SI Review: May 2012

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Do a 360

Why staffing managers need effective leadership training

By Tom Kosnik

The staffing industry has experienced strong double-digit growth over the past two years. In periods of such strong growth, many staffing firms — nationals as well as independents — have ended up promoting underdeveloped employees into management and leadership positions. Often, these individuals are not given development training.

Such action costs staffing firms millions in lost revenue, lost productivity and turnover. There is no variable more important in a staffing company than well-developed managers and leaders. Companies get the buzz, maintain healthy margins, and increase employee retention as a result of smart managers and leaders. But for development training to be effective, you must first know where it’s needed and provide it at the right time.

Go 360

In my opinion, the 360 evaluation tool is by far the most superior leadership development tool on the market. First used in the military during World War II, it quickly transitioned into the business world in the 1950s. Today, many Fortune 2000 companies are ardent users of 360 evaluation tools. In the staffing industry, however, the tool is barely used.

A manager or leader can seek input from multiple sources on their performance and then compare this input with their own perception. The benefit comes to one in the gaps. For example, a manager or leader may think he or she is communicating vision quite clearly. However, the results from a 360 evaluation may show that their peers and/or subordinates view them as not communicating vision clearly at all. Armed with this information, you can provide the proper training your leaders need.

Get Started

The Center for Creative Leadership has a 360 evaluation tool that measures 16 leadership competencies. No one manager or leader hits it out of the park on all 16 competencies. Everyone has gaps between how they think they are performing and how their subordinates or fellow managers experience their performance. Like any valid survey, the devil is in the details and the ultimate value is in mapping out action items that change behavior. Here are some leadership competencies that the Center for Creative Leadership measures and how they relate to the staffing world.

Strategic perspective. This competency measures whether the manager or leader has a perspective that is beyond tactical. The nature of the staffing industry can pull one into a tactical activity for long periods of time. The better managers and leaders not only can manage activity from a tactical perspective but can also see the big picture, communicate it and motivate employees to go beyond the tactical.

Quick study. How quickly can the manager or leader learn? This is not about intelligence level. Many very smart people in the staffing industry fail. Being a quick study is more about how quickly a manager or leader can size up an account, a situation, an employee, etc. It is more about not over-analyzing an issue at work and therefore not being paralyzed or too slow to make a decision.

Decisiveness. Every good leader knows that sometimes a leader needs to make a collaborative decision and at other times he or she needs to make a decisive decision. Can this manager or leader in fact be decisive and is that decisiveness clear to employees?

Change management. Good luck surviving in today’s business environment if you are not a change agent. This competency measures if a manager or leader can in fact manage change. People move, accounts move, new competition and/or technology enters the scene. If a manager or leader cannot formally manage through change then employees will quickly see this leader as a “has been.”

Leading employees. Within every organization there are people with the titles that employees joke about and then there are the ones without the titles that employees go to for answers. Organizational development consultants call this “formal” leadership versus “informal” leadership. The idea is to get the “go-to” people to formally lead.

Confronting problem employees. This competency measures whether a manager or leader can manage problem employees — not terminate them. The staffing industry is sales-driven and a staffing company can have its share of high-producing but disruptive employees. Good leaders have the ability to get such troublesome employees to change their behavior.

Participative management. Can the manager or leader work in a team environment either with employees or with other managers? The research has been out for quite a while now that the team-based management approach is far more productive than a “control and command” management approach. Over-achieving managers and leaders operate from a participative management style of communicating, solving problems and making decisions.

Building collaborative relationships. If a manager or leader is working as a lone wolf, not collaborating with employees or other managers, his or her results are negatively affected. The power is in the team. And sometimes “the team” includes hiring managers from the client site and managers within other divisions within the company.

Compassion and sensitivity. This competency measures if a manager or leader is a theory X manager over a theory Y manager. Theory X managers manage from the perspective that employees are like children and if they can take advantage of the business they in fact will. Theory Y managers manage from the perspective that employees come to work to do their best work, that employees want to learn and do a good job for their peers and the company. Results show that Theory Y managers tend to get a lot more productivity out of their people.

Putting people at ease. This competency measures if a manager or leader can ease employee concerns. The staffing industry is fast-paced and prone to sudden changes. For instance, your best and largest client can be acquired and suddenly all temps or contractors have to go through a vendor management system at reduced margins. Good managers and leaders know how to put the concerns of employees at ease so that both productivity and a level of trust can be maintained.

Respect for differences. This competency is more about the ability to “listen” to another within the organization and if the manager or leader has the personal confidence to hear the differing points of view. No one manager or leader is perfect. No one manager or leader knows or possesses all the answers. Do they have the confidence to hear views that oppose theirs or are they threatened by new ideas?

Taking initiative. We have heard it said that there are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen and then there are those who ask “what happened” long after it is over. Managers or leaders who can take initiative and make things happen in the organization are critical to the long-term success and profit- ability of the company.

Composure. This competency measures if a manager or leader can keep it together in both good and bad times. There is professional etiquette — appropriately responding and inter- acting with employees and other managers. Then there is social compo- sure — interacting with employees in a public setting. Then there is compo- sure with clients either in a formal busi- ness setting or in a social setting. Many large accounts have been lost due to loss of composure from a leader within the organization.

Self-awareness. Perhaps the most important competency, it measures if a manager or leader is self-aware. Or are they a “bull in a china shop.” Good managers and leaders know and have a strong grasp on how they are being perceived by employees and other managers. They know what kind of effect they are having on the organization. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

The 360 evaluation tool helps superior leadership development. Managers and leaders can not only get a spot-on snapshot of how they believe they are performing in key leadership core competencies, but they also get a timely understanding of how their peers and subordinates view them in the very same key leadership core competencies. The information is invaluable.

Tom Kosnik is certified by the Center for Creative Leadership. He assists staffing companies improve employee performance, corporate revenue and net income. Learn more at www.visusgroup.com. Tom can be reached at (312) 527-2950 or tkosnik@visusgroup.com.

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