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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?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Building trust key to engaging employees

If you’ve noticed that employees seem unmotivated and just plain unhappy with their jobs, it’s probably because they are. Recent research shows an alarming increase in job dissatisfaction and decrease in engagement levels.

Only 45 percent of employees are satisfied with their work, according to research from the Conference Board — the lowest level ever recorded by the organization in the more than 22 years of studying the issue. What’s more, according to research conducted by Right Management, 60 percent of employees intend to leave their job in 2010 and another 21 percent are networking and updating their resume. And, a global study of employees in 11 countries found that more than 50 percent of workers in the United States are disengaged, according to Right Management.

Clearly, one major culprit is the economic downturn — and many organizations’ response to it. Frequent layoffs, wage cuts, and increased workloads have created a disgruntled and resentful workforce. At the same time, many companies have failed to provide the necessary clarity for employees around their new roles and how they fit into current business strategy and direction.

But companies that ignore these findings may do so at great risk. An epidemic of job dissatisfaction does not bode well for organizations’ ability to compete, just at a time when they need all the employee passion they can rally. What’s more, they stand to lose many of their valued employees when the economy improves.

What to do? The key is building trust. Leaders must demonstrate their trust in employees and, in turn, inspire employees to place their trust in them. And that means putting a new focus on open, honest communications; helping employees to understand their roles in the organization’s success; and acknowledging and valuing employees’ contributions — and showing that their opinions count.

Remember: trust should be at the foundation of your organization’s culture.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Establishing a Culture of Distributed Leadership

Dan is guest blogging for Talent@Work and is the author of the award winning leadership development blog “Great Leadership”.

In a recent article in The Washington Post, Deborah Ancona, a professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, wrote about a concept called “distributed leadership”.

She used the term to respond to a reader’s question: “How can a senior leader encourage junior leaders to act and make decisions when they find themselves without specific guidance? How can a junior leader know when it’s right to take charge?”

Distributed leadership is basically just what it sounds like – pushing leadership, or in most cases, the freedom to act, to others. Think of it as the opposite of “command and control”.

Based on a quick Google search, the term shows up most in the academic environment. However, Deborah does a nice job advocating the concept with historical and current examples that can readily apply to the corporate environment. She cites John Buford, a Union cavalry officer during the American Civil War, and a local leader in Haiti who took matters into their own hands rather then waiting for orders from above.

Distributed leadership sounds to me a lot like empowerment, one of the leading corporate buzzwords of the 90s, as well as delegation, a term that dates back to the 1600s. The desire for autonomy, freedom, and responsibility is not something that generation X or Y has brought to the workforce – it’s a basic human desire that leaders need to leverage.

Unfortunately, just like we all have a basic need for recognition and belonging, managers and organizations will often take a deceptively easy concept and still somehow manage to screw it up.

What does it take to “let go” as a leader? Building on the points made in the Deborah’s articles, the following conditions need to be in place:

1. The right managers.
Managers have to be willing to let go of what may have gotten them promoted in the first place – being the expert, solving problems, and making decisions. Some managers learn the importance of letting go the hard way – though overwork, burn-out, under-performing and dissatisfied teams, and failed relationships. Others – those with strong leadership potential – are more naturally inclined to manage that way. It’s the hard-core, autocratic micro-managers that will struggle with it the most and most likely either resist letting go or do it in a way that could make things even worse.

In order to establish a culture of distributed leadership, you’ll need to either hire leaders with a track record of being willing and able to let go effectively, or teach managers that are wiling to but don’t know how.

2. The right employees.
To quote Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Not everybody is ready to assume great responsibility. There are some that would prefer to be told what to do. Then again, laying a responsibility on an employee that isn’t ready is another recipe for disaster.

Again, it goes back to hiring profiles, assessment, and development. Look for employees that have a track record of seeking out new and bigger responsibilities, that can handle ambiguity, and with strong problem solving and decision making skills.

In order to get someone ready to take on really big decisions, a leader has to start grooming them by giving them little decisions that gradually get bigger. Using Situational Leadership can help you determine when it’s time to provide a heavy dose of direction and when it’s time to let go.

3. The right organizational structure and systems.
A relatively flat, decentralized organizational structure, where there are fewer management layers and managers have broad spans of control promote distributed leadership. Increasing a manager’s number of direct reports makes it harder to micromanage them.

