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Social Software: Will Leaders Decide To Adapt?

The key to collaboration is communication: we need to be able to talk to each other to get stuff done. And it’s a compelling facet of the global, hyper-networked, social and mobile new world of work that we are nevertheless in dire need of better ways of communicating with each other.

That’s what makes the emergence of social software such a remarkable and powerful gift — with profound implications for fostering innovation, driving collaboration and deepening engagement. It’s fast and scopey, enabling everything from messaging to team-mailing to live chats to file sharing to all of the usual. Yet as far as user adoption does, the workplace is proving slow on the draw. That’s particularly apparent in HR.

We are not so much at a crossroads as we are at crossed wires. A range of vendors are launching new, powerful products, and the market is growing. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, productivity improves by an estimated 20-25% in organizations that have connected employees. So how do we overcome the “you can lead a horse to water” challenge facing social software?

To facilitate user adoption, social software has to truly enhance and deepen collaboration and engagement. It has to look, feel, and act useful: 

Integrated

Social software has to be more than an addition. It has to be a total solution. It’s an understandable workforce complaint that shiny new platforms may just decentralize communication, requiring the management of increasing layers of inter-office email / outside email, internet / company server, and so on. We want to get things done, not stymied by choices or fractured functionality. To be an asset, social software needs to truly integrate (and not complete) with all of the above.

Really Social

Social software needs to be better: quicker, faster, smarter, more usable than the existing norms. Your social network should have lots of tools for engagement and collaboration, including social profiles, individual and group and community chat and focum capabilities, blogs, wikis, and all the bells and whistles of a bona fide social network. Otherwise, it will be eschewed for those social networks that are already well established (such as the one that has nearly 1.4 billion active users and counting).

One common obstacle to user adoption is feeling like the tech is unable to accomplish any more of the heavy lifting than what we already have. But if social software is not only truly integrated but can also leverage its unique position to generate meaningful intelligence, there’s the added value. That additional layer of perceptive analytics makes adoption a no-brainer, and offers a competitive advantage as well.

Embraced By Leadership

What will enable social software to make the smoothest entry into the atmosphere is its source. This shift must be initiated and mandated by leadership: it should be presented as a clear driver of organizational change, not a byproduct of it. Communication is part and parcel of workplace culture: social software should feel like anything but a trial run. Given the option, we all revert to the norm when we’re under pressure. If leadership makes social software the new normal, the workplace will follow.

The sweet spot lies in not doing away with what we’re used to, just improving upon it. In this age of relentless innovation, the status quo lasts about a minute, and depending on the demographics, that can be trigger a certain level of discomfort. Yet one thing that truly drives employee engagement is a shared sense of discovery — and growth. Given that, social software may truly be our game changer.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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#WorkTrends Recap: Meaningful Communication’s Impact on Happiness and Morale

Meaningful communication has a dramatic impact on happiness and morale in all facets of life.

On this week’s #WorkTrends podcast and Twitter chat, our guest Mike Lindstrom discussed some powerful communication tips and tools to help you better understand the impact of your words on others.

We covered why engaging people around you on a deeper level actually triggers happiness in the brain and creates a strong rapport.

Here are a few key tips Mike shared:

  • There’s a difference between hearing someone and listening to someone
  • Listening to someone is being present
  • Put down the phone and technology to be truly engaged
  • Ask people about their “story” and don’t be afraid to go deep in conversations

Missed the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here: http://bit.ly/2bE6O0u

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next week, on Sept 7, host Meghan M. Biro will be joined by Patrick Morin to discuss clashing cultures.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Meaningful Communication’s Impact on Happiness and Morale

Meaningful communication has a dramatic impact on happiness and morale in all facets of life. Join us for this #WorkTrends podcast and Twitter chat as our guest Mike Lindstrom discusses some powerful communication tips and tools to help you better understand the impact of your words on others.

We will also cover why engaging people around you on a deeper level actually triggers happiness in the brain and creates a strong rapport.

Get out of your own way and join us to discuss this very important topic with Host Meghan M. Biro and Guest Mike Lindstrom on 8/31 at 1pm ET.

Meaningful Communication’s Impact on Happiness and Morale

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Aug 31 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Host Meghan M. Biro and guest Mike Lindstrom as they discuss why meaningful communication matters.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, Aug 31 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1. Why does meaningful communication matter in business? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2. What simple techniques help spark engaging conversations? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3. How does meaningful communication help people succeed?  #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. We invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community any time. See you there!

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Passive-Recruiting

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Communication Equals Love: A Missing Link In Your Hiring Process

Many of us in HR and Leadership circles – I am among them – bemoan the negativity that springs up during the process of recruiting employees, affecting positive candidate experience and your employer brand.  One would think companies would have a stake in ensuring candidates, whether they are hired or not, have a positive experience with the hiring company and your recruiting process. Others might point out that not getting the job is in itself enough to sour the candidate on the company if he or she is passed over. Yet studies have shown even unsuccessful applicants retain a positive experience of the company, if a too-often-overlooked link is maintained: clear, unambiguous communication.

Most people just want to know they’ve been heard. We need the organizations we engage with – as consumers, as personal brands, as parents, as just about anything  – to be clear, to set or correct expectations, and to do us the courtesy of responding. There’s even an annual award for companies that maintain a good candidate experience, the Candidate Experience Awards. I’m proud to be on the council for this organization because it’s such an important cause. The most recent awards report, issued in 2013, highlighted 63 companies that excel at creating a positive candidate experience. Before you roll your eyes and say ‘ugh, another vanity report,” let’s consider the following:

  • Nearly 60% of survey respondents (candidates at surveyed companies) feel they have a relationship with a company before they apply for a job. In the Internet age, what recruiter or company would expect anything less? Most people research a company before they decide to apply, using social media, career pages, LinkedIn and networks of acquaintances and friends who work for the target company.
  • A staggering 75% of candidates who apply for a job never hear back, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey. Yes, this is staggering and not good. This is unacceptable.

How can any rational Leader or HR team justify this? How can any responsible company decide it isn’t worth the time to respond to an applicant? We’re not even talking constructive feedback here: we’re talking common courtesy. Even an auto-generated email, followed up with a note or call, would be 100 times better than dead silence.

There’s tremendous risk in ignoring applicants, even unqualified applicants, when sites like Glassdoor and blogs are so easy to access – and so simple to use to leave anonymous critique of an employer.

And criticism of employer brand does not begin and end with a spurned candidate. Your own employees are looking at those sites too. The more often they see their employer called out for shoddy recruiting practices, the more likely they are to decide it’s not a company they want to work for. Then your recruiting problem morphs into a retention problem.

So what’s the solution?

CommunicationIt’s that simple, and that hard. You must respond and acknowledge applicants, even if it’s via an automated response from an HR software package. If you can provide direct and constructive feedback, so much the better.

Why does communication matter so much?

A 2013-2014 study (download the PDF) by Towers Watson proves the link between ROI and effective communications.  Quoting directly from the report summary (emphasis is mine):

  • “Companies with high effectiveness in change management and communication are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.
  • The most effective companies build a differentiated employee value proposition (EVP), and are three times more likely to focus on behaviors that drive organization success instead of focusing on program cost.”

That last point bears repeating: focus on behaviors that drive organization success”. It’s simple, elemental, and utterly dependent on good communications. To be a successful company, you need to focus on behaviors that foster a culture of success.  Communications is one of those behaviors. Towers Watson reminds readers of its report, quote, “Cultivate a culture of community and information sharing.” Within and without, with employees and candidates, the key to success – and attracting the candidates who will help your business grow – is good communications. There’s just no substitute.

So I’ll throw down a challenge for HR practitioners and Leaders everywhere: tell me about how you communicate successfully. Share how you communicate progress – with job applicants? Where does data fit in? How do you create a workplace culture of open and honest communications with employees, so they recommend your workplace to their peers? What tools do you use – software, back of the envelope, or other – to remind yourself daily that good, honest and direct communications are fundamental HR and Leadership skills?

Let’s close the gap between candidate experience and communications, even if it’s one applicant at a time. Let’s be good communicators, more than just stewards of process and regulations. Let’s take back good HR and Leadership that drives a better culture, before it’s taken away from us. What do you say?

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Four Tips for Measuring Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is all the buzz, and rightfully so. When employees are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organization they work for. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and stunning colleagues. High-performing employees want to work in places like that. Smart employers want to cultivate that kind of environment.

So What is Employee Engagement, Exactly?

When employees are engaged, they’re satisfied and look forward to going to work. Engaged employees have a sense of meaning and purpose, and they’re proud of the organization, recommending products – and even employment – to their friends and family. They enjoy an environment where they can do their best work, so it’s not surprising that they plan to stay for at least two more years and they give extra effort to help their employer succeed.

While employee engagement is a relatively new concept, making its debut in the 1990s, the idea that employees can make more of an impact at work when they are engaged seems simple. All the same, various studies project that only 30 – 40 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. That means that the majority of employees in the U.S. are showing up to work disengaged. They’re not poised to put in extra effort for success. They don’t like going to work most days. They’re unlikely to recommend the products of, or employment with, their employer. The question every employer must ask itself is, “should employee engagement be central to our strategy for success?” If the answer is yes, then the first step you must take is to measure employee engagement at your organization.

Four Tips for Measuring Employee Engagement

Follow these four steps to generate reliable employee feedback data, the kind you can do action planning around.

  1. Use a Research Firm

The measurement of employee attitudes should always be conducted by a reputable third-party research firm, preferably one that specializes in employee engagement research. While there are many reasons for this, perhaps the most important is the protection of respondent confidentiality. Ultimately a subjective experience, the feeling of anonymity is what makes respondents uninhibited in their survey responses. Even if you know which questions to ask and how to generate actionable reporting, your ability to trust your reports hinges entirely on the validity of response data. If you hope to take action as a result of your reports, hire an outside firm.

  1. Don’t Just Measure Engagement. Measure Satisfaction, Too.

Second, measuring engagement is not enough on its own. Without the measurement of employee satisfaction, it’s impossible to determine why employees may or may not be engaged. For this reason, a well-rounded survey with core focus areas of both satisfaction and engagement is critical to your success.

  1. Have a Plan for Communication Before You Begin

No matter what kind of feedback you collect, outline a communication plan before you begin. Consider the following questions, as you map out your strategy. Will your top executive send out an email/video/note-with-pay-checks to emphasize the importance of employee attitudes? Will you be sharing findings at the upcoming annual meeting? How will the feedback affect employees? Will they be called upon to take further action?

