Tag Archives: mentoring

Easy Ways to Start Mentoring Program

If there is one aspect of business building that has confounded even the smartest of entrepreneurs, it’s developing the team. The reality is that we simply don’t have the skills to develop their skills, and that can have a long-term and negative impact on the business.

Where Are You Today?

In 2015, we conducted research for the FPA’s Research and Practice Institute and Financial Advisor IQ that focused on team compensation and benefits. As part of that study, we examined team development, and I was impressed to see that almost all respondents support their team members’ personal and professional development, through training, financial support or continuing performance reviews.

At the same time, I noticed that most development initiatives were informal. Although 60% of respondents administer formal performance reviews, development activities such as new-employee training are overwhelmingly informal. The same is true for mentoring.

Have Your Considered Mentoring?

Mentoring is one development option that is generally considered very effective. Like all such development tools, of course, it’s only effective if it’s done well. Remember that mentoring can mean you being a mentor to the team, someone else on your team being a mentor to others or simply helping your team find outside mentors. It isn’t just an option for large businesses.

The reality is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a “time-suck” for you personally, despite its reputation for being exactly that. Today, I want to help you think about taking the first step to understanding where your team needs help and the role that mentoring might play in helping them maximize their potential.

See also: The Keys to Forming Effective Teams  

What Are Your Gaps?

An obvious first step is to figure out what gaps mentoring (or any development activity for that matter) is going to bridge. A performance review process is clearly an important first step. You may opt for a formal tool (such as DiSCPredictive Index or any of a range of tools) or you may opt for a good old-fashioned conversation with a team member.

Whichever approach you take, consider the following in evaluating your team members, ensuring that you cover three potential types of objectives.

1. Performance Objectives

  • Success in meeting specific, measurable objectives based on role
  • Joint accountability: the ability to work well with and support the entire team
  • Attention to detail within sphere of role
  • Timeliness in completing work
  • Initiative: goes above and beyond defined role

2. Competency/Development Objectives

  • Customer service skills
  • Sales
  • Time management
  • Public speaking
  • Business writing
  • Leadership
  • Software skills
  • Graphic design
  • Financial planning

3. Personal Development Objectives

  • Personal improvement goals that the team member sees as important to moving career forward, for example:
  • Professional designations
  • Training courses
  • Advanced Business Training

You might also consider skills assessment tools, which differ substantially from performance review tools.  These tools can be helpful when you are thinking more about getting the right people in the right roles – or who to hire in the first place.

Consider the following:

Kolbe. The Kolbe A Index is designed to measure the conative faculty of the mind — the actions you take that result from your natural instincts. The index validates an individual’s natural talents, the instinctive method of operation (M.O.) that enables you to be productive.

VIA Strengths Test. VIA has identified 24 character strengths that are universal across all aspects of life: work, school, family, friends and community. Whereas most personality assessments focus on negative and neutral traits, the VIA Survey focuses on what is best in you and is at the center of the science of well-being.

Strengths Finder. Based on research from Gallup, you access this assessment by purchasing the book. It’s designed to help uncover your talents and incorporates strategies to leverage the strengths you identify.

Mentoring Options

Mentoring is an option (whether delivered formally or informally, internally or externally) that I believe has a strong potential to have significant impact. Of course, it’s not always easy to get moving.

In an interview with Rebecca Pomering for our Spotlight program, we reviewed the three types of mentoring available at Moss Adams. This is a helpful way to think about what you are trying to accomplish and highlights that mentoring can be more or less involved depending on your needs.

At Moss Adams, Rebecca explained that there were three types of mentoring available:

1. The Buddy

A buddy might be assigned for a new employee. That individual may or may not be involved in the actual job training, but is there to help navigate the office and company. The buddy is someone a new employee can ask any question of and not feel judged in any way.

2. The Mentor

A mentor is more traditionally defined as supporting the team member either on a specific topic or skill or on a longer-term basis. Employees may be asked to identify a mentor or go to management if they are looking for support on a specific issue. On some teams, mentors are assigned, but the jury is out as to whether relationships that are not explicitly chosen are as effective.

3. The Sponsor

A sponsor’s objective is to actively support and promote the individual in career advancement and development. Sponsors are typically individuals who have the political and organizational connections to make that sponsorship effective. Sponsors may or may not be mentors and vice versa.

See also: How to Pick Your Insight Team  

Talk to Your Team (First)

If you’re considering implementing a mentoring program, ensure you start with clear direction from the team on what will work and what won’t. Below are a series of questions that could form the basis of a survey or a conversation:

  • Have you had experience with any form of mentoring? If yes, what form did it take, and how would you describe the impact?
  • Do you think it would be valuable for us to consider implementing a mentoring program, which we’ll jointly define?
  • How do you think a mentor could help you?
  • How would you describe your ideal mentor? What skills, experience or personality traits would he/she have?
  • Specifically, what kinds of issues would you hope to address with a mentor?
  • Would you prefer to be assigned a mentor or to have support/guidance in finding someone yourself?
  • How would you describe the outcomes of a successful mentoring program for you? What would have to happen for you to describe the process as successful?
  • Is there anything that you feel definitely wouldn’t work when it comes to implementing a mentoring system?

