Business & Talent. Aligned.

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?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Control Your Own Destiny Because No One Else Will

Is it really possible to have any control over your own career’s direction given all the variables affecting your professional choices? Your career is, for the most part, the sum of your own choices. We make choices and decisions every day that impact the future of our careers. But often there are also events outside of our own direct control that influence the choices we make.

In our youth, we probably considered the careers or professions of those close to us by evaluating their success and wealth. Our environment played an important role in forming our first ideas about careers and sest the wheels in motion as we began our journey on own career path. But even with all of the preparation in selecting a university or a study program, we weren’t necessarily sure we would make the right choices to lead us to the promised land of career happiness.

What often happens is that one’s career path includes the selection of traditional courses such as Business Administration, Economics, Accounting or Marketing, and is then influenced by many other factors, such as friends and teachers, internships, political and social environment, and economic trends. Given so many varied circumstances – outside of our own direct control – were we really directing our career “destiny” or just going along for the ride?

When you accepted a new job with “X” company, you made a choice that impacted your life's journey. When you joined a professional association, you made a choice. When you accepted a new assignment in your role, you made a choice. When you decided to play it safe, you made a choice. The present is the sum of our choices, driving us toward the future.

We have to give up the position that we are victims with little or no control over our future. There are events and circumstances that are out of our control, but we all have the ability to make wise choices. Your professional life belongs to you. Your future depends on you. Don’t yield control to external forces.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are you fit for the team?

Research reported on the ERE tells us that nearly one-in-two new hires are classified as failures within 18 months. How do you know if a candidate will be a good cultural fit with your team? The question of “fit” when interviewing candidates is one of the most critical components in making a hiring decision.

The key is to ask questions at relate directly to their experience in other positions or situations. Use questions to learn more about how a person responds under stress, interacts with others and handles change. The goal centers on getting concrete data to validate your hiring decision.

The candidate should be talking about 80% of the interview time. Try not to prompt the candidate with the answers you would like to hear. If you learn something that concerns you, ask for more details and examples. If possible, have more than one person interview the candidate to get another perspective.

Some sample questions include:

--What are three things you like about the companies you have worked for in the past? And what three things didn’t you like?
--Who was your best boss? Why? Who was your worst boss? Why?
--Tell me about the accomplishment you are most proud of in a recent job. Describe the kind of work environment that helped you be successful.
--Describe a problem situation with a co-worker that you experienced. How did the situation get resolved?
--Describe an example of when you were part of a team that reached its goal. What role did you play and why was the team successful?
--If I talked to your peers from your last position, what would they would say are your strengths or areas for development?

There are numerous examples on Monty Python or The Office for lessons on what NOT to do during interviews.

And as a final word of advice, always interview your final list of candidates a second time; you can probe concerns and avoid decisions made on first impressions.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Looking through the window

Managing one’s brand these days can have the fragility and transparency of glass. The combination of technological revolutions, the growth in individual employees having greater power to exercise personal choice, and rising customer sophistication have resulted in such innovations as Glassdoor and Vault. Employees can comment on company and leadership performance and put it out there for the world to see. CEOs can view their own approval ratings based on employee comments and votes.

Such websites are putting pressure on leaders to be more active in managing their own brand – both their personal brand and also their organization’s brand. Individual communication that may have once been regarded as private one-to-one conversations can now be regarded as essentially public if you factor in the transparency of communications on such social media sites as LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook.

Entrepreneur magazine forecast that the number one marketing trend for 2010 would be transparency and trust. Well, the same applies for leaders.

The ubiquitous nature of technology means that it is always on and inviting participation. It is changing how, where, when and by whom work gets done. It’s about coordination, collaboration and transparency. Leaders need be in tune with the feedback available on these new channels and be proactive with personal and professional brand management. It’s not just about listening to what's being said, but also about actively participating in the discussions.

Use the transparency tools available today to track the sentiment of employees and match these against your own company engagement scores. Assess the feedback on your culture, identify challenges and opportunities and invest in your own leadership development.

With brand transparency what it is today, you never know who may be looking through your window.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

Although we were told to “play nice” as children, it appears that “niceness” at work has become a misnomer.

