Archive for December, 2017

Help! I’m losing my best people and I can’t replace them! – Part 2.

Last time we talked about why people leave their jobs.

So where does this all get us?  If we know that it is the soft skills that matter and if we know that managers frequently do things that cause good people to quit, how do we fix that?  What do we do?  There are tons of articles out there on what to do to engage employees and they all have some variation of providing a good onboarding system, and a mentorship program, and fostering teamwork, and having a training program for employees.  That is always the solution, right?  It has been a long time since I got my business degree and, granted, it is a BA and not an MBA, but it seems to me business schools shovel this stuff out like . . . well, you know what they shovel it out like.  You have all heard it before and some of you, myself included when I was still managing people, have said it.  “Our performance management system isn’t working?  Let’s buy a fancy new and really expensive ‘tool’ to track performance, that will fix the problem.”  And five years later we still have the same problem with a fancy tool.  I want to go back to something Mr. Peters said was part of the problem:  “too much reliance on the apparently ‘hard’ procedures of, say, six-sigma programs and not enough attention to those underlying, apparently ‘soft’ attributes such as the respect for and engagement of the workforce.”

Now look, I am not saying that fancy new tools to track performance are not valuable – they are.  But there is an old saying, I think it started in the computer industry:  “Garbage in, garbage out.”  And in this context, what that really means is that we are putting our resources in the wrong place.  If we assume Dr. Bradberry and Ms. Branham are correct and a majority of people who leave their jobs are really leaving their managers, and if we believe that Dr. Bradberry’s and Ms. Branham’s lists are at least close to the mark, what that should tell us is we need to put our resources in our managers and supervisors.

“Now we are talking.  Finally we are into the meat of it.  1300 words for Palazzolo to finally tell us how to keep our people!”  Relax, don’t forget Mr. Peters said, “Soft is hard.”  But I’m going to try to simplify so we all have some things we can start on right away.  I’m going to focus on three main topics:  Selection, Training and Measurement.


Now it all starts with figuring out what management’s job really is.  Far too often, when we need somebody to supervise widget makers, we promote the best widget maker. That, my friends, is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Being a good widget maker does not mean that you are a good supervisor of widget makers.  I wrote about this a long time ago, too.  I want you all to stop and go read that article.  You can find it here.  I’ll wait. . .   Ok, I’m glad you’re back.  Pretty good article if I do say so myself, right?  Anyway, back to making widgets or at least supervising those who do.

So if being the best widget maker does not make you a good supervisor, what does?  Well, that may vary from organization to organization, and it may depend on who is being supervised, right?  I mean a good plant supervisor on the production floor is not necessarily going to have the same skills as a manager in the accounting department, right?  Not so fast, my friend.  There may be slight variations, but what I am saying is that being a good supervisor or manager does have a common set of skills or, as my HR friends like to say, competencies that are common to all good supervisors.    Let’s go back to Dr. Bradberry’s and Ms. Branham’s lists of why people leave their jobs.  Dr. Bradberry says one reason people leave their jobs is managers “Hire and promote the wrong people.”  Ms. Branham says, “There is a mismatch between the job and person.”  So given that, one competency we need in a good manager is the ability to assess and evaluate talent.  Then we have, “They fail to develop people skills,” or put another way, “There is too little coaching and feedback.”   Don’t we then want somebody who knows how to communicate and give constructive feedback?  Maybe somebody who can manage conflict?  And finally, bad managers do “Not recognize contributions and reward good work” or make their “Employees feel devalued and unrecognized.”  Now I could go through both lists, put them all down here and ask you the same question.  How many of you have a supervisor job description that has any of these things as a competency or job duty or even mentions these?  If you do, good for you, you are ahead of the game.  If you don’t, why not?  But that is not the end, now is it?  Remember, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  So you have a nice shiny new job description that requires your managers to be able to communicate, and assess talent and deal with conflict in a fast-paced manufacturing environment blah, blah, blah!  Are you actually hiring people that have these skills?  Not if you are just hiring the best widget makers.  And this is where our friends from HR come in – are you helping management to see and assess these competencies?  Are you getting good candidates?  And when you get good candidates, do recognize this and hire them?  Promoting from within is a great goal, one all companies should aspire to.  But you have to promote the right people, with the right skill set.


