Why would a company proclaim its distrust of employees?


Shortly after writing an article on the need for trust in the workplace for a culture of recognition to thrive, I came face-to-face with evidence of a company that appears not to get it.

Not trusting employees is bad enough, but this company took it to another level. It effectively proclaimed, for all to see, that it didn’t trust their employees—at least not when they were in charge of a company vehicle.

We’re all familiar with the question displayed on some companies’ vehicles: “How is my driving?” followed by a telephone number. We understand that this is not an invitation to call to praise how the company vehicle is being driven. I wonder what would happen if someone did.

“I want to tell you how well Unit #7 was being driven. The driver was following all the traffic rules and observed the speed limit. He slowed down for the school zone and stopped to let two elderly pedestrians cross the street.”

Not likely the message the person answering the phone would expect to hear. How would he/she respond? Would this praise ever reach the ears of the driver of Unit #7?

The message on the vehicle I was following left no room for confusion about what they wanted to hear from members of public.

“Poor driving? Dirty vehicle? Call 1 (800) I-TATTLE”

(Actually, I just made up the phone number, but it would be consistent with the message of distrust. I wonder if it’s available.)

Some will argue that this is a misinterpretation of the intent of the sign. It was only meant as a reminder to staff that whenever they drive a company vehicle they represent the company. When anyone sees a clean company vehicle driven in a safe and courteous manner this creates a positive (or at least not negative) impression.

This may have been the case, but at a high cost in terms of how current and potential employees might feel about the company. There may be several unintended consequences that arise from this message:

  • Everyone spends the day looking over their shoulder. Is management monitoring what they are doing, poised to pounce if an employee makes a mistake?
  • Employee engagement may be low. Who wants to put in extra effort in a workforce with a culture of distrust? Some may even want to give management a reason to distrust them.
  • Turnover may be high as staff members exit for jobs where they will feel trusted.
  • Staff members may begin to distrust each other. Any possibility for teamwork and collaboration will go out the window.
  • The company may find recruiting talent is a challenge. Who wants to join a company that proclaims its distrust to the world? “Come work where no one will trust you.”
  • The impact of staff recognition will be limited. If the staff feels management doesn’t trust them, they will be skeptical about what managers say, including when the message is “Good job!”

What about your organization? Examine your policies, practices and signs. Are they sending the unintended negative message that employees are not to be trusted?

This sports story isn’t about hockey, it’s about leadership

While it appeared to be no more than another sports story, something in the announcement of the hiring of a head coach for the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it about more than hockey.

The team will debut in the NHL during the 2017-18 season. When introducing Gerald Gallant as the team’s first-ever coach, Bill Foley, who heads the ownership consortium, said, “it really felt like we needed someone who was a player’s coach, someone who players would like and play hard for.”

Being liked by players may seem inconsistent with the professional sports coach Hockey Coachstereotype—gruff, never satisfied with anyone’s performance, always yelling, a boss who doesn’t care what his employees think. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s all about getting the job done—it’s about winning.

Yet that’s likely not the most effective approach to coaching professionals—or leading a team in any work environment. Whether it’s a professional sports team, an elementary school or a financial institution, staff members will be more engaged and work harder if they like the boss.

Years ago, when I was responsible for recruiting and selecting people to take leadership roles in schools, I used a standardized interview protocol which consisted of about 70 questions. I have forgotten most of them but there is one I remember: “Do you want your staff to like you?”

Typically, the would-be school administrators would respond that being liked was less important than being respected by their staff. This answer may have reflected the conventional wisdom but it was wrong. Being liked by your staff is important. The research upon which this interview question was based concluded that employees were likely to work harder for a supervisor they liked.

This didn’t mean that respect was unimportant. It is important but it is not automatic. It must be earned. People may respect the position, but they are unlikely to like or respect the person who occupies the position unless this is someone who they feel knows, likes and trusts them.

These perceptions are based on how employees are treated and how they feel the boss feels about them. Supervisors who demonstrate their respect for their staff are more likely to earn respect from their staff.

