Retention in the Age of Job Hopping How to nurture your best employees to keep them engaged


Thought leadership for business owners  What is this?

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 We’re living in an age where employees often say, “Companies are no longer loyal.”

Well, neither are employees.

It’s a “chicken-or-egg” phenomenon. It can be tough to tell which came first. However, if you’re an employee-centric firm, such a lack of reciprocal commitment can be troubling.

Here are some ways to counter the foot-out-the-door mentality that has become so ubiquitous among employees when a seemingly better offer comes along:

Broaden how you address and define talent

Abt Associates’ chief human resources and chief ethics officer Clarissa Peterson, GPHR, SPHR, observes that, “When employers are looking for talent, talent is defined too narrowly.” Technical attributes are one thing, but she feels that employers need to take a more holistic approach to job roles.

She suggests introducing “cultural interview” questions to make sure prospects “don’t just fit the boxes in terms of the functional qualifications – but are also a fit with your culture.” Likewise, interviewees glean aspects of company culture from the questions asked. Ask candidates about their “aspirations, dreams, what excites them, what they want to do, and what they want to get from this experience.” She says such input about their career path will help them make a decision that will result in a longer-tenured employee, as well as a more satisfied and engaged one.

Think career lattice – not career ladder

Employees’ desire to move through the ranks quickly is a challenge for many employers. Hindrances often stem from organizational barriers, ranging from the number of job openings at any given time to the promotional process. Citing a Deloitte University Press study, Peterson advises that companies jettison the notion of a career ladder, for one of a career lattice. Unlike a ladder, which has a distinct, upwardly oriented structure, a career lattice can be scaled vertically, horizontally, and in myriad other ways.

“Sometimes there isn’t another rung on the ladder,” notes Peterson. “However, in organizations there are still ways to grow and to develop skills to help you be prepared to climb to the next rung of the ladder if and when it is available.” Examples include doing special projects and lateral assignments. The first conversation about potential “lattice” opportunities should occur during the interview process.

Recognize the opportunities hidden in plain sight

Peterson shared the story of a new employee who recently job-hopped – then asked to return to the original organization. When the employee got to the new role, the job wasn’t as it had been represented. “I didn’t have the mentoring that I had here. I didn’t feel like I was on a team. I didn’t have relationships, I was just sort of sitting alone in my work station, and I missed that,” the employee said. “And I recognized that I left for what I thought was going to make me happy, fulfill me, and make me grow. And I recognized, I already had that.”

This cautionary tale, points to a gap in communication that is common in many companies. On the one hand, Peterson notes, before choosing to leave for another firm, employees need to say to their managers, “I’m interested in learning and growing, and I feel like I’m not doing that.” On the flipside, she says, “The manager always needs to be thinking about employee talent, and wondering: What else can I provide to help him or her learn and develop?”

Peterson cautions, “I think if those conversations happen often and sooner, then you would have less people feeling that they had to leave- because sometimes the grass is not greener.” Managers can also learn from their employees, as some of the old management rules, and the tried-and-true ways of doing things may not work anymore – and need to be re-examined.

If a company is experiencing a problem with rapid turnover, a certified HR professional is a true business partner who can reach into his or her tool kit and develop processes and tactics to address these issues at a more strategic level. Peterson advises managers: “We need to make sure we’re keeping our eye on the ball, because every night our talent goes home. Our assets leave. And they decide the next day if they want to come back and we want them to come back not just in person – but to come back engaged, connected, and excited, not just sitting in their seats.”


How can HR help business embrace the future?

How well connected you are used to be measured by the number of physical handshakes you made throughout your business life. Today your ‘social currency’ is your digital footprint.

How many digital connections, followers or friends have you accumulated through your social media platforms?  Yes, platforms as in plural.  It doesn’t count if you have a Facebook account to keep tabs on the kids and post photos of Sunday’s cafe breakfast!

Global communication and collaboration has never been easier and building networks has never been more powerful.

In 2016, we took a team of five to the largest and most influential international HR gathering in Washington; #SHRM16. Being based in Australia we had not built a HR network in the U.S. however, leading into the conference our team interacted with the hashtag and fellow HR professionals and exhibitors on social media.

We were amazed what happened next.

When we arrived in Washington we were greeted with open arms, handshakes and hugs.  We had created a 3D, international digital footprint. This wasn’t video game fiction, these were real handshakes.

Digital footprints are real.  It felt like we had broken bread or shared a social drink with these new friends. But in reality, we had shared likes, tweets, follows and content.

