Podcast 010 Top 10 Indicators an Employee May Be a Flight Risk Part 1

We’ll answer the first 3 of the top 10 questions to ask yourself to identify if an employee may be a flight risk, all the while introducing the three organizational villains: process constraints, competing priorities, and information asymmetries. 

Episode 010 Top 10 Indicators an Employee May Be A Flight Risk Transcript

Heather McKee:              Welcome to The Modern Polymath where we discuss topics in technology, economics, marketing, organizational behavior, market research, human resources, psychology, algorithms, higher education, cyber …

Heather McKee:              Hey, podcast universe, thanks for tuning in. On today’s episode of The Modern Polymath, we’re going to give you part one of two covering the top 10 questions you can ask yourself to identify if an employee may be a flight risk. For part one, we’ll ask the first three questions, all the while introducing the three organizational villains: process constraints, competing priorities, and information asymmetries. Today with us, we have Dr John Christiansen, John David McKee, and I’m Heather McKee. Let’s get these questions started.

Dr Christiansen:              So where this whole idea came from and, in fact, it’s really extended itself because JD and I have done a lot of work in organizational health. In my early career when I thought I wanted to get into academia before I was knocked sideways. Otherwise, organizational health and OB organizational behavior, are really the big things I was focused on. So what was always interesting to me was we’ve run dozens, if not hundreds, of predictive models about customers, employees, students, faculty. All of the probability that they’re going to leave whatever position they’re, and they’re going to leave as a customer. They’re not going to return. They’re not going to purchase more products. They’re going to cancel their subscription. A student’s not going to return for a second year and employee’s going to leave after the third quarter. And it’s really quite challenging in many ways, and it’s a lot of some hidden layers about what goes on in the workplace that are pretty hard to uncover through observable attributes.

Dr Christiansen:              And where this really took interest in. We got interest from cfo.com and did an interview there. We’re doing a podcast later today with The Workplace Therapist about this specifically. What’s so interesting is this year in January alone, set the record for the quit rate. It was something like 3.5 million people quit their jobs in the month of January, 2019. So if you look at the underlying factors there, there is some statistical bias in that. Well, you’re unemployment rate is low and job openings are high, people are going to quit to pursue other jobs. And essentially if unemployment is low, it means there’s a greater market of people that can quit their jobs. Right. So obviously there’s some of that effect going on, but I think it was enough of a story for managers to really stand up and take notice because I think anybody that has ever managed people before. When we get employees that we know have a significant amount of value that end up leaving for another position, or usually what we’ve enjoyed is another career, is that’s tough. It’s tough to swallow.

Dr Christiansen:              Taking my days back and teaching in a human resource development program at Clemson, you would hear the same things in exit interviews, right? And I’ll read some of them. You’re going to hear I’m stifled, I’m not growing, or there’s really nowhere to go in mobility. So it could be, I’m not growing my skills, knowledge or abilities or I can’t get promoted any higher, or it’s going to take too long to get there. And, and we know now in the labor market, the way to move up is to move out. We’re seeing that and I know we’re going to cover that in another series, but… I’m overworked. We see this. What’s interesting is it’s not as easily observable as we think it is, I’m not challenged. You’re going to hear that a lot. I’m not appreciated and I’m not properly compensated.

Dr Christiansen:              So what’s interesting about those things is they have one thing in common. So I’ll read them again. I’m stifled, I’m not growing, I’m overworked, I’m not challenged, I’m not appreciated and I’m not properly compensated. All of those things have one thing in common. Ambiguity, they mean different things to different people. I can’t use any of these in a sentence that carries across something that I can take action on. So we don’t really want to talk about the underlying symptoms, if you will. We want to give managers, really anybody, to assess your own world. Are you doing this? Are you being a part of this? That might say, you might not be in a great environment for you. But for managers really to to take a look at this, because what we’re finding is dozens of studies have found that algorithms can over outperform trained professionals, and that’s in HR and everywhere else, right?

