Five signs of employee engagement

As I mentioned in a previous post, “employee engagement” is arguably one of the most misunderstood terms among managers, as it often gets confused with employee happiness. In reality, engagement should measure how much an employee’s goals and values and those of your company are aligned. If they are well aligned, you have a foundation to hold each other accountable. Engagement without accountability, on the other hand, is bound to result in entitlement.  

What signs can you look for in order to determine if an employee is truly engaged? Note that just because someone is not exhibiting all of the behaviors listed here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are disengaged, but these are some positive signals.

They take an interest in what’s going on in the company as a whole

An engaged employee tends to consider themselves as part of the entire team, not just as a member of their department. They are genuinely interested in learning about the company strategy and how the different arms of the company support it. They may read daily and weekly updates in Slack, attend product demos and/or marketing webinars, and subscribe to the company newsletter and blog.

They participate

An engaged team member ensures that they participate in discussions if they have something valuable to contribute. They try to avoid multitasking when interacting with others. While I recommend making it clear that nobody is expected to participate in every volunteer activity or team building activity, you do want to talk to team members who are not regularly participating in much of anything so you can determine why that is. 

They seek information and feedback

The more engaged your employees are, the more they strive to become better, not just in their particular role, but as a contributor to the success of the organization. Therefore, they research the industry, ask probing questions, and thrive on feedback. Be sure to make yourself available to provide it to them on a regular basis. 

They get out of their comfort zones

Engaged employees understand that in order for the company to grow, they need to grow. As a result, they are not just okay with being pushed out of their comfort zones – they actively seek out opportunities to do so. They may volunteer to do presentations, even if they don’t like public speaking. Or they may mentor a team mate even though they prefer heads down work over human interaction. 

They live the company values

Engaged employees understand how important it is to internalize and exhibit the company values. They live and breathe them, especially when nobody is watching. 

A highly engaged employee, whose goals are aligned with your company’s, thrives on accountability, as they take ownership in the business. Be sure to hold up your end of the bargain by coaching them, challenging them, listening to their ideas, and allowing them to stretch themselves. 

What about you? How can you tell if an employee is engaged?


Think HR doesn’t impact the bottom line? Think again!

In the software industry, particularly in the startup arena, the focus tends to be on the product, services, and clients. Sometimes, the entire focus is on those areas, because they are the money makers, right? Too often, the “backoffice” is considered a necessary evil and a begrudged expense. Sure, HR is there to ensure that we adhere to protocols and employment laws and to make sure we get paid. But HR doesn’t really affect the bottom line. Right? Wrong! Let’s think about it a bit more.

Help define what culture means

Your company culture can make or break your business. The importance of having the right people on the bus can’t be underestimated. However, it is also crucial for everyone to understand what company culture is: the way people act when nobody’s watching. It’s knowing the right thing to do simply because everyone shares the same values. One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve encountered is that culture pertains to tread desks in the office, craft beers on tap, or a casual dress code. The moment when superficial things are confused with culture is when you need to intervene, and HR can be a valuable ally in this effort by asking employees (and candidates) to explain what culture means to them, what your company’s values are and how to measure alignment. After all, jeans and t-shirts, pool tables and free lunches won’t do anything to grow your company if the team doesn’t share the same values in terms of work ethic, empathy compassion, passion, humility, drive, and desire to always get better.

Identify the right candidates and help others to do the same

Any hire is a significant investment on several levels. The right hire can be a game changer, while the wrong hire can result in lost productivity and compromised morale, which inevitably negatively impacts the bottom line. HR plays a key role in recruiting the gamechangers who have the right skillset and aptitude, and, more importantly, the right attitude. But that’s not all. Your HR reps can help your team members become good interviewers. Solicit their advice and their help so that everyone interviewing, especially with regard to culture checks, knows the best questions to ask (hint: it’s not “What part of town do you live in?”) in order to determine if a candidate can excel in your company and can help your company excel.

Assist in developing compensation structure

Your HR manager has a lot of data at their fingertips and frequently researches emerging trends and compensations for each position. Is your current sales commission structure the optimal way to achieve your company’s revenue and profit goals? Is it fair to all parties involved? Is there a better way? Consider involving your HR manager in those discussions and let them help you come up with some new ideas and options.

