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Internal Mobility Programs: The Key to Retention?

In response to the Great Resignation, employers everywhere are reevaluating their talent strategies. As part of this process, they’re seeking cost-effective ways to retain employees who are craving growth opportunities in today’s uncertain economy. That is why internal mobility programs are gaining momentum.

This article looks at why internal mobility is a smart talent strategy. Through the experience of several HR professionals who have launched and led internal mobility programs, we focus on how to develop a successful initiative while avoiding mistakes along the way.

The Benefits of Internal Talent Mobility

Why prioritize mobility—especially during a recession, when budget and resources are often more limited? There are multiple reasons. For example, these programs can help you:

1) Demonstrate Commitment to Your Workforce

Ginny Clarke is the Founder and CEO of Ginny Clarke, LLC. She previously worked at Google as Director of Leadership Internal Mobility. Clarke says internal mobility programs are a highly effective way to show you care and are invested in developing your organization’s top talent.

“This directly correlates with the level of employee engagement and willingness to stay and perform well,” Clarke notes. “It is also a way to give people valuable tools they can take wherever they go.” As a result, this kind of effort can build your brand, even after employees leave the company.

2) Upskill With the Future in Mind

LaRae James, Director of Human Resources for the City of Pearland, Texas, says that as roles evolve, organizations must upskill employees so they’re prepared for future opportunities. This is particularly important in a strong labor market. As LaRae notes, “Finding good talent is a challenge, so retention is vital for a sustainable workforce.”

She adds, “Developing employees results in a higher-performing organization and builds bench strength for internal mobility and succession planning.” In other words, your organization can never be too prepared for economic uncertainty.

3) Support Your Retention Goals

Angela-Cheng-Cimini, Senior Vice President of Talent and Chief Human Resources Officer at Harvard Business Publishing (HBP), emphasizes that “Career mobility is no longer in a black box. It is based on known expectations.” This kind of clarity means employees and managers can more confidently identify growth opportunities and work together toward the future.

City of Pearland’s James agrees. She says many organizations are creative about how they attract candidates, yet they don’t put the same kind of effort into retaining existing employees. This is why she recommends considering what the employee experience would look like if your organization approached its overall people strategy more creatively.

Building an Internal Mobility Program

To develop a recession-proof talent strategy, James says it is important to understand what motivates people to stay on board. Direct feedback tools help.

For example, her organization recently learned that when employees want to advance their careers, they tend to think of leaving, rather than exploring internal mobility options. The team used this insight to implement a series of events that help employees learn about various roles across the organization. They also provided career development and interview preparation courses.

Other organizations also use employee feedback to inform mobility program development. For example, HBP recently launched a robust career pathing framework. This is a response to exit interviews that revealed a lack of career advancement was the most common reason employees sought outside opportunities. HPB’s frameworks are designed to establish universal criteria for movement across the organization. “The system is grounded in core, leadership, and technical competencies,” Cheng-Cimini says.

Today, HPB offers more than 20 ladders. This provides full visibility into the skills employees need for success. It also lets them design their own paths based on their interests and strengths. As a result, “employees can now see beyond the role they currently occupy. Also, with their manager, they can plan for the experiences and skills they want to build.”

But what if your organization is just starting to build a program? Clarke thinks it’s wise to start small, even with only one business unit or with your most senior employees. She recommends focusing first on helping participants assess their capabilities and competencies. Then help them build a narrative that transcends past roles and responsibilities. She suggests that some of these steps can be scaled through online instruction, rather than relying solely on one-on-one coaching.

Internal Mobility Mistakes to Avoid

What missteps should you avoid when building and managing an internal mobility program?

1) Don’t give employees false hope

When sharing open roles, it is important not to misrepresent these opportunities. Clarke cautions, “There are no guarantees participants will get roles they are considered for.” Be intentional and transparent in how you market the program. For example, be sure to make employees aware that external candidates are also likely to be considered for opportunities. This context can help soften the disappointment employees feel if they are bypassed for desired assignments.

2) Avoid playing favorites

Internal mobility shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Clarke says it’s particularly important not to favor any particular type of person. Instead, she recommends a three-point strategy:

  • Take time to review those identified as ‘top talent’ to ensure broad representation.
  • Triangulate these recommendations with performance reviews, 360-degree feedback, and other endorsements.
  • Incentivize leaders to perform thoughtful talent reviews so you can identify top talent continuously and confidently.

3) Let go of seriously weak links

Don’t keep talent for the sake of ease. Clarke advises employers to proactively question the rationale for retaining some people. “If they are toxic or otherwise don’t represent company values, don’t fall into the trap of wanting to retain their intellectual capital, domain expertise, or a brand name at the expense of poor morale with the rest of their team.”

4) Don’t bite off more than you can chew

On a final note, you may be tempted to overthink this challenge. Although it makes sense to tailor mobility to your organization’s talent strategy, infrastructure, and employee needs, getting started is key. If necessary, focus first on small, achievable steps. Then build on those early wins.

Bram Naus

A Proven Strategy for Performance Management: 360º Feedback

2020 is changing the way we work, without question. As the nature of the workplace transforms, performance management faces new challenges. We’ve seen many workforces undergo a rapid shift to remote. A Gartner survey of 229 HR leaders in April 2020 revealed that 81% of their employees had shifted to working remotely. The study noted that even post-pandemic, remote work will not only continue, but increase. At the same time, workforces with employees deemed “essential” face additional pressure and stress. That stress includes how to stay safe, let alone engaged. The onus is on managers to keep up. 

The fundamentals of effective, modern performance management haven’t changed: to build and maintain engagement, alignment, and growth. Feedback is critical in this process, as we know. One challenge now is how to measure performance and gather data as well as provide feedback in real time. Another challenge: Finding a system that connects the whole workforce and collects data over the long term. 

Empowered by a digital platform, 360º feedback is a proven way to meet these challenges. 360º should be part of your overall talent management strategy, whether your future plans include an on-site, remote, or blended workforce. To optimize its potential, here are three critical strategies:

Cover All Four Corners

The best way to get an accurate picture of how any individual is doing? Make sure you’re getting feedback from all four corners of the workforce. That includes the manager, peers, any direct reports, and others in the organization. 

Feedback on leaders should hew to this principle as well. It can be tough to get a clear picture of a leader’s effectiveness for a number of reasons. A digitally powered feedback program with built-in anonymity and uniform survey questions will certainly help overcome any reluctance to ‘speak freely’ about a leader. Asking for feedback on leaders as part of a customary cycle of feedback also helps. Rather than an exception to the rule, this makes it part of a normal process. And since leaders themselves can have difficulty with self-assessment, this reduces any undue stress.

Ask the Right Questions

If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get constructive or relevant feedback. Establish the key questions you need to ask. Tailor those questions to your industry, your market, and the nature of your own company. Make sure they are tied into the objectives of the process, as well as the nature of the role they’re meant to survey. 

There are two goals to keep in mind here, as well. First, ensure feedback can drive more self-understanding and better growth for the employee, and help managers provide an unvarnished but fair review that focuses on strengths as well as weaknesses. Second, design questions that engage participants to answer them. Don’t overload a survey with too many questions, or ask multiple questions on the same topics. It’s also a better practice to combine open-ended questions with multiple choice and rating questions. That way, participants can weigh in using their own words.

