In the last episode of the Audio Tidbits Podcast, focus was on the perfect employee, on those who aspire to be perfect employees and on employers who hope to hire the perfect employee. In this episode, the discussion is expanded to consider the ideal home for the perfect employee. Please consider an organization that aspires to be the ideal home for the perfect employee. You can then judge the quality of the fit for yourself.
As a potential home for the perfect employee, what are our prerequisites for employment?
To join our organization, a potential employee has to have substantial qualifications for the position of interest. Organizations typically set minimum qualifications for positions. This means the positions are open to people who are just barely qualified. Throughout the organization, then, someone who is just barely qualified – and most likely, sometimes by someone who is not qualified – may provide virtually any service. These services cover all aspects of the operation. We have to be able to assure the people who use our services, either internally or externally, that employees who are substantially qualified to provide them are delivering those services. The best way to make this assurance is to only have employees who are clearly qualified to do what they do – people who are substantially qualified for the position they hold.
Our employees are clearly qualified to provide the services they provide. They are, in turn, allowed to provide those services with a minimum of supervision and direction. They function relatively autonomously and independently, so long as they function within the expected, functional parameters. Within limits, they can do what they think is reasonable and appropriate. Given this level of discretion and flexibility, there are additional criteria the organization uses to select employees. They are included below. Each criterion is required. If the prospective employee does not meet the criterion, he (or she) quite simply is not likely to succeed within the organization’s eco system. This is not a judgment about the individual’s competence. Rather, it is merely a conclusion he or she would not make a good employee here.
Our employees have a clear vision, a clear sense of mission. The most successful employees have a clear vision of their mission, why they do what they do. They know they are not experts at everything and do not profess to have all of the answers. Even with this limitation, they are clear about why they do what they do.
Our employees value those who make the journey with them. For those who choose to be part of our internal eco system, they are valued and what they do is recognized and appreciated. They, as individuals, matter and what they do matters.
Our employees commit themselves to excellence. Our organization is not merely succeeding, it excels. Being an employee guarantees being a valued member of a team committed to doing the right things right, the first time, on time, every time, one service experience at a time.
Our employees appreciate where and how they fit in. Each of our employees knows that his or her primary role is to help others succeed. His or her task is to provide for other people the best possible opportunity to get where they are committed to going, to succeed with whatever they choose to do that requires services from us.
Our employees play by the rules. They respect the rules and expect others associated with us to do likewise. We have undoubtedly all run across the person who believes he is above everyone else. People like this think rules are for other people and what they want and do are exceptions to any rules or established procedures. Excellence is not something they have thought about a lot. Fortunately, they are very far away from ever being invited to join the staff.
Our employees do not pass their frustrations and negative feelings along to others. What do they do with their frustrations and negative feelings if they do not pass them along to others? They proactively share them only with people who have a need to know about their perceptions and who can do something about the underlying problems or issues.
Our employees are positive and energetic whether things are going well or going badly. Bad news certainly does not suddenly energize employees. Neither do they take their frustrations and annoyances out on everyone else. They understand their attitudes and commitments are their responsibilities; thus, they make the extra effort needed to assure they are at their best, every day, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.
Our employees accurately understand and appreciate their skills and limitations. Knowing what they do well and then doing it well are among the employees’ strongest assets. They understand that we cannot excel unless everyone spends most of his or her time doing what he or she does best.
Our employees are timely in all they do. For employees, being timely is mostly a matter of respect. They cannot always be on time and do everything on time every time but it is nonetheless a major priority for them. If we are expecting them to be somewhere at a specific time, they are there. If they commit to doing something, the job is done, on time, every time.
Our employees pitch in and do what needs to be done. They are doers. They can always be counted on to do what needs to be done and to give whatever they do their best effort.
Our employees keep focus on getting the job done. They do not get into being negative and depressed about things. They accept personal responsibility for their attitudes and behavior. They know too that it is easy to lose focus, to lose track of the goal.
Our employees have faith in those who make the journey with them. This starts with not reflexively blaming or accusing someone whenever there is a problem. That initial level of faith is followed by believing people are normally honest and trustworthy. Assuming others are honest and trustworthy allows employees to comfortably collaborate with them. Together, in the spirit of trust and good faith, they can best understand the problem and how to reduce the likelihood of its recurring.
Our employees take even minor complaints seriously. This is based on the fact people seldom complain unless there is a real issue. Employees know, as well, people who are complaining usually want to be heard at least as much as they want something specific done, and sometimes more. Put these two truths together and we can see the strategy: There likely is a real issue. + People want to be heard. = Always take time to seriously listen.
Our employees are open to ideas and suggestions from anyone. They seek out ideas and suggestions everywhere, from everyone. They try to learn something from every idea, every suggestion, whomever its source. They listen and then they learn.
