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How you manage talent spells the difference between success and failure. To gain a competitive edge, leaders must be prepared to address shifting economic, social and demographic trends that impact workforce performance. Stay informed with research, insights and advice from our leading industry experts. The world of work is changing. Is your company ready?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sending mixed messages

Employers often send mixed messages about the work/life balance their organization offers, paying lip service to the idea of workforce health and wellness without really committing to it. This can be very difficult to resolve. Employees become fearful: “What if I don’t put in the extra time like others in my department? Will this slow down or prevent a future promotion?”

Most employees want to be seen as team players. They do not want to risk being viewed as lacking commitment, energy, or enthusiasm. Companies and leaders need their people to be agile, responsive and improve their productivity.

Technology helps organizations be productive 24/7. Well-equipped international companies can respond to customers and colleagues in every time zone. Businesses use social media web sites to connect with customers and prospects across physical, geographical and technological boundaries. However this 24/7 cycle presents a paradox. Since people cannot work around the clock and always be instantly available, this makes the 24/7 pace unsustainable.

Instead of shorter work weeks, technology – i.e., global Internet connectivity – has increased everyone's workload. Email is just one example. Most people feel overwhelmed by the hundreds, if not thousands, of messages that arrive each and every day in their inbox. Some important messages may be overlooked or, worse, a power outage brings your email server down. A new prospect or customer inquiry may be forever lost.

While it appears that human productivity has increased a thousand fold, in reality we are accomplishing less and are increasingly less productive than perceived.

It is time for leaders to re-evaluate their goals and expectations. Simply telling your people to take a long lunch or use their vacation time is not enough. When workforce talent is stretched so thin, burnout quickly results. Reassess timelines. Push, but be reasonable about timeframes and expected outcomes.

As a leader, coach your employees on their decision-making skills. Help them create decision-making guidelines and adequately prioritize so they can effectively manage their workloads. Your goal is to help them avoid focusing on the wrong things – i.e., the non-critical path tasks – and keep them focused on the critical work. By effectively influencing your decision-makers and coaching your staff on setting goals and milestones, this will keep them on track and prevent projects from stalling.

Reward efficiency – e.g., your team accomplished project goals ahead of schedule and under budget. You will earn their gratitude and trust.

It is important to both commit to and maintain a work-life balance. If your team does not have the opportunity to re-energize, they will make costly mistakes. It is far better that they accomplish optimal results the first time around.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Productive reviews maximize performance

Performance reviews can be a nightmare for the manager and the employee. Often, no one has articulated the objectives or the results they hope to achieve. A performance review – conducted annually or otherwise – presents an invaluable opportunity for leadership development and strengthening of your organization’s succession planning process. You also will enhance relationships with your staff and help them build a stronger commitment to the company.

People perform better if they clearly understand expectations, participate in establishing performance goals and receive continuous feedback and coaching. They also will deliver the best value when their efforts are linked to the organization’s strategy.

Some organizations ask employees to use self-assessment tools. However, there is a risk. If you are unable to perform an evaluation ahead of time, then the employee’s self-assessment becomes the review itself.

A few tips:

1. Be prepared. Review the employee’s performance goals and the objectives of the performance review discussion - what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

2. Lead with the positive. Set the current business context and the value of their contributions.

3. Do not be confrontational. You want to evaluate and provide feedback on job performance, not the individual. You want to raise – not lower – employee engagement.

4. Be consistent. Both, top performers and weak performers should receive an accurate understanding of how their performance is measured and your perspective on their next steps.

5. Make it a two-way conversation. Ask your employee about his or her ideas and concerns.

6. Address what is important to your employee. Job satisfaction is the number one criterion that affects an employee’s attitude – and therefore his or her level of performance – and ability to add value to the company.

7. Discuss work/life balance. Talk about ways to improve work/life balance. Discuss the employee’s career advancement opportunities and discuss what the future may hold.

8. Be a good listener. Nonverbal cues are important. Pay attention and be an active listener.

A successful performance review is one where your employee leaves the meeting feeling committed and excited about his or her job. Conversely, if your employee leaves feeling his or her needs are not satisfied, the less likely it is that they will be motivated to focus on team and company goals. In addition to telling employees you acknowledge and appreciate their efforts and contributions, it is also important to reward them, fairly and equitably.

Taking these steps will demonstrate your leadership and build greater engagement and performance on your team. After all, your company’s future success depends, in large part, on the success of your organization’s people.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Employee-manager relationships are under stress

Message to leaders: employees are demanding a new kind of manager-worker relationship. If employees do not trust the organization’s decision-making process and results, they also will not trust your ability to lead the company successfully.

Consistently demonstrate a set of core values, listen to employees, ask for their ideas, and communicate your strategies. Help employees understand that you value their contributions. If you ensure that employees feel valued, treat them with respect, and demonstrate a sincere interest in collaboration, you will engender profound loyalty that has positive and measurable returns: star talent will not be easily lured way, your overall attrition rate will decrease, and both performance and productivity will improve.

Communication and trust go hand-in-hand. If employees do not know where the organization is heading and why – and feel that their ideas do not matter – you will suffer the consequences. If you help your staff feel valued and engage them in key decision-making processes, the more likely is it they will feel a sense of job satisfaction. Happy employees make smarter decisions and work harder – simply because they believe their ideas and contributions matter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Treat employees like customers and build long-term relationships

Take the time to secure long-term and strategic relationships with your current employees, both average and high performers. Successful employee relationships mean strong retention. This will save your organizations thousands if not millions of dollars by reducing attrition.

If you are able to retain top performers, this transforms what some employees may consider a short-term opportunity into a long-term and genuine partnership. As companies endeavor to secure both share of market and share of mind from customers and prospects, apply the same concept to your employees.

Given the high cost of recruiting, training, and retention, it will invariably cost your company more if you are continually seeking new external talent. Using a long-term and strategic approach and – i.e., growing from within – offers numerous benefits: a sustained organizational culture, evolving institutional knowledge, strong and enduring customer relationships, and a pipeline of internal talent to support and accelerate succession planning.

Engage your employees. Share with them your vision and strategic plan. Ask your employees to review and validate the marketing strategy and tactics used with customers. If employees see sickly quality control practices, poor customer service, and lack of sales and marketing integration, this wil make it impossible to convert high-performing employees into long-term organizational assets. Effective leaders do not micromanage. They recognize, for example, that requiring their team to check in every day and report on their progress is demeaning and not motivating. Instead, build personal and trusting relationships and create win-win solutions.

An organization's marketing and PR activities attempt to build and secure long-term customer relationships. Apply this same concept to your employees. It is far more cost effective and organizationally beneficial to respect and treat your employee well. If employees feel genuine emotional engagement they will be are inspired and commit their full energy, loyalty – and future – to the company.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reap the ROI of your human capital investment

Are you receiving value on the dollars spent training and developing your workforce? Lost opportunities are a sunk cost and impact earnings so it is fiscally smarter to help your employees experience and internalize organizational opportunities.

When companies don’t optimize their talent investment, relationships and knowledge and valuable human capital are lost. You decide: are your organization/business unit/departmental recruiting and training policies and processes a drag on productivity?

The challenge is to allow individuals to grow and evolve in their careers. They need to take on new responsibilities, possibly make horizontal moves into new departments, change functions, and develop an understanding of the company from research, engineering, product/services marketing, prospecting, lead generation and sales perspectives. This will enable your top performers to thrive and deliver on established productivity, customer service and sales goals.

Leaders need to coach, mentor, and provide green field training opportunities that enable your staff to grow – experiential learning is paramount. Give your workforce opportunities to engage in simulations and real-time learning experiences.

If you offer the opportunities and incentives, you will work wonders when it comes to helping your leaders and staff take pride and ownership in their careers. Bright executives know they need to create their own opportunities. You need to help them do just that. They simply need to contribute insights and ideas, take risks, and add value outside their role's defined parameters.