Provide Manager Training

Build in training and coaching for managers on how to best implement 360º Feedback so the process is set for success. That means getting clear on consistent terminology and guidelines. As Primalogik’s new ebook, Essential Performance Management Solutions for Today’s HR, points out, “T​o allow for fair comparisons of employees’ contributions, reviewers need to be using the same guidelines.” Guide managers on how to establish the right criteria and work with their employees to set individual as well as organizational objectives. Managers should also explain the process and its purpose. Specifically, they should clarify what employees should expect, and send periodic reminders and prompts over the feedback platform.   

Managers should also plan to conduct plenty of follow-up. That follow-up should include a one-on-one discussion with employees to review feedback. A plan for improving performance in any areas of concern should also be included. Beyond that, managers may also want to conduct regular, frequent check-ins with employees to make sure they’re on track and comfortable. A recent Workhuman study showed that regular check-ins are key drivers of engagement: 85% of the workers surveyed reported higher levels of engagement with weekly check-ins. Making growth an ongoing conversation may greatly improve the outcome: it’s easier to improve in small steps than all at once, and real-time feedback — coming from multiple directions — has a clarity to it that’s far more engaging. 

360º Feedback is Performance Management

360º Feedback is most effective when it’s part of an overall employer commitment to employee growth and development, and when it’s designed to show strengths and growth for everyone. When an organization is transparent about wanting to be the best it can be, and gives the workforce the means to participate fully, there’s a clear alignment. Employees feel a part of the process, not the recipients of it.

We’re all learning how to be better at using data and fully engage and communicate in the digital workplace. Digital feedback platforms keep us connected, providing a clear picture of performance grounded with multiple sources of feedback and data. It’s a powerful way to update performance management, and drive manager as well as team success.

 

This post is sponsored by Primalogik.

 

Photo: Tumisu

Recruit Top Talent With Tuition Assistance Programs

What do Apple, Disney, Verizon, Google, and Starbucks have in common? They’re all multi-billion dollar companies, and they all offer tuition reimbursement to their employees. And they’re showing that a company benefits by paying fees for their employees’ education. Tuition assistance is a win for both employers and employees.

A Growing Trend in Employee Benefits

Tuition assistance programs are a type of employee benefits in which the employer pays for a predetermined amount of continuing education costs for their employees. Assistance may come in the form of reimbursements for tuition, fees, and books.

Some employers may opt to cover the full cost associated with the education, while others may choose to pay a portion. Some might pay upfront; others per course/semester.

To protect themselves from employees taking advantage of the program and leaving the company, employers take various measures, such as requiring the beneficiaries of the program to remain in the company for a specified time — or be required to reimburse the company for part of the fees paid on their behalf.

The Benefit for Companies

As skilled talent becomes harder to find, many companies are looking to grow from within. As of 2018, 85% of US employers surveyed were offering tuition assistance to some or all employees, according to a study by WorldatWork. Here’s what companies gain:

1. Reduced Tax Burden

Companies with tuition assistance policies for their employees can benefit from tax breaks. That’s because money spent on paying employee education expenses is tax-deductible if it meets the IRS requirements.

Under section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code, an employer can deduct up to $5,250 per year for each employee that qualifies and participates in the employer’s education assistance plan.

With the US government facilitating the implementation and adoption of tuition assistance programs, there is no reason for an organization not to take advantage of this opportunity.   

2. Free Part-time Work (Depending on a Company’s Tuition Assistance Policy)

Besides the tax break, companies can also get free part-time work and increased brand awareness by offering tuition reimbursement.

For example, Finnegan, a Washington-based law firm that specializes in intellectual property law has an attractive reimbursement program that covers 100% of employee’s tuition fees.

To qualify for the program, staffers must work as “student associates” while they attend law school. This program is a win-win for all; the company gets part-time work from the student and the student gets free tuition. What’s not to like, especially if you’re going to a top law school like Harvard on someone else’s dime.

According to BLS, lawyers make $122,960 on average but can expect to pay anywhere from $12,000 to $70,000 for the LLM (Master of Law) program. But with a tuition reimbursement program, like the one for Finnegan, the cost can be reduced to nil.

3. Help Businesses Attract Top Talent

It’s no secret that every company wants to attract, recruit, and retain top talents.

To achieve this, many companies offer attractive benefits and perks. Some will opt for vacation days, others gym membership, and a few will stick to industry-standard salaries.

But when you look at the various generational cohorts in the workplace (Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z), you may come to realize that you’re not giving your employees what they actually want. For instance, millennials comprise a majority of the American workforce.

That means for a business to have the people it needs, it may need to fish from the millennials pond. And to attract and retain millennials, you’ll want to give them what motivates them most. And that is, you guessed right: tuition reimbursement.

Don’t take our word for it. In a recent Gallup’s survey on ‘The State of the American Workforce,’ 45% of millennials said they would change their current jobs for one that offers tuition reimbursement. By comparison, 24% of baby boomers and Gen Xers said they won’t change jobs on the basis of tuition reimbursement alone.

4. Helps Employers Reduce Turnover

Offering tuition assistance helps to reduce employee turnover and the associated costs.

And there is no better example to bring this point home than the case of Cigna, which was published by the Lumina Foundation.

From 2012 to 2014, Cigna Corporation invested millions of dollars in tuition assistance through its Education Reimbursement Program (ERP). By the end of 2014, ERP resulted in a staggering 129% increase in ROI as a result of the avoided talent management and recruitment costs.

When a company invests in its employees’ development and success, the employees feel obliged to reciprocate by helping the company grow. In a nutshell, a tuition reimbursement program fosters a sense of loyalty between the employee and the employer.

Wrapping Up

Tuition assistance provides an effective way for employers to nurture their employees’ skills through continuing education programs. 

But as businesses and schools around the world cancel physical meetings in response to COVID-19, in-class learning is emerging as one of the hardest-hit activities. However, businesses can’t afford to put capability building on hold. 

To foster employee development in the midst of COVID-19, employers can encourage their employees to do remote learning by offering tuition reimbursement programs. With remote learning, completions can be done from any location, and what better time than now when employees can’t do their normal jobs?

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Waldemar Brandt

#WorkTrends: Mapping the Future of Workforce Skills

We’re learning that the term social distancing may not be precisely right — physical distancing is more like it. Socially, we’re finding all sorts of ways of staying close. The same is true with the term “soft skills.”

As this week’s #WorkTrends guest and workforce expert Angela Maiers noted, “You could call them power skills more than anything. These are the power competencies that allow you to succeed, your team to succeed, your company to succeed — in a crisis or not.”

An edupreneur, author, and founder of the global nonprofit Choose2Matter, Angela Maiers had a frank discussion with Meghan M. Biro on why these skills are so important. Angela talked about how these skills have to be developed habitually, but can and should be identified, supported, and refined. Key among them, she noted, is being self-aware — in the context of everyone you work with. “You have to understand how you not only fit in, but how you advance as a team,” and recognize “other people’s diverse competencies.” 

People need the tools, development, and time to fully cultivate their life kit of essential “people” and human skills, she noted. But given the current time we’re all working in — where we’ve had to jump into remote competencies faster than you can type in a meeting ID, what if we don’t have the luxury of time? We may have to problem-solve to tackle very different challenges in the near future, Meghan pointed out — if the nature of the evolving crisis happening today is any indication. 