  1. Enjoy the Ride

This process isn’t about being perfect; and it’s definitely not about being perfect before you survey. Over the years, we’ve talked with countless employers who wanted badly to get their hands on employee feedback, but were afraid to ask. Both Aristotle and Mary Poppins said, “well begun is half done.” Follow their advice. Congratulate yourselves on your boldness, as you take this important step of measuring employee engagement and satisfaction.

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Texting and Mobile Recruiting Are A Hiring Panacea

Talk to any recruiter about how timing and agile technology can make or break reaching the right candidates. Timing and technology for the purposes of recruiting can be a joy or a drudgery. All-in-all, the role of recruiting hasn’t changed, but the way we go about sourcing candidates and communicating with them has.

A Case for Texting and Mobile Recruiting

The use of texting and mobile recruiting is not just a case of using it because the technology exists, it’s builds a case for how and where people want to be contacted. Further, there are texting technologies used in recruiting that can enable recruiters to disseminate multiple job openings, and to better communicate with job seekers and candidates by eliminating missed calls, voicemail tag, and misunderstandings with interview appointments. As one of my own clients, Travis Medley, President, TalentZok recently stated in a communication to me, “We’ve recently introduced texting into our recruiting communications strategy. Texting is a game changer. The team loves it and texting has helped us in a few hires already.”

According to a survey conducted by Software Advice, 60 percent of recruiters who participated, claim to use texting as one of the communication choices in their sourcing strategy. Given there are over 1.91 billion smartphone users in the World, texting certainly makes sense for reaching massive numbers of people. This opens the door for recruiters to reach people in a more expedient manner as accessibility to communicate in a timely fashion may be the difference between a secured placement and a lost one. Further, with the number of smartphone consumers increasing every year, the number of users is expected to rise to over 2.5 billion owners by 2018 opening the door even wider for recruiters.

We live in an agile society where people are mobile and more apt to seek out technological options while on the go. When it comes to finding work, intelligent job seekers are using as many venues as they can, with mobile technology as one of the preferred options.

In a 2014 Glassdoor survey, the findings revealed that nine out of ten job seekers confirmed using their mobile device at some stage in their job search. One of the reasons uncovered in the study was the sense of urgency felt by job seekers. The assumption being that if a job was recently posted, applying to it more quickly would increase the odds of having the application seen, accepted and for the job seeker to be contacted sooner rather than later. This means that mobile consumption by job seekers is alive and well. When considering the staggering number of current-day smartphone users and the number of people seeking jobs via mobile technology, especially those in the Gen X and Gen Y population, texting as a communication method makes a lot of sense to them.

Texting and Mobile Recruiting are Here to Stay

Given everything we know about mobile and texting we can comfortably understand the impact they have on recruiting and business today and more importantly, the impact they’ll have on the future. Some researchers believe texting will replace email in the not-so-distant future. If this is true, texting for recruiting purposes will become an everyday staple in the recruiter’s arsenal of communication strategies. Knowing the younger generations use texting communication with ease is even more reason for it to be a used widely. Recruiters can better access the emerging generations as they enter the workforce in a way that appeals to this group of young professionals. In addition, recruiters will need to manage the expectations of candidates along with turnover from a transient candidate population. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in a 2012 global talent survey that 71 percent of respondents said they want and expect an overseas assignment during their career. The very nature of reaching people who are no longer stationary amply supports the need and impending increase in overall mobile usage.

The Future of Recruiting is Now

Recruiters face many challenges. One in particular is associated with active, mobile and transient candidates today, and this is not expected to change, but in fact, is expected to grow. Many researchers predict that based on current economic trends and the demands businesses are expected to have for attracting top candidates, supply for talent will go down but demand will increase. What does this mean for recruiters and job seekers?

For job seekers, many steps in the search process do and will continue to involve mobile and texting. These actions, or lack thereof, are going to impact their job search and career success. Successful actions include:

  • Finding and applying for jobs on the fly
  • Being reachable and responsive to text messages from recruiters and hiring managers
  • Engaging in activities like virtual interviewing and new hire onboarding, in real time

For recruiters the engagement possibilities via mobile technology and texting are tremendous. Recruiters can:

  • Post jobs that are mobile optimized or distribute them through text messaging
  • Pre-qualifying the best candidates quickly for a position through the use of texted screening questions
  • Sustain relationships through short but timely text messages
  • Schedule interviews and send follow-up text communications
  • Track candidate applications using mobile technology

Become a Texting Aficionado

Texting, as with any other form of communication, has its do’s and don’ts. For recruiters, there are recommended protocols found to be the most effective:

  • Keep the message short
  • Get to the point by being concise and intentional
  • Don’t get too “salesy” in your approach
  • Include a link to the job description to support your communication
  • Let people know who you are and your company name. They’ll be less likely to think it’s spam

In recruiting, using communication through technologies that connect people faster and with greater ease should be the goal. Texting has stepped up and assumed its position among desired communication choices. This action is predicted to increase and, with that, enable the savvy recruiter to gain faster and easier access to highly sought-after candidates. If you haven’t considered using mobile technology and texting, now is the time. Observe the protocols for using them successfully and understand the magnitude of their reach and what value they hold for you and your candidates. The numbers are there to support you; you just need to start.

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5 Powerful Career Drivers For The Future of Work

Have you come up with any worthy New Years’ resolutions yet? Are they already broken? If not, or if so, relax and stay positive. It’s never too late to make a few career-focused resolutions. I’ll be bold and propose that 2016 be the year to resolve to take charge of your career, your destiny and your life story. If it sounds like a real stretch, it is. I’m encouraging everyone to take action. Take heart, though – like all resolutions it’s a process, a combination of problem identification, ideas/ideation, search for solutions, and actions. Resolutions aren’t absolutely binding, so it’s not a mental trap; it’s an opportunity to allow yourself to consider what’s been holding you back, what you’re really interested in doing/being, and how to move in the right direction.

Why is this important? Why now? Because the world of work is changing, and changing fast. If you want to have a career, not just a job, you’ll need to be prepared to change as well. We’re not talking who-moved-my-cheese here: we’re talking being the maker of cheese. It’s a weird analogy, maybe, but it gets at the central challenge we all face as we work to stay ahead in our careers in times of rapid innovation and change.

When I began my career, the most important things were mastery (education and experience), talent, work ethic, character, intelligence and flexibility. Today it’s different and it’s exciting and it’s challenging and it’s never going to be the same. Those factors are still critical, but they’ve been disrupted by the forces of social connectedness, communication, and collaboration.

Here are five ways to innovate in your career – think of this as part 1 for formulating career resolutions to put you back in control of your most passionate destiny. Why wait?

1) Become a social connector of people, ideas and intent. People who are connectors have immense power in their social networks. They’re the glue. Connectors are the new Oracles (Delphi-style, not Redwood Shores style), the passionate influencers who create trends, create links and create awesome relationships.  Becoming a connector is the best way to manage the forces of connectedness in our hyperconnected world. Live the brand.

2) Master effective communications. Even connectors aren’t necessarily good communicators. Among the skills you’ll need are empathy, self-awareness, curiosity, patience, the ability to really listen, and care. Superb communicators often say the least; they draw out others and create an environment (aka Culture) which allows the exchange of ideas and lots of them if necessary. And don’t forget to apply your skills via social media, which can be tricky indeed – we’ve all sent emails we regretted or posted something awkward or too personal on social sites. Live the brand.

3) Collaborate. It sounds odd but collaboration skills are a competitive differentiator. We’re used to thinking people who are fierce competitors have the advantage; my take is collaborators now have the edge. Being a collaborator doesn’t mean you opt out of being competitive; it means you understand the limits of competition. It can be hard to be intensely competitive while being productive in most organizations. Live the brand.

4) Create and manage your personal brand. I know a lot of people who’ve resisted this step, or found themselves blocked somehow. Don’t wait any longer. People with brands (as others have pointed out) simplify what they represent; they weed out the irrelevant bits of their lives or skill sets and focus in on a few key, career-value-based attributes. Some people would even argue that brand now trumps intelligence, experience and talent, which is a scary thought for some people I’ve talked to about careers. Live the brand.

5) Curate everything. Relationships, acquaintances, work product, books, tech tools, clothes, skills; anything that touches your work life or career space. Be a relentless editor of your skills and experiences. Curation is an expression of good judgment, not evidence of controlling behavior. Curating the right career experiences will help you push forward in your career without compromising yourself. Live the brand.

I will be digging deeper into connectedness, communication and collaboration in the next few months. If you’ve thought about what they mean to you, and how they’ll help you innovate and create career resolutions, please let me know. It’s a journey everyone in this globally connected world is on right now. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com 1/6/2013

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The Role of Communication in Employee Experience and Employer Branding

Slack, an internal communications platform designed to improve workplace communications, grew to a $1.1 Billion valuation within eight months of launching to the general public. Their adoption rates are off the charts, and their users adore them. There’s a very good reason for this:

Clear workplace communication leads to team success.

But many of us forget how significant communications is to the bottom line, or how detrimental lack of communication is to the employee experience.

A recent study by AON Hewitt on global employee engagement trends shows a -26 percent downward slope in overall work experience between 2013 and 2014. Ouch!

They also found that a disengaged employee costs a company $10,000 in revenue annually, according to a survey of more than 7,000 enterprises.

Oh, and guess what? In 2014, CareerBuilder reported that 59 percent of workers surveyed expressed general dissatisfaction with their jobs.

That’s getting expensive fast.

As an enterprise working on your employer brand, you know how important employees are to attracting top talent.

So what to do now?

Improve Employee Experience and Drive Employer Brand 

When it comes to sharing the employee experience with the world, your employees are your best assets.

And the best employer brands exist because employees genuinely love them and want to talk about them. This produces a ton of benefits, including better employee engagement and talent acquisition:

  • Employee referrals have the highest applicant to hire conversion rate – only 7 percent of applicants are via employees but this accounts for 40 percent of all new hire hires (Source: Jobvite)
  • 67 percent of employers and recruiters said that the recruiting process was shorter, and 51 percent said it was less expensive to recruit via referrals (Source: Jobvite)
  • 47 percent Referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay longer at companies (Source: Jobvite)

According to a data published in Altimeter and LinkedIn Relationships Economics 2014, employees of socially engaged companies are:

  • 57 percent more likely to align social media engagement to more sales leads
  • 20 percent more likely to stay at their company
  • 27 percent more likely to feel optimistic about their company’s future
  • 40 percent more likely to believe their company is more competitive

And yet, as described in the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study, disengaged employees make up 74 percent of the average company’s workforce. Your employees play a significant role in communicating your employer brand, but this becomes a huge challenge with a disengaged workforce.