Talk to Yourself (Not Literally)

You’ll also want to get clear on your own goals and objectives for providing or facilitating mentoring. To that end, consider the following questions if you are thinking about finding your own mentor. Or, if it’s for your team, ensure both the mentor and mentee clarify exactly what they’re hoping to accomplish and how they know if they’ll be successful.

  • Exactly what are you trying to solve for? Are you looking to develop a specific skill, gain general insights into a specific topic or have someone you can go to for continuing advice?
  • How long do you anticipate the mentoring relationship to last?
  • How often will you meet, where and for what length of time?
  • How will you both prepare for those meetings?
  • How do you define success?

Personally, I consider team development one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. We surround ourselves with these incredibly talented people, and it’s easy to feel like you are letting them down. Ultimately, development is about prioritizing and booking the time to do something, even if that something isn’t perfect.

Thank for stopping by,

Julie

Brain Drain: 22 Steps to Reduce the Impact of Retirement and Increase Employee Retention

Is your organization ready to lose as much as 25% of its intellectual capital in the next decade? You need to be, because more than one quarter of the U.S. working population will be old enough to retire in less than three years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This may lead to a shortfall of nearly 10 million workers. Add this flight to an average job stay of four years, where today’s employees switch to a competitor without so much as a backward glance, and businesses in America are at risk.

America is poised for a brain drain so dramatic that many companies will find themselves unprepared to face the coming talent shortage. Yet it appears few companies are taking steps to deal with the crunch. 

This article explores actions companies can take to manage looming intellectual losses. Some are straightforward; some will take more planning. Any organizational change comes from the top, and industry leaders must deal swiftly and strategically with the changes our work force will undergo in the coming years.

As companies increasingly rely on intellectual capital, the value of work force intelligence to an organization cannot be overstated. There is little doubt that the insurance industry, so reliant on intellectual capital, should be at the forefront of addressing the looming loss of intellectual capacity.

Where Did All the Experts Go?

Brain drain historically has been defined as the loss of human skills in developing nations, usually because of the migration of trained individuals to more industrialized nations or jurisdictions. However, as baby boomers begin to retire, the term is increasingly used to describe the loss of intellectual capital at U.S. organizations. Downsizing also takes its toll on work force intelligence.

The U.S. work force has changed dramatically. A baby boomer’s parents may have held one job in their entire careers; experts estimate a typical young American will hold from seven to 10 different jobs before retirement. Insurance organizations are experiencing brain drain as long-term employees retire, switch employers or change careers. There is little doubt—insurance organizations are about to see drastic changes resulting from this exodus.

Future employment demographics should sound an alarm to insurance companies in America. Over time, the lack of top talent can be devastating to an organization, especially in an industry as complex as insurance. Add an increasing dependence on technology, and future employee skill deficits are a certainty, not just a theory. While this exodus is beginning to hit the insurance industry now, it will accelerate greatly in the next few years as aging boomers, those best placed to assume senior management roles, retire. This talent shrinkage must be managed now, before organizations find themselves in crisis.

Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish?

It may seem profitable to replace an older, more costly employee with a younger person. However, organizations may lose a great deal more than they bargained for with that replacement. With the departure of these highly experienced employees, companies lose more than their individual expertise. Also lost is what psychologist Daniel Wegner calls “transactive memory.”1 Transactive memory is information a person accesses that is outside of his or her own memory, information routinely called up by using another person’s memory.2 Groups where this transactive memory is understood and valued function better than groups that lack this trait.3

Take co-workers. On a difficult property claim, an adjuster may turn to a co-worker and ask, “What is the name of that engineer we used a few years ago in Georgia on that storm-surge claim?” Our brains can store only so much information. If we have access to people around us who may be more suited to remember a particular type of information, then we don’t have to work as hard to remember items that we don’t understand, don’t recall or don’t need at the time we hear it.

Brain drain slows the work process and impairs a company’s product quality. It can result in inefficiency because of the time it takes employees to find new co-workers with the information they may need. It can also result in costly mistakes resulting in lawsuits, lost subrogation opportunities or claims paid that, with a thorough investigation, would have been denied. Probably most importantly, a work force lacking robust intellectual capital loses its strategic advantages and abilities to respond quickly to business opportunities.

Insurance professionals are concerned about brain drain, yet even a casual review of insurance literature shows that much of the focus in industry research centers on improving technology to enhance operations. Even the term “human-resource management” seems to be morphing into a robot-like term, “human-capital management.” This disembodied approach seems to negate the fact that we’re still dealing with people; yes, they may be “capital’ to a company, but most employees would be offended to hear themselves referred to in that manner. “Talent management,” the new euphemism for recruiting and retaining employees, again seems to dehumanize the worker. Few people appreciate being “managed” or referred to as “capital.”

