Monday, May 30, 2011

Tip #377: Steps In Hiring That Will Lower Employee Turnover

"We wanted a responsible man for this job," said the employer to the applicant. "Well, I guess I'm just your man," said the young fellow. "No matter where I worked, whenever anything went wrong, they told me I was responsible." Bill Adler

Employees leave their jobs for five primary reasons that can be addressed during the hiring process: (1) the job is not what they expected, (2) they lack the skills, knowledge or abilities to perform the job in the manner that the organization requires, (3) they are uncomfortable with the conditions of employment, (4) their values are incompatible with the organizational mission and culture, and/or (5) they or their families are unable to adapt to their new community. There are steps that can avoid these problems.

1. The job is not what they expected.

Steps in hiring that will avoid this problem: Create and present an accurate and up-to-date description of the job.

a. Update the position description to accurately reflect the job responsibilities and reporting relationships, as well as the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities.

b. Make sure that the job announcement is accurate and contains all of the relevant information necessary for a potential applicant to make an informed decision: (1) title and pay range; (2) organization name, background information, and location; (3) key responsibilities; (4) mandatory training and experience requirements; (5) required skills, knowledge, and abilities; and (6) special conditions of employment.

2. They lack the knowledge, skills or abilities necessary to perform the job in the manner that the organization requires.

Steps in hiring that will avoid this problem: Screen potential applicants for three areas that are essential to ensure the best fit for the job: (1) they are qualified for the job, based on past training and experience; (2) they will perform the job in a manner acceptable to the organization; and (3) they share the organization’s values.

a. Pre-screen applicants to determine if they are qualified for the job, based on past training and experience.

Possible pre-screening devices include a resume, an achievement history questionnaire that requires applicants to respond to focused training and

experience questions, and/or a web-based knowledge test.

b. Develop job-related situational questions and benchmark answers.

c. Identify organizational fit questions and benchmark answers, if appropriate.

d. Screen applicants using methods that will provide the most accurate and objective assessment of the potential applicants’ suitability for the job.

Possible screening devices include: (1) structured interview with panel;

(2) written essay; (3) in-basket; (4) performance simulation; and/or (5) oral presentation.

3. They are uncomfortable with the work environment.

Steps in hiring that will avoid this problem: Give applicants an opportunity to determine whether the work environment would be a good fit.

a. Provide a tour of the facility, so the applicants can get a firsthand view of how it is organized, the work that is done on the premises, and their potential work location and working conditions.

4. Their values are incompatible with the organizational mission and culture.

Steps in hiring that will avoid this problem:

Determine whether or not the applicants are comfortable with and will support the mission and the culture of the organization.

a. Ask open-ended value questions to determine if the applicants share the organization’s values.

b. Set up meetings with selected staff, so the applicants can become acquainted with their potential co-workers. This will also give the current staff an opportunity to determine how well the applicants are likely to fit into

the work team.

(5) They or their families are unable to adapt to their new community.

Steps in hiring that will avoid this problem: Provide information about the community to help successful applicants and their families determine if they will be happy relocating there.

a. Discuss what the surrounding communities have to offer in terms of housing, schools, shopping, daycare, medical facilities, religious affiliations, local attractions and community events.

b. Introduce individuals and community organizations that can assist the family in making the transition and becoming situated in their new community.

The likelihood of employee turnover can be minimized if the hiring process accurately describes the job, objectively assesses the applicants’ suitability for the job, and provides support to the successful applicants’ families.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tip #376: How to Provide Constructive Criticism

“Criticism should be a casual conversation. W. H. Auden

A win/win problem-solving model for providing constructive criticism can be used to effectively discuss and resolve disagreements in coaching, performance appraisal, conflict resolution, and general feedback sessions. This model is particularly effective for individuals who are uncomfortable expressing conflict, criticism, or anger.

There are three major reasons for the effectiveness of the following win/win problem-solving model. First, it begins with a supportive statement, which makes it easier to initiate the conversation. Second, it establishes a mutual problem- solving dialogue, which is a more comfortable form of communication. Third, it places the focus on the problem, which directs it away from the individuals involved.

1. Begin with a supportive or neutral statement that indicates some positive or respectful feeling you have about the person to whom you are speaking. This is especially necessary if your communication will involve the expression of criticism or anger. However, you must be sincere when you speak. Sometimes, the most sincere thing you may be able to say may be, “I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me.”

2. Identify the situation or problem as you see it. It is impossible for people to have an intelligent conversation if they do not know what they are talking about.

A powerful, non-defensive way to do this is through "I statements." Beginning with "I statements" says that we are taking responsibility for our communication. The statements often begin with the words "I feel."

Follow up "I feel" with words that describe our emotions, then a description of the cause of this emotional response, and finally its tangible or emotional impact.

