are with your career, but it’s all been very positive. For all the years we held on to that information dearly, I regret it.
Know whom you want to hire. From a hiring perspective, if there is one thing that we look out for, it’s a know-it-all, because there is so much to know. We are quick to identify know-it-alls and dismiss them. We are committed to lifelong learning, and if you are not curious and inquisitive and dissatisfied with your own knowledge, you can never keep up.
We’re very honest and hope that individuals self-select. We tell people, both on our Web site and in interviews, that there are much easier places to work and this is not a fit for everyone. We communicate the expectations. By being honest about our culture and the level of performance that’s expected, it really does allow individuals to figure out if that’s a fit for them. They’re going to know themselves better than we ever will.
So our recruiting is toxic. What we find is that the individuals who are attracted to that are extraordinary performers.
Give employees a chance to push each other. We have individuals maintain portfolios, and those are critiqued by their peers, and then peers are involved in the assignment of projects and the formation of teams. This forces individuals to be entrepreneurial within the organization, and it makes their internal performance really matter because if those slip, they’re quickly without work to do.
Now, our role as managers is to help those individuals develop their talents and market them internally and match them with others who are going to be in high-performing teams. I don’t want to suggest that the culture is brutal or negative, it truly makes for a culture of success.
We work with very motivated and very bright people, and if they have had a negative critique, generally we find they are way ahead of us in finding out why that happened and what they need to do about it. As management, typically our most successful tactic is to let them verbalize that and see that they work through an action plan to fix it.
Just letting them know that we care about their success, and we take the time to support them, is more effective than trying to solve it for them. Then we make sure they get right back on the horse by making a team assignment.
It’s critically important for the individual, but it’s also a demand of the business. We cannot carry individuals who are not valued by clients or peers.
Listen to your employees; they have the answer. Part of communication is the ability and willingness to listen. It’s not just empowering to the individuals, it’s also empowering to the organization. If you’re not willing to listen to your own staff, communication becomes one-sided with nothing but pronouncements from management.
There’s an issue of empowerment there, but, more importantly, you’re dealing with the presumption that management knows what’s going on. The individuals who are on the front line have a very different perspective and, frankly, much more of the critical knowledge about production and customer relationships, and they are willing to share that if we just ask.
And asking not only informs management, but in the spirit of a Socratic method of teaching, it forces engagement with the staff. By asking the right questions, we do more to see that the staff is focused on the right issues than we ever would by telling them to focus on those issues. Individuals are extraordinarily responsive to you taking time to understand their needs and their objectives professionally, and then they will want to achieve your objectives professionally.
HOW TO REACH: Hirons & Co. Communications Inc., (317) 977-2206 or www.hirons.com