Measure employee engagement and help make appropriate changes

One of the most misleading definitions of employee engagement is that it’s the level of employee happiness and enthusiasm. While this is an ideal outcome of engagement, it is not engagement itself. Employee engagement is measured by how closely the company’s goals and values are aligned with those of the employees. This is why it’s so important for your HR team to conduct engagement check-ins with each team member and to identify any areas that need to be addressed in order to identify and hopefully rectify any misalignments. For example, if someone expresses confusion about their career trajectory in the company, the HR manager should bring this to the attention of the manager and discuss if and how a path that benefits both the employee and the company can be mapped out. Or, if someone is unclear about how they can most strongly impact the revenue goals of the company, both the HR manager and the direct manager can help paint a better picture and provide action items. Misalignment can cost you dearly (literally), so HR taking charge through engagement check-ins is key.

Be smart about perks

HR typically presents a budget to the CEO that includes a breakdown of perks that the company offers to employees. These may include things like anniversary gifts, lunches, and professional development stipends. Perks don’t just include material things, but also company events, teleworking, and other social initiatives. It all sounds wonderful. The more perks you provide, the happier your employees will be and the better they’ll perform, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. It takes skill to find the right balance and invest in the right things at the right time. For example, if your cultural climate is experiencing a shift towards taking things for granted instead of gratitude, it may be beneficial to focus on a reset and simplify the perks a little. Implementing the right things at the right time requires that HR has a keen understanding of the cultural pulse of the company, financial situation, and tracking towards company goals.

Your human resources department does so much more than clerical and legal work, so much more than keeping you in the clear from lawsuits. By championing your company values and ensuring alignment between individuals, their departments, and the business as a whole, HR has a significant impact on the bottom line.

What are your thoughts?


Three common hiring mistakes

My two part post about interviewing covered which questions to ask candidates in order to determine whether they are the right fit for the job and your team and what other things to consider in order to ensure a successful interview (note that an interview is successful if you determine mutual fit, whether the outcome is a hire or a rejection on either part). Today, let’s take a look at some common hiring mistakes and how to avoid them.

“Selling” the company or the job

If you’re proud of your company and enthusiastic about your job, it’s only natural to want to brag about it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Be authentic in the interview. However, starting the conversation by trying to sell the candidate on the company or the job can make you look more desperate than you actually are and put the candidate in a frame of mind where they feel that they already got the job, which then can really skew the rest of the interview. Be as transparent as possible and point out both the positives and the challenges associated with the position and ensure to paint a realistic picture of what’s expected from the role, what you’re looking for in an ideal candidate, and what it’s like to work for your company. Don’t just talk in abstract terms, but be sure to provide specific examples.

Fast tracking a candidate

There he is – your perfect candidate. Finally! They seem to check all of the boxes in terms of qualifications on their resume. The interview went exceptionally well. You’ve been looking for someone like this for weeks, maybe months! Surely, if you don’t make an offer quickly, someone else will snatch them up! And while you typically pride yourself in a thorough hiring process and in being extremely selective, you feel like you have to fast track this candidate and skip what would be the typical next step in the process.

For instance, you may want to schedule an immediate follow-up interview or even make an offer even if the candidate has not followed up yet with a thank you. I would consider this a mistake, because the follow-up from the candidate can tell you a lot about their listening skills, their understanding of how they can contribute to the success of the company, and the degree to which they are interested in this particular job. Furthermore, extending an offer even if a candidate hasn’t even sent a thank you can convey the impression of you setting the bar pretty low. If customer service means something to you, you want to make sure that you hire people who will deliver top notch service anytime and not take anything for granted. Wait for the follow-up.

The same goes for next steps in terms of assessments. You should always have the candidate complete a writing assessment, as written communication is essential in almost every job. Think about a task that allows you to better gauge the candidate’s resourcefulness and aptitude for the position they’re applying for. For example, ask sales candidates do a sales demonstration, present engineering candidates with coding challenges, or have a support tech candidate research a common issue. Don’t skip those specific tests just because you fear that the candidate will be turned off when having to jump through an additional hoop. If someone is a true fit for your company and is excited about the prospect of working for you, they will want to make sure that they put themselves through relevant tests, because after all, accepting a new job is a risk and an investment for the candidate, too, and not just for you. In addition, your ideal candidate will want to prove to you that they are willing to go the extra mile for the opportunity. If they don’t, they may not be as interested as you thought – and that’s fine, too.