As a leader, it’s your duty to support and guide them in this bottom-line enhancing process.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

If you believe you excel at everything, think again

Thirteen months ago, you were promoted to a front-line manager role. You’ve been leading your business unit’s training, learning and talent management initiatives. You believe you’ve done an excellent job in most areas. However, in a recent performance review, certain blind spots and deficiencies were revealed.

Even if you do ask your team for feedback (but, honestly, how many managers do you know that actually do that?), you’re probably not going to get a one hundred percent truthful response. Even if you do ask and someone on your team provides what s/he considers constructive criticism, are you open to accepting a subordinate’s critique? You may subconsciously turn a blind eye to what you hear because, let’s face it, it’s not easy hearing what others think about your professional and managerial weaknesses.

There is a solution. When it comes to performance reviews and improving your skills and core competencies, how the feedback is provided versus what is actually said makes all the difference. A structured and formalized approach to performance evaluations – one that includes a 360-degree approach – i.e., honest and constructive feedback from your manager, peers and staff members – provides a holistic view of your accomplishments and areas for improvement.

Leaders are expected to create an environment where you are continuously improving and developing your skills outside of formal leadership development programs. Find one or two trusted colleagues to whom you can turn for outside perspective and advice. If you haven’t one already, seek out a mentor. It’s generally accepted conventional wisdom that people can achieve greater professional success with a mentor’s guidance. A mentor can help evaluate your career plans, options and achievements, and propel your career.

Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal reported the results of a Development Dimensions International survey (Sept. 2010). DDI found that, of the 10 areas in which managers rated their skill levels, only 50 and 36 percent of respondents, respectively, rated their communication and coaching skills as strengths. A remarkable finding considering that those traits in particular are crucial for leaders who are managing others. Additionally, a recent Right Management survey found that only 50 percent of employees rated their managers as competent or very competent.

It can be tough to acknowledge your weaknesses. However, no one is good at everything. Know and leverage your strengths. Don’t ignore improving in those areas where you excel. If certain skill-sets need beefing up, acknowledge and act on it. This also presents the opportunity to develop someone on your team who possesses stronger skills in the areas you are lacking. Offer that individual stretch assignments and greater responsibility. You’ll be creating a win-win solution: helping others develop complimentary skills will improve your and your overall team’s performance.

Self-awareness is key. You don’t need to be extraordinarily proficient in all areas. However, you do need to acknowledge your developmental needs. Be willing to collaborate with others to fill your gaps and enhance you team's strengths. This is what it means to lead.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How life-long learning applies to talent management

Does your company employ a talent management plan and dedicate resources to workforce-wide learning and development? Perhaps so, but it may not be enough. These days, professional and leadership development are imperatives that cannot be ignored.

Although the market is currently flooded with talent, when you hire new management executives and staff, you need to have the tools and technologies in place that enable rapid assimilation and the ability to drive contribution immediately.

Your organization's commitment to ongoing professional development is as important as new hire orientation and on-the-job learning. However, as your business model changes and your company grows both domestically and internationally, multi-national and cross-cultural development is required to ensure your workforce and organization can effectively compete.

Current economics and budget cutbacks present additional challenges. This is why it is important to hire a talent management and learning and development leader to put an organizational learning plan in place. Virtual technologies are becoming increasingly important. The rapidly evolving distance learning model can save your organization hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars each year in staff time and travel/other expenses.

Case in point: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's (PwC's) Advisory line of service is a significant revenue driver. Since 2004, the bulk of Advisory's formal learning and development efforts were delivered through their Advisory University (AU). Every year, the Advisory practice had allocated a week to enable over 5,000 professionals to immerse themselves and develop critical business skills.

The expense, however, was extraordinary. This week-long, fly-and-stay conference in Orlando cost the firm several million dollars (airfare, lodging, training facilities, etc.).

Four months before their last flagship conference, the firm’s Learning and Development team was tasked with dramatic cost-cutting. In less than 16 weeks they developed a virtual development strategy that utilized virtual classroom tools to reduce costs (e.g., audio conferencing, webcasting, and video conferencing). They created a Virtual Learner Toolkit, maintained a conference feel through a Virtual Knowledge Fair, and raised the quality bar on self-study courses.

In just 120 days, their Learning and Development Team designed, developed, and delivered an event that brought together thousands of learners in hundreds of locations across the U.S., under the umbrella of a virtual AU – and reduced costs by nearly 70%.

Explore lifelong learning – and virtual development – options. Your organization will reap great rewards.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Playing Goal Keeper

In sports, a goal keeper is a player that is charged with directly preventing the opposite team from scoring by defending the goal. As a leader, you need to be a goal keeper of a different sort. You need to be the one who establishes goals for your team, clearly communicates them on a regular basis, and the person who helps your talent to learn ways to fulfill and exceed the set objectives.

Goal setting involves establishing specific, measurable and time-targeted objectives. Sure, that sounds easy enough. But how do you do this in an uncertain operating environment, where the winds of change are constant and the latest fire drill flips the priorities? In essence, goal setting today is a lot like chasing moving targets. But the reality is that uncertainty and change are the norms of doing business today. If you don’t establish goals, it’s easy to lose your line of site and miss out on fulfilling the broader vision for the organization.

With a clear vision, one that is regularly articulated and discussed with your team, you can define accountability for meeting goals and have a solid platform to loop back and review performance. It’s important for leaders to regularly communicate with the team, set milestones on the path to achieving the goals, and ask for regular updates from everyone on progress.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set with your team. When you measure progress, the whole team is more likely to stay on track, reach target dates, and experience the sense of achievement that spurs everyone on to continue the efforts required to reach new goals.

Boost the commitment and development of your team by setting goals that will help to stretch their learning. Employees want career development opportunities. Employees want to be led by those who recognize and appreciate them, and who give them the opportunity to be challenged and enriched by their work.

Is your team clear on the goals for your organization? Are you actively keeping them on track to fulfill them?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Worried About Work

Increasingly, I’m hearing that employees are worried about work and, as a result, many are stressed and tense. One of the most common reasons for this worry is a lack of confidence in being able to meet expectations. While workloads have increased as a result of layoffs and cutbacks, managers can go a long way in reducing stress and boosting confidence. How? First, invest time by engaging in regular career discussions. Next, ensure employees are equipped with the tools and have access to the resources needed to excel in their jobs. Then, look for ways to develop them so they're ready for what's next.

Many leaders these days are asking employees to do more, to do it in new ways, or even to do something entirely different. It’s a matter of enterprise-wide agility to sustain performance in volatile market conditions. Jobs and responsibilities are changing, business models are being redesigned, and generally there are just fewer people to do more work. Individuals need to be developed to rise to the next level of required performance. Companies that invest in talent to meet present and future needs have a strategic advantage – an agile, ‘ready-now’ workforce that can respond to changing needs.

With so many competing pressures and responsibilities, as well as constant change due to market realities, career management discussions can end up on the back burner for both managers and individuals. Having such discussions with employees can be a great first step in getting employees more broadly engaged. But managers need to be equipped with the tools to discuss career opportunities and create an environment where employees feel valued and want to grow in their roles. If successful, the outcome will be greater job satisfaction, commitment, and even advocacy – all essential for a healthy bottom line. If unsuccessful, workers will continue to feel stressed and pressured, which will likely harm the organization’s culture and overall performance.

Managers are in a great position to help employees find meaning in their work. When employees are passionate about what they do and really believe they are adding value, most find greater satisfaction in how they contribute to the organization’s success. And employers benefit by building a highly engaged workforce that outperforms the competition.

Are your employees worried about work? When was the last time you talked with them about their careers?

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Etiquette" versus "Getting the Job Done"

There’s an interesting new book out on workplace etiquette, which I read about in Forbes. It shed some light on new discourse between managers and employees… though I’m not sure I completely agree.

The author, Vicky Oliver, advises that when it comes to communication, be it by phone, text or e-mail, many of us managers need to be more mindful of business etiquette. Apparently, leaving a voicemail message when you know the recipient isn't there to pick up the phone is bad form. Seriously? Well, then why do we have voice mail at all?

