Productive Conservations

productive conversation, counselling, progressive discipline


We have conversations with our employees everyday. Would you consider them productive? Do they move the employee, you or the company in the right direction?

When we talk to our employees it can be about the good (congratulations/well done), the bad (a mistake was made and we need to correct) or the ugly (this is serious and if not corrected, it could cost you your job). Specially with the bad and ugly conversations, are they productive?

By productive, I’m referring to conversations that lead to an improvement or change. There is an outcome that is desired and the person is going to work on it to accomplish the outcome. You may be thinking, “of course it is, I told them what they needed to do and they are going to do it”. Yes, sometimes this works. However, think back to conversations you had, was it really productive and did you get the desired outcome when you told them what to do? Not usually. If it did, we would not have a multi-step disciplinary process.

So how do we turn this around and ensure it’s productive? Simple – stop telling them what to do. (how many of you are scratching your heads?). Yes, I want you to stop telling them what do to and ASK them what they will do.

Once they understand the change that is needed, let them determine “how” they will do it. Give them the responsibility to come up with an answer and they will be accountable for the results. You will need to follow up on the results.

I had a client who had an accounting person who kept making the same mistakes. These mistakes did not only affect the bookkeeping, it also effected a person paycheck. The manager had talked to her several times and even starting the disciplinary process. I coached her through the productive conversation, and told her it would require patience on her part not to tell the employee what to do. Well, as you can imagine the first conversation went ok and the employee promised to “pay more attention to her work”. The manager thanked her and said “what else can you do”. The employee needs to come up with an action plan, a task/learning/something that is more concrete than what she said. The process went on for about a week and in the end the employee decided this wasn’t the job for her as she doesn’t like details. WOW! Now this wasn’t the outcome the manager wanted but it was in the best interest of the employee to find another type of work.

To have a productive conversation, you need to the tell the employee “what” is needed and let them come up with the “how”.

I have a “employee counselling form” (discipline) which walks you and the employee through this process. Would you like a copy? Click here.

Why are they leaving?


Does it feel like all you are doing is hiring and training people for them to leave you fairly quickly? It can be one of the most frustrating aspects of having to manage/lead people – turnover. Turnover can you feel like your business or department is a revolving door for people to come and go. Not to mention the cost to the business. Did you know it can cost you approximately 3x a person’s salary to replace them? That includes your time for interviewing and training as well as the cost to place an ad and possibly for a recruiter.Not to mention the perception from your clients/customers for always dealing with someone new. Turnover is not to be taken lightly.

When was the last time you thought about why that may be happening?

Our initial reaction when someone leaves is to quickly fill the position with the next person as the work needs to get done.  If this is happening to you, take a step back and look at why.  One of the easiest ways to determine this is to ask people why they are leaving.  The catch is that may not always be honest in their answer, either because they don’t like confrontation or they don’t want to hurt your feeling or be perceived as negative.

Here are three common reasons why people leave…are any of these happening to you?

The explanation of the job doesn’t equal the reality of the job.  Let’s face it, when we are in hiring mode we want to paint a beautiful picture of the position to entice a candidate. This is gauranteed to backfire. You would be surprised at what people can handle if they know about it upfront.  My preferred way is to give people the good, bad and the ugly of the job.  The ugly should be things that may happen although rarely. They will appreciate your candor and won’t feel like they have been “lied to”. When the job doesn’t match what they have told, they loose trust in you and the company – then they leave (after all, what else have you not told them?)

Warm Bodies.  This is the case of hiring someone, anyone to fill a position. A warm body to sit in a chair and attempt to the work.  There are many reasons this doesn’t work and frankly, it can damage the other people working with you. They would prefer to have the extra work because no one is in the position than doing the extra work because the person in the position is incapable.

Leadership.  This is the hardest reason for people to accept as it’s about them.  The other two you can be fixed once you understand what is happening. Leadership sits squarely on your shoulders and as such can be harder to turn around. At it’s simplest core, leadership is about how you interact with the people who work with and for you. If you are abrasive, a micro-manager, or controlling it will be difficult for people to keep working with you. People want a sense of purpose, direction and autonomy. If they don’t find it with you, they will find it elsewhere.

Do you have high turnover and unsure how to correct? Let’s talk.

How have you solved your high turnover issues?

Three Must Knows about Incentive Plans

incentive, compensation

You want to reward employees for doing a good job and for going above and beyond. You want to incentivize the behavior you want repeated. This is great. A couple things you need to be aware of in order to make it work the way you want it.

First.  Money does not motivate everyone. Those who are motivated by money will be drawn to this and will want to gain the maximum from it.  If a person is not motivated by money, you may or may not see a change in their behavior. This means you will have to find another way to  motivate the behavior desired.

