Chester On Point

To Retain Top Young Talent, Stop Dangling Nebulous Carrots!

Carson, the son of a friend of mine, is an MBA whose passion centers on business mergers and acquisitions. Two years ago, Carson accepted a position with an investment bank that offered him an embarrassingly low starting salary that was packaged with the promise that he’d be seeing some nice bonuses as the firm closed large deals. Determined to prove his worth, Carson has worked a minimum of 55 hours each week, has received stellar performance reviews, and has even managed to bring in – and close – several profitable deals for the firm. While Carson highly values the experience he has received, his compensation has remained way under market value, and he has been given only a few small bonuses that aren’t even close to those the partners suggested would augment his small base salary when he was hired.

carrot and stickFrustrated, Carson has approached the firm’s partners about this pay inequity on several occasions, and each time they have placated him with hints of a big payoff in the not-too-distant future. Carson is supporting his wife and young toddler and has asked for specifics so he can plan accordingly. But using ambiguity as their primary tool, the non-committal partners have instead chosen to stall Carson with just sit tight for a while longer promises. What they don’t know (but will soon learn the hard way) is that Carson has interviewed with several competing firms and is preparing to make his exit. His decision to leave is final, and he told me that no matter what his current employer offers to keep him–even if it’s more than where he’s headed–it’s too late. He’s moving on.

One might think that the practice of dangling a nebulous carrot in an attempt to attract talent and motivate high performance would be extinct in the new millennium, but it’s still commonplace. Even the best-intentioned ambiguous promises have no place in the compensation strategy of a great workplace culture.

Here is a simple 3-Point strategy for keeping young talent engaged in a future with your organization:

1. Be Aware: Millennials aren’t buying into the “just keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone and someday good things will happen” mantra that many boomers bought into as young professionals. Today’s top young talent is way too impatient and skeptical. And when it comes to their career, they demand clarity.

2. Be Honest: Tell them what your intentions are for their future, and then follow through on those promises. If you aren’t certain about when they’ll be promoted or how much they’ll see in a raise, it’s far better to say nothing than to hint or suggest that something good is on the horizon. In other words, say what you’ll do for them, then do it.

3. Be Transparent: Just as dangerous as making promises you can’t keep is not making a promise when you can. Surprises are nice, but this is their career; not their birthday. Keep them in the loop when it comes to their future and discuss it with them often. If they need to improve in a specific area before you can promote or raise them, let them know what that is, and then help them achieve those benchmarks so they can grow with you.


Excerpted from Eric Chester’s new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out – releasing Oct. 20th. PreOrder now and forward a copy of your Amazon receipt to and you’ll receive a link to download Eric’s other 3 bestselling books for FREE! 

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The Best Question You Can Ask Employees to Keep Them Engaged

classic paper cup phone on wood backgroundA great workplace culture does more than merely share timely and relevant information with its employees; it goes to great lengths to listen to them and digest that feedback.

Employee surveys can be useful tools, but by themselves they’re not enough to truly know what your people are thinking. There’s no survey, assessment, or digital app in the world that can take the place of a manager finding a few moments of quiet, pulling one of her employees aside, and asking, “Hey, how are you making out around here? What kinds of dragons have you had to slay today? Do you have all the tools and resources you need? Are you seeing any challenges on the horizon that you’re going to need help with? What can I do to support you?”

And once her employees start to open up, the most important thing she can do is to shut up, listen, take notes, and then take action.

In researching my new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out I got a rare opportunity to visit with J.W. “Bill” Marriott. (Marriott hotels are #53 on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2015.) Mr. Marriott emphasized how vital two-way communication is to keeping his employees fully engaged.

“Every morning we have departmental stand-up meetings at our hotels,” he told me. “These meetings give managers the opportunity to fill in their staff on those important things that impact their jobs, on their responsibilities, and on what they will be focusing that day.”

During these stand-up meetings, the hotel GM and the staff work together to identify what Bill calls the ‘theme of the day.’ “What needs work? Where are we slipping a little?”  Then it’s all hands on deck to work on improving those areas. “Along the way,” he continued, “the GMs ask for input as to how things are going. What do our guests need?”