We all need to be able to handle VUCA, Angela said — “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.” That goes double for today and tomorrow’s leaders. “When you look at a leader that provides a place of not just security… but there’s a calmness around them, there’s hopefulness, there’s resourcefulness around them — those are the leaders that stand out.” Meghan noted that this particular mindset was likely going to be in high demand.  

So can we learn this? Meghan asked. And do we all learn it the same way? “One of the points causing confusion is that we think of skills as masterable segments, but they’re far more than that,” Angela said. “Building a habit is different than mastering a skill. You don’t get a percentile grade.” And since everyone has different competencies, their learning curves are also different — likely more easily addressed by modern learning platforms that can meet the needs of each learner.

We all need to be channeling VUCA now, Meghan noted. And we need to remember that at the core, these “power skills” are really human skills. We’re going to need them all to adapt to the workplace of the future, she said. Life skills are the new power tools.

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. 

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are soft skills necessary skills in the workplace? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations better develop soft skills in their workforce? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help their organizations focus on essential soft skills for the future? #WorkTrends

Find Angela Maiers on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Petri R

Continuous Listening: Moving Beyond Standard Practices

The second in a two-piece series on Continuous Listening. 

In Part One of my series on Continuous Listening, I looked at the flaws of taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to an employee’s development. Continuous Listening and asking the right questions can play a key role in recognizing milestones along each employee’s individual journey, and evaluating their engagement. 

The second part of this series looks at how to move beyond standard practices in order to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys and ultimately business success for all — and use the Continuous Listening strategy to tackle the challenges now facing our industry. And it’s important to note the value of feedback, as it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the organization.  

Applying Continuous Listening strategies before exploring suggestions for decision-makers can greatly improve outcome, and help explore various ways to address a number of HR challenges:

  • HR’s employee insight is segmented. Information is siloed based on the different HR tools used in various milestones, each tool having its own task and interface. Sharing between existing application tools is usually complex and information tends to stay within the boundaries of departments. 
  • Insight is collected from a limited number of sources. This limits HR’s ability to see the big picture and creates a disjointed employee experience. For example, some collection tools are only focused on one feedback channel instead of a combination of direct, indirect and inferred channels. As a result, HR can miss the broader view. 
  • Not enough data types are gathered. HR teams can gather transactional data on existing processes thanks to tools such as applicant tracking systems, HRIS tools, and learning management systems. Who was hired? Into what department? When was the start date? With some advanced analytics, this information can be transformed into predictive models indicating who should be hired in the future. Though sophisticated, these systems miss the heart of the employee experience as they fail to tap into the thoughts and feelings that bind employees to their jobs. Transactional data will never provide insight about personal views and cannot answer questions like: “How engaged is the employee?” or “How loyal do they feel to the brand?” “Are they committed to the mission or just the paycheck?” “What are their long-term aspirations?” Thus, it makes sense to use tools that also focus on evaluative HR processes such as 360 feedback, performance reviews, training evaluations, and engagement surveys. 
  • Most data analyses do not address an employee’s evolution. Data is collected at specific intervals and analyzed with particular timestamps, but understanding how an employee’s data has evolved over time may offer a clearer perspective of the processes that this employee has gone through with the organization. This highlights effective HR interventions to reach higher employee engagement, retention, and success. 

Moving Forward 

Continuous Listening encourages multi-directional communication among employees, managers, administrators and executives. It is designed to work in conjunction with other listening tools deployed at milestones such as performance reviews, annual engagement surveys, training programs, and mentoring programs. With it, HR can compile a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes, feelings, and intentions of the workforce. 

Organizations that are serious about optimizing the engagement of their workforce should look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead pursue a measurement strategy that incorporates:

  • Gathering evaluative feedback during milestones.
  • Collecting data between events aligned on topics relevant to employees and business goals.
  • Integrating the milestones and Continuous Listening data with fluid, real-time feedback processes to gain a comprehensive and evolving picture of workforce issues. 

Solving a Turnover Problem

Continuous Listening can help solve problems feedback can’t handle alone. Take the example of a large software engineering firm in Silicon Valley: it was experiencing a 50% higher turnover rate among employees who had been there for three or four years. The traditional milestone approach using HRIS data flagged the increase in turnover, but failed to provide any meaningful insight as to its occurrence. An evaluative feedback survey, delivered annually, showed that no one in the cohort had been promoted to a managerial position in the past 18 months. The business unit had adjusted the promotion criteria, delaying qualification by another one or two years to ensure stronger competencies among those being promoted. 

A combination of HRIS data, annual survey results, and Continuous Listening surveys revealed that employees were outraged at the policy changes, and had started looking for jobs elsewhere. Additional results from Continuous Listening surveys illustrated the fact that the 50% who remained were given development experiences and discretionary time to work on special projects — i.e., meaningful incentives to stay despite the prospects of delayed promotion.

These approaches provided substantially different data that, when viewed independently, provided weak explanations for the turnover. But through a holistic strategy, the bigger picture became clear. Using Continuous Listening provided insights earlier, giving leaders the opportunity to intervene sooner.

Feedback Approach Information Uncovered Available Leadership Actions 
Transactional 

Annual Turnover Report from HRIS turnover data 

Turnover is 50% higher. Investigate by launching a survey or conducting interviews.Backfill positions with experienced hires.
Transactional & Evaluative 

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change. Create an internal marketing campaign to encourage employees to stay.Change the policy.

Provide incentives to stay.

Continuous Listening 

(Transactional & Evaluative)

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Continuous Listening Surveys

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change.

After learning of the policy change, outraged employees started looking for other opportunities.

Explain why changes are necessary.Let employees know leaders hear their frustration.

Fund new development events. 

Provide discretionary time to those who stay to work on special projects.

Feedback Matters

Without Continuous Listening efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies, information gaps can grow, increasing risk and uncertainty for decision-makers and the company. Further, effective listening allows leaders to stay informed about workforce perspectives, and it encourages employees to communicate their needs, satisfaction, frustrations, and other points of view in a healthy way. 

The journey begins when HR professionals develop and implement a comprehensive listening strategy across the employee lifecycle. By listening to employees, HR will develop a continuously evolving stream of data to support critical business management decisions. Through understanding which questions to ask and which tools to employ, HR professionals may properly listen and respond to needs. Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach enables organizations to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys — ultimately predicting positive or negative changes before they are likely to occur, thus driving their business toward success.

 

Photo: PCM

Continuous Listening: How to Strengthen Employee Communication

This is the first in a two-piece guest series on Continuous Listening. 

Human Resources departments own many responsibilities that directly contribute to the overall success of a company. According to Sari Levine Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner, “The businesses that are successful today and in the future, will be those that win when it comes to talent…This means helping employees build critical skills and developing employees into leaders.”  One of the burning questions today is how we can achieve that mission. 

Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist in the field of psycho-physics and a renowned market researcher, was hired by PepsiCo to determine the optimal quantity of artificial sweetener for a Diet Pepsi product. He faced a similar challenge, as mentioned by author Malcolm Gladwell in his TED Talk. With the aim of maximizing sales, Moskowitz conducted empirical tests, which provided unexpected results. He examined the data and concluded that there was no such thing as a perfect Diet Pepsi! Due to the multitude of variations between human tastes, Moskowitz found that the best option to maximize the number of sales was by offering a collection of lower calorie flavors along the scale of taste. 