Our employees understand problems and issues from other people’s points of view. We all have told someone about how a problem or issue looks from our point of view only to be told I don’t see it that way. Let me tell you what the real issues are here. What is the not so subtle message? You’ve got this all wrong. It’s not that way at all. This kind of demeaning approach is never heard from our employees. Such disrespect is not their style. More importantly, they know by using that approach, they lose. Just as they get most of their ideas from other people, they get most of their insights and new perspectives from other people too. They take time to understand other perspectives, to get other people’s read on things. When they walk away, they have more of what they need. They have what they know and now also have part of what the other person knows too.
Now that you know what we expect of our employees, let’s shift our attention to what our employees can expect of us. More specifically, what can our employees expect of our managers and our management philosophy?
Our managers are, first and foremost, employees. They meet all of the above criteria and operate with the same degree of autonomy and flexibility extended to other employees. As they interact with other employees, they model those criteria and consistently treat other employees as they themselves expect to be treated. Given these expectations, the following behavior and approaches are seen in all of our managers as they work with employees to fulfill our mission and manage related functional parameters.
Our managers make sure a job can be done before holding anyone responsible for it. Employees are certainly expected to try, to give it their best. However, they are not held responsible for an assignment not working out unless their manager can objectively confirm the assignment was doable.
Our managers are clear with people about what they expect. This starts with being clear about whether they actually expect the job to be done. They may only expect the employee to give it a try, work on it if there is time, or to do as much as interest and resources allow. Alternatively, they may expect the job to be done and done on time. Managers know being clear about expectations is a touchstone of our management. They are clear about what they expect. Our employees do not wonder or have doubts about what is expected.
Our managers take time to be sure employees understand how their responsibilities fit in with other people’s duties and activities. Our employees always understand how what they do fits into the plan for the organization to achieve its mission. They know why they do what they do. Although they may not see every connection, knowing why their job is important is essential to their success and to our collective success. Employees do not doubt the value of their contribution to our organization’s success.
Our managers give our employees clear reasons and explanations whenever they ask for them. Why? is a question for which employees want an answer that makes sense to them. If they do not get it, they fill in their own answers. Having filled in the blank, they have a do–it–yourself explanation for everything. People make sense of their environments, whether it has any relationship to reality or not. What is the result? There are many and usually conflicting explanations for anything happening and nearly as many for things not happening and that are not going to happen. This is unlikely to occur within our internal eco system, though. If employees bring their questions to their manager, they get the honesty and respect they deserve. Not to give them reasons and explanations when they ask for them is unacceptable.
Our managers delegate often and well. Delegation is, for them, a critical key to their success. They follow three rules when delegating. First, they appropriately delegate tasks and duties. Delegation is not a whoever happens to be around process. Our managers are careful to only delegate to employees who have the skills and know–how to get the job done. Second, they do not delegate a job to someone and then try to manage it themselves. They give employees the freedom they need to do what they need to do. Third, managers always delegate enough authority so the employee can get the job done. This does not mean they give employees unlimited, free rein. What each employee does must fit with everyone else’s activities. At the same time, each employee has the freedom and authority to do what needs to be done.
Our managers access the resources needed to get the job done. A manager’s responsibility is to facilitate other employees’ success. Being sure available resources are sufficient for success is, in turn, the manager’s responsibility. There may be other employees who have tasks and assignments related to resource development; but if the resources are not there when they are needed, the manager has not gotten the job done. Our managers know not having enough of the right resources when they are needed is a certain route to failure.
Our managers are skilled at using informal strategies to get things done. There are formal policies, procedures, and ways things are to be done. It is also true they sometimes do not work and situations come up where there is no formalized approach to get from here to there in the time available to get there. Now and then employees take this to mean they can ignore the rules, not pay attention to the formal processes. This is not our managers’ perspective. The informal approach supplements formal procedures and is not a substitute for them. For our managers, the informal approach is simply one more strategy available to them within the formal context. They want employees to use informal strategies, to talk with each other, to informally innovate when they need to, to avoid being too rigid about the rules when something unusual comes up not quite fitting into the established procedures. Our employees are responsible people who can and are expected to use their good judgment and common sense.
Being skilled at using informal strategies includes knowing when to use them and when formal is better. If informal strategies are used too much or inappropriately, things become disorganized, chaotic, and quality suffers. If they are used too little, our internal eco system becomes rigid and inflexible, creativity and innovation disappear, and our organization loses its cutting edge. The real skill in using informal strategies is in finding and maintaining the balance.
Our managers understand and tap the knowledge, skills, and resources of everyone. They are successful with identifying the specific know–how, particular skill, or best resource for the immediate purpose, whatever the need happens to be.
