Hiring the Right People

September 3, 2017

Selecting the right people to bring into the organization is undoubtedly one of the most critical functions any supervisor has to perform. Bringing in a problem employee can set an operation back for months.

Most organizations have a set hiring process that needs to be followed, but normally the supervisor has a lot of latitude as to who gets selected. In making the best hiring choice, I believe it really matters what kind of function your group is called upon to perform.

First let me describe the most typical supervisory situation, where the job is a production function, like running an assembly line or a packaging operation.

In this situation, you want the group of individuals working as a team and with the ability to swap workers to different stations as the situation requires it.

It is a good idea to select people who will blend in well with the existing group from the outset. Select people who are similar in outlook and demographics so there will be less need to play referee down the road.

Have a specific program of cross training workers on each function, so there is maximum flexibility for backfill in case of absence or to accommodate peak loads in one part of the process.

The ideal set up for an assembly line operation is if each person can perform any of the functions equally well as another individual.

The logic is quite different if you happen to be supervising a group of people who have jobs with highly creative requirements, cognitive skills, or customer/supplier interfaces.

In this case, diversity is superior to a homogeneous group philosophy, and yet the temptation is strong to try and find people who match perfectly with the existing team.

I often hear a phrase that makes me cringe coming from the lips of these managers: “We want to hire someone who will ‘fit into’ our group.”

A lot of effort is expended in screening candidates with personality tests, multiple interviews, even role plays in order to determine that the new hire will be similar in thinking to the existing team. I think this is a big mistake, if the work to be done requires a high degree of mental capability.

It is often the maverick or even rebel among a group of people who comes up with the genius solutions to problems or creates entirely new streams of income.

When we seek to have everyone “fit in” we lose the potential for diversity of thought that is a major part of the creative process.

When creativity is a significant aspect of the work, you do not want a team of people where everybody looks, thinks, and acts the same. A room full of clones may look reassuring to the boss, but it is not the pathway to peak performance, unless you are running a production line operation as described earlier.

Obviously, it is a good idea to avoid putting a person on the team who is a total misfit, is disruptive, or always brings up a contrary point of view, creating dissent. Instead, try to foster a mixture of ideas and points of view when hiring new team members.

As the supervisor, you need to pay special attention to the team dynamics and interplay during the time when a new person is settling in.

The team will eventually morph into a way of operating that takes the newcomer into account, but it may take quite a while, and you may not be happy with the new equilibrium if you let it happen naturally.

My rule of thumb is to double your interface time with the team when they are assimilating a new person. Doing this teambuilding is your best way to have a good result.

Recognize that each time you bring a new person onto an existing team, there is an adjustment period where new team norms are established. It is the old familiar Bruce Tuckman Model (1965) of forming, storming, norming, and performing that always occurs when there is a change in personnel on the team.

Expect this pattern and help the team work through the phases efficiently. When the team expresses frustration with the storming phase, point out that it is perfectly normal for a team to go through and ask the group for patience. Point out that when the team figures out what rules they want to play by, the stress will go down again.

The first few weeks, or even days, are critical to bringing a new member onto an existing team. I will deal with some tips for the onboarding process next week.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

Trust and Development of People

September 12, 2015

There are many things leaders need to do to build a culture of high trust. One important concept is to continually develop their people.

When people see a pathway to higher capability, their work is more interesting and rewarding, so they become more engaged in it.

In high development organizations, people trust the managers to improve their lot in life by making them more valuable to the organization. They recognize the company’s investment in growing them, and they naturally return the favor by applying themselves further to their work.

There is a solid correlation between development of people and the level of trust an organization can achieve with the work force.

Development of people also creates low employee turnover because employees are happier. Here is a prime example of the connection.

Wegmans is a grocery chain in the northeast United States that is based in Rochester NY. This private organization has been on the list of top 100 companies to work for in America every year since 1998, often scoring in the top 10, and won the top slot in 2005.

I am familiar with this company because I live in Rochester. They have worked for years on developing a culture of high trust. They do this through numerous methods championed by their late founder, Robert Wegman.

One hallmark of Wegmans is that they are fanatical about the development of people. It is not the only underpinning of their culture, but it is an obvious pillar of why they are so successful.

People are cross trained, which adds variety and substance to their employment. It also creates bench strength.

A side benefit is that the employees themselves become the teachers, which means that they learn their own jobs better as they teach the process to others.

As a result, Wegmans has extremely low employee turnover: significantly lower than 10% percent in an industry that normally suffers high turnover of about 40% per year.

Colleen Wegman, the current CEO of Wegmans, was asked how she can afford to do so much training in the low margin grocery business. She replied that the money they save by having lower turnover dwarfs the training costs.

Exercise for you: Take stock of how much development you are doing in your organization. Benchmark companies spend more than $1500 per employee and provide more than 50 hours of training each year. If you are doing less, think about increasing that amount.

Every organization I have seen wants to improve employee satisfaction. Managers work feverously on various techniques aimed at making the workplace a better place for the employees.

Not too many organizations recognize that developing people is one of the best and easiest ways to improve employee satisfaction.