This year we have been invited to participate with the SHRM#17 blog squad in New Orleans and our Founder @sel_watts will present on social media at the pre-conference social media sessions.

Not bad for a small external HR Consultancy firm based in Australia. Global education and unique life experiences are everywhere.

Recently, while traveling through the U.K. I received a tweet from a Twitter connection who lived in London. We had never spoken or interacted previously, but she had been reading the wattsnext blog and our team tweets for six months. That morning she noticed I posted a photo of the Tower of London and sent me a message.  Three hours later we were having a coffee in Paddington, discussing the future of work and the role HR can play in the modern world.

Encourage your team to be on social media and learn from an easily accessible global community.

Many of our Australian and Global wattsnext clients do not encourage social media in their workplaces. As future thinking HR leaders, we are working hard to change their mindset.

Do you digitally empower your employees or do you restrict them?

Social media is the centre of global communication and learning in the modern world. You can build your internal culture around social media through gamification and creative HR frameworks.  Get inventive! Social media is not going anywhere and neither are Millennials in the workplace.

The early adopters phase may have gone but as HR professionals we should be encouraging employees of all ages to embrace social media. Integrate social media into your roles, frameworks and cultures.

Don’t be the one who calls the Worldwide Web a fad.

Build a social media strategy today and you will thank yourself 12 months from now.

7 ways to engage remote employees in company culture

By  in Culture
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A strong, vibrant company culture is one of the pillars of success for any business. It helps build morale, encourages teamwork, and builds a strong professional community. With the flexibility of today’s communication technology, it’s become more common for companies to hire employees who work remotely. It’s deceptively easy to neglect remote employees when it comes to building company culture since they are typically not involved with the day-to-day routines, but it’s a mistake that should absolutely be avoided. Here are seven ways that companies can keep remote employees involved and engaged with company culture.

Here are seven things that can bring remote employees more fully into the culture.

Use Onboarding

According to Blake Beus in an article for Training Journal, “By design, employee onboarding is a tool that helps to quickly engage a new hire and help them find their place in the culture of an organization.” This tool is an effective way to introduce all new hires into the culture, he continues.

This is not limited to employees who work onsite. Remote employees also benefit from an early immersion into the company culture. This helps set expectations for communication both to and from remote employees.

Utilize Face Time

There many different apps for communication that can be implemented to ensure remote workers have as much face time as they require. These same technologies are invaluable tools for updating and reinforcing company culture.

According to an article on Business News Daily, “When the whole team is working, a voice or video conference call can go a long way to encourage group collaboration.” And when remote and onsite employees collaborate culture can flourish.

Implement Team Building Sessions

Team building sessions do not need to force remote employees to meet anywhere, because that may be logistically improbable in some cases. In an article on his blog, Dr. Rick Goodmansuggests to “consider hosting a webinar ‘lunch and learn’ event for your team members, allowing them to come together…and apply their minds to a topic of shared interest.”

These types of sessions encourage engagement and can promote a healthy culture between onsite and remote employees.

Give Conference Call Priority

Jacob Morgan in his podcast, The Future in 5, suggests that during conference calls remote employees be given the priority to speak. This he proposes can be accomplished by not only giving them the first opportunity to speak on a subject, but allowing only them to interject when someone else is speaking.

The purpose of this practice is to encourage remote employee participation, and, as they cannot read body language because of their virtual interaction, it allows them to communicate freely. Thus, promoting their full engagement.

Encourage Water Cooler Talk

Many of the methods we have discussed encourage communication via apps and activities. Encouraging communication is one of the paramount practices that can be done to help keep remote employees engaged. With an emphasis on more communication there can be a tendency for employees to engage in Water Cooler talk.

In the past Water Cooler talk has been frowned on. However, it has been found that limited Water Cooler talk can lead to higher levels of engagement as it keeps employees from going into autopilot mode.

In the case of remote employees, having a Slack channel or text thread where they can engage in Water Cooler talk may be just the thing to keep remote employees grounded in the company culture.

Integrate Virtual Presence Physically

In an article on 6Q Blog, Miles Burke encourages companies to “be aware that social interaction is limited in a…remote team,” and that it is important to “focus on spending more time with the new employee on creating familiarity and team bonding.”

There are several ways to achieve this. They range from encouraging face time, to having a wall lined with the faces and names remote employees. In this way, remote employees are not falling to the risk of being out of sight out of mind.

