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Want to Fuel Agility? Understand Employee Skills

Sponsored by: Empath

In today’s world of work— agility matters — and how we enable our own employees to meet our company goals, is vital. This isn’t possible without a mechanism to understand the held skill & experiences among our own contributors. In today’s world, seeking talent externally could be considered an outdated and ineffective response to fulfilling talent needs. 

The future of work demands that we explore the weaknesses of this strategy.

Our Guest: Carlos Gutierrez

On the latest Worktrends podcast, I spoke with Carlos Gutierrez, the co-founder, and CEO of Empath, a SaaS technology platform that uses machine learning to transform the way talent is managed and grown internally. Previously, he served as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategic advisory firm. Carlos spent nearly 30 years with Kellogg, a global manufacturer of well-known food brands.

Let’s open the conversation about the relationship between agility and skills. First, there is no doubt that organizations need to embrace agility. However, if a foundational strategy isn’t in place to respond to rapidly changing internal and external environments, achieving agility will remain elusive.

Agility Requires a Different Mindset

The thing about agility is that it’s sort of the opposite of the way companies used to run where you develop a plan and you stick to the plan. Agile, an agile methodology or agility, is just the opposite. You don’t stick to a plan because you know that your environment will be changing very rapidly. And what we can do is change departments, change teams, move around, redeploy people and do that very quickly if you have a skills inventory of all your employees. So you can do an agile methodology even quicker than it would if you weren’t able to measure skills.

Powering Agility & Upskilling

As the saying goes: Information is power. To manage & deploy the skills to carry out vital initiatives, organizations must know what skills are actually present and those that are missing:

…So you need to have the information of the employee skills, proficiency levels, and the skills required to go to other jobs. And that’s where you get the gap that you need to fill, the upskilling gap. And we do that for every employee in a company.

A Solution: An AI-Powered Internal Skill Library

Capturing existing skills within your organization is critical. People evolve much more quickly than their resumes — and so do the roles they hold. A more sensitive, dynamic mechanism to capture this is required. Applying cutting-edge technology simply makes sense. Moreover, companies that fail to take people skills into consideration when projecting future business needs will inevitably fall short. 

Companies can create more accurate plans if they understand the skills they seek could already exist internally.

…What we tell companies and what companies have found who use skills, who have accurate skills inventories, that the person they’re looking for is already inside the company. They just don’t know it because they don’t have visibility into, say, 20,000 people.

The Wave of the Future: Machine Learning to Establish Skills

Resumes simply aren’t enough to help organizations understand skills and become agile. The language is much more complex than we realize. We need to be less subjective and listen with more powerful tools.

…I hear sometimes about, well, are you going to have machine learning and AI determine the skills of a person or infer? I can assure you that we will be more accurate in companies in this business than the subjectivity of human nature. So our algorithm, our machine learning algorithm captures signals…The machine can infer what the skills are. It’s actually a very complex technology, but you will never notice it. It’s like picking up a phone and calling, you don’t know what’s behind the call.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful. I know that I found the discussion fascinating.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Also, for more great conversations, be sure to follow #WorkTrends on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram!

Why Employee Engagement is Upside Down

Leaders and managers frequently refer to the famous Albert Einstein quote when something in their organizations isn’t working after repeated efforts. I wonder what Einstein would say about employee engagement?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For two decades, the benchmark of benchmarks for employee engagement is Gallup, a world-class research organization. In the past 10 years, the percentage of engaged employees in Gallup’s research has fluctuated. From a low of 30% to a high of 36%.

Much ado was made about the uptick in engagement over the past decade before the pandemic reversed the direction of the numbers.

I’m pretty sure Einstein would agree with my old boss at Cisco. Former CEO John Chambers, who famously described missed expectations at Cisco as:

I never get hard work confused with results.

Moving up just six percentage points over a decade. From such a low number to begin with, is indeed a lot of “hard work” and little enduring results.

The Decline of Engaged Employees

The most recent 2022 Gallup numbers show the percent of employees engaged is down.  U.S. companies are down 32%. It was 30% in 2002 and 2012.

I’m not sure how many billions of dollars were spent on employee engagement measurement and programs during this time, but it is clear from this data it was not a productive investment.

The inertia reflected in the engagement data reflects what I’ve heard over the past three years talking to hundreds of HR leaders about what works and what doesn’t in employee engagement.

Most of the feedback is best paraphrased as:

We are not learning anything new from our employee engagement data.

Competition vs Collaboration

I’ve been lucky to work with hundreds of companies and their leadership teams. Especially after I wrote The Collaboration Imperative, which shared the best practices used at Cisco in its transition from a culture based on internal competition to one based on internal collaboration.