The emphasis in insurance companies seems to have shifted away from quality toward quantity. How much faster can we complete a process, appears to be the question. Can we settle a claim in 30 days, even if we have to throw more money at it? Has customer service and quality been forgotten in the effort to improve company operations? Have we, in an effort to increase profits, driven much of our brightest talent right out the door?

The Devalued Older Worker

Insurance message boards are filled with complaints from older, highly experienced insurance professionals who cannot find work, some with two to three decades of knowledge. “I have a solution to the brain drain in the insurance industry. Hire me and all those still looking for work … and some of the people whose resumes are posted on the Broward County RIMS website, among others,”4 one frustrated professional said in a June 2007 on-line risk management discussion. If these complaints are true, the widespread reluctance by insurance organizations to hire older, experienced workers may backfire because of the lack of new talent breaking down doors to enter the industry.

Nowhere is brain drain felt more acutely, it appears, than in claims departments nationwide. According to Conning Research & Consulting,5 70% of the nation’s adjusting staff is age 40 or older. “I have found this [talent leakage] particularly true in the claims arena,” according to James Brittle, a producer in the National Accounts division of Cobbs, Allen & Hall in Birmingham, Alabama.  “Coming from the highly engineered chemical and energy field, try to find one carrier that still has experienced and knowledgeable adjusters to handle property claims. There are two options — young and inexperienced or experienced and independent. The latter group is getting smaller and smaller. It’s not real comforting.”

How can companies prevent brain drain? Here are some possible solutions.6

1. Analyze current workforce strengths and talents to determine core competencies.

If an employee’s store of knowledge is known only to a few co-workers, then it is largely useless to the organization as a whole. It becomes an information silo, a vertical information cluster that is not transmitted laterally to co-workers, usually to the detriment of the organization. Analyzing employees’ expertise and knowledge and categorizing it so that it becomes accessible by other employees and departments is critical to improving and strengthening the work force.

2. Determine, through surveys or informal meetings or email queries, where employees go for specific information.

Who are your employees’ “information agents” in given areas? Imagine this scenario—a Lloyd’s underwriter wants to issue a binding authority to an agent in Florida. Before agreeing, however, the underwriter must determine wildfire hazards in the counties where the agent wants to write business. If the underwriter can, with a few keystrokes, search a database that shows Lloyd’s experts who understand catastrophe modeling and perhaps understand wildfire exposures particularly well, the decision to issue the binding authority can be made more easily and accurately, not to mention more quickly.

Knowledge Asset Mapping, written about extensively by British researcher Bernard Marr, allows organizations to locate and diagram internal knowledge. This visualization of intellectual capital, which Marr states is the “principal basis for competitive advantage,”7 can then be used as a strategic planning tool so that organizations can predict future intelligence gaps before they occur.

Today’s organizations must be agile to compete. Classifying employee knowledge to make it more accessible to others in the organization can help companies make decisions rapidly. It goes without saying that companies like Apple have seized marketplace opportunities to catapult themselves into leadership positions. Without sufficient intellectual capital, however, a company may not be robust enough to respond to opportunities as they arise.

3. Prepare to replace exiting information agents when those employees retire.

In smaller organizations, this process may not be formal. It may be as simple as acknowledging that an employee who is an expert on a subject is leaving. Notify all employees of the loss of this person, then direct them to another employee who may not have as much knowledge, but has some knowledge in that area. The company must develop incentives and time frames so that newer information agents can become experts on specific topics as gaps arise, and even before they arise.

4. Determine which employees are potential flight risks, whether to retirement, recruitment or family pressures such as aging parents.

Talk openly with employees who are considering retirement or having home/work difficulties to determine how you can retain them. Flexibility is the key—the employee may need more time off or greater leeway to work non-core hours or to work at home. If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is voluntary, your organization should consider allowing FMLA leave.

5. Hire retiring employees as consultants on a part-time basis to retain their expertise.

With increasing cost of medical care for retirees, many welcome a supplement to their retirement income. Adding benefit package components that appeal to older workers, such as long-term care insurance or prorated health coverage for part-time work, may help retain them, as well.

6. Provide incentives for employees to consider postponing retirement.

When an organization considers the total impact of losing a long-term employee, it is generally cheaper to retain that employee than to hire and train a replacement, especially if the employee’s knowledge routinely saves the company money. Consider the following scenario:

A claims manager will retire in two years, after working more than 30 years for just two carriers. He is one of the top arson investigators in the Midwest, taking dozens of arson claims to trial or to closure. Currently, there is no one else in his company who handles arson files without his supervision, and no one who remotely approaches his level of expertise.

