Less Conflict, More Productivity!

(This is a guest post by our friend, Cynthia Clay of NetSpeed Learning Solutions.)

bigstock-Businessman-experiencing-virtu-184887490.jpg

Is there more or less conflict when teams work virtually? You might think that once you work from home (or a remote office), there are fewer people to get on your nerves and therefore your work environment will be more peaceful and conflict-free. The reality is that conflict may be hidden for a time but it is still present. And in some cases, conflict may occur more easily because you can't see your coworkers and observe their activities.

Differences in style, personality, and work methods are present even when we work across geographic boundaries. A couple of years ago, when working with a virtual team, we had a virtual meeting to review a course we had designed. Two people on the client's team had spent many hours with an instructional designer working through a solid design process. At the review meeting by phone, a new person commandeered the discussion and proceeded to take the design apart, pointing out why she thought various elements were not important or not to her liking. She dominated the conversation which was frustrating to everyone involved. We received text messages in the background from the other members of the team apologizing for what was happening. The new team member didn't seem to understand her role, the process, or why she was asked to the meeting. Without being able to see our faces, because no one was on camera, she just went on a tear, literally tearing apart the course. When she finally ran out of steam, her coworkers thanked her for her input and the call ended.

If you examine the underlying causes of conflict in this example, four stand out: failure to clarify roles and responsibilities; lack of perspective or project history; personality or style; and finally, the inability to see each other over web cameras to read facial expressions and body language. This fourth cause is unique to working in a virtual environment. What organizations are beginning to recognize is that a project team's use of web cameras makes it possible to read non-verbal messages. That open channel of visual communication has the potential to minimize ambiguity, clarify communication, and reduce conflict. 

If you'd like to learn more about how to manage virtual teams, join us at our next one-hour, complimentary webinar, Virtual Leadership: Calibrate, Collaborate, and Celebrate, Thursday, November 16th at 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT. Click here to register.

__________________________________________________________________________

Cynthia Clay is the President/CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions (based in Seattle Washington) and the author of Great Webinars: How to Create Interactive Learning that is Captivating, Informative, and Fun! as well as Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships. Her company helps people increase their effectiveness in virtual environments.

This program has been submitted to HRCI to be pre-approved for 1 HR (General)  HRCI recertification credit hour.

 

Stay Relevant—or Fade Away

It’s easy for a business to get comfortable and rest on its laurels when the cash flow is great and the P&L statement skews toward the P. But history is full of stories about companies that became successful, grew complacent and failed to evolve to meet their customers’ changing needs and expectations, and then faded into oblivion. Remember when Blockbuster continued to open its own brick-and-mortar stores even as the video rental industry underwent a paradigm shift and customers fled to Netflix and to RedBox kiosks?

HR’s function is so vital and broad that in many ways it’s like a company within a company. Over the past decade or two, the HR department has become an invaluable contributor to an organization’s growth. With a role that has expanded well beyond hiring, onboarding, and personnel administration, HR has made itself indispensable. (For example, think of how much worse the impact of a senior executive’s sudden departure would be if an HR-driven succession plan weren’t in place.)

But that status isn’t permanent. As the old saying goes, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” And unless HR departments pay attention to those cautionary tales and learn from the mistakes of those once-dominant-but-now-failed companies, they are likely to follow the same course.

“People are our most important asset” is a claim that many companies make today and for good reason: it’s true. A company is only as good as its people. And an organization that isn’t able to attract and retain the best assets available will struggle to evolve and meet the changing needs of customers.

To help the company accomplish its goals—and maintain its own relevance—HR must learn how to cast a wide net that reaches across all areas related to talent acquisition. HR needs to think of itself as the sales and marketing department for the people who drive the company’s growth.

As you evaluate the role that HR plays in your own organization, look beyond the careers page on your website. Develop partner relationships with colleges and staffing companies, for example and help your recruiters keep their “feet on the street” by involving them in other departments where they can connect with talent.