Returning to the HR dilemma, a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is guaranteed to overlook the needs of many employees. More specifically, each employee journey is unique and thus HR must find ways to observe, tune in, and adapt to address individual employees in a more personalized manner.

Disjointed Employee View and Continuous Listening

In order to understand employees and their level of engagement when it comes to business goals, HR must continually gather information by asking questions and listening to employee responses. These standard HR processes currently serve as milestone events for gathering data, but with so many aspects of the employee lifecycle to monitor, it can be difficult to build a comprehensive view of the culture, engagement, retention, and success of employees. The process of data collection is usually transactional, though sometimes there are opportunities to gather evaluative information as well. In this respect, many challenges that HR professionals are faced with when attempting to gather this comprehensive data can be addressed by a strategy known as Continuous Listening. 

Continuous Listening is a methodology grounded in the philosophy that feedback matters all the time — not just once a year during a performance review, or once a year during an engagement survey. Feedback matters even after employees leave an organization and unofficially serve as alumni ambassadors for your brand. It matters because every employee has a unique journey that begins with a handshake and a contract that says, “We will do this for each other.” 

HR organizations that begin gathering evaluative feedback from employees during such milestones will gain valuable insights that leaders can use to better manage the workforce. An added benefit is that once in place, this feedback process can gain further traction as employees witness leaders responding to their feedback. This reinforces more open lines of communication, which is a recipe for future success. For every milestone along the  employee journey milestones, here are some sample evaluative questions that HR should be asking in order to enrich the information that is later provided to company leaders: 

Employee Journey Milestones Sample Evaluative Question 
Recruiting Would your employees recommend your organization to their professional network? 
Onboarding Do your onboarding processes achieve the cultural immersion and integration you need? 
Development Is your development process providing the right knowledge and skills to drive successful employee outcomes in meeting the needs of tomorrow?
Performance Management Is the performance management process identifying, recognizing, and rewarding talent? 
Engagement How much do you really know about your employees’ experiences? Are your efforts encouraging or destroying employee goodwill, motivation, and engagement? How often do you measure employee engagement? Once every two years? Annually? Bi-annually?
Promotion & Career Growth Are you identifying employees with strong potential and directing them toward leadership positions? Is your leadership pipeline full enough to meet resource planning goals?
Compensation & Benefits Is your compensation and benefits plan competitive? Is the plan sufficient to keep high-value employees engaged?
Retention Do you know what motivates your employees’ decisions to stay and grow with your organization, and what motivates them to seek opportunities elsewhere? Are you systematically collecting the data needed to analyze and improve the employee experience from hire to retire? 

Feedback matters because whatever the expression, it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the overall organization. By implementing a Continuous Listening strategy, we can begin to explore how to best address specific HR challenges. For that, stay tuned for the second piece in this series. 

 

Photo: John Schnobrich

Soft Skills Aren’t Optional: How to Teach Them Well

When you hire employees, especially Generation Z and the youngest millennials, you’re investing in the future of your organization. Contributing to their development is one of the smartest investments you can make. But too many companies overlook the basics when it comes to learning and development. 

If you only focus on training to meet the specific tasks and requirements of a given job, you may be developing your employees as much as you think you are. Particularly when it comes to new employees switching to an unfamiliar role, or just-hired younger employees new to the workplace, they may lack foundational abilities you now take for granted. A study by the CollegeBoard found that employers find 26.2% of college students lack sufficient writing skills — and one fourth are generally poor communicators. 

So before you train for job-related tasks, make sure your employees have these essential skills. Call them soft skills, call them life skills, or call them basic work skills, but these four are not only critical for success in your organization, but throughout a career. And whether the training is up to managers, team leaders or anyone else there are a number of tools to help get your employees up to speed:

1. Time Management

Of all the skills employees can and should have, time management is one of the most vital, no matter what the position or task. This is really a group of skills, including knowing how to prioritize, create a list of must-dos, create a workable schedule, delegate tasks, and know how to create downtime. All of these add up to employees being able to work efficiently and manage their time productively.

The best time managers are those who are never fazed by deadlines: give them a deadline and they’ll meet it, no matter what. They know how to focus on the most important tasks and limit the amount of time they spend on the less important ones. They can create and keep to a schedule because they know how much each task will take them. 

Teaching It

Given that how to manage time varies greatly depending on teams and roles, team leaders and direct managers should be involved in teaching this particular skill. Young hires fresh out of college may have mastered the ability to keep up with classwork but will need to learn how to transfer the skill into the context of work. One effective approach: implement routines and incremental goals throughout tasks. These make it easier to segment the day into manageable chunks.

Team leaders and managers may find scheduling software helps: there are a number of different applications, such as When I Work, or a task management software like Asana or Centrallo. But don’t just leave it up to tech. Make sure to clearly communicate the priorities to employees at the start of each new task — and then help them figure out how to allocate their time more effectively.

2. Interpersonal Communication

Some employees will see more direct and immediate benefits from strong interpersonal skills, particularly if they’re in people-facing and communication-heavy roles. But whether employees are going to be giving a major sales presentation or relaying information to a coworker, interpersonal communication is always essential to get the point across. 

The skill includes verbal, nonverbal and listening skills, as in being able to recognize emotions and see someone else’s side. Non-verbal communication involves being able to recognize the subtleties of body language, eye contact, and gestures, and look beyond traditional assumptions to understand what’s really going on. For instance, lack of eye contact is often misinterpreted as dishonesty when it’s actually shyness or nervousness.  

Teaching It

Learning interpersonal skills is a personal process for most employees, and can be tricky with a brand-new hire or a person who’s naturally shy. As such, it’s best taught by mentors or team leaders with small, close-knit teams — provided that your team has the right dynamic to keep everyone comfortable.

You could start by teaching employees how to listen effectively, and recognize the different types of communicators — such as controllers, analyzers, supporters, and promoters. Each enters a conversation differently, and responds to a different listening and speaking style. 

Gather the team and have each person take a personality test to find out what kind of communicator they are and what they value in communication. From there, compare notes: see how each team member tends to communicate, note the similarities and differences — and work on ways to better communicate with each other based on this new data.

If you need more avenues to foster stronger interpersonal communication among your workers, consider heading online. There are a number of classes for improving personal skills, including those recently listed on The Muse. 

3. Written Communication

Writing is often just presented as one of the communication skills, but it’s likely better to set it apart and give it the focus it needs. This is a skill that’s undoubtedly critical in the workplace — the most valued, but perhaps the least utilized. Most of us can read and most of us can write in terms of knowing how to form sentences. But there’s an enormous gap between people who can write and people who are good at it.  

The ability to write is among the top three most valuable skills to employers: 82% of employers want to bring in new hires with strong written communication skills, according to recent research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The cost of hiring poor writers can translate into as much as $2.9 billion each year spent providing remedial writing training for current employees. Add in new hires as well, and that sum rises to $3.1 billion. And no matter the promises of AI to help assist with writing, technology can’t fill the gap in terms of bad writing. 