What happens to this company when he leaves? How much will his departure cost the company in terms of claims payments that might have, with his expertise, been compromised or denied? Can this organization really afford to lose the employee’s expertise without a solid exit strategy?

7. Use technology to drive intra-company communications.

Intranets, videoconferencing, peer-to-peer technology and podcasts are information ways that allow workers to communicate over distance and varying time zones. Encourage disparate and divergent workers to develop virtual relationships to share ideas and solve problems using these tools. Why not take advantage of your global work force?

8. Establish “practice communities” where individuals from various departments — claims, underwriting, marketing and reinsurance — meet regularly to solve problems.

According to James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, a crowd is a group of diverse people with differing levels of intelligence and information who collectively make smart decisions. A good example of this wisdom, as many claims managers have found, is “round tabling” a claim. Allowing a group of adjusters with varying amounts of experience to determine a claim’s value or to develop a plan of action to kick a stalled claim forward often provides excellent results and acts as a learning tool for less experienced team members.

Surowiecki defines four elements that make a smart crowd. He recommends a diverse group because each person will bring a different set of experiences to the process. The crowd should have no leader, so that the group’s answer can emerge. But there must be a way to articulate the crowd’s verdict. Finally, people in the crowd must be self-confident enough to rely on their own judgment without undue influence from other group members.

With today’s sophisticated technology, organizations don’t have to rely solely on local talent. A company-wide initiative can be implemented readily with some help from your organization’s information technology department. Practice communities build virtual relationships that, in turn, make employees more connected to the organization.

9. Organize and memorialize your practice community results with wikis, a decade-old web application that allows many people to collaborate on a single document.

There are several sites dedicated to collaborative writing, including https://www.zoho.com/docs/. Visit http://www.wikipedia.org, the on-line encyclopedia written by collaboration, to view an example of wiki technology at its finest.

10. Implement a formal mentoring program.

Some insurance organizations have implemented mentoring programs. The National Association of Catastrophe Adjusters formed a mentoring program in 2005. While not online, it matches new adjusters eager to learn CAT adjusting with experienced field adjusters.

Aon Services is almost a year into an ambitious mentoring project. With 600 Aon employees in the pilot program developed with assistance from Triple Creek Associates in Colorado, Aon expects to roll out the program companywide. The program was not limited to senior manager mentors; anyone in the organization with good performance was eligible to participate. “This challenged our operational paradigms, to have a junior person mentoring a senior person,”8 according to Talethea M. Best, Aon’s director of U.S. talent development.

The results have been positive, she reports. 86% of the mentees and 62% of the mentors who responded to a recent survey felt that the process improved their own performance. 85% of the mentees and 78% of the mentors would participate again if asked.

“We encouraged a protégé-driven process,” Ms. Best said. Potential mentees used a computerized platform with specific parameters to search for what they wanted in the mentor relationship. “It was a win/win for all involved,” Ms. Best said.

“This [mentoring project] was an opportunity for us to think more strategically,” Ms. Best reported. “To retain employees, it is critical to make people feel invested and engaged. How do you make folks feel like they make a significant contribution? Mentoring is a way to address that,” at a cost of pennies per employee, Ms. Best said.

Not all managers are mentor material. To be effective, mentors must receive some training. Aon addressed this concern with initial employee development workshops.

To ensure the highest quality mentorship for your employees, it is critical that mentors are carefully selected not only for their technical skills, but for their ability to communicate effectively in an increasingly diverse work force.

11. Pool knowledge across organizations.

Your Encore, founded by Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly, is a society of retired research scientists and engineers who “continue to provide value―at its highest level—to companies on a consulting basis,” according to its website. The insurance industry is particularly well-suited to this approach because risk pools changed the face of insurance, so the models to implement this approach are already well-accepted by our industry. Don’t be unreasonable with information, but do set some ground rules and ensure employees comprehend which information is proprietary and which can be shared.

12. Cross train employees.

“A former employer of mine combined the loss control and underwriting functions,’”9 and it worked out well, reports Mike Benisheck, director of risk management for Pacific Tomato Growers. “They had a historical loss ratio of 30–32% annually for about 15 years.” When the functions were separated, losses spiraled, Benischeck reported.

Cross training can limit employee burnout and provide new motivation for employees who feel stymied in their careers. It also strengthens an organization’s operational team.

13. Cultivate a culture that values expertise.

To prevent brain drain, an organization must provide an atmosphere that values aging workers and the knowledge they possess. Recognizing, but more importantly acknowledging, their contributions to the organization, not just the number of claims they close or the amount of new business they produce, may mean keeping employees a few years longer. Small changes in any organization, as anyone who read the book The Tipping Point knows, can mean enormous changes overall.

Younger workers should be made aware of demographic trends and what they mean to their careers. Many younger workers are eager for career advancement. The demographics pointing to a sharp talent drop are in their favor if they prepare themselves, and organizations help them prepare, to take supervisory and management positions. Few younger workers recognize this trend. Organizations that speak frankly of these developments and what they mean to each person, not just the organization itself, will build loyalty and perhaps help to cultivate patience in generations that are used to quick answers and quick solutions.

