Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Hindsight: People Join Organizations but Leave Their Managers

"We cannot tell employees, "You are the most important part of the [organization]" and then put bad supervision in front of them. If we have bad supervisors, take them out of the job immediately."
- Errol Davis Jr. Taken from: 50 Lessons: Hiring and Firing (Lessons Learned). 2008.

There are three key ideas from "An Inconvenient Renewal" that particularly resonated with most readers: one that I discuss in the section on the barriers to renewal, another that I discuss in the section on levers of renewal, and a third which is the point of this entire section - the notion that people join organizations but leave their managers. I'm definitely not the first person to make this statement, but in the context of the public service it seems that it's the first time it is getting the acknowledgment it rightfully deserves.

Although most people agree in theory with the notion that people leave their managers and we need to rectify that, it seems that public servants (supervisors in particular) either don't fully grasp what's required to turn things around or are ill-equipped to do it.

One such example is the on-boarding experience of new hires where we typically over-promise and under-deliver. The high expectations created by the former only exacerbates the gap with the reality of the latter. In the past two weeks alone I have met four new hires who were offered the world on a silver plate by public service recruiters at a job fair, and ever since they have accepted jobs with the public service they feel they are totally left in the dark. They haven't begin their job yet that they are already starting to harbour ill-feelings towards the employer, a sure sign of things to come. Retention begins on Day One (actually, even before Day One...).

The first day, first week, first month, and even the first year in the job can leave a lasting impression on the new hire. One thing I will try to push for in my department in the upcoming months is to implement a formal on-boarding process which would include:
  • Providing peer support to new hires before their arrival;
  • Delivering all the mandatory and required training in the first weeks on the job;
  • Job-shadowing managers and colleagues to all their meetings for the first 3 months in the job.
  • Etc.
It is ambitious, but at the same time I am convinced that this is something where we can have the greatest bang for the buck. Whatever cost there is (i.e. lack of direct productivity while the new hires follows managers to meetings) should be assessed against:
  • The cost of not doing it;
  • The gains in learning and development;
  • The level of effectiveness in the job at the end of those first three months;
  • The long-term retention of top talent (see "In Hindsight..." in "Conclusion" for more on this).
We often hear about the importance of recruitment and talent retention, but seldom (if ever) ask the employees what they want, what they need and what will keep them with us. My organization has hired quite a few new recruits in the past year. Approximately one month into the job, we administered a short "in-take" survey to our new hires. We asked them:
  • What’s the best experience you have had since you joined us?
  • How could we improve our on-boarding experience?
  • What's the # 1 thing we can do to make sure you're still with us in five years from now?
  • How do you play a role in this challenge?
  • How can you make a difference?
Some of the answers we received indicated that we were doing pretty good on some things, and definitely not as good on others. At least it provided us a starting point to improve our on-boarding process. Since then, we are getting a little better every time!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't express how much I agree with this section. I was fortunate enough to join a small group with a strong Director, but many of my friends in the NCR who are just coming out of their BA or MPA program certainly do not have positive things to say. Many have been relegated to the world of photocopying.

Perhaps more worrying is that on a regular basis, they receive the "You're new, you just don't understand" lecture if they suggest an idea -- this is if they are given the opportunity to speak at all.

I am curious, though -- would your model extend to coop placements? Further to that, is the current coop system effective (in terms of access from various programs, etc)?

My final thoguht has to do with retention, and what the Public Service can offer various recruits. It appears that the cost of many potential incentives has been shifted from the PSC to the individual departments. This certainly can be beneficial, if the department is willing to spend the resources. However, in a culture where cost-saving is key, I wonder if only a minority of departments are willing to put in the funding to provide incentives. With the "new" generation of employees, extra training (further eduation, language training, etc) would all act as good incentives. Are departments willing to provide these?