So often leaders look externally to bring someone in to fix their organization. But it really starts at the individual level. It can’t be any simpler: be nice! How often do we treat co-workers as adversaries, fighting for limited resources or fighting for professional stature? Or perhaps withholding information, rather than openly sharing. So the question on the table: Is “nice” at work a goal worth pursuing?

Communication is the source for creating a positive and productive work culture. How we communicate, what we say and do, and how others communicate with us, provides the essence for what shapes organizational culture. In these leaner times when everyone is pushed to capacity, sometimes the fundamentals of respectful, supportive and effective communication begin to slip. As a leader, it’s up to you to lead by example and explore if your culture is one where people could be nicer to each other.

In Wendy Ulrich’s new book, The Why of Work, she suggests that leaders revisit some communication fundamentals. It takes personal responsibility to put effort into building happy and healthy co-worker relationships. Remember, you’re leading a larger team of people who are all working to achieve a common goal. Foster camaraderie. Have fun. We seem to have lost “fun” and “nice” in the pursuit of cut-throat competitiveness to produce results. They are not mutually exclusive. Check out 13 Ways to Have Fun at Work.

To do this requires conversations. Not one, but many. And genuine, open, authentic conversations. Where kindness and respect is mutual. Be nice. Say thank you. Acknowledge the good work of others. Buy some donuts. Enjoy! After all, you probably spend more time with your co-workers than your family.

Fostering good working relationships is really no different from fostering good personal relationships. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Looking Beyond the Obvious

As the talent mismatch widens, employer’s need new mindsets for sourcing candidates. Look beyond the obvious supplies of talent and consider hiring candidates who fit with your culture and train for specific skills that are teachable to fulfill the requirements of the role.

To fill large and systemic talent gaps, expand the pool of available candidates and consider:

Internal role changes
The best source of new talent may already reside in your organization. Redeploy existing talent to new roles and locations. People are willing to move geographies yet employers are still learning how to capitalize on this trend. Consider redeploying existing talent before laying them off. As many as 18% of outplaced candidates are rehired by their past employer.

Consider skills transfers
Some industries are cutting their workforces, while others are growing faster than the talent supply. Consider the talent available in low-growth industries that can migrate to new fields. Review the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections 2008-2018 to see where the growth is and where the shrinkage is to come from. Some of these people may have highly valued skills – such as those in sales, finance and management – that can easily be transferred to a new industry. Be opportunistic in response to significant changes in local labor markets, such as businesses closing or relocating and leaving capable people behind. According to Human Capital Management, nearly half (47%) of jobseekers change industries to land a new role.

You can’t change what is happening relative to external trends or today’s economic reality. But you can change your workforce strategies in order to respond to those trends and position your company to effectively meet these challenges and beat the competition.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Pursuit of the Young and the Old

As the global economy continues to improve, today’s talent mismatch will become more pronounced. That means employers need to think differently about how they fill their talent needs now and in the future.

For most of the twentieth century, the assumption that the working-age population would continue to grow formed the basis for future workforce planning. It is well-documented by the Deloitte and others that that assumption simply no longer holds true. Since 1990, the global labor market has doubled. By 2050, the world population will reach nine billion – yet, many employers still can’t find the right people to fill essential positions. Birthrates are declining and populations are aging.

To meet this challenge, we recommend that organizations redefine the parameters of their search for talent and focus on expanding the pool of talent. Consider:

Engaging an aging workforce.
Develop specific strategies to attract and recruit older workers. Develop plans to motivate older workers to stay on with your organization longer. According to Manpower research, only 14% of employers have specific strategies in place to recruit older workers. While only 21% of employers have strategies in place to retain their older workers. Fortune magazine and Ken Dychtwald report that many boomers are “un-retiring” and are prepared to reenter the workforce. Dychtwald advises unretirees to change their mindset, consider this a new beginning and target industries with older clients (such as banking).

Investing in younger workers.
Customize work experiences that leverage the unique attributes of Generation Y to increase their contribution and engagement. The underemployed and under-skilled are another potential pool, especially as local governmental agencies and others move to help them with training and other programs to enable their transition into the workforce.