Embrace Remote Culture

Some employees are more productive in the office, and some are more productive remotely. It is a fact. All employees are unique. Regarding how this relates to culture, HelpScout co-founder Nick Francis states, “When an office culture makes exceptions for remote people, rather than embracing remote culture wholeheartedly, it doesn’t work.”

It takes a little bit of effort to fully embrace remote employees into your company’s culture, but doing so is a great way to help all of your employees see that you value the work that they do.

15 Perks That Benefit Both Employees And Your Company

Top coaches offer insights on leadership development & careers.  


Forbes Coaches Council

Top business and career coaches from Forbes Coaches Counciloffer firsthand insights on leadership development & careers.

 Company perks and benefits can make all the difference for employees, especially creative or particularly valuable ones. The opportunity to continue education, do volunteer work, get local discounts or even participate in a forum to share personal interests is a powerful draw. It helps your company’s community and creates a broader sense of who’s sitting around you, or in other departments, rather than just a half-remembered name and a face.

The right personal development approaches can broaden skills as well as break people out of mental ruts. All of these things mean more engaged staff with broader skills and higher abilities to cope with day-to-day stress.

So what works? Below members of Forbes Coaches Council talk about 15 perks they favor, as well as why they’re a boon to all involved.

All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.

Members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss the real “perks” your company should be providing.

1. Offer Student Loan Repayment Help 

This is always a great perk to give, especially to deeply indebted millennials. It helps to create loyalty and show that the company cares and desires to retain, not just attract, top employees who are saddled with college or grad school debt. It does wonders for morale and company culture. – Yuri KrumanMaster The Talk Consulting 

2. Provide Time For Staff To Bring In Outside Interests 

We all want to belong at work. Give employees the time to bring outside interests inside. Remind employees of their value by supporting and celebrating life outside of work. Help employees find similarities by creatively sharing non-work-related interests. Creative outlets like open mic night or new parent support groups help engage your team more creatively. – Meredith Moore CrosbyLeverette Weekes 

3. Encourage Learning A Foreign Language 

A number of studies on the effects of learning and speaking languages have found that speaking more than one language provides constant exercise for the brain, which can improve decision-making, memory, focus and dealing with distractions. It can also open up the company to be more accepting of the cultures and traditions of others. – Maria PastoreMaria Pastore Coaching

A creative perk that companies could offer is to name a “CCO,” or Chief Creative Officer, for one week per quarter. This person would be tasked with identifying creative ways to help employees live the company’s values. The added benefit to the employee is they would garner new leadership skills. Further, it would strengthen the culture and reaffirm everyone’s commitment to the company’s core values. – Sidney EvansBrand Vision Global 

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

5. Organize Game Events 

Whether they’re inside or outside, establishing organized games will allow employees to earn awesome prizes, and at the same time promote team building and fun. Employees are able to vote on games such as puzzles, ping pong, dodgeball or even fitness challenges. Companies will see a significant increase in work production by allowing employees to get a lot done while having fun. – Niya Allen-VatelResume Newbie 

6. Set Aside An Hour A Week For Team Fun 

If you want to improve culture, you need to improve the work environment and interactions between employees at all levels. Set aside an hour each week for employees to interact in a fun, casual way. Games, storytelling, and sharing outside interests all build the relationships that are the foundation of culture. – Larry BoyerSuccess Rockets LLC 

7. Let Significant Others Join In On Travel 

A creative perk is to allow significant others to join on trips, especially for those who travel constantly (usually at more senior levels). If an employee travels a lot, their relationship might be suffering at home. This stress affects productivity. Allowing spouses or partners to travel creates a culture of respect and concern for the well-being of your top producers, with direct benefits to your bottom line. – Susan TaylorGeneron International 

8. Offer Days For Staff To Do Volunteer Work 

Some employers give workers the option to volunteer a certain number of hours per month during company time. This can be an excellent way to encourage employees to get out and do something positive in the community. It can also be very positive for the company culture, as employees feel valued and are given freedom to explore outside pursuits. – Angela CopelandCopeland Coaching 

9. Set Up Discounts For Employees 

Everyone loves a discount. A friend of mine was thrilled to get a nice discount on a new phone because she works for the local hospital. Another friend got a percentage off of her gym membership, and yet another one was offered the company’s timeshare for a week. If your company can offer a discount for something, especially something out of the ordinary, your employees will thank you for it. – Erin KennedyProfessional Resume Services, Inc. 

