“Moments of Truth” can impact your ability to attract and retain the right staff

Moment Of Truth

Impressions count. We all know about first impressions—easily formed, enduring and difficult to change.

They influence how we think about an organization and whether we want to continue to do business or be associated with it. Some suggest that if the initial experience is negative, it will take as many as 20 positive experiences to overcome that unfavourable first impression.

Unfortunately, the opposite is not true if the first contact creates a positive first impression, which is much more fragile. A single bad experience can undo the benefit of several positive experiences.

Jan Carlzon understood this. His 1987 book, Moments of Truth, introduced the phrase to the world of customer service. The then-president of Scandinavian Airlines provided this explanation of what a “moment of truth” is:

“Any time a customer comes into contact with a business, however remote, they have an opportunity to form an impression.”

Most of these encounters are brief, seldom lasting more than 15 seconds.

The impact of moments of truth isn’t limited to customer service. The concept is equally applicable to hiring and keeping staff. There are many times when potential and current employees will form impressions based on what they experience, which will have an impact on your ability to attract and retain the right people.

Just like the SAS employees described in Carlzon’s book, what you and your staff do will influence the impressions that will be formed, from the point of first contact to when the employee resigns or retires.

Let’s look at some of these moments of truth (I expect that you will identify others, which are specific to your organization):

  1. When a potential employee first encounters the organization as a consumer of its products or services How were they treated? Did the employee who served them seem committed to the job and knowledgeable about the product? Was the service efficient? Did this feel like a place where they might like to work?
  2. When a potential employee sees recruitment advertising What message does the advertising convey about your organization: exciting or boring? Does this seem like a place where they would like to work? Do the organization’s values seem to align with those of the potential employee?
  3. When the potential employee is contacted to schedule an interview Is the applicant treated with respect? Does the call feel more like an invitation than a summons? Is information about the interview presented in an organized fashion?
  4. When the candidate is interviewed – Is the interview conducted in a professional way? Do the interviewers seem organized and knowledgeable about the position? Is the interview panel introduced and welcoming?
  5. When the candidate is offered a job – Is the offer made by the soon-to-be boss or some other significant player within the organization? Does the candidate feel that the employer is excited about her joining the organization?
  6. When the new employee arrives on Day One – Does the newcomer feel he was expected? Is the organization prepared for his arrival? Does he feel welcome? Is he introduced to other staff? Do they make the newcomer feel welcome? Is there an opportunity for the newcomer to contribute on Day One?
  7. When the new employee receives feedback for the first time, whether positive or negative – Does the employee receive feedback on or soon after Day One? They should, and it should be positive. Other feedback should reflect a commitment to the employee’s growth, not to find fault or attach blame.
  8. When the new employee meets customers for the first time ­– What is their attitude towards the organization (likely influenced by their past experience with the organization)?
  9. When change occurs – How are new initiatives introduced? Is staff consulted before change is implemented that will impact them? How is staff prepared for change?
  10. When the supervisor demonstrates the relationship (or lack thereof) between the organization’s mission statement and values, and what happens on a day-to-day basis – Are day-to-day actions consistent with the organization’s values? How well do these values align with those of the employee?
  11. When there is bad news – How is it reported? Is bad news suppressed?
  12. When the employee requires supplies or equipment to do the job – Are they available when required? How easy are they to obtain? Is staff expected to make do with what’s ready there?
  13. When the employee provides input or makes a suggestion – How is input requested? How is it received? Is input welcome?
  14. When the employee responds to an employee satisfaction survey – Is anyone really listening? What happens as a result of this input?
  15. When another staff member resigns or retires – How are they treated? What is said? Is their contribution celebrated or do these employees just slip away unnoticed?
  16. When the employee receives recognition – Does recognition include the five ingredients of GREAT staff recognition—Genuine, Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely? How frequently are staff members recognized?
  17. When the employee attends a staff meeting – What is its purpose? Are meetings about being told what do or opportunities for managers to listen to input? Are meetings productive or a waste of time?
  18. When training is offered – Is it job related? Is training directed by management or does staff have a chance to shape the training they will receive? Will what they learn help staff members’ reach their career goals?
  19. When the employee is ill or is facing a family emergency – Is the employee treated with courtesy or made to feel guilty for inconveniencing the organization?
  20. When the employee decides it’s time to leave – How is he treated? Remember, he will talk to others about his experience, including potential applicants.