Expand your talent pool: hire for fit and train for skills.

Check back tomorrow for final part in Owen's four-part blog series on Teachable Fit and learn more strategies to expand the search for talent.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Fit Are Your Next Employees?

The changing nature of work and the dwindling size of the traditional talent pool are converging – leaving companies searching in new ways to meet the demand for the skills required in today’s economy.

Employers need to redefine the parameters of their search for talent and focus on new priorities. Essentially, hire employees for their potential to fit within your culture and team and invest in developing the specific skills needed to perform on the job. Manpower calls this Teachable Fit – a new approach for easing the talent mismatch.

The premise works as follows: When employers can’t find candidates with the full range of skills needed for particular positions, they can recruit candidates, perhaps from outside their industries, who possess adjacent skills with an eye toward filling the gaps in their capabilities. It’s important to understand how fillable those gaps are – both in terms of technical skills and candidate mindsets – and at what cost. We know from Right Management research that as many as one-in-three employers are looking for a good motivational fit compared to only about one-in-ten who are looking for specific technical skills or relevant experience.

From a CEO perspective, it is important to assess where you are today and where you want to be – before you can even start to build the bridge between the talent strategy and the business strategy. Assessing talent enables you to evaluate your current workforce and forecast future needs; the resulting gap analysis provides a roadmap for sourcing, onboarding, developing and accelerating talent, and aligning performance with your business direction.

Today’s talent mismatch will continue to intensify. That means more competition for available qualified people, against a backdrop of what Talent Management reports as higher turnover and as many as one-in-four high-performers walking out the door. Employers need to think differently about how they fill the talent needs now and in the future. They must look beyond the usual places for candidates and consider those who are best positioned with their skills and personalities to benefit from training and development.

Check back tomorrow for the third in Owen's four-part series on Teachable Fit and how to expand your talent pool.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing Matchmaker

Although the current global economic situation has increased the number of overall jobseekers, as many as 31% of employers worldwide are experiencing difficulty filling positions due to lack of suitable talent available in their markets. Really? Really!

As Manpower reports in its 2010 Talent Shortage survey, there are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right time to meet demand. This gap will widen and intensify over the next few years as economies rebound, the nature of available work shifts, and several decades of lower birthrates throughout much of the world catch up to us.

Without an intentional approach to workforce strategy that embraces how the world of work is changing, organizations will be unable to effectively execute business strategy. Led by the CEO, organizations must apply the same rigor used to create an overall business strategy to create a workforce strategy. The resulting blueprint provides a line of sight into understanding the talent choices available today that impact an organizations’ ability to deliver on business strategies in the future.

You can’t change what is happening relative to the external world of work trends or today’s economic reality. (For more on our World of Work trends, see my article in Chief Executive.) But you can change your talent strategies to respond to those trends and position your company to gear up for growth in this context. Talent is the number one impediment or success factor to executing your business plan.

The key is to align the right talent approaches to your business strategy.

Check back tomorrow for the second in Owen's four-part series on Teachable Fit and hiring candidates for fit, not just skills.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Too much bottom-line focus can backfire

To meet the demands of today’s tough economy, many companies have been focusing more than ever on the bottom line. Too often, the result is a harried, stressful atmosphere, one in which managers, under pressure to make their numbers, are aggressively pushing staff to achieve financial goals. But, that’s a situation that can backfire. With less focus on new ideas and innovation to gain competitive advantage, many companies may find themselves not positioned strategically for the future. On top of that, they may be experiencing lower morale and employee engagement – and, as a result, reduced levels of productivity and retention.

In fact, a global study conducted by Right Management of companies in 11 countries found a clear correlation between employee engagement and intention to leave a company. For example, engaged employees across all levels of the organization are seven times less likely to leave in the next year than those who are not engaged and 1.5 times more likely to stay at least five years.

Organizations need to find ways to continue to improve operating efficiencies in the current economy, while still encouraging innovation, demonstrating employees are valued and ensuring a reasonable work/life balance. The message for companies? Creating an environment that recognizes individual contributions – while fostering creativity and a little risk-taking – can lead to higher engagement levels and a more-satisfied and loyal employee. And, those engaged individuals will be more productive, as well.