These are the people who become a players’ coach, a teachers’ principal, or a customer service representatives’ manager. These are the people who get to know their staff members as individuals and understand what they do so that they are able to provide GREAT staff recognition.

These are the coaches, principals and managers whose staff members are more engaged and more productive—although, in the case of the Golden Knights, not too productive. The Golden Knights will play in the Pacific division, which means they will be competing against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

Go Oilers Go!

Could my Mom sit in on my interview?

Silhouette of a large helicopter on a white backgroundAbout a year ago, Briefly Noted readers helped identify the most ridiculous interview questions ever asked. Today, I would like to hear about your experiences and your thoughts about another phenomena associated with recruitment: the involvement of “helicopter” parents in their children’s job searches.

Helicopter parents are overprotective parents who discourage children’s independence by taking an excessive interest in their children’s lives, including involvement in their job searches.

How would you respond if a candidate asked to bring his mother or father to the interview? Or if a parent simply showed up with the candidate? Perhaps you have experienced this situation. Or maybe the candidate showed up with a friend or spouse. What did you do? What did you say?

Please email your thoughts and experiences to nmscott@telus.net.

This request was prompted by the release in August of the results of research conducted on behalf of staffing firm OfficeTeam. The purpose was to discover how senior managers feel about helicopter parents who become actively involved in their children’s job searches.

The researchers collected more than 500 responses from managers in Canada and the United States.

Respondents were asked to select one of the three statements which “most closely describes how you feel when a candidate’s parent is involved in the job search process.” (See box for the results.)

Which one of the following statements most closely describes how you feel when a candidate’s parent is involved in the job search process?

It’s annoying—job seekers should handle things on their own 35%
I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’ll let it slide 34%
It’s totally fine for job seekers to get help from their parents 29%
Don’t know/No answer 1%

The researchers also invited respondents to recount the most unusual or surprising behaviours they’ve heard or seen from parents of job searchers. Here are a few of their responses:

“A woman brought a cake to try to convince us to hire her daughter.”

“One parent asked if she could do the interview for her child because he had somewhere else to be.”

“One mom knocked on the office door during an interview and asked if she could sit in.”

“A job seeker was texting his parent the questions I was asking during the interview and waiting for a response.”

I’ll report what Briefly Noted readers have to say in a future issue. Your input will remain anonymous unless you give permission for the use of your name.


Top 7 Dates to Add to Your Annual Recognition Calendar



While staff recognition should be ongoing and not driven by the calendar, there are a few dates during the year that are just natural opportunities to let staff know they are valued as individuals and team members, and appreciated for what they do.

  1. Work Anniversaries & Birthdays – These are natural times to chat with individuals to reflect on their success of the previous year. Letting people know they are appreciated around these dates may help improve staff retention. Researchers have found that job hunting increases six to nine per cent around service anniversaries and by 12 per cent in the weeks prior to an employee’s birthday (perhaps even more before significant birthdays, such as 40 or 50).
  2. Peer Recognition Day—When it was published in 2011, Thanks! GREAT Job! included the suggestion to designate the third Tuesday of each month a day to remind staff of the power of peer recognition and to encourage them to express appreciation for the support co-workers provide and the contributions they make.
  3. Employee Appreciation Day (first Friday in March) – Established by the National Association for Employee Recognition (now Recognition Professionals International) as a reminder to managers and leaders of the value of recognizing staff.
  4. Mother’s, Father’s and Grandparents’ Day– Send a note to children and thank them for sharing their parent or grandparent, or to the parents of your staff members thanking them for doing such a good job of raising someone who is now a contributing member of your staff.
  5. Thanksgiving Day (second Monday in October in Canada and the fourth Thursday of November in the United States) – The name says it all and saying thank you is too important to celebrate it only once. Thank those who make your organization successful.
  6. National Boss Day (October 16) – Since 1958, October 16 or the closest work day has been an opportunity for everyone to thank their bosses for the support and leadership they provide all year long.
  7. Job-Specific Weeks and Days – Administrative Professional Week (last full week in April), World Teachers’ Day (October 5), and National Nurses Week (May 6-12) are just three examples of job-specific dates that might provide an opportunity to thank your team.

