Many of my clients are struggling right now with how to motivate their employees (and sometimes themselves). Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and Delta is not helping anything. Masks? Vaccination passports? Are you kidding me? We are so done with all of that. But it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.
On top of that, people are just generally tired. Many of us have been working extra hard under very difficult conditions for the past 18 months. We’d like to see some reward and appreciation for all that effort, and it sometimes seems to be in short supply.
It’s all adding up to a lot of churn right now. People stayed in their jobs during the pandemic, even if they were not happy, because many felt lucky to have a job at all. But now the floodgates have opened, and people are switching jobs all over the place. A lot of those people are the most talented, high-performing employees that companies want to hang on to.
All the business leaders I talk with these days are struggling with the same issue: Whether and how to bring their employees back into the office.
Some are firmly convinced that everyone needs to come back full-time right now. Others are equally convinced that employees should be granted total flexibility — come in when you want and as much or as little as you want. Many are somewhere in between these two extremes. And almost everyone is feeling confused and uncertain about what is best.
Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. In each company, it takes a unique set of circumstances to retain your best people while maximizing the good work you get out of them. Still, there are a few guidelines to keep front-of-mind.
The top company executives had been interviewing candidates for the CFO role. They found someone they really liked and were convinced he was the right guy for the job. In fact, they were already driving him around the town to show him attractive neighborhoods where his family could live. By the time they asked me to interview and assess the candidate, his hire was all but a done deal. I was just answering a few last-check questions: Was he the right leader for the job? Would he be a good fit with the company culture?
Many years ago I worked for a mental health clinic that employed a variety of professionals, including two social workers. When annual raises were announced, one of the social workers, Anne, had received a larger raise than the other one, Judy.
Judy was annoyed at the disparity, so she went to the Medical Director to ask for the reason. Dr. Frank explained that both women were doing a good job with their clients. But in addition to her day work, Anne was very involved in the community, representing the clinic at evening events and serving on some community boards, while Judy was not engaging in those activities. Anne’s visibility and contribution to the community reflected well on the clinic, and so she was rewarded for her commitment.
I don’t know whether Judy was satisfied with this explanation. But it is to Dr. Frank’s credit that he was willing and able to provide a clear explanation for the difference in the two raises. Too often that is not the case. Too many organizations have a “trust us” approach, where decisions about promotions and raises are made in a “black box” with no clear rationale.
What does the job market look like post-COVID? I know, we’re not quite there yet, but I’m certainly seeing a lot more business leaders moving into great new roles, as well as a lot more optimism about the near future. So what’s the landscape like?
Here in Illinois, Crain’s Chicago Business just published a list of the 10 most in-demand jobs (subscription required). At first glance, the list did not surprise me. The top eight jobs are all technical IT jobs — except one. But that one, the HR specialist at No. 5, did surprise me.
In this digital world of ours, where so many of us have been living on screens and keyboards for the past year, why is there a big demand for specialists in the management of human capital?
There’s a mind-blowing new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bisa Butler: Portraits. Butler creates enormous, extraordinary portraits of Black Americans, using elaborate quilting techniques to piece together brilliantly colored pieces of fabric. I have admired beautiful quilts for years, but I have never seen anything remotely approaching the artistry and impact of Butler’s work.
Who is Bisa Butler? The story of her career so far provides some valuable guidance in how to succeed at the career you were born for.
Professionals don’t experience uncertainty in decision making — as an amateur, I “knew” this. Before I worked in a medical center, I thought medicine was an exact science: Doctors were trained to evaluate data and come up with precise diagnoses and treatments to benefit their patients. Before I went to business school, I thought all business leaders were quantitative experts: Executives were trained to crunch numbers and come up with clear-cut decisions to benefit their businesses.
Of course, neither proved to be true. Science is certainly the foundation of medicine, but much of what medical practitioners do is art, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Similarly, much of what business leaders do is educated guesswork, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Even my fellow student Hazim, the “quant” on our team, would usually start his guidance to us with the phrase, “We assume … ”
Don’t even try to forecast the future! If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this mind-boggling year, it’s that our ability to make accurate forecasts is highly unreliable. I remember several panels of experts last January making predictions about 2020: With the exception of possible uncertainty resulting from the presidential election, they were very positive about the prospects for this year.
‘Nuff said about that.
We can all picture the micromanager hovering over a cubicle wall. But what does the remote micromanager look like? And now that so many of us are working from home, is micromanagement a bigger problem or a smaller one that when we were all in the office?
How would you like to be running a high-end wine production and distribution company about now? Think about it for a minute – there’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that sales at all your “on-site” customers – wineries and restaurants – have plummeted. The good news is that retail wine sales have risen. The challenge, as in every business right now, is how to make the most of an extraordinary situation.
I recently listened to Bill Terlato, the CEO of Terlato Wine Group, talk about the choices he and his leadership team made over the recent months to keep their company healthy. Although his advice was based on his industry, most of it was relevant for leaders across the board. So here’s my summary of Bill’s top ten pearls:
Prior to 1990, when scientists wanted to directly observe how the brain works, they had to open up people’s skulls and attach electrodes to their brains. Guess what – it was really hard to find people to sign up for that kind of experimentation. So a lot of what we “knew” about how the brain functioned was guesswork. Then in 1990, the invention of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) made it possible for scientists to study how the brain works while leaving people’s skulls intact. The field of neuropsychology exploded and has become one of the most exciting, fast-paced areas of science.
For the third time in a row, Bill used up most of his time in our coaching session to talk about how anxious and overwhelmed he was feeling. A senior executive in a large transportation company, Bill normally had a very calm demeanor, to the extent that others sometimes perceived him as remote or disengaged. But now, week after week, he was finding himself reactive and overwrought.
My first thought was, “Well, of course!” Almost everyone I’m talking to these days, both personally and professionally, is reactive and overwrought. By now we’re all exhausted from the uncertainty, sadness, fear, and relentless accommodations we are making as we try to navigate through the crisis. It seems endless. This is the world we’re living in.
Twice in my career, I’ve had to answer the question of what to do when you get laid off.
In 1980, the psychiatric hospital where I worked half-time eliminated all the part-time jobs. I was laid off. I had just had my first child and we had just bought our first house. It was awful.
In 2009, when the economy was tanking, the consulting firm where I was working laid off one-third of its consultants in one day. It took me one week to realize that there were no jobs for someone in my field — no one was hiring. It was awful.
But in both cases, it didn’t stay awful.