What moments of truth influence the impression potential and current staff form about your organization? What can you do to ensure that all these incidents lead to positive impressions? Please leave your thoughts in the comment box.


How interview panels are like readers of murder mysteries


In a previous article, I suggested that interviewers, like detectives of fiction with a murder to solve, should examine motive, means and opportunity before deciding whether to hire a candidate. In that article, I quoted bestselling mystery writer P.D. James, talking about the structure and recognized conventions of mystery writing.

The quotation was part of a longer passage from her book, Talking about Detective Fiction. Allowed to run their full course, her words hint at a parallel between readers and members of interview panels. Here’s the complete passage, with the relevant words highlighted:

“[The detective story] is differentiated both from mainstream fiction and from the generality of crime novels by a highly organized structure and recognized conventions. What we can expect is a central mysterious crime, usually murder; a closed circle of suspects, each with motive, means and opportunity for the crime; a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it; and by the end of the book, a solution which the reader should be able to arrive at by logical deduction from clues inserted in the novel with deceptive cunning but essential fairness.”

A well-structured hiring process should yield a similar outcome. Based on the evidence acquired from reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and checking references, the solution (i.e. who to hire) should be obvious to members of the interview panel. This should be a logical decision, free from the influences of biases and gut feelings.

Frequently, panel members are not well-positioned to put all the facts in perspective because they were not empanelled early enough in the hiring cycle. Waiting until just prior to the interviews to gather people to interview the already screened candidates is akin to tearing the first 150 pages from a murder mystery before handing it a reader.

The reader won’t know who was murdered, how the crime was committed, or what might have motivated the suspects to kill the victim. Deprived of information contained in the first chapters, the reader will be unlikely to arrive at a solution “by logical deduction from clues inserted in the novel.”

A panel that isn’t formed until late in the process is disadvantaged. It won’t have had a role in identifying the competencies required to succeed in the vacant position, or in deciding which topics should be explored during the interview. Panel members may not even see resumes until shortly before the candidates enter the interview room.

Panel members who begin on page 1 will understand the criteria by which candidates will be judged. They may have even been involved in writing questions that will reveal how the candidate has responded to situations similar to those your staff encounters. How does what the candidate described compare to what your top performers would have done? Was the behavior which the candidate described acceptable, unacceptable, or outstanding, measured by what you expect to witness from your top performers?

Serving on an interview panel is not just about asking questions. Some members will do this, while others will take notes, the quality of which will affect the quality of the hiring decision. Good notes will prove invaluable in remembering how each candidate responded to the questions.

Conducting reference checks is similar to detectives verifying alibis, which is a convention employed by mystery writers to insert clues into the novel. While this task is usually delegated to one person, all panel members can contribute to developing the questions to be asked of references. These questions should explore some of the same topics that were discussed during the interview and be used to confirm what the candidates said during the interview. Once reference checks have been completed, the information gathered should be shared with panel members before a logical decision is reached.

Just like a well-structure mystery story, a well-structured interview process should lead “readers” to deduce “who is the right person to hire?” by logically following clues the hiring process uncovers.


Through his writing, speaking and training, Nelson Scott assists leaders fulfil their commitment to hire, engage and retain the right staff. He can be contacted at nmscott@telus.net or (780) 232-3828.

Middle school principal is our 2017 Staff Recognition All-Star


The 2017 Staff Recognition All-Star takes an inclusive approach with his staff.

Nominator Russ Keating writes that at Ecole Pine Grove Middle School in Edson, where Staff Recognition All-Star James Randall is principal, “All staff are treated as valued members of the school team.”

Both teachers and support staff are involved in school development activities. “Special event days are supported through the purchase of event T-Shirts (Orange T-Shirt Day, Pink Shirt Day) for all staff members,” Keating wrote.

Principal Randal acknowledges staff members for how they contribute and what they achieve, both at school and during their non-work hours. “In the weekly staff email, individual staff members are recognized for school activities that were organized the prior week. Staff is also recognized for accomplishments that occur outside of school hours, such as professional awards and community awards,” Keating wrote.

The purpose of the annual search for Staff Recognition All-Stars is to salute those who do a good job of using simple, cost-effective ways to recognize others for what they do, in ways that the recipients value.

While these people don’t have to be in a leadership or management position—peer recognition may be the most powerful type of recognition that anyone will ever receive—those identified over the years have usually been principals, managers or supervisors.

