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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, 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?