How Dumb are Those Rules?

CM2016_10_rules.png

I’m not a fan of bureaucracy, I try to avoid, reduce or eliminate it when it’s in my power to do so. However I’ve also worked for large companies where a certain amount of bureaucracy is inevitable and I’ve worked in regulated industry where the regulation is there there for a reason; to protect the health or the finances of customers.

So when I came across and article that talked about 10 dumb rules that make your best people quit I was initially cheering.  But some of those rules are there for a reason; sometimes the reason is the law and sometimes it’s a real risk and sometimes it’s just that not everyone is honest. So I decided to unpack the rules further think about the reason companies put such rules in place and discuss how there might be a different way to work with such rules.

1. Dumb rules for hiring.

This is a lament about the black hole a resume goes into when you apply for a job. I absolutely agree with this, the process used by many companies is so disrespectful. It is not difficult to make a humane process for handing job applications, whatever the size of your company.

  • Respond to every application; since applications are made online this is an email. It can be a standard email for those who don’t make the shortlist.
  • When people make the shortlist or the short-shortlist and have been unsuccessful at the interview stage send a personal email saying what was missing.
  • Be clear about the decision timeline and stick to it.

My best recruitment experience was one where I did not get the job.  Since then I’ve tried to follow that example – that might be a separate post for a later date.

2. Dumb rules for performance reviews

“Performance reviews are a waste of time. Brilliant and talented people deserve better than being slotted into some bureaucratic five-point scale once a year.” begins the complaint on performance reviews. I agree, but performance reviews aren’t about feedback.

In a large company you need to find a fair way of distributing the rewards, aka pay rises, and the performance review system is what has evolved to fulfil that task. I have written about performance management before and agree that it’s a flawed system; it’s not always fair, and even when people get good reviews they don’t like the process. Some companies are testing other methods, moving away from rigid review and stacked ranking systems. However all companies need to find a fair way to judge the performance of employees.

I think it needs to change. In the meantime managers can improve the process for teams by giving feedback throughout the year, and by being honest about the purpose of the dreaded performance review.

The article ends this subject with “Trust them to produce, and if they are not producing let them go” it’s not that easy under EU law to just let people go, and I think if you’ve hired someone and they are not performing you have a duty to coach for improvements.

One last reason to have a system that attempts to be fair; lawsuits.

3. Dumb rules for onsite attendance.

Agree. With the tools we have available now onsite attendance can be optional in many jobs. I’ve always agreed to work from home agreements for team members. That trust has been more than rewarded; it’s meant that one team member avoided 6 hours of commuting per week, another could extend time with his family in his home country, and a colleague could help a sick relative. I have never seen any decline in work delivery – if anything the team members feel more dedicated.

I have often connected with the team member via some chat app. Not to “check up” on them, but to emulate the office situation and maintain a connection.

This came easily to me, perhaps because I’m used to working online, for many managers new skills might be needed.

4. Dumb rules for approvals

“Do you really want your best workers to spend their time chasing people for rubber-stamp approvals?”

Oh man. This is one of my biggest complaints. At one company I had authority to make spending decisions on items in the tens of thousands but would have to get a 20 euro expense invoice approved before it was re-imbursed. In another I had a team member based in another country – the CEO of that country organisation had to approve her expenses that were being paid from my budget. (He did, and after the first time it was no issue).

This comes down to regulation. If you’re in a publicly listed company accountancy rules come into play and the company has to double, or triple check expenses and spending to ensure there is no fraud. Even though the company knows you’re trustworthy they can’t actually trust you.

Although I understand the need the approval request systems make me grumpy.  my team used to make jokes and take me out for coffee after I’d been filing expense reports. Perhaps the answer is coffee vouchers for every approval request?

5. Dumb rules for time off

“If a dedicated employee doesn’t feel good enough to come to work, what’s the point in making them drag themselves out of bed to get a doctor’s slip?”

Here’s a win for the European way! I think it takes six weeks absence before a doctor’s note is needed. Absences are monitored, repeat absenteeism is a sign of stress or longer term health issues. But the Dutch system is sensibly generous about this.

6. Dumb rules for frequent flyer miles

The article assumes that this is a reward for work travel, and should accrue to the employee doing the travel. That’s the system I’m used to here, but I have also worked for a government department where we could not legally accept frequent flyer miles. But then no-one could which is annoying but fair. I also know of one company that collates them and reshares them across all employees. Work travel in that company is usually only by senior people and is widely seen as a benefit and the idea that should only accrue to senior managers seems unfair to them.

