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January 16, 2019

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MSPs Exhibit Best Parenting Practices


The decade of change

Believe it or not, 2015 has a lot more in common with the 1970s than we may realize. Like our modern era, that decade was defined by change. Diversity was as hot a topic as it is today. The roots of the civil rights movement of the 1960s blossomed into powerful drives for racial and gender equality, particularly in the labor force. Unprecedented technologies entered the picture, reshaping how people performed their work and spent their leisure time. The 70s saw the advent of video games, cable television, home computers and personal entertainment devices such as Sony’s Walkman. With more women entering into professional careers, two-income households also became the norm. For parents, these diversions signaled growing competition for their children’s attention and fresh concerns about how to raise a loving family.

The same not only holds true for mothers and fathers in today’s digital era, it’s taken on a heightened sense of urgency that’s prompted psychologists at Harvard to study the best approaches for raising principled, caring and goals-oriented children. What they discovered is that the best practices of 45 years ago remain as relevant today. The problem now is that we all seem to have less time to implement them.

So what does this have to do with work? Well, today’s business environment is a lot like a family -- we spend the majority of our waking hours there, and according to British researchers, we forge more relationships through work than through other social settings. Judging by recent statistics, though, it’s become a pretty dysfunctional family for most full-time employees. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the free agents and contractors who make up the immense contingent workforce.  

Why is that? Because most MSPs and their staffing partners have the time to focus on the needs of their workers, and they instinctively exhibit many of the best “parenting” practices uncovered by Harvard in its report. By modeling those strategies to fit the workforce -- nurturing approaches that focus on mentoring and guidance -- we see how MSPs and staffing curators elevate the performance and morale of their talent to new levels.

Raising a family of exceptional talent

Develop meaningful relationships

“When our children feel loved, they also become attached to us. That attachment makes them more receptive to our values and teaching,” the Harvard researchers write. Similarly, when talent feel valued, respected and trusted, they become deeply invested in their assignments and the overall mission. More than that, they evangelize the organizations they support, which leads to measurable increases in quality, output and the promotion of a superior employment brand. Establishing this relationship is the foundation of everything. It goes beyond tending to mandatory employment needs, complying with regulatory requirements and providing a stable operating environment. Like the best parents, the most successful staffing professionals:

  • Take a genuine interest in the personal and professional aspirations of their people, and help steer them toward paths that lead to attaining those goals.
  • Recognize the efforts, contributions and achievements of their talent.
  • Schedule a regular, recurring time to meet with talent and talk.
  • Have meaningful interactions -- they ask workers open-ended questions about their projects, their challenges, their ideas and recommendations, and actively listen to their responses.
  • Become participants in the conversation, not directors or lecturers. They not only demonstrate their commitment and support, they position themselves to gain fresh perspectives that could lead to new innovations, more efficient methods, continuous improvements and more. They also discover the unique attributes, skills and characteristics of their people, which can inform more strategic placement decisions for current and future assignments.

Be a strong behavioral model and set high standards

To become effective role models and mentors, Harvard notes, we must lead with “skills like solving conflicts peacefully and managing anger and other difficult emotions effectively.” This kind of emotional intelligence is a topic that’s also been trending in the staffing industry since the end of 2014 -- the “ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” A high emotional IQ, experts believe, is at the core of effective people leadership.

Our responses to hiring managers, colleagues and client stakeholders influence our workers’ perceptions. If we seem miserable, angry or combative, we instill a negative image of the client company’s culture to newly arrived talent. These impressions can shape attitudes that lead to poor performance or substandard retention rates. The larger challenge, however, likely comes from the client’s existing full-time workforce.