Related Article: Resolved to increase staff recognition? Start easily with these tips

What managers could learn from my grandchildren and LEGO


The best gift I received last Christmas was a LEGO mini-figure.

Our then 11-year-old grandson and his 13-year-old sister are big fans of this construction toy. Naturally, they assume their grandparents feel the same way.

Early last December, they visited the LEGO store, where they carefully searched through pieces to create the right LEGO figure for each of several adults in their lives.

They extracted what they needed from different bins in the store—legs from one, a torso from another and a head from a third. Then they added a hat and an accessory to compete each character. The figures they created reflected what made each person on their list unique, based on what they perceived to be their interests.

My LEGO figure wears a vest, just like the one I often wear when we travel with them, and holds a pair of binoculars. And there is a wide-brimmed hat, similar to the Tilley hats I own.

Grandma’s figure is wearing an apron and a chef’s hat (she often cooks and bakes with the grandchildren) and holds a cup of coffee (half decaf/half French cappuccino from Tim Hortons, no doubt).

The value of these gifts is not what they cost, but in the amount of care that went into choosing a gift that reflects the uniqueness of the recipient. Managers can learn from Paige and Carter, and create recognition that recipients will value and remember by learning about each staff member as an individual, and using this information to recognize staff in Appropriate ways. A good place to begin is with 7 Questions to Ask to Recognize Staff Appropriately.

Individual stories connect people in ways facts and figures never will


Storytelling is an important communication tool that helps build understanding and commitment. This was the message my friend and colleague Jerome Martin and I took to the Rotary District 5370 Fall Learning Assembly, held in Edmonton on Saturday, October 22. Participants included members of the district leadership team, presidents-elect and other Rotarians from clubs from across northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, northwest Saskatchewan and northeast British Columbia.

As a followup to this session, Jerome and I have each written an article on the use of storytelling to create a public image. While our focus was Rotary clubs, we believe these lessons can be applied to many aspects of our personal and professional lives.

Click here to read Jerome’s article on the importance of telling your story.

The image from September 2015 was disturbing: the lifeless body of a three-year-old boy, clad in a red T-shirt, lying face down on a Turkish beach where he had washed ashore.

Many of us may have thought, “That’s terrible. Someone should do something to help these people.”

That could have been the end of it. We were all aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. We had read newspaper articles and seen the pictures on television screens. The boy was another victim of the war in Syria and the hopes of families to escape the turmoil of their homeland.

Typically, these tragic images are driven from our minds by a parade of other, equally horrific pictures of other victims of war, famine and natural disasters. But there is a reason why this event did not quickly fade from of our collective memory.

Within days of the photo appearing, a Vancouver hairdresser stepped forward. She identified the boy on the beach as her brother’s son. Having escaped Syria, her brother had hoped to bring his family to Canada.

This was no longer just about the tragic end of a young life on a remote, rocky beach. The story of Alan Kurdi had become a Canadian story—one that galvanized Canadians’ attention on the plight of Syrian refugees.

Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the United States House of Representatives is credited with coining the phrase, “All politics are local.”

I believe that journalists would make a similar observation. “All news is local.” They understand that readers and viewers become more engaged if there is a local angle to a big event or major announcement. They use the experiences of just one person, one family or one organization to report the larger story.

  • We are better able to understand changes to the Canada Child Benefit when we hear a mother tell how it will impact her family.
  • We care more when a report describes how a Canadian aide worker—ideally with a connection to the local community— is helping in the wake of an earthquake half a world away.
  • We are interested in the insights of a Canadian living in an American neighbourhood where she is surrounded by Trump supporters.

The appeal of this type of reporting is not only the local angle, but that the reporters are telling stories. They are not just providing facts and figures.