10. Make Desks Movable To Create An Adaptable Culture 

One of my clients has desks on wheels for all employees. Each person is able to roll the desk to wherever they need to be, sometimes talking and brainstorming in a large circle as a team. While working on an individual project, they may roll their desk to look out a large window that overlooks a beautiful scene. These desks can be standing or sitting depending on what a task entails. Adapt! – Shawn Kent HayashiThe Professional Development Group LLC 

11. Host An Internal TED Talk Series 

Culture is about building trust and getting to know your peers’ unique skills and interests. Host a TED Talk series, where employees can share their creative passion projects. Team members have an opportunity to share ideas that they believe in and inspire others to take action. You’ll be surprised by the hidden talents of your colleagues! – Leanne WongMC Partners 

12. Trust Your Employees To Be Responsible 

Freedom is the ultimate perk. If an employer trusts its workers to do their jobs well, they should be allowed to work from home, enjoy long lunches, and structure their workday. Some offices even supply liquor for employee enjoyment. Trust begets responsibility, and if the employee can’t handle the freedom of any perk, they’ll self-select out of the culture. – Kelly MeerbottYou: Loud & Clear 

Why Emotional Intelligence is Key to Successful Leadership

“All learning has an emotional base.” – Plato

Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been attributed as key to personalorganisational and leadership success. Categorised a ‘soft skill‘, the evolving modern workforce has seen a rise in demand for EQ, where possessing intelligence and technical capability alone is now deemed insufficient.

EQ, defined by Peter Savaloy and John Mayer (no not that John Mayer…) in the 1990s is the ability to:

  • Recognise, understand and manage our emotions and,
  • Recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others

Breaking down EQ further into four domains and competencies:

EQ table

How does EQ make better leaders, and what impact does EQ have on leading your reinvention?

1. Confidence and Competence

Reinvention occurs through a repeated process of learning, application and reviewing (synonymous with the build-measure-learn feedback loop). Leading change requires emotionally intelligent attributes including: self-awareness and regulation, motivation, empathy and positivity.

Furthermore, personal development coach Matthew Hussey  adds to this with the importance of confidence and competence. In unison competence and confidence are vital elements of EQ; contributing to a person’s ability to understand themselves, assess their surrounding environment and respond accordingly.

A former colleague of mine undertook studies and decided to leave his job to work in a new industry. Being in his 50s was no deterrent as his desire was invoked by competence and confidence.

Going against the status quo or taking the unconventional road requires courage. Courage encapsulates the confidence and competence necessary to make difficult decisions and deal with the trough of sorrow. As physical creating better leaders and vehicles for change involves practice amongst another aspect, “why?”.

2. Inspiring with “Why” to Execute “How”

“People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it” – Simon Sinek,  Start with Why

Generating action based on repeated loyalty is achieved by leaders with an ability to understand one emotionally intelligent trait: identifying their why and inspiring others with it.

Translating vision begins with ‘why‘ and aligns with everything you do. Intrinsically motivated, people emotionally connect with a undying belief and purpose in something bigger and better.  Common examples include Apple or the human rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.  People don’t follow Apple for its products or Martin Luther King Jr for what and who he is per se, but what they represent.

People act upon inspiring leaders because want to, not because of pressure or incentives. It is here where EQ transforms why into how, vision into mission, dreams into actionable steps. Failure of ‘why’ indicates that actions of ‘how’ have been unsuccessful; becoming a pivot or persevere situation. The underlying sense of why does not change.

Working towards your why means not compromising on it and the EQ to follow through whether managing a team of 5 or 500, or navigating personal change .  My why is to empower you through education and personal development, to seek  purpose and fulfilment in alignment to your why.

3. Managing Conflict

Managing conflict requires large dosages of EQ.  Emotionally intelligent leaders or agents of change will manage conflict through unyielding sense of collaboration and persistence based on their why.

Leaders with high EQ and a clear connection of purpose will reason and measured response.  Take SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In a recent report, Telsa was seen to have 30% more injuries compared to industry standards.

Musk’s responded by hiring thousands more employees, adding an extra shift in to reduce overtime and followed up via email which included:

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

Each action performed by Musk had clear intention, was empathetic and showed that he led by example. Great PR was generated for both Musk and Tesla as being a great leader, but also being  a supportive environment to work in.

Gain more EQ?

