Podcast 011 Top 10 Indicators an Employee May Be a Flight Risk Part 2

In part two, we’ll cover the last seven questions you can ask yourself to identify if an employee may be a flight risk including waste, conflict, incentives, and silos.

Episode 011 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 security…

Heather McKee:              Hey podcast universe, thanks for tuning in. On today’s episode of The Modern Polymath, we’re going to give you Part 2 of the top 10 questions you can ask yourself to identify if an employee may be a flight risk. On the last episode, we introduced the three organizational villains.

Dr. Jon C.:                         They are kind of a… Almost a trilogy, in that you can have a lot of one and not a whole lot of the other two. But I kind of feel like competing priorities is one of the things that really creates the greatest challenge in terms of culture, organizational health.

Heather McKee:              For Part 2, we’ll cover the last seven questions. Discussing waste, conflict, incentives and silos. Today with us, we have Dr Jon Christiansen, John David McKee, and I’m Heather McKee. Let’s get these last questions started. All right, so fourth question you can ask yourself just to see as an indicator that one of your employees may be a flight risk, is how much control does the employee have over their day, and week, and their ability to meet deadlines?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So this gets back at performance. And this is one of my favorite lines of all time, “In today’s episode of this could have been an email.” So those of you… There’s no way you’re listening this and not had that meeting that’s like, “This could have been an email.” I did three this week that way out of four meetings. So Harvard Business Review, put out a meeting calculator to show how expensive that meeting you were having was. Basically you take the people in it and then you assign the annual salary and how much time. And I’ve done a few of those. Meetings that the three of us have been in, and I’m just kind of looking around, “We haven’t really gotten anywhere and we’re four hours into this thing. I’m just curious how much this is costing us?” And you input everything, it’s like, “Wow, this is a couple grand right here. We better get something done.” Right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So, all right, let’s take an example. You’re a marketing manager. You have until Friday to roll out some new campaign. It’s Tuesday and remind you it’s due on Friday. But on Tuesday you have six meetings for a total of four and a half hours, on Wednesday seven meetings for six hours, Thursday five meetings for five hours. So at what point do you have time to do real work? So if you’re a manager and you’re sitting around thinking, “How many hours does it take for a quality product to come out of this at this level? And are we properly managing their time appropriately?” I’ve seen some really good managers go above their head to say, “This person doesn’t need to be involved in this.” It’s like, “No, I want them… ” “No, they don’t. This is a complete waste of their time. They were not hired here to listen to you yammer on about corporate vision and sales targets. They’re here to do this.”

Dr. Jon C.:                         This is an example of what’s called resource waste. The resource here that we’re speaking about is usually time, time is extremely valuable. And if it’s wasted performance is as well.

John-David M.:                Sure. Most employees are not going to stick around beyond the five o’clock range to get the work done that they should’ve been able to get done during the day because they were yanked into meetings left and right.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Or they’re terrified and they’re going to stay till 11 o’clock at night to get it done, because there’s just no other… Because it’s got to get done, right?

John-David M.:                Yeah.

Dr. Jon C.:                         We’ve all been-

John-David M.:                Yeah, we’ve all been there. But without control over that, it creates a pretty unhealthy culture.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah, and that also gets back to the process constraints. If I have to wait for all this to come in, I’m a resource waste right now.

John-David M.:                Yeah. [crosstalk 00:04:03]-

Dr. Jon C.:                         What am I doing?

John-David M.:                Yeah. Twiddling your thumbs.

Dr. Jon C.:                         And the worst thing you can do is sit there and actually start to prepare for it, and what you need comes in and it’s like, “Wow, I just actually have to undo what I did to do this properly.”

John-David M.:                Yeah.

Heather McKee:              All right. Here’s another question you can ask. How congruent are my employees KSAs with the job itself?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So we’ll first say KSAs, it’s an HR initialization for knowledge, skills and abilities. Any time they evaluate their company overall and what they’re lacking in terms of what they need to hire, they look at the collective knowledge, skills and abilities of a given team or their entire company to assess gaps. “What do we need to hire for?” Or the scarier thing, “Do we have too much of something?” So KSA waste, it’s just like that resource waste we talked about. If we have somebody that is a master programmer in deep learning and we’ve got them running social media reports on the number of people that clicked on a picture of a dog, I don’t think that person is going to last long.