The panic or capitulation hire

You’ve stuck to your hiring principles. You put candidates through a thorough process. Alas, some of who you thought were excellent candidates didn’t follow up, didn’t submit the deliverables that you asked for, or did poorly on assessments. You just can’t seem to be able to find the right candidate. Your HR reps and maybe even some other managers or employees are starting to question if you’re simply asking too much. After all, they’ve brought dozens of candidates to you. And now, doubts are creeping into your head and you might think “Maybe the ideal candidate is just not out there.” The next person who walks through the door does a fine job. Subconsciously, you may even ask them easier questions in the interview or be more lenient when evaluating their assessments. Why? Maybe because you’re starting to panic, since it’s been months and you really need to fill this position. Or you simply resign yourself to the idea that you won’t be able to get your perfect hire. Let’s be honest: a panic or capitulation hire rarely works out. Don’t lower your standards. Continue your search until you have hired the right person for the job and for your company.

You will make hiring mistakes. And you may even accidentally end up with a really good hire despite your mistakes. However, always approach each interview from a standpoint of whether there is a mutual fit. If it’s not a yes, it’s a no. Whoever you bring on board will have to be treated as a major investment, not as a compromise.

What about you? What hiring mistakes have you encountered?


Better interviews, better hires – Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared some thoughts on the types of questions you can ask during an interview. Always keep in mind that as long as the interview gives both you and the candidate clarity on whether this is a good fit for both parties, the interview was successful, even if it doesn’t result in a hire.

Today, let’s take a look some other factors that are important to focus on during the interview process.

The questions asked by the candidate

You want the interview to flow as naturally as possible, so refrain from continuously peppering your candidate with questions. Even more important than the interviewee’s responses is the types of questions that they ask. This includes the list of topics that they have prepared ahead of time as well as the follow-up questions that demonstrate a candidate’s active listening skills. You can even be intentionally brief in one of your answers in order to see if the candidate is inquisitive enough to dig deeper.

Give your interviewee plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and beware of anyone who does not have anything prepared ahead of time. Sometimes a candidate will refer to their initial phone screening and say that all of his or her questions have already been answered by someone else. This should raise a red flag, because the individual is foregoing an opportunity to check for alignment and consistency and to get to hear your points of view. For example, your HR coordinator may be able to provide great insights into a role and your company culture, but wouldn’t you expect your candidate, at a very minimum, to ask their potential manager about those things as well? How about asking about the person who has been most successful in the role and what could be attributed to their success? What about directly asking the manager “What would separate a good hire from a great hire?” I’d also expect questions that are more specific to your company and that really show that the candidate has done their homework (“I understand that your main verticals are X and Y, but not Z. Is that by design? Why?”).

The demeanor

While body language and demeanor are important things to observe, always consider the type of role for which the person is interviewing, their level of experience, and the simple fact that each person is different. Curb your human propensity for over-interpretation in favor of asking insightful questions. That being said, you certainly want to pay attention to the person’s confidence, their ability to make eye contact and to articulate themselves clearly, and to present themselves in a professional and respectful manner. Does the candidate stand up or remain seated when you or another interviewer walk in the room? Do they throw away their cup or leave it for you to clean up after the interview? Does the candidate pay equal attention to everyone in the room or do they ignore someone altogether? Do they have their phones put away?

The written assessment

Regardless of the particular role for which you’re hiring, I strongly recommend giving each viable candidate a written assessment to complete. Good writing skills are crucial, whether you’re dealing with external stakeholders such as customers, or internally with team members. You may consider giving the candidate a few topics to research that are relevant to the role so that you can assess their ability to solve problems independently, their attention to detail, and their level of interest in the job.

The follow up

Follow-ups, or lack thereof, can be deal breakers. If you don’t receive a follow-up email, phone call, or card, it’s safe to assume that the candidate either isn’t willing to put in the minimal effort required to ensure that they’ll be a serious contender or that he or she is no longer interested in the position. When you do receive a follow-up, look to see if it’s a standard thank you template or whether it reflects that the candidate is not only genuinely interested in working for and with you, but understands the alignment between their goals and the company’s.

The ecosystem

Believe it or not, even if a candidate checks off all the boxes in what you had originally identified in characteristics and competencies of an ideal hire, it still doesn’t mean that you must bring them on board. Carefully assess how the individual would fit into and impact your ecosystem. A GM of a professional sports team doesn’t just indiscriminately put together the best individual players on paper but always strives to build a cohesive team to whose success each member makes unique contributions in order to achieve something that only this particular combination of players can achieve. Apply the same way of thinking in your hiring process.