It’s evident that EQ is critical in today’s workforce but also in our own personal development. If EQ is seen as a muscle that can be exercised, we can improve our ability to be more emotionally attuned to others and our surrounding environment by:

  • Broader experiences: Getting uncomfortable and placing yourself in situations you usually wouldn’t leads to learning and growth. Expanding our experiences gives opportunity for new skills, perspectives and ideas to flourish.
  • Observing and Practice: Observing people with high EQ or that respond to a vary of different situations well is a good start. I tend to be a prolific reader and see that as a means for learning to excel. During both positive and negative situations taking note of other people’s behaviour, cues and words can give insight into what someone is feeling or wanting to express. If it’s all too much in the moment, try observing first, then analyse afterwards.
  • Reflecting: Writing daily allows for a daily dump of thoughts, experiences and learnings onto paper. Research shows that we learn more by writing things down.
  • Asking: 360 degree feedback is a good place to start. Though a little awkward, asking others about our behaviour, where we have done well, where we haven’t or why they believe ‘X’ about us (whether good or bad) is like getting water out of the horses mouth. Ask and you shall receive.


The Secret Behind Your Unhappy Workforce - People Development Network
The Secret Behind Your Unhappy Workforce – People Development Network
Karin Dames

Karin Dames

Transformation coach at funficient
With nearly 20 years experience in the software development industry, Karin moved into a coaching role and broadened her scope to non-software development industries. She specializes in helping teams get unstuck, innovate and communicate – efficiency through fun. She helps form high-performance teams while actively participating in projects, changing minds to become more flexible and agile. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives.
Karin Dames
Karin Dames
Karin Dames

Do you have an unhappy workforce?

Companies seem to be increasingly struggling to keep their employees happy while more and more employees are dissatisfied with their workplace and looking for alternatives. The impact of an ever-changing unhappy workforce is starting to take its toll on the profitability of the organization, leaving the employer at a loss as to how to fix this.

So why exactly are so many people unhappy at work? And what can an employer do to keep their people from leaving?

To answer this question, let me ask you this one question.  Have you ever observed two pieces of original artworks that are alike?

More? Or better?

Only manmade things produced in bulk are ever exactly the same. Original art pieces are all uniquely different and people are willing to pay far more for an original than a copy. They know that having one of a kind is much more valuable than having something that thousands of other people also have the same of.

The same is true about your workforce. Uniqueness and the ability to think outside the box are in most cases more valuable than obedience and blindly following instructions. Yet, in the workplace people are expected to fit into a generic mold and follow generic rules. Mostly, these rules and regulations were designed around the needs of the employer and cases where there were conflict or disagreement, punishing the masses for the mistakes of a handful of outliers.

Job descriptions. Roles. Policies. Procedures. Leave entitlement. Performance reviews. Salary.

All generically designed around the concept of fairness and equality for everyone, yet the source of unhappiness for most people, even if only on a subconscious level.

What used to be the burning issue during the French Revolution is no longer the main problem in the digital age. The primary need then was for people to be treated as equal.  The primary need now is for people to express their creativity.  It’s time to relook at what equality in the workplace looks like.

Same-Same, But Different

All people are not the same and they don’t have the same needs.

Treating everyone the same just because it is less administration to manage in the short run, is like refusing to service your car because it will mean a day of inconvenience without transport. Yet, we know that the temporary inconvenience, while your car is in for a service, saves a lot of inconvenience and money in the long run.

The same concept applies to employee needs. It might be more administration to cater for individual needs, but it will save a lot of administration and money in recruitment costs and loss of intellectual property by valuable employees leaving. And it will be more human.

Equal doesn’t mean identical

Fairness and equality do not mean everyone should be treated exactly the same. Fairness implies that each person is rewarded according to the value they deliver and their commitment level. The more value you add as an individual, the more you should be rewarded, regardless of your job description or how long you’ve been in the company.

Equality, on the other hand, implies that each individual is entitled to an equal share of resources. That does not mean that everyone gets the same resources, it means that each gets an equal distribution of available resources, depending on their individual, and changing needs.

One person might value extra leave days while someone else might appreciate training. Yet another might rather want a financial reward in the form of a bonus or increased retirement benefit. Each person, depending on where they are in their life has different needs. It is the role of the employer to make sure that they meet those needs if they want their employees to remain happy.

Rules are there to be broken

Rules are supposed to make life easier. Like the rules of the road, if people don’t follow the rules, accidents happen.

When however there is an accident, the rules are temporarily changed. You might need to take a detour or drive in the emergency lane for an ambulance to pass. Or a traffic officer might take over and direct the traffic usually managed by a traffic light.

If you’re still following the same policies and procedures than five years ago or have only ever added to it, you are most likely ignoring what is not working anymore and just putting a band-aid on top of the bleeding wound.

To allow the to heal, however, it is necessary to look a little bit deeper.  So next time you find yourself declining an individual’s request because it isn’t policy, ask yourself this one question.

