Tag Archives: Hiring

Workplace Initiations: Six Ways to Build a More Loyal Team

I was meeting with a few colleagues last week discussing our companys’ onboarding practices. It was interesting to hear how they welcomed newcomers. Most had a formal one-day orientation followed up by job specific training and departmental hospitality. Then there was Chuck.

Chuck did some variation of what everyone else was doing but he incorporated six months of “hazing.” Hazing is probably too strong a term, but they certainly made new hires earn their place on the team. It sounded harsh until Chuck mentioned his company’s incredibility high retention rate, employee engagement scores, and seven-year streak of being a Best Place to Work. Now I’m questioning whether unconditional acceptance is the best way to initiate a newbie.

According to anthropologist Aldo Cimino, “hazing” is the ritualized humiliation of newcomers to a group, often through initiation challenges. This is not a new concept, nor is it relegated to one culture or social class—hazing occurs in upper-class schools, street gangs, sports teams, indigenous tribes, and any other segment of the society where a person joins new groups.

While this may sound barbaric or immature, it can be effective. Cimino’s research found that the groups with higher status and more resources had more rigorous initiations. Another study found that participants who experienced severe embarrassment and discomfort to gain access reported a much higher level of satisfaction with the group. And studies by Brock Bastian concluded that individuals who collectively experienced painful events display stronger bonds and greater generosity to group members.

So why do people (subconsciously) want to go through an initiation? As explained by cognitive anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse, the laborious experiences create a powerful shared memory that serves as social glue, thereby bonding members together. It could also serve to demonstrate an individual’s personal strengths, as well as the qualities of the people who can motivate such acts.

If it’s too easy to get into your organization and you’d like to incorporate an initiation, consider a few of these practices:

Start at the interview. Involve a few steps with a few people. Don’t hesitate from asking difficult questions and setting clear expectations.

Better orientation. The intricacies of your company cannot be taught in one day. Spread it out and, like the interview, involve many people from many departments.

Pubic displays. As they study the company, they need to share what they’re learning. Maybe include a few presentations to the department.

Group project. Get all the new hires together for a hands-on group project. This should be meaningful (no busy work) and inclusive of the team.

No bullying. This is about people being initiated, not threatened, coerced, or emotionally scarred.

Big ending. You’ve tested them, they’ve passed, it is time to celebrate. Make this a big deal. Involve the whole department and formally welcome them.

You take hiring seriously. You take performance seriously. You need to take your onboarding seriously. The way someone is welcomed sets the groundwork for their success. If you include an initiation passage, new hires can earn their way into your company through challenging tasks that expedite their learning curve and engrain them into the culture. Continue to be supportive, but they need to work for it. After all, your company is worth the effort.

To Minimize Biases, We Might Need to Minimize People Input

cognitive-biasWere you surprised by the election results? If not, you were in the minority. Most professional pollsters had Clinton winning by anywhere from 3% to 11%. We can chastise their incorrect results, but first we need to consider the accuracy of our own decision making and what we can do to increase precision in the future.

When Trump won the election, I immediately bashed the forecasters; they were all so certain of a Clinton win and had been for weeks—on the night of the election, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight predicted a 71% probability of Clinton winning, and out of 21 possible scenarios, Election Analytics had only one where Trump could prevail. Then I read an article on Defense One and it began to make sense.

The output of polling results is only as good as the data put into the model. And unfortunately, this data is manipulated by people. According to Kalev Leetaru, a big data specialist who discovered the location of Osama Bin Laden through a statistical analysis of news articles, the problem with the election polling was tied to flawed judgment about which data was relevant.

When it comes to the kinds of questions that intelligence personnel actually want forecasting engines to answer, such as ‘Will Brexit happen’ or ‘Will Trump win,’ those are the cases where the current approaches fail miserably. It’s not because the data isn’t there. It is. Is because we use our flawed human judgment to decide how to feed that data into our models and therein project our biases into the model’s outcomes.—Kalev Leetaru

For the most accurate election predictions, the best indicator was from the artificial intelligence system, MogIA. Through it’s 20 million data points pulled from online platforms (Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc), MogIA has successfully predicted the last four presidential elections. Why? Because as per its developer,

While most algorithms suffer from programmers/developer’s biases, MoglA aims at learning from her environment, developing her own rules at the policy layer and develop expert systems without discarding any data.—Sanjiv Rai, founder of Genic.ai

People are chalk-full of biases that distort how information is absorbed and comprehended. One of the more common biases is motivated reasoning, where we interpret observations to fit a particular pre-conceived idea. Psychologists have shown that much of what we consider to be reasoning is actually rationalization. We have already made the decision about how to react, so our reasoning is really cherry-picking data to justify what we already wanted to do.

