Tag Archives: Business

Onboarding new employees: what I’ve learned and have yet to figure out

Feedback from new employees indicate that the top three areas in which employers most miss the mark in onboarding are the following :

  1. Clear guidelines on responsibilities
  2. Effective training
  3. Friendliness and helpfulness from fellow employees

I’ve been onboarding employees for 10+ years, and here are some tips to ensure that the investment you’ve made in recruiting and hiring someone doesn’t go to waste:

  1. Have a clear job description for them. Use it as an anchor for check-ins and reviews, and be open to refinement.
    • Set up categories of duties, so that it’s not an unending list of activities that can be hard to manage and refer back to.
    • Include relative percentages of time for those categories, so that employees know what they should be focused on.
    • Have a couple of items in each category that fit under “things that are not required but you may be asked to do.” Here, you can list professional development opportunities that don’t have to be performance-based.
    • Things change. That’s OK. But go back to the job description once a year and refine it, ideally to the agreement of both parties.
  2. Assess whether training was effective, and retrain if necessary.
    • I use simple multiple choice survey monkeys for the basics.
    • Use case studies for training someone on how to apply the material. Some case studies have served me for years; they don’t have to be from yesterday, as long as the application is still relevant.
  3. Set up side meetings or social encounters to help facilitate connections with other employees.
    • Have an open welcome the employee’s first morning, in which everyone is invited for a meet and greet. At my company, the operations folks do a great job of organizing a round of everyone sharing one “fun fact” about themselves. It’s a nice 15 minute welcome.
    • Sure, I like to take the new employee out to lunch the first day! Even better, invite one or two other employees to join you, so the new employee has a chance to develop early connections outside of the managed/manager one.

What I haven’t figured out is just as important a thought exercise for me. Here are some areas that I continue to either stumble through, or implement new strategies on a trial and error basis with mixed results:

  1. Assisting with full assimilation into the company. How can I best help the new employee infuse their unique perspectives into how we have “always” done things?
  2. Diagnosing trouble spots and making course corrections earlier. How do I obtain truly honest feedback from new hires and get an opportunity to make refinements in their experience when and where it counts?

I will continue to noodle on these critical and lingering issues for a long time, as I’m not sure there’s a magic answer out there, but I am open to ideas.

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My definition of leadership

Isn’t leadership nothing more sophisticated than being a reflection of what matters to you and what works for you?

It seems to me that those who inspire feel inspired themselves, and are only reflecting their own passion and excitement. They don’t seem to be wrapped up in trying to be a leader.

What drives us as individuals can be the cornerstone to leadership. Therefore, if you are stifled or uninspired, being a leader will not result.

This also means that we can all be leaders in our own ways. No need to strive to lead the way another does; find your passions and you will lead in your own special way.

ESPN as part of my business strategy

I like sports, I do. I like for local teams to do well, and I root for them.

But I no longer watch games or go to games since the promotion to executive and having a kid. There’s always the park to get to, finger painting to do, or that deadline to meet.

One thing I learned a few years ago was to watch ESPN at the hotel whenever I was away on business. (Actually, what I learned was that it really sucked and I hated to be in a meeting of men while they talked about “the game” and I had nothing to contribute because I didn’t watch said game.) It happened 99% of my meetings. I discovered that watching Sports Center that morning gave me all the headlines I needed to be aware of in order to avoid sitting there like a lump with a stupid smile on my face, waiting for the conversation to turn or burn out. Maybe I could follow it, or contribute.

Same with kids. Before I had one, trading stories about their kids was The Great Icebreaker if sports wasn’t the go-to topic.

Them: “Have kids?”
Me: “No, I don’t.”
Them: “Not yet? Planning on them?”
Me: stewing with a clipped smile, considering telling them about my 3 miscarriages to put the Q&A to rest already…

Small talk in business circles can be very awkward. Sports and kids/parenting are considered universal enough to tread upon. But let’s be clear: they’re not actually universal. I’m not suggesting people avoid these topics altogether, but maybe we can talk about other things too, or be sensitive and aware of everyone around the table?

Client reviews: A 6-step approach to conduct a good one, and make your business better

Part of my job is to conduct client reviews. I’d say about two-thirds of the reviews have some negative feedback. This is largely selection bias – when things are going very well, clients often don’t take me up on my offer to do a review, but if there is something we could be doing better, clients will often want to let me know.

Of course, in a professional services business, ideally you want to seek feedback on a continuous basis. At my organization, we’ve implemented a bit of a third-party approach: I head up business development and am no longer in the weeds on individual projects. Therefore, I know our service lines well and can offer a review outside the members of the project team, in which the client may feel more comfortable being frank. Here are some things I’ve learned in the last couple of years.

1. Tailor the “ask.”

Not all client reviews are created equal. How you position the invitation to a review can influence whether the client takes the bait. And you always want the client to say yes.

Some clients might not be interested in being singled out, and therefore, positioning the review as an annual or quarterly assessment that you’re doing with a number of clients might sit better with them.

