management

How To Spot An Irreplaceable Employee

Great employees and employers show mutual admiration (Shutterst0ck)

Employees and employers have a shared interest in discovering the attributes that define the all-time favorite employees. Employees want to be the most-favored, and employers seek to attract those individuals who seem irreplaceable.

Michael Gottlieb is the founding partner of Momentum Law Group – a law firm that serves entrepreneurs. At a recent meeting of his monthly CEO round table, he asked the group, “ What attributes would you use to describe your all-time favorite employees? ” The list of attributes is surprising. Even more surprising is that the group of 12 CEOs all agreed on the list.

No Drama

At the top of the list: Lack of drama. These favorite employees don’t complain. They don’t seek attention. They don’t gossip. They simply perform their jobs without a need to draw attention to their professional or personal challenges.  They don’t see a need to remind others of how challenging the task might be. They don’t call attention to the fact that someone else didn’t complete their task.

Jeff Lesher, Principal at EntreQuest, an award-winning consultancy with a vision to shift engagement in the work world to transform the real world, says, “Most highly valued employees not only perform their jobs admirably – with skill, focus, and passion – they do so in a way that demonstrates their commitment, first and foremost, to the work.”

 Jeff further explains, “ Drama is selfish ; the more selfless, low drama approach typically is a symptom of high commitment more than a direct intent.” It reminds me of the scene between Billy Crystal’s character and Meg Ryan’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally:

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally Albright: Which one am I?
Harry Burns: You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.

Most high-drama people don’t see themselves as dramatic.

Operational Focus

The next item is commitment to operational execution. Top employees don’t just talk about ideas or identify problems. Rather, they always focus on how to accomplish the task at hand.  These talented individuals know that there is a big difference between having intention and getting things done. The most valued employees know that nothing matters until it is implemented and achieving results.

Top employees know that their commitment to customers and accomplishment can help to grow the business and engender customer trust. These superstars always follow-through and don’t need reminders of what is important .

Initiative: Confidence And Internal Motivation

Top employees don’t wait around to be told what to do. Once they know the goal and they are self-motivated to move toward that goal each day. Nothing will get in their way. Some might see them as stubborn. Most see them as possessing superpowers.

Their greatest superpower is the ability to receive and internalize feedback. They have sufficient confidence and self-awareness to accept constructive criticism as a way to improve, without seeing the input as negative.

This superpower only surfaces in work environments where employees are not punished for taking risks. Confident self-starters will happily take constructive feedback. If you punish them for taking initiative, they’ll sit back — probably while searching for a new job where they can unleash their initiative.

What The Experts Say

According to HeliosHR’s CEO, Kathy Albarado, “The fact that CEOs cite a desire for ‘No drama’ could point to a gap in hiring practices. With the right screening and interview process, you should be able to spot those most likely to be valuable members of the team.”  Kathy encourages employers to seek similar attributes that the Girl Scouts of America teach young women:  Courage, Character and Confidence.  The courage to take risks, the character to follow through,and the confidence to take feedback.

Gabe Muller is the COO of Glassman Wealth Services, named “Best Place to Work” in the Washington DC area by Washingtonian Magazine and the Washington Business Journal three years in a row. “I love the three attributes of 1) Solution orientated mindset, 2) Adaptability; and 3) The ability to receive feedback and collaborate with others.”

Notice that the themes are consistent with the CEO round table that Michael Gottlieb assembled. Also take note that nobody is listing skills, educational background or certifications. While those capabilities are important, nobody said that their all-time favorite employee had the best technical skills.

The best employees get stuff done with passion and results. If you don’t value your employees who demonstrate those attributes, rest assured that another employer is anxiously waiting to meet them.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think makes for favorite employees? Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4499329 or Twitter.@winerycareers.com

Bestselling co-author of Same Side Selling, Ian Altman is a popular keynote speaker, and host of the Grow My Revenue Business Cast. He has 2 children, a dog, and a wife he doesn’t deserve

6 Traits- What To Hire For:

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Celebrating 21 years in the Wine Industry

 

There’s two things you need to know, right off the bat, about these hiring criteria.

First and most obviously, the six criteria on Danny’s list are psychological traits, not technical skills.  Even though it is generally easier to hire for technical skills, whether they are knife skills in the kitchen, great customer-centric leaders like Meyer feel confident that they can teach technical know-how to almost any newly-hired employee, but on the other hand find the idea of teaching empathy, teaching work ethic and so forth to be essentially a fool’s errand, much better addressed in the selection process than in post-employment training and discipline.

The second point is this: Even though you’ll be hiring for personality traits rather than technical skills, you still need to develop highly-skilled employees before they even face the first customer. Otherwise, you’re doing your customers (and your company) a huge disservice.