Second. Be clear on what the desired result is BEFORE putting the plan together. I know this may sound obvious and it’s about asking the right questions.  For example, I had a client who wanted to give the business development person a bonus for signing a new dealer to sell their products. I asked – you want to reward the contract or the additional business the dealer brings in? Their plan was rewarding the contract and the result they were seeing is lots of new dealers with no additional business.  They were getting the wrong result.

Third. Find the loopholes.  If there is a short cut to getting the extra money, you will have a few people who will figure it out and it can cost you. For example, a call center operation that rewarded their customer service people for handling customer complaints/issues quickly. What ended up happening is the customer service person would answer a call, give some sort of solution which wan’t necessarily what the customer was looking for and hang-up. Quick call = bonus.  This actually caused customers to be more frustrated as they would have to call back again. The fix, reward “no call backs”.

Lastly, if you want to know if you have the right components in your plan – show it to a couple of couple of employees and ask what they think they have to do to get the bonus.  You will find out quickly if you are getting the result you want and if there are any loopholes.

What incentive plans have been successful or unsuccessful for you?


3 Tips for a Better Hire

3 tips for better hiresHow many times have you gone through the process of interviewing and hiring someone only to find out the person you hired is not the person you interviewed. My guess – more times than you care to remember. How frustrating it is to interview a person, hire them and start training them only to realize basic tasks are not being done, they are not following directions, or they seem to have a mind of their own (and not in the good way).

Here are three tips to improve your success with new hires.

Interviewing Skills.  Review the questions you are asking and your listening.  We have a tendency to ask hypothetical questions “what would you do if….” These questions invite the candidate to give you the best answer not necessarily what they would do. Better to ask “what did you do when….” Focus on past experiences. The second part of this is listening to their answer. I know, I know, right now you are saying to your screen – “of course I’m listening to the answer”. I’m sure you do. My experience has shown me, people stop listening after they hear the answer they are looking for even though the candidate may still be talking. In your mind you have moved onto the next question. Listen to everything a person is telling you, the more they are talking the more they are revealing about themselves.

References.  How often are you checking references? Many don’t because they only get dates of employment and position held. It’s true most companies won’t tell you more about a person. You can and should ask about the position responsibilities to compare what they told you versus what the company states. Most people are honest about this, you are trying to make sure you don’t find the few who exaggerate.  If there is something in particular you want to know about, ask. For example – in this position was Fred responsible for ensuring customers received their orders on time? You are not asking about how well they did the job and they will more likely give you an answer.

Assessment.  These are pre-employment test you can give a candidate to determine their work style preferences. This is not a personality test and not all work related assessment can be used as a factor in determining employment. You need to be careful here. Some are good after a person starts working to help understand how to work in a team with them. An example of this would be DiSC or Meyers Briggs. There are a couple assessment that can be used to determine employability and match to a position. My personal favorite is the Achiever which gives a profile on various dimensions.

Begin using all three of these to ensure the person you are about to hire is a good fit for your company and organization.

Need assistance or more information on any or all of these factors, please reach out to me at


Marketing A Job

job ad, marketing

There is one aspect of recruiting I never understood – putting a job description as an ad for a job.

Tell me, when was the last time you read a job descriptions and said “Yes! That’s the job for me” – answer honestly – probably never.  Job Descriptions aren’t meant for marketing – it is a compilation of the main responsibilities for a position which allows for a mutual understanding of a position. It has it’s place and value.

Here’s the thing – when you are recruiting people to come work for you, you want them to be excited about the company, position, the possibilities and experience. You also want them to read the ad and determine they will be a great fit for the position and they possess the right experience, background and attitude.

How do we do this? Marketing.

Let me give you another perspective – when your favorite beverage advertises and tries to get you to drink more, is it done with a list of ingredients? Do they describe their production process? No – they entice you with feelings of joy. You can do something similar with your job ads.

Let me share with you the same formula I only share with my clients.

3 questions.  Start your ad with three questions that your ideal candidate would answer with a “yes”. Hint: The questions should also be related to three main traits you are looking for.

Let them know the title. “We are looking for a:  (position)”

Tell them about the company.  Show your companies culture and personality, explain who you are and what you do.  For inspiration, review your company’s marketing material and how you explain yourself to  your clients. Hint: Write as “we” to draw them in and feel inclusive.

Tell them about the position. Explain the big picture and what they will be doing on a daily basis. Make it interesting. Hint: Write as “you” so they can picture themselves in the position.

How to apply. At this point, you ideal person will be reading will and want to know the next steps. Invite them to apply and send in their resume.  Hint:  “Ready to get started? Send your resume to …..”

This formula is effective and has resulted in my clients getting higher quality candidates and better fits for their organization.

Rather have me do it for you? Give me a call 773.531.8199 or write



Your Payroll System is more than Payroll

payroll, time keeping

When most people think of their payroll system, they view it as a means to an end – pay their employees.  However if you learn about the technology you have, it can help you in many more ways, especially in creating efficiency.