John-David M.:                Right. Why did I acquire these skills?

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah. So yeah, it’s that funny question, “Wait, I went to college for this? I went to graduate school to do this. Really?” So essentially unused knowledge, skills and abilities can really leave employees feeling undervalued and ultimately faceless. And what’s funny is when we talked about how algorithms can help, you can run a program to look at the job postings that people are holding, bang it against their resume that they had. You can tell before the person walks in the door whether this is going to be a problem. Easily. You know, from an HR standpoint, from a manager standpoint, and what’s so funny is when someone gets into a job and it’s like, “I was hired to do this and I have not done that on a single day. All I’ve done is this.” Okay, well you better hope it’s where they wanted to go. Otherwise they’re going to go pursue what they wanted to do elsewhere. Because you’re seeing less and less of people saying, “Oh, I needed to stick around for one or two years.”

John-David M.:                Right.

Dr. Jon C.:                         People with real skill, they’ll get picked up in a hurry.

Heather McKee:              Question six, are employees suddenly avoiding conflict, or offering thoughts or ideas?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So the next two are going to be probably the most interesting in terms of pseudo-controversial. Because we talk a lot about conflict and then we’re actually going to talk about pressure. People think conflict is a bad thing. So let me kind of lay out a little bit of ground rules, a lot of the empirical studies that are doing, you know on the academic side, were finding that a moderate level of conflict is a very healthy thing. Without it, essentially employees are converging on group think. It’s like, “Yeah, everything’s great.” I mean you might have some harmonious times, but if there’s not some level of challenging, some you, “What are we doing here?” But if you got too much conflict, it’s chaos and you’re going to see that. You know, so that moderate level of conflict is healthy. Right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         And I like to give this example of a friend who was, a couple of years ago, he was a front end programmer. And the project lead who is his manager, he goes to him and says, “Hey, I think I have a new way to compartmentalize this code and streamline it. Make it a lot easier.” He knew that this manager was the one that wrote the original code. He’s basically going in to say in a very subtle way, “I think I’m better at your job.” And the guy looks at it and says, “Yeah, do you want to present this to the team later?” And he did. So basically what this gets at is a term called psychological safety. And what this means is if I’m an employee and I’m on a team or I have a manager or whatever, I need to feel like I can offer a thought or idea without fear of reprimand, without now being judged in a certain way.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Obviously there’s boundaries to this, but there should be no reason why somebody should be afraid to go to a manager and say, “Hey, I think I found a way to make this easier for our whole team.” Without that guy saying, “Oh, I see what you’re doing here.”

John-David M.:                Right. That should be a great thing, you’re going to make the organization better.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah. And that said, I mean, psychological safety can also be… It’s more subtle than we think. Hostile environments are really easy to spot, I think. But subtly suppressive environments are not. So as a manager, you do have to look around and almost kind of challenge your employees to say, “Do we really think this is the best way to do things?” And if no one’s saying anything, then you might have an environment that’s got some subtle stifling, or they could be burning out. But it’s something that you need to take control of.

Heather McKee:              All right, here’s another question. Are we exerting a moderate level of pressure and conflict among our employees?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So this is the next controversial one. We already talked about conflict. Now we’ve got pressure. “Ooh, we can’t put too much pressure on our people.” What does too much mean? Okay. None means I’m lulling myself to sleep, too much means I pretty much joined the Marine Corps, you know, when all I’m doing is I’m a marketing manager or whatever. So our studies have found that a moderate level of pressure actually is optimal. It’s ideal. I have to feel a little bit of burn on my back. And you can create this level of pressure and conflict by… I mean deadlines are part of that, and that’s why we talked about the process constraints, and communication incongruence, and those types of things. To make sure that you’re not putting people in… You’re not literally starting them, you know, on the five yard line. You know, you want to try and get them to the 50, and then let them get there the rest of the way.