Our managers distribute work and responsibilities fairly. They do not take advantage of anyone. There are obvious and not so obvious ways people are taken advantage of: for example, when an employee has more and more work piled on top of work piled on yesterday. Another version of the same kind of abuse happens when work is given to someone just because the manager is not going to get any hassle or flack. Some people have especially positive attitudes and just do not say No when asked to do something.
Two other areas of unfairness and abuse warrant a special note here. First, tolerating anyone’s not doing what is expected or doing less than is expected is unfair to others. Letting shirkers get away with it does nothing but shift the burden unfairly onto other employees. Second, assuming everyone is equally efficient is wrong. This is particularly unfair to those who are unusually efficient. The exceptional few can routinely do a two–hour job in an hour and a half. Do we then expect them to do more work in the extra half hour? Our managers do not think so. They discuss options with these employees but the choice is theirs. Our managers do not increase the load just because someone is especially efficient and hard working.
Our managers defer to others when they are more knowledgeable, skilled, or competent. They do not ignore or overlook expertise in others and especially not in employees whose knowledge, skills, and resources may increase our organization’s chances for success. Their reason for deferring to the expertise of others goes a little farther, though. They truly value differing styles and opinions. Each employee has know–how, skills, and resources unlike those of anyone else. Each has his or her special area of expertise. He or she also has his or her individual approaches, ways of thinking, and perspectives. Not to fully access these talents and knowledge is unacceptable.
Our managers deal with problems before they become emergencies. They take care of all issues as soon as they become aware of them. It is part of their Do today’s work today approach to everything.
Our managers do not react to employees or problems impulsively. They resist the temptation to just do something, do anything to make the issue or problem go away. An important benefit of their more considered approach is they have an opportunity to fit their reactions to the situation or circumstance.
Our managers are hard on problems and soft on people. They know that our employees deserve consideration; problems do not. They want our valued employees to stay, annoying problems to go away. Problems need solutions; people need support. Our employees are not the problem, problems are the problem. For these reasons, managers are ordinarily flexible and willing to compromise. A few things are not negotiable, but most are.
Our managers remember and own what they say, agree to, and do. They know that our employees think that they said what they think they said, agreed to what they think they agreed to, and did what they think they did. Therein lies our managers’ opportunity. On the one hand, managers could automatically say I never said that. Or I certainly did not agree to that. Or I did not do it. As option one, these responses have the advantage of simplicity. On the other hand, our manager could capitulate. Although I do not remember saying that, you are undoubtedly right. Or If you think I agreed to it, then we have a deal. Or If you say I did it, then I did it. As option two, this has the advantage of avoiding conflict. For our managers, however, if they said it, agreed to it, or did it, they acknowledge the fact. If they believe they did not, then they say That surprises me. I must be blocking on that one. Will you help me get focus? If you will, take me back to when you are talking about. You were there so help me into the picture. Surprisingly often, the response is Well, I wasn’t there but so–and–so told me…. Other times, the manager is reminded the employee really is right. Whatever the outcome, the manager has an opportunity to reprocess and reinterpret the event. The outcome is not necessarily better but their commitment to Management Excellence is intact. – Let me note the any reasonable interpretation standard is used here as with other issues and misunderstandings. The question for the manager is how a reasonable person with similar training and experience might have interpreted the situation, instruction, or event, not the manager’s recollection of his meaning or intent at the time.
Our managers work with people instead of merely relying on their power and control. They know relying on power and control stifles innovation, creativity, and cooperation. Further, it increases tension and apprehension while causing our employees to become anxious and fearful. Even if they are not the focus of the power and control, the effect is about the same. Just being in a power–oriented environment is unsettling and stressful. Our managers recognize these unacceptable outcomes, but their favoring working with people rests more specifically on the less obvious downside of routinely using power and control. Regularly using power and control is ineffective and counterproductive. In the long run, it does not work. Specifically, the more skilled the employee, the less effective it is; the more important the person’s participation is to the organization, the more using power and control jeopardizes the organization’s success.
Our managers make the tough or unpopular decision when necessary. This dilemma is at the heart of our adaptive management philosophy. When should a manager defer to the collective wisdom of others and when should he or she go with his or her personal best judgment, given what is known at the time? Our managers’ solution is fairly simple. They always go with the collective wisdom of others unless they believe very strongly the other people are wrong. It is not enough to believe they are right. They have to also clearly believe that others are wrong. Having made this decision, they may still go with the collective wisdom if they believe the consequences will not be excessively problematic or can be reversed, if necessary. Others might be right; and even if they are not, their empowerment entitles them to their turn at bat, so to speak. On those few occasions when our managers clearly believe they are right and others are wrong and the consequences of going with their recommendations would be very negative and not reversible, our managers do what they have to do. They have only one responsible choice. They can handle employees’ being unhappy or upset with them at times. Our managers cannot accept failing to do what they know needs done. Even more to the point, they cannot accept failing to manage.