Not all systems are created equal or with the same features, here are a few you should be interested in.

Employee Portal. This is an area of the system where employees can log in directly to view their information. It is also where they can view and download company documents. Imagine no longer having pay stubs to give employees, if they want the details they can log in and see what they were paid and when. If they want a paper copy, they can print it themselves.  They will also be able to change their address and tax withholdings. Imagine not tracking those papers anymore. They will also be able to review the employee handbook, download vacation requests or any other forms they need. This will reduce the amount of paperwork you need to track. Did you just smile really big?

Time and Attendance. This is one of my favorites and can be for you as well – if you are tired of calculating hours, breaks, etc. to determine a persons pay.  An electronic system allows employees to “clock-in” through the computer or a time clock connected to the computer. It will also track vacation taken, vacation requested and sick time. Essentially (yes there are a few steps in between) at the end of the pay period the data is transferred over to payroll with a click of the button. Having tabulated too many time cards in my career, I consider this a must have.

Performance Reviews. Yes, I know if you have been reading my writings know that I don’t care for Performance Reviews. I still don’t.  This is a title used in payroll systems and it can be used to track “career discussions”, “check-ins”, or any other kind of discussion with employees.  For more on these types of discussions, read this.  If you ask your employees regular questions every month or quarter or once a year – they can be added to the system and system will remind the employee and the supervisor it needs to be completed.  If you prefer to have discussions before inputting into the computer, this works to – the manager will need to enter the notes and the employee can approve. Again, less papers to track.

The use of technology to simplify and take over some tasks is very helpful. This alone can make you more productive and focus on what you really need to get done.

Need help in setting these up? Want to explore other ways to better use your payroll system? Please get in touch, we will be happy to discuss it with you.


Don’t Skip the Phone Interview

phone interview, recruitingRecruiting is a process we must all go through when we are growing. It’s inevitable, our businesses will reach a point were we need more people to handle the work load. Most of us have a system we follow to find new people – let people we know we are hiring, place an ad, interview and hire the best person.

You are on the right track as this is essentially how recruiting works. I would like to add an extra step that many people skip either because they don’t feel it’s necessary or it’s a waste of time – the phone interview. Our tendency is to jump straight into the in-person interview based on the resume.

Has this happened to you? Five minutes into the interview you realize the person is not a fit and then wonder what are you going to talk to them about for the next 30 minutes.  After all it would be rude to end the interview after five minutes when they made the effort to dress up and drive to your place of business. You have to remember the resume speaks to skills and work history. You typically find people are not a match for your company based on personality or attitude.

This is where phone interviews can be a great help. You can schedule a 15 minute interview to determine if they meet the basic requirements of the position and if they will fit in with you and your team. I know many of you have probably been warned about interviewing based on personality – you have told me. The rule of thumb to follow is this – only ask questions pertaining to the work environment, getting along with co-workers and clients pertains to work so go ahead and ask.

I recommend only asking about five questions during the phone interview. Also to get the most of the call, ask the questions before you tell them about the position and the company.

The questions you ask will be more about the essentials a person must have, these are the items you consider non-negotiable. For example:  How would you rate your Excel skills? Why? or Tell me about the most difficult customer you have to work with?

I recommend and use the following format for phone interviews:

Greeting.  As with the in-person interview, you want the person to be comfortable and themselves. Take a few minutes to do this.

Ask Questions. The 4 or 5 questions you create beforehand so you are asking everyone the same questions.

Information. Lastly, tell them about the position and the company

Next steps.  Let them know when you will get back to them about next steps in the interview process

The 15 minutes you spend on the phone to screen candidates will save you 30 minutes or more per person who is not a good fit for the position or your company. Now during the in-person interview you can learn more about their background and how the person will fit in.

Please – Don’t skip the phone interview. It will save you time and will show you how necessary it is.

Do you do phone interviews? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

How to Counsel Employees

employee counseling, progressive discipline

No matter the culture or how long someone has worked for you. There will come a time when you need to “counsel” an employee. This could be due to performance, attitude, or a particular situation.  Honestly, no one likes this part of being a manager. In our minds, all employees should be perfect at all time, unfortunately, we are human so regardless of good we are – we will make a mistake.

This can be in the form of a letting a person know how they are being perceived, a reminder of policies or something needs to change. I know that is very broad, the technique is the same for all these situations.

Once you know what needs to corrected (again, performance, attitude or error) it’s time to talk to the person. The reason most people don’t like this part is because we have a tendency to create a scenario in our heads of what will happen. I will be honest with you, the scene you created is usually worse than what will happen.

The conversation will have a structure, I recommend the following and it keeps it simple.

What happened? Basically this is the reason for the conversation. Discuss the incident and ask them what occurred or why it went the way it did. For example:  Sue, this morning I received a call from Mr. Big Client in regards to a conversation you had with yesterday. Can you tell me what happened? Where do you think it took a turn for the worse? Why?