Dr Christiansen:              So do algorithms have some significant advantage over people. Of course they do because they can do computations substantially faster and have a lot more global availability in terms of the entire organization versus me looking at two or three employees below me that I can’t see all the world of what data might be captured in job performance or whatnot. But we do want to pull out some things that are from a lot of the professional and academic work that we’ve found to be consistent, not only in promoting whether or not an employee will stay and whether there’ll be satisfied and engaged, but also whether or not studies finding that they’re more likely to innovate and be creative. They’re more likely to accept greater challenges, to not go the way of diffusion of responsibility and just hey, let somebody else take care of that. They’re stepping up and taking responsibility.

Dr Christiansen:              They’re investing in themselves to grow into their role outside of the workplace. And these are things that you want to make sure you’re checking off kind of an almost like a minimum standard of negligence type thing in that we as managers need to flag these things if they’re happening and do something about it because ultimately we want to build cohesive teams. We want to build a strong culture and if we don’t, we’re probably, you’re probably not listening to this and we’re probably not going about it the right way and we’re not going to have a great deal of success.

Heather McKee:              Now here are the first three questions that you can ask yourself to figure out if an employee may be a flight risk. Question one, how much control does an employee have over their task and their ultimate goal meaning their performance?

Dr Christiansen:              So the keyword here is process constraints. And actually this is one of the top three things that healthy organizations work to limit. The idea is, and I’ll give an example from our consulting side, if I have to wait for other people to do their jobs before I can do mine, I am highly reliant on other people for me to perform. For example, we’ve done studies where we found that the IT department. Amongst six or seven departments within ops and HR and finance and whatever, the IT department is the one that has the greatest interdependency, meaning people need them. They have the highest level of need for what IT is. But usually people are rating them as their least satisfied and it’s because my performance is effected by whether or not my systems work, right. If I am in a position where business continuity is an issue, is a risk, that’s problematic.

Dr Christiansen:              So we’ve had times where we’ve consulted in building business intelligence units out and companies. And we find that in order for us to produce a final analytics report, we need people to get out of meetings, to come aggregate their financial data so that we can take this group over here, social media report data and integrate that in and calculate ROI and lift and all those things.

Dr Christiansen:              Okay. So I have to wait for those people to do what they need to do. I need to wait for those people who need to what they need to do. Oh by the way, I have to check and make sure it corresponds and then I have to do my job. And we had a lot of times in multiple engagements where it’d be a May 30th, June 30th deadline. It’s like this isn’t going to get met because you didn’t hand us anything until the 27th and that affects quality. And then what am I doing while I’m waiting? Right. Nothing. It’s idle time. When I have to rely on other people to do my job, I have a strong interdependency, but you don’t have that with me. Right? And that’s my process constraint. There’s tons of examples of this, but ultimately what you’re going to see as a manager, or you might be in this position yourself, your performance is often inhibited if you don’t have cohesion within the people you need.

Heather McKee:              All right, question two. How consistent are the messages we communicate and the expectations we set for our employees?

Dr Christiansen:              So this is of villain number two, competing priorities.

John-David M.:                All right, so the first one was?

Dr Christiansen:              Process constraints.

John-David M.:                The second one is?

Dr Christiansen:              Now competing priorities.

John-David M.:                And there are three organizational villains.

Dr Christiansen:              And this will be number two.

John-David M.:                Yeah, we’ll get to the third later.

Dr Christiansen:              So, well, the third is actually coming up next. So competing priorities are when we put our employees in positions where they more or less have rivaled choices. We’ve all been in this position and likely recently, and it can be a real challenge. So imagine that you’re a manager at let’s say, a rental car company. And I know Enterprise had been doing this, they created what they call a net promoter culture. Which is this idea where you want your customers to recommend you to friends, family, neighbors because of the experience that you’ve created for them. It’s a great concept. The measurement structure is a different story.

