Tag Archives: Recruitment

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.

Three Leadership Lessons from Samantha Bee

samantha-bee-bannerIt’s always fascinating to hear novice leaders discuss what they’ve learned in their short stint in the leadership seat. Some reflect on all they have observed from past bosses and mentors; others take a more “big picture” approach where progressive ideas overshadow the ways of the past. I’d put Samantha Bee in the latter camp.

When Samantha Bee began her wildly successful late night show, Full Frontal, becoming a leader was not her primary motivation. She was simply a comedian trying to develop a smart show.

I didn’t actually expect to have to think so much about leadership… and I never thought before this show about having to manage people. We started very small. At the very beginning, it was just me and [former Daily Show colleagues] Jo Miller and Miles Kahn. And it was just three of us in a room and we would laugh and send each other crazy emails, and for a long time it was just that. But then we got offices and we had to hire people.—Samantha Bee

Once Bee had to get a staff together, the realities of being the leader began to set in. She spoke about this at Fast Company’s recent Innovation Festival. A few themes stuck out that are applicable to all of us.

Blind Hiring

One of Bee’s initial concerns was how to select the right people for her writing staff. She wanted diversity, but this was not going to supersede the need to hire the best people. To avoid any bias (unconscious or otherwise), the management team established a policy where submission packets did not reference gender, race, or previous work experience. In the end, Bee’s focus on quality delivered one of the most diverse writer’s rooms in late night television.

Promoting Passion

As the mouthpiece for her team, Bee’s passion is evident whenever she’s discussing a topic. This fervor is internally based but where does it start? It may be contagious, transmitted from someone on her team. When choosing what stories to focus on, Bee has a simple litmus test: whoever is bringing her the idea must exude the excitement they feel for it.

One thing that we really encourage people to do—it’s the imperative of the show—is if you pitch a story, we want it to really mean something to you… If people have a particular story they’re passionate about, they need to find a way to pitch it to us that communicates that passion, and then we’ll be attracted to it.—Samantha Bee

Empowerment Through Self-Direction

Part of promoting passion is giving people leeway for self-directed activities. Bee may assign topics, but she also encourages her staff to research and pitch ideas that are important to them. These activities empower the employee to focus on areas that both keep them engaged and are beneficial to the organization.

Letting people explore things they’re truly interested in has been extremely fruitful for us. I think you feel that on the show.—Samantha Bee

Whether she is simply creating comedy or aspiring to enlighten the populace, Bee’s attitudes towards leadership provide the competitive advantage needed in the challenging late night landscape. These three lessons, amongst many others, demonstrate a leader trying to foster a culture of innovation, growth, and substance. It just goes to show what a little respect and fairness can get you.

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.

George Burns on Seamlessly Replacing Members of Your Team

George Burns and Gracie AllenA talented individual recently resigned from my organization. Where my typical first reaction is to dissect the culture for a diagnosis as to why she left, this case involved her husband being transferred to the other side of the country. So we skipped ahead to step two, finding a replacement. Once we did, the real challenge began – how can we make the most seamless transition? That’s when I remembered an old George Burns bit.

Legendary comedian George Burns had a popular show in the 1950s called The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Each week his wife Gracie and Bea Benaderet, playing her fictional next door neighbor, would create mayhem, while throughout the program George would “break the fourth wall” by providing commentary directly to the camera and the viewer. This method of storytelling may be prevalent now thanks to Modern Family, The Office, and almost every reality show, but in 1951 it was cutting edge.

In one particularly memorable episode, the actors are in the middle of a sketch when George freezes the scene just before the actor playing Bea’s husband is about to walk through the door. George explains that the actor playing this role has left the show to perform on Broadway. He brings a new actor onstage, calls over Bea and introduces the two saying, “This is Larry Keating and he is going to be your husband now.” Then, in pure comedy fashion, Bea and Larry resume their positions and the scene continues as if nothing had happened. (skip to 8:43 to watch this scene)

What a way to transition. A typical approach both on television and in the workplace is to replace the individual and pretend as if nothing has changed. But what if we broke the proverbial fourth wall and addressed what was happening? What if we publically acknowledged the accomplishments of the outgoing team member and then immediately introduced the newbie – “This is Larry and he is going to be your cubicle mate now.”

This approach serves three essential purposes.

  1. The person leaving gets their much-deserved accolades. If this is not important to you, it is important to those on your team. It demonstrates your character and how you value those on the team. If you bad-mouth someone who’s departed, staff will know that you will do the same to them when they leave; if you are generous, they’re more likely to be engaged in your leadership.
  2. You are making a formal introduction between the new hire and those on the team. This is more personal than a mass email, which you can still do, and provides time for co-workers to get to know one another. Walk them around the office. Organize group lunches. Have the newest member shadow co-workers and other departments. However you choose to do it, draft a plan so the introductions are purposeful and meaningful.
  3. Everyone gets back into position. Resuming a state of normalcy can take anywhere from a day to a month to a year depending on the responsibilities of the job, the interworkings of the team, and the culture of the organization. Following the first two steps will expedite the timeframe.

When bringing someone new onto the team, do it the right way. Like George Burns, freeze the scene, address the change, and move on. It may take a little more time, but you’ll give them a better chance to be successful and ensure that your culture remains intact.