How Do You Improve The Employer Experience?

Despite the downward trend in work experience globally, AON Hewitt discovered reported that work experience is looking optimistic. The North American work experience improved 21 percent between 2013 and 2014, mostly fuelled by Canadian ratings.

On top of that, the best driver to this increase was enhanced communication within the company.

Without the proper communication channels in the workplace, it’s hard for employees to stay engaged. They need to feel like they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to make decisions. They need to know what’s going on in your enterprise. If they don’t, they’ll leave.

Or even worse, they’ll stay as a disgruntled employee and cost you a ton of money.

So what if you could create a communication channel for employees where they feel empowered?

How Employee Advocacy Helps Improve Communication

Employee advocacy is the result of the right culture, communication, and content. Employees become knowledgeable about your company and WANT to talk about you positively, both online and offline. And establishing a formal employee advocacy program can help improve communication and better the employee experience, resulting in a stronger employer brand.

But how does employee advocacy actually help?

  • Content as Knowledge: By creating a centralized content library that employees can securely access, they can consume your content, making them smarter about their industry. This content knowledge translates into better communications skills, making them better at their job.
  • Modernizing the enterprise: Because of the complexity of implementing an employee advocacy program, you most likely don’t have an existing communication tool that can centralize all content and employees, and make it easy for them to communicate internally and externally. Adopting a program forces you to change, and invest in digital technology that your employees actually want to use.
  • Developing daily communication habits: By integrating the right technology within your existing enterprise stack, you can help employees develop daily communication habits, like consuming enough content and sharing to their personal social networks. Technology helps activate social media training for employees and helps communicate your brand appropriately.

All of this helps improve the employee experience and distribute your employer brand.

Everyone Benefits From Improved Communications

By giving your employees the right content and access to modern technology that improves their skills, you’re investing in their professional development. When you show them you care, they become more engaged, which in turn improves the overall employee experience.

And by improving the employee experience, your workforce wants to participate in your employer branding efforts.

As an enterprise, it’s your responsibility to grow your employees. Give them the right knowledge and tools, and they’ll help attract and keep the right talent. Period.

How are you improving employee communication at your company? Do you invest in the employee experience? Leave a comment below and share with your colleagues!

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Performance Reviews – Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

The demise of annual performance reviews is a hot topic today—thankfully so.

There is a groundswell throughout the HR community and ongoing discussion, even in the mainstream media, about companies throwing out annual performance reviews or performance reviews altogether. They have been recognized as outdated, ineffective, and not providing real value to the ultimate goal of improving organizational workforce performance.

By now, the rationale has been spelled out often. HR leaders and thoughtful professionals understand the problems—feedback is too late, highlights (and lowlights) are forgotten, categories, such as strengths and weaknesses, can be nebulous.

Performance Management—Formal Reviews Out, Technology In

It might seem a dichotomy that formal performance reviews are falling out of favor at the same time that “performance management” software and technology to help organizations improve workforce performance are gaining in popularity. Looking at the situation more closely, however, helps clarify the situation.

The concept of the two-way dialog is gaining favor and this is great news. Rather than a one-way conversation, with the supervisor relaying his or her ratings and observations gained over the course of several months or a year and the employee either agreeing or supplying a rebuttal, a balanced, two-way discussion leads to a more beneficial exercise.

A conversation will hopefully lead to more open and honest communication. Real value to the employee as well as the manager can be realized with a back-and-forth exchange that results in improvements to employee and manager performance. All for the better of the organization. There is still a lot more necessary to improve performance than merely having a conversation, for example, training, coaching, and leadership development, but these new conversations are an important step.

Where’s the incongruity?

The Valuable Pieces

Despite the above-mentioned benefits, it does not make sense to throw out all aspects of  performance reviews. Certainly, it does not mean that managers and employees only need to have conversations, however frequently, and think that will fix everything.

Consider:

  • Conversations can be forgotten or misinterpreted by one or both parties. For this reason, key elements of conversations need to be recorded and agreed upon by the employee and the manager. This is especially true as the amount of time between interaction increases, even if it is more frequently than once or twice a year.
  • Without documentation of conversations, the opportunity for disagreement is high. This will result in frustration at best, but more likely continued or worsening behavior that never gets corrected. And, that can lead to an unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary separation down the road.
  • Without some formality or uniformity to the process, unfairness can easily seep into the overall review of any conversation. See the above point for the depressing consequences.

Technology: The Performance Enabler

While not a cure or substitute for the above potential pitfalls, technology is an enabler of the improved performance management process in this new era of valuable two-way conversations. Indeed, the larger the organization, the larger the teams and the more direct reports, the more important and valuable technology becomes. At a minimum, it becomes a point of record. But more importantly, it leads to a wealth of information and insight that leads to continued employee, team, and organizational improvement.

Through the insight gained through data available via improved performance management and with the ongoing conversations as a foundation, organizations will realize numerous benefits:

  • improved communication and alignment between employee and supervisor
  • goal alignment between employees and organization and between teams and organization
  • improved trust among employees and leadership
  • improved employee retention
  • better succession planning
  • identification of training needs and opportunities
  • better resource allocation
  • reduced legal exposure

Keep the Good

But none of this will be accomplished if an organization simply ends the practice of performance reviews. Embedded within that dreaded practice is a wealth of valuable information, which can be obtained in a not-so-disheartening manner.

While it may be time for you to throw out annual performance reviews, don’t throw out the valuable insight that you can still obtain through new, ongoing conversations.

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Change Agents: Know Thy Audience

Change agents and their ideas are the life force of organizations.

Innovation of all kinds is essential for organizations to grow and thrive; in fact, organizations that can more easily respond to new facts and conditions have a great advantage. In their book Super-Flexibility for Knowledge Enterprises, UC Berkeley’s Dr. Homa Bahrami and Carnegie Mellon’s Dr. Stuart Evans tell us that super flexible organizations are the most successful. These organizations have strong “circulatory systems” that foster idea flow, and they execute more dynamically. “Targeted experiments, openness to new data, fact-based assessment, and swift revisions” enable them to succeed while organizations that resist, ignore or are slower to respond to new ideas and conditions fail.

While organizations thrive on change, not all employees do — communication is key.

People don’t embrace change at the same pace (and some never will). How you communicate new ideas plays a huge role in how well they’re received and how quickly they’re adopted. If you’re a change agent and innovator, it’s tempting to think that conveying your enthusiasm and excitement will accelerate others’ acceptance — turns out, that won’t work most of the time.

What’s compelling to innovators and change agents isn’t compelling to more pragmatic and conservative people; innovators are often in the small minority. Effectively communicating the need or reason to change is an important skill and a big factor in innovation velocity.

Understand why and when someone would change to better communicate why they should change.

To communicate with greater impact, focus on your audience as much as your idea. Tune in to where your audience is coming from before you try to persuade them where you want them to go — their starting point is as important as your destination.

Use these 5 questions to prepare and communicate your vision for change:

1. How does your audience react to change?
What excites change agents and visionaries rarely motivates conservatives and skeptics. Knowing what motivates your audience helps you make your message relevant to them.

Geoffrey Moore and Roger Everett brilliantly characterized the “adoption curve” to illustrate different responses to new ideas and the pace of their adoption. As an innovator, you are the exception rather than the norm. You generate ideas, see few risks and are excited by advancement. Pragmatics, on the other hand, are more analytical; they manage risk and are motivated by solving problems. Conservatives are more cautious, don’t like risks and are motivated by certainty. Skeptics reject or doubt most things, highlight risks and are difficult to motivate.

2. What’s their professional focus?
The concerns of senior executives and front-line practitioners are rarely the same, so map the scope and level of detail to your audience’s professional focus. Executives tend to watch metrics and focus on performance outcomes and results. Directors typically focus on process and are concerned with its reliability and predictability, while managers look at actions and focus on execution and priorities. Practitioners look at the details of their job and care about the steps and quality of the work. Talking to executives about detailed actions and sub-steps isn’t persuasive, and neither is talking to practitioners about metrics without the detail that applies to them.

3. Are they a captive audience?
If the audience reports to you, they’re watching what you do to decide how they feel about what you say. Make sure you’re modeling and demonstrating the behavior you’re asking for from them. Because they won’t all adopt at the same pace as you, persistence and consistency over time are required — an innovator mistake is to give up before slower adopters ever had time to change.

4. What’s in it for them?
Tune your message to people’s personal motivators and professional perspectives to increase momentum and engagement. Create “what’s in it for you” slides or talking points designed for each audience so individuals can quickly understand why change is good for them — from their perspective of course. Sometimes four separate conversations with stakeholders can save four weeks of resistance from poorly-crafted general communications.

Check out this companion infographic and handy table to help you frame your audience and talking points to your audience’s perspective.

5. How will you operationalize and achieve your vision or goals?
Ideas are easy, but execution is hard. Even when you convince people to change, driving the actions needed to realize the full vision requires sustained communications, coordination, management discipline, results focus and follow through. The credibility of your future ideas and strategies rests heavily on how past ideas panned out in execution, so make sure you have an execution framework that is as well thought as your idea. Apps like Workboard help leaders keep goals, priorities, people and actions aligned on outcomes across locations and divisions.

The ability to imagine and envision change is a talent crucial to company success. When you frame what’s good about your idea or vision in terms that make it most relevant to your audience, you’ll gain support much faster and your impact over a year or a career will be much greater. Now go change your world!

For The Sake Of Social Reciprocity

“Hangin’ out
Down the street
The same old thing
We did last week
Not a thing to do
But talk to you…”

—Cheap Trick, “That 70’s Song”

When I saw it for the first time, my heart filled with love and faith, and my spirit transcended the atmospheric sensitivity of childhood scarring.

“Chewie, we’re home.” (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

For some, the words are meaningless, nothing more than another passing obscure reference of no interest, something silly for the crazies of sci-fi fandom.

But for me, it’s beyond moving.

Flashback to the summer of 1977, the world was complicated. We were still recovering from the longest and steepest recession at that time. Middle East tensions ran high. Domestic violence awareness and child abuse awareness was in its infancy. Political myopia was everywhere. We seemed to be a highly disconnected world in the wake of early technological innovation.

