Draft Day: Hiring for Immediate Impact



After each college football season ends, football players become eligible to apply for the NFL draft, the ultimate reward for years of commitment, practice, and hard work.  Most of these athletes have spent their last 2-4 years playing college football at an extremely high level.  Every action they have taken, positive or negative, has been heavily scrutinized by their coaches, fans, and potential employers in the NFL.  Draft day finally comes and all of the information gathered at combines, private workouts, and online performance assessments allow NFL teams to make their decisions on who the best fit will be for their organization.  TV reporters and analysts use lines like “This person has great potential down the road” or “This person is going to make an immediate impact”.  Sound familiar to what companies do when hiring new employees?

Don’t we, as leaders, wish that we had all of the information that is provided to an NFL team when making a decision on hiring?  For most hiring leaders, 4-6 hours is spent interviewing an individual.  The background data we have is extremely limited (most times only a resume and social media checks) and we have to determine whether the information gathered from the candidate will make them a good fit for the specific position and for the organization as a whole.  As leaders in this day and age, we have to hire the person who we feel is going to make an immediate impact within our organization.  We don’t have the time to settle for the employee who shows “potential” because leaders must show sustained team performance year in and year out.  Just like an NFL coach, if our team is not consistently performing to meet the goals of our organization, we can be quickly looking for a job just like a NFL head coach coming off a 3 win and 13 loss season.

In addition, hiring the wrong people can have a major financial and cultural impact. Turnover costs have increased dramatically over the last several years.  In a recent article discussing workplace turnover costs, turnover costs showed the following:

  • For entry-level employees, it costs between 30% and 50% of their annual salary to replace them.*
  • For mid-level employees, it costs upwards of 150% of their annual salary to replace them.*
  • For high-level or highly specialized employees, you’re looking at 400% of their annual salary.*

* http://www.zenworkplace.com/2014/07/cost-employee-turnover/

Do you need 8 quarterbacks on your team?

The most successful teams, whether in business or in sports, have role players.  An NFL team each year will evaluate their current team and draft based on needs.  If an NFL team has a great quarterback, more than likely, they will draft for another position such as a lineman to block for them of a running back to carry the ball.  This same process holds true with hiring in business.  The most successful business teams I have seen are comprised of a diverse group of personality types and internal motivators.  Determine what each specific job will require to be successful, including past performance and ability to work with others.  Seek complementary talent and look to hire people who bring something different to your team (but do not settle for anything less than a 5 star recruit).  I have seen sales leaders not hire candidates who have the ability to be great in the present role because the individual does not show the potential to be a manager or trainer long term.  Losing sight of the position you are hiring for right now may lead to poor performance and decreased team dynamics.

What can you do to prepare?

Here are some areas to focus on to “draft” the best possible candidate for your open position:

  1. Work on your listening skills.  Leaders spend a lot of the time questioning candidates.  The information you gather is the most important part of this process.  Listening is a skill that is extremely important in sales and recruiting, yet is very rarely worked on in training.  Spend time with your leaders and trainers on a listening skills course and work to develop this extremely important but under appreciated skill.  Listening is a trait that will make someone a better leader,  a more complete sales person, a more caring spouse…pretty much any role that each of us play in our daily lives.
  2. Always have someone else join you in the interview process.  This is a great way for you to gain someone else’s point of view during the interview.  A candidate will respond to a question, and two interviewers will have differing perspectives on the response.  This is also a great way to empower current members of your team and work to develop them as future leaders.  At the end of each interview, compare notes on responses, energy levels, body expressions, and any other characteristics noted while conducting the interview.
  3. Have potential candidates spend a full day with a successful member of your team.  There is nothing worse than hiring a person and six months later looking to hire again for the same position.  This can occur because the candidate told the interviewer what they wanted to hear during the interview process (new leaders are commonly interviewing candidates without receiving any formal training).  Often times though, a new hire is not prepared to handle the day-to-day requirements of the position because they were not fully aware of what the job entailed.  Always have a potential new hire spend a day in the life of the job they are interviewing for.  Give them the ability to ask real world questions of the trainer or the current employee responsible for this “job shadowing” day.  As a result, you will insure the candidate knows exactly what the job will require.  Additionally, the candidate may let their guard down and reveal information to a potential peer that helps determine whether they are going to be a good fit or not.
  4. Don’t get too caught up in “brag books” or reference checks. I am not saying these two interviewing tactics are not important.  However, I have never seen a brag book that shows a candidate’s development areas.  In addition, I have rarely called a reference that did not have glowing things to say about the candidate (have 2-3 specific business related questions to ask the reference).  Instead, I ask each candidate for the last 2-3 annual performance reviews to gain a true measure of the past performance of the candidate and the skills or enablers they also bring to the job.