Dr Christiansen:              But what’s important about that is if I’m a customer at let’s say Enterprise and I am waiting in line at the airport to get my car and I notice that the employee that is taking record of the customer in front of me is working through his process and then the customer goes through the double doors and goes to get his car and whatnot. And I’m still standing there while this individual is typing in some type of information or whatnot. And is looking up at me occasionally and I’m just standing in line waiting. Here’s what I know is actually happening enough of the time. Maybe not an Enterprise, but I know this happens. We’ve seen this happen in banks, we’ve seen this happen in lots of retail environments very similarly. That individuals more than likely are cross checking the information of the customer they just entered.

Dr Christiansen:              And the reason is if that customer gets in an accident with the rental car or there’s some other issue that might come up, they need to be able to call into that rental car company and the rental car company should not have questions about who this person is, what kind of car they’re renting, what have you. So this individual is ensuring the accuracy of the data that they’re inputting, right.

Dr Christiansen:              Here’s the challenge though, it’s been very well documented across marketing studies, operations studies and the like that if you leave a customer waiting in a position where they feel like they shouldn’t be, satisfaction can pretty significantly decline depending on how long… And especially if you don’t give us something to do while we wait, right? So now this individual is stuck with a choice. Do I ensure inputting the accuracy of the information about that customer that just walked through the double doors? Or do I get to that next customer right away? And it’s a real challenge because it’s become now a competing priority.

Dr Christiansen:              So the question we have to ask as leaders and managers is how are we evaluating our employees in this specific context and are we doing it that is in alignment with our cultural frame? I’ll get a new example here in a minute. But the challenge is if that individual’s only evaluated on how that customer that’s standing in front of him felt the experience was good, bad or indifferent, then more than likely that individual is going to apply law of least effort. Because that tends to happen when we have competing priorities. When you put me in a situation where I have to choose, I’m either going to go law of least effort, or I’m going to go based on however I’m evaluated. So, and my evaluation is based on my net promoter score from the customers that come in front of me, then I’m going to shuffle them through and get to the next one because I’m not evaluated on whether or not the accuracy of that data is inputted and that becomes a risk now.

Dr Christiansen:              So in that context, what we have is an employee that has to make choices and they shouldn’t be put in this position because ultimately they need to have a pretty clear idea of what they’re doing. And it needs to be almost like prioritize lists. So now I want to talk about an institution that I feel does it right. And this comes directly from a podcast that we recorded on the Brandon Smith show, The Workplace Therapist. So I appreciate him filling in this idea for us. He talked about on the show how Disney and Magic Kingdom, the employees that work at that specific park have a set of rules. And the rules are actually structured this way so that the priorities are organized appropriately and it goes like this, safety, courtesy, show, efficiency, right?

Dr Christiansen:              So rule one, make sure everyone’s safe. That’s, okay, if we’re safe. Okay. Number two, make sure that the courtesy is there. Once that’s there, then you pretty much have the freedom to put on the show, right? They’re called the cast for a reason. And that’s why Disney does such a great job of creating these customer experiences because they don’t have the competing priorities. We’ve given you a very clear list. Right? So when in doubt, first look to safety, then apply the courtesy and then from there be the performer. And then after that, once you feel like the performance is in hand run the efficiency. Okay. So it’s a very clear ordering of, and very clear rule set that is, here are the priorities. What we don’t want to do, if Disney were doing it wrong, they would say something to the effect of here are four things we want to do, safety, courtesies, put on the show and efficiency.

Dr Christiansen:              Okay, well which one? No, they clearly know exactly what that order looks like and they’re evaluated accordingly. So we want to make sure that we’re establishing for our employees a very clear order in the decision tree about what the priority should be. And it should be consistent across everybody there. And in some part of that they should be able to check off, okay, now I actually have the freedom to perform in a way that fits me and fits what we’re all trying to do. Which is great about what they do because once you get past courtesy and now you’re at show, now I have the freedom to actually go and perform and have fun with the park visitors.