Because employee input is so highly valued within the Marriott properties, these meetings always end with a simple but profound question managers ask their employees, “What tools do you need to get your work done or to do your job more effectively?”

It’s this final open-ended question that allows employees to express their wants and needs. But the key to keeping employees engaged is not dependent upon catering to their every whim.

“A manager doesn’t have to give their employees everything they ask for,” Marriott explained. “But they do have to listen to them and respond. If housekeepers ask their supervisors for more linens on the third floor, a supervisor must try very hard to accommodate that request immediately. But if they ask for something that management cannot deliver for them, the supervisor should at least tell the employees why their request can’t be met or a timeframe for when that request will be handled.”

Marriott punctuated the significance of this principle when he concluded, “Employees tend to stay in a job when they feel as if they are being listened to and their requests and opinions are valued.”

ON POINT: When was the last time you asked your people what they needed to perform better in their jobs?

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The Difference Between Mothering, Managing, and Mentoring Millennials

Mentor.001In Western cultures, the transition from school-to-work-to-career generally happens between the ages of 16-to-24. This is a period of explosive personal growth when an individual crosses over from a dependent child to an independent adult who no longer relies on their parents to provide food, clothing, shelter, laundry services, and gas money.  (This transition is not happening as early as it once did in America, but that’s fodder for another blog.) 

To assure a successful launch into adulthood and a path to a meaningful career, the emerging teen/young adult benefits from the help and support of three separate–but equally important individuals.

THE MOTHER: Throughout the transition, and even after they establish their independence, a young adult still needs a mother who is standing by to:

A) Provide advice (which is usually only followed if/when it’s asked for).

B) Encourage them to endure the tough times and to help them understand why it’s in their best interests to always take the high road and choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.

C) Give unconditional love, plenty of hugs, and an occasional bowl of homemade soup.

D) Push the bird out of the nest and let them fly – or fall – on their own accord. (Very difficult step for today’s growing legion of tiger moms – and dads – who believe their job is to protect their adult children from the realities of this harsh world and to serve as their landlords, bankers, chief negotiators, agents, and best buddies.)

THE MANAGER: A manager’s job is to get as much out of their employees as possible in the way of productivity and performance. This is optimized when the manager has taken the initiative to forge a relationship based on mutual trust and common interests, but if that occurs it is a bonus; not a condition of employment.

The manager must then:

A) Tell the employee what to do (i.e. provide clear and measurable results, training, and methodologies).

B) Give them the tools and workplace environment to do it.

C) Keep the employee on track toward the goals (holding them accountable for their outcomes).

D) Provide praise and recognition when deserved, and correction and discipline when required.

THE MENTOR: In the classic Greek poem The Odyssey, Oddysseus entrusts his wise friend, Mentor, with the education and counseling of his adult son Telemachus. The word mentor is derived from that origin and is now used to describe one who accepts the responsibility for the professional growth and development of another by providing sage advice, counsel, and guidance. An effective mentor is a wise and experienced leader who will:

A) Listen to the aspirations and goals of the mentee.

B) Provide practical advice and actionable strategies for achieving those objectives.

C) Make key introductions when necessary and share learning resources when appropriate.

D) Routinely meet with the mentee to measure their progress against the objectives and course-correct accordingly.

ON POINT: Millennials who lack one or more of these key individuals in their life may actually find the transition from school-to-work-to-career easier than the young person who is a victim of having the wrong people in these roles, or worse, an over-zealous person in a role who intrudes on the role of another, (i.e. helicopter moms, meddling managers, micromanaging mentors, etc.) If you serve in one of these roles for a millennial, know your job and stay in your zone.


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5 Steps to Keep Your Employees in the Growth Zone

Growth ZoneRegardless how they obtain the skills they need for the job, employees worth their paycheck have the desire to get better at what they do. They want to acquire and develop new skills, talents, and abilities that will help them increase their value to their present employers and other prospective employers.

To ignore your employees’ need for continual skills development is akin to ignoring your garden’s need for frequent watering; the seeds you’ve planted are not going to grow, and your existing flowers are going to wilt.

It’s simple really. You want them to grow, and they want to grow. So let’s focus attention on a five-step how-to formula to ensure your employees remain in the growth and retention zone, which leads to long-time on-fire performance.