Some clients have invested in a huge project, so instead of waiting for the project to be done, you may ask to do a mid-term, interim review to see how things are going and position it as an opportunity to make course corrections through the rest of the project.

For some clients, just giving them an opportunity to vent their frustrations about the industry, their internal politics, and the project difficulties to an outsider helps to release some steam and gives the opportunity to commiserate on joint challenges.

Sometimes, things are going well, and you want to confirm that you’re on the same page. Those are nice, too. (In these cases, make sure you confirm they are willing to be a reference or willing to write a testimonial.)

2. Do your homework before the review.

Interview the project team(s). Who last spoke to the client, and about what? Any difficulties or frustrations the client mentioned recently, even off-hand? Where are/were the pain points in the project? (You as the reviewer don’t want to be blind-sided if the project team knows full well about a sticking point with the client.)

Look up the company/industry for recent news. Is there anything – potential acquisition, product controversies, huge upticks in sales volumes – that might be giving people heartburn? What are their competitors up to? What do you think might be keeping your clients up at night?

3. Have a discussion guide, but roll with it.

Have a few questions ready, but let’s be clear: the clients who signed up for this rodeo probably have a thing or two they’d like to share. Unless you need to get some particular information out of the review, let them drive and listen.

4. Seek out opportunities. Turn a negative into a positive.

As I mentioned, most of my reviews have some negative peppered into them. Sometimes, you need to pull it out of the clients, though. If you ask people how it’s going, and they tell you all is peachy, I would probe further. Clients might not even be aware that our organization can help them for other business problems unrelated to a project we worked on. Probing to discover what their larger organization is grappling with may present some opportunities for additional business.

But negative feedback can be tough to hear. The key is to drill down to the core issue that represents an opportunity for change. When the work on things the client asks for is spectacular, it would be even better to have someone on our team do some horizon scanning for them and bring issues and possibilities up to the client that might not be on their radar. I love this because it allows me to go back to the project team to find ways to truly partner with our clients.

5. Implement real change, and measure it.

It’s not enough to bring the feedback to the project team. I try to work with our teams to evaluate how we will do things differently in the future. Make it tangible, make it measurable.

The client would have liked more proactive communication? Turn your emails into calls, and ping yourself with a weekly reminder in your calendar. Document your conversations and the outcomes/next steps with your client and team.

The client was concerned you may not have been operating at optimal efficiency? Review the roles and throughput of team members and make recommendations on changes to implement by a specific time, and determine how you will assess efficiency compared to baseline at the next invoicing cycle. Or, if you are at optimal efficiency, determine an effective follow up with the client that educates them on the work requirements and communicates the complexity (and value!) of the work by reinforcing what they get out of it (or perhaps adjusting your deliverables so it’s clear!), or illustrate what minefields they are avoiding.

Bottom line: what will the organization do differently so that this piece of negative feedback isn’t heard next time, or with another client?

6. Follow up.

Client reviews are pointless without a follow up to confirm that issues previously raised were addressed, and addressed well.

Did the client confirm that it actually worked? Good. You’re not done. Make sure everyone in the organization knows about how the project team turned it around, created a new best practice, has a favorable client management case study, landed a follow-on project, etc. Spread the love throughout the firm. Give props to the people who turned that negative into a positive.

Client reviews can be intimidating. It’s important to be prepared, let the clients drive, let the feedback fuel real change, and check in to make sure the change hit its mark.

Female executives: Avoid being that Queen Bee!

The Tyranny of the Queen Bee – WSJ

The term “queen bee syndrome” was coined in the 1970s, following a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan—Graham Staines, Toby Epstein Jayaratne and Carol Tavris—who examined promotion rates and the impact of the women’s movement on the workplace. In a 1974 article in Psychology Today, they presented their findings, based on more than 20,000 responses to reader surveys in that magazine and Redbook. They found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. This occurred, they argued, largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.

This is infuriating to me for two reasons (just two?!):

(1) It’s lonely at the top. There’s nothing worse I can think of than being a female executive and not having a single other female executive around. My message to the Queen Bee: You think “you’ve arrived”? Until there are MANY women in positions of executive leadership, you will never know if you’re just a token, and I’m not sure how gratifying it is to have that word implied in your high-brow title.

(2) There is SO MUCH WORK to be done! Couldn’t you use a little help? I know I need all the help I can get. If others aren’t valuing women’s contributions to my company, my industry, my environment, you bet I sure as hell am because I refuse to be a slave to this “I’ve arrived” mentality of constantly proving that I deserve to be here by doing it ALL. No way, that’s not the way it goes. At the executive level, you’re responsible for making sure it all gets done, but not necessarily responsible for doing it all yourself. Where would that leave you? Burnt out, ineffective, perhaps unable to also prioritize family? Well that sounds like a bum deal to me. Why would you put yourself in that position? You’re setting yourself up to fail.