14. Encourage employees to join online insurance groups like RiskList or PRIMA-Watch.

Insurance professionals are notoriously generous with their time and information when it comes to helping their counterparts, as any insurance industry employee knows who belongs to a professional organization. Insurance server lists have been online for many years with a faithful membership. List members will respond to just about any inquiry with an impressive depth and breadth of knowledge, with some humor thrown in, as well.

15. Support employee membership in professional organizations like your local claims association, Insurance Women, RIMS or CPCU Society.

“Support” means paying dues and supporting the absences necessary for employees to both attend conferences and to hold committee positions. This gives employees a strong network to turn to for information and support. There has been a mindset in the industry that allowing employees to network outside the company increased the employee’s flight risk. More enlightened managers realize that if employees feel valued for their expertise and encouraged in their professional development, they are generally more loyal to their employers.

16. Offer incentives for obtaining professional designations. Offer greater incentives for attending classes rather than online participation.

According to the CPCU Society, in 2006, 88% of CPCUs were age 40 or older. Taking a class from an experienced instructor with students from other companies and disciplines gives students a much broader experience. It also exposes them to others with whom they can network or seek advice. Designations are a clear indicator that employees see insurance as not just a job, but a career.

17. Avoid the human resources “silo.”

An information silo is a pool of information that is not well-integrated in an organization. Human resources departments often act as “silos,” gatekeepers in the hiring process, by determining which applicants get interviewed. Forming inter-departmental hiring panels, teams that develop job descriptions, review applications and give input on general hiring and other personnel issues like employee retention, can greatly improve a company’s work force.

18. Don’t underestimate the impact that younger generations and their different work standards have on older workers.

There are four generations of workers in today’s increasingly diverse workforce. With Millennials, Gen Xers and Yers in the employment mix, many young people are either intimidated by older workers or are downright contemptuous. Older workers, in turn, often cannot comprehend their younger peers’ thinking and may be intimidated by their ease with technology.

Forming intergenerational teams can bring divergent employees together so that they can benefit from each others’ strengths, not just complain about their weaknesses. Utilizing younger workers who are good communicators and technologically proficient to train older workers in new technology can bridge two gaps—the generation gap and the technology gap. In turn, older workers can mentor younger employees and model appropriate and ethical behavior.

19. Consider the Total Cost of Jerks (TCJ) to the organization.

Verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying are widespread in the American work force.10 But some companies are taking notice. There is a growing trend in companies to consider the TCJ impact on the work force, including several organizations on Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work.”

Robert Sutton, Ph.D., professor of management science and sngineering in the Stanford Engineering School, views “jerks” in a much more explicit light. Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule, a business bestseller that provides steps organizations can take to quantify the cost of jerks and eliminate them.

He lists the “dirty dozen,” the top 12 actions taken by those who use organizational power against those with less power. “It just takes a few to ruin the entire organization,” Sutton writes.11

Older workers may have seen it all, but they don’t always have the patience to put up with twits. That jerk in the cubicle next to a long-term employee may be the final nudge that pushes a valued older worker out the door. Most employees who have options like retirement tolerate jerks for just so long, and then they clean out their desks.

Eliminating toxic employees can improve more than the organization’s internal structure, because if an employee treats coworkers badly, how is he treating your customers?

20. Make the most of the existing work force.

Studies have found that as much as 40% of the time spent handling a claim can be spent in administrative tasks that don’t affect the claim’s outcome significantly. It makes sense, then, to drive work down to its lowest possible level of the organization. Are adjusters still issuing checks, composing the same letters over and over and answering calls that could be delegated? According to employment consultant Peter Rousmaniere, some corporations are outsourcing their claims-support systems.  “[Outsourcing] offers the potential of injecting into the claims management process some very intelligent, well-educated people who are very motivated to perform functions [that], due to global information systems, they can do proficiently.”

21. Don’t overlook diversity.

Many employees are overlooked in the promotional process because they are of different nationalities, ethnicities or gender than the dominant makeup of an organization. Whites follow a different career path than their non-white counterparts, according to David A Thomas, author of an article on minority mentoring that appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Whites frequently get more attention from their managers and hence more opportunities.

Thomas’s research showed that the one common attribute people of color who rose to the tops of their organizations had was mentorship, but mentorship that went beyond what he termed “instructional.” They had mentors who provided a deeper relationship that increased their mentees’ confidence and did not shy away from frank discussions about race.12 If we fail in our organizations to see beyond employees’ gender, skin color or religious beliefs, we may overlook our brightest talent.

22. Address the problems of brain drain strategically.

To date, there is a great deal of discussion on brain drain in the insurance industry, but little empirical evidence to use to determine which methods might avoid this loss. Many insurance executives are talking about the problem in conferences and trade journals, but what are insurance companies doing to address it?