Only by constantly searching for, discovering, and exploring new strategies for helping an organization improve its “most important asset” can HR fully fulfill its primary role—and guarantee its longevity in the business world.

A Staffing Firm's Toughest Hire!

When hiring to fill their clients’ positions, staffing firms usually have a clearly defined list of criteria to consider: skill set, salary range, availability—whatever their clients tell them to look for. By checking off the right boxes, staffers are able to match candidates to clients: “You want an employee who has X, Y, and Z? Here’s someone who fits the bill!”

It’s a different story when hiring for internal positions, though. When companies need to find their own staff, they often focus too much on cultural fit. Why is that? The answer, in a nutshell, is “comfort.”

People who work full time often spend more waking hours with their coworkers than with their spouses or partners. Forty (or more!) hours a week can seem like an eternity to someone who doesn’t like his or her colleagues. That’s why being comfortable with one’s coworkers can be so important. And that’s why companies that do their own hiring for their internal positions often put too much emphasis on whether a candidate is “likeable” or someone who’s “like us” or someone who would be fun to grab a beer with after work—and not enough emphasis on whether he or she has the attributes and skills that will contribute to the growth of the company.

It’s human nature, after all, to want to work among friends. Unfortunately, prioritizing “likeability” over “competence” can lead to trouble down the road. Applicants always bring their “A game” to interviews—but don’t always sustain it once they’re comfortable in their new jobs. Those hires can end up being disappointments, and sometimes actual disaster ensues when a company thinks it’s hired Dr. Jekyll but has actually hired Mr. Hyde.

There will always a subjective element to hiring. Any time there’s a cover letter, a personal statement, or an interview involved, some aspects of a candidate’s personality will seep through. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the fact is, personality can indeed influence a person’s workplace performance (and ability to interact with coworkers—which can in turn affect their performance).

But personality should not be the main criteria for hiring. Rather, knowledge, skills, and potential are key components of a successful hire. Sometimes, though, companies that fill their own positions themselves have trouble seeing beyond the “do we want to work alongside this person?” question and can’t accurately evaluate a candidate’s skill set.

With their distance from the workplace, staffing firms often have the perspective—and objectivity—that companies lack. When marketing their services, staffers should highlight their ability to deliver candidates who are best for the company’s future success.

"Easier" Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Better"

Earlier this month, McDonald’s and Snapchat launched a new filter called Snaplications, which lets people take photos of themselves “wearing” virtual McDonald’s uniform hats and name tags. But this is more than the usual Snapchat filter, and it goes beyond being just a public-relations campaign. It also functions as a recruitment tool: users who record ten-second videos in which they talk about themselves and then send the videos to McDonald’s get redirected to the company’s career website and invited to submit a job application.

Right now, the Snaplication is available only in Australia, and it isn’t the entire application process: an individual still has to download and fill out an application form and, presumably, then participate in an in-person interview before being offered a job. But by leveraging the power of both social media and digital technology, this campaign is a herald of things to come, and I suspect that similar processes will eventually be rolled out worldwide and may even lead to the elimination of the in-person interview. Candidates and companies alike need to consider the ramifications of this future shift.

Social media has revolutionized how we interact with each other both in our professional and in our personal lives. It’s been beneficial for recruitment in many ways, particularly by facilitating the rapid spread of information and helping hiring managers reach out to new talent pools. It’s also contributed to the rapid rise of the “easy one-click” application—which in my book is not a positive development.