I’d stick to it as a reward for work travel if I were making the rules, but it’s not a deal breaker in the grand scheme of things.

7. Dumb feedback methods

“I have worked with companies that put complete faith in employee engagement surveys, but frankly I believe they’re a sham.”

Agree. Having worked for a financial services company right through the financial crisis and seen the outcome of annual engagement surveys I noticed that the engagement scores trailed the fall and rise of the share price.

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-15-10-03Few companies consider the cost of conducting an big scale engagement survey. In a company of 100,000 employees it could be 15-20 full time employee equivalents to complete it (assuming 70% response rate), do you get a commensurate value of improvements?

I’ve worked through the feedback process numerous times, and it becomes so complex and unwieldy that little is really achieved. I think you could do more by talking to people, using smaller targeted surveys, asking for feedback on your sites, and making smaller – more useful – changes.

8. Dumb rules for cell phones

Apparently some companies make staff check their phones in as they enter the company. I haven’t encountered this, although I have been asked not to photograph or record in certain areas of a company. I can understand the need in, for example, the design lab at Apple. But it’s not a rule that shows trust in employees, for most companies it’s overkill.

9. Dumb rules for internet use

I’ve seen Facebook and LinkedIn banned, and in fact blocked from company computers out of a fear of what employees might post. Well it just shifts the problem to out of work hours. A better solution is to talk to employees, make it clear what can and can’t be posted online. Employees can understand that discussing client information, sharing company results early, or dissing their manager might be a problem. Even better give them some good news to share!

10. Dumb probationary rules

Many organizations still have the throwback rule that employees have to be in a position for six months before they can transfer or be promoted”

While I’ve never come across a defined limit I can understand that in general as a manager you want people in the job you hired them for, it’s a pain in the neck to re-hire people all the time. My personal attitude is that if a person wants to move then it’s time for them to move – regardless of my assessment of their abilities or performance. I’m far more likely to recommend someone who has performed well for 18 months, than someone who’s been in the role for 3. But the roles I’ve managed have expertise levels that require a bit of learning. I might feel differently about managing wait staff in a restaurant for example where the skill set is simpler and success is more a question of personality.

I don’t love the bureaucratic rules, but having worked in regulated industries I grudgingly admit that I can usually understand the business need. That makes it possible for me to adapt and find the smartest process that will work for everyone – most of the time. Of course I still get frustrated, but then I take a coffee break and move on to the real work.

Image:  Law books  |  Waikay Lau  |  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hire Slowly; Fire Quickly

That’s a direct quote from Loren Becker from Zappos, speaking at the International Social Media and PR Summit here in Amsterdam.

Hire Slowly

Zappos’ hiring process includes multiple meetings, including informal meetings with groups of colleagues. Part of the company culture includes socialising together so for them it’s important to know that new hires are good to socialise with.

There were some tweets of concern; seeing this as a step too far into the person’s private time, and perhaps disturbing the work/life balance. But I think most people on the hiring side of the equation have a similar test; we’re all looking for “fit”, will this new person work well in our team, and fit the company’s culture.

Maybe the Zappos approach is too extreme for your company, how about the beer test? I recommended this to a colleague who was recruiting a while ago. When you’re interviewing someone ask yourself “on a random evening after work would I have a beer with this guy?” He applied the test, the answer was “no”, and he hired anyway on the basis that he rarely goes for drinks after work so it didn’t matter. But it’s not whether you will actually have that beer, it’s how you feel about doing it. By the way, in his case the hire was a mistake.

Fire Quickly

If you know you’ve made a mistake hiring someone, fire them quickly.

This is easier to put into effect in the US where the principle of “at-will employment” is used, and harder in Europe where there is a stronger social contract between the employer and the employee. But that’s all the more reason to hire slowly, and to use a probation period. It’s important to communicate with the new hire what you expect in the probation period and to make a fair assessment before taking the step to fire someone.

If you don’t take steps to fire someone who doesn’t perform or who really does not fit the culture (I’m not talking quirky, but major behaviour difference) it’s a drain on the team. They see that low performance is tolerated which reduces their motivation, they can also find it difficult to cope with the different behaviour. A highly co-operative team may absorb a highly competitive colleague – until on a bad day she shouts demands at a junior colleague.

So fire quickly, remove what will otherwise become a festering problem in your team. but the best way to avoid having to fire someone, is to hire slowly.