 

Meyer: “I used to think that you could just hire people for their emotional skills and if they had the six essential emotional skills, that’s all it took. I learned the hard way that you can’t unleash somebody’s hospitality unless you have first completely drilled all the systems, the technical skills and know-how that are needed, to a point of excellence.”

In other words:  These wonderful, warm personality traits that you have hired your new employees for aren’t going to manifest themselves in ways that are useful to your customers until the training for skills is complete and has become second nature.

Meyer compares this to learning to drive a stick shift.

I remember when I first learned to drive a stick shift [as a teenager back in St. Louis], I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And until I had learned to be proficient at doing that, I wasn’t having any fun while I was driving. I wasn’t switching the stations on the radio dial. I wasn’t telling jokes to my friends. I wasn’t pointing out the beautiful trees on the side of the road.

At that beginner’s stage, I was “all systems all the time.” But once I learned those systems, how to shift gears, find a sticking point when I was on a hill, all those kinds to things that are really taught. Once I cleared all that out, that’s when I could get back to being myself and pick the best music for whoever was in the car, tell jokes with people, you know, enjoy the scenery.

So even though the emotional skills that lead to hospitality are not really teachable, but they are also not revealable until first you’ve learned the systems, the technical side of getting the job done.”

Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants hire for what Meyer calls an employee’s “hospitality quotient.”  These are the six traits he feels are required for an employee to have the potential to provide true hospitality to the guests of his restaurants.

Here’s his list of six traits to hire for, which I’m using here with his permission and hope you find useful.

1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full);

2. Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning);

3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done);

4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel)

5. Self-awareness (an understanding of what makes you tick;

6.  Integrity (a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment).

Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience speaker and bestselling business author, most recently of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service

 




The Case for Executive Assistants

Among the most striking details of the corporate era depicted in the AMC series Mad Men, along with constant smoking and mid-day drinking, is the army of secretaries who populate Sterling Cooper, the 1960s ad agency featured in the show. The secretary of those days has gone the way of the carbon copy and been replaced by the executive assistant, now typically reserved for senior management. Technologies like e-mail, voice mail, mobile devices, and online calendars have allowed managers at all levels to operate with a greater degree of self-sufficiency. At the same time, companies have faced enormous pressure to cut costs, reduce head count, and flatten organizational structures. As a result, the numbers of assistants at lower corporate levels have dwindled in most corporations. That’s unfortunate, because effective assistants can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of the organization.

At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that. They ensure that meetings begin on time with prep material delivered in advance. They optimize travel schedules and enable remote decision making, keeping projects on track. And they filter the distractions that can turn a manager into a reactive type who spends all day answering e-mail instead of a leader who proactively sets the organization’s agenda. As Robert Pozen writes in this issue: A top-notch assistant “is crucial to being productive.”

That’s true not only for top executives. In their zeal to cut administrative expenses, many companies have gone too far, leaving countless highly paid middle and upper managers to arrange their own travel, file expense reports, and schedule meetings. Some companies may be drawn to the notion of egalitarianism they believe this assistant-less structure represents—when workers see the boss loading paper into the copy machine, the theory goes, a “we’re all in this together” spirit is created. But as a management practice, the structure rarely makes economic sense. Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well. Although companies have embraced this logic by outsourcing work to vendors or to operations abroad, back at headquarters they ignore it, forcing top talent to misuse their time. As a longtime recruiter for executive assistants, I’ve worked with many organizations suffering from the same problem: There’s too much administrative work and too few assistants to whom it can be assigned.

 

 

Granting middle managers access to an assistant—or shared resources—can give a quick boost to productivity even at lean, well-run companies. Firms should also think about the broader developmental benefits of providing assistants for up-and-coming managers. The real payoff may come when the manager arrives in a job a few levels up better prepared and habitually more productive. An experienced assistant can be particularly helpful if the manager is a new hire. The assistant becomes a crucial on-boarding resource, helping the manager read and understand the organizational culture, guiding him or her through its different (and difficult) personalities, and serving as a sounding board during the crucial acclimation. In this way, knowledgeable assistants are more than a productivity asset: They’re reverse mentors, using their experience to teach new executives how people are expected to behave at that level in the organization.

Getting the Most from Assistants

Two critical factors determine how well a manager utilizes an assistant. The first is the executive’s willingness to delegate pieces of his or her workload to the assistant. The second is the assistant’s willingness to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone to assume new responsibilities.

Delegating wisely.

The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant. Triaging and drafting replies to e-mails is a central task for virtually all assistants. Some executives have assistants listen in on phone calls in order to organize and follow up on action items. Today many assistants are taking on more-supervisory roles: They’re managing information flow, dealing with basic financial management, attending meetings, and doing more planning and organizing. Executives can help empower their assistants by making it clear to the organization that the assistant has real authority. The message the executive should convey is, “I trust this person to represent me and make decisions.”

