Let’s Bring Learning Back to Training

Image result for computer sleepWe all know the routine: once a year, we get an email from some member of leadership reminding us the Annual Training season is upon us and we must log in to some portal and click some buttons and watch some video (or worse, animated slides). Once we’ve complied, we take the quiz and are rewarded with an electronic certificate saying we’ve met the obligation for another year. If we’re especially lucky, we don’t even have a quiz and there is no coded keystroke monitor that prevents us from clicking through as quickly as possible so we can get back to our real work. I, myself, am guilty of mindlessly advancing the slides and haphazardly choosing a response to scenario examples while sitting on a conference call where no one can see me not pay attention. Of course, all my co-workers were doing the same thing on their end, as well. Is it any wonder we’re not actually learning anything?

Think back for a minute – of any of your mandatory annual training topics last year, do you remember one specific detail about any one of them? No? Me neither. If we want employees to take a subject seriously, and actually retain something, it’s time to go back to face-to-face interactions.

I’ve been teaching harassment training in one form or another for years. And I have former co-workers, to this day, remember the stories I shared and the impassioned and only slightly facetious plea to “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH YOUR CO-WORKERS!”  Those employees, although not in love with the idea of sitting through another training session, were engaged and entertained for the hour or two they were at my mercy. And most importantly, they retained what I had to say.  Not like those mind-numbing online training modules with the computerized voice and periodically required click-throughs that supposedly assess understanding.

Based on my social media feeds being inundated with headlines and hashtags in the workplace, I’d say that while organizations have gotten really good at ensuring every employee checks the box, we’re still failing to promote understanding and change behavior. At the end of the day, what’s more expensive or time-consuming: live training with a person that can engage your employees and make a long-standing impression that will result in changed behavior and a better, safer workplace for all? Or flat, uninspiring technology that requires nothing more of your employees than a few clicks of the mouse and does nothing to prevent lost productivity, unnecessary legal fees, and negative publicity?


Why Strengths

My husband and I recently moved into a new home. As many of you can relate, there was a period of time where we couldn’t find simple tools that we needed – hammers for hanging pictures, flat-head screwdrivers for installing shelving, etc. We knew they had made the short trek down the road between homes but they were probably buried somewhere in a mountain of moving cartons in the garage or simply stowed away in our newly-developed “organization system” which is a fancy way of saying we can’t remember where we put them.

Did you know that you can pound a hammer into a wall with the handle of any old screwdriver, the side of a hefty kitchen utensil or even the heel of a really sturdy shoe? And did you know butter knives, dimes and binder clips all function perfectly well as a flat-head screwdriver in a pinch? Sometimes, we don’t get things done because we don’t recognize we already have tools that work, and wind up waiting (often indefinitely) for the tool we think we need.

Strengths-based development operates under the same principle. That’s not to say we should ignore weaknesses altogether, but we should be focusing on what we’re great at and figuring out how to do more with that while minimizing the effect the weaknesses have on our performance.

In a 1950’s study intended to evaluate several methods of speed-reading instruction for introduction into the Nebraska school system, researchers made an interesting (and tangential) observation. Although there were no statistically relevant differences regarding the efficacy of training interventions, there was a significant difference in improvement in students who already had a speed-reading talent as compared to their counterparts who read at an average pace (Clifton & Harter, 2003).  Imagine the gains that could be had in the business world by focusing on strengths, rather than wasting all efforts on making incremental improvements on weaknesses.

Not only does strengths-based development support employees doing more with the tools they already have, thus improving productivity, it also has a real impact on employee engagement. According to a 2003 Gallup study on employee engagement, people who focus on using their strengths are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life and six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. Additionally, it was discovered that people who work from their “strengths zone” treat customers better, have more positive interactions with co-workers than negative, and achieve more on a daily basis.

As managers, understanding the inherent strengths of the individuals on your team allows you to identify ways in which they can use those strengths more often, discover their developmental needs and wants, and create individual development plans for each team member. Additionally, by understanding your own strengths, you can more fully integrate your management style into an approach that suits the individuals needs of your employees.

If you’re interested in learning more about Strengths-based development, check out StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath or Strengths Based Leadership by Barry Conchie and Tom Rath. And if you’re ready to integrate strengths-based leadership into your team, please give me a call so we can discuss how I can help you integrate strengths-based leadership into your organization.

What Your HR Manager Wants You to Know

Having spent my entire adult life working in the human resources domain, I’ve accumulated quite a list of items I wished the managers I supported knew that would make everyone’s lives easier. They are simple things, really, and yet they’ve come up time and time again in various jobs and in various industries. Below is a brief list of the heaviest hitters:

1. Write it down or it didn’t happen.

This pertains to a myriad of topics – most notably performance items (good or bad) but also research requests, job requisitions and hiring criteria. Let me be blunt: if you visit your HR manager and demand an employee be dealt with due to poor performance, be prepared to provide documentation of said poor performance. Any HR manager worth their salt is going to require documentation of performance issues before taking action. This is to protect you and the company from legal messes like discrimination and retaliation.

2. Don’t ignore minimum qualifications.

Job postings identify minimum requirements for a reason; namely, to draw a list of fully qualified candidates while unequivocally weeding out those who are not qualified so you don’t have to read their resumes. If you come across a great candidate who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the job, the answer is not to ignore that fact and consider them anyway. Rather, work with your HR to determine why that candidate is a great candidate, revamp your job description to incorporate their skills (or determine if they are a better fit for a different job  and re-post the job so that anyone who has a similar background also has a shot. This keeps you out of potential legal trouble should you ever be audited by the EEOC or DOL. Who knows? You may find an even better candidate than the one you were advocating for.