Teaching It

For employees in marketing departments and HR, for instance, written communication is usually a key part of the role. But the goal here is to enable all of your employees to build at least foundational writing skills — so emails are readable and a small brief or abstract is coherent. If you have employees with more potential, you’ll want to focus on helping them harness that with specific tools. 

Writing skills training may entail mentors — who can help with overall polishing and tone. But managers and team leaders are often the last stage of screening before a product reaches a client — and will know what will or won’t pass muster. But when a team leader has bad habits, those will carry through onto the team. Teaching writing should be done by those who are skilled in it and by the tools that are specific to it. 

Make sure the organization implements a clear and comprehensive style guide and provides it to all employees — sometimes poor writing is simply a matter of not knowing the rules. Set up periodic trainings on the standards of communication, presenting not only what’s expected of employees in terms of writing, but clear samples to model correct usage and style. Consider bringing in a writing coach to “workshop” pieces of writing with new employees: a hands-on, small-group setting is a great place to show what works and why. Reward good writing and share it so employees know what it looks like. But don’t punish mistakes: you don’t want employees who dread the process. 

4. Organization

In the workplace, we often sense who is organized and who isn’t by the state of their desk: some keep their workspace tidy and with everything in its place; others keep it in a state of perpetual disarray. But organizational skills are far more than what meets the eye. They usually go hand in hand with strong time management skills (reserving time to straighten the desk is a simple example). 

But organizational skill is also a matter of knowing all the steps to a task, being able to envision them and know how to complete them, who to bring in for different phases, and when to bring in a senior coworker for help over a hurdle. Organization is vital for any employee whose job includes overseeing, managing, project completion, or team leading. Likely, that’s nearly everyone — in some form. And it’s hard for employees to see — or convey — the big picture in terms of purpose and objectives if they don’t have the energy or ability to look away from the small stuff. But aligning with a greater sense of mission is a key part of employee engagement, particularly among younger employees. And it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Teaching It

Organizational training is usually team-specific, sometimes department-specific. For example, the organizational process that works for marketing workflows isn’t necessarily well-suited to engineering; bringing in an outside expert on calendar and schedule management won’t necessarily work for employees whose tasks have to be completed within a single day.

Direct supervisors are often the ideal choice for organizational training, with backup support from experienced team members. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their team — and are typically the ones who need to connect the dots or undo a snafu. 

The trend to remote working may call into question the need for a tidy desk for some — but it’s the mentality that needs to be emphasized here, and remote teams certainly need to learn how to be organized. Starting by training how to create a routine and a schedule — and stick to it — creates a framework for other facets. Employees need to know where they need to be, what they need to be doing, and when they need to get it done.  Begin with a daily schedule of the top three or four tasks for a given day, then increase with more tasks, over time, as the team masters what needs to be completed.  

This is where you may see a spark of recognition from new employees, particularly those just out of school — who suddenly see the similarities between meeting deadlines for schoolwork, which is mostly done individually, and completing tasks with coworkers as a team. Each has a part to play; each can contribute to the overall completion. Then, start tailoring the organizational methods to best meet the specific nature of a particular team or department. Just make sure skills are taught consistently, regardless of personal management styles or functions. As teams become more cross-functional, it’s key your employees have a shared language and skillset to draw from.  

Work and Life Skills, Integrated

The World Health Organization notes that we spend one-third of our adult lives at work.  That means what we do and know how to do at work inevitably has a huge impact on the way we live our lives. Employers have a responsibility to invest in their people for countless reasons, but this is key. Essential skills don’t stop at the office. We want and need to develop employees who can rise to challenges, as they have the skills to draw from, whether in life or at work. 

These are the people who keep your organization going at crunch time: they know how to schedule, how to communicate, how to write, and how to stay on top of the workflow. And they become comfortable enough in their abilities to help coach others on these vital skills as well. It’s an investment that pays off for generations.

Rise Above the Waiting For Godot Workplace Standard

“Hold your fire —
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame
’til the dream ignites —
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission…”

—Neil Peart, Mission

It’s like every company meeting you’ve ever been in is a contemporary retelling of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Repetitive 20th century tragicomedies in continuous incremental acts. Painfully existential 30 to 60 to 90+ minutes blocks of time that makes you question why you’re there, along with the why of humanity and your very own soul.

You gather in conference rooms in pairs or teams, young and old, from diverse backgrounds and possibly a different country or three. More than likely somebody next to you is pretty new, whether co-worker or manager.

Some of you wait in the rooms, some of you on the conference phone lines, only to hear every other word during the meeting, if you’re lucky, with no video conferencing in sight.

Maybe there’s a formal agenda. Or a poorly written e-mail resent so many times you’re not sure which version you’re supposed to be referencing. Or there’s someone’s notes that loosely resembles one of your mother’s crumpled undecipherable to-do lists from childhood.

The leader, whoever that is at whatever level, arrives 5 to 10 minutes late, as always. He or she then opens up with an unrelated anecdote, interrupting those of you discussing what you did over the weekend, or the night before.

Stuff is discussed. Progress reviewed. Deliverables assigned. Subordinates undermined. Contradictions intertwined. Yet another reorg announced. A new CEO coming on board. Another round of investment coming in if your founders agree to switch from making X’s to making Y’s. And now you know you’ll have to work late every single night for the next three weeks.

You all adjourn to meet again a week or so later to find out that not much if anything had moved. Then you’ll have to relive it all while defending yourself during your annual performance review.

Let’s go; everything changes; nobody moves. The old “Godot” standard.

This isn’t all fair, I know. There are many companies and business leaders who rise above the painful ambiguity and actually get stuff done. But it’s still a top-down hierarchical hailstorm of old-school motivation, engagement and productivity. Even in global multi-national companies where progress is glacial until a dramatic upheaval of some kind, and where employees and leaders come and go, the world creates, innovates and moves products and services.

And now that Millennials are pretty much the majority of the workforce today, they’re aspiring for something different than the status quo, and inspiring in every generation something more. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, recently released Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. First, they remind us that more than 8 in 10 employees (84%) have experienced some kind of employer change in the past few years — most typically a leadership change (45%). And only 3 of 10 employees are deeply engaged with their employers (we’ve heard that over and over again, haven’t we?).

Activism isn’t new, but employee activism as explained in the above research and discussed with Jon Mertz and Danny Rubin on the TalentCulture #TChat Show is gaining traction. Every new generation pokes and prods at the status quo and thank goodness for that.

Employee engagement is the old Godot standard. However, employee activism today takes a more elevated mindset and initiates and executes positive actions with usually little to no negative reactions. This extends from leadership to human resources to front-line employees and all communication points in between. This workplace activism embraces a greater calling for businesses today, think corporate social responsibility, yet still drives new revenue growth, new customers, new products, better relationships in the workplace with leadership and employees.

Let’s go; everything changes; everybody moves and makes magic and a living. The new activist standard.

So leadership today please take note from the workforce majority: focus on the people first. Not just the other stuff that’s just about growth and return at the expense of people. Now more than ever many of us both young and old want employee well-being, employee growth and development, and a higher sense of purpose for the work we choose to do and the employee we choose to do it with. This all underscored by Deloitte’s fourth annual Millennial Survey.