Not every executive is well-suited for this type of delegating. Younger managers in particular have grown up with technology that encourages self-sufficiency. Some have become so accustomed to doing their own administrative tasks that they don’t communicate well with assistants. These managers should think of assistants as strategic assets and realize that part of their job is managing the relationship to get the highest possible return.

Stretching the limits.

Great assistants proactively look for ways to improve their skills. When I was the assistant to Pete Peterson, the former U.S. commerce secretary and head of Lehman Brothers, I took night classes in law, marketing, and presentations to burnish my skills. Today I see executive assistants learning new languages and technologies to improve their performance working for global corporations.

 

 

In my work, I frequently encounter world-class executive assistants. Loretta Sophocleous is the executive assistant to Roger Ferguson, the president and CEO of TIAA-CREF; her title is Director, Executive Office Operations. She manages teams. She leads meetings. Roger says that he runs many decisions past Loretta before he weighs in.

Another example is Noreen Denihan, whom I placed over 13 years ago as the executive assistant to Donald J. Gogel, the president and CEO of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, LLC. According to Don, Noreen fills an informal leadership role, has an unparalleled ability to read complex settings, and can recognize and respond to challenging people and circumstances. “A spectacular executive assistant can defy the laws of the physical world,” Gogel says. “She [or he] can see around corners.”

Trudy Vitti is the executive assistant to Kevin Roberts, the CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi. Often when you ask him a question, he’ll say, “Ask Trudy.” He travels for weeks at a time and says that he has utter confidence in Trudy to run the office in his absence.

Compared with managers in other countries, those in the United States do a better job of delegating important work to their assistants—and of treating them as a real part of the management team. Outside the United States, educational requirements for assistants are less intensive, salaries are lower, and the role is more typically described as personal assistant.

You can often tell a lot about an executive’s management style—and effectiveness—from the way he interacts with his assistant. Can the executive trust and delegate, or does he micromanage? Do assistants like working for her, or does she have a history of many assistants leaving quickly or being fired? Not every boss–assistant relationship is made in heaven, but an executive’s ability to manage conflicts with an assistant can be an important indicator of his overall ability to manage people.

Finding the Right Fit

Hiring the right assistant can be a challenge. In some ways, it’s trickier than filling traditional management positions, because personal chemistry and the one-on-one dynamic are so important—sometimes more so than skills or experience.

Expert assistants understand the unspoken needs and characteristics of the people with whom they work. They have high levels of emotional intelligence: They respond to subtle cues and react with situational appropriateness. They pay close attention to shifts in an executive’s behavior and temperament and understand that timing and judgment are the foundation of a smooth working relationship. A good assistant quickly learns what an executive needs, what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, what might trigger anger or stress, and how to best accommodate his or her personal style. Good matches are hard to come by: That’s the reason so many good assistants follow an executive from job to job.

After many years of debriefing assistants who’ve been fired, I’ve identified several factors that make for bad relationships. The most common missteps an assistant makes are misreading the corporate culture, failing to build bridges with other assistants, failing to ask enough questions about tasks, agreeing to take on too much work, and speaking to external parties without authorization. Bosses usually contribute to these deteriorating relationships by not being open in their communications or not being clear about expectations.

There’s an assistant I placed recently who’s having trouble developing the right relationship with her boss. The executive called me and said, “Melba, I expected her to read through these memos and then get them out very quickly to my managers. But she left them on my desk, didn’t call me over the weekend, and didn’t send them out.” I asked the assistant about it, and she said, “He didn’t tell me it was important—I can’t read someone’s mind.” But in fact, in this job you’re supposed to be able to read minds—or, at the very least, you’re supposed to ask questions.

Simply put, the best executive assistants are indispensable. Microsoft will never develop software that can calm a hysterical sales manager, avert a crisis by redrafting a poorly worded e-mail, smooth a customer’s ruffled feathers, and solve a looming HR issue—all within a single hour, and all without interrupting the manager to whom such problems might otherwise have proven a distraction. Executive assistants give companies and managers a human face. They’re troubleshooters, translators, help desk attendants, diplomats, human databases, travel consultants, amateur psychologists, and ambassadors to the inside and outside world.

After years of cutting back, companies can boost productivity by arming more managers with this kind of help—and executives who are fortunate enough to have a skilled assistant can benefit by finding ways to delegate higher-level work to him or her. Executive–assistant relationships are business partnerships: Strong ones are win-wins between smart people. In fact, they’re win-win-wins because ultimately the companies reap the benefits.

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Melba J. Duncan is the president of The Duncan Group, a retained search and consulting firm specializing in senior management support resources, and the founder of the Duncan Leadership Institute, which offers training for administrative support staff. She is the author of The New Executive Assistant .