I was in my own complicated world living with domestic violence and abuse. Star Wars was to become a savior of sorts. My little sister and I stood in the long, hot line at the Fox Theater in Visalia, CA to see the new space epic.

We sat in the dark theater and held fast the seats beneath us, looking aspirational celluloid straight in the eye. I remember with stellar clarity the journey to a galaxy far, far away when I became one with rogues, rebels, villains and heroes and a musical score that haunts me to this day.

Nothing else really mattered until the house lights came up. We didn’t have social media then, so it’s all my friends and I could talk about “IRL” for the rest of that summer and well into the school year. But I carried with me a newfound hope, and now decades later, multi-generations of fans wait longingly for the next chapter of the Star Wars saga.

Chewie, we’re home sent chills through many of us and we cheered along (and I’m still cheering since I’ve watched the new trailer over and over and over again), yet again living in a complicated parallel universe to 1977: economic recovery, global tension, political myopia, accessible domestic violence and child abuse awareness, a now highly interconnected world via a mobile and social tech explosion. I now talk to some of those same childhood friends online more than in person.

Besides my excitement of my girls watching the films someday soon, these interactions in and around the new move have been online. My friends and I look at each other digitally in the eye and revel in the rebel joy, or poke fun at each other and the satiric spoofing from Space Balls and comedic titles like “Star Wars: When the Sith Hits the Fan.”

star wars Mama and DaddyAnd us older folk – those in their late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and even beyond – aren’t the only ones “present” with one another on Facebook sharing Star Wars fun. Facebook is the most popular and frequently used social media platform among teens, and those who have us as parents and have already been exposed to the Jedi magic will share with one another authentically online as well as in person.

But building and sustaining authentic relationships in person or online is no easy task. It takes an investment of being “present,” whether you’ve met someone for the first time, or talking with him or her for the thousandth time.

For example, have you met people at a conference or in a networking situation (maybe at the recent Star Wars Celebration) and they’re constantly looking around the room to see who else is there, or they’re looking at their watch, or anywhere except at you? Most likely yes, and those signals mean they aren’t really “present” in the conversation, so there is no true connection.

The same goes for those who’ve been connecting with me of late on LinkedIn, people I don’t know but who share numerous “personal” connections, and so I connect. Shortly thereafter they’re endorsing me with skills that may be relevant, but that they have no relational context with. And then they’re hitting me up for one thing or another.

Even sharing personal anecdotes from greater good of the Star Wars universe doesn’t sway me from hitting delete.

Introductions and ongoing relationships in social platforms require the same personal attention as the human touch and eye contact in a physical relationship, said Ted Rubin, social media marketing icon and TalentCulture #TChat Show guest. That means whether at work, at home, in a movie theater, or online. Anywhere and everywhere and all points in between.

It’s a reciprocal two-way street to not only sustain but also to grow new relationships online, especially when you won’t see the person much if at all. Unless for reasons of safety and security, online anonymity does not a relationship build, and even brands can lift the veil so we see the whites of each other’s eyes. Online public shaming is bad enough when we know who the shamers are.

When we listen and really hear one another, really “see” one another, and respond in thoughtful kind, only then can we figure out how we can serve one another personally and professionally in the best way possible through every boom or bust.

I’m not talking about taking on global injustice or saving the world, but I am suggesting this is how we empower each other’s worlds through personal leadership and positive focal points for the sake of a better home world and social reciprocity – key advice for organizations recruiting and developing their people, for diverse professionals growing and sustaining online internal and external community, and for companies connecting with prospects and customers.

“You have that power, too,” says Luke Skywalker in the latest Star Wars teaser trailer.

Make fun of me if you want, but when we’re present, the Force awakens in all of us. Always.

Photo: Fox Theater

 

How To Say “No” To Candidates

The hiring process can be exhausting, long-winded, and frankly, boring at times. Thirty-three percent of bosses know in the first 90 seconds whether or not they’ll hire the candidate they’re interviewing. The rest of the interview can seem like formality after you’ve realized the person you’re gazing past make the cut. It’s common courtesy to give a firm “we’ll let you know,” but what else can an employer do to let them down? Is it even an issue?

Why It’s Important To Say No

Employers are working through several candidates in the interview process, the length of which doubled from 12 days in 2009 to 23 days in 2013. Recruiters have several candidates in the hopper at any one time, and can’t be bothered to pen a heartfelt email to each saying how much they appreciate them even though they didn’t give them a job. But taking that time and sending an email, even if it’s automated, can help you find better candidates in the long run.

“You want to leave each applicant with a positive view of your organization which simple, timely communication will achieve. This positive impression may affect your candidate’s application to your organization in the future . . . candidates do talk and often, like birds, flock together to pursue an employer of choice.” — Susan Heathfield (@SusanHeathfield)

It may not seem like much, but having a good letdown process can be just as important as hiring the right person. If candidates feel like their application or interview wouldn’t have mattered in the first place, as if the enormous corporation they applied to didn’t even know they were there, they’re less likely to apply again in the future, or recommend that company to friends. This could lose you good candidates in the future.

Why You Should Say It ASAP

The only thing worse than being told no is the suspense of not knowing. Seventy percent of employers don’t provide any feedback to candidates they’ve rejected, and it drives candidates crazy. Not knowing whether or not a job offer is coming can be stressful. Perhaps they have an offer from another company, but yours would be the bigger catch. Should they follow through with the lower-paying job or wait to hear from you?

Being in the dark is nerve-wracking, and it can lead to them badmouthing your company for their bad experience: 22% of candidates who have their application mishandled or delayed will dissuade their friends from applying at a company. Even an automated email saying “We have received your application and have decided not to move forward,” delivered the day you’ve decided against hiring someone is better than a personal email delivered five months later. While not being hired by your dream company is a blow, knowing you can move forward with other applications and interviews is invaluable information for a job seeker to know!

When You Can, Be Real

You don’t always have time to give the proper feedback, but if you can, you should. Candidates will have a far better opinion of you if you can let them know why you didn’t choose them and what they could have done to shine during the application process.

We could say this, for example: “The search committee has recommended another candidate, but all of the members agree that we want to see you in a leadership role. If you are open to feedback about how to position yourself for opportunities in the future, we would like to give you some advice. If this would be helpful to you, let’s schedule some time after you and we have taken some time to reflect upon the process.” — Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell)

Finding the time to deliver more personal feedback may be difficult, but it’s worth it. Letting people know you’re responsive in every aspect of the hiring process (even the worst part) lets applicants know you’re responsive, and can build a brand that could later lead to more applicants and better hires in the long run.

Photo Credit: by freemagebank

That Magical Mindful Presence of Candidate Service

“And with all your magic
I disappear from view…”

—Coldplay

She stopped in the middle of the hall and met my gaze. We shook hands. Other customers, partners and peers streamed around us on either side like a river around rocks.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said.

She smiled. “Likewise.  This was a great week. Very informative. You really know how to listen to your customers.”

I’d thought she’d wink on that last comment, but she didn’t. Instead, the gleam in her eyes told me all I needed to know. After earlier conversations about how they’d been waiting for our latest talent acquisition product innovations that would eventually improve their speed and quality of hire over time, her and her colleagues were excited about the possibilities. The streams around us rushed continuously by, color and conversation blurred while we engaged in the magical mindful presence of one single interaction.

“Safe travels,” I said.

“You as well.”

Then we both merged into the nearest streams and were gone. And so it was at our PeopleFluent WISDOM 2015 customer conference, where engaging customer, partner and peer communication streams flowed in and out of the general session hall, through breakout sessions, down hallways, across tables during breaks and mealtimes.

Business thrives when customer communication and education are constant and engagement and retention are high. They are, of course, a very special group of investors who count on some kind of return in short order – streamline our processes, save us time, money and more. In the HR technology marketplace, they want all of the above plus better hires, a smarter workforce, strong leadership, diversity of thought, agile innovation and more.

This is why according to Yvette Cameron, HCM research director at global research firm Gartner who spoke at our WISDOM conference, companies spend over $41 billion on customer relationship management (CRM) technologies. We leverage technology, invest in our products and services, improve our customer service, wheel and deal, bend over backwards and do whatever it takes to hold onto our customers.

Conversely, companies only spend about $11 billion on HR technology, which is just a little more than a fourth of the CRM spend. Yvette then asked us all: What if we treated employees like we treat our best customers?

What if. Ironic, right? But hey, engagement is up according to the latest Gallup research: The percentage of U.S. workers engaged in their jobs rose from an average 31.7% in January to an average 32.9% in February. The latest monthly rate of employee engagement is the highest Gallup has recorded in three years and is a full 1 1/2 percentage points above where it stood in February 2014.

One and a half percentage points. Whooptee do-da-day. Break out the bubbly, kids. As soon as we’re hired we disappear into a faded and muted blur. As soon as we don’t get the job, we disappear.

Progress, however incremental, is progress, and there are those who are making the move on the front end to treat candidates like customers and using the right technologies to enable the much-needed preferential treatment. That’s why research and relationship building are alive and well in recruiting today, something we’re going to cover on the TalentCulture #TChat Show this week.

These same candidates, who like your customers, are doing their homework in advance on whether or not they want to do business with you, regardless of the technology investments you’ve made. This means the HR and talent acquisition teams need to take the time and do their due diligence when sourcing the best talent and invest in “whatever it takes” engagement to hold on to these customers – the current and future workforce.

Finding and hiring top tech talent is really tough today, especially those with the necessary skill sets that are critical for today’s companies – primarily, software programmers and developers, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) positions.

According to Dice’s 2015 Tech Candidate Sentiment Survey, tech candidates understand that recruiters use publicly available data to research candidates and get a “total person” view before making that first call to provide a better candidate experience. At least 50% of survey respondents said that they wish recruiters would do more research on them and their background before calling.

The candidates are in the driver seat now, so let us not forget that. But, according to the 2014 Candidate Experience Awards Report (the CandEs), employers overall are doing a better job meeting the needs of candidates in the pre-applicant stage of the candidate experience, providing transparency into Values (86.5 percent), Product (81.3 percent), Answers to ‘Why” People Want to Work Here (87.1 percent) and Answers to ‘Why’ People Stay Here (70.3 percent). They also focused on providing information on key culture initiatives around Diversity (83.2 percent).

This all helps of course, but whether hired or not (we’re all perpetual candidates), business thrives when customer communication and education are constant and engagement is high. Over the past two years, many CandE winners have invested in developing qualitative feedback channels for those candidates not advancing while immediately career pathing those who are.