1. Agree on a growth agenda. One reason couples often cite for a failed marriage is that the husband and wife discovered over time that they each wanted different things that couldn’t both exist in a shared life. No matter how much they love each other, if one or the other is not getting what they really want, their future together is tenuous. The employment relationship works the same way—both parties have to be moving in the same direction. This sort of mutuality requires both parties to meet at the onset of the hire, as well as periodically discuss, agree to, and map out each of their future ambitions.

2. Establish the timetable. Just as both parties need to agree on what new skills and abilities the employee is going to be learning, they also need to establish and agree upon the time frame. Without a timetable in place, one or both parties are going to eventually disengage. Effectively applied, it sounds something like this: “Here’s where you are now. To get where you say you’d like to be, you’re going to need to acquire certifications A and B and gain experience doing C. This process typically takes three years, but we can cut some of that time off if you enroll in the classes for certification A next month.”

3. Individualize the learning methodology. As a former high school teacher, I can attest to the importance of figuring out how each student learns best. Hand some people a textbook and they’ve got it, while others require a lesson and Q&A. Others need a visual demonstration or a lab to grasp the concepts. Knowing how each employee learns and designing the learning agenda around what works best for them are the keys to ensuring that they stay on course.

4. Celebrate milestones and success. Many of us can recall when our parents charted our height on a doorway. They’d mark our height, and when we stepped back we could see how much taller we had grown since the last time they measured us.  Then if you had a father like mine, you were told that you’d grow even faster if you ate your vegetables and went to bed on time. Again, the same principles are at work here. It’s important to chart the growth progress of each employee and let them recognize how much they’re learning, how much experience they’re gaining, and how much more valued they are becoming to you in the process. The more significant the milestone (e.g., degrees earned or newly acquired certifications), the larger the celebration should be (e.g., office celebration with cake, article of congratulations in the company grapevine, or taking the employee and his or her spouse out for dinner).

5. Rinse and repeat. The old adage “You’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotten” is one that’s very much at play in your culture. Every employee, from your receptionist to your EVP, needs to be on a growth trajectory—and they need to understand and agree on that growth trajectory. Once they get where they want to be, they’re going to see a new future for themselves off in the horizon. That’s a good thing for them and for your organization.

Excerpted from “On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out” releasing nationwide Oct. 20th, 2015 

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The Transparency Advantage: Informed Employees are Engaged Employees

It’s astounding how often it happens…

You’re in a conversation with a sales person, service representative, or an associate of an organization and you ask a question or make a passing comment about something that’s happened within their company — something interesting that made the headlines or the evening news — and they look at you as confused as a Kardashian at a garage sale.  The communication within the company is so badly fractured that employees are the last to find out what’s happening within their own organization.

In today’s workplace, employee ignorance is anything but bliss. Keeping employees in the dark is actually a sure-fire way to disengage your people and create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust.

Transparency word magnifying glass searching for sincerity, clarity, openness, truth, accuracy, directness, fairness, honesty, believability and forthrightnessThere are three specific types of information that are controlled by management and that have the potential to flow through to employees at any level: What employees need to know, what employees should know, and what employees want to know.

1. What Employees Need to Know

Employees must have some information in order to do their jobs effectively (e.g., job training, safety precautions, mandated company rules and policies, and minimum performance expectations). In many cases, employers are legally bound to disclose this information, but even when they’re not it would be extremely foolish for management to withhold from employees anything that fits in this category.

2. What Employees Should Know

Employees should have a basic working knowledge of the company that employs them. This knowledge includes the company’s history, ownership structure, management hierarchy, basic product/service lines, and major competitors, as well as the company’s mission, goals, core values, and competitive advantages in the marketplace.

In addition, employees should know anything that Wall Street knows about the company, as well as anything that is being reported about the company by the media. Most importantly, this information should be made available to employees before it is released to the general public.

3. What Employees Want to Know

In the employee version of a utopian universe, employees would be privy to everything their CEO knows about their company. Naturally, this is not possible—or even plausible. Nor would it be wise for any company to share all of its information with every employee. But suffice it to say, engaged employees know what’s really happening, not only within their industry, but also regarding all of the developments, changes, and updates that are taking place within their company—especially those that can have any impact at all on their jobs and their future.