Dr. Jon C.:                         But essentially that moderate level of pressure is something that’s going to foster employees and teams to essentially be more innovative, more creative. They’re going to be to the point where they have enough breathing room to say, “All right, not only are we going to be able to do this, but we’re actually probably going to along the way find a better process in which to do it.” Because if there’s no pressure to do it, no one’s got an incentive to do it. It’s almost like this is unwritten rule, incentive. The pressure to perform, but not like a fear culture to perform. Right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         And I’ll tack on another thing. Moderation really is what we’re getting out here. There’s a reason why you see gas stations, drug stores, grocery stores all across the street from each other. It’s the hoteling law. Basically what you do is you put everything as close to the center of traffic as possible. And that’s what this moderation really is accounting for. A moderate level of pressure is going to drive people toward a much greater performance than being on either pole.

Heather McKee:              All right, so another question that you can ask them as an indicator if an employee may be a flight risk is, is my employee focused on the rewards or the common goal?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So anybody that’s read Freakonomics knows that incentives work for a time, right? But now we get into this culture of expectation. If, I mean, we all know people that were given many things in life early on that expect that’s always going to be there. But all of a sudden you move the goalpost, and it’s like, “Wait, now what? You conditioned me a certain way.” So I remember reading a quote, I can’t remember where it came from, and I wish I did. But something to the effect of if a CEO sets a target, employees are going to find a way to get there. You might not like how they do it, but they’re going to do it, right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So you have to be cognizant of that as a manager. So if you’ve got this culture of expectation, it tends to foster a culture where employees focus solely on the rewards. So your path of growth favors vigilant efforts to perform tasks at a reasonable rate of accuracy, or efforts to enhance knowledge, skills or abilities. I’ll give another example here to tack something on. Let’s look at an entire sales culture. If I take sales person A and put them in location B, can I expect the same, better, or worse results? So in other words, does the environment impact this? What this is getting at is some form of justice.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So consumer studies show how much we value justice, and the same is said on the organizational side. But it’s got many faces, right? Employees care about justice and fairness, and how they’re treated, and how other employees are treated, as well as how their customers are treated. But more so about their performance, right? If they see other employees having an environmental advantages, we’ve seen this in retail environments where it’s, “Okay, well we’ve got 4,000 sales reps.” Maybe in pharma. Okay, why are the number one, four and 13 all in one specific metro area in the United States? Even when people are denying, “No, it’s just because they’re high quality.” Or, could it be that this is a high demand area for that drug? And they just, literally, they can’t write enough scripts for it and they’re just kind of leveraging the environment? All right. What if we took this person way down here and put them there? What do you think we could expect? Right?

Dr. Jon C.:                         Same can be said for if we’re selling credit cards. If that’s my goal. You have to think, all right, if I’m in the Silicon Valley, if I’m in Orange County, if I’m in Brooklyn… Some of the more affluent areas, some of the most expensive areas to live, right? Well, there’s going to be some level of association with, “I have a good credit rating, and I have all the cash in the world to get approved for a credit card.” But then you’ve got somebody in a rural area where credit ratings might be below the median. You might have some salesperson, that’s like driving apps at a rate of 3X, but they can’t get approved.

John-David M.:                Right.

Dr. Jon C.:                         All right, so that guy’s performance tanks because of it.

John-David M.:                They’re a victim of their environment.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Right. Right. So you know, meanwhile that the top salespeople are raking because of where they are.

John-David M.:                Yep.

Heather McKee:              Okay. Here’s another question. Is the employee siloing or trying to fight their way out of the silo?

Dr. Jon C.:                         So one of the greatest detriments to an organization is when employees selectively, or by design, operate from silos. What a silo is, essentially they’re put out on an island and they have very low situational awareness of what’s going on within the organization. They essentially over time become faceless, and usually only have interactions with the people that their only reason they have interaction with is for something directly related to what they have to do. But yet they could benefit so much from having more situational awareness of what’s going on in the team or throughout the organization because it’s, “Oh, I can collaborate with this person and make this so much better.”

