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?

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?