That declaration might make me sound like an anti-technology curmudgeon, but that’s definitely not what I am. I’m a big fan of technology when it’s properly implemented. But I’m not a fan of adopting technology purely for technology’s sake and without giving it careful thought. Making it possible for people to research jobs and apply for open positions online isn’t a bad thing. But making it too easy for people to apply for jobs online can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

First, the increased focus on submitting job applications via quick and easy routes such as social media profiles and ten-second videos may actually make it harder for hiring managers to find good candidates. If someone is looking for a job and can send in an application with just a few seconds’ effort, why wouldn’t he or she do that? After all, casting a wide net is one way to increase the odds of landing a job, right? But all of those applications need to be processed somehow. An applicant tracking system can do only so much (and maybe not much at all when it comes to analyzing and rating personal videos), so that means actual people need to be looking at that stuff. Now imagine that the “easy one-click” method has led to a geometrical increase in the number of applications sent to an organization—many of which likely aren’t serious, and most of which will require at least some attention from a hiring manager. See the problem?

Second, “easy one-click” applications downplay one very important part of the hiring process: the human connection. These forms usually consist of just a few basic questions—not enough to yield a useful portrait of a candidate. A ten-second video doesn’t help much, either: how much can you learn about someone in that amount of time?

Third, that ten-second video can actually carry disproportionate weight in the hiring process if it’s all a hiring manager has to go on. It offers just a quick snapshot of a person with no opportunities for nuanced conversation or follow-up questions. It may cause hiring managers to (perhaps subconsciously) place too much emphasis on a person’s appearance—and worse, it can lead to racism, ageism, or sexism playing a role in hiring decisions.

Fourth, companies and candidates have long struggled to connect with each other. Streamlining the application process and leveraging social media are two ways to address this perennial problem—but  “easy one-click” applications might actually make it worse. Person-to-person communication is a key element to figuring out if an individual and an organization are a good fit for each other.

In all fairness, I should point out that McDonald’s is using the Snaplication mostly to target teenagers who are looking for short-term jobs. In those situations, some might say that it isn’t critical for hiring managers to get a “good sense” of candidates who aren’t doing complex work and are likely to be in those positions for only a brief time. Personally, I think it’s important to get a “good sense” of any candidate—but I can cede this point here.

When it comes to long-term jobs—or careers—though, candidates and companies need as much information as possible about each other. Although I applaud the creative approach behind the Snaplication (and recognize the need to come up with innovative ways to reach out to prospective candidates), I think it’s inadequate. By giving some parts of the application process short shrift, the “easy one-click” method does both candidates and organizations a disservice.

Always Ask. Does it Support Your Mission?

In a 2007 article about the then-three-year-old Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg declared, "I'm here to build something for the long term. Anything else is a distraction.” At the time, he wasn’t planning to follow the “exit strategy” example of the many other tech founders who built up their companies and then sold them for huge amounts of money. Ten years later, his stance hasn’t changed (even though the company went through a very successful IPO in 2012 and today has an annual revenue over $27 billion). Zuckerberg is definitely in it for the long haul.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having an exit strategy in mind when building a company. But if your goal is to build a company that endures for the long term, then every hire you make, every piece of software you buy, every facility you open, every new product or service you launch—pretty much everything you do, actually—needs to support that mission. To paraphrase Zuckerberg, “Anything that doesn’t tie into the company’s mission is a distraction.”

For example, Amazon’s official mission is “to be Earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” When Amazon first announced it would start selling hardware (Kindle tablets and e-readers), I first thought this venture was a distraction from the company’s mission. Then I realized that it actually directly supported that mission, because nearly all of the purchases made on those devices would be from Amazon.

On the other hand, remember the BlackBerry? Not that long ago it totally dominated the mobile phone market. Today, though, the company is barely clinging to existence and holds just 0.0481% of the market. There are analyses galore about how this happened, but most of them boil down to the same observation: the company rested on its laurels and failed to engage in actions that promoted its mission (probably, in part, because the company never clearly articulated what that mission was).

So the next time you need to hire, fire, create a new position, expand into a new market, or take any other business-oriented action, ask yourself, “Does this decision support the company’s mission?” If the answer is “no,” you may want to reconsider that action. And if the answer is “I’m not sure,” it may be time to tune up your mission statement and make sure everything your company does connects to it.