This is hardly surprising, as leaders are “expected” to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of staff whose work they supervise.

In a small way, discovering Staff Recognition All-Stars is a statement that recognition doesn’t always have to come from above. It is a way to recognize the recognizers.

As the 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie observed, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” In other words, leaders desire to be recognized as much as anyone in the organization.

Each year, the names of the Staff Recognition All-Stars are announced just prior to National Boss Day (October 16), which is a reminder to staff to thank their bosses for the support and leadership they provide.

Who do you know who is a Staff Recognition All-Star? Next year’s search will begin in August 2018.

A question about questions, for which there is no simple answer

questions and solutions need serious answers helps or support de

The question I am asked most often is one I can’t answer: “I am interviewing next week (or tomorrow or this afternoon). What questions should I ask?”

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. It all depends. For what position are you hiring? Obviously, that will influence your choice of questions. Questions you might ask a prospective teacher will be different than what you would ask if you were hiring an administrative assistant, a tradesperson or a barista.

Even then, there is still no one set of “right” questions, which will work for every principal who has a teaching position to fill, or every manager who needs to replace a long-serving assistant who is about to retire.

There are many other factors that suggest which questions to ask. Each school, business office or other workplace is unique in some way.

While similar in some ways, one school’s culture and focus will be different from that of another school. One coffee shop may be as unlike another coffee shop as it is from a corporate office or a construction site.

To be successful in one setting, a new employee will need to possess competencies which might not be required in another, outwardly similar setting. Understanding this, and what’s important within your organization, is an essential starting point to ask questions that let you hire the right people for your workplace.

There are three aspects of any organization that need to be considered before deciding what to ask when you next interview:

Top Performers – These are the people who come to mind when someone ask, “Who are the best people with whom you have ever worked?” Top performers are the people who you wish you could clone. What do these top performers do that makes them successful? What skills and attitudes do they bring to work? How do they handle common workplace situations? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you understand what you are looking for when hiring, which in turn, will point you toward the questions you should ask.

Values –– Values are important because they define the workplace culture. They should be part of your focus when interviewing. Ask questions to determine if candidates will be a good cultural fit. If “teamwork” is a value, ask about a time when the candidate was a member of work team. If there’s a value related to “customer service excellence,” ask about times when they served customers. You will be looking for behaviours that are consistent with your values.

Goals –– Where is your organization going? What does the future hold? What’s in your strategic plan? What skills and competencies are required to get your organization to the future you envision? Write questions that will determine who has the competencies which you have deemed to be essential to your future success.


Through his writing, speaking and training, Nelson Scott assists leaders fulfil their commitment to hire, engage and retain the right staff. He can be contacted at nmscott@telus.net or (780) 232-3828.

What the workplace needs now is . . .


Recognition Appreciation Praise Word Collage 3d Illustration

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No not just for some but for everyone.

– Burt Bacharach, songwriter, What the World Needs Now

That world includes workplaces, where love most appropriately takes the form of staff recognition.

What brings this to mind is a recent column in Vue Weekly, Edmonton’s alternative weekly newspaper. Columnist Ashley Dryburgh reflected on the power of love to overcome white supremacy in the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer.

One passage particularly resonated with me:

“It means, firstly, that love demands that we do something. Good intentions are not enough. Secondly, that these actions are ongoing. Thirdly, that love is not passive and finally that love is not ill-informed: action in ignorance is not an act of love.”

Each of her four observations about love are equally true when we think about how we let staff know that they are appreciated for what they do:

1. Appreciation demands action. Feeling appreciation for what an employee did doesn’t mean anything if you don’t let that person know how you feel. Express your appreciation with a few words of praise delivered in public or in private. Put your thoughts in writing. Reward the behaviour you appreciate and want to see more of.

2. Recognition needs to be ongoing. During some of my workshop programs, I tell the story of a couple who are sitting in their living room. Both are reading; he a newspaper and she a book, which she puts down before addressing her husband. “You never say you love me.”

He sets aside the newspaper. “I told you I loved you on the day we got married, 30 years ago. If that changes, I will let you know.”

Most of us would agree that this is not a strategy on which to build a long-term relationship. Why then, would we expect it to be any more effective in the workplace? We often welcome newcomers with enthusiasm, telling them how glad we are that they have joined the team. Then nothing—those initial words are followed by years of silence. They never hear any words of appreciation or encouragement. Whether we are talking about love or recognition, silence is never effective. These messages deserve to be repeated.