Dr. Jon C.:                         What’s even worse, is we’ve seen opportunities where there are employee silos and you come to find out three people are doing the same exact job and no one knows. As a manager, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t know that, right? Then there’s the other side. You start to see an employee start to silo themselves. They’re trying to take themselves off of the island, or put themselves on an island, excuse me. Okay. What does that say? A number of things. It could be something about personality, they need to incubate. I tend to be one of these people. But the other side is they’re just looking to completely avoid the team, so it could be a psychological safety factor. It also could be that I just don’t really feel that I’m properly contributing to the team, so I’ve checked out.

John-David M.:                You don’t feel like you’re a part of the team.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Yeah.

John-David M.:                That’s consistent with any kind of retention. I mean you have to feel like you belong there. You have to feel like your role is vital, or your presence is vital, to the success. And if you don’t feel like you have that then, “Why am I even here?”

Dr. Jon C.:                         Right. And so here’s an interesting thing. So there was this… It’s out of Thinking, Fast and Slow, I think Danny [inaudible 00:16:19] did the study, Kahneman and Tversky. It’s something to the effect of comfort in a workplace. And they evaluated different things that made people comfortable, or uncomfortable. The number two thing that made people uncomfortable was being alone. Interestingly though, the number one thing was being in the presence of somebody that’s a superior. So like a hovering boss essentially.

Heather McKee:              All right, last question you can ask yourself as an indicator if one of your employees may be a flight risk, is are they taking an inordinary longtime to perform a task?

Dr. Jon C.:                         This is another one that kind of confuses people. Here’s what we’re getting at here. Think of the last time that you went to some event and you had no desire to be there. And now essentially what you’re doing is you’re stepping outside of who you are, and you’re putting on a performance. And what that’s doing is you’re actually acting on emotions that you don’t truly feel. And it’s a form of ego depletion. So cognitively what your brain is doing is it’s firing off in directions that it’s trying to fight against at the same time. And you’re stifling your natural emotions for other emotions. And in doing so, it actually completely depletes you, like 7 to 8x, at the level of your… Essentially it drains your willpower. And in doing that you’re worn physically, emotionally, spiritually, cognitively. All that to say, if people are acting like they’re working, that’s actually 7 to 8x worse than if they’re actually working. So if they have nothing to do, what are they going to do? Act like they’re working.

John-David M.:                Yeah. That takes a lot of work.

Dr. Jon C.:                         It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to do that. Just to stare mundanely at the same page, save it every 30 minute just to make it look like I’m actually working, but I’m not. So if you see this happening, eventually emotional suppression is going to set in. And this is where that whole, “I’m not challenged.” Thing comes in. Because when I’m not challenged, I’m just going to have to fake it until I make it, and I’m not going to make it. I’m going to wear… I’m going to take years off my life by doing this.

John-David M.:                And at some point you’re going to say, “All right, I’m done with this. This isn’t healthy.” And move on.

Dr. Jon C.:                         Right. So I want to conclude with this. As we mentioned, we run tons of models on trying to predict retention. What we find is that consistently across 14, 15 verticals. Student, employee, customer, what have you. Predicting happy people is very easy. Predicting those that will leave, often remarkably difficult, your predictive accuracy is usually not very good. And I love this quote by Tolstoy from Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What that means is there are usually a few things that sum up happy households, they have a few things common. But unhappy ones have… It’s usually a complex series of things that aren’t very easily explained.

Dr. Jon C.:                         So in doing that, let’s say you’re in this position, may be in HR, HR analytics, or even management. You can model this or even just evaluate this by flipping it. I love when what Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist, when he’d start his research agenda. He got so bored with people asking what makes people unhappy and depressed? So he said, “All right, why don’t I ask one over that question? What makes people happy?” Well, if we know and we’re telling you now that this is what… It’s much easier to predict, ask those questions, find those commonalities and rush to that. And then think about these 10 things that we talked about here, and how you might be able to control for some of those. And evaluate the level of importance it has about your team’s health, your individual employee health, but also your organizational health.

Heather McKee:              Well, we hope that we’ve accomplished our goal of providing you with those indicators you can use to assess your own organizational health. But if you’d like to learn more, 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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