Oliver also advises managers to never send communications late at night. She says: “If you get a brainstorm at midnight, go ahead and write that note, but put it in your draft folder and then hit send at 9 a.m. It's bad boss etiquette to harass your employees with notes after hours or on the weekend."

So here’s my issue: I have no problem with employees setting boundaries and not feeling obligated to work 24/7. But in my role as a leader, responsible for innovation, my creativity does not always come during “formal” work hours, which are mostly booked solid with client and staff meetings. So when I have some time to think, reflect and ponder, it often spurs creativity and it’s more efficient for me to share these ideas with my team when they come to mind. And my team is globally dispersed. So when it’s 9:00 a.m. in Philadelphia, it’s midnight in Sydney. How does Oliver’s etiquette fit into this scenario?

I don’t advocate using technology as a collar to keep employees “on call” 24 hours a day. But I do expect to use technology as a way to enable my team to accomplish more, getting it done better and faster. My perspective is that if you want to be highly valued as a member of the team, you need to be available, flexible and responsive. These are some of the values that separate average employees from the star performers. Not everything fits neatly into a 9 to 5 box. Sometimes it just comes down to getting the job done.

I believe that my employees will perform better if they have a clear understanding of where we are heading, what is expected of them, if they are empowered to do what they do best and if they trust me to lead them.

Which side of the fence do you sit: being up on the latest etiquette or getting the job done?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Change Interfering With Your Productivity?

Nearly two-thirds of senior executives and human resource professionals say that employees are struggling to focus amidst all the changes at work, according to a recent poll conducted by Right Management. While that may not be completely surprising to you, the larger problem is that they also acknowledge it is seriously impacting productivity levels.

Reacting to change is an emotional roller coaster. The greater the impact of the event and the less welcomed the change is for people, the more dramatic the emotional response will be. The process often includes a time of clinging to the past, followed by a period of apathy or hopelessness, and finally the eventual acceptance and positive movement toward the future. It’s actually a healing process, and individuals differ greatly in how long they move through it and how well.

To accelerate the pace of change implementation and increase the potential of succeeding with the objectives driving the change, you need to build change management capabilities at all organizational levels. Each organizational level – senior leaders, middle managers and staff – needs to learn how to effectively respond to and manage change. But each requires different capabilities, depending on role and amount of control over the process. For instance:

-- Senior leaders need to ensure engagement and alignment. They should encourage input from employees, communicate and keep them informed about the change process, value and act on ideas, follow through on actions, and model appropriate responses to change.

-- Middle managers need to facilitate change and help employees understand the reasons and objectives for the change. Provide direction and support, understand typical responses and cycles of change, guide people through the cycle, and help them to maintain their productivity through the process.

-- Employees need to continue to meet performance objectives during and after a change initiative. Involve them in the process. Ensure they understand the rationale for change, their role in making change work, and what is expected of them. Create strategies to help them overcome natural resistance to change, and show them how to recognize their own styles and reactions to change through assessments, workshops and team meetings.

If you are frustrated with the impact of change on productivity, consider building change management capabilities at all organizational levels. Are your employees struggling to focus and maintain performance levels?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Overqualified for the Role? Great!

I was dismayed to read a recent article that advised recruiters and hiring managers to pass over the over-qualified worker. Seriously? The market is a gold mine for talent right now. As the economy stabilizes, many workers are making the move to find new jobs or change careers. And we still have a lot of high caliber talent among the ranks of the unemployed who are looking for new positions.

A new job's value isn't always defined as a promotion or progress up the proverbial career ladder. Many people are looking to make a change to be part of a different culture that is more aligned with their own values. Or perhaps explore opportunities to learn and grow. Or even find a role that provides the chance to do what they do best but with a more manageable and flexible schedule.

No one expects workers to stay with one employer for their entire career. In fact, we’re finding that often highly-qualified job seekers are taking what we term “bridging” roles - jobs that will fill a gap and get them to the next chapter in their careers. They take them for various reasons. Some take them to bridge their move into retirement. Some are open to contributing in new ways. Some do it so they can keep their skills fresh and relevant or learn new ones.

In short, there is a lot of talent available today. The New York Times reports that the number for people in positions where their experience or education exceeds their job descriptions is roughly one in five American workers. This frequency inevitably increases in hard times. Academic research on the subject confirms that workers who perceive themselves as overqualified do, in fact, report lower job satisfaction and higher rates of turnover. But the studies also indicate that those workers tend to perform better. Moreover, there is evidence that many of the negatives that come with overqualified hires can be mitigated if they are given autonomy and made to feel valued and respected.

Perhaps you’ve been questioning hiring someone who may be perceived as overqualified. Go ahead. Tap the great talent available today. It’s to your advantage.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"You Spin Me Right Round"

A recent poll by Right Management found a staggering 71% of senior executives and human resource professionals are feeling increased levels of stress in their jobs. Often, stress is the result of employees feeling a lack of control over their work. The 80s hit “You Spin Me Right Round” comes to mind. An individual’s work week might start off with a planned list of tasks and objectives, but because of rapid changes in priorities and unexpected “fires”, the best laid plans are left undone and things may feel like they are spinning of control.

High levels of stress are not sustainable. While some anxiety at work can fuel productivity, too much can result in burnout, fatigue, absenteeism, turnover and ineffective performance.

All stress isn’t created equal. Before initiating a formal stress management program, it’s crucial to determine at the outset what your employees perceive as the root causes of their stress. Causes can be uncovered with employee surveys and exit interviews. Then, to help employees get a better handle on stress, I suggest a two-fold approach:

1. Stress management training for employees to help them understand the causes of their stress and tools and techniques to better manage it.

2. Development programs and coaching for managers to improve their supervisory skills.

As the Society for Human Resource Management reports, research by one client showed poor teamwork and ineffective supervision were the two most important factors leading to employee stress. Managing is stressful, even for the best managers. But it’s very stressful being managed by someone who doesn’t know how to manage.

Here are behaviors that will help to ensure that your managers aren’t adding to employee stress levels:

-- Demonstrate loyalty and commitment to both the organization and employees through regular career discussions.
-- Instill confidence in employees’ abilities by delegating meaningful/challenging tasks.
-- Build strong teams through effective communication of plan, roles, responsibilities and expectations.
-- Maintain accountability for appropriate employee behaviors.
-- Earn respect by giving respect.
-- Show resilience and adaptability when dealing with challenges.

By providing training and career development, you will help both managers and employees feel more confident in their ability to do their jobs while also reducing stress and ultimately increasing productivity and performance.

Is your workforce spinning out of control?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Making Innovation More Than a Buzzword

I read with great interest Ric Merrifield’s blog post where he commented: “My growing fear is that innovation is on course to become the fad of the day in the same way quality was in the 90s.” Far from a “fad”, I believe innovation is core to growth for many businesses and it is not likely to get blown away by the next breezy trend. The foundation to creating innovation in your firm is to develop a culture that supports risk taking. It’s not about fads, trends and buzzwords. It’s about creating an environment that promotes creativity.

Complacency can ruin any good business. Just look at Blockbuster who announced last month they are filing for bankruptcy after not being able to anticipate, adapt and cater to new market and customer demands.

As Fast Company reports, there’s a strong correlation between innovation and failure. One of the worst habits organizations get into is that of not taking any risks. Place the bet on smart people who push the envelope. These are the ones who will help spur innovation. Fostering innovation is about the way you do business as much as who does business with you. Recreate the same uncreative processes, fail to listen to your customers, miss market trends and you’ll have the same uncreative business.

If you value innovation and want to instill it as a cornerstone to success in your organization, then you will need to establish the kind of culture that is conducive to sustainable innovation — one that enables innovation to become part of your company's DNA, rather than being yet another buzzword. Demonstrate to people that ideas are at the heart of what your organization values. Give people room to grow, to explore new ideas; build a strong sense of openness and trust and community; and facilitate the internal mobility of talent. All of this will go a long way to fostering sustainable innovation.