We all long for flexibility and fun and greater purpose, but work is actually really hard at times, and it will be stressful and mind-numbing and even a little soul-sucking, especially when we’re working in a job that’s maybe not so higher purpose because we need the work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again a thousand times – making a living plus an elevated mindset is all hard work.

We all still aspire to do the things we love to do for a higher purpose. And when these opportunities present themselves (and hopefully more businesses are helping present them), the power grid switch from passive to active flips on and every point in the pre-hire and post-hire experience lights us up like a summer county fair.

Because if we can, we all must rise above waiting for Godot workplace standard to do the same. That’s the part when we wink and smile and hold our fires burning bright.

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the Talent Board, the organization behind the Candidate Experience Awards. I will help lead and further their mission of benchmarking and elevating the candidate experience and recruiting performance, from the first job post to the final onboarding and beyond in North America and around the world. Join us and the 2015 CandE Winners at the 2nd Annual Candidate Experience Symposium September 30 – October 2 in Fort Worth, TX.  Connect with me to learn more.

What You Need To Impact Training the Right Way

Opportunities for growth can really make or break employee retention ratings. It’s the reason why 76 percent of employees choose to stay with an organization. So, organizations throw overwhelming amounts of money at formal training programs — $164 billion in 2012, according to ATD. Unfortunately, research suggests they’re seeing very little ROI.

Formal initiatives do not impact employee development the same way social learning does. Eighty percent of learning takes place through on-the-job interactions with peers, experts and managers, according to Bersin and Associates, as opposed to a formal environment.

If managers aim to retain employees through development opportunities, they should invest in initiatives that make a difference, like social learning.

The infographic below — compiled by showd.me, an enterprise peer-to-peer learning platform — shares new trends impacting learning and development.

Some stats to note:

  • 70 percent of people forget what they learn in formal training in just one week

  • 66 percent of people don’t see opportunities for professional growth in their organization

  • 86 percent of employees are learning what they need to know for work by collaborating with others

  • Trainees increased their performance by 22 percent through deliberate reflection and sharing lessons learned with others

Check out the full infographic below to discover how social learning can make a positive impact within your organization.

showdme_Social-Learning-Everything-You-Need-to-Know_550px

What do you think? How might social learning improve training at your organization?

Image Credit: Confused by Jean-Rene Vauzelle, IMCreator, cc

Talent Engagement and the Dissed-Engaged

What to do with a productive outlier?

Especially when she’s a smart problem-solver, who is sometimes collaborative and works well with others, but who’s also a headstrong, impulsive, independent, opinionated and throws tantrums like baseballs from a wild fast pitcher, tantrums that take what feels like an inordinate amount of time to extinguish; a fuse lighting itself over and over again like a trick stick of dynamite.

One minute she’s figuring everything out, and the next, she’s blowing up.

Sizzle. Hiss. Ka-boom.

Of course, she’s only four years old and my youngest daughter. Wait, what? You didn’t see that coming?

According to the Positive Discipline developers, it’s not easy for most of us (children and adults included) to verbalize our feelings when we’re are upset, and there are those of us who can’t verbalize their feelings at all at any time. Children (and unfortunately still too many adults) haven’t learned how to articulate what they need and want. Temper tantrums often occur when children feel controlled.

Yes, I’m going somewhere with this…

Positive discipline doesn’t mean being so completely permissive that there is no discipline at all, but it does mean we need to “both kind and firm in our actions. Kindness shows respect for the child. Firmness shows respect for the needs of the situation and for parents. Spanking and punitive time outs are not kind.”

Punitive time outs are not kind. And neither is freezing out, the adult alternative.

Recently I watched a harassment and workplace safety video that included an “acted out” story about a valuable but “pain-in-the-butt-complaining” employee who no one, not even her immediate supervisor, wanted to deal with. So, another manager recommended to just “freeze her out” and eventually she’d hopefully just leave the company.

Of course, the correct answer here was not to freeze her out, but instead was to deal with the situation head on to attempt to rectify it, maybe even figure out where she could go elsewhere in the company to maximize her skills and expertise.

Then I heard from a friend who experienced the freeze and who eventually left because she saw “the writing on the wall” – who even overheard another executive in the company insist that this was her way of dealing with employees she no longer wanted around, that is was easier that way. (We can save the really fringe HR nightmares for another time.)

These are the dissed-engaged (a reality twist on disengaged), the outliers of productive talent engagement that we ignore today in the world of work.

Hey, you think workplace bullying is bad? Being ignored is even worse, especially when it’s coming from all facets in the organization. For example, for a recent study in Organization Science, the University of British Columbia’s Sandra Robinson and her team analyzed surveys that compared and contrasted the consequences of workplace ostracism with workplace bullying. We’re talking alienating co-workers rather than abusing them, and the results suggest that alienating is much worse.

The Research Shows

The research showed that employees whose co-workers often neglected them by leaving them out of conversations, ignoring them in the hallways, etc., felt unhappier, disliked their own work more, and even more frequently left their jobs than people who were bullied.

Now, juxtapose that with this – according to a 2014 Employee Engagement survey by Human Capital Media Advisory Group, the research arm of Talent Management, even though “recognition and work-life balance programs are among the leading methods to promote engagement, both techniques were among the least-valued factors by HR managers when measuring engagement.”

In fact, “when it came to the values and behaviors companies say they evaluate in measuring engagement, overall job satisfaction (64.1 percent), excitement about one’s work (60.9 percent) and opportunity to grow and improve skills (60.9 percent) top the list, according to the survey, roughly in line with last year’s results.”

This certainly makes sense to me, but for the dissed-engaged, there eventually is no excitement about one’s work, nor is there an opportunity to grow and improve skills.

And as we learned this week on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, the talent management strategies of the past no longer work, and our guest, Jeff Carr, CEO and President of PeopleFluent, shared that the top talent challenges he hears from customers include developing leaders and developing vibrant and engaging workplace cultures. Not easy tasks for even the most progressive of organizations.

Today people work differently, are motivated differently and are engaged differently. They want:

Opportunity. Employees want ongoing growth opportunities, workplace flexibility, tools and systems that encourage collaboration, and commitment to a reciprocal climate of support and encouragement, all of which lead to payoffs in employee retention, satisfaction, and overall business performance.

And Closure. This means exhausting all avenues on how to maximize existing talent while working through trick fuses and other trouble spots, even if the end result is that the individual must go, or will go. Otherwise, “freezing out” behavior seeps into the drywall like toxic mold.

To avoid the toxic mold, it’s critical to drive higher levels of contribution and deeper engagement through better “people management” experiences that can and will lead to better and more lucrative business outcomes. Amen.

The dissed-engaged deserve it. We all do.
photo credit: Ani-Bee via photopin cc

Workplace Greatness: No Guarantees #TChat Recap

There we were — discussing the factors that make “great” employers so special.

I couldn’t resist asking how organizations on Fortune Magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” compare with those featured in Jim Collins‘ best-selling books, Built to Last and From Good to Great.

Similarities? Differences?

Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For

Learn more about the 2014 list

That’s a tough question to answer in a single 30-minute radio show. But this week’s #TChat guest came well prepared. China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute, has been crunching numbers to create the 2014 best employers list — and her perspective reflects a lifetime of leadership and HR expertise.