All leaders (and people) are susceptible to these types of biases. How many times have you hired someone only to find that they are not the same person you interviewed? Sure, they look the same, but the intelligent, driven professional you met is starkly different from the person you are know working with. Somehow your intuition led you down a wrong path. Rationalize it as the result of outside forces, but you decided who they were within five minutes of interviewing and then looked for proof to support your gut.

To remove some of the bias, aptitude tests have been found to be highly predictive of performance, as have general intelligence tests and behavioral assessments. Interviews, however, are far less likely to foretell who will succeed. Research from Society for Judgment and Decision Making found that people make better predictions about performance if they are given access to objective background information and prevented from conducting interviews entirely.

If we want to make the best decisions for our organizations, we cannot rely solely on intuition, nor can we dismiss our instincts. There must be a balance between logic and perception. This begins with collecting and analyzing data is the most objective manner possible. Once we understand the facts, we can consider the less tangible factoids before coming to a final decision.

If this past election teaches anything, it’s that we cannot fall victim to our cognitive biases. Something feeling correct does not make it correct. Find ways to avoid being emotionally or intellectually invested in the findings; that’s the best way to keep an open mind. Include others who will challenge your biases and have no preconceived notions, like an independent contractor. Or maybe we should try to concern ourselves more the actualities and lean away from trying to predict outcomes. I’ll try to remember that in the mid-terms.

The Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, and the Rebuilding of a Legendary Franchise

chicago-cubsThe Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. If you aren’t a baseball fan, this may not seem like a big deal, but consider that the team hasn’t won Major League Baseball’s sought-after championship in 108 years. This is the longest championship drought in North American sports history.

Many fans blame the Cubs’ losing streak on being cursed. You can choose from the 1945 curse of the Billy Goat, the 1969 black cat incident, or Steve Bartman’s unfortunate 2003 interference with a critical foul ball. While one of these curses may have led to their problems, we can credit solid leadership (and a league-best regular season record) with getting them out.

In 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games. As part of their rebuilding process, the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Epstein stressed that while acquiring talent is essential, it is meaningless without a culture based upon a winning attitude.

To establish this new culture, they created the “Cubs’ Way,” a written set of guiding principles that standardize the organization’s philosophy. With it’s three core goals—Be a good neighbor, Preserve historic Wrigley Field, and Win the World Series—the Cubs’ Way applies to everyone, from Epstein to the players, to their minor league scout, to the ticket office attendees, to interns.

The Cubs’ Way really boils down to the people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It’s more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.—Theo Epstein

With a new organizational philosophy came new recruitment criteria. In a recent interview, Epstein emphasized one of his prime hiring gauges, knowing how players handle failure. This is key in a game where even the best hitters fail 70% of their time at bat. To find these players, Cubs’ scouts must produce three detailed examples of how prospective players faced adversity on the field and three examples off the field.

In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?— Theo Epstein

Since Epstein’s focus is on the big picture, he needed a Manager who could uphold these values in the bullpen. In 2014, he hired veteran Joe Maddon. While Maddon’s responsibilities include those of the typical manager such as determining team strategy, the lineup, and in-game decisions, he has a few irregular habits that have significantly benefited the team’s on-field performance. After every win, the team holds a 30-minute impromptu dance party in the locker room, which includes a disco ball, lights, and a fog machine. After each loss, players are given 30 minutes to mope. Once the half hour of celebration or sulking passes, it’s time to start preparing for the next game.

Try not to suck.—Joe Maddon

Turning around a floundering organization begins with turning around its culture. Success follows culture; culture never follows success. Like the Cubs, you may have a deep roster of talent, but without properly cultivating its capabilities, you and your team will never reach the championships. Lead the charge to set your version of the Cubs’ Way to get your culture on track. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of avoiding a century-long losing streak.

Tarzan on the Need for Autonomy

tarzanWhenever I watch a Tarzan movie or read one of the many books, there is always a part of me that wonders why the antagonist doesn’t just leave Tarzan alone. They kidnap Jane, harass his familial gorillas, and generally taunt Tarzan until he has no choice but to avenge their wrongdoings. In the end, they flee the jungle in terror and Tarzan returns to his relatively autonomous existence.

Tarzan’s desire for autonomy is not unlike those of us and our employees. We have an innate need to experience the freedom to instigate our own actions. This includes feelings of self-initiation, self-inspiration, and self-regulation.

Contrary to what many believe, offering autonomy is not based upon job responsibilities or the employee’s stature within the hierarchy, but rather the ways in which the manager relates to employees and carries out supervisory functions. Managers who practice autonomy support sustain a culture of employee empowerment, high involvement, and creative engagement. They do this by acknowledging the employees’ perspective, removing obstacles associated with encumbering work rules, offering opportunities for choice, and encouraging self-initiation.

Extensive research has found that when managers embrace an autonomy-supportive climate, individuals on their team have more self-motivation, greater job satisfaction, and enhanced job performance. Additionally, one study found that these work-group members report a higher level of trust in the organization, and another study showed that when managers are perceived as autonomy-supportive, their staff have significantly less absenteeism and better overall physical and psychological well-being.