OK, we have the right people in the door and they have all the skills we are looking for.  Now what do we do?  What we do is we make sure we have a culture that values and rewards enhancing and developing those skills.  And the only way to do that is train, train, train.  And here is where you know that I am serious.  I’m not talking about having us in to train about the law.  Yes, that is important and I want you to do that too, but that is not the most important thing.  We are talking about training supervisors and managers, and I mean all supervisors and managers, all the way up to the top.

And upper level management has to live that training too. You see, the only way to create a culture of excellence, one that values the skills we are looking for in our managers, is for upper management to support the training.  They have to show up.

The second thing we need to do is make this mandatory.  Knowing your job and developing the skills that you need to do it well should never be voluntary, it is part of your job.  So no “I’m too busy on the line” or “the month end report is due” excuses.  You show up and you participate or it will cost you.  Because we are evaluating you on this stuff.  And we will talk about that in a second.

And the final thing we need to do is make sure we are training on the right things.  Now as I said above, I am not talking about compliance training or harassment training here, although as we all know that is important too.  Especially in this climate.  What I am talking about here are the soft skills that Mr. Peters called so hard.  I’m talking about communication training, I’m talking about teaching managers to give constructive feedback.  I’m talking about teaching active listening skills.  And that is hard.  And the only way to make sure it sinks in is to practice it and make it an ongoing process.


Now we have the right people in the door and we have them trained on the right things. What do we do to wrap this all up?  We measure our progress.  And here is what I am talking about here. We evaluate our managers and supervisors on these skills.  Over the years, this has been one of the things that has confounded me the most about communicating with employees.  We have these expensive evaluation processes that I talked about – you know, the shiny new tool.  And because it is so expensive and because it is so hard to actually evaluate employees, we try to make these tools one size fits all.  You know what I mean, often there is a set of goals that we sit down and talk to employees about at the beginning of the year.  And then we have some competencies that are supposed to relate to what the employee is doing.  And not once in this whole process do we take into account the employee’s job description or even what the employee is doing.  So we end up with a review that does not take into account what the employee is really doing, that measures a set of competencies that may or may not even be important to the employee doing his/her job and that in the end spits out a bunch of data that is of limited use at its best.  Employees don’t like this process, it is demoralizing.  Supervisors don’t like this process, it is a pain.  And worst of all, we tie compensation to this farce of a process.  So why do we do it?  Great question, and if you don’t have a good answer, then stop.  Doing a performance review once a year is a pain, but it is a pain only once a year.  It is also, for the most part, a complete waste of time.  Unless you are going to do it right.  Get rid of your fancy tools and use the job description as the basis for your reviews.  Yes, that will be hard.  Remember, “Soft is hard.”

Or scrap the whole process.  Want your employees to be engaged and stick around?  Give them constant feedback.  It’s important, especially to the younger generation.  When they do something good, tell them.  When they do something not so good, tell them.  Then tell them why it was either good or bad.  And then talk with them about what they can do better or what they should keep doing well.  That’s really hard.

And finally, make sure you are giving them feedback on what matters.  How is the turnover rate?  When you do a 360, how is the supervisor rated by the people he/she supervises?  I know, no one likes these, but that is because before we did not give our supervisors the skills they needed to be successful.  Now that we have done that, we should not be afraid of the dreaded 360 review.  Now I know what you are all saying, “That’s great, but what about production goals and deadlines and all that stuff?”  Yeah, I get it, that is important too.  But if your managers are being good managers, then those numbers will follow.

Let me just wrap this up with one final thought.  It is going to seem a bit cliché, but I think it is true.  We have to give our managers and supervisors the tools they need to be good managers and supervisors.  And for the most part, we have not done that.   Because it is hard.  It is way easier to train supervisors on how to run the machine or how to do the report.  As we try to shift this, let me give you a place to start.  Let’s start to train our supervisors to treat people the way they want to be treated.  You know, the good old Golden Rule.  Hey, it’s a start.






Help! I’m losing my best people and I can’t replace them! – Part 1.

As most of you know, the lawyers at good old WNJ go to a lot of events that you all attend, and sometimes we are presenting at those events.  We do things like panel discussions and programs on everything from Terms and Conditions to protecting your Intellectual Property.  And we talk about the law and take questions.  Lately we have been hearing a common theme in these questions, something that is clearly on your minds.  Whether you work in communications or human resources or purchasing, you are telling us:  “I can’t find and keep talented people.”  From the skilled trades to engineers, talented proficient employees are in short supply.  Now WNJ can’t make more engineers for you and we can’t teach employees to be electricians or welders –  we are exceptional lawyers, but we are not magicians.  So let’s focus on what we can help you do.  What we can help you do is retain the talent you have.  And no, this is not another employment lawyer telling you to sign all of your employees to covenants not to compete, although in some cases that might be a good idea.