Low trust groups think of training in terms of a burden: like compliance with mandated safety training. That mindset is counterproductive and simply overlooks a prime method of creating a great culture.

If you are interested in developing more trust in your organization, consider making larger investments in the development of employees. It is one of the hallmarks of an excellent organization.


The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517

Don’t be Opaque

July 24, 2011

I was giving my talk on Trust and Transparency for a group recently, and the host had an interesting twist on transparency. He said that he knew certain members of management who were expert at being “opaque.” I really liked the use of the word opaque, which is the opposite of transparent. For this article, I wanted to explore the different forces operating on a manager which may lead to higher opacity and how being opaque destroys trust.

Fear that people will become enraged

If there is bad news in the offing, the managers might be concerned about letting the information out early because of fear of retribution or sabotage. If it becomes known that people will be losing jobs, then some people might (wrongly) feel there is not much to lose. Of course, there is a lot to lose any time we burn bridges with people: especially former employers.

My experience is that if people are treated with respect and dignity, even if the news is draconian, the vast majority of them will act like adults and actually be appreciative of the transparent information far in advance so preparations for a logical transition can be made. I have witnessed workers keeping a good attitude and being productive during a layoff process right up to the final hour at work and leaving with sadness coupled with dignity.

What really infuriates workers is to find out about a discontinuity on the day of the announcement, when they realize it has been in the planning stages for months. In that case, you might expect someone to throw a monkey wrench in the gears on his way out the door.

Using lack of perfect plans as an excuse

Managers often do not want to divulge information because the plans are not 100% set in stone. They reason that some information will lead to questions that cannot be answered, so they wait until all the details are known? One could always make that excuse, and yet people tolerate lack of specific details better than being kept in the dark wondering about the big picture.

Plans are always subject to revision, so it is far better to involve employees when the plans are not yet firm, because they would have the opportunity to help shape the future, even if only slightly. That involvement in the process normally leads to a higher level of acceptance in the end than if employees are kept in the dark then mouse-trapped with the bad news at the final moment.

Financial Embarrassment

Often in a transition, it becomes obvious that the people making the plans are the “haves” and the people impacted in the organization are the “have-nots.” Total transparency would mean that workers become painfully aware that they are being abused financially while the bosses are taking down huge stock options or other seemingly lavish benefits. Managers would rather not have everyone in the organization know their incentive packages or the size of their golden parachutes. It is just too embarrassing. While this reason to be opaque is actually reasonable, it does raise a huge caution flag. If management is hiding things they would be embarrassed about, isn’t there an ethical breach that needs to be addressed?

Another form of embarrassment that leads to opacity is that people may find out that the managers they work for are actually clueless. They do not know what they are doing, and are “winging it” on a daily basis. If everyone was aware of the stupidity of some corporate decisions, the managers might be subject to a lynch mob mentality among the troops. Since it is pretty difficult to “cure stupidity,” the only recourse is to figuratively hang the bastards out to dry once their lack of IQ or EQ becomes known.

Wanting to retain the best people

When there is bad news to share, it impacts everyone in the organization. The best people will have the greatest opportunity to pick up a job elsewhere for similar or even better pay and benefits. The dregs of the organization have less opportunity to go elsewhere, so if management lets out too much information too early, they are likely to end up keeping the people they want to lose and losing the people they wish to keep. Opacity seems like a strategy to forestall the exodus of needed top talent. Of course, this logic ignores the fact that the best people will be even more likely to leave once it is revealed they have been duped all along. Trust is built when information is shared freely and openly.

Needing time for cross training

Some managers will keep mum on an upcoming reorganization to allow a kind of preparation phase where people are cross trained on other jobs ostensibly for the purpose of building bench strength. Workers see through this ploy rather quickly, so the opacity cover is blown, and it becomes a kind of game environment for several months. The antidote here is to be transparent about cross training and have a continual process to keep skills broad and well sharpened. With that strategy, the need to be opaque about why training is being done vanishes, and people appreciate the variety as well as the opportunity to learn additional skill sets.

The other side of the coin

I do not claim that it is always bad strategy to be opaque in the face of changes. Usually there are legal restrictions on what information can be shared. Managers can go to jail if they divulge information about an impending move that will have a material impact on stock valuation. Also, it may be a disaster to have suppliers or the competition find out about a future move. Managers need to use good judgment as to when and how to divulge information. They also need to be aware that the rumor mill picks up on minute radar signals throughout the organization. It is not possible to truly hide the fact that “something is going on.”

When people are intentionally kept in the dark, they tend to make up stories of what is going on to fill the vacuum. The rumors are normally far worse than the action contemplated, so the beleaguered managers must do damage control on things that are not going to happen while trying to tiptoe around the truth. Trust is lost in such times because people feel managers are “playing games” with them.

My point is that it is far too easy to fall victim to some of the excuses or subterfuges mentioned above. It is usually wise to put a skeptical stance on any gag rule. Reason: Eventually the truth will come out, so any perceived advantage of not telling people is eventually lost along with the long-term damage to trust that comes with being opaque.

Merger Right Sizing

May 8, 2011

Where have all the people gone – long time passing?