Organizations that practice distributed leadership build processes that embed leadership into the system – rather than allowing only a few at the top to lead.

4. Clear direction and values.Without a rock-solid vision, mission, goals, and values, distributed leadership can turn into distributed anarchy and chaos. Managers at companies like Johnson & Johnson, Google, Southwest Airlines, and Wal-Mart have lots of local autonomy but make decisions within a very clear set of boundaries.

While the term “distributed leadership” may be relatively new addition to the corporate buzz-word dictionary, it seems that there may be valuable lessons from what we’ve already learned how to do: good old-fashioned empowerment and delegation.

Check out Dan McCarthy's award winning leadership development blog “Great Leadership”. Michael Haid, Senior Vice President for Global Solutions at Right Management, is today's guest blogger, contributing another article on hiring for cultural fit - part of a series on assessing talent.

Topics for Dan's blog are based on over 20 years of experience as a practitioner in the field of leadership development. He is currently the Manager of Leadership and Management Development at a Fortune "Great Place to Work", "Training Top 125", and "High Impact Learning" (HILO 80) company.

Previous experience includes management positions in leadership development, human resources, and training for a global Fortune 100 company, and Director of HRD for a public utility.

Dan is a member of the SmartBlog on Workforce SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board, and an influential voice in talent management social media.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are your high performers prime for poaching?

Given our hyper-competitive marketplace, everyone is looking for an edge – especially if that edge comes from poaching your talent. So, rest assured, right now one or more of your competitors is probably gunning for your high performers – your workforce elite – and those likely to outperform and drive significant success within your organization. While hiring will remain lackluster in 2010 and efforts to control costs will continue to be a key focus, organizations will be ramping up their efforts to attract and hire these high performers as they seek ways to get a jump on the competition. Risk losing your high performers, and risk losing any hope of becoming an industry leader.

It’s necessary to understand that this high performing group marches to a different drummer. A cookie-cutter approach to retaining and engaging them won’t work. Any organization using a “one size fits all” strategy to manage their workforce will lose. High performers have unique needs and demand more choice and challenge – compelling organizations to employ a more flexible and customized “one size fits one” strategy.

What does this mean? Quite simply, not everyone is motivated by the same thing. And there are significant differences in what motivates high performers versus average performers. But we do know that high performers share some common needs, which include the need for greater challenge, risk, decision-making and leadership responsibility. Give them what they need and everyone wins. They’ll find their work meaningful and engaging and you’ll reap the benefits of an innovative, high performance culture.

Are your high performers getting what they need?

Monday, May 17, 2010

More work, less staff

As a result of downsizing, more companies are operating with considerably smaller staffs. But, at the same time, the pace of business — and the pressures to produce — are moving at an ever-faster pace. The result is that organizations have to do more with less: A larger number of duties must be performed by a smaller group of employees.

It’s a difficult challenge — and one that may require more than just tinkering at the edges by leaders. First, especially if there have been significant staff cuts, companies may need to introduce entirely new processes. To that end, organizations have to analyze how key functions are performed — everything from methods for shipping products to customer service systems — to determine the most effective ways to streamline them.

Organizations also will need to re-examine the tasks required by specific jobs, perhaps reassigning duties when necessary. Best is to involve employees in the effort, by asking for their suggestions about how to streamline both operations and jobs. In addition, leaders should help them to prioritize their duties.

Fact is, to remain productive, leaders have no choice but to find creative ways to do more with fewer people. Otherwise, over-worked employees are likely to work less productively, make many more mistakes, and, potentially, burn out — just at a time when they’re needed to operate at full speed.

The efficiencies produced by these efforts will have lasting effects, providing not only competitive advantage as the economy improves, but fostering a culture of agility and innovation critical in an environment of rapid and constant change.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It

Today you presented a report on a key strategic initiative. Your report was well researched, well supported by the facts and well argued. The team seemed to like it. You've done a good job - you've delivered - but have you been accountable?

Accountability is more than having an idea, writing a report, sharing research or providing metrics. A recent article in Talent Management, Think Positive: Transforming Accountability, defined accountability this way: "see it, own it, solve it, do it." In writing your report, sharing your findings and making recommendations, you may have seen the challenge and even figured out a way to "solve it." But it's in the owning and the doing that real accountability lies. Your idea is only as good as your success in implementing it.