Observe and coach other interviewers

Finally, use interviews as an opportunity to observe your team members, the interviewers. What types of questions do they ask and why? Do they listen and ask thoughtful follow up questions or do they disrupt the flow of the conversation with erratic topic changes? Do the questions they ask and the answers they provide show that they they understand what’s important for this role and for the company? After each interview, solicit their opinion on both the candidate and the interview itself, and provide your own feedback. Part of becoming better at your craft and at management is to continuously get better at interviews and coaching your team members to hone their interviewing skills

What about you? What are your tips for a successful interviewing process?

Better interviews, better hires – Part One

In last week’s post, I shared some ideas on how to assess and address staffing needs as well as some points to consider prior to hiring a new team member. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • When someone leaves your company, don’t automatically look for a one to one replacement. Seize the opportunity to optimize your team.
  • Carefully examine your team members’ and your own strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests and how they align with your company goals.
  • Analyze what you’re doing too much of, enough of, and not enough of.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch things up if you have the right people on the bus. You can teach people what to do, but you can’t teach them how to be.

Bringing a new person on board is a big investment, for you and for the new employee. Therefore, it’s crucial to be thorough and purposeful during the interview process.

Let’s look at some tips with regard to identifying the right candidate. Today, we’ll focus on the questions to ask, and next week, we’ll look at other important factors, such as demeanor, follow-ups, and group interviews.

Be sure to ask questions that matter to you and help you determine if the candidate is the cultural fit. It’s also important to not just go in with a list of questions, but to actively listen and to make the interview conversational through thoughtful follow-up questions based on the candidate’s responses. That being said, here are some questions that could be useful.

Tell me why you took each job and why you left each job.

This allows you to not just identify the candidate’s ambitions and their decision-making processes, but also to get a sense of how they viewed each job and each company they worked for. Does the candidate take responsibility for things that didn’t go well, or do you get a sense of victim mentality? What did the candidate learn from each experience? How did they handle challenges? When the opportunity arises, consider asking the candidate about their last manager. “What did they do particularly well? Which tips would you give them?”. In the same vein, I like asking the candidate if there ever was a time when they just dreaded going to work. Most people would likely answer the question with yes, but what you want to pay attention to is whether the candidate explains how they got through this challenging time in their professional life.

What made you apply for this position?

This is a pretty standard question. Are you getting a standard answer, or do you get the impression that the candidate can clearly identify why your company is where they want to work? You’re not out for flattery, but to the thought that the candidate has given this position. Are they just looking for a job? What’s important to them? If they mention the importance of company culture, ask them to define what the term means to them.

What did you do to prepare for this interview?

This question takes most candidates by surprise, so it allows you to see how quick they are on their feet. If you value resourcefulness and tenacity, you will see how far the candidate went in their preparation for the interview. If they just say “I looked at your website” but can’t really point to anything specific, it can give you a reason for concern. If the candidate read your white papers, signed up for one of your webinars or downloaded a trial of your software, it’s typically a good start.

What would make you realize after 90 days that you made a mistake when you accepted this job?

A variation of this question is: “A year from now, you’re no longer with [your company]. What’s the most likely reason for that?”. This question can reveal how much responsibility the candidate is taking for their own happiness and success. Don’t be afraid to have a frank conversation about deal breakers. I appreciate a candidate who throws the question back at me. Similarly, you can ask “What would make you realize after 90 days that you made the right decision?”

What do you do to get better at your craft?

If you’re passionate about what you do, you want to always get better at your craft. That’s why I often ask this question during interviews, and I’m still surprised at how it can take people off guard. Don’t settle for superficial answers. If someone responds with “I read/listen to books”, ask them about the last book they read and what main insights they gained from it. Inquire which people in the industry they look up to and follow. A thorough answer can really be a gamechanger and shape the rest of the conversation, because a candidate’s degree of dedication to their art reveals a lot about whether they are a fit for your company.

Don’t just go through a standard set of questions, but be thoughtful and intentional. Let the conversation flow naturally, but also be prepared to surprise your candidates with a curveball. You’ll want to find out how prepared the candidate is and how they deal with unexpected scenarios. Ultimately, you’ll want to find out if the candidate is not just qualified for the job but also a cultural fit, so think about the values that are most important to you prior to stepping into the interview.

Keep in mind, a successful interview doesn’t always result in a hire, but instead, it gives clarity to both you and the candidate. And, ideally, each interview will make you a better interviewer.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which we will discuss other key factors to a successful interview.

What about you? What questions do you recommend asking?