Dr Christiansen:              And let me add one more layer here and I spoke to some of this, but I just want to be a little bit more clear. Another layer to competing priorities is communication in-congruence and essentially what a lot of that is is we’re giving mixed messages that directly compete one against the other. And we’ve seen this a lot in retail environments. Let’s say you are managing, let’s say a bank. And your district manager, your regional manager, what have you, says, okay, we’re going to evaluate the manager based on the total sales performance of you, the branch manager. However, we’re going to evaluate all of the individuals at the teller line. Your mortgage rep, everybody else, on how they themselves are selling. Okay, well that’s tough because they need to work together because salesperson A needs to do referrals to the mortgage individual and the, the bank teller needs to be able to look at certain situations and say, “Hey, I think you need to speak to one of our customer service representatives.” Or what have you.

Dr Christiansen:              But now you haven’t given us a whole lot of incentive to want to do that. Now you’ve got a teller that’s going to try to make the sale themselves because that’s how they’re evaluated and this does happen. So now let’s say on the sales representative and my manager by the way saying we need to work together as a team and we need to, win as a team. That’s great if you’re set up appropriately to do that. But what you’ve just communicated to me is I’m only evaluated on my performance and I know I can control my performance, but I can’t do a thing about how the mortgage rep is doing and what have you. And if it was more integrated toward team, then everybody would work for the common goal because then those tellers would be looking for opportunities to refer individuals to me and then the manager’s more integrated into how to build an effective culture within that branch.

Dr Christiansen:              But if I’m the sales rep, the teller, the mortgage rep, I have no incentive to want to do that because I’m not evaluated on their performance. I can’t control other individuals. So if that total message is unclear and your manager’s saying, “Hey, let’s work together as a team.” It’s like, yeah, great if that works for me. But at the end of the day, the way I get evaluated and promoted or 3% raise, 10% raise, what have you is if I sell. Then I’m first and foremost going to defer to the rule that I first have to follow, which is ensure that I’m doing what I need to be doing. And that puts everybody in a really questionable position. And we don’t want to do that to people. Because you’re building an internal competing culture by competing priorities.

John-David M.:                And to your point on the team, if you think about it in a simplistic term, we all understand sports. Sports are built around teams. If Michael Jordan wasn’t incentivized to win championships and was only incentivized to score more points, he wouldn’t have stopped shooting so much and wouldn’t have learned to pass and wouldn’t have worried about that. And that’s the point of a team. You have people that pass the ball, they rebound, they kick it back out. If the only incentive you have is say scoring points, all anybody’s going to be doing is thinking about themselves and putting up shots. They’re not going to be worried about boxing out and rebounding and things like that.

Heather McKee:              So third question, that could be an indicator that employee might be a flight risk or question to ask yourself is, do our employees have all the information they need to effectively do their job? Great question.

Dr Christiansen:              So the last thing you want to hear an employee say… You don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback. And what I mean by that is, man, I wish we would’ve known that. You have to give your people the rules, right? They have to know what kind of parameters they have to work with. So this is what’s called information asymmetries. When some source has more information than I do that I might need. There’s a barrier there.

Dr Christiansen:              So the most applicable example that doesn’t necessarily correlate to organizations per se, but it does get it what we’re talking about. The reason they created lemon laws for used cars was the car dealership and the car salesman knew whether or not the doors were going to fly off after a thousand miles. And that became a significant issue. So what it did was even the playing field between buyer and seller so that the seller knew whether or not they were buying a complete lemon versus otherwise.

Dr Christiansen:              So now let me take that into context to organizations and how it can go right, how it can go wrong. This isn’t completely avoidable a lot of the time. So the NFL right before the draft, when they’re evaluating college players and what have you, they are able to contact trainers and head coaches and assistant coaches and the guys who recruited them and actually do homework on players that they’re thinking about drafting. And one of the things that I know comes up a fair amount is, all right, we know it’s documented that somebody had injury because injury reports come out. I don’t think the rules are what they were a few years ago because I think they amended them since where you don’t have to issue one. But it’s still done as more or less a courtesy.