“Is it easier to review the rules now, or to fill the hole left behind when people leave as a result of the rules not meeting their needs?”

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5 surefire ways to improve your L&D programme

One of the key concerns that I, and I imagine most other HR & L&D professionals have, is the need to continually improve the L&D programmes we design and deliver. With that in mind, and using both my own and my networks personal experiences, I’ve developed my top five ‘sure fire’ ways to improve your programme. Of course, these are very top line but, hopefully, give the general gist!

1) Ensure managers are accountable for coaching their employees

Starting here with, in my opinion, the most important point, you can have the best L&D strategy in the world but if the level of coaching carried out by your managers is of poor quality or non-existent all of your hard work will be undone. In the past, this was very much a core part of a manager’s role – but as manager responsibilities become ever busier, it is increasingly important to incentivise them to carry out coaching. One of my previous organisations formed part of a manager’s bonus on employee feedback on the quality of the coaching, for example, that was hugely successful.

2) Develop L&D initiatives for each stage of an employee’s time in the company

There was a time where skills that were learned would see you over a period of years (this is still the case with some skills of course). However, with the business environment evolving quicker than at any other point in history we have more responsibility than ever to ensure we develop our people.

3) Ensure employees take ownership of their development

The phrase you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink is appropriate for this one. If you conduct an L&D activity and the employee has not invested themselves in it, it’s almost pointless. This is, of course, not just the responsibility of L&D but of Managers and Directors also.

For this very reason it is so important (and blindingly obvious) that we must tailor our L&D programmes to suit the needs and styles of the individual. Believe me, the ROI when tailoring your programme for individuals is well worth the effort. At RSG I‘ve tailored the content of our Academy Training programme and, since doing so, our employee turnover in this area went from 14% to below 6% very quickly.

4) Develop confidence in the leadership of the organisation

If employees cannot see the development journey that the leaders within the organisation have been on how can they visualise moving up through the organisation? This is one often overlooked element to developing an effective development programme.

5) Align L&D to your culture

Famed management consultant and ‘social ecologist’ Peter Drucker is famous for saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, with this in mind it is essential that you align your L&D programmes to the culture of the business. However, aligning it to culture alone will almost certainly destroy your ROI. Of course, the psychics amongst us will of course know that aligning culture and strategy will result in genuine and intentional learning with a significant positive affect on ROI!

The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio

Which is more effective in improving team performance: using positive feedback to let people know when they’re doing well, or offering constructive comments to help them when they’re off track?

New research suggests that this is a trick question. The answer, as one might intuitively expect, is that both are important. But the real question is—in what proportion?

A Little Criticism Goes a Long Way

The research, conducted by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada*, examined the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. “Effectiveness” was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, Heaphy and Losada found, was the ratio of positive comments (“I agree with that,” for instance, or “That’s a terrific idea”) to negative comments (“I don’t agree with you” “We shouldn’t even consider doing that”) that the participants made to one another. (Negative comments, we should point out, could go as far as sarcastic or disparaging remarks.) The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

So, while a little negative feedback apparently goes a long way, it is an essential part of the mix. Why is that? First, because of its ability to grab someone’s attention. Think of it as a whack on the side of the head. Second, certainly, negative feedback guards against complacency and groupthink.

And third, our own research shows, it helps leaders overcome serious weaknesses. The key word here is serious. Our firm provides 360-degree feedback to leaders. We have observed among the 50,000 or so leaders we have in our database that those who’ve received the most negative comments were the ones who, in absolute terms, improved the most. Specifically, our aggregate data show that three-fourths of those receiving the lowest leadership effectiveness scores who made an effort to improve, rose on average 33 percentile points in their rankings after a year. That is, they were able to move from the 23rd percentile (the middle of the worst) to the 56th percentile (or square in the middle of the pack).

A few colleagues have raised their eyebrows when we’ve noted this because we’re strongly in the camp that proposes that leaders work on their strengths. How do we reconcile these seemingly contrary perspectives? Simple: the people who get the most negative feedback have the most room to grow. It’s far harder for someone at the 90th percentile already to improve so much.

But clearly those benefits come with serious costs or the amount of negative feedback that leads to high performance would be higher. Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts.

Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders in our database, who have no outstanding weaknesses, that positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement. In fact, for those in our database who started above average already (but are still below the 80th percentile), positive feedback works like negative feedback did for the bottom group. Focusing on their strengths enabled 62% of this group to improve a full 24 percentage points (to move from the 55th to the 79th percentile). The absolute gains are not as great as they are for the most-at-risk leaders, since they started so much further ahead. But the benefits to the organization of making average leaders into good ones is far greater, because it puts them on the road to becoming the exceptional leaders that every organization desperately needs.