An example is: "I feel (I statement) uncomfortable (emotion) when someone raises their voice at me (causal event). When that happens, it is very difficult for me to stay focused on my work (tangible impact).

Non-blaming messages that describe tangible effects are more likely to result in the other person trying to resolve the problem.

3. Make sure that your non-verbal behavior is consistent with your real message. For example, some people tend to smile when they are uncomfortable as well as when they are pleased. However, if you smile when you say angry words, the other person will be confused and may not be able to take your communication seriously. If you know that you are likely to give a mixed message, ask the other person to pay attention to your words rather than to your face.

4. Ask for and receive feedback. A conversation will be ineffectual if the people involved do not take the time to make sure that the other person understands what is being said. Simply asking “Do you understand what I’m saying?” is insufficient because it is a closed question that requires a “yes” or “no” answer and it may not necessarily be true. Instead, ask an open question, such as “How do you feel about my assessment of the situation?”

5. Establish the fact that you appreciate the other person's thoughts or feelings on the subject. When the other person responds, paraphrase and repeat in your own words what you believe are the beliefs, points or concerns of the other person. Make sure that your paraphrase is stated in neutral terms, without imposing your own feelings. This will be particularly important if you do not agree with the other person’s position. Communication cannot be effective if both parties do not treat each other with respect. This is best indicated by careful listening.

6. Express your feeling, thought or need. A conversation that depends on one party never openly expressing what s/he wants, but, rather, hoping that the other party will "read between the lines," will never be effective. It cannot succeed because the initiator of the conversation will not be in control of the communication that takes place. So, state your concern or need in simple and straightforward terms.

7. Ask for and receive feedback. Since you have a right to your opinion on this matter, it is not necessary for the other person to agree with you. You can ask, “Can you appreciate how I feel?”

8. Indicate that you need help in finding a mutually satisfactory solution. If the problem is phrased as a mutual one, rather than as a response to an act by a guilty party, it will be more likely to be resolved in an amicable manner. It will also give the benefit of the doubt to the "guilty" party in an angry or critical situation by not boxing them into a corner with accusations and finger pointing.

9. Ask for and receive feedback. Now you are essentially asking, “Are you willing to work this out with me?” If the answer is “yes, “ you can move on to Step 12.

If the other person has not yet accepted mutual responsibility for resolving the situation, you will need to move to Steps 10 and 11.

10. Ask the other person to identify the real or potential consequences if the situation is not resolved in a mutually satisfactory manner. Make sure that the response includes consequences of significance to each party, as well as to their relationship, and to affected third persons.

11. Ask if the other person is comfortable with those consequences. Studies have found that people tend to be more concerned about potential loss than about potential gain. Hopefully, at this stage the other person is willing to cooperate in resolving the problem.

12. Suggest constructive alternatives. Communication between two people presupposes an objective goal. Conversation will not be effective if you do not know what you want to have happen as a result of that conversation. You may not be entirely invested in your suggestions, but you need to be able to at least set clear limits about what would be acceptable and what would not be acceptable.

13. Ask for and receive feedback. You are honestly looking for a mutually acceptable solution. Keep in mind that the other person is much more likely to be committed to the solution if he or she proposes it.

14. Identify the decision or result of the communication. It is ultimately irrelevant who proposed the final acceptable solution. However, it is very important to literally restate the solution, particularly if the conversation has considered a variety of solutions. Avoid the possibility of a misunderstanding by clarifying who will do what by when, and why this is important.

15. Ask for and receive feedback. In this case, it is best to ask the other person to summarize, in his or her own words, the decision and expected follow through. This is really the only sure way to ascertain if both parties are on the same page.

16. Reaffirm your support statement. This is especially necessary in an angry or critical communication. It indicates respect for the other party, which will make the individual more comfortable with the preceding conversation. Again, if the most sincere support statement you can make is, “I appreciate your taking the time to talk this through, clear the air, and come up with an acceptable solution,” then say that.

17. Follow through and follow up. Now that the "mutual" problem has been raised and, hopefully, resolved, you must act in accordance with the conversation and the decision. If the other party is expected to take the action, make sure to follow up in a timely manner. If the other party does not take the promised action by the mutually established date, it will be necessary to reopen the conversation.

Constructive criticism is most effective and comfortable for both parties when it begins with a supportive statement, establishes a mutual problem-solving dialogue, and places the focus on the problem, which directs it away from the individuals involved.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tip #375: How to Choose Verbs for Effective Learning Objectives

“Begin with the end in mind.” Stephen R. Covey

Learning objectives should explain in specific, observable and measurable terms what the learners will do to (a) learn specific skills and (b) demonstrate that they have learned them. This entails using active verbs that are sufficiently clear that they do not require additional verbs to explain what they mean. If the verbs are vague, the trainer will have no way to verify if the desired learning has occurred.