 Images;
Snail snail /Aleksandar Cocek/ CC BY-SA 2.0
Cheetah Cheetah Run 4 /Gary Eyring/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How old is your social media manager?

There are a whole new series of job titles evolving in the online world. One of those is “Social Media Manager”. It’s a role that didn’t exist when I was at university the second time. And let’s not talk about the the first time I was at university – the internet hadn’t been invented and our essays were hand-written, double-spaced and came back red-inked.

Does that mean I am unfit for the role of Social Media Manager? Well according to Cathryn Sloan, yes. Merely being over 25 disqualifies me from the role, because the under-25s grew up with social media therefore they’re better at it.

The key is that we learned to use social media socially before professionally, rather than vice versa or simultaneously. After all, it is called social media; the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies’ heads. To many people in the generations above us, Facebook and Twitter are just the latest ways of getting messages out there to the public, that also happen to be the best.

I think her argument has merit, so much so that the the person in my team with the most “social media” in her job is in her twenties. She’s finding ways for our content to become more social, working to consolidate our Linkedin presence, and coaching subject matter experts on using Social Media.

However I expect a lot more from a social media manager than knowledge of social media, to be valuable they must also;

  • understand our brand
  • know our company culture
  • know our products and services
  • be able to sustain a campaign
  • understand privacy constraints
  • know the regulations concerning the financial services industry (and ours is not the only highly regulated industry)
  • know our customers.

The last one is absolutely crucial, and the one where the “I grew up with facebook” logic is most likely to fail, for the very simple reason that our customers are not all 25-year-old new graduates who grew up on social media sites.

If I were hiring for a social media team the younger-than-25 new graduates might get hired at a junior level to help the content experts develop their content in a social direction. But Cathryn Sloane, with her B.A. in creative nonfiction writing, is probably underqualified.

Likeable came up with a list of 5 qualities of a great social media manager, it would be a rare 21-year-old who fulfilled them all (I certainly didn’t). Which is not to say that 21-year-olds should not be hired in social media roles. Just that for most companies the right approach in their communications or marketing or social media teams is going to be a mix of expertise. Some people with a deep knowledge of the company, balanced by some new people with a fresh outlook. The infectious enthusiasm of young people, balanced by more senior people who can see a wider context.

So by all means hire some under-25s into social media roles, you’ll benefit from their fresh take on things and their high comfort level with social media. It seems obvious and logical – but it’s not an SEO rated headline.

Image child computer

Are Layoffs Necessary?

Mid-crisis the pressure to cut costs was huge, and in a lot of companies (including mine), the result was a round of layoffs.

There are a lot of costs associated with a round of layoffs that go well beyond the costs of the actual redundancy payout. BNET lists 5.

  1. Significant indirect costs often wipe out the direct savings of layoffs.
    The short term effect is positive, a reduction of costs. But if necessary work is not being done you’ll be rehiring within 6 months with hiring and training costs that wipe out your savings.
  2. Your best employees might bolt after a round of cuts.
    Research shows that in an environment of repeat downsizing your best employees will jump. That’s a loss of talent and expertise you can’t afford in a crisis but are more or less powerless to stop.
  3. The best types of workplaces often suffer the most.
    If you’ve built a workplace that prioritises personal development any shock to the personnel systems will be more unsettling than in a more cynical workplace.
  4. Layoffs decrease organisational performance.
    As you lose expertise, and the psychological effects ripple through the organisation performance will suffer.
  5. Employee retention is linked with customer retention.
    Customers may become disillusioned as their service levels drop.

I would add a sixth one; when the recessions passes (and they do) it will take you longer and cost you more to ramp up to new market demands.

So with all that in mind I wondered if anyone had steered their way through a crisis avoiding the layoff decision. I found one case; Alexander Kjerulf reports on a small company (2800 employees) called Xilinx. Rather than cut jobs the then-CEO Wim Roelandt cut salaries, starting with taking a 20% cut himself. He devised a series of strategies under the umbrella of “share the pain” and he communicated with employees – including using employee focus groups in developing the recovery strategies.

Although it was never promised Xilinx, a software company, survived the dot.com crash of 2001 without making anyone redundant.

Recent research shows that 94% of employees would consider a different pay/work structure rather than go through layoffs. So employees can see alternatives even if companies aren’t there yet.

It’s clear cost cutting needs to be done in a downturn, but given the costs of building a great team and the benefits to the company, layoffs should not be the automatic solution.

Image money via pixabay