To create organizational change, an organization must start with a vision. What are the problems we face, and what are their consequences both short-term and long-term? Where will our work force needs and realities stand in five years?

Effective Organizational Change Begins with a Plan

Without a roadmap, even the savviest traveler occasionally gets lost. To address brain drain strategically, a company must develop a strong vision and a stronger plan. This plan can be implemented over time, but it must have clear goals and time frames to avoid becoming mired down in processes.

From top management to line supervisors, there must be a shared sense of urgency about this problem, because any critical initiative can go astray because of the competition that all organizations face in today’s highly competitive global market. To solve the coming talent crunch, organizations must commit the resources to tackle this problem strategically, while there is still time.

1 Wegner, Daniel, Paula Raymond, and Ralph Erber. “Transactive Memory in Close Relationships,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61 (1991): 923––929.

2 Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown & Company.

 3 Ibid.

4 RiskList Users Group, June 23, 2007.

5 “Generational Talent Management for Insurers: Strategies to Attract and Engage Generation Y in the U.S. Insurance Industry,” Deloitte & Touche, 2007.

6 Private communication.

7 Marr, Bernard, and J.C. Spender. “Measuring Knowledge Assets – implications of the knowledge economy for performance measurement.” Measuring Business Excellence 8(2004): 18–27.

8 Private communication.

9 Private communication.

10 Lutgen-Sandvik, P., Tracy, S. J., & Alberts, J. K. (in-press). Burned by bullying in the American workplace: Prevalence, perception, degree, and impact. Journal of Management Studies.

11 Sutton, Robert. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. 1st. New York: Warner Business Books, 2007, p. 180.

12 Thomas, David A. “The Truth About Mentoring Minorities: Race Matters.” Harvard Business Review April 2001.

Breaking Through The Barrier Of Hardnosed Workers, Part 3

Turning The Corner
Admittedly, Part 1 and Part 2 of this series may be a bit discouraging to the solution-seeking reader. But as a wise professor states, “There is no implementation without, first, evaluation.”

So what has our evaluation revealed?

First, the dysfunctional nature of the average hardnosed worker employed in traditionally change-resistant work sectors is representative of his greater employment family, both labor and management. It is not the portrait of an isolated employee or two. The nature is systemic, as are its crippling effects.

Second, the extent of potential behavioral dysfunction in hardnosers is staggering. The research data points past the occasional whimsical, inane antics of the passive-aggressive worker who simply annoys others. It directs us to the darkly devious behavior of someone, or a bevy of someones, who is self-destructive, emotionally unengaged, and constantly looking to jump off the ship after lighting the fuse that may blow it up.

Third, management has largely failed in its attempts to wrestle control of the workforce away from hardnosers. Traditional quick-action employee management strategies lack the foundational understanding of both the cause of defiant behavior and the dysfunctional team dynamics that it creates.

Last, management has often chosen the wrong method to seize control of hardnosers. The preferred tactic has been to tighten control through the repeated issuance of compliance standards. Such “what to do” and “how to do it” standards stiffen the hardnosed worker’s resolve to reject management’s ploys.

Engineering consultant Kevin Sorbello fittingly compares the change-resistant workforce to a dysfunctional family in which “those making the rules unconsciously see themselves as adults in charge of children.” Conversely, he notes that workers of lower rank see themselves as being “treated like children by unfit elitists. The fact that this scenario is so ubiquitous,” he says, “is disheartening.”

In light of this stark portrayal, what can be done to heal a defiant and dysfunctional employment family?

Capitalize On Dysfunction
One word points us down the right path. It keeps cropping up [five times above]. The word is dysfunctional. There’s a reason it is our key word.

Dysfunction brings with it opportunity. The same weaknesses that define dysfunctional workers are the ones that open the door for us to help them personally and to improve the cooperative nature of the entire workforce.

But this can’t happen until we acknowledge several hard-to-believe truths about the nature of hardnosed workers. These are beliefs gleaned by the author after four decades of listening to, observing, profiling, and helping dysfunctional people.

1. Hardnosers really want to improve.
They are really not into self-flagellation, though they expect it to happen (defeatism) — they’d rather have the opposite: success.

2. Hardnosers are stuck and need a push.
They really don’t know how to solve their own problems, nor why they are stuck in a defeatist rut.

3. Hardnosers want simple honesty.
They will not trust you until you first demonstrate to them your complete honesty.

4. Hardnosers desire compassion, not charity.
They innately sense the difference — one is considered condescending and offensive to them; the other is acceptable.

5. Hardnosers respond best to old-fashioned “tough love.”
They desire hard boundaries, particularly those that help them achieve hard-to-reach goals.

6. Hardnosers want you to earnestly listen to them.
They want to tell you vital information about themselves — their real and felt needs — that enables you to help them mature.