Hiring is one of the most difficult aspects of a leaders’s job.  The overall process has to be a good fit for both the candidate and the company to move forward in the process. Remember the candidate is interviewing the leader and company just as much as the interviewer is determining if the candidate will be a good fit.  And in the digital world we live and work in, your individual character and your company’s reputation are constantly being scrutinized and discussed on message boards and hiring websites.  Take the time to prepare for each interview and create a professional environment, even if you know you are not going to move them forward in the hiring process.  Making good hiring decisions and on-boarding new hires effectively will make your job as a leader much easier, decrease the stress associated with an open position, and hopefully allow you to lead a “Super Bowl” caliber team.


The Easiest Conversation You Should Have


At the end of each year, most leaders will receive an e-mail from their HR department titled “Annual Performance Review Schedule”.  The first lines of the document usually always read “It’s that time of year again…”.  Every leader then begins to think of the time they must spend during the final month of the year writing performance appraisals for each of their employees.  Hours are spent thinking back on an employee’s behavior over the last 12 months, and how they performed as an individual, as a team-mate, and as an employee of the organization.  An Annual Performance Review should be the easiest conversation a leader should have with their employee, if the leader has appropriately managed this process over a 12 month period.

*Some companies are moving away from an annual performance review process, which will be the subject of a future posting and something I totally support.  Discussing a person’s performance should be a regular conversation! 

Setting Expectations Early and Often

Most organizations follow a scoring method for annual reviews, whether you use numbers (1-5 with 5 being the highest) or terms (Below Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations).  Each year, an effective leader must define what these terms mean and what performance looks like to earn a specific rating.  For instance, a “3 out of 5” might equal “Meets Expectations”, which is a good score and demonstrates that an employee is meeting the expectations of the company.  However, some employees will view a “3 out of 5” score as a “C” grade and think they are not performing at a satisfactory level.  Whatever your company’s criteria are, you must make sure these definitions are clear and consistent among all employees.

Effective leaders also do not wait until the end of the year to review the competencies and scoring systems with their employees.  Some leaders make a point of conducting monthly or quarterly job performance reviews with their employees, which are a scaled down version of the annual performance review.  This “Scorecard” approach will lend itself well to the final Annual Performance Review.  Additionally, this approach works well with employees who are struggling with their current job responsibilities.  Sometimes, a leader will avoid having difficult conversations with their direct reports, but by conducting these mini performance reviews throughout the year, these conversations become natural and expected.

No Surprises

If you have been an effective leader to your employees throughout the year, there should not be any surprises or difficult discussions when it comes to delivering the annual performance review to an employee.  The comments a leader shares in any review should consist only of:

  1. Topics that have been specifically discussed with the employee throughout the year and/or documented in the communications to the employee
  2. Items that the leader has personally witnessed and not “rumors” or second –hand information *
  3. Facts about an employee’s performance (No Opinions) *

*If there are rumors you hear about an employee’s performance or if you wish to share your opinion with an employee about a certain area of concern (supported by specific facts), an annual performance review is not the time to have these conversations.  Address these topics immediately and do not let them become a distraction throughout the year.

If leaders follow these 3 simple guidelines to the comments you share with an employee during their annual review, the conversation should lead to a mutual agreement on both past performance and future expectations.

Ideas on How to Plan for the Easiest Conversation You Should Have

  1. Talk with your employee at the beginning of the year and review the annual performance process with them. Discuss the competencies they will be rated on, the scoring system (with definitions) your organization uses, and what your expectations are.
  2. Have your employee write down their goals for the year on a sheet of paper and make two copies, one for the manager and one for the employee. Then, share their goal sheet with them during the annual review.  I know many organizations are moving to online forms for goals.  However, an employee is usually more accountable when they see their goals in their own hand-writing.
  3. Setup appointment times with your employees throughout the year to discuss their performance. Use a scaled down version of your annual performance form and rate them on the time period you agree to.  For instance, if you choose to discuss this process on a quarterly basis, your conversation in April should relate to their performance from January to March.
  4. Never use the word “I” in evaluating any person’s performance. It should be understood that the scoring comes from the leader.   “I think you could improve your overall communication” could be re-phrased to “Improved communication with your peers will help lead to more sustained performance”.
  5. Employee goals and areas of development should be aligned to business objectives. If an employee has a goal that does not lead to improved company performance or increased productivity, then you risk creating a mis-aligned work environment. Company Morale and Corporate Culture are two of the main reasons why an employee will stay or leave an organization, and tying employee’s goals with company objectives can lead to keeping your best employees engaged.
  6. These review sessions should be a conversation between the leader and the employee. Too many times, these reviews become one-way conversations with the leader doing all of the talking and the employee doing the listening. Give the employee a task before each meeting (Self-Review, ideas to improve performance, personal goals, etc…) and have them start off the meeting with these topics.

Annual Reviews are conversations for the leader to not only share past performance, but to setup an employee for future success.  The tone and delivery that a leader utilizes during these conversations can lead an average performer to become an exceptional employee.  However, if not handled appropriately, these meetings can take an outstanding employee and de-motivate them, resulting in reduced employee engagement.   Make sure your annual review process is a twelve month journey versus a one month crash course…your employees will appreciate the effort you take towards their development.