Unfortunately, it is very common to see lesson plans with learning objectives that use verbs that are vague and unclear, stating that the learners will: “know” or “understand” certain knowledge or skills. Without a second more active verb to clarify what the desired learning behavior is, it is not possible to measure or validate what has been learned.

A trainer cannot tell by looking at a learner who is passively sitting if that learner actually “knows” or “understands” anything. The only way to determine if a learner “knows” or “understands” content is to have that learner do something with that content: for example,” explain” what it means or “demonstrate” how to use it.

The verbs “explain” and “demonstrate” describe specific actions that the learner will take. Because they are actions, they can be observed. Because they are specific actions, they are also measurable.

When a learner “explains” what a word means or a procedure involves, the trainer can listen to that explanation. The trainer can also measure whether the learner’s description is accurate.

When a learner “demonstrates” a skill, the trainer can observe the demonstration and measure how well the learner performs the skill.

A learning objective needs to be specific, observable and measurable. A verb is too vague to be used in a learning objective if it requires another verb to explain what it really means. In addition to “know” and “understand,” there are a number of other verbs that fall into this category and should be avoided, such as:

1. process

2. care

3. learn

4. worry

5. sense

6. believe

7. be aware

8. empathize

9. think

10. remember

11. feel

12. perceive

13. assume

14. try

15. see

16. focus

17. consider

18. be familiar with

19. appreciate

20. explore

Ensure that learning objectives are specific, observable and measurable. Use active verbs that are sufficiently clear that they do not require additional verbs to explain what they mean.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tip #374: Why a Training Needs Assessment is Important

When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves."
Anthony J. D’Angelo

Training is not a panacea. Yet training is frequently treated like the kitchen drawer that accumulates all of the miscellaneous items that no one wants to take the time to sort through and put away properly. There seems to be the notion that, when in doubt, schedule a training session.

However, there are many things wrong with this approach to training. It is important to take the time to investigate the reason for the training request. If we don’t, we run the risk of training the wrong people in the wrong content at the wrong time. This is not only a waste of time, energy and money for us and for others, it also guarantees that training in general and training professionals in specific will be considered irrelevant and unimportant.

A training needs assessment is the only way to verify and validate the need, focus, scope and target group for a training program.

Training needs assessments can be proactive or reactive. In both cases, the goal of the training needs assessment is to identify performance issues that can be remedied through the introduction, practice, or reinforcement of specific and measurable knowledge and/or skill sets.

Proactive training needs assessments initiate a strategic review of future organizational needs that will require new capabilities and competencies. These assessments tend to be more formal and systematized in order to determine the full spectrum of possible training needs throughout the organization. They may involve assessment strategies that are time consuming and require specialized expertise, such as on-line surveys, focus groups, and knowledge tests.

Reactive training needs assessments respond to requests to train pre-identified employees in specific content. These assessments tend to be more informal in order to get a better idea of the reason for the training request and what the training is intended to achieve. They typically involve assessment strategies that are relatively quick and require basic skills to conduct one-on-one interviews with supervisors and/or employees, or review performance data.

Regardless of whether or not the training needs assessment is proactive or reactive, it should determine that:

1. There is a verified performance issue that can be remedied through training.

Does the performance issue involve skills that can be taught? If so, then training is the answer. If the issue involves notification of new or changed policy, then a memo or a brief meeting may be the better recourse. If the issue is individual employee performance, then performance management will be the best approach.

2. This issue is important enough that it needs to be addressed.

How critical will the consequences be to the organization if the training does not occur? The relative importance of addressing this performance issue needs to be considered. Most organizations will have many different training needs, so some prioritization has to occur

3. The appropriate target audience has been identified.

What is the root cause of the performance issue and who is ultimately responsible? If employees are not performing satisfactorily, the typical assumption is that they lack certain knowledge or skills that can be taught. This may not be the case. Instead, their poor performance may actually be due to a lack of delegation, communication or planning skills of their supervisors or managers. In this event, the appropriate target audience would be the supervisors or managers, not the employees.

4. The appropriate training content has been identified.

What knowledge, skills and/or behavior need to be learned? Once the root cause of the performance issue has been located and the correct target audience has been identified, the training content can then be specified. The content will be based on the knowledge and skills gap between current and desired performance.

5. The desired training results are realistic.

Can the desired learning be accomplished within the allotted time frame? Expectations regarding the outcome of a training program may need to be managed. Training can only build skills incrementally. If there is a major skills gap that needs to be addressed, then this may require more than one training session.