3. Contracts are legal, binding documents.

If you have a labor union with a negotiated contract, that means there is a legal, binding document that establishes expectations for behavior for both parties. Yes, there’s grey area, and yes there’s past practice, but at the end of the day, a contract is a contract. It would be like hiring someone to put a pool in your backyard with the provision that they must complete the job within a certain time limit and are responsible for hauling away all construction materials at the end. If they finish 6 weeks late and leave a pile of junk behind in your yard, you’re going to be unhappy and you’re going to request restitution. Rather than just disregarding the provisions of the contract and doing whatever you want (which will most likely result in time-consuming grievances), partner with your HR manager to identify where the wiggle room is (it’s there, trust me) and provide them with feedback about how the language can be modified, either through formal negotiations or a letter of agreement, to better serve the needs of the company.

4. HR is not the hygiene or dress code police.

If you have an employee with a hygiene problem or who is eliciting complaints regarding their attire, it is not HR’s job to address it just because you don’t want to. If you need help figuring out how to approach the situation, HR is there to help, but ultimately, you need to manage your employees.

5. Don’t write policies to address one bad employee.

It’s really not necessary to write a policy for every occasion. If you did, your employee handbook would be a tome the size of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. While policies are important ways to document expectations for behavior, you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to list every single do or don’t – it’s impossible. A colleague once put it to a manager this way: if an employee decided to relieve themselves in the hallway, would you write a “No Urination in the Hallway” policy? Of course not!

Finally, keep in mind that HR is there to partner with you, not replace you. If you have a tough employee relations situation, HR can provide you with the tools and recommendations to manage it on your own, or, if necessary, assemble additional resources to support you. They are also great researchers – able to dig into subjects such as training opportunities, job compensation analysis and employee engagement techniques and provide you with the data you need to be better managers.

And a special note to all you HR heroes out there: make sure that instead of saying, “You can’t do that because…” you’re saying, “Let’s figure out what you are trying to achieve so we can find a way to get there.”

3 Things Your Intern Wants From You

6360482837900300351044625281_internWe’ve all heard the stories about companies bringing interns in only to fetch coffee and file documents, right? Sadly, those aren’t just stories. Not only have I heard from students who have had bad experiences, I have actually witnessed companies using interns in ways that all but ensure they’ll never want to come back: engineering students brought in to archive old drawings for weeks on end; HR interns used to clean out file cabinets and shred unneeded historical documents; finance students used to plan the department picnic, etc. Sure, we all have parts of our jobs that are less than glamorous and leave us unfulfilled, but dumping all that on an intern, who is supposed to be learning (and filling your talent pipeline) is a total waste and almost guarantees they’ll run screaming for the door. Instead, boost your internship program using these three simple components:

A Good Project

Just because these are college students doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of taking on heady projects that even some of your seasoned pros are struggling with. I have seen students, if given the necessary tools and guidance, tackle some really challenging problems and come up with amazing solutions. Not only do they have an incredible amount of energy, they have an amazing ability to see things differently which allows them to leverage creativity that your day-to-day staff may have buried or forgotten. Before you decide to hire an intern, ask yourself what projects you’ve been dying to work on and haven’t had time for, or what problem have you just not been able to solve. Design an internship around those items, and leave data entry and document shredding off the job description. One note of caution: interns are very efficient and often complete assigned projects in less than half the time you would have expected. Part of this is due to their level of energy, but it also stems from the fact that they are not weighed down as much by time killers such as excessive meetings. Make sure you have enough work to keep them busy for the entire summer – consider having one or two back-up projects available in case they really knock the first one of out of the park three weeks in.


Everyone wants to know how they are doing, but interns especially crave this. Not only do they want to know whether they’re doing a good job, but they want to know what you THINK about them. Consider mimicking your company’s own performance management system in a briefer version for the students. It doesn’t take much for the intern’s manager set some goals at the beginning of the internship and then schedule one or two feedback sessions throughout the summer to check in and give guidance. At the end of the summer, give them some take-aways they can use in their studies and future jobs: what they’ve done well, what they can improve on, how they can leverage their strengths. And give them an outlet for providing feedback on their experience, as well. Just as they need to learn to receive feedback, they need to learn to give it. Asking for their feedback not only adds to their development but also highlights ways in which you can improve the program in the future.


While it may not be possible to host a large group of interns each year, consider bringing in more than one so they develop a sense of kinship. It can be intimidating for a young student to come into a workplace – not only are they likely one of the youngest employees there, but by nature of their position, they are already an “other” of sorts. If you can bring in two more interns together, they will be able to lean on each other for support, have someone to eat lunch with, and just feel a little more like they fit in. If you’re able to bring in three or four students, consider assigning them a separate group project outside of the scope of their regular assignments -something related to company culture, such as creating a wellness initiative or a service project in the community. Not only does this provide them with a sense of camaraderie and teamwork, it also begins to grow the kind of employee you want to hire someday: the one who can solve a variety of problems with a host of different people, as well as one who strives to make the company better and has a sense of loyalty based on cultural stewardship.

The whole purpose of an internship is to give a student an opportunity to apply what they’ve been learning in school and develop some professional real-world experience while simultaneously loading the company’s talent pipeline with future employees. If you’re bringing students in to do grunt work that no one else wants to do and is not really in line with their studies, you’re not serving either purpose. I’ve seen students do amazing things with their internships and come back year after year as interns. Upon graduation, these students become excellent young leaders for the companies they’ve interned for. I’ve also seen interns brought in to clean out filing cabinets and shred documents. They typically become disengaged in a matter of weeks and even if they stay for the summer, are unlikely to come back, let alone consider a full time position upon graduation. If that’s the kind of work you need done, consider a temporary contractor or part-time position and call it what it is. Calling it an internship is a disservice to the student as well as to the organization.