Our managers give employees clear, frequent, and accurate feedback. They are as quick to tell them what they have done right as they are to tell them what they have done wrong. Importantly, though, managers are also as quick to tell employees what they have done wrong as they are to tell them what they have done right. Equal attention is given to both. This requires a very sensitive balance. Finding and keeping the balance is based on taking it for granted that our employees are trying to do a good job. They do not intentionally make mistakes or perform below their abilities. Employees consciously and intentionally give the little extra to move good work into the excellent category. Their commitment to excellence is a major reason why they are our employees.
The real issue here is criticism. Our managers praise publicly and only criticize in private. They also are very careful to assure their criticism is an exact fit with the problem or issue, not overdoing it or under doing it. Criticism, no matter how well it is managed, introduces a negative element into a fast–moving, stressful environment. The effect is the employee who is criticized – as well as anyone who is coincidentally in the immediate environment – becomes apprehensive and less productive, at least for the moment. Criticism is always temporarily counterproductive. For this reason, our managers are quick to praise but very cautious when criticizing anyone, for any reason. They know providing constructive and effective criticism is a delicate management area. If the feedback is inappropriate or excessive, the employee may overreact or withdraw, and the outcome is often worse than the original problem. If criticism is not forthcoming when it is appropriate or is not focused enough, the problem or issue persists and likely will get worse. Getting criticism right is critical for our managers.
There is an additional dimension further complicating the matter. Our performance standards increase over time. Yesterday’s acceptable performance levels are under continuous review and may not be acceptable today. Employees who have performed adequately in the past may have the same quality of work criticized and judged unacceptable today. They find they have shifted from valued employees to marginal performers. At a minimum, the bar is constantly being raised and higher levels of performance are expected. The possible result is that an employee has to leave our organization. If this happens, other members then become anxious about whether they might be next. Because of this anxiety, any criticism must be managed very carefully and judiciously.
The major requirement here is that our manager must be a good teacher. Further, all incidents or situations potentially leading to criticism are redefined as teaching opportunities. Our managers seldom criticize. It is just too dangerous. Instead, they know how and when to teach and are careful to never miss a teaching opportunity.
The key here is in understanding the nature of the teaching opportunities. The most common prompt for these types of teaching opportunities stems from an inadequacy in work or work performance. The employee’s performance is not up to the expected level in one or more areas. Dealing with this is fairly easy. The appropriate manager simply sits with the employee to discuss the inadequacies and to develop a mutually agreed on plan for correcting them. This may mean more training, more attention to detail, connecting with a mentor, or anything else to reasonably get the valued employee from here to there. Our manager sets specific dates for activities, for evaluation of progress, as well as for having the deficiency corrected.
The rare and more serious challenge is if the employee either cannot or will not do what is expected or continues unacceptable behavior after having been warned. There must not be any delay. It is unfair to the employee to put off confronting the issue. Further, avoiding doing what needs done gives the employee the impression there is no problem. Do today’s work today, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially unpleasant. The task only becomes more uncomfortable and unpleasant if it is postponed until tomorrow.
When our managers do confront this type of issue, they say My problem is…. – They are quite specific. – You either will not or cannot do what we expect. If you cannot, we will talk about it. If you will not, there is nothing to discuss further. You cannot remain with us. If the employee feels capable and our manager agrees, our manager and our employee develop a plan to correct the problem. If the employee feels incapable, our manager reassigns him or her to other responsibilities, if possible. If the conclusion is that the employee has to leave, our manager makes the
arrangements, giving as much consideration to the individual’s needs and circumstances as possible. The employee is still a valued person, even though his or her employment with us is terminated. People in this situation are entitled to the same level of humanity and respectful treatment as they received while they were being recruited. Our adaptive Management Excellence basics still apply every day, every time, with everyone, no exceptions, no excuses.
People leaving the organization – for whatever reason – do so in the way that works best for them. As they disengage, some people behave and relate as they always have. There is no change. For others, their behavior and pattern of relating noticeably change. They have their own way of separating. So long as they do their work, contain their behavior within acceptable limits, and do not disrupt the functioning of the organization, it’s important to support their style of leaving. Tolerance, flexibility, and understanding are still important as people leave. They continue to be valued and deserve our respect and consideration, no exceptions, no excuses.
Now you know, so there you go. If you are the perfect employee who we aspire to hire, we hope you choose to join us; but please only come aboard if you believe working with us will be the perfect home base for you and your unique talents. We are only interested in hiring folks who share our commitment to excellence in all we do, no exceptions, no excuses.