(And by the way, I wrote about this about two years ago.  Must be we were having a talent shortage then too.  You can read that article here.  Some of this is going to sound strangely familiar after you do, but that is only because I cut and pasted from that blog post.)

Instead, we are going to focus on other ways to retain employees.  Soft skills, if you will, that might help you keep your really good employees.  What do you do?  I know, just pay them more.  Easy enough, right?  Of course that is not easy and that is not the answer.  The answer is a whole lot harder than that.  Tom Peters, who I am sure you know is a highly respected author and leadership consultant, is known for saying:  “Soft is hard.”     What does Mr. Peters mean by that?  Well, let’s use his words:

Yet a closer look reveals that for every quality program success    there were scores of misfires—programs, often absorbing vast amounts of time and sums of money, that produced little or nothing in the way of better quality or improved financial results, and in some situations made a slumping organization even more sluggish.

Though it’s dangerous to make such an assertion, in my view there was a singular reason for the mixed bag of results; and it was predictable from our excellence research—too much reliance on the apparently ‘hard’ procedures of, say, six-sigma programs and not enough attention to those underlying, apparently ‘soft’ attributes such as the respect for and engagement of the workforce.

*  * *

In the end: Hard is soft. Soft is hard. The traditionally viewed ‘soft’ variables such as ‘institutional culture’ and ‘inspired leadership’ are the principal keys to success—or failure.

You can see Mr. Peters’ whole paper here.  It is worth a read.  So Mr. Peters, back in 2012, was talking about things like “institutional culture” and “inspired leadership” and he has built on these ideas over the years.  But he is not the only one.

In order to retain employees, seems to me the first thing we need to know is why do people leave their jobs?  Again, we can go back to “they can make more money someplace else” but that can’t be the answer.  Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of the No. 1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, in an article he originally published on LinkedIn, gives nine primary reasons why people leave their jobs, and pay is not to be found among them.  Dr. Bradberry first says that “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.”  Now I think that might be a bit too broad of a statement – clearly, some people do leave jobs where they have a manager they really like.  But this does raise a good point.  It is not always about the money.  In fact, it is rarely about the money.  Let’s go back to those nine things that Dr. Bradberry says are the worst things managers do that cause people to leave.  He says managers who lose good people tend to:

  1. Overwork good people.
  2. Not recognize contributions and reward good work.
  3. Don’t care about their employees.
  4. Don’t honor their commitments.
  5. Hire and promote the wrong people.
  6. Don’t let people pursue their passions.
  7. Fail to develop people skills.
  8. Fail to engage their employees’ creativity.
  9. Fail to challenge people intellectually.

You can see Dr. Bradberry’s whole article here – again, it is a good read.

In addition, in that blog post I wrote in 2015, I noted:

In her article Strategies for Retaining Employees and Minimizing Turnover, Sarah K. Yazinski, an Admissions Counselor at the University of Scranton, cites strategic planning consultant Leigh Branham, SPHR, who claims:

88% of employees leave their jobs for reasons other than pay: However, 70% of managers think employees leave mainly for pay-related reasons.  Branham says there are seven main reasons why employees leave a company:

  1. Employees feel the job or workplace is not what they expected.
  2. There is a mismatch between the job and person.
  3. There is too little coaching and feedback.
  4. There are too few growth and advancement opportunities.
  5. Employees feel devalued and unrecognized.
  6. Employees feel stress from overwork and have a work/life imbalance.
  7. There is a loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.

Remember, it is here.

Now look at these two lists:  Quite a bit of overlap, right?  Could be we are on to something here.

Next time we will talk about what to do about all of this.

New Light on an Old Problem – Sexual Harassment!

It is all over the news and it is certainly high profile.  From Hollywood to the morning news to the halls of Congress, powerful men (and yes I said men, because so far, that is who it has been but yes I also know women can be harassers) are being brought down by allegations of sexual harassment. There has been story after story after story in the news.  On top of that, in this digital age we have the #MeToo movement and Time magazine has even named “The Silence Breakers” as the person of the year.

We could spend a lot of time talking about these headlines and the shocking behavior alleged and in some cases admitted to by these people. But I’m an employment lawyer, so I am going to stick to the law and not the headlines.  What I’m not going to do is spend any time in this particular post going through the legal definition of harassment.