She made a compelling business case

The 100 Best consistently perform 2x better financially than the stock market average
The 100 Best experience up to 65% less voluntary turnover than competitors
Companies returning to this year’s list saw unprecedented growth in 2013.

But even as China shared these facts, back-to-back tweets appeared on the Twitter stream. The first from #TChat regular, Donna Rogers:

 

The second came from a fresh voice — another Jim Collins (unrelated to the author):

 

These comments inspired me to dig deeper.

In a follow-up book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins (the author) revisited 11 of the 60 companies he had previously profiled as winners. These once “great companies” had stumbled for multiple reasons — from hubris, to overreach, to denial.

The sobering conclusion? Unless fallen companies return to the fundamentals that made them great, death is inevitable.

Two Implications for “Great” Employers Everywhere

1) Greatness can fade fast. Poor decision-making, heavy-handed micro-management, bad expansion bets, products that fail, fluctuating global economics, government regulation (or lack thereof) — many factors conspire to “kill” even the best companies. But the quickest road to ruin comes when organizations lose talent to competitors because employees lose “love” for what they do, who they do it with, and why they’re doing it.

2) Perpetual salvation requires rigorous work. The work that makes companies shine — a focused, flexible business model, a compelling value proposition, a workforce that feels fairly recognized and rewarded – is the same work that keeps them moving forward through peaks and valleys. Business is a non-stop gauntlet of no guarantees — and it never gets any easier.

So, what have we learned? Great is good, if you can get it. But good can also be great, if that’s where longevity lives.

#TChat Week-In-Review: Lessons From Great Workplaces

SAT 1/18:

Watch the Preview hangout now

#TChat Preview: TalentCulture Community Manager, Tim McDonald, framed the week’s topic in a post featuring a “sneak peek” hangout with guest, China Gorman. See the #TChat Preview now: “Best Employers: What Makes Them Work?

SUN 1/19:

Forbes.com Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro explored the connection between employee engagement and business performance in her weekly Forbes.com column. Read “Happy Employees = Hefty Profits.”

RECENT RELATED POSTS:

How Great Companies Attract Top Talent” — by China Gorman
Your Corporate Culture: What’s Inside?” — by Dr. Nancy Rubin

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Listen to the #TChat Radio replay!

WED 1/22:
#TChat Radio: Hosts Meghan M. Biro and I talked with China Gorman about what makes “Best Companies to Work For” so special. Listen to the #TChat Radio replay now

#TChat Twitter: Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, China and I joined the TalentCulture community on the #TChat Twitter stream for a dynamic open conversation, centered on 5 related questions. See highlights in the Storify slideshow below:

#TChat Insights: “Best” Employers: What Makes Them Work?

[javascript src=”//storify.com/TalentCulture/best-employers-what-makes-them-work.js?template=slideshow”]

Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

GRATITUDE: Thanks again to China Gorman for sharing your perspectives of effective workplace environments. We value your time, your expertise and your commitment to the TalentCulture community!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about workplace culture issues? We welcome your thoughts. Post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Our month of forward-thinking #TChat Events continues on Wednesday, January 29, when we explore the impact of pervasive technology on modern recruiting. We’ll be joined by top executives from Dice, the career hub for tech, so save the date, and prepare to share your questions and opinions!

Meanwhile, the TalentCulture conversation continues daily on the #TChat Twitter stream, our LinkedIn discussion group, and elsewhere on social media.

We’ll see you on the stream!

Image Credit: WIkipedia

Want To Build A Business? Lead With Trust

If you could define business success, what would it look like to you? Would you focus on market share? Growth rate? Revenue? Profitability? Or something else?

At young companies, conversations tend to revolve around how to raise seed funding, where to invest capital, and how to compensate key contributors. Often, it seems that our perception of business success (or failure) largely revolves around money.

While it is true that a well-run company requires appropriate funding and sound financial management, I would argue that there is something even more vital to the sustained growth of any venture. It’s not something you can buy or sell — nor does it come prepackaged on a shelf.

I’m talking about trust.

Broken Trust: Good Examples Of Bad Behavior

From the Enron debacle to the Madoff scandal, stories of insider trading and fraud have captured headlines far too frequently. Our nation is losing faith in corporate leaders, and there’s a growing demand for corporate accountability and transparency.

The only way to turn this around is for those at the top to take responsibility and lead by example. We must create open, transparent cultures that promote accountability, integrity and honesty.

The truth of the matter is that employees need to know what’s going on in order to feel connected with their work and perform at their highest level. Staff concerns about the stability and the health of the company are a distraction that can erode trust, inhibit productivity and have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Creating an environment of trust goes far beyond releasing quarterly reports. It requires a daily commitment to transparency that’s infused into all aspects of business operations, and reaches all levels of the organizational chart. Most importantly, it requires team coaching and open communication across all functions, with management that listens and responds to constructive criticism.

Trust Is The Cornerstone Of Culture

Leadership legend, Stephen M. R. Covey said:

“High trust is a dividend; when it goes up you’ll find that everything happens faster and cost goes down. It’s that predictable.”

Although trust can take a long time to build, once we have achieved a state of trust, we often take it for granted. But the fact of the matter is that trust is at the core of the daily work activities that collectively make up company culture. As Deborah Mills-Scofield explains in the Harvard Business Review:

“Trust trumps everything. And everything flows from trust — learning, credibility, accountability, a sense of purpose and a mission that makes ‘work’ bigger than oneself.”

When it comes to trust, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. For example, many startups have created cultures based around staff perks like a ‘no vacation policy’ vacation policy, providing employees with top-of-the line equipment, offering flexible hours, and letting staff work from home. While benefits like these may attract and retain top talent, there’s also a higher mission. Companies that offer these unique self-directed work options are sending employees a message that says, ‘I trust you, and I trust your judgment in using these privileges.”

Earlier this year, HubSpot released its long-awaited Culture Code – a presentation that summarizes the organization’s nine core beliefs. The document is remarkable because it emphasizes that trust is at the center of Hubspot’s organization. Rather than creating binders full of company policies, HubSpot has created a simple three-word policy for nearly everything: use. good. judgment. From social media activity, to travel expenses, to sick days, HubSpot understands that a healthy company starts with trust.

The Trust/Time Ratio

Of course, trust is a two-way street. Not only is it essential for employees to trust management, but leaders must trust their teams, and feel confident in their ability to move the company forward.

As Stephen M.R. Covey explains in his book, The Speed of Trust, trust is the great liberator of time and resources. It’s also an essential condition for growth. He notes that “when trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost will go down,” and that “when trust goes down, speed will go down and costs will go up.” Therefore, he concludes that the speed at which you can grow a business is directly proportionate to the time that you invest in creating trusting relationships.

Leading By Letting Go

One of the most important lessons I learned as a CEO was the importance of trusting your team. As the leader of any organization, large or small, your primary job is to communicate the vision; give your people the information, tools and resources to move toward it; and then get out of the way. This frees your staff to be as productive as possible, while allowing you to focus on your responsibility to drive the company forward, strategically.

The truth is plain and simple: if you’re a leader who wants to grow a company, you must have faith in your staff to get the job done – without you hovering around their desks. It is impossible to innovate while being bogged down in the daily minutia of your company. Trust allows you to remove yourself from the details and create necessary space to focus on long-term growth.