Gallup polls have consistently shown that up to 70 percent of U.S. workers are emotionally disengaged, frustrated and harried by their current work environments. So the real risk would seem to be letting the attitudes of exhausted, stressed, abandoned and unhappy internal staff infect your talent at the site. This is precisely where MSPs and staffing curators step up as exemplary role models by:

  • Engaging in honest, self-aware and humble discussions about the needs and concerns of their talent. They help their people focus on finding opportunities in existing challenges.
  • Leading by example and visibly working to help build a community that serves the needs of the mission.
  • Setting high expectations and sending talent a clear message about their importance, the power of their role, their duties and their performance -- placing the focus on the talent and not their observations of client staff outside their group.
  • Empowering their people to be instrumental members of the wider blended workforce.
  • Emphasizing the importance of honoring commitments, making the right decisions in tough circumstances, always being fair and respectful (even if others aren’t), and demonstrating a firm commitment to backing their plays when they’re right.
  • Ensuring that they understand their obligations to the team members they’re supporting and the influence they have. Encouraging them to work through situations as a team.

Use gratitude instead of rewards to make exceptional performance routine

Harvard researchers found that holding the line on real responsibilities and rewarding them with gratitude is fundamental to developing great people: “Expect children to routinely help, for example, with household chores and siblings, and only praise uncommon acts of kindness. When these kinds of routine actions are simply expected and not rewarded, they’re more likely to become ingrained in everyday actions.”

At least 70 high-profile studies show that rewards tend to undermine interest in a task (or behavior). This is one of the most thoroughly replicated findings in the field of social psychology. In the workplace, labor researchers have found that poorly constructed incentives programs essentially pay employees a bonus to tackle work they were already hired to do -- just faster.

Today’s talent thrive on opportunity, recognition and the chance to participate in the growth of the companies they serve. When treated well, and placed in best fit environments, their loyalty is unrivaled by older generations. They are surprisingly focused and want to contribute to a company’s success through innovation. They also want their ideas to be recognized and rewarded. Consider the success of Market Basket, which made headlines last year. Managers were given more authority and independence to shape direction. Employees said that they were encouraged to learn and develop new skills that they could take with them to future careers. Schedules were flexible to accommodate school. And after 1,000 hours of employment, workers became eligible for profit-sharing programs, further making them part of the business.

More than financial bonuses attached to some sort of points system or quota, this kind of incentivizing opportunity truly drives productivity, employee engagement and motivation, even in environments that may be fairly static, such as warehouses, call centers or repair shops.

  • MSPs and their staffing partners routinely hold clear, open discussions about duties, performance expectations and ways to brainstorm improvements or solutions to issues.
  • They challenge their talent, provide authentic opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, encourage skills development and drive them to grow professionally -- they make them co-creators of a productive workforce.
  • They coach talent and constructively critique areas for improvement, while championing the development of perspective-taking and problem-solving behaviors.
  • They express gratitude for jobs well done, making sure that this appreciation and recognition is publicly acknowledged.

Promote ethical thinking and positive change making

As the world and the workforce become more diverse, empathy is essential. For MSPs and their staffing curators, diversity has long been a hallmark and motivating force behind their solutions. As an area of such concentration, participants in an MSP program turn out to be some of the most effective leaders in creating empathetic and caring work cultures.

  • They help talent expand their perspectives to consider people outside their circles, making them better listeners, team members and collaborators.
  • They develop teams with a broader variety of attitudes and thinking, which spurs innovation and new methods for optimizing work.
  • They encourage talent to look at people equally, to enforce integrity, to promote adoption and different opinions, and to take appropriate action when discrimination occurs.
  • They build talent with a big picture view of business and their world -- exceptional workers who are compelled to “do with” others, not merely “do for” others, to conquer the challenges facing companies as a diverse and unified team with a shared vision.

Developing people: the most important and rewarding work

In today’s workplace, collaboration fuels success. People who are empathic and socially aware emerge as the best collaborators. And this mirrors precisely what Harvard psychologists found when they studied highly effective parenting techniques: “When children can empathize with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful. They’ll have better relationships their entire lives, and strong relationships are a key ingredient of happiness.”

Obviously, workers are not children. The beauty of the Harvard study is that it focuses on cultivating and developing skills, listening, sharing and coaching -- not treating those we manage as inferior. Just as “children need adults to help them at every stage of childhood to nurture these seeds into full development,” so do talent need engaged and supportive mentors to help them attain their goals.

As the Harvard report concludes, and as every MSP and staffing professional knows, “No work is more important or ultimately more rewarding.”

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