It is difficult for some skeptics to embrace these beliefs. It is easier to adopt the attitude of one Cleveland-area business owner who believes that “most employees with bad attitudes come that way and it is not up to you to be a social worker.” To him, any alternative to improving the quality of workers other than perfecting the hiring and firing process is “silly,” even if personnel turnover costs are astronomical.

Safety officer Ken Malcolm at Safety & More P/L begs to differ. He says, “Hardnosed negatives can become hardnosed positives.” The key, he says, is trust.

Malcolm states that trust does not exist because “the past experiences [of workers] have not been good.” He suggests that workers have rarely been exposed to managers “who put value on worker input.” Perhaps they once worked for a grumpy guy in Cleveland. More likely, they’ve been jaded by repeated exposure to the Cycle of Rejection described in Part 2 of this series.

Agree with it or not, the path to profitability involves helping hardnosers cure their dysfunctional behavior, a task that starts with listening to what they say about themselves and about control-minded authorities.

Listening For Needs
Within the well-worn contentious discourse proffered by hardnosers is an easily recognizable admission of their foibles.

  • I have trouble accepting authority of any kind.
  • I am emotionally cold and uncaring.
  • I often say the wrong thing in the wrong way.
  • I don’t trust anyone enough to give them my loyalty (everyone is out to get me).
  • I am not a good team player.

You can also hear their pleas for help.

  • Help us accept authority, not persistently fight back.
  • Help us live emotionally healthy lives, not crawl into an emotional shell.
  • Help us develop better interpersonal skills, not alienate others.
  • Help us bond with each other and the company, not be disloyal.
  • Help us be better team players, not self-interested individuals.

These needs should sound familiar — they directly correspond to the “snapshot” of a hardnosed worker described in Part 1 of this series.

A hardnosed worker is a self-destructive, emotionally self-centered, uncontrollable person who would rather cut-and-run than commit.

From this snapshot, the human needs that it reveals, and the failure of traditional means to change hardnosed behavior, you know that there is only one action plan — one line of attack — that will result in positively changing a resistant workforce into a cooperative one. But, like the hardnosed Cleveland businessman, you might have trouble admitting it.

You have to help them develop the relational skills that they lack.

But don’t let this series tell you the obvious, though it bears repeating. Let the desperate general manager from Part 1 of this series say it. He’s the one who in 1992 initially linked the characteristics of a juvenile delinquent to the antics of his hardnosed employees. The assistance he sought from a troubled youth expert is as difficult as it is simple.

“I simply want you to help my people treat each other as people,” he asked.

He knew the problem pointed to a lack of interpersonal skills. So do you. And so do the perpetrators, who secretly want your help.

But how do you provide assistance without risking further rejection?

Using Safety To Change People
Job safety is the only joint partnership with management to which the hardnoser has ceded a modicum of control and cooperation. It is the only “face saving” venue in which he consents to [non-craft skill] personal development. To him, change for safety’s sake is grudgingly agreeable.

With safety training comes the opportunity to change the hardnoser, if the correct approach is utilized. Felt needs should be front-and-center — the odor of command, control, and compliance should be reduced.

John Bennett, VP of M.C. Dean, urges us to remember that “it is not about the system, regulations, nor policy or procedure. It is all about the people.”

Ill-conceived training strategies in which personal development is added-on to standard compliance training rarely work. Hardnosers are stubborn, not stupid. They can sense a convenient manipulative end run by management. Ever hear them call leadership training “charm school?”

To achieve human change requires a more carefully crafted safety training strategy than most organizations currently employ. Such a strategy demands a more need-sensitive safety management system.

What is recommended here extends beyond simple supplements to standardized compliance training programs. What is needed is a radical redesign of safety thinking in dealing with a sub-culture of resistance.

Above all, one hard-learned lesson about securing cooperation from defiant people must be remembered. You must meet their felt needs before they will fully give you what you want — compliance and control. If safety doesn’t do this, you remain stuck in the sink hole of opposition, forever containing resistance rather than correcting it.

Life Skills Are Felt Needs
A felt need is simply anything people consciously lack and desire. As noted, the hardnoser consciously but quietly desires self-improvement, particularly in life skills.

One example is the need of supervisors to learn practical leadership skills. As new supervisors quickly rise from the lower ranks of organizations, many supervisors suffer from the lack of leadership development inherent in on-the-job training.

Joe Johnson says that new supervisors are likely to be “given a ‘white hat,’ put in charge, and sent out in the organization with instructions to make things happen safely.” But of the leadership creation process, Johnson asks, “What ‘tools’ have these individuals been provided to insure he or she will be a good safety manager?”