Is innovation a fad or a cornerstone in your organization?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Know Your Unique Value

Sure, you likely know what you contribute and how you add value to your employer. But are you in tune with the unique value you bring – the really good stuff that no one else has or no one else can replicate?

As Brett Simons reports in his blog, your value, what you can do uniquely well, is your currency. If you are remarkably good at helping others with something that really matters, then you will merit fair if not impressive compensation and rarely want for work.

Unique value could present itself in the form of a seasoned "intrapreneur" – a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. Or perhaps you have the ability to see things in black and white when others cannot see things as well, giving you the ability to make sound and profitable decisions.

As a key organizational leader, it’s important for you to understand this value and also learn about the potential limits to your value. Perhaps there are ways for you to continue to increase your value? Individual self-assessments can help to give you these insights, particularly when supported by an independent business coach who can help you to interpret, internalize and further develop this value.

Knowing your value and being able to articulate it with confidence will be your source of competitive advantage. Having such self-confidence is important in gaining trust, loyalty and commitment – tempering that confidence with authenticity and genuine caring.

Knowing your value does not mean being able to tell people how great you are. Knowing your value as a leader is the confidence that comes with having a crystal clear understanding of what it is you can do uniquely well to help others seize opportunities or solve problems that matter to them.

Enlightened leaders have a good understanding of their unique value. It’s part of the foundation in rounding out their emotional intelligence, self-confidence and marketability.

Do you know the true value of what you bring to the organization?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What Do You See In the Mirror?

Trust in managers is in short supply these days. According to Deloitte’s annual Ethics & Workplace Survey, 48% of employed Americans report a loss of trust in their employers and 46% say lack of transparent communication from their companies’ leadership are the primary reasons for pursuing new employment at the end of the recession. Clearly, something is wrong.

Truly great leaders have acute self-awareness. They regularly look in the mirror, questioning, pushing and critiquing their own performance and perceptions.

Sure, 360 degree assessments can help in a formal way to gather feedback about what others think of your leadership style. But with social media, there are also many informal ways to solicit this input. Track sites like to read employees’ candid perceptions of companies and their top leadership. In fact, your own firm may be rated on the site.

If your employees don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. And if they don’t follow you, no one is executing the business strategy. In essence, workers want to be able to follow inspiring leaders who demonstrate values they can relate to, someone who is authentic, has a vision, listens, communicates openly and honestly, supports and recognizes high performance and shows that he or she authentically cares.

Great leadership is neither a profession nor a science, but a practice. As Talent Management reports, individuals cannot lead others until they have mastered their own state of being — who they are, what they believe and how they behave. State of being speaks to the sum total of managers' attitudes, beliefs, actions and values. It spans their vision of the future and presence in the moment.

There has likely never been a time when leaders are under so much scrutiny to behave credibly and ethically. Credible leaders are trustworthy, competent, dynamic, inspiring and accountable. It’s not enough to demonstrate one or two of these attributes. Today, a credible leader needs to hold all of these attributes, while being proficient and competent to execute strategically. It is each leader's responsibility to build an engaged, high-performance workforce.

Do your employees perceive you as trustworthy and credible? Are you ready to take a look in the mirror?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Aren't We Getting Anything Done?

As BNET reports, U.S. companies’ return on assets (ROA) have progressively dropped 75% from their 1965 level despite rising labor productivity. Even the highest-performing companies are struggling to maintain their ROA rates and are increasingly losing their positions as market leaders.

In essence, we’re getting less done. Why? Lots of reasons, but let’s hone in on one… How long does it take to identify a problem, evaluate the opportunity or challenge, strategize a course of action, create a plan and execute? How many task forces do you put into place, how many meetings are held, and how many people are offering feedback before anything gets done? And worse, how many times do the task teams fall apart, lose focus and momentum, and fail to follow through on goals or actually take any positive forward action?

It’s hard work and it takes strong self-management skills, determination and a real commitment to get things done in the operating environments of many businesses today. Too many initiatives hit a wall when the real work needs to get actioned. Everything we do doesn’t need to be accomplished by a team. We need to empower individuals – coach them to reach out to key stakeholders to ensure everyone is aligned and on board, seek guidance from experts and colleagues – and work smarter and faster.

As leaders, we need to ensure we aren’t road blocks to productivity. It may feel risky to loosen control and resist micromanaging. But a good leader empowers his or her people in ways that make employees want to do their best. Encourage employees to work to their strengths. It’s in our nature to be driven to perform and achieve personal accomplishments. Give power to individuals and then recognize and reward them for taking the initiative, running with a solution, and coach – rather than direct or criticize – if the course of action needs to be adjusted. The end result is better performance, higher productivity and stronger commitment.

How much are your employees getting done these days?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shhh... Listen to the Secret of Onboarding Success

I followed with great interest a recent LinkedIn HR discussion thread where the question posed was: In one word, what would you like to show/teach a new employee on his/her first day of work with you? More than 1,000 people shared their opinions. Many provided much more than the requested “one word.” In essence, they didn’t listen to the request. They were so absorbed with dishing out their advice that they didn’t tune in to what was being asked of them. This provides interesting insight into why people struggle in their roles: they fail to listen. “Listen” might be the most important word of advice you offer to every new hire.

Listening is key to help new employees ramp up quickly, acclimate to the company’s culture and kick start their contribution to the team and the organization. It involves not only hearing the spoken word or comprehending the written word, but also involves the ability to understand and observe actions and behaviors. When onboarding an employee, it is essential to provide coaching and guidance, including stressing the importance of listening. Too often, new employees – anxious to prove their value – fail to listen closely and don’t clearly understand expectations. Listening helps to trigger important questions new employees need to ask to gain further insights. Careful listening can level-set and establish clarity – ensuring a new hire meets objectives most important and relevant to his or her immediate manager, the team and the organization.

Careful listening helps new employees better understand the organization’s culture and climate, management styles, business issues, team dynamics, expectations and concerns. It creates the foundation for the new working relationships. Once the new employee fully understands the work environment and goals, she or he is better positioned to take action with confidence and bring value and achieve results that are aligned with the needs of the team and the organization.

No matter how well we listen, for most of us there likely is room for improvement. Next time you are onboarding an employee, help them to understand the importance of listening as a skill to level-set all stakeholders and set priority expectations.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stressed Out With Change?

According to a recent poll conducted by Right Management, 71% of senior executives and human resource professionals said their jobs are more stressful amid the current demanding and changing business environment. No big surprise, really… who isn’t feeling like this lately?

One of the main triggers of stress is understanding what you can and can’t control. Stress can be a common cause of negativity, driven by a lack of understanding for the business rationale behind change initiatives, the role each employee plays in making the change work, as well as an inability to adapt quickly to changes in the environment. Focusing on the factors you can influence and control helps to develop a more positive and productive response to change.

We’ve conducted research in this area and found that nearly one in three employees don’t adapt well, if at all, to changes at work. More than 9 in 10 employees are disengaged when organizations don’t implement change well. For employees who said leadership managed change effectively, only 40% were disengaged. Improving change effectiveness positively impacts performance. Our studies also identified the top global drivers of effective change management. The number one driver: senior leaders implement effective change. However, our results revealed that less than one in two employees work in organizations where senior leaders are perceived to implement change effectively. And only one in three people believe that the reasons for decisions are fully explained.

What can workers do – at all levels of the organization – to reduce stress and cope more effectively with change? Take a look at the three main pillars that provide the foundation for our ability to adapt to change:

-- Attitude. A feeling or emotion toward something that impacts what we think, feel and do. Attitude is impacted by our openness to change, our ability to embrace it, adapt to it and persevere through change.

-- Self-management. Being able to manage your own emotions and behaviors to increase personal resilience in a range of situations. This is also a pillar in developing strong emotional intelligence. Your ability to control your emotions and the self-confidence that comes as you successfully navigate interactions all contribute to a strong sense of self-management, particularly important during times of change.

-- Relationship management. The ability or willingness to carry out interpersonal interactions in a way that increases the likelihood of beneficial outcomes. Your skill at building relationships, combined with influence, provides you with the ability to build agreement and affect positive change.