And although not all their efforts focus on one-to-one communication, many are focusing on interactive communication channels that inform, educate, provide feedback and ask for feedback from smaller groups, leveraging that magical mindful presence of candidate service.

We really should listening more. And answering back. That’s worth at least 10 percentage-point return on engagement, don’t you think?

“And if you were to ask me
After all that we’ve been through
Still believe in magic
Oh yes I do
Oh yes I do…”

About the Author: Kevin W. Grossman co-founded and co-hosts the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat Show with Meghan M. Biro. He’s also currently the Product Marketing Director for Total Talent Acquisition products at PeopleFluent.

(license)

 

Does Your Corporate Culture Need A Tune-Up?

What makes a great leader? Maybe it depends. Sure, the capacity to inspire loyalty, the ability to articulate a vision, emotional intelligence and persuasiveness is valuable. But does a company need a leader whose values are culture-based, or one whose values are aligned with the needs of shareholders and the marketplace?

As a result, job seekers and future employees need to do a bit of digging to ensure the companies they’re interviewing with hold values compatible with their own. Often this boils down to trust. Plain and simple. And yet oh so complex.

For leaders, it means taking a critical look at your company culture, as it’s more important than ever for recruiting and retaining talent.

In my discussions with clients and candidates, I hear often that we are in the middle of a sea change – a generational shift in values. As Millennials make deeper inroads into the workplace, they’re bringing a new set of values, a need for a collaborative culture and a lack of interest in existing workplace structures that is creating tension among workers of other generations. People dance around this a lot, but it needs to be said: things are changing, and fast. Business leaders must be ready to accept that workers’ value systems are in flux, and be prepared to manage through complexity and change.

This topic came up when I was talking with a client about a talent retention challenge he was facing. His office is populated by workers of three generations: Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Friction in the office was disrupting productivity, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the real issue. He runs an analyst firm with a fairly flat management structure. Leaders in this workplace with 20+ years of business experience do most of the strategy and management. These people tend to be Boomers in this culture. They’re used to hierarchical management – in other words, they’re accustomed to giving and taking direction, acting independently but consulting with top management, mentoring a lot (we hope), and collaborating in a formal way. They value independence, loyalty and the free exchange of ideas (we hope). A middle layer of GenXers does most of the day-to-day client management – the tactical work – while learning the ropes of strategic counseling. This group is, not surprisingly, a skeptical but hard-working bunch very focused on upward mobility. They, like the Boomers, are comfortable with limited hierarchy. Skilled client relationship managers, they expect everyone to pitch in and pull their weight. They value self-reliance, don’t always follow the rules, are loyal to themselves, and demand work-life flexibility.

The youngest group, the Millennials, supports the client managers. They prefer to work collaboratively but with people of their peer group. They have no problem questioning authority, love to brainstorm, and don’t always understand why their ideas aren’t implemented. They expect to progress quickly in their careers but aren’t always in agreement with senior management on the path. They value innovation, are loyal within their peer group, value social interaction and see work as a means to an end.

When we mapped out the different value systems of employees, my client began to see the problem: his values, which the company was built around, were accepted by the senior team, questioned by middle management and viewed as out of date by the junior team. The generational misalignment in values had created a culture of distrust. Client work was suffering. What could he do? We came up with an exercise along with HR: employees were asked via a blind survey to list the top five things they liked about working in the company, the five least desirable factors, and encouraged to share their ideas for improving the work culture. After analyzing the responses here’s what my client and I realized was needed:

A shared purpose: Mission, vision, and values – everyone had to understand the value system, the purpose, the mission. Even if everyone viewed with their own unique lens. My client assumed everyone was on the same page: his page. This was not the case. He was surprised by this result but immediately put a blended team together to tackle presenting a single, coherent story together. This was the first step to a more clear employer brand.

Training to ensure skill levels and competency: Necessary to ensure all employees trusted the skill levels of their colleagues.

More, and better, communication: The client thought communication cross-teams was working, and he thought he communicated well, but the different values of the age groups made it obvious this area needed work.

Clear reward system and growth path: The path to upper management had to be articulated, expectations set, and reward systems demystified. And be social. Yes, I mean social media.Yes, I mean HR technology if it fits.

Acknowledging and celebrating differences: To rebuild trust, the client needed to be clear that he was aware of different styles and willing to honor the diversity of the group.

It wasn’t an overnight fix, of course. A values and culture misalignment happens over time, and requires an investment of time, trust, open communication and shared sense of commitment to repair. As the workplace continues to change, as Boomers retire and Gen X and Gen Y moves up, this scenario may be more common. Leaders need to be prepared to take alternative routes of thinking into account to build and motivate winning teams and values. You will not keep your top talent by sitting on the sidelines and hoping. Taking action matters.

Oh and btw … I am hoping soon we can move way from generational stereotyping but it’s still alive and well in my conversations. Only when I was able to point out to him generational “facts” was he able to really give me a buy-in for these ideas to implement. See the irony here? The truth is we are more similar than we give ourselves credit for. Sometimes it’s as simple as communication. Often this is the missing link. Here’s to hoping.

This post was adapted from “Dear Leaders: Please Revisit Your Corporate Culture,” which originally appeared on Forbes.com.

About the Author: Meghan M. Biro is a globally-recognized talent management leader and social business and community catalyst. As founder and CEO of TalentCulture Consulting Group, she has worked with hundreds of companies, from early-stage ventures to global brands like Microsoft and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent.

photo credit: Wrenched DOF via photopin (license)

17 Essential Elements Of A Successful Millennial Recruiting Video

Cisco predicts that by 2018, 84% of the Internet’s traffic will be video. There is little doubt that we will be consuming and communicating more and more via video in the very near future. Your recruiting efforts should reflect this growing trend.

Finding the right talent today is an ongoing process, especially since 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job less than 3 years. An effective recruiting video is a must in today’s video-centric and high-flux marketplace.

Zendesk, a software development company, has a recruiting video that is a prime example of what resonates with Millennials. Even though this video was created in 2012, there are many learnings for those on a quest to attract the next generation of great Millennial talent.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0uaSU6IVN4]

17 Essential Elements Of A Recruiting Video That Attracts Millennials

  1. Don’t tell, show. Video is the preferred method of consumption for the Millennial generation. Zendesk does a superb job blending visuals with a voiceover to show what it’s like working at Zendesk.
  2. Infuse authenticity. Millennials can spot phonies online or offline in an instant. While watching the Zendesk video, viewers receive a genuine sense that people enjoy working at Zendesk, are able to be themselves at work, and collaborate well with each other. Unlike most recruiting videos, nothing seems forced in this video.
  3. Showcase your growth. Not with boring charts and graphs, but like Zendesk did comparing a picture of the founders vs video of the current cafeteria with all the employees. Millennials are interested in becoming an integral part of something that’s going somewhere.
  4. Expose your culture. Zendesk spent very little time on the actual product/service and all the time exposing their company culture. Millennials will choose culture over anything else.
  5. Flaunt your employees. Millennials want to see who they’d be working alongside. The more diverse and creative the team…the better. Ditch any clip art and stock video and just use your real employees.
  6. Unveil the lifestyle. Millennials often choose a city before they choose a job. Zendesk beautifully showcased the neighborhood of the headquarters including the eateries, coffee shop, and bars their employees visit.
  7. Reveal the office. Highlight the innovate workspaces and work perks (salty licorice, beer, pets at work, etc.).
  8. Depict an actual day. Show what it looks like going to work, whom they are going to meet there, a typical desk (bonus for Zendesk’s standing desks!), the elevator they will use, where they will park, how they will collaborate, and where meetings are held. The easier they can visualize themselves at your organization, the easier their decision.
  9. Show off technology. Millennials desire an innovative environment to quench their tech dependance. In the Zendesk video, many employees can be seen using wifi, flat screens, Macs, iPads, and various smartphones.
  10. Exhibit social perks. Millennials are looking for community as much as they are a job. Zendesk highlighted their community outreach, office basketball games, parties, and company sport teams.
  11. Feature your leaders. Highly visible leaders gives Millennials the impression of a flatter organization, which they prefer. Zendesk took it a step further and included shots of their leader laughing and having a good time.
  12. Get quirky. No Millennial dreams of working for a stuffy organization. Each Zendesk team looking at the camera at the same time and then awkwardly assuming what they were doing, non-judgement victory dances, someone eating salted licorice, desk races, “Zendesk does not hire a$%-holes,” and superman playing soccer are all quirky, Millennial-resonating brilliance.
  13. Make it social. Don’t create a recruiting video and post it solely on your website. Put it on YouTube where people can find it. Remember YouTube is the #2 search engine.
  14. Short video. Our attention spans have shortened since 2012. Create a 1-1:30 minute recruiting intro video and then serve up other longer videos (if necessary) for those interested in learning more about your organization.
  15. Compelling music. Your video’s music can make or break the video. Music can demonstrate your relevance, innovation, and the pace of your organization.
  16. Visible call to action. Zendesk unfortunately buried it’s zendesk.com/careers link in the “About” section of the video. Make your call to action clear and visible.
  17. Emphasize teamwork. Millennials value team collaboration. The fact that Zendesk highlighted every employee in the video gives viewers the sense that each employee is valued. (Of course, this might not be viable for larger organizations but it’s something to strive for and emphasize nonetheless.)

Question: What other aspects have been effective in your Millennial recruiting efforts?

About the Author: Ryan Jenkins is an internationally recognized Millennial keynote speaker and author. He helps organizations and leaders gain clarity around the Millennial generation so that they can effectively lead, communicate, and brand in tomorrow’s multi-generational marketplace.

photo credit: the news man, tattoo, castro street fair, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)

Connecting Your Employer Brand And Candidate Experience

Look around you, managers, and what do you see? My guess: disengaged employees with Zombie stares, some with the sour look of the disappointed, a few with the overly positive, can-do smile, trying desperately to make things work. Why is this happening? A lot of this is the fault of a poor connection between managers and line-of-business employees. Worse, it inevitably trickles into a broken recruitment and communication process with potential candidates. The good news? We can turn this around. It’s in your power to take control of your recruiting process and employer brand. The truth is most job seekers are looking for more than salary when they decide to apply to work at your company.

Can employee disengagement and bad branding be prevented? Can HR and leaders learn to bring people back to productivity? Absolutely. Will it be tough? You know it. Will it be worth it? Yes, a thousand times. How do you start? Let’s take a closer look at employer brand. Are you true to it in your hiring and recruiting process? How your employees represent the company’s mission and brand is as important as anything leaders or HR say in the hiring process. Make sure the stories align well and accurately reflect your current brand and the overall mission.