Most of us love stories. We fondly remember our parents reading bedtime stories. As adults we read novels, watch TV dramas and go to the movies.

Suppose J.K. Rowling had written a book filled with statistics and historical facts about an educational institution—when the school was founded, the number of students enrolled by year, a list of courses offered, names of some of its illustrious grads, etc. This isn’t the formula to produce an international bestseller. We would never have heard of Hogwarts and Rowling might still be on welfare.

But she didn’t write a fact-filled book. She told us about the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. She told us stories.

Often the answer when Rotarians are asked, “What is Rotary?” goes something like this:

“Rotary is the world’s oldest service club. Paul Harris and four other businessmen established the first club in Chicago in 1905. Since then, Rotary has spread to more than 200 countries and territories. There are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 32,000 clubs worldwide.”

I could go on, but I won’t. And you shouldn’t either, because no one outside your club cares. In fact, most Rotarians don’t really care either.

A better response would be to reframe the question: “Why are you a Rotarian? What is your Rotary story?”

As the media demonstrates daily, the best way to inform and explain is to tell the stories of individuals. The story of Alan Kurdi connected us emotionally with the plight of Syrian refugees.

Use your Rotary story to help people understand what Rotarians do—and to care about what you do. They may show polite interest, but likely won’t really care that your club serves meals to the homeless, that members of your club mentor students at the local high school or that your club supports a medical team that travels to a developing country. But your story can create an emotional connection that makes them care:

  • What did you see when you looked into the eyes of a homeless woman when you filled her plate with food? How did that make you feel?
  • How did a student react when he understood a math concept for the first time? How did that make you feel?
  • What did a patient say when he discovered he was pain-free for the first time in years? How did that make you feel?

What does your club do? What difference does it make? And how does that make you feel?

What the photo and story of Alan Kurdi did was put a face on the plight of Syrian refugees. It’s difficult to get our minds around the concept of 4.8 million refugees, but it’s easy to comprehend the tragic tale of one little three-year-old in a red T-shirt on a remote, rocky beach in Turkey.

No one will remember that there are 1.2 million Rotarians in more that 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries, but they will remember your story, the one that answers the question, “Why am I a Rotarian?” Now, go tell you story—to other Rotarians, to your family and friends, and to your community. Become Rotary’s image in your world.


p.s. Dave Lieber, a columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is a master storyteller. In this TEDx talk, Dave describes his V-Shaped Storytelling Formula. It is well worth viewing.



Interviewing or voting: check their track records

As the campaign heats up during the weeks before Canada’s October 19 election, voters are being asked to decide how to vote on the same basis an interviewer uses to decide who to hire: look at the candidate’s track record. Then ask yourself, have they done the right things in the right way? After all, past performance is the best predictor of future performance.

Stephen Harper is running on the Conservative’s track record during nine years in government, while the other parties are basing their campaigns on attacking that track record. It’s either vote Conservative and get more of the same or vote NDP, Liberal or Green to get something different.

Parliament Hill building closeup in Ottawa, CanadaThe other parties also claim their own track records as evidence that they should be elected as Canada’s next government. Meanwhile, the Conservatives point to those track records for reasons not to vote for any of them.

When they hire, managers should ask themselves whether the candidate’s experience is recent enough and acquired under sufficiently similar circumstance to be a reliable basis on which to predict the individual’s performance if hired. Given how quickly workplaces change, recent experience is a better indicator of what he will do now, than experience gained 10 years ago. And experience in settings similar to your workplace is more valid than experience from an environment that’s quite unlike it.

Luckily for managers, they control who they will interview. The people who managers invite to interviews usually have had recent experience under similar circumstances. Voters, meanwhile, are disadvantaged when comparing the parties’ track records. The last Liberal government was defeated in 2006, which is not particularly recent, and the NDP has never held power federally. The Conservatives have recent experience as the federal government, but have they done what you want your government to have done and have they done it in a way you would want them to have done it?