Those organizations that meet this challenge can expect to have a workforce with a competitive head start – ready and able to take advantage of new opportunities as the economy improves – rather than struggling just to keep up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Integrating contingent workers into company culture

Temporary staffing is on the rise, thanks to the ability it gives companies to adjust their workforce based on business needs. In fact, it’s likely that the regular use of contingent workers, instead of full-time employees, will become a permanent practice in many organizations.

But, as more businesses start to rely increasingly on temporary workers, they also face new, complex challenges: integrating these employees into their culture and ensuring they’re as engaged as full-time staffers. It’s a tall order since it's much more difficult to create a strong bond with contingent workers.

To that end, companies need to decide just how tightly they should integrate contingent workers into the organizational culture. While one business might feel these employees should be considered to be a true extension of the organization, another might look on them, in effect, as appendages. But each approach requires a different approach. The former company, for example, might include temporary workers in all organization-wide events – company picnics, holiday parties and the like – while the latter would probably refrain from doing so.

Organizations that make the use of contingent workers an important part of their workforce strategy and take appropriate steps to integrate them into the culture will find a significant payoff: a reliable talent pool to draw from – with demonstrated skills and fit – when hiring opportunities arise; as well as an engaged, loyal temporary workforce and, ultimately, stepped up levels of organizational performance.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trust Erosion

Trust in managers is in short supply these days. As reported in TechRepublic, our research found that 19% of employees “rarely” trust their manager. Further, new research has revealed that nearly one-in-three employees perceive their immediate manager to be incompetent. The result: a workforce ready for greener pastures or one filled with silent saboteurs.

Lack of trust and faith in ability perpetuates a negative spiral inside organizations. Leadership is usurped. Employees quit and stay. Productivity suffers. And ultimately, performance dwindles.

As Robert Sutton cites in his blog on “I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me,” dysfunctional leaders often lack self-awareness. We’re talking more than just the run of the mill emotional intelligence. We’re talking about being insulated from reality, disconnected from subordinates.

Trust is a two-way street. Managers must show they have a plan, can articulate the plan to employees, and demonstrate that the plan is being implemented effectively. Employees need to trust that their managers have the capability to make the organization a success. And in turn, leaders must also show that they trust employees to drive the organization forward and make them valued partners of a common purpose. Employees want to know what the bigger picture is, and importantly, how they can contribute to that vision.

One of the most critical aspects in building trust is sincerity and candidness between an employee and his/her manager. This is the belief that each individual can be trusted to speak his or her mind openly, knowing that the other will listen with a helpful ear. With the degree of change taking place in many companies today, this growing erosion of trust is an indication that communication needs to be improved.

Have your created an environment to foster trust in your organization?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why you should do a gap analysis before a restructuring

Employees are reporting that their workloads have increased due to restructuring at their company, according to research from Right Management. What’s less clear, however, is whether employees have the necessary skills to take over the work of laid-off colleagues.

According to the research, 79% of employees feel their workloads are heavier. The feeling is especially acute at large organizations, where 68% of employees believe their work demands have grown “a lot”. Right Management analyzed responses from more than 800 people throughout North America.

How can organizations make sure that remaining employees can handle their new responsibilities? The answer is first to conduct a gap analysis of work requirements to understand what holes need to be filled and pinpoint the best individuals on staff to fill those gaps. Once that’s determined, the logical response might mean anything from reassigning roles and developing internal competencies to bringing in contingent workers or consultants or simply eliminating the work. Managers also will need to discuss with employees what changes they can expect in their roles and responsibilities and how their work contributes to the goals of the organization, as well as helping to prioritize assignments.

The bottom line: By doing a gap analysis, companies can establish a better alignment between talent and business strategy. And by providing employees with the guidance and training they need, organizations can ensure that employees are set up to succeed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Optional leadership

Some 90% of the world’s top firms are led by Boomers or older. Sure, it’s fine to acknowledge that the age of the working population is expanding and that older workers are staying in the workforce longer. But at some time, these leaders need to make room for the next generation of leadership: Generation X.