Then look at the employee experience – What employees do every day, the actions they take, and how they perceive the actions of their managers and top management. As Blue Ocean Strategy Institute co-directors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne suggested in Harvard Business Review, focusing on the acts and activities of management and employees is critical to understanding how a company operates. Actions, as our moms have told us, do speak louder than words, and in the world of work they separate good managers, and great companies and truthful branding, from the mediocre. Plus, as my piece on Dice.com shows, technology is changing in the world of work for leaders and hiring practitioners around the globe.

Then look at how you’re hiring: think candidate experience. Do you force job seekers through a maze-like microsite for career opportunities, then fail to acknowledge their applications with an email or letter (spoiler alert: approximately 70% of hiring companies are in this camp)? Do you put people through tests and five phone screens, then never follow up? If so, you’re doing damage to your brand. Smart companies know better: they’ve begun to adopt new technologies to streamline the hiring process: video, digital interviews, social recruiting and more.

A few more things can make or break employer brand and candidate experience:

Communicate throughout the process. If you do a phone screen, give feedback. If a candidate comes to your career site, acknowledge the visit with an email explaining your hiring process. Technology is available now to make these steps easy; there’s no reason not to do it, unless you want to damage your brand.

Think like a candidate. Another timeless reminder: treat others as you’d like to be treated. This Golden Rule is especially important if you want to ensure good candidate experience. And why wouldn’t you?

Be a person first, an HR manager second. People want to deal with people. Make your hiring process as personal as you can. You’re not dealing with robots (just yet at least).

Set expectations. This is part of the communications process but it deserves a call-out. Don’t leave people hanging; let them know what your process is, when they can expect to hear back, how quickly you’re planning to make a decision.

Candidate experience is a two-way street. Make sure yours is good and true to your brand, or you are setting the brand up for damage both upfront in the recruiting process and to your internal employees and stakeholders. It’s easier to maintain a good reputation than it is to rebuild it. Employer brand and candidate experience are linked, and they matter greatly to recruit and retain your talent.

This post was adapted from “Your Employer Brand Owns The Candidate Experience,” which originally appeared on Forbes.com.

About the Author: Meghan M. Biro is a globally-recognized talent management leader and social business and community catalyst. As founder and CEO of TalentCulture Consulting Group, she has worked with hundreds of companies, from early-stage ventures to global brands like Microsoft and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent.

photo credit: via gratisography

Reputation Management — Building Your Brand!

People are often surprised by what they hear that has been said behind their backs….! I emphasize as part of my Reputation Management theme, the better one manages his or her reputation, the less likely such surprises will occur.

So what comprises a reputation? I stress it is so much more than one’s professional expertise and academic accomplishments. It includes attitude, approachability, verbal presence, sense of style, reliability, attention to detail, kindness, flexibility, global awareness, business etiquette usage, ability to mix and mingle, etc.

We admire those who always seem to know what to say and how to say it and we cringe as we hear someone put their foot in their mouth. We are thankful for those who deliver as promised, but our stress levels increase while waiting for those who repeatedly give excuses.

We enjoy working among those with positive, can-do attitudes as we attempt to avoid the whiners, the mean-spirited and snarky people.

Approachable people make us feel welcomed and acknowledged as their body language is inclusive rather than avoidant or arrogant.

And wow, do certain people own the room and the moment with their commanding, confident presence; whether giving a presentation or working the room, they are in their element.

And as I stress, diplomacy isn’t just for diplomats. People who carefully weigh their words for tact and tone give themselves a distinct advantage. In today’s world of increased brevity, basic verbal courtesy is almost a thing of the past.

As society has become increasingly salacious with a newfound sense of entitlement that includes knowing everything about everyone, protecting one’s reputation has become even more an area of concern.

My top 10 list of items that people notice, talk about and will impact your brand include:

  1. Are you comfortable mixing and mingling? Turning small talk into a big advantage.
  2. Do you recognize non-verbal communication signals in yourself and others? Pumping up the volume without saying a word.
  3. Do you communicate effectively, with words that send the right message. Using language to build bridges.
  4. Do you “demonstrate” the best of everyday etiquette? “Introducing” sure-fire leading behaviors.
  5. Are you “in the know” – current, contemporary and globally savvy? Lifelong learning that will take you the distance.
  6. Are your presentation skills on point? Conquering the conference room and captivating your audience.
  7. Are you confident and comfortable with business entertainment? Thinking on your feet (and outside of the box) out of the office.
  8. Are technology tools your friends or foes? Social networking and texting and emailing (oh my.)
  9. Are you known for doing what matters when it counts? The it factor…Gravitas
  10. Does your appearance convey the right professional image? Seeing it, BEING it (and how it looks in the rearview mirror).

While each of my top 10 dovetail perfectly one to the next, I recommend that people do a candid body language self-assessment – question #2. Non-verbal communication can impact a brand in ways that people are often unaware. As previously mentioned, approachability is key and I ask people, do you even know if you are approachable or not so much? It’s worth noting if people can’t answer the question without hesitation, they most likely are not as approachable as they need to be. And for the record, being approachable does not mean smiling all of the time…we don’t trust people who never stop smiling.

Our non-verbal communication will make others feel valued or dismissed, that we’re listening or distracted, that we have time to invest or please hurry up! The eyes really do say more than we realize and those who have learned to smile with their eyes have an overall welcoming presence. And just the opposite…people who roll their eyes communicate a passive aggressive nature – that’s not good!

Our non-verbal brand, which I like to call Body Talk, encompasses everything from head to toe. The way you own a room, the way you shake a hand, the way you give attentive eye contact, the sincere smile you offer, the pop in your step, the confidence your posture exhibits will without a doubt complement a person’s overall brand.

Note: Deborah Thomas Nininger was the guest on the January 21st #TChat Show.

About the Author: Deborah Thomas-Nininger is the founder of DTN Productions International-Hallmark of Etiquette, a training company that provides training on all areas of international and domestic protocol specializing in “Reputation Management” and communication strategies. She brings to you over 20 years of business etiquette, communication and self-presentation expertise, rooted in behavioral science and successful human interaction.

photo credit: Silicon Prairie News via photopin cc

Why Job Seekers Keep Calling … And Calling [Infographic]

Here’s the problem: You know you’ve got job openings to fill, and while there are plenty of candidates willing to step in, they aren’t qualified. Didn’t you explicitly say in the job description, “B2B sales experience required?” What part of that does a job seeker not understand? We need to clear up this miscommunication…and fast.

This infographic, compiled by MedReps.com, provides solutions for common miscommunications between job seekers and employers. Some points to note include:

  • 38 percent of companies have open positions they cannot find talent to fill

  • 46 percent of resumes submitted contain some form of false information

  • On average, it takes 24.5 working days to fill a position

  • There are three unemployed persons for every job opening

Check out the full infographic below and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

MedReps.com-Say-What-550

What do you think? What are some other reasons miscommunication occurs between job seekers and recruiters?

photo credit: dominique . B via photopin cc

3 Bites To The Core Of Communication… And Engagement

At the core of successful employee engagement is communication. You likely think I mean communication between manager and employee. Your thinking is spot on. The most common reason an employee leaves a job is the employee’s manager. And the most common element is the communication — or lack of — between manager and employee. There are plenty of other aspects of communication and how it can boost employee satisfaction and engagement. But for this writing, let’s look at 3 core “bites” that will have communication contribute to employee engagement.

Share Expectations.

An employee who knows what is expected experiences less doubt, less confusion. Knowing the weekly report must include narrative as well as statistics precludes the risk of rework. Knowing what to do, the employee expends time and energy engaging in the job, rather than wondering “what?” and “how?” This applies to graphic design, garage mechanics,  IT deployment or training & development. Stating expectations to an employee early, frequently and consistently is an art of communication. Remembering to restate frequently is part of that art — either to verify or to vary the expectations.

Remove Obstacles. 

Most work has some degree of problem-solving. That does not mean we want employees focusing continually on unnecessary problems. Open line communication between employee and manager provides productive Q&A. This allows the manager to help the worker know priorities. This in turn leads to identifying obstacles quickly and easily. That allows fast application of efforts to move obstacles aside. Consider an employee’s inability to access onboarding e-learning. Recollect the glitch in a new procedure that brought it to a standstill. In such instances, communication is step one to remove the obstacle. When communication is fundamental to the business culture, you’ll look for the solution there first.

Offer Feedback and Recognition.

A good idea is to recognize an employee’s successful engagement in her assignments, with her team, and for the company. An equally good idea is to give feedback to the employee whose efforts are less successful. Both actions are communication-based. Both recognition and feedback have positive impact on employee engagement.  The manager speaks about what has been done well and why. The employee hears and strives to repeat. That is engagement. A manager speaks about what has been done, could have been done better, and how. The employee hears and strives to improve. The connection between communication and engagement is clear.

Don’t take this as an oversimplification of engagement culture and strategy. Both require substantial attention and effort. Just keep in mind that these steps can get you to the communications core and to better employee engagement.

(About the Author: As an Employee Engagement and Performance Improvement expert, Tim Wright, has worked with businesses and national associations of all sizes. His company, Wright Results, offers proven strategies and techniques to help businesses increase employee engagement, improve personnel performance and build a strong business culture by focusing on performance management from the C.O.R.E. For more information, visit www.wrightresults.com or connect with Tim here: tim@wrightresults.com)

To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter and G+ conversation anytime. Learn more…

TalentCulture World of Work was created for HR professionals, leadership executives, and the global workforce. Our community delves into subjects like HR technologyleadershipemployee engagement, and corporate culture everyday. To get more World of Work goodness, please sign up for our newsletter, listen to our #TChat Radio Channel or sign up for our RSS feed.

Do you have great content you want to share with us? Become a TalentCulture contributor!

photo credit: Stacy Spensley via photopin cc

Your Corporate Culture: What's Inside?

“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”-Jack Welch

Jack Welch isn’t alone in this opinion. Many of today’s most successful business leaders agree — culture is a powerful force that can make or break a business.

So, what is this elusive culture thing, anyway?

It is a topic the TalentCulture community obviously takes seriously. (After all, it’s at the core of our identity.) But even among culture specialists, the concept isn’t easy to define. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an experience — created and shaped by the collective values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of your workforce.