Helping other female colleagues up the ladder when deserved is such a better way of being a contributor, reinforcing your leadership potential, establishing your role as a mentor, and being effective in the workplace. A Queen Bee doesn’t break the glass ceiling; Queen Bees don’t even realize that the ceiling might have been opened for them and then perhaps closed right behind them by male executives. Don’t be fooled. You want to take credit for breaking that glass ceiling? Take all the worker bees with you and collectively smash it!

* * * *

As a side note, studies trace this concept of keeping your fellow female down to middle school and high school bullying. Now more than ever, the topic of bullying and its ill effects if unaddressed are making headlines. As parents, as educators, and as responsible community members and leaders, this is just another reason that we’ve got to nip that in the bud.  

Stress buster: have a little faith in your people, in yourself

My husband and I took a childbirth class this weekend at the local hospital where I expect to deliver. Maybe it’s my A-type personality, or perhaps it’s arrogance (I will own that possibility), but I don’t see why I shouldn’t work until my due date (or the week of my due date), especially if I’m tying up loose ends and can work from the comfort and flexibility of home.

Granted, this is the first baby for me, so ok, I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But why should I assume the worst instead of assume the best? It’s not the way I live my life, certainly not the way I run my Division, and it’s not the way I want to lead my family.

Will it be uncomfortable? Sure, but what the heck am I going to do otherwise? Sit at home and stare at the walls? Read until I’m bored? Do house chores? Cook? Just… blog? (ha)

I can tell you that I’d much rather interact with my excellent colleagues and staff and clients, be churning out strategies and leading tactical implementation of huge commercialization plans!  I’d rather be measuring our successes, identifying improvement possibilities and putting things in motion. It’s exciting! It’s engaging! It’s stimulating!

It’s stressful!

Yes, it can be stressful. But I’ve always had a high tolerance for stress and uncertainty. It’s what’s gotten me to where I am in my career, and will I believe help me keep my sanity as a parent. But in the last weeks of pregnancy – indeed in these last months of pregnancy – I’ve had to let go of my of that stress and trust my colleagues to carry the torch for a bit while I go over here and push out a small basketball from my belly, feed and change the little thing, and generally spend a few months figuring out how to find things like balance and equilibrium and sleep.

Perhaps stress comes from lack of control. But what is that lack of control but a lack of trust in your colleagues, your clients, or yourself? Stress comes from uncertainty, sure, but can it be actively managed with preparedness and faith?

The “danger” I hear about working so close to the due date is the stress and whether it has a negative impact on the baby. But what if the maternity plan is in place, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to do? Is there really anything else to do but continue to be supportive to colleagues and junior staff, and gently but forcefully tell them I’m not going to tell them what to do, but that they should tell me what they think they should do? Then… leave to have a baby and have a little faith?

Interestingly, I suppose this approach probably goes for both the Board Room and the nursery room, the Executive role and the parenting role. Have a little faith!

Daily Prompt: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

You need to make a major change in your life. Do you make it all at once, cold turkey style, or incrementally? 

Today’s Daily Post suggestion asks about making changes. What I come across more often in the business world are executives unwilling to make changes, even when a freight train at top speed is headed right in the direction of their business.

Why is this? So many of my clients are early-stage, venture-backed firms. They’ve sold a story to the Board, to their investors, and the money is earmarked for X, Y, and Z. Being infused with cash is a great way to kick up a lot of dust and start maniacally doing a bunch of stuff. My favorite? Go out and hire a bunch of sales reps. Sell, sell, sell!

I often cringe at this, as it can be a premature move in the medical technology arena I work in, where medical insurance companies won’t cover or pay for a new product at first, resulting in doctors and patients giving you a lot of grief about it, negatively impacting sales. I always say, go ahead and invest in ensuring insurance companies will cover the product first, then hire your broader field teams.

All too often, sales and marketing groups go nuts with an influx of cash, and suddenly, it’s two years later, sales have plateaued (and not anywhere near the promised targets), the Board and investors are asking tough questions, and executives are throwing every solution they can at the issues their field is reporting in order to “turn it around.” Except it’s not real change.

Real change means you have the courage to revisit the root of the issues and diagnose the true problems, separate from the symptoms, appropriately.

Real change means you can explain why there needs to be a course correction, rather than recommending tactics to remove the symptoms (which will probably get your through the next quarter, but is unlikely to get you through the next year).

Real change means you can show how the current path may likely lead to more wasted cash and perhaps an eventual layoff, but refocusing funding to address root issues – even if it takes longer – will benefit the product and the company over the long term.

It’s not easy. After all, today’s businesses are conditioned to look at the next quarter, not the next 2 years. To have to tell investors that a course correction is necessary requires admitting that the first course was wrong. Yikes! Who wants to do that? (… can you hear that freight train whistling in the distance??)

I could go on to quote hordes of leadership advisers and gurus here, but I prefer to close these thoughts on real change with Coco Chanel: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” Whether you make the change cold turkey or incrementally, I’d like to see more executives having the courage to enact real change in the first place!