6. The training approach is cost-effective.

What is the most cost-effective way to build the necessary skills? It is reasonable and cost effective to schedule a training program if new skills need to be developed or existing skills need to be refreshed and updated for a number of employees. However, scheduling an entire training program to address isolated individual performance issues is neither appropriate nor cost-effective. It may make more sense to send the individual employee to a public workshop, provide on-the-job training and coaching, or use an e-learning solution.

7. The training schedule is compatible with work schedules.

What are the limitations imposed by the target group’s work schedules? If the target group works different shifts, that will need to be considered when scheduling the training program. Also, there may be times of the week or the season when work responsibilities prohibit attendance at a training program.

Take the time to investigate training requests. Training needs assessments will help you avoid wasting yours and others’ time and money, impugning training as a viable performance support, and harming your credibility as a training professional.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tip #373: Three Management Issues That Cause Training To Fail

"We must expect to fail... but fail in a learning posture, determined not to repeat the mistakes, and to maximize the benefits from what is learned in the process." Ted W. Engstrom

There are three management issues that cause training to fail: (1) training is used in lieu of effective performance management; (2) training is given to employees when the real problem is organizational policies, procedures or systems; and/or (3) managers do not reinforce the training: they see no value in the content, they do not know what their employees learned, and/or they do not know that they should reinforce the training.

1. Training is used in lieu of effective performance management.

Too often, a training program is scheduled with the sole intent to address the performance deficiencies of one or only a few employees. Using training in this fashion rarely solves the problem it is intended to solve and actually creates additional long-term problems.

First, training alone is unlikely to solve the performance problem. The employees' manager will still need to set clear performance expectations, monitor the performance, and provide timely and effective performance feedback (all of the performance management activities that the manager hoped to avoid by sending the employees to the training in the first place).

Second, the employees who are already performing satisfactorily will be well aware of the reason for the training and feel resentful that they were forced to attend. This will:

a. negatively impact their perception of the manager's credibility and effectiveness;

b. have a detrimental impact on their morale; and

c. contribute to a suspicion of any future training.

Avoid this misuse of training:

When performance is in question, keep in mind that training is only appropriate if there is a skills deficit. If the employee already has the necessary skills and organizational supports, but chooses not to perform satisfactorily, take the necessary coaching or disciplinary actions.

2. Skills training is given to employees when the real problem is organizational policies, procedures or systems.

Training programs to build employee skills are often scheduled when the real culprit is the organizational policies, procedures or systems that are supposed to support the employees' performance. This is a case of the obvious problem not being the real problem. It is very easy to blame employees for unsatisfactory performance.

This is much easier than asking the hard questions about what gets in the way of their performance. If the employees already have the appropriate skills but are unable to properly perform them, then something beyond their control is causing the problem:

a. Is it due to a policy that is: unreasonable, outdated, inappropriate, or ambiguous?

b. Is it due to a procedure that is: ineffective, convoluted, duplicative, or time consuming?

c. Is it due to a system that is: difficult to use, prone to breakdowns, inefficient, or has outlived its usefulness?

Avoid this misuse of training:

When employees have the skills but are still unable to meet performance standards, the underlying problem will typically be organizational. As Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, "Eighty-five percent of an employee's ability to perform successfully depends upon the system." Investigate the situation to find the real cause, which will either be a policy, a procedure, and/or a system.

3. Managers do not reinforce what is learned in the training program:

There are three major reasons why managers may not provide follow up support after training program:

a. They see no value in the content.

If the training content is not directly related to the skill sets required for the employees' specific positions, they may question its relevance. This may be particularly true when their positions are highly technical in nature.

b. They do not know what their employees learned.

The managers may not have been involved as subject matter experts in the design of the training, so they have a first-hand knowledge of the program. Possibly no one took the time to communicate the training goals, learning objectives and take-away job aids to the managers.

c. They do not know they should reinforce the training.

There is a misperception that training stands alone. Nothing can be farther from the truth. New skills need to be continually reinforced for them to be retained. Managers are the obvious and best choice to provide this reinforcement.

Avoid this lack of reinforcement:

a. Keep in mind that the purpose and value of all training programs need to be communicated to both the targeted employees as well as their managers.

b. Make sure that managers have a good understanding of the training that their employees will receive. Whenever possible, involve them in the design of the program. This will increase their investment in the training outcome.

c. Clarify that the training is intended to support employee performance and needs reinforcement to ensure that the new skills adequately transfer back to the job site. Once the employees are effectively applying their new skills, the manager should see clear benefits, such as increased productivity, quality, and service.

Training cannot take the place of effective performance management. Training is not the solution if policies, procedures or systems are the cause of the problem. Managers need to reinforce skills learned in the training program. Do not let these three management issues cause training programs to fail.