You can’t necessarily “see” culture. But evidence of it is often easy to spot. Similarly, culture can’t be manufactured, manipulated or imposed upon employees. But without clarity, consistency and communication, it can rapidly erode.

Looking Closer Look at Corporate Culture

MIT Management Professor, Edgar Schein, presents culture as a series of assumptions people make about an organization. These assumptions occur at three levels — each is more difficult to articulate and change. Schein’s three-tier structure includes:

• Artifacts (Visible)
• Espoused Beliefs and Values (May appear through surveys or other narrative)
• Underlying Assumptions (Unconscious beliefs/values. Not visible; may be taken for granted)Culture 3 LevelsIllustration via Chad Renando

The Business Case for Culture: Zappos

In recent years, Zappos has become known for its deep commitment to culture as a competitive advantage. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, often speaks about the importance of workplace culture, and why it is his company’s chief priority. To understand Tony’s perspective, watch this brief video:

Below are Zappos’ “10 Commandments” — the core values that drive culture, brand and business strategies:

1) Deliver WOW through service
2) Embrace and drive change
3) Create fun and a little weirdness
4) Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
5) Pursue growth and learning
6) Build open and honest relationships with communication
7) Build a positive team and family spirit
8) Do more with less
9) Be passionate and determined
10) Be humble

What do you think of “commandments” like these? How does your organization articulate and reinforce cultural norms across your workforce? How effective are your efforts?

Beyond Zappos: 100 Great Company Cultures

Of course, Zappos is only one of many organizations that invest deeply in culture. Last week, Fortune Magazine offered 100 other examples in its 2014 “Best Companies to Work For” List, developed by Great Place to Work Institute.

Even before the list was revealed, Great Place to Work CEO, China Gorman, shared several key observations about the cultural characteristics that help great companies attract top talent.

And yesterday, China talked with us in greater detail about lessons learned — first in a #TChat Radio interview (hear the replay now), and then in a lively community-wide #TChat discussion on Twitter. (For a full recap of the week’s highlights and resource links, read: “Workplace Greatness: No Guarantees.”)

As the moderator of this week’s Twitter event, I’d like to thank the hundreds of professionals who literally contributed thousands of ideas about what makes organizations “tick.” Your input is always welcome — the more, the better. So let’s keep this conversation going…

Image Credit

Your Corporate Culture: What’s Inside?

“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”-Jack Welch

Jack Welch isn’t alone in this opinion. Many of today’s most successful business leaders agree — culture is a powerful force that can make or break a business.

So, what is this elusive culture thing, anyway?

It is a topic the TalentCulture community obviously takes seriously. (After all, it’s at the core of our identity.) But even among culture specialists, the concept isn’t easy to define. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an experience — created and shaped by the collective values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of your workforce.

You can’t necessarily “see” culture. But evidence of it is often easy to spot. Similarly, culture can’t be manufactured, manipulated or imposed upon employees. But without clarity, consistency and communication, it can rapidly erode.

Looking Closer Look at Corporate Culture

MIT Management Professor, Edgar Schein, presents culture as a series of assumptions people make about an organization. These assumptions occur at three levels — each is more difficult to articulate and change. Schein’s three-tier structure includes:

• Artifacts (Visible)
• Espoused Beliefs and Values (May appear through surveys or other narrative)
• Underlying Assumptions (Unconscious beliefs/values. Not visible; may be taken for granted)Culture 3 LevelsIllustration via Chad Renando

The Business Case for Culture: Zappos

In recent years, Zappos has become known for its deep commitment to culture as a competitive advantage. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, often speaks about the importance of workplace culture, and why it is his company’s chief priority. To understand Tony’s perspective, watch this brief video:

Below are Zappos’ “10 Commandments” — the core values that drive culture, brand and business strategies:

1) Deliver WOW through service
2) Embrace and drive change
3) Create fun and a little weirdness
4) Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
5) Pursue growth and learning
6) Build open and honest relationships with communication
7) Build a positive team and family spirit
8) Do more with less
9) Be passionate and determined
10) Be humble

What do you think of “commandments” like these? How does your organization articulate and reinforce cultural norms across your workforce? How effective are your efforts?

Beyond Zappos: 100 Great Company Cultures

Of course, Zappos is only one of many organizations that invest deeply in culture. Last week, Fortune Magazine offered 100 other examples in its 2014 “Best Companies to Work For” List, developed by Great Place to Work Institute.

Even before the list was revealed, Great Place to Work CEO, China Gorman, shared several key observations about the cultural characteristics that help great companies attract top talent.

And yesterday, China talked with us in greater detail about lessons learned — first in a #TChat Radio interview (hear the replay now), and then in a lively community-wide #TChat discussion on Twitter. (For a full recap of the week’s highlights and resource links, read: “Workplace Greatness: No Guarantees.”)

As the moderator of this week’s Twitter event, I’d like to thank the hundreds of professionals who literally contributed thousands of ideas about what makes organizations “tick.” Your input is always welcome — the more, the better. So let’s keep this conversation going…

Image Credit

Telecommuting Tools: What’s Your Plan?

Virtual teams are truly gaining ground in today’s workplace, thanks to the convergence of three factors:

1) More employers recognize the value of flexible work models,
2) Workers are open to remote options, and
3) New cloud-based technologies make it easy to connect, communicate and collaborate.

Many employers now allow members of their workforce to operate entirely from home — while other companies support more limited forms of telecommuting.

Telework = Serious Savings

There are compelling business reasons why organizations and individuals should evaluate this trend. According to research compiled by Global Workplace Analytics, 50 million U.S. employees have jobs that are compatible with telecommuting, and are willing to pursue it at some level. It’s estimated that, each year, if all those who are able and willing worked from home even half of the time, a typical employer would save $11,000 per person, while the typical telecommuter would save $2,000-$7,000.

But regardless of how much money telecommuting can save, one thing is certain — it’s essential to invest in viable technology to ensure that remote workers can succeed in their role.

110727_GIST_The_Mobile_Worker4

See the infographic and more details at Mashable

3 Keys to a Telework Technology Plan

Before assuming which tools are ideal, it’s wise to look for helpful insights from workstyle studies. For example, a 2011 study by GIST profiles remote work behavior across multiple dimensions — identifying locations remote workers prefer, and revealing how they accomplish tasks on the go.

Of course, every business is unique, but when you develop a detailed technology plan for virtual workers, it’s essential to consider three key elements: communication, collaboration and connections. Here are some ideas to kick-start your process:

Communication: There are many technologies remote workers can use to stay in touch with team members, managers, customers, and others. Email probably remains the most common communication channel, but text messaging, chat, and instant messaging are also useful when people need to discuss projects, status and other issues in real-time. The good news is that many of those tools work in tandem or on top of popular workplace communications applications.

Skype and similar audio and video conferencing tools are highly affordable, reliable and are easy to deploy and support. They’re ideal for everything from small group meetings and business presentations, to more formal conference-like events. Google+ Communities and Hangouts are also gaining popularity as simple, freely available tools to help groups connect and discuss topics and projects via audio and video, with file sharing and social tools that enhance and extend those discussions.

Collaboration: Remote workers need tools that help them work together with others to generate ideas, solve problems and manage group projects. Google Docs is a great way to co-create content and share information among team members on an ongoing basis. Also, Dropbox and other cloud storage services are popular for exchanging, organizing and archiving content (especially larger files), and for easily accessing content while on the go.

Connections: With today’s vast array of freely available social media and cloud software solutions, keeping your workforce securely and reliably connected is becoming remarkably easy to do. Intranets provide dedicated virtual spaces that help distributed teams work together asynchronously, using embedded social tools to interact. And integrated suites of cloud-based tools like Google Apps for Business help workers easily create, share and manage all kinds of business documents and communications. To learn more about Google Apps for Business, watch this video overview:

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Whether you tap into new web-based tools, or you extend applications that your company already uses in-house, a technology plan is one way to be sure that all your remote contributors stay focused and productive, no matter where or when they’re working. The pace of cloud software innovation is so rapid, your biggest challenge may be staying ahead of new technology developments. However, your efforts should pay off, with telecommuters that are highly efficient and engaged in their jobs.

Your Turn

Does your company encourage telework arrangements? What tech-related issues do your remote teams face? What tools do you recommend to others?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at weekly events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Telecommuting Tools: What's Your Plan?

Virtual teams are truly gaining ground in today’s workplace, thanks to the convergence of three factors:

1) More employers recognize the value of flexible work models,
2) Workers are open to remote options, and
3) New cloud-based technologies make it easy to connect, communicate and collaborate.

Many employers now allow members of their workforce to operate entirely from home — while other companies support more limited forms of telecommuting.

Telework = Serious Savings

There are compelling business reasons why organizations and individuals should evaluate this trend. According to research compiled by Global Workplace Analytics, 50 million U.S. employees have jobs that are compatible with telecommuting, and are willing to pursue it at some level. It’s estimated that, each year, if all those who are able and willing worked from home even half of the time, a typical employer would save $11,000 per person, while the typical telecommuter would save $2,000-$7,000.

But regardless of how much money telecommuting can save, one thing is certain — it’s essential to invest in viable technology to ensure that remote workers can succeed in their role.

110727_GIST_The_Mobile_Worker4

See the infographic and more details at Mashable

3 Keys to a Telework Technology Plan

Before assuming which tools are ideal, it’s wise to look for helpful insights from workstyle studies. For example, a 2011 study by GIST profiles remote work behavior across multiple dimensions — identifying locations remote workers prefer, and revealing how they accomplish tasks on the go.

Of course, every business is unique, but when you develop a detailed technology plan for virtual workers, it’s essential to consider three key elements: communication, collaboration and connections. Here are some ideas to kick-start your process:

Communication: There are many technologies remote workers can use to stay in touch with team members, managers, customers, and others. Email probably remains the most common communication channel, but text messaging, chat, and instant messaging are also useful when people need to discuss projects, status and other issues in real-time. The good news is that many of those tools work in tandem or on top of popular workplace communications applications.

Skype and similar audio and video conferencing tools are highly affordable, reliable and are easy to deploy and support. They’re ideal for everything from small group meetings and business presentations, to more formal conference-like events. Google+ Communities and Hangouts are also gaining popularity as simple, freely available tools to help groups connect and discuss topics and projects via audio and video, with file sharing and social tools that enhance and extend those discussions.