3. Recognition is never passive. Recognizing staff in ways that recipients will value and feel is meaningful requires effort. You need to know what the person did and why it was important. It also helps if you know the recipients well enough to recognize them in ways that match their interests and recognition preferences.

4. Recognition is not ill-informed. When “recognition” is delivered by someone who does not know the recipient or understand what he/she did, it’s obvious to everyone that the person is just going through the motions. It’s simply an empty ritual.

It reminds me of the 1970’s British television comedy Are You Being Served? which frequently featured visits by the elderly owner of the Grace Brothers to the ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing department. These visits always took the same form—a ritual, which began with the owner’s words, “You’re all doing very, very well,” to which the staff would respond in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Grace.”

The essential ingredient of staff recognition was missing. To be meaningful, recognition must be motivated by a Genuine sense of appreciation.


Assume that candidates’ responses will be incomplete. Ask followup questions to learn more

Portrait of woman sitting in front of manager and senior leader

No one should walk away from an interview wondering how a candidate responded to situations like those your staff encounters. Sometimes you do ask questions about past performance and what you hear sounds good, but reflecting on the conversation you think, “What did he/she really do?”

You realize that you settled for a superficial answer, which is what candidates want you to do. Anticipating the questions they might be asked, they began rehearsing their answers as soon as you invited them to an interview.

To gather high-quality information upon which to base your hiring decisions, you need to go beyond those well-rehearsed words. You must probe to learn more about what the candidate has said.

Approach interviews assuming that candidates’ initial responses to questions will be incomplete. You will need to ask for more details.

While you could rely on your ability to generate good followup questions on the spot, it’s better to be prepared with questions before the interview begins.

Thinking of what to ask next can cause you to stop listening to the rest of the candidate’s response as you compose your next question. As a result, you may miss some important information.

In this way, interviews are plagued by problems akin to what researchers have found happening in many conversations (interviews are a type of conversation, but with higher stakes than most).

Rather than listening to what the other person is saying, the “listener” is more focused on composing what to say next. To make the right hiring decision, it is important to really hear what the candidate tells you.

To develop possible followup questions before the interview, ask yourself, “What type of information is necessary to have a complete picture of how the candidate responded to this situation?” Prepare followup questions that will aid you to fill in the gaps in the candidate’s initial response.

Some followup questions are obvious: When? (best if the incident is recent); Where? (best if the circumstance were similar); and What was the candidate’s role at the time? Also, What action did the candidate take? What was the outcome of this action?

Depending on the question, there may be other details, which would be valuable when making your hiring decisions:

  • How did you respond? Why did you respond this way?
  • What other options did you consider? Why were these approaches rejected?
  • What obstacles/challenges did you encounter when dealing with this situation? How did you overcome them?
  • What did you mean when you used the term “_________?” Define/explain “__________” for me.

[If you would like more suggestions for followup questions, let me know. Email your request, including your snailmail address, to nmscott@telus.net and I will send you a card, which includes several followup questions you could use. I distribute this card during my Interview Right to Hire Right and “Unlucky” when Hiring? programs, during which I discuss writing and asking followup questions.]

The quality of these followup questions will go a long way to determining the quality of information you have when you are deciding to hire or not.

A good way to keep track of what you want to hear from the candidate is to list possible followup questions as a checklist. In the initial response to your inquiry, the candidate may provide information that answers some, even all, of these. As this happens, check those questions off. There’s no need to ask these questions. You already have the information you need.


Through his writing, speaking and training, Nelson Scott assists leaders fulfil their commitment to hire, engage and retain the right staff. He can be contacted at nmscott@telus.net or (780) 232-3828 to learn more.

7 steps to unleash the power of peer recognition in your workplace

Business team celebrating a good job in the office

From the moment a few years ago when a primary school teacher told me how good she felt after she received a compliment from a colleague, I have understood the value of peer recognition. This may be the most powerful type of recognition that staff members will ever receive.

“I really appreciate getting students who have been in your class,” the colleague said. “They are so ready to learn and excited about school.”

What made this recognition so meaningful to the person receiving it was that it came from someone whose opinion she trusted—a respected colleague. This gave these comments instant credibility.