What should have happened? Follow up with asking the person – what should have happened. Now, if you are talking to them due to a policy violation (for example, not calling in sick) at this point make sure they know the policy and correct them if there is a misunderstanding. At this point, you will start to learn about their understanding/ knowledge of a particular situation. Same example:  Sue, tell me what you think should have happened? Do you know what the company stance/policy/preference is in these situations?

How will you correct? Once they understand the difference between what happened and what should have occurred ask them “how will you ensure it doesn’t happen again”.  Did you see that? You are asking them what they will do and you are not telling them.  Continuing with Sue:  I realize this was a unique situation, can you tell me how you can avoid this happening in the future?

This last part is what created the accountability in the person. Their idea, their plan and their responsibility. I have to warn you – the first time you do this your employee will look at you with a blank stare. Why? They are accustomed to being told what to do to fix and not asked. You are creating a shift in regards to accountability – this is a good thing.

I remember one manager doing this with an employee the first time (they had already been told various times how to fix performance) that it took the employee a couple days to come up with an answer (yes, it’s ok if it’s not immediate)…the amazing part is that her answer was “this job is not for me”, not because she was afraid of the repercussions or fear she couldn’t do the job, it was because while thinking about how to improve she realized she didn’t want to do that type of work!

That’s an extreme case. However you now get the employee thinking for themselves.

Are you willing to try it? What some help in implementing? Let talk about it.

Your Impact On Your Team

impact on others, leadership


I have had the pleasure over the last couple of weeks of speaking to a couple great leaders in small business. There was a common theme running through the various conversations: The impact the leader has on the team.

This may seem obvious, as in “of course the leader has an impact”. And I would agree. However have you really thought about how your day-to-day interactions impact your team and not just the big decisions.

For example: are you the person where your teams decides if it’s a good day or bad day based on your mood? Are they afraid to ask a questions because they think you will say it’s dumb or the answer is obvious? Or are you the person when there is a lot going on, you ignore everyone on your team?

These examples are extremes however they highlight how our actions can affect others.

I remember many years ago, two servers from the restaurant came to talk to me about their “boss”, the restaurant manager and how she would always raise her voice at them. As I usually do in these situations I ask “what are you looking for today – to vent (let it out and we both forget about it), do you want me to fix it (not the best option) or you want me to guide you in handling the situation yourself (yes, this is the one I strive for)”. We discussed how they could approach the manager and let her know how they felt.  Usually when this happens, the original people come back to me and let me know what happened.  This time the manager came to see me and no, not to complain about the servers – she came looking for advice because she didn’t understand why they would say she was raising her voice and being rude.  Instead of going into the perception is reality speech, I ask her if she would be willing to try something for the day. She said yes. I asked her to “listen to yourself speak”, especially when she was interacting with her team. Many times we have a tendency to talk without thinking about how it is received by others.

Well, it didn’t take a day, she came back to me a couple hours later with “I had no idea I was so rude and disrespectful.” We then discussed how she say what she needed in a way that would show respect to others. In the end,  she found her best voice, used it, and had a profitable restaurant with great customer service.

Have you “listened to yourself” lately? How are your words, tone, or mood affecting those around you?

Understanding your impact is the beginning to becoming a leader.


Talent Awareness

talent assessment

Talent Awareness is what I call it. Others call it Talent Management, I actually find it a little amusing, mostly because if you try to manage talent (your people) it doesn’t work. They need to be led to willingly follow your path. However, that is not what this is about. It’s about creating your awareness of the talent that lies in the people who work for you.

A way that companies are doing this is called a 9 Grid.  It is a graph to help you plot your people on.  (See above) What makes this different than forced (or unforced) ranking systems is that you are not comparing one person to another. It is about what they do and what they can do.

Along the bottom of the graph is Performance from low to average to high.  Going up the left side is Potential, again from low to average to high. This will give you 9 blocks (hence the name 9 grid).

Now take a look at each person individually and plot them along the graph. What gets tricky is making sure you don’t change your definition of each criteria based on your own personal bias for each person. If you do this in a group, ensure one person’s view doesn’t adjust all the others. You have to remain objective. (I know…easier said than done).

Just to add another perspective, on the people who you are rating “low” on the performance, take a look at the why it might be happening.  Is it because they are new? Are they in a new role? Are they in the wrong role? Issues at home? Issues with their co-workers?  You get the idea – don’t just label them “low” without understanding the why.

So why is this important? You can use this information to help you plan for staffing moves, determine which direction you want to motivate them, can they help train others, have they out-grown your company, do they need a challenge?  Again, review the information and the people and use this new insight to help lead and guide them for the success of your company.

Need some assistance to implement in your business? Please respond below and I will be in touch.