In the words of John Wooden: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Are you stressing over what you can’t control?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Building Virtual Capacity

There’s a technological revolution taking hold across the globe which has the power to change where, when and how we work - enabling organizations to be more agile and innovative. It’s fueling a growth in virtual workers, which is also being supported by many businesses as a way to reduce costs, increase employee engagement and empower individuals to have greater flexibility in how they accomplish work.

According to recent studies, virtual companies - companies that use technology to link a geographically dispersed staff - are showing an increase of 8% to 15% in productivity. Key to that gain in productivity is the virtual company's workforce. As McKinsey reports, boosting productivity of knowledge workers and virtual employees is not a one size fits all approach.

How these workers interact with colleagues plays a large part in their success. We’re moving to a social business model that stresses our ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, not just in personal interactions but also in virtual interactions. Virtual interactions can be tricky – often, there are no visual clues for guidance and it requires a stronger emphasis on good communication and self-management skills. Basically, working virtually requires a different set of behaviors and motivations.

As this pool of mobile talent continues to grow for many organizations, assessments can play a practical role in evaluating whether employees have the right behaviors and are motivated to be successful in working virtually, or identifying gaps that might impede their success. Good assessments will help identify a potential employees’ adaptability, autonomy, decisiveness, dependability, stress tolerance and resourcefulness. In short, whether or not a person will be successful as a virtual worker.

Are you assessing the behaviors needed for your employees to succeed in an increasingly virtual and social working environment?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stuck in a Groove?

One thing that often happens to management as they become more senior is they get stuck. As Seth Godin reports in a recent blog: “If you’ve been doing it forever, you discover (but may not realize) that the things that got you this power are no longer dependable. Reliance on the tried and true can backfire.”

We’re not talking about a lapse in memory or judgment, or a mental hiccup, due to “senior moments”. This is the reality of business life today – the skills and capabilities needed yesterday may no longer work today and the required competencies will likely continue to evolve and change over time. The old “we’ve always done it this way” spells disaster for operating in today’s ever-changing business environment. Consider the struggles that Blockbuster faces by not adapting to changing customer demands.

The best leaders make lifelong learning more than a slogan. It involves the continual pursuit of growth and knowledge that takes place throughout one’s lifetime. You can adopt this attitude for yourself and you can also foster it with your employees. Reassign people to new roles within the company or partner them with different people, or give them assignments outside of their regular scope of responsibilities. All of this will help to fuel innovation and develop new experiences and perspectives, which aid overall development – avoiding ruts.

Encourage these types of learning behaviors through regular discussions with employees. Help them to consider new ideas and new ways of doing things. And model this behavior yourself.

As the business environment changes, so too does it change how leaders need to lead. This may drive a need to create new leadership models in your organization. The goal is to align the business strategy with the leadership talent and succession needs.

Reflect, do you need to break out of a rut and keep your organization from becoming stuck?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lack of Skilled Trades Intensifies Talent Mismatch

Despite high unemployment, many employers are struggling with a talent mismatch: individuals don’t possess the specific skills demanded by employers. In particular, lack of skilled tradespeople is making the issue more intense and there are no signs of it easing up any time soon, according to a new study released by Manpower, Strategic Migration – A Short-Term Solution to the Skilled Trades Shortage. This shortage is detrimental to the physical infrastructure, economic health and potential growth of nations and businesses.

Skilled trade shortages afflict 10 of the world’s largest economies, with the United States ranked number one as the most at risk. This talent crunch could potentially have a devastating effect on economic growth. Companies lack the talent they need to operate efficiently and prolonged unemployment of large sections of the workforce will continue to drag on the recovery and make turnaround unsustainable.

The shortage of skilled trade workers stems from several problems, including the retirement of older blue-collar workers without adequate replacements, technical training that isn’t meeting businesses’ needs, and the higher status accorded to knowledge work over more manual forms of labor among those beginning their careers.

Such workers can’t be offshored, but they can be onshored. When the right skills cannot be found within a country’s borders, strategic migration can involve recruiting from elsewhere to bring the necessary workers to the work, alleviating the immediate pressure of the talent shortage and allowing stakeholders the time and opportunity to work on long-term solutions to the talent mismatch.

In the short-term, strategic migration is a practical answer to the talent mismatch. The long-term approach will require employers to partner with governments, labor unions and academic institutions and individuals to train and reskill workers. Employers need to invest in developing their workers, provide for varied career paths for skilled tradespeople, understand how the aging workforce will impact their viability, and plan for growth by upskilling workers to provide the supply of talent to meet changing business demands.

Do you need to migrate talent to meet the shortfall in skilled trades?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Benefits of Impromptu Chitchats

Is the water cooler conversation dead? Maybe so. With many companies today stretched so thin, leaders are expecting people to take on more, expanding their responsibilities and increasing productivity goals. Add to the mix the growing trend of working virtually, office chitchat is on the decline.

However, impromptu chitchat can have real value. As MIT Professor Sandy Pentland reports on the results of a new study proving the benefits, he says: “Individuals who talked to more co-workers were getting through calls faster, felt less stressed and had the same approval ratings as their peers. Informally talking out problems and solutions, it seemed, produced better results than following the employee handbook or obeying managers’ e-mailed instructions.”

Office chitchat is often perceived as unproductive down time. But, in reality, it can lead to innovative problem solving, new ideas, stress relief and collaborative efforts that actually increase both productivity and performance. And it can be fun, too!

Sure, when chitchat is excessive it can lead to frustrations and lowered performance. So, help employees to learn the skills to move on from unproductive conversations. It’s ok to tell someone you’re “on a deadline” or “have a call to join”. However, managers should encourage conversations among team members - and not just email exchanges. An office devoid of personal interaction can create an atmosphere that’s unpleasant, even oppressive. It’s human nature to interact. The relationships that are built out of sharing can go a long way toward building a cohesive team. And, it’s well known that relationships with co-workers are the main reason employee stay with their current employers.

Encourage employees to reach out to one another to help solve problems and create solutions, even if they work virtually. Use technology, such as the telephone, Instant Messaging, wikis and other tools to help them keep engaged with each other. And as the leader, it's important to role model this behavior.

When was the last time you stopped to chitchat?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's Time to Get Off the Bench

There’s a lot of data circulating in recent months, including our own, that cite how many employees are displeased with management, disengaged, stressed with more work and longer hours and looking for opportunities to leave. But will they really leave? As Dan Walter put it in a recent post: “Employee engagement surveys are like New Year’s Resolutions.” Meaning, what people say they want to do is not always what they actually do.

But the reality is employees are leaving. One in two employees has been approached with a job offer in the past 6 months, while 54% of companies reported losing top performers in the same time period.

Our own engagement research found that as many as one in two employees are disengaged. If you are doing your own engagement studies, then you have insights into how your own employees are feeling. If you have the data, act on it. Those who “quit and stay” -- we call them "Benchwarmers" -- are a real drain on productivity. While many may want to quit, the worst thing is that many don’t. Instead, you run the risk of them quitting in terms of their commitment and loyalty, but staying on the payroll just the same. That is not to say that these people are no longer valuable to the organization. They may have just lost interst in their job or role but could still be highly committed to the organization’s direction, values and culture. Oftentimes, with the right type of re-assignment, re-deployment or expanded job responsibilities, these people can be effectively re-engaged. It is often far more cost effective to look for ways to re-engage this group rather than lose these people who you've invested in and who possess valuable institutional knonwledge.

Either way, you’re courting disaster if you don’t address the problems within the organization that are leading to high levels of disengagement, while failing to support one of the greatest sources of influence on engagement levels: managers. If left unaddressed, customer service, ability to attract high caliber talent, the employer brand, productivity, and ultimately, performance will all suffer. Make the hard decisions fast about the complacent employees who are warming your benches. No company is going to move to the number one position in their industry with a complacent workforce.