As an interesting aside, we find it noteworthy that Heaply and Losada’s research is echoed in an uncanny way by John Gottman’s analysis of wedded couples’ likelihood of getting divorced or remaining marriedOnce again, the single biggest determinant is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another. And the optimal ratio is amazingly similar—five positive comments for every negative one. (For those who ended up divorced, the ratio was 0.77 to 1—or something like three positive comments for every four negative ones.)

Clearly in work and life, both negative and positive feedback have their place and their time. If some inappropriate behavior needs to be stopped, or if someone is failing to do something they should be doing, that’s a good time for negative feedback. And certainly contrarian positions are useful in leadership team discussions, especially when it seems only one side of the argument has been heard. But the key even here is to keep the opposing viewpoint rational, objective, and calm—and above all not to engage in any personal attack (under the disingenuous guise of being “constructive”).

We submit that all leaders should be aware of the ratio of positive and negative comments made by their colleagues in leadership team meetings, and endeavor to move the proportion closer to the ideal of 5.6 to 1—by their own example.

13 Tips From Top CEOs on Hiring and Keeping the Very Best Employees The tactics–and offbeat questions–Inc. 500 founders and execs use to thrive.

Inc. asked CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing private companies to answer a series of wide-ranging questions about how they reward and retain top talent. Here’s how top execs weighed in on the benefits they offer and how they find and motivate their teams.

Q: How do you attract top talent — and then keep them motivated?

A: “Quarterly retreats around the world.” –Justin Cooke, Empire Flippers | No. 174

A: “We established a personal-development fund that everyone is entitled to. It funds anything that helps that employee push beyond their comfort zone. It’s renewed every year.” –Courtney Nichols Gould, SmartyPants Vitamins | No. 432

A: “Caring, caring, and caring. To the point of exhaustion. In every way I know how.” –Dan Granger, Oxford Road | No. 398

A: “We fully pay all our employees’ medical expenses and insurance. Even their annual deductible. Every penny. We also provide a fun, casual work environment with music, energy drinks, very flexible hours, and tons of time off!” –Steven Eilers, Boost Marketing Group | No. 49

A: “Weekly in-office massages, weekly lunches and occasional afternoon ice cream, in-home-massage discounts, and department and company retreats.” –Samer Hamadeh, Zeel | No. 167

A: “Hire great talent and listen to them. Realize that isn’t ‘creative,’ but unfortunately most companies fail here.” –Michael Wong, DayBlink Consulting | No. 159

A: “I need to work on this.” –Chris Rickerson, Elite Staffing Solutions | No. 160

A: “Focus on culture and morale. We have no dress code (one employee showed up dressed as Spider-Man). The company buys lunch on Friday, and it usually turns into an all-afternoon hangout. We have no formal office hours, and we let employees take extended holidays and work remotely from anywhere.” –Jon Fawcett, Fuse Chicken | No. 172

A: “Have a great company culture. Free supplements, kombucha on tap, strong bonuses.” –Josh Axe, Axe Wellness | No. 35

A: “We randomize seating quarterly (we have desk pods that compete quarterly). We put 20 percent of revenue back into employee engagement. Quarterly conference for all employees. Publicly celebrate wins, big and small, in Slack.” –Joseph Taylor, Penrod | No. 442

Sixty-two percent of our respondents said that finding and retaining good staff is the largest obstacle to growth–beating out other options by nearly a two-to-one margin. And 40 percent said recruiting that talent is their company’s biggest contributor to staying innovative. All of this points to the continued importance of getting­ your work force and workplace right. Luckily, our CEO survey also revealed lots of interesting ideas to check out. (Hint: free massages.)

*Beyond what is required by state and federal regulations

Q: During an interview, what one question reveals the most about a candidate?

A: “ ’What is your biggest insecurity?’ It’s much different than ‘weakness.’ ” –Kyle Hanson, Oolong | No. 312

A: “ ’Tell us about your first pet.’ You get to see creativity, personality, humor, and kindness shine through.” –Teddy Jones, 501 Auctions | No. 293

A: ” ‘How many basketballs will fit into a 747?’ ” –Henry Jones, Kopis Mobile | No. 384

A: “ ’How fortunate in life are you and why?’ ” –Nelson James, | No. 105

How to Motivate Employees to Go Beyond Their Jobs

Marion Barraud for HBR

Every day, employees make decisions about whether they are willing to go the extra mile in ways that contribute to their organization’s success. These are important decisions because research shows that when employees are willing to go beyond their formal roles by helping out coworkers, volunteering to take on special assignments, introducing new ideas and work practices, attending non-mandatory meetings, putting in extra hours to complete important projects, and so forth, their companies are more efficient and effective. As a result, a critical task for successful managers is to motivate their employees to engage in these extra-role behaviors, which researchers refer to as “citizenship behaviors.”