Trust is a natural human instinct, yet we tend to over-complicate it when we try to apply it to the business world. The best way to create a culture of trust is to begin by being open and honest with ourselves and those around us. By committing to being transparent in all our interactions, we will gradually create a culture of trust around us. And as trust grows, we should expect to see business results follow.

How do create and sustain trust within your organization? What results do you see?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more...)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Feeling The Future Of Work: #TChat Meets #SHRM13

(Editor’s Note: Looking for the #TChat Preview post? Read Stronger! #TChat Preview #SHRM13 Edition.)

Employment: An Emotional Experience

It’s the most overlooked aspect of employee engagement. And yet, it’s the aspect that matters most — especially if you’re in the graduating class of 2013, and stepping into a still uncertain, fragile global workforce economy.

I’m talking about the emotional element of the employee experience. And that’s not just a hunch. According to recent workforce engagement research, emotional commitment is 4x more powerful than rational commitment in driving employee effort. In other words, when employees are rationally committed to an organization, they’ll stay if they believe it is in their self-interest to do so. But when employees are emotionally committed — when they believe in the value of their job, their team, and their organization — they exert discretionary effort. And discretionary effort is where the engagement magic happens.

That news probably doesn’t surprise you any more than it surprises me. I’m a big believer that we’re loyal first to the work we do, then to the teams with whom we work, and last to the organization that hired us. A sense self worth and job worth is critical, if we want to feel valued on the job. But unfortunately, too often, organizations tend not to focus on these realities.

Time To Rearrange Priorities?

The chief workplace management and well-being scientist at Gallup suggests a fresh approach. In a recent FastCompany interview, Dr. Jim Harter explains that, because individuals have a core need to feel appreciated and valued, organizations should be extremely generous with praise and recognition. In fact, I’d argue that we thrive not only on praise and recognition — but also on continuous constructive feedback about where and how to improve. Both encouragement and guidance are keys to performance and growth.

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But in truth — it’s a stretch to find either, in today’s environment. Harter’s research indicates that nearly 3 of every 4 U.S. workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged from their jobs. Over half are willing to show up for work, but generally do only the minimum required. And another 20% are intentionally counter-productive. I doubt there’s much positive feedback or encouragement happening in those scenarios.

How Do We Turn This Around?

We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. So I propose that we not only acknowledge the issue — but actively talk about how the “world of work” can tackle disengagement head-on. And what better venue than the SHRM Conference & Exposition next week in Chicago?

Come talk with us and other HR executives and practitioners about this and related issues! My TalentCulture co-creator and #TChat forum co-host, Meghan M. Biro, will join me as we work the #SHRM13 aisles and report LIVE throughout the conference. And don’t forget to save the date for a #TChat double-header next week:

MONDAY JUNE 17 — 3:15-4:00pm Central Time (4:15pmET/1:15pmPT)
Margarita Meet-up at Achievers Booth #2455“CLASS of 2013” Panel
Join our LIVE discussion, focused on results from a recent survey of 10,000+ graduating students. (We’ll post more details in this weekend’s #TChat Preview.)

WEDNESDAY JUNE 19 — 6:00-7:00pm Central Time (7-8pmET/4-5pmPT)
#TChat Twitter — A Closer Look at the Graduating Class of 2013.
For more details, look for our weekly Preview post this weekend, here at TalentCulture.

We’ll see you in Chicago — and on the stream!

4 Employee Engagement Drivers: Workplace Social Technology

We’ve heard the term “employee engagement” a gazillion times, and one could even say it’s now just a buzzword.  If you ask me, it is the most critical aspect of any successful organization….without a doubt!  A positive correlation exists between employee engagement scores and business results (via Right Management – “Employee Engagement, Maximizing Organizational Performance”).

I have worked with a dozen plus diverse organizations on their employee engagement strategies, not only identifying their top engagement drivers, but facilitating strategy design and execution.  I can see how it could be a buzzword to many because they have not the slightest clue how to take employee engagement beyond just simply talking about it.

Regardless, my definition of employee engagement is, “an intimate emotional connection that an employee feels for the company they work for that propels them to exert greater discretionary effort in their work.”  Take note that their are many definitions that exist, and whichever one you favor, remember this…it all comes down to the positive emotions that employees possess, individually and collectively.  In my experience the top 4 engagement drivers are the following:

  1. Strength of leadership capabilities of direct managers.
  2. Perception that advancement opportunities exist, and are attainable.
  3. Opportunities for personal growth and development.
  4. Appropriate recognition for the good work that I do.

The “What” Versus the “How”

I just listed what I have seen to be the top 4 common engagement drivers.  The next natural question would be, “now what?  How are we supposed to improve engagement if we now know where our focus needs to be?”  There is no cookie-cutter response because it depends on each organization, because each organization is unique due to the distinctive make-up of their workforces.  But, I will say this…the “how” (i.e. executing an employee engagement strategy) is as important, if not more so, than the “what” (i.e. what we need to focus on).

This is where social technology could theoretically play a huge impactful role.  I say theoretically because again, the success of strategy execution does not lie in the technology/platform itself, but in how it’s executed.  At the top of my head, key things that are required for successful execution are strong leadership, people change management, communication, trust, authenticity, and ultimately a strong perception of competence in the eyes of employees.  Notice how this is nothing different than any other major organizational initiative?

One Step Further

You need to also recognize that workforces in North America are more diverse than ever before.  Work is now fully integrated into our personal lives, rather than being completely separated like it was just a few decades ago.  We value customization, personalization, flexibility, variety and choice.  Organizations need to understand this, and find a way to fully integrate these characteristics into how employee engagement strategies are executed.  Now enter social technology!

Where Technology Could (Really Should) Play a Role

Keep in mind that technology by itself means very little.  It’s a very similar concept to strategy, which I’ve said many times before, “is just a piece of paper with words on it” (see Strategy = A Piece of Paper…).  If you don’t execute it well, it doesn’t matter how great the technology/strategy is.  All technology does is enable organizations to be flexible, offer variety and choice, enable personalization and customization.  It’s a vehicle, albeit a very effective one ONLY if you actually get the “how” part and focus on executing.

Having made my point about what technology is I will say this.  The market has just been bursting with new niche social technology platforms that aim to help make business easier, more effective and efficient, and ultimately more successful.  The mainstream platforms include the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google and others.  Example niche HR platforms include Rypple, ZuzuHire, SurgeHire, Yammer, Yackstar, ClearFit, Success Factors and I Love Rewards.  Thousands more exist out there, but you get my point.

Tying it All Together…

So, I have talked about the following:

  1. Employee Engagement, Maximizing Organizational Performance
  2. How employee engagement strategy is executed is more important than what you’re executing.
  3. Impact of workforce demographics on our preferences for customization, flexibility and personalization.
  4. Work is now fully integrated into our personal lives—no longer separated.
  5. Social technology is a huge part of our lives, and social platforms are highly effective vehicles to support strategy execution.
  6. The key in all of this is that leveraging technological platforms within traditional HR functions, particularly as it relates to employee engagement strategy will enable organizations to optimize their ability to drive positive employee engagement results.

(Note: The next post in this series of 3 posts will explore a case study of an organization that integrated social technology into its employee engagement strategy to drive positive results.)

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