Do you know who the benchwarmers are in your organization? Do you know your options for dealing with them?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Relinquish Control and Share the Glory

One of the best ways for leaders to really demonstrate how much they value their employees is to relinquish control, loosen the ties and give them exposure throughout the organization. It’s a great way to prove your trust in them while at the same time helping to build their confidence and manage risks.

Recognizing your team and empowering them to represent your department demonstrates how much you value their contributions and confidence in their ability. This effort goes a lot further than merely saying “Thanks”. Although regular demonstrations of appreciation do go a long to foster engagement, commitment and pride. As Bob Sutton writes in his blog, it’s about giving as much credit to each employee as he or she deserves. The good boss goes the extra mile to make sure that employees succeed in their jobs and keep developing skills. And this includes giving them the opportunity to communicate and shine with higher levels of management in the organization.

It may feel risky to loosen control and let go of micromanaging. But a good manager empowers people in ways that make employees want to do their best to and contribute in meaningful ways. The end result is better performance, higher productivity and stronger commitment.

Of course, an employee may miss the mark from time to time. But this is an opportunity for the leader to be a coach and not a referee. Help employees to learn from mistakes and address conflicts rather than ignore or dismiss it. Model your own behavior as a way to inspire your employees to emulate you.

At the end of the day, you want to be a mentor to your employees so that they can be the best they can be and prepare them to take the company forward. Are you ready to relinquish some control?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Burning the Midnight Oil

Employees are working longer hours. And I have no doubt that most senior leaders are doing the same. According to MetLife Inc., many companies have increased employees’ workloads and put a higher priority on productivity since the recession. Our own research confirms this is the case. Three-quarters of employees say they now work more than 40 hours a week.

The findings reflect the pressures people are under to do more with less and shoulder heavier workloads in today’s workplace. Is pace sustainable, or even desirable? Companies run the risk of burnout and turnover.

And consider the impact on you and your peers. As BusinessWeek reports, fully 25% of executives at large companies say their communications -- voice mail, e-mail, and meetings -- are nearly or completely unmanageable. So, employees working longer hours, doing more work, while at the same time leaders are finding it more difficult to keep up with communications? Sounds like a recipe for disaster if left unattended.

Wireless technology and smart phones most certainly are factors contributing to both longer work hours and the unmanageable communications overload experienced by leaders. We have created a 24/7 workplace, with managers and employees always plugged in. Today, many employees stay connected and plugged in -- accessible all the time and available at a moment's notice.

Managers need to take the lead to ensure employees are managing their time effectively, as well as find ways to better manage their own overloaded schedules and inboxes. Technology affords a new flexibility by allowing individuals to work wherever and whenever, but it may also become a "collar", making it more difficult to assess appropriate workloads and work/life balance. Take time to regularly talk with your employees to review project lists, priorities, deadlines and role expectations. Seek input on improving efficiencies that can help reduce excessively long hours. Adopt best practices for time management and communications prioritization demanded by the new “always on” technologies.

Workloads are increasing and employees are working longer hours. Acknowledging and addressing this reality will go a long way to building a strong manager-employee relationship. Managing one’s own time as a leader can provide the model for others to follow.

Is it time to address your workload and help your employees to do the same?

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Pursuit of Excellence

A recent HR discussion forum question came my way, asking: “Why is it so difficult to find an excellent employee? Why are there so many mediocre performers?” Based on my experience, the root cause here lays not so much with employees as it does with the organization lacking the ability and infrastructure to identify skills, competencies and attitudes that will align with the company's unique cultures.

Let’s face it, thanks to the recession the current pool of available talent is rich with experience and expertise. Yet some firms struggle to hire the best people despite high unemployment. Many hiring managers continue to search for ways to attract and hire candidates who will fit their organization’s culture and thrive in their dynamic environments.

The challenge stems from five key recruitment steps that may be deficient and hindering the process. It’s not so much about what the candidates are lacking; it’s more about what the process is missing. If you are struggling to find excellent candidates, consider whether your process is lacking:

1. A definitive success profile that captures the right knowledge, skills, culture fit, abilities and experiences as a benchmark to hire against.

2. A good sourcing strategy. Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong places for qualified people or haven’t created a compelling employer brand to attract the best people.

3. A solid evaluation system that can assess for the required elements of the success profile.

4. A consistent and accurate rating of candidates against the success profile. (For instance, how much delegation ability is good enough or how proficient does this person need to be in a specific skill? And are we all assessing this person the same way by rating the person by the same criteria?)

5. A systematic process to transfer information captured in the hiring process into a meaningful application in the on-boarding process? (For instance, if we know a candidate is good in one area and weak in another, then let’s craft an on-boarding plan that leverages strengths and accelerates development around weaknesses.)

The difficulty finding suitable workers limits the economy’s ability to grow. It’s a difficulty that needs to be overcome. There is great talent available. A well structured hiring process will help you find the ones who will take your company to the next level.

How many excellent people do you have in your organization?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Solve a business problem: develop employees

We all know that organizations are facing a much more difficult landscape than they did two years ago. Organizations at the forefront of their industries are the ones that attract the best and the brightest talent who bring the innovation and creativity needed to win.

Organizations that value their employees know that they bring a unique set of experiences and expertise. They realize those in the trenches can see where efficiencies can be created and are often the best source for innovation. Encouraging employees to share their perspectives and insights will help an organization enrich its offerings, address organizational issues, become more creative, more efficient, offer a fresh point of view, and escalate the competitiveness of their organization.

Employees want to be involved in business strategy execution and in helping their employer to be more successful. These future leaders want to play an active role and contribute to its success in a meaningful way. Employees are no longer content watching from the sidelines; they want to be part of the decision process.

However, study after study share findings indicating future leaders are poised to leave organizations once the job market improves, while engagement research shows that keeping employees engaged is a key to retention.

Leaders must address how to improve engagement while staying focused on business needs. Developing employees is highly correlated with increased engagement and employee retention. However, simply developing employees may not lead to improved organizational results. There needs to be a link between development and the strategic goals of the organization. An Emerging Talent Program focused on identifying and developing high potentials is a catalyst many high performance organizations use to engage and retain their best and brightest. With direction and input from senior leadership, employees identified as “Emerging Talent” are given organizational goals to research, analyze, and make recommendations on. Examples include identifying additional solutions or offerings, establishing more effective practices, and identifying new market strategies. Throughout the program senior leadership assesses the direction of the projects and makes refinements where necessary to ensure constant alignment with business objectives. Recommendations are then reviewed by senior leadership, decisions are made based on strategic priorities, implementation owners are identified, and action plans are created. Throughout this implementation process the Emerging Talent members are fully involved, and their development continues to expand as a result. Upon completion of the one-year Emerging Talent program, members become mentors and coaches to the next program class to help share their insights and give feedback on the direction of the projects.

Organizations that engage employees through development activities, such as an Emerging Talent Program, while focusing on strategy, increase engagement and retain key talent, creating the high performance workforce needed to move the company to the forefront of their industry. When implemented as part of an organization’s overall business and talent strategy, engaging high potentials by offering development opportunities solves a critical business issue: having the right people with the right skills in the right roles.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding Your Next Big Idea

You never know where the next great idea is going to come from. Creative ideas and innovative thinking are what it takes to succeed in today’s hyper competitive market. The best place to look? In your own workplace. Employees have a lot to contribute. In fact, 57% of employees say they regularly make suggestions in the workplace.

Employees really want to be heard. Making suggestions signals they are thinking about the performance of the organization and want to contribute in a much more meaningful way. And this can be a great opportunity for organizations – if you have the right organizational culture, processes and leadership to support and leverage it.

An important demographic to consider are those just entering the workforce. They bring a new perspective and aren’t encumbered by the old way of doing things. They have lots of ideas. What motivates this group is the opportunity to contribute at a higher level, play a more active role in the organization and grow in their career. This is an important group to engage. Why? They are our future. However, most college graduates don’t expect to stay long in their first job. Consider how to encourage younger workers to contribute creative ideas as a great way to engage them, develop them and build long-term commitment.

