Closing Shop One Employee At A Time

Is your company planning to close up shop anytime soon?  Maybe there are no plans to close, but it is happening just the same, one employee at a time.  Why is it that the sailors know before the officers that the ship is taking on water and going down?  Your company may not be planning to close shop on any specific date, but they are closing.  They just don’t realize it yet.

There are countless reasons why employees quit an organization, and countless reasons why companies ignore the warning signs.  They wait until a location or department is out of employees before someone asks what happened.  Although it is too late to turn back the clocks, I’d prefer to encourage managers not to wait that long and focus on two areas that let us know we have problems.

  • The first is the training function.  Is this function building in-depth skills, advanced abilities and preparing for the unknown before it happens, or is it self consumed with entry-level and new hire orientations?  If they never have the time to build, and are only addressing first level it could be because the company is growing.  If the company is not growing it is time to find out why employees are not staying.
  • The second function is within HR, and it is recruiting?  What is driving the recruiting function?  Again if it is growth that keeps them so busy that is okay, but if it is a result of terminations and resignations then do they know why?  Terminations are often thought to be a result of the employee screwing up, but many times it is a work environment that prevents success.  Resignations could signal many different issues, and not just payroll please.  People will often take less pay than the competition if everything else is okay, but when people leave for preventable issues, the company is at fault for losing an employee.

I was discussing employee retention with a senior manager recently, and he said something like, there are more where they came from, implying that unemployment will easily yield more applicants.  I used to be bothered by this mentality, but it has become so common place it doesn’t surprise me.  I still want it to go away, but the reality is that too many managers think this way.  They feel they are doing the employee a service by providing a job instead of realizing that employees are free to seek better work environments.

I’m also learning that this kind of mentality will crush a company over time.  And the higher up the food chain it exists the quicker it will cause the company’s demise.  If the CEO is grounded, the company has a chance.  But if the CEO has their head in the clouds and sees only what they want to see, then they will be the last to realize they have been closing shop for months, one employee at a time.

Employee Loyalty

I have found that many senior managers are under the false impression that their employees are loyal simply because they are still working at the company.  Many employees are still with your company simply because they need a paycheck and have not found an alternative source of income.  They are looking, and once they find greener pastures they are out of here.

Although it is sad on one hand, I find it terribly funny to watch senior managers unable to understand why employees are not loyal.  These employees are not loyal to their leaders or the company.  And while most of us accept employment offers because we like the company, we usually always leave because of the relationship with the manager.  I’ve taken jobs before that despite what my gut was telling me about the manager, I really wanted to work for a particular company and/or take on a particular challenge.  In the end, it was the treatment by the manager that had me looking to leave.

Yet sometimes it doesn’t take an Einstein IQ to understand how a series of circumstance can lead to an employee losing their loyalty.  Imagine you have an employee that lives a mile from their work location and has done a great job for you since they became an employee.  In fact, their skills could serve to clean up a real mess in another location that is 15 miles down the road, but due to traffic will increase their 5 minute commute to an hour each way and no pay increase to move.  You explain that the transfer takes place in two days, and if they say no it is insubordination that will be followed by an immediate termination.  Are you surprised they agreed to the transfer?  Are you going to be shell-shocked when they resign for greener pastures?

Thanks to social media these types of conversations are being well documented, and yet the insanity continues to play out in one company after another.  Being the training guy I can see that the lack of management development training has created a generation of foot in mouth leaders.  But that aside, if you are losing staff members, maybe it is time to assess why your employees are no longer loyal to you.

Do Customers Really Matter?

If your company sells anything, than you have customers.  Yet just because you technically have customers does not mean that your policies are created with the customer in mind.  Of course if you really think the customer matters to your success, your policies do take into consideration what will happen to the customer, but what happens if customers really don’t matter?

I’ve supported the banking industry for years, and the focus for every bank has been on the customer experience.  Well up until recently when I discovered a bank that really doesn’t see the customer experience the same way as every other bank.  This could be a good thing if they are doing things to improve the service level over the competition, but they are doing just the opposite.

I didn’t choose this bank, but rather I became a customer because they purchased the bank I was doing business with and my alternative was and still is to move my relationships to another institution.  While I still have a couple of accounts, 90% of my relationship is now with the competition, because as a customer I don’t feel wanted anymore.

This bank has set out to prove that they can establish policies and procedures that make them happy regardless of how it impacts the customer.  Initially I gave credit for a lot of the screw ups to merger related errors, but the mistakes kept coming.

Day 1 I had no online access to any of my accounts, and a week later I did, but now my wife didn’t.  Then one of my accounts was literally transferred to my mother and sister with a title change and address change.  Oddly, the account was a business account that was turned into a personal joint account.  Thankfully Mom told me it happened when the statement arrived at her house.  A friend found out that their ex-spouse was given access to her account online, and another was losing money out of his account because the bank had linked it to a stranger’s debit card.  A lot of errors, but still, could be all corrected.  Yet through it all, not a single apology.

The culture of the bank is a sterile branch environment, so everything but the desks and chairs were removed.  I walked into the branch after the merger and thought they were using it as an operating room.  Cold and uninviting, and when the holidays came around, not a single decoration.  It didn’t matter what the customer wanted, they would just have to conform to the culture.  The final straw was the removal of long-term employees, that had been transferred to different branches.  Numerous branches now have new employees, and once again I was told it didn’t matter what I thought.

So since I no longer matter, neither do they matter to me.  I began shopping the competition, and found every single local alternative bank more welcoming.  Some better, but none worse, so it was easy to find a better home.

The learning point is that if you need customers, you need to conform to their needs and not expect them to put up with your needs.  Not when there are alternatives, and never when they are treated like garbage.

Who Is Leading HR?

My question of who is leading HR is really not this straight forward for those of you that have already named the HR Director or Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of your organization.  I am really wondering if it is this person or another executive leader.

In many organizations the CHRO reports to the CEO, and in others it may be the CAO or COO.  It really doesn’t matter who they partner with but how much influence they have on the policies and solutions being implemented.

I recently attended an HR Laws seminar as a refresher course, and was sitting in a room with about 100 HR Managers from various size organizations.  Literally I noted about a dozen that lead their HR functions and the rest of them are just implementers.   The vast amount of them knew about the many ways their companies are violating state and federal employment laws and yet are unable to change things.

Good HR people, and I include all functions of HR in this statement, know how to do things to achieve successful results, and yet often yield to what management is telling them is enough.  Time and time again things fail, and the HR person takes the hit, even though they were following orders.  And I agree they should take the hit if all they did was implement and not try to influence a better way.

One company I am working with finally convinced the CEO it was time to build a training function.  Yet the CHRO posted a Training Manager role that will design and deliver sales skills training.  Hardly the focus of the need in this diverse company, but it was all she “could get the CEO to agree to.”  While this company needs a senior level learning director with experience in building all parts of the learning function, they are getting a trainer.  A year from now they will have little to show and it is the fault of the CHRO.

For those of you that are used to pointing fingers back to the senior leader that wouldn’t sign off on your vision, what would have happened if the CHRO had simply backed off and said we need a senior level opening, and a budget for future hiring that allows for a function to be developed.  If the CEO said no, only a training manager, the CHRO could have said, then we won’t do any hiring until we are ready to do it correctly.  Pow!  Either we do it right or we don’t move forward.  We are not going to blunder forward and do it incorrectly.

HR needs to realize that they make a difference.  And that difference can be both positive or negative depending on the stance they take.