Collaboration: Remote workers need tools that help them work together with others to generate ideas, solve problems and manage group projects. Google Docs is a great way to co-create content and share information among team members on an ongoing basis. Also, Dropbox and other cloud storage services are popular for exchanging, organizing and archiving content (especially larger files), and for easily accessing content while on the go.

Connections: With today’s vast array of freely available social media and cloud software solutions, keeping your workforce securely and reliably connected is becoming remarkably easy to do. Intranets provide dedicated virtual spaces that help distributed teams work together asynchronously, using embedded social tools to interact. And integrated suites of cloud-based tools like Google Apps for Business help workers easily create, share and manage all kinds of business documents and communications. To learn more about Google Apps for Business, watch this video overview:

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Whether you tap into new web-based tools, or you extend applications that your company already uses in-house, a technology plan is one way to be sure that all your remote contributors stay focused and productive, no matter where or when they’re working. The pace of cloud software innovation is so rapid, your biggest challenge may be staying ahead of new technology developments. However, your efforts should pay off, with telecommuters that are highly efficient and engaged in their jobs.

Your Turn

Does your company encourage telework arrangements? What tech-related issues do your remote teams face? What tools do you recommend to others?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at weekly events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Psst! Leaders, Are You Really Listening?

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

Verb: To give one’s attention to a sound.
Synonym: hear, pay attention, be attentive, concentrate on hearing, lend an ear to, and to be all ears.

We all understand the mechanics of listening. But too often today, when we have the opportunity to listen, we’re content with just passively letting sound waves travel through our ears. That’s called hearing. Listening is something entirely different. It’s essential for leaders to pay attention when others around us have something to say. Why? Because developing better listening skills is the key to developing a better company.

Lack of Listening Puts Organizations at Risk

Because leaders live in the ‘time is money’ zone, information gathering tends to focus on immediate requirements:

I need an answer! Give me a snapshot, infographic or sound-byte. GO, GO, GO!

However, when input actually arrives, how authentic are you about listening? Do you pretend to care, just for the sake of getting at what you think you need? Or are you receiving, absorbing and processing the entire message?

We’ve all had moments when we politely smile and nod throughout a dialogue. The speaker may feel heard and validated, but we miss out on potentially valuable information. Or how about those moments when we greet someone in passing with a quick, “Hi. How are you?” and continue moving forward without waiting for a response.

Occasionally, that may happen. But what if it’s a habit? What if others in your organization learn to expect that behavior from you? When people assume their ideas and opinions don’t matter, communication quickly breaks down. This kind of moment isn’t just a missed opportunity for meaningful interaction — it’s a legitimate business issue that puts your organization at risk.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When we’re part of a conversation, but we’re not paying attention, we send the message that we just don’t care. However, our intentions may be quite different. These are the most common reasons why we fail at listening:

  We’re developing a response. Instead of maintaining a clear, open mind when others speak, we quickly start composing our reply or rebuttal. Many smart people tend to jump into that response mode — usually less than 40 words into a dialogue.

  We’re preoccupied by external factors. In today’s multitasking environments, distractions abound. We’re bombarded with noise from things like open floor plans, and a constant barrage of texts, tabs, emails, calls, and calendar notifications.

•  It’s not a good time for the conversation. Have you ever been rushing to prepare for a meeting when someone stopped you in the hallway with a simple “Got a moment?” While it may be tempting to comply, it’s wise to simply schedule the discussion for another time. You’ll stay on track for the meeting, and can focus on the request as time permits.

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

I ask my team questions and invest time in discussions because I’m interested in their answers. Actually, I need those answers. After all, employee feedback is critical for a more engaged, productive, fulfilled workforce.

To foster better understanding, try asking follow-up questions to verify what people intend to convey, and discover how they feel about what they’re saying. This simple gesture will cultivate a culture of openness and camaraderie. Also, we can use tools to streamline the communication process and help us ask smart questions that reveal more about employees.

However, there’s no point asking questions if we only respond with a nod and then move on. If your mind is too cluttered and your day too busy to engage fully, be honest with your team. Assure them that you’ll get back to them when you’re able. And of course, don’t forget to follow up.

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

Still, many leaders struggle with the art of active listening. That’s why it’s important to learn useful techniques and make practice a part of your life.

Deepak Chopra, MD, observes that leaders and followers ideally form a symbiotic relationship. “The greatest leaders are visionaries, but no vision is created in a vacuum. It emerges from the situation at hand.” Effective leadership begins with observation — knowing your audience and understanding the landscape. Even the most eloquent, powerful speech will fall on deaf ears if the speaker doesn’t listen to the pulse of the audience.

It’s never too soon to start practicing this art. Here are 4 easy tips to improve your ability to listen and lead:

1) Repetition. Repeat anything you find interesting. This helps you recall key points after a conversation ends. It’s also a smart technique when you meet someone new. Repeat their name throughout the discussion. This not only solidifies the name in your memory, but also helps build rapport and trust.

2) Read Between the Lines. Pay special attention when a speaker changes tone and volume, pauses, or breaks eye contact. These subtle signals are clues that can reflect emotional highlights or pain points (anger, sadness, happiness). And body language often reveals what words don’t say.

3) Mouth/Eye Coordination. Looking a speaker in the eye establishes a connection and lets them know you’re listening. But don’t hold their gaze too long. Recent research suggests that eye contact is effective only if you already agree with a speaker’s message. Instead, try looking at the speaker’s mouth. That may feel awkward, but this keeps you focused on what they’re saying — and they’ll know it.

4) Reflection. Seal the deal by thinking back to extract meaning. You may be exhilarated by a great conversation — but without a mental debrief, much of it can be forgotten. Reflection is critical in developing the takeaways (and subsequent actions) that make the discussion valuable. Try mentally organizing important points by associating them with a relevant word or two. Then, in the future, you’ll more easily recall the details.

The art of listening is about much more than exchanging facts. Active listening helps those in your company feel validated and connected with you and your organization. Genuine conversations weave their own path. Give them your time and attention. Along the way, you’ll solve problems and generate new ideas that will have a lasting impact on you, your team and your business.

Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome to participate; or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

Want Engaged Employees? Tell Them Why

(Editor’s Note: Want to learn more from Meghan about employee engagement strategies? Join a special #TChat webinar on November 7th, with Virgin Pulse president David Coppins. Register now …)

Late last year, I had an eye-opening experience while visiting a high-tech industry client.

Their office space is very cool. At first glance, it’s exactly what we expect from organizations with edgy, innovative brand personalities. But on second thought, something seemed to be missing.

The design is full-on open concept — rows of modular worktables, very low partitions, no private offices. As I looked across this vast bullpen, I couldn’t help wondering how people find a useful corner for a private one-on-one conversation, a quick team huddle, or an escape from distractions when it’s time to concentrate and actually get things done. This just doesn’t feel like a fully functioning workplace, where people can be productive throughout the day.

What’s Wrong With This Engagement Picture?

Of course, there’s a large, sunny cafeteria and a designated gaming area, complete with foosball table. That clearly helps seal the deal with new recruits, right? Well, perhaps I’m a bit jaded, but something about this hip, techie environment seems more like the year 2000 to me, when business managers decided that in-house cafes and communal work areas were the recipe for a happy, high-performance workforce.

Even now, part of me remains unconvinced. Why?

As a talent strategist, I work with many organizations whose primary staffing requirements focus on “thinking” jobs in the software development realm. Top performers in these positions typically want and need time, space, peace and quiet to perform well.

Sure, they collaborate with team members. And they love games and free coffee, soda and popcorn — who doesn’t? But these perks aren’t some sort of “secret sauce” that produces employee engagement. Employers may hope that games, food and wide open spaces guarantee happy, productive employees, but that’s not how it works.

Engagement is forged with different tools — trust, loyalty, open communication, clearly-articulated goals and expectations, shared values and well-understood reward systems. It really isn’t about how the office is designed, or how many toys you offer as distractions. It’s about treating employees as humans who are worthy of respect.

When companies like the one I visited tell me that their workplace culture and trendy furniture build employee engagement, I try to help them see that they’re focusing on the wrong part of the equation. They’re focusing on what, not why. The “what” can reveal a lot about a company, but it’s the “why” that tells you it’s a good company to work with.

5 Employee Questions Every Company Should Answer

What factors contribute to the “why” of employee engagement? Here are the top 5 questions I ask business and HR leaders to answer. They’re intentionally written from an employee’s point-of-view. If you answer honestly, your organization’s engagement strengths and weaknesses should become more clear:

1) “Why am I here?” How can you expect an employee to “get it” if you don’t communicate a shared sense of mission, vision and goals? Tell people why you want them to work at your company, and why you think they’ll succeed. Then you can focus on how they can achieve those goals.

2) “Why should I trust your leadership?” Open communication builds trust, which is essential to engagement. Respect is essential to mutual trust, which also contributes to engagement. Clear, open communication matters. But follow-up matters, too. Do you lead by example? Are your words consistent with your actions? The stronger the alignment, the stronger the trust.

3) “Why should I be loyal to your company?” Engaged employees know why they’re loyal – they are treated with respect. Companies that focus first on procedural activities, such as time tracking, will never see strong workforce productivity or engagement. Demonstrate your commitment and trust in employees, and they’ll respond in kind.

4) “Why don’t you communicate your company values?” Fail to show employees why core values matter, and you might as well forget about engagement. Even worse, if you talk about values and then behave in a vastly different way, you’ll telegraph just how little management actually embraces those values. Explain why a value system is important to you, and the what — the actual list of values — will follow.

5) “Why aren’t you clear about the rewards of working here?” Even in this enlightened era, surprisingly few companies are open about their approach to compensation. Yet, employees want to know what to expect in return for their contributions. You have nothing to lose by being clear and open about your reward system — including everything from pay and benefits, to vacation and bonuses, to development opportunities and career paths. Explain the why and what of your reward structure, and people will sign-on. But of course, the proof is in the pudding. It’s essential to be clear, consistent and unambiguous in creating and sharing rewards, or engagement will go out the window.

Winning Hearts And Minds: Put “Why” Before “What”

Innovative workspaces certainly have a place in the engagement mix. But that’s not the whole package. If your employees can’t answer the five questions above, all the cool workplace culture in the universe will not make a difference. First focus on the “whys” of working for your company, and you’ll win hearts and minds — regardless of what desk, chair or computer equipment you offer.

What are your thoughts about the “whys” of employee engagement? Let me know. I’m listening…

(Editor’s Note: This is adapted from a post at Forbes.com, with permission.)

Image Credit: Katie Sayer at Flick.com