According to generational expert Tammy Erickson, who recently presented a Harvard Business Review webinar on “The Leaders We Need Now: Are We Ready for Gen X to Take Charge?”, Gen X will lead by exploring option after option. This new band of leaders, who are currently aged 31-49 years old, hold valuable, contemporary traits and perspectives that will alter how leaders drive organizations forward.

Erickson believes that Gen X leaders have a sense of alienation and a preference for the alternative. They are inclined to innovate and look for different ways to advance objectives. As leaders, Gen X will explore options to solutions more freely, which could be a point of contention for those of other generations who prefer sticking to an agreed upon and fixed path.

Instead, Gen X leaders hold strong survival skills and can handle change with resilience. Remember, these are the people who, as kids, saw their parents experience widespread layoffs for the first time, rising divorce rates, falling standards of adult behavior such as Watergate, and removal of political barriers such the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

As leaders, we can expect Gen X to be fiercely independent. They will meet their commitments. They will take their own employability very seriously. They will be ready with a well-nurtured portfolio of options and networks. And they will be practical, incisive and hold value-oriented sensibilities.

But the greatest difference in their leadership style will be the continued pursuit of options: optional career paths, lifestyles and business solutions. How will the rest of the workforce fare with such option-based leadership?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A change will do you good... but I don't want to leave

The recession is coming to an end. The business journalists are writing doomsday articles about the impending mass exodus of frustrated employees. Employers are supposed to fortify the dams and fashion retention ties (golden handcuffs are passé’).

What’s interesting is that most good employees don’t want to leave and most employers don’t want to lose good employees. (Read Jerry’s Harvey’s “the Road to Abilene”.) Where is the disconnect? Too many companies were too quiet for too long about how they were dealing with a troublesome economy. Hearing nothing, employees became anxious and subsequently disengaged.

One tactic in a solid engagement/retention strategy: talk with your employees. Let them know what's going on in the business and how they can help. More importantly, let them kow that develoment opportunities still exist. Good employees want development and want to know what the future holds. Ironically, most meaningful development doesn't cost a lot of money; and, it occurs on the job via projects, stretch assignments, attending conferences or meeting and working with clients.

Good managers - those who are good coaches and care about developing leaders and engaging their teams - hold the keys. People quit managers, not companies. How you feel about your manager directly affects how you feel about your company.

With what money companies have left after the travails of 2009, they should invest in developing managers to develop people. It will be the best investment made in 2010 and beyond.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hiring practices gone bad

It’s been quite some time since I’ve witnessed such poor advice on hiring practices as cited in a recent CNNMoney article on Out-of-work job applicants told unemployed need not apply. Let’s revisit the fundamentals: Most unemployed people do not lose jobs for performance-related issues!

The reality, based on our own research and some 30 years of experience in helping the unemployed, is that more than one-in-two people lose their jobs because they are impacted by a downsizing. Mergers, restructures, divestitures and plant closings frequently result in the need for organizations to let people go. According to the article, the myth is being perpetuated that most employees get laid off for performance issues. This is simply untrue.

If you’re sensing I’m a little cranky, it’s because I am. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 in 10 (6.1 million people) have been jobless for 27 weeks or more – by far the highest proportion of long-term unemployment on record, with data back to 1948. Most of these out-of-work people were laid off for the reasons cited above. It is naïve to exclude the unemployed when trying to fill positions for needed talent. If some employers are dumbing down the unemployed to this level, you can only imagine the negative values with which they treat their own employees. Most will likely want to jump ship at the first opportunity.

The reality is that unemployed people do get jobs. And frequently, they are even rehired by their past employers. We also know that most source their new opportunities through networking (and, thankfully, not from the narrowly focused so-called staffing “experts” quoted in the above-referenced article). And the real kicker is that most of the outplaced job seekers we work with land new jobs at the same or higher salary as they held in their previous positions.

In an environment where there is a fundamental disconnect between the skills companies require and the skills employees offer is widening, can you really afford to discount half of the available talent out there to fill your open positions?