Although the benefits of citizenship behavior for organizational performance are clear, the implications for employees are more equivocal. On the one hand, many employees perform acts of citizenship because they feel committed to and connected to their peers, supervisors, and organizations. Being a good organizational citizen can also be personally and professionally rewarding because it makes work more meaningful and invigorating and contributes to better performance evaluations. On the other hand, some studies have also shown that employees sometimes feel pressured to be good organizational citizens and may only do so in order to enhance their image. Moreover, going the extra mile can deplete employees’ resourcescontributing to stress, work-family conflict, and citizenship fatigue. Recent research further suggests that employees who feel pressured to engage in citizenship may start feeling entitled to act out by engaging in deviant behaviors. Further, while employee citizenship is often associated with positive feelings, it can also impede employees’ ability to get their jobs done, which can undermine their well-being.


Making Work More Meaningful

As this work continues, consensus is emerging that citizenship behavior tends to have negative implications when employees go above and beyond at work not because they intrinsically want to, but because they feel that they have to, or when they are unable to carry out their regular job duties and be a good citizen at the same time. Given the importance of citizenship behavior for organizational success, it is important that managers help employees find better ways to go beyond the call of duty in order to help make work more meaningful and less depleting. One potentially effective way of doing this is something we refer to as “citizenship crafting.”

The idea of citizenship crafting is based on the concept of job crafting, in which people redesign their work by altering aspects of the job itself (task crafting), the people with whom they work (relationship crafting), and their mindset about their jobs (cognitive crafting) in ways that play to their strengths, motives, and passions. Whereas job crafting captures how employees redesign their formal role at work, citizenship crafting is based on the notion that employees can proactively shape the ways in which they to go beyond the call of duty such that they not only contribute to the organization, but that they are also personally meaningful, rewarding, and consistent with their strengths.

While employees are the ones who will craft their citizenship behavior, ideally, they will consider not only their own needs but those of their manager and colleagues. For this reason, we encourage managers to let their employees know what types of citizenship behaviors are most important for their workgroup, while recognizing that asking employees to engage in too much citizenship can be counterproductive. Employees should also be forthright in communicating to their managers what types of citizenship behavior are most consistent with their strengths, motives, and passions. For instance, an introverted engineer who dreads socializing but does not mind pulling the occasional all-nighter might feel less obligated to take part in every social event, knowing that she can be the one to take charge when someone has to stay late to complete a critical project. Or a salesperson who cannot stand to sit through meetings, but relishes opportunities to coach others, can ask to be spared tedious committee work in exchange for making extra time to shadow and informally mentor new recruits. And employees should feel comfortable making a conscious decision to voluntarily assist their colleagues who are appreciative and generous in return, offering the type of assistance that’s not such a burden to provide.

Although citizenship crafting is a new idea, prior research indicates that it should benefit employees and managers alike. First, to the extent that jobs contain tasks that align with employees’ intrinsic motives, and are absent of tasks that employees feel forced to complete, job performance tends to be significantly higher; as such, citizenship crafting should result in higher quality and more impactful acts of citizenship. Second, employees who are able to engage in citizenship behaviors that play to their strengths and passions should feel less stressed and worn out from going the extra mile. By realizing that not all good citizens look alike, and allowing employees to tailor their citizenship to fit their unique interests and talents, managers can simultaneously enhance employee well-being and workgroup productivity. Finally, citizenship crafting should reduce the need for managers to rely on extrinsic sticks and carrots to motivate employees to go the extra mile. This should not only conserve financial resources, but given evidence that extrinsic rewards can sometimes undermine intrinsic motivation, citizenship crafting should also help employees stay internally driven to go the extra mile.

The bottom line is that managers and employees’ efforts to enhance the meaningfulness of work by redesigning employees’ jobs should not stop where the formal job description ends. Instead, we encourage employees to more thoughtfully and proactively craft their citizenship behavior in ways that their extra-role contributions lead to more meaning and fulfillment while, at the same time, enhancing their firm’s performance.