When organizations merge or are acquired, there follows an unsettled time where the integration needs to happen. Ultimately the combined workforce will be sized to reflect the joined operation, but how does a wise organization get to that ideal state with the least amount of pain?
Sizing an organization following a merger is really no different from determining the correct size of any organization at any time. It is a matching of the work to be done to the resources available, all things considered. How we wrestle with the concept of “all things considered” is the tricky part. Let us look at some potential ways to determine the size of a work force and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Historical Precedence

If we look at the historical staffing levels of two separate entities and do some extrapolation, we can make an estimate of how large a workforce to have in each department following a merger. The danger here is that the newly formed entity is not really just the sum of the two previous separate groups. It is a completely different organization. For a time, it may be necessary to run heavier than desired as the old processes must exist in tandem with new ones being invented.

Listen to the Squawking

Some leaders like to gauge the level of staffing such that there is a reasonable level of complaints about not enough staff, but not an extreme level where people are starting to burn out, have health problems, or just leave for greener pastures. If there is no noise coming from the existing workforce, it means that people are “happy,” which some leaders interpret as also being “fat” and “dumb.” Some level of tension to scramble after tough goals despite running thin seems like a reasonable place to be. The caveat here is that regardless of how an organization is staffed, some percentage of the population is going to complain there are not enough people to do the work. Often these individuals are the same people who wander around about half of the time complaining to their co-workers that there is not enough time to get the work done.

Analytical Approach

As an example, say your combined organization has 517 people on the payroll. One way to look at the right size challenge is whether the organization would be worse off in the long term if there was either 518 people or 516 people onboard. If the answer is “yes” to both questions, then you have found the right staffing number. That sounds too simple, and it really is because it forces a kind of precision about what people are capable of in various venues that is just not available. Exactly who these people are and what capabilities they have is of critical importance. The calculation of a specific number would be impossible, but the logic behind the thinking process is sound. If you were able to approximate the thought process in each smaller unit, then it might be more practical to think this way.

Consider the level of cross training

The use of training time and activity as a buffer for workforce size issues has many benefits. In an article titled, “Cross Training The Miracle Cure,” I have documented some of the benefits of cross training as follows:

• Increased motivation among employees, that make them less likely to be absentees.
• Flexibility to operate efficiently in any other position. Handy for future restructuring or employee shifting, when needed.
• Personal bonds made between peers who cross train together and share ideas.
• Acquiring new skills leads to higher job security.
• Increased self-esteem and fun occur with learning different tasks.
• Trust between employee-manager increases.
• ROI (return of investment) compared to other training options is outstanding because timing of training can occur during slack times.
• A cross-training program teaches employees to maintain job processes well documented and easy to communicate.
• While cross-training occurs, new ideas for improved processes often surface.

By taking the opportunity to do more cross training, it may reduce the immediate cash benefits of running with the lowest possible number of people, but it may be a much better financial choice for the organization long term. As leaders seek to develop the workforce, people become capable of doing more and are able to pick up slack when there is an upswing in business.

Change the rules and the functions

It might be possible to improve the top line by putting more feet on the street. Employees who previously worked in Accounts Receivable, for example, might have the connections to be deployed as additional sales resources. When there appears to be an excess of resources, it is a great time for a leader to get creative with what is possible in terms of changing the game rather than just getting out the axe.

Percentage Reduction

Probably the least creative and interesting way to configure the size of an organization is the one most often used by corporations. Somebody takes a look at the Income statement and decides we need to cut 15% across the board. The level is arbitrary, but it takes on a kind of legitimacy as managers throughout the organization strive to meet the bogey. It can be counterproductive because it penalizes groups that have historically run lean since the percentage cuts are normally spread evenly.

Experiments with Contract Labor

Many organizations have gone to a different model where the control mechanism is not how many employees are on the payroll but what percentage of temporary or contract workers are onboard. Having the ability to throttle up or down on the number of contract workers allows much more flexibility than the hire and layoff model of earlier times. Because acquisition costs are lower for contract workers, and with the ability to let them go without penalty, organizations can experiment with several different staffing strategies in reaction to differing market or competitive conditions. Unfortunately, the downsides of running with a hybrid workforce are so numerous this topic deserves a separate article. Whenever contract workers work side by side with full time employees on similar tasks, the atmosphere is ripe for conflict and lower trust. It is best to separate functions so that contract people are doing different work from full time employees and to have policies in place that ensure contract workers can feel fairly treated.


Wayne Gretzky made the following observation about his success in ice hockey, “I always skate to where the puck is going to be.” Doing good research about factors governing the size of needed workforce can allow time to right size the organization in a way that has little disruption. It is when we are caught off guard by a major recession like 2009, or experience a huge windfall of business due to the demise of a competitor that we become frantic about being way out of line relative to current conditions. Colin Powell said, “Great leaders have the ability to see around corners.” Good organizations are constantly asking “what if” type questions.

Having the right size of workforce is very much an art. Doing it well involves a consistent approach, a strategy, some training, and lots of practice. Sometimes it involves high risk, and other times it is a routine activity. Getting and keeping control of this HR process is particularly important during a merger or acquisition when all economic and human factors are up for negotiation. Making good decisions during these times is essential for the survival of the organization.