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?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sending mixed messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Productive reviews maximize performance

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

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

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

A few tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Employee-manager relationships are under stress

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Treat employees like customers and build long-term relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reap the ROI of your human capital investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

If you believe you excel at everything, think again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

How life-long learning applies to talent management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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