Source: Thanks! GREAT Job!

Peer recognition has the potential to strengthen the relationship among staff members and to contribute to building a culture of appreciation in the workplace, creating a place where people want to be and where they are inspired to work harder. In this environment, turnover will be low and employee engagement high.

The reason that peer recognition works is that unlike recognition from the boss, who is expected to recognize staff, recognition from co-workers is unexpected. A requirement to “Recognize colleagues when they do a good job” is never part of anyone’s job description. Often what a colleague says is more credible, because it comes from someone who understands what is required to do a good job because he/she does a similar job.

Encouraging peer recognition in a workplace is not as simple as announcing that staff members should recognize their colleagues more, which was illustrated in a previous article. On other hand, following this seven-step process is an effective way to unleash the power of peer recognition in your workplace:

1. Be a recognizer yourself –– Peer recognition will never thrive in a staff recognition vacuum; it will flourish in a recognition-rich workplace. As a manager, you can’t just preach staff recognition, you need to practise it. You need to become a staff recognition role model. Staff will follow your example. Those who have felt the impact of recognition are more likely to recognize others when they observe behaviour they believe is recognition-worthy. The more you acknowledge staff for what they do, the more they will recognize their peers.

2. Schedule time at staff meetings –– Schedule time for recognition during staff meetings, preferably early on the agenda. Prepare staff ahead of time by telling them what will be happening so they can come prepared to acknowledge the contributions of colleagues. You can also “prime the pump,” by approaching a few individuals before the meeting to help them identify reasons to recognize their colleagues. These will be people who you can rely upon to get the ball rolling.

During the meeting, limit the time devoted to peer recognition to ensure that the reasons to recognize colleagues are not exhausted before the time allocated to this activity expires. You never want to be in the position of having to beg for more peer recognition. Before moving on to the next topic on the agenda, acknowledge that there wasn’t enough time to recognize everyone and encourage staff to recognize co-workers between meetings.

Related Article: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts of Staff Recognition During Meetings

3. Make it fun –– Here are a couple of fun ways to encourage peer recognition:

Give Your Meetings a Recognition Bounce: Set aside a few minutes at staff meetings to toss around a “recognition ball” (always a soft sponge ball, never a hard baseball!) Start by inviting those staff members who wish to recognize co-workers to raise their hands. Throw a soft sponge to one of these people. After expressing appreciation to a co-worker, this staff member tosses the ball to someone else, who then recognizes another staff member. Continue this process until several people have had the opportunity to hold the recognition ball, but stop before everyone has had a chance, to avoid a situation where someone will feel left out because no one thanked him/her. Remind staff they can always recognize their peers anytime—not just at meetings.

Create a pass-along award: This could be a new or repurposed trophy, a stuffed toy, or an item that reflects what your organization does. This symbol of success is passed from one staff member to another. Each recipient becomes responsible for passing it along to a deserving co-worker within a specified time period, such as two to five days.

Related Article: Encourage Peer Recognition with a Pass-Along Award

4. Introduce the tools of peer recognition –– These may include greeting cards (thank-you, congratulations, etc.), sticky notes, access to small gifts, etc. Make these available where it’s easy for staff to access them. Remind staff to use thank-you notes by distributing them at staff meetings or including two or three cards with their paycheque or pay advice.

For additional ways staff members can recognize their peers, check out Peer Recognition cards available from the SEA Consulting bookstore.

5. Observe Peer Recognition Day –– When I discovered the power of peer recognition while gathering material for Thanks! GREAT Job!, I proposed one day a month—the third Tuesday—be designated as Peer Recognition Day, to remind us of the importance and value of this form of recognition.

6. One-on-One Conversations –– One-on-one meetings can be a valuable way to strengthen the relationship between you and members of your team, and for you to keep in-touch with what’s happening. These conversations are also opportunities to encourage peer recognition. Ask staff members to identify a colleague whose contribution the staff member appreciated. Follow up by asking, “How did you let Howard know that you appreciated what he did?” Based on the response, either congratulate this person for recognizing a colleague or encourage him/her to do so. Perhaps you can suggest or brainstorm ways to express appreciation.

7. Recognize the Recognizers –– Recognition is about encouraging more of the behaviour that you want to see. Because peer recognition is about increasing the amount of recognition, whenever you become aware that they recognized colleagues you should let them know that you appreciate them for doing this.