(Excerpted from Eric Chester’s new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out releasing Oct. 20th.) 


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LEADERS: If You Were Stripped of Your Title, Would People Still Follow You?

Guest Post by Mark Sanborn, Author of the NTY Bestseller, The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0

6546001_sOver the years, I’ve used several definitions of the term leadership. Here’s one I keep coming back to: Leadership is the ability to help people and organizations surpass themselves. Essentially, leaders enable others to be better than they’ve ever been, and take their organizations to places they’ve never been.The acid test of leadership: are your people and/or organization better as a result of your leadership?And here’s a question to test your leadership abilities: If you were stripped of your title as well as any ability to reward or punish the people who work for you, could you still get results with them?

• Managers have power over people; leaders have power with people.

• Management is a function of position, while leadership is a function of skill.

Before anyone can lead others, however, he or she must first master him- or herself.  Personal leadership, therefore, is the ability to surpass yourself–your previous performance and accomplishments.  It’s about getting better at what you do no matter how good you become.  Make positive change and growth–in yourself and others–your primary leadership objective.

First master self. Then achieve power with people.

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7 Crucial Questions That Employees Ponder About Your Workplace Atmosphere

Standing 726 feet high, and weighing more than 18 Empire State buildings combined, the Hoover Dam is a jaw-dropping wonder of the industrial world. It was built in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression by a consortium of six major tunnel, railroad, and highwhoover 2ay contractors that went by the name Six Companies. The promise of above-average wages (between 50 cents to $1.25 an hour) drew more than 42,000 men to the Nevada desert in search of work.

At any given time throughout its construction, approximately 3,500 workers were onsite, most working eight-hour days and seven-day weeks in temperatures ranging from freezing cold to 119-degree blazing heat.

Because unemployment during this economic crisis was at an all time high, the number of applicants heavily outnumbered the available job openings. With that much leverage over the workforce, Six Companies simply disregarded commonsense safety precautions in favor of getting the project done at breakneck speed. This forced beleaguered workers to move at a furious pace even when their health and safety were at extreme risk. Aside from the hundreds of serious injuries that occurred while building the dam, more than a hundred workers lost their lives in accidents ranging from dynamite blasting to drowning to falling off ledges and platforms to being trampled by the heavy construction equipment.

Understandably, an enjoyable workplace atmosphere was not a top-of-mind concern for the Hoover Dam workers who were desperate for a paycheck.  If you were a worker that was lucky enough to land one of those Dam jobs (pardon the pun), you’d better keep your head down, your mouth shut, and do that job to perfection. And if you became ill or, worse, got injured on the job, you had better not let anyone find out or you’d be replaced in the blink of an eye.

Here’s a video of the Hoover Dam workplace culture:

Of course, that was then and this is now. These days, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s now the employers who are doing the groveling. Skilled, experienced workers are in short supply and high demand, and the available talent pool seems to grow more shallow with each passing day.

That’s why the best people in your organization are perpetually pursued by headhunters, recruiters, and competing employers. The bait most commonly used to lure them away from you is a sizable bump in pay. But if money alone won’t get them to jump, an offer of a better workplace atmosphere is always a great trump card.

To survive and succeed in the workplace atmosphere race, you must know what questions are perpetually running through the minds of your existing talent pool as well as through the minds of those whom you are trying to recruit.

7 Crucial Workplace Atmosphere Questions Your People Ask Themselves

1. Is my employer doing everything possible to keep me safe?

2. Can I be my authentic self when I’m at work, or do I need to pretend I’m something I’m not?

3. Do I have everything I need to excel in this job? (e.g. tools, training, technology, etc?)

4. Do I like, respect, and trust my boss?

5. Do I genuinely like the people I work with day in and day out?

6. Does this environment energize me or make me want to find an escape hatch?

7. Is it just all work and no play around here, or are we permitted to have some fun while on the job?

Just knowing these 7 crucial questions is not enough. Your answers — or rather — their answers to these questions will determine whether your company is able to attract and retain the best possible talent, or if you’ll end up rummaging through the left-overs your competitors kick to the curb.

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