In addition to leadership skills, other life skill needs that are likely felt by hardnosers of all ranks include:

  • Interpersonal communication skills (all aspects)
    • Accurate listening skills
    • Accurate shaping of the message to the listener
    • Accurate delivery of the message for acceptance
    • Accurate use of reflective listening, clarification
  • Relationship building
  • Behavioral awareness and pattern recognition
  • Anger management/tolerance/empathy
  • Team building
  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Coaching and mentoring

Under the confines of employee development and safety training, we have regrettably postponed meeting these needs until it is too late, after the worker feels under-appreciated. Properly, these are the needs you should start meeting at the beginning of new hire orientation.

What Do I Do?
The practical answer to the initial question — What should I do to change hardnosed workers? — is as basic as it sounds complex.

To change a hardnosed work force, you should implement a hybrid training program that simultaneously combines traditional safety-related training subjects with topics that develop the character of the hardnoser in their expressed area of needs.

The key is seamless simultaneous integration. Safety and human development should be taught at the same time, not as separate courses.

To avoid the Cycle of Rejection discussed in Part 2, the hardnoser must not feel that personal manipulation is the purpose of the training, nor should it be. Yet he should also walk away with a sense of obligation to practice (note: different than “comply with”) what is taught.

To make a life-changing combination of safety and personal development training workable requires two organizational commitments.

1. The organization must improve its quality of training.
A higher level of training is required, as is a better quality instructor skilled in safety, communications and human development. Revised curricula must be employed. Cattle-call training must be replaced with a caring personal attitude.

2. The organization must meld its safety and operation cultures.
A unified work culture is required, one which leaves hardnosers no wiggle room for discarding their training lessons under the excuse of “safety behavior” versus “operational behavior.” Operations cannot be allowed to deprive the hardnoser of training’s human development gains.

John Bennett underscores the mistake of trying to create a safety culture within an existing company culture in order to change people. He states that the tactic “is incongruent with the overall mission of the company.” Bennett suggests that “building upon the existing culture and simply inserting the safety aspect” is a more sensible way to build a unified work force. “Involving people in a sincere way,” he says, “will produce better results than were heretofore imaginable.” The hardnoser agrees wholeheartedly.

The Essentials
For the best results, a hybrid safety training program should immediately focus on the greatest needs of the hardnoser: interpersonal communication skills, emotional openness and honesty, and relational teamwork. All these needs share a common denominator. They point to the hardnoser’s fundamental lack of behavioral understanding.

Rarely are hardnosers properly educated about behavior — they do not bring such knowledge with them to the job. Most struggle with discerning why people do what they do — many ascribe the wrong motive to other’s behavior. It’s easy for hardnosers to fall into the Cycle of Rejection.

As explained in Part 2, answering the why question is vital to securing the hardnoser’s cooperation. If you desire to tear down the walls of resistance in your work force, here’s what you need to know.

  • If you help the hardnoser understand his unique behavior temperament and its affects on him — why he is prone to repeat certain behavior patterns — he will call you a friend.
  • If you show him why others act as they do because of their unique behavior temperaments, he will call you a good friend.
  • If you teach him how to build productive relationships with others despite their differences in temperament, he will call you his best buddy.
  • If you do none of the above yet try to change him, he will think you are simply attempting to control him. We’ve seen where that leads.

It is essential to integrate a simple behavior paradigm into every aspect of safety training. Uncomplicated behavior assessment profiles like the DISC or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® can serve this purpose. These are accurate, easily integrated “tools” that produce the type of behavioral understanding needed by hardnosers and non-hardnosers alike.

But this is no shill for the traditional haphazard use of behavior profile tools to soothe the ruffles of an agitated work force or as a guest speaker’s play toy. This is a call to deeply interweave two narratives — safety management and human development — on a consistent basis to meet the targeted needs of employees.

This author will attest to the instant magic brought by behavioral self-discovery through platforms like the DISC or MBTI. One unforgettable incident occurred when the cigar-chomping director of one company’s division first saw the results of his DISC self-analysis. The director’s cigar dropped from his mouth as he stood up, staggered about the training room with his analysis, and shouted, “This is me! This is me! This is freakin’ me.” Presto.

But that momentary magic is useless unless it is converted into tangible results while sustained within a framework of a safety training program that is designed to simultaneously control and change lives.

To do this requires a bold commitment from executive managers that are tired of butting their heads against behavioral barriers. Let the general manager mentioned in Part 1 remind us again that the alternative, letting hardnosers drag the company down, is “not an option.”

What this commitment looks like in practicality, and the results that it can accomplish, will be the subject of Part 4 of this series.

Bibliography

“Focus On Teamwork, Attitude Improves Quality And Safety.” The Waterways Journal. April 25, 1994: 41-44

Newton, Ron. No Jerks On The Job. Irving, TX. PenlandScott Publishers, 2010.

Riddle, Glenden P. An Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Stress Camping Through The Use Of The Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Exam. Research Project. Dallas Theological Seminary, December 1978.

Taylor, Robert. Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Manual. Thousand Oaks: Psychological Publications, Inc., 1992.