Given flatter organizations and potentially less opportunities for promotion, encourage innovation and help younger workers to feel part of the organization by listening and supporting ideas. Use the opportunity to develop employees by having them be accountable for implementing their ideas and measuring the impact. Encourage suggestions but provide coaching to ensure the suggestions are meaningful and executable. Have them make a compelling business case, research any associated costs and related trends. It’s also a great way to raise individual visibility and credibility throughout the organization.

Be sure employees’ ideas and suggestions are not only acknowledged, but that employees have a chance to make them happen.

Do you work in an environment that encourages employees of all levels to make suggestions?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Training Matters to Everyone

When budgets get cut, often training is the first thing to go. In the last three years, training budgets have fallen by 21%. Cutting training can have a devastating impact on the customer service experience. Today, the customer experience – which can be instantaneously broadcast far and wide via social media – is a powerful differentiator.

Without training, frontline employees often find it difficult to make the connection between their roles and the success of the organization. Consider the influence on the customer’s experience when you factor in that only one in three U.S. retail employees have received formal training from their employers, according to a June report from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.

Training may not require significant investments of cash and resources. Training and development have taken on newer and far more cost effective forms without losing the power to change behaviors or acquire new skills. Online courses, scenario-based learning and on-the-job learning applications have all made development more “real time”, reducing “time away from the job” costs associated with more traditional training models. It might be more of an issue of coaching managers to regularly engage employees in discussions to keep them informed about the business strategy so they understand how they play a part in the company’s success. Whatever the method used, solicit employee feedback and opinions for improvements so they can make meaningful contributions. And empower them to implement their own solutions.

A classic example of great training reported in a recent BNET article comes from CitiStorage. One of the key stakeholders in the business argued that it wasn’t just customer service representatives who should be trained; everyone should. This wasn’t a trivial suggestion. Taking every employee out for three days is expensive – never mind the cost of the trainer. But, argued the stakeholder, isn’t customer service everyone’s business?

The acid test was this: CitiStorage’s customers got the impression that the company had taken on more staff. But of course they hadn’t. They were just getting more involvement, commitment and creativity from the staff they already had.

Can you afford to cut training and potentially taint the experience your customers receive from your “directors of first impressions”?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is the Lunch Break a Relic?

Has the true lunch break become the exception rather than the rule? Fewer than half of employees take a break from work for lunch during their day, according to a new poll by our research team at Right Management. As Anne Fisher writes in a recent Fortune post: “It's a sad day when leaving your desk for 30 minutes can make you fear being branded a slacker, but welcome to the post-recession world.”

We know employees are under a great deal of pressure. Workloads have increased for most employees and many are logging longer hours. But skipping lunch or being reluctant even to step away from the desk is not a good way to deal with the added pressure. On the contrary, taking a break to have lunch may go a long way toward relieving stress, boosting energy, promoting creativity and improving morale.

However, at some companies there is an unwritten expectation that everyone works through lunch. In conversations with employees at various companies, they’ve spoken about the need to apologize for stepping out. This kind of culture isn’t the way to heighten performance and engagement.

If your employees aren’t taking a lunch break, consider encouraging the practice – it’s about quality of life and quality of work. Just 30 to 60 minutes of free time can feel like a mini-vacation – and employees return refreshed, with new ideas, a clear head and probably a healthier, more positive attitude. Be sure to support them and lead the way by taking lunch yourself. And take time to talk with employees to see if individuals are struggling to manage their workloads. Review priorities and deadlines if workers feel they can’t take a break. An oppressive atmosphere where no one feels they can leave their desk is not one that leads to a satisfied, productive and loyal workforce.

Are you giving your employees a break?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Communication: Lost in Translation

There is nothing more frustrating during a busy work day as when I receive a cryptic email with a vague request and an immediate deadline. This often leads to numerous back-and-forth emails trying to clarify the message. The result is wasted time due to ineffective communication.

As a leader, you’re in a position to provide frequent communication – whether it be by email, conversations, speeches, press interviews or even through social media. Are you doing all you can to ensure your communications are clear and easily understood? Are you coaching others around you to do the same?

Maybe I’m more of a stickler than most due to my background as an English teacher in the early part of my career. I offer my guidance to help you to shape more effective communications:

-- Provide context: don’t expect anyone to be able to read your mind.
-- Make sure that all communications answer this question for the target recipient: “Why should I care?”
-- Define expectations by focusing on what is important for the audience to know and do as a result of your communication.

We know our message is important and we expect that everyone will take the time to read it. But that’s not true. Take a page from the Forbes article on Great Speeches: "People don't remember much of what they hear, so focus and keep it simple." Skip the BS. Pretentious, extraneous information might make you think you’re adding value, but it obscures the message.

If you want employees to connect with the business mission, vision and strategy, speak directly and plainly. Consider various types of communication vehicles rather than favoring any one channel. Consider how the audience likes to receive information. Speak in bullet points to make messages easy to scan and digest, and connect the dots for the recipient. This cuts down on the time-sucking back-and-forth that goes on when more clarification is needed. It also helps to keep people informed and interested. Share these techniques with your team. Provide guidance. Don’t tolerate ineffective communication.

Are any of your communications getting lost in translation?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Measurement minus action equals disengagement

A recent article in BusinessWeek focused on the increasingly important role of measuring employee engagement and tying these findings to corporate performance. Leaders need to assess and understand engagement levels in the same way they need to understand other critical management information, such as financial, productivity and customer data. Measuring employee engagement levels on a regular basis enables organizations to tie job satisfaction, commitment, loyalty and advocacy levels to key business metrics and adjust strategies and practices accordingly.

But measurement without action can do more harm than good. Simply surveying for current engagement levels and then doing nothing with that information often leads employees to feel they aren’t being heard. This, in turn, can negatively impact morale and trust.

Robust, business-oriented measurement and analysis is required to identify key drivers of engagement for your organization. Survey design should be aligned to the specific nuances of your firm and its strategy, values and culture. And it should provide a measure of an employee’s engagement to both the job and the organization as a whole. This knowledge provides key insights that help organizations to predict behavior and its impact on key business metrics.

We measure engagement levels by four main categories:

-- Disengaged employees, who are likely to underperform and leave;
-- Benchwarmers, who are likely to underperform and stay;
-- Free Agents, who are likely to outperform but leave as soon as the opportunity arises; and,
-- Stars, who are likely to outperform and stay.

Identifying and analyzing engagement levels and the drivers of success is the first step. The real challenge is in equipping your business to act and ensure that change is embedded in the culture so that the workforce remains focused and aligned to business strategy. An engaged workforce is the key to sustained competitive advantage and accelerated business performance.

As many as one in two employees are completely disengaged. Are you actioning your engagement data with the same diligence you give to other key business metrics?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do I really need a resume at my level?

Yes, you do. You never know when the perfect new opportunity might come along. Don’t wait until you need it. Keep your resume updated so you have your most important marketing tool ready.

According to our research, 59% of workers update their resumes less than once a year and nearly one-in-five haven’t updated their resumes in over two years. Whether you are currently in an active job search or satisfied in your current role, we recommend always keeping your resume current.

When thinking about your resume, remember it is meant to catch the eye of a hiring manager. It’s important to address the needs of a potential new manager, addressing relevant skills and functional experience. Use this tool as a way to convey your competitive advantage and the value you bring to a prospective employer. Be cognizant of current resume trends and frequent blunders and you will have a much better chance of success.

Here are three best practices for updating resumes:

1. List accomplishments and proof of performance. Focus on success metrics that can be quantified or qualified whenever possible. Highlight skills and how you have used them to be successful in the past.

2. Focus on most recent experience. This is your industry and functional experience garnered mainly from the last two years. Remove information that is no longer important to your career goals.

3. Keep the format fresh. Use contemporary styles to ensure it appears current and relevant. Make sure you cover the basics: name, contact information, objective statement, employment history, skills and experience, and educational accomplishments.