Owning and doing, as well as seeing and solving, are the backbones of a true workplace culture of accountability. Building a culture based on these cornerstones inspires innovation, experimentation and risk taking. It encourages employees to find more meaning in their work and to contribute at a higher level - with an impact on organizational performance that can only be positive. If you want your organization to be a market leader, you could do worse than taking on the seeing, owning, solving and doing accountability challenge.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Indispensable Employees: Promoting from Within

“You are seen as an absolute expert in your area.” “We don’t know of anyone else in the company who can do what you do.” Comments like this sound great right? Could be that you have been siloed into your current role. Management doesn’t want to think about moving or promoting you because you’ve just become too good at what you’re doing now…so maybe that’s not so good.

Leaders expect their direct reports to perform well. But, it’s not uncommon that when employees are really good at their jobs, their supervisors don’t want to lose them — and drag their heels when it comes to giving them the career opportunities they deserve — ultimately to the detriment of the organization and the individual.

Why? Managers may not be aware of all of the benefits of promoting from within but, instead, focus on the risks such a loss would have on their own teams.

The antidote is twofold. First, a promote-from-within culture that celebrates giving appropriate recognition to top-quality performance – and rewards for managers who promote employees is required. Second, a disciplined process of identification, evaluation and development for those with the ability, desire and commitment to grow or be promoted needs to be established.

What are some of the benefits? Current employees are often terrific candidates because they are a good cultural fit for the organization and have already demonstrated success. This allows them to become effective in new roles much more quickly than someone hired externally. Individuals that are given an opportunity to contribute at a higher level are more likely to stay when put on an accelerated career path.

To address the leader who is reluctant to let top talent get away from their team, make leaders part of the process, encourage mentoring, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Leaders should also be assessed on the basis of how well they groom and promote direct reports.

In an increasingly competitive landscape, your people are your most valuable assets. Ultimately, investing in and advancing the careers of your own people will help create a vibrant culture that encourages employees not only to reach their full potential, but to contribute their utmost to organizational goals and performance.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Silly goose?

Do animals have anything to teach us about business leadership? We wouldn’t want to send you on a wild goose chase but consider this. As reported in the New York Times article,"Even Among Animals: Leaders, Followers and Schmoozers", a recent study published in Animal Behavior found that the most important determinant of leadership among geese isn’t size or gender or social dominance but boldness. A goose with the chutzpah to investigate unfamiliar objects or situations in search of food is likely to be top dog among the goose set. The lesson for humans with leadership aspirations is clear: be bold. Don’t be afraid to seize new ideas or opportunities where others might hesitate – unless, of course, the morsel you stumble across happens to be a new idea for a credit default swap or other such exotic financial instruments. In that case, we suggest you make like a gazelle surprised by a lion. In the human world, as in the animal, a goose can be silly and discretion is sometimes the better part of valour.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Use of Assessments on the Rise: A Bellwether of Economic Conditions

The use of assessments for very specific purposes seems to be increasing — and that could be a lead indicator of economic improvement, especially if some of those industries occupy a position closer to the front of the supply chain.

Generally, assessment usage is a bellwether of economic conditions. When companies are hiring, they have more of a need for these evaluations. What we’ve noticed is an increase in the use of assessments both for bringing new employees on board, as well as for targeted leader acceleration — a way to predict which employees to invest in going forward.

At the same time, it’s not business as usual, indicating that economic recovery is not likely to be widespread anytime soon. Many companies are looking for either new employees to hire or current employees to develop and promote who possess very specific skill sets — “needles in haystacks”, so to speak. And the right assessments help employers identify the overabundance of less-qualified candidates quickly so they can zero in on those people with hard-to-find characteristics and high demand skills sets.

But, using assessments in this manner requires forethought. Success requires a thorough understanding of a variety of factors, including the skills and beahavioral traits the job requires, as well as the cultural fit between job candidate and organization. Additionally, companies need to determine not just what they need — but how to recognize the most appropriate candidate for the position.

Wise organizations have learned to focus on the future. Companies should make sure that assessments are targeted at longer-term, not just current, needs. What’s more, to maximize effectiveness, they need to integrate as much assessment data — both organizational and individual — as possible.

All indications are that certain industries are beginning to look for the skilled talent they need to fuel brighter economic conditions ahead, but doing so in a much smarter way this time around.

Remember: Used correctly, assessments can help companies tackle the challenges they face now — and prepare for those they’ll have to address in the future.