Here is what I do want to do.  I want to remind you of your obligations when you learn that harassment may be occurring in your workplace.  And we are going to go to the EEOC for some help on deciding what we should be doing about this.

The very first step to making sure that you don’t have harassment in your workplace is having a culture that does not tolerate this kind of behavior.  Having a policy and doing training is not going to do you one bit of good if you don’t live the policy.  This has to come from the top.  And the top has to be committed.  You’ve all seen the billboards, “Your kids learn by watching you.”  Your employees do too, and if you say one thing and do another you are sending mixed messages.

So, where do we start?  According to the EEOC’s Guidance we start with prevention:

An effective preventive program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented. The employer should affirmatively raise the subject with all supervisory and non-supervisory employees, express strong disapproval, and explain the sanctions for harassment. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. The procedure should be designed to ‘encourage victims of harassment to come forward’ and should not require a victim to complain first to the offending supervisor. See Vinson, 106 S. Ct. at 2408. It should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies, including protection of victims and witnesses against retaliation.


Now take a look at that.  First, have a policy.  Then tell people about it.  Raise the subject of harassment with your employees, all of your employees, and inform employees of their right to and how to raise the issue of harassment.  Tell people you don’t tolerate harassment and that they can report it.  And do it over and over again.  I know what you are saying, “If we raise the issue we are going to get a line of people at my door wanting to talk about this stuff.”  That’s right, you are.  And you should welcome that.  At best, it is an opportunity to find and get rid of potential liability.  At the least, it is a chance to educate all of your employees.

OK, Steve, I’m doing all that. I have a great policy, I am training, I am raising the issue, and I still got a complaint.  Now what do I do?

Well, if you look at the news without any critical analysis it would seem that you just go fire the accused, right?  WRONG!  A couple thing here:  first, by the time a big story hits the headlines you can bet a lot of investigating has been done.  You don’t fire a multi-million dollar a year employee without having done some looking into the allegations against him or her.  And what about Congress you say?  Well that is different and we are focusing on the workplace remember?  So let’s go back to the EEOC for some help on what we do once we have reason to believe we have an issue:

When an employer receives a complaint or otherwise learns of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace, the employer should investigate promptly and thoroughly. The employer should take immediate and appropriate corrective action by doing whatever is necessary to end the harassment, make the victim whole by restoring lost employment benefits or opportunities, and prevent the misconduct from recurring. Disciplinary action against the offending supervisor or employee, ranging from reprimand to discharge, may be necessary. Generally, the corrective action should reflect the severity of the conduct. See Waltman v. International Paper Co., 875 F.2d at 479 (appropriateness of remedial action will depend on the severity and persistence of the harassment and the effectiveness of any initial remedial steps). Dornhecker v. Malibu Grand Prix Corp., 828 F.2d 307, 309-10, 44 EPD ¶ 37,557 (5th Cir. 1987) (the employer’s remedy may be ‘assessed proportionately to the seriousness of the offense’). The employer should make follow-up inquiries to ensure the harassment has not resumed and the victim has not suffered retaliation.


Let’s break down what the EEOC is saying here. The key is INVESTIGATE.  First thing to remember is you don’t have to have an actual complaint to have an obligation to investigate.  If you receive a complaint or “otherwise learn” of alleged harassment. Investigate.  Anonymous complaint?  Investigate.  Think there is something going on?  Investigate.  Get an actual complaint?  Investigate.  And that means investigate, it does not mean just fire the accused.  Again, that is the key:  INVESTIGATE.

Once the investigation is done, if you determine harassment occurred, you take prompt appropriate remedial action to see that the harassment stops.

And what good does all this do you?

When an employer asserts it has taken remedial action, the Commission will investigate to determine whether the action was appropriate and, more important, effective. The EEOC investigator should, of course, conduct an independent investigation of the harassment claim, and the Commission will reach its own conclusion as to whether the law has been violated. If the Commission finds that the harassment has been eliminated, all victims made whole, and preventive measures instituted, the Commission normally will administratively close the charge because of the employer’s prompt remedial action.


And that is the moral of the story.  If you have the right culture, if you put the preventive measures in place, and if you investigate and take prompt appropriate remedial action when you have an issue, you can avoid liability.

Oh, and people might actually want to work for you too.

If you are a business and you need a policy or training or any other help with this, drop me a line.