Dr Christiansen:              So an NFL scout will get his injury reports and say, okay, I’m going to get in touch with the training staff to see how serious this is. And the reason is that training staff is with this player every day. They know, okay well the records might say this, but I know it’s more nagging than it might give itself credit for. So the scouts know the questions they need to ask to figure out whether or not this health concern is a health concern or if it’s something that isn’t necessarily that way. But where the barrier is, is they’re not the ones that can go in and directly evaluate this player with their own trainers every day. So they have to borrow the information that they can. Now imagine if they couldn’t do that. If they had to draft blindly, you have no idea whether or not this quarterback I’m about to draft blew his ACL last week. You don’t know. So imagine how much risk that could be when you’re doing mega million contracts in that scenario.

Dr Christiansen:              All right, so let me back and give you a framework for where information asymmetries can really be a significant deterrent for growth and creativity, but also add a layer about how you can capitalize on it. So in colleges and universities, one of the biggest challenges that are out there that we see are departments in enrollment management, which tend to be admissions, financial aid, student affairs, if they’re involved, what have you. They’re all doing their jobs and are not doing a whole lot of integration about what they’re doing. Which becomes a real challenge because if I’m a student or a parent and I’m applying into this institution, I talked to my admissions counselor and once I get in, they’re not concerned anymore. Or a recruiter or what have you be all right, so I need financial aid or I’m applying for scholarships. Well that’s financial aid’s problem. Let them worry about that.

Dr Christiansen:              Well, here’s the problem with that. If I’m a recruiter and I worked in the admissions department and financial aid has become a major factor in how I’m recruiting, and I say, well, we have this merit scholarship that’s out there that you can apply for and our acceptance rate is, let’s say, 65% for people that meet the criteria that you have. So you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting it. Oh well financial aid has changed the rules because the money’s not there that used to be, so we can’t do that anymore. So if that admissions counselor or recruiter doesn’t know that, they’re essentially, they’re lying to somebody. But they don’t even know that they’re doing that because they’re borrowing from the trends that they’ve already been using for however many years. All right, so that can be a pretty egg on face situation.

Dr Christiansen:              But the ones that do it right are the ones where all free flow of information and you create shared situational awareness around what everybody’s doing in their department. So a couple years ago there was two major considerations. One was in financial aid called Prior Prior Year about how financial aid was evaluated. But the big thing was the SAT change. So admissions and the like had no real trend on what scoring was going to look like and whether or not an 1100 or 1200 was good or not good. So they were borrowing from college board about what this looks like. But the reality is when you look at what that does for financial aid in the criteria and what have you, everybody’s got to be on the same page about that. And we saw several instances where they weren’t an enrollment numbers came in really negatively than others, where they finally said, all right, we got to integrate this.

Dr Christiansen:              Enrollment management isn’t a complete siloed institution within an institution. It needs to be a fully integrated system with systems thinking about how to make that work. Otherwise we’re going to be enrolling students we shouldn’t be enrolling because we just told them that they get a certain level merit aid or not. And now they’re not going to show up because you didn’t give it to him even though you said you did.

Dr Christiansen:              We as managers and leaders need to have a global view of what our goals are so that we know how to properly distribute our communication messages about who needs what and when. We don’t want to email bomb everybody, but we need to be very clear about, oh well that’s financial aid’s problem. No, it’s not. Because admissions has to leverage what financial aid is doing in order to communicate A, the correct message and B, the right sales for that. And we don’t want to start them on the five yard line on their own five yard line when there’s no reason that should be the case. If you unsiloed everybody and put them in the right position to have all the right information and an execute on that information appropriately.

Heather McKee:              But we’ll close out part one there and pick back up with the remaining seven questions in the next episode where we’ll discuss resource waste, incentives, silos, and conflict. Don’t forget, you can always find our in depth content for this episode and all things we discuss on the podcast at our website, insandouts.org. Catch you later.

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