Before you open the floodgates, this is not an endorsement of a company culture where rogue loners are the standard. For all of Tarzan’s autonomy, he is fiercely loyal to his band of gorillas and Jane. That is why we need to rely on supercells.

Supercells are autonomous small teams within an organization. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, has said, teams should be no greater than the number of people who can be fed by two pizzas. Within the make up of these two-pizza teams are a cross-function of employees from different departments, with different skills, and from different levels of the organization.

What makes the supercell unique is that the team is self-managed. They have the autonomy to determine how they will achieve their goals. There is no designated group leader, just an end-goal and the freedom to get it done. Since the team is so small, there is a nimbleness that allows them to make faster decisions, pivot without warning, and remain in harmony.

To create a culture of autonomous supercells, consider the following:

Align. According to author Henrik Kniberg, forming an effective, autonomous supercell involves a high degree of alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, values, and priorities. To remain aligned, it falls on you, the leader, to communicate what problems need to be solved, changes within the company and industry, available resources, and why the end-goal matters. Since you will have multiple supercells, you must also ensure that they are sharing information.

Provide transparency. Alignment involves knowledge and autonomy relies on people having access to that knowledge. Share information about key metrics, why and how decisions have been made, and real-time changes. Provide updates as available and be transparent with your feedback. We must trust that they won’t abuse this privilege and they must trust that we are being forthcoming.

Hire smart. Your number one leadership priority should be hiring the right people to be on your team. A highly autonomous culture relies on people who are self-directed and able to work collaboratively. When interviewing, concentrate on interpersonal skills, alignment with the organization, and team-oriented focus.

Manage progress. In an autonomous workplace, your job is to help those on your team make progress. Day-to-day responsibilities include keeping the team focused and redirecting as needed. Provide strategic direction, remind them of the purpose, help to prioritize, and encourage progress.

Want to be king of the [workplace] jungle? Integrate autonomy into your culture. If you do, your team will become more dynamic, engaged, and adept. If you don’t, then you just became the villain in a Tarzan movie.

L.A. Reid on Surrounding Yourself with Top Performers

L.A. ReidWant to make a rookie leadership mistake? Only hire people who you are certain will never be as good as you. That way, you will always be indispensible, right? This happens all too often and, in my experience, I’ve never seen it turn out well for the leader. Don’t believe me? Maybe L.A. Reid can convince you.

If you’ve listened to any music in the last thirty years, then L.A. Reid has affected your life. As a three-time Grammy Award-winning Chairman and CEO of Epic Records, Reid has played a role in the success of such artists as Bon Jovi, Rihanna, Meghan Trainor, P!nk, Justin Bieber, and Mariah Carey, just to name a few. He is also the CEO of LAReidMusic Publishing, former Chairman and CEO of the Island Def Jam Music Group, and was a judge on the television show The X Factor. Basically, Reid is a really successful businessperson.

In a recent interview, Reid discussed his hiring philosophy. It is as applicable in the music industry as it is to every other leader.

I try to find people that are arguably smarter than I am. And then I have to be confident that I won’t lose my job because of it. And by the way, I actually have. I’ve hired people that are so good that they’ve taken my job, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted people so good around me that when I’m off they’re on, because none of us can be on 100 percent of the time.

Consider how self-assured a leader must be to enact such a mindset. You are purposely surrounding yourself with your possible replacement. An insecure manager will see this as foolhardy and an unnecessary risk. They will stunt the development of those on their team and compartmentalize information. They’ll also learn that a team full of mediocre performers will result in a mediocre work product, regardless of the greatness of the leader.

The secure leader understands the aphorism a rising tide lifts all boats. Talented team members make everyone more successful…including the leader. You get credit for the accomplishments of those on your team. Share the credit (of course), but imagine how many wins can take place under your tutelage with an entire team of high performers. Your reputation becomes synonymous with achievement. This leads to both your promotion and the promotion of those you lead.

When looking for people to join your team, hire the best. Look for passion, drive, and intelligence. Find those who are willing to challenge you but are also interested in collaborating with the team. Then, once you hire them, put your energy into keeping them motivated and challenged. Support their growth and don’t be stingy with the compliments.

I’ll leave you with an example of L.A. Reid overcoming his self-doubt to hire a true talent.

We go out and I pitch [Jay Z] the idea of being president of Def Jam. There was this 48-hour period when I wasn’t sure he would take it [and thought] what if he does sign and then he comes into the building and oh my god he’s Jay Z. I just hired Elvis. So I called Doug Morris and I said, ‘No one’s gonna want to come to my office.’ [Morris responded]:‘You think that when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you shrink? You got it all wrong, when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you grow.’ And I realized in that moment that’s what it means to surround yourself with people that are arguably greater than you are. And I did and my company had a run, it was such a run you wouldn’t believe it I mean we got on fire instantly. And he was right.