Cliché Managing and Why to Avoid It


Cliché : Something, most often a phrase or expression, that is overused or used outside its original context, so that its original impact and meaning are lost. (source: wiktionary) 

Most of us have witnessed this scene before.  A manager and one of their direct reports do not see eye-to-eye on an issue at large, whether performance or behavior based.  The conversation between the employee and their manager is heading towards a non-productive outcome when the manager states, “You know what, It Is What It Is” (I refer to this as IIWII syndrome.)  Coaching and counseling sessions should be dialogs, not monologues, and managers who suffer from IIWII syndrome will turn most coaching sessions into a one way conversation.

There are many clichés used in sports, business, and the entertainment world.  When we see people use clichés in these forums, usually they are trying to avoid a difficult topic or not wanting to answer a question for fear of repercussions.  As a member of the viewing public, we can see right through these cliché’s and realize that a vague response does not offer much value to either member of the conversation.

Are we being effective with our coaching and counseling if we consistently use clichés to lead others?  Here are some examples of clichés used in the management world and reasons to avoid them:

  1. “It is what it is” – There are times and places to use this quote, but this term is extremely overused when trying to gain buy-in from a direct report.
  2. “Take it to the next level” – Managers use this quote when they are not sure what the next level is or should be.
  3. “Let’s think outside of the box” – This one really confuses me. How big is the box?  If I think outside of this box and provide a solution, does that solution go into the box? Is there room in the box for more ideas?
  4. “At the end of the day…” – Unless you are talking about a specific action to be completed at the end of a specific day, this quote should be used sparingly.  I have even heard this used with IIWII.  “At the end of the day, it is what it is”.
  1. “Cross Functional Experience” – Just because someone has worked in many different departments, it does not necessary mean they were good in those roles. Remember that experience does not equal proficiency.

I am sure there are many other clichés that are used in management and would love for you to e-mail me your favorites at jfkitson@gmail.com

Cures to Cliché Managing:

Cliché Managing is often used when a manager is not confident in their abilities to lead the individual.  Managers must understand their direct reports and what motivates them in order to effectively lead the individual to meet and exceed their goals.  Each of the 5 quotes listed above can be re-worded to provide more specific clarity to a coaching conversation.  Let’s provide you an example from #2 above.

Cliché Manager: “I am ready for you to take your career to the next level.”

Non-Cliché Manager: “In your development plan for this year, you mentioned your career interests include a move into our training department.  Over the last several months, you have participated in meetings with several department leaders, and helped mentor new hires.  As a result of your efforts, you have my support to apply for this new position.  If you get this position, I know it will be a great next step in your career”.

Tips to Avoid Cliché Managing:

  1. Make sure you are specific with your questions concerning what motivates your employees. People may say they are motivated by money, but their internal motivator is having money to pay bills, buy a new car, provide for their family, etc.  Money and Recognition are not what motivates people.  The true motivator is what an individual does when they have money or receive recognition.  Find this out for each direct report before having coaching discussions, especially for your newer employees.
  2. Develop a pre-call plan before your next coaching conversation. We always ask sales representatives to have a pre-call plan before a sales meeting.  Managers need to do the same thing before working with their employees.  Review the employees file, review their career interests, and know their personal information.

There are times when clichés can be used in your development conversations.  Sometimes, we are presented with a challenging scenario that will require us to use clichés to manage others.  These cliché conversations should be the exception rather than the norm and the most effective leaders are the ones providing specific direction to their employees to help them achieve their goals.  So, don’t be afraid to take your coaching to the next level…be all you can be and push the envelope to create win-win situations for your employees. (4 clichés in one sentence!)

Always Learning Leader


“Well Done is Greater than Well Said”

I have been a leader of individuals for more than 20 years…At 25 years old, I was given my first managerial job…and I was not good at it.  I was an ineffective general manager of both individual contributors and other managers.  I was unable to effectively communicate because I felt managing others was all about my interests and not about the people working for me.  I did not set clear goals, did not invest time in other’s interests or development, and did not act with a sense of humility, integrity, or accountability.  I look back on those years and realize how much I needed to learn…and how important it was to transition from being a manager to being a leader.

I am starting this blog to routinely share my thoughts around leadership, both professionally and personally.  The one thing I have learned throughout the years is that leadership is a skill which needs to be constantly developed.  If you ask 10 people to discuss a leadership scenario, you will get 10 differing opinions and examples on how to handle. While some may handle situations “better” than others, we can all learn from sharing ideas and best practices and hopefully improve as leaders, whether we are leading teams of 5 or 500.  I am constantly learning from the people I interact with on a daily basis and growing as a leader in my organization and in my personal life.

My team has been rallying around the motto “Well Done is Greater than Well Said”.  My dad used to say that “actions speak louder than words” and I feel that there is no truer statement than this.  I hope the actionable items shared in updates to come will result in more effective leadership in your daily lives.

Well Done > Well Said