Once you’ve updated your resume, consider sharing it with a few trusted colleagues or your coach for feedback. Or, if you’re utilizing a resume writer, be sure you’re informed about what to look for in a competent resource.

When was the last time you updated your resume?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finding the meaning of... Work

Finding meaning in your work takes a bit of a different path than Monty Python’s parody on The Meaning of Life. Sure, it requires some philosophizing and speculation and probably a few calamities along the way. But most importantly, it requires some understanding of your values, motivators, demotivators, skills and strengths.

People want their jobs to be meaningful. And as they grow more aware of social and environmental issues, they become more interested in having their work align with those values. In fact, as many as 75% of employees find their work to be meaningful, according to a recent poll conducted by our research team. Only 4% of employees rarely or never find meaning in what they do.

Our findings suggest that most people care about their work – how it challenges them, offers a sense of worth or allows them to contribute to larger organizational goals and values. But finding your work meaningful doesn’t necessarily translate into high performance. As a leader, I’m sure you want to strive for a convergence of meaningful work and high performance - creating a powerful catalyst for employees to further the organization’s objectives. It benefits the organization to not only help employees find the kind of work that inspires and motivates them, but ensure employees are committed to the success of their company.

Business schools are doing little to prepare employees to find jobs they enjoy, but leaders and managers can play a real role in helping employees achieve meaning and engagement. Creating this type of environment can be difficult because each individual’s preferences are based on personal values and choices. However, managers are in a great position to identify individual preferences by regularly engaging employees in career discussions – uncovering those areas that drive increased levels of meaning and satisfaction. The challenge is to dig a little deeper and learn whether these same employees are engaged with their job as well as the organization.

Have you had career discussions with your employees lately?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bad attitude! Who, me?

Leading in today’s ever-changing business climate can come with frustrations. Change is constant and often implemented at break-neck speed. As a result, employees who are finding it challenging to adjust and adapt quickly often begin to exhibit negative behaviors. And worst of all, negativity is contagious. It’s important to address as soon as you see signs of it in your workplace.

The signals to look for include criticizing others not present, gossiping, power struggles, lack of teamwork or collaboration, tardiness, absenteeism and even a lack of healthy conflict through withdrawal. People are either unskilled or reluctant to have those difficult but crucial conversations -- critical to a productive environment. When employees are bewildered by change and floundering as they try to cope and adapt -- and in the absence of straightforward methods to deal with growing negativity -- productivity and morale can decline swiftly.

Employees express negativity with statements such as “it will never work,” or whining, sarcasm, or sighing, and even outright complaining. As a leader, the worst thing you can do is to remain silent and permit or tolerate bad attitudes and negative behaviors.

Here are some tips to help you eliminate negativity:

--Start with yourself and check your language and behaviors.
--Persist in showing zero tolerance for negativity.
--When negativity could escalate easily, smile…choose not to react in that moment.
--Stop the cycle of a lack of appreciation.
--Don’t collude with the negative employee - Be careful not to validate or encourage negativity just to make the individual feel better.
--Lead by example. Identify and authentically communicate the positive aspects of the situation.
--Offer recognition when deserved and for specific behaviors and results.
--Ask open-ended questions, listen and help develop solutions.
--Counsel the complainer and challenge negative and pessimistic thinking and beliefs.
--Set expectations. Don’t permit others to complain without first suggesting possible solutions.

As a leader, you are in a strong position to break the cycle. At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone. But you can do your best to educate and inspire those around you. Is your negativity level growing? Do you have the skills and motivation to turn yourself and others around?

If you’re interested to learn more on this topic, Manpower is hosting a webinar on Creating Positivity in the Workplace on September 29.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stretching to new heights

With flatter organizations and leaner resources, we need to make the most of what we have. Often, staff cuts necessitate the assignment of new roles and responsibilities to existing employees. Stretch assignments can be a productive way to develop employees and also meet the business demands you’re expected to deliver on without adding head count.

Research reported in Fast Company revealed that 68% of Emerging Leaders said that stretch assignments had the greatest impact in accelerating their development. For High Potential employees, 57% reported the same.

To make stretch assignments successful for all parties, it’s important to set realistic goals at the outset. Engage employees in discussions to make sure the new projects are aligned with their skills and interests, as well as those needed for the business. And once underway, schedule regular reviews to discuss progress and track results.

Stretch assignments provide numerous benefits, broadening both the individual and the organization to achieve new heights in performance. As Elliott Masie cites in a recent Great Leadership blog: “Unfortunately, organizations do not use stretch assignments often or strategically in their leadership development efforts.” He continues with listing the multitude of benefits, including lower cost development, bonding with the organization which bolsters retention and engagement, and career path exploration for high potentials.

There are also some limitations to factor in. Stretch assignments are custom for each individual and are not a one-size-fits-all initiative. If you want the latter, send your leaders to a workshop. As a leader, you need to be hands-on in actively supporting the assignment and your employee. This includes coaching or mentoring throughout the process and committing resources to provide employees with the experiences that will hone their skills.

Yes, stretch assignments can be complicated. But the return far outweighs the risk when implemented properly.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take a break...and get a productivity boost

The sad reality is that most of us senior leaders don’t take all of our allotted vacation time each year. And if we do take a break, we remain plugged in to the 24/7 service culture we have helped to create. We remain completely accessible to any and all who want us. As leaders, what we need to understand for ourselves and also impart to our employees is that no one is bigger than the company. If you can’t leave work for a few days or a week, then there is a serious problem that will result in an unsustainable situation.

There are tremendous benefits to taking a break. I’m not going to focus here on the obvious benefits of being refreshed and recharged. I’m talking about the value to your team and your co-workers. Believe it or not, taking a vacation and being out of reach can actually boost productivity. You give your team a break from worrying about all the things you throw in their way when they are trying to get their work done. You also give them the chance to shine and be more visible by stepping up and taking on some of the responsibilities you need covered. It’s also a great way to develop people and expand their experience. But the trick is to not undo all they did while you were out, just because they did it differently.

Still in doubt? Read this terrific article on 10 Reasons to Go on Vacation for further inspiration.

As a senior leader, no one expects these days that you will completely disconnect while you are away. Technology is driving around-the-clock work cultures. The traditional work and play boundaries are blurred. Empower your people by letting them know you are “leaving it in their hands.” Use the opportunity to grow your team.

When is your next vacation planned?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Knowledge is power...before it walks!

According to recent research from the Manpower group of companies, employers and employees are not in sync when it comes to company loyalty in the coming year. Employers may be the ones to pay the price for this disparity when employees – the keepers of their organizational knowledge – walk out the door.

So it’s important to identify critical knowledge and make sure all that information doesn’t sit with just a few key people. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, especially given reduced workforces. When someone leaves, you run the risk of being left high and dry. Knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. It's more than just a communication problem. If it was merely that, then a memo, an e-mail or meeting would accomplish the knowledge transfer.

You can approach knowledge retention and transfer strategy from many angles. Some companies carefully document job roles. Some identify employees who have been cross-trained and can fill in when employees leave. Others use succession planning strategies to identify critical positions and key performers who can be developed for leadership roles. All of these are good strategies that should be implemented to ensure a smooth transition when turnover occurs.

The solution lies in creating processes that foster and enable the transfer of knowledge. This starts with identifying the knowledge holders within the organization, motivating them to share, and then designing a sharing mechanism to facilitate the transfer and application of that knoweldge. Common practices include teaming, pairing or shadowing on assingments, mentoring, and literal narrative transfers. For more ideas, review this list of suggested knowledge transfer strategies.

Every phase of the employee life cycle — from the time an employee is recruited and on-boarded to long-term retention and eventually to promotion or exit — presents an opportunity to share knowledge. There are many advantages for employers who are aware of the importance of protecting institutional knowledge. It helps new employees to become productive more quickly. It leverages developmental investments within the organization. And when executed successfully, it can create a competitive edge.

However you approach it, transferring knowledge is a complex workforce management process because knowledge resides within people. The trick is to harness, leverage and share knowledge to not only protect your investments, but elevate strategy execution and enhance business performance.