From these listening sessions, I’ve come to believe that certain ideas exist in organizational thinking in the absence of hard evidence. I don’t know how these ideas got started. I just know the ideas are entrenched.

For example – the way leaders and managers think about employee engagement today. It reminds me of the way organizations think about career planning. That it is the responsibility of the employee, despite overwhelming evidence indicating a different reality.

If it is true that employees are responsible for their own careers, why is “my manager” the most cited reason when an employee leaves a company?

Employee Engagement is Upside Down

I want to eat my own dog food by starting with evidence. I’ve spent the pandemic sponsoring a large, real-world research study on what makes an employee want to stay at a company. I wanted to know what it would take to get an employee to recommend where they work.

Our primary research and the large collection of company data captured in the second phase of our research confirm we’ve been measuring the wrong things in employee engagement.

In fact, employee engagement is upside down, according to our research.

Instead of measuring how engaged employees are, we should be measuring how engaged leaders and managers are.

In statistical terms, our evidence-based model demonstrated a strong, positive linear relationship between the degree to which leaders and managers engage employees and the willingness of employees to recommend where they work. In other words, the more engaged leaders and managers are in creating organizational culture with their teams, the greater the likelihood of an employee recommending the employer. Our research conclusions have a 95% confidence interval.

The Impact Leaders Have on Employee Engagement

Just like career planning. It’s time to embrace the fact that leaders and managers are the reasons why people fall in love with a company and its culture — or not. Leaders create the global cultural values of an organization; managers implement those values locally.

Company values are based on human behavior, not a poster on the wall. Values-based behaviors start with role-modeling them as leaders and managers. How can we expect employees to be engaged if their management team isn’t?

If we’re going to innovate in how we think about employee engagement, I want to call upon Einstein again for help.

Einstein was famous for thought experiments.

Here’s one. Management guru Peter Drucker said you can only manage what you measure. What if leaders and managers were accountable for engagement?

What would happen to employee engagement?

Recruiting Challenges for Fast Growing Startups and How to Overcome Them

Sponsored by: RocketReach

Recruiting challenges face every organization — one that is particularly daunting for smaller companies and fast-growing startups. As agility is often a make-or-break for these organizations, sourcing high-quality candidates quickly is vital.  

Yet, connecting with the right candidates with the right skill sets, at the right time is often elusive.  

Recruiters have the very difficult task of finding these candidates, while simultaneously verifying that they possess the right skills to fulfill the role and its responsibilities. Ensuring this is often key to an organization’s ability to grow, develop and scale. 

A less than “good fit” hire — can disrupt workflow, damage an organization’s work culture, and waste valuable resources.

Our Guest:  Julia Kimmel

On this latest episode of #WorkTrends, I spoke with Julia Kimmel from RocketReach. For her entire career, Julia has embraced the fast-paced and multi-faceted environment of the startup world. Managing people and processes and helping companies and teams grow across organizations. Since last year, she has overseen the growth of RocketReach from 15 people to over 100. And sorry, no, she’s not related to Jimmy Kimmel. 

Let’s talk about recruiting work-from-home talent for fast-growing startups, the challenges, and how to overcome them.

Startups need to work hard to avoid costly mistakes. Julia:

…it’s hard for startups to plan far in advance. Things change constantly. And if you asked anyone planning to scale a startup and asked them what you could plan for even a year in advance, it’s tough to make those types of decisions. Often I think one of the things that startups have a tough time with is that there isn’t a great hiring strategy, and a lot of startups hire way too quickly.

Overcoming Recruitment Challenges

It’s no mystery why sourcing top talent is an obstacle for many businesses. There is a ton of competition, and getting to know a candidate is a skill of its own. In job interviews, you want candidates who are passionate about curiosity, creative problem solving, and communication. But the true key to finding talented people? Putting in the work.

I think ultimately no one wants to hear it, but it really comes down to sourcing. It’s how you initially get strategic about where you’re looking for people. What are the cues that are constantly going off for the recruiting team to go after certain areas of the market or certain industries? Certain companies are an easy one, but I think you really need to fine-tune and get your team into a place where they feel empowered about sourcing.

Startups vs. Large Companies

There are obvious perks of working for a large, established brand. Many people are drawn to work for large companies because they feel more secure regarding hiring freezes or layoffs. While working at a big brand has its perks, startups can offer more autonomy and hands-on experience.

…one of the things that really stands out to me is that startups really can dig into more and actually market a little bit more – at large companies, you typically work on a very small piece of a project, and your work sometimes goes unnoticed. It’s unclear if what you’re doing is really making a difference, and many people at those companies are doing exactly the same role as you. I think small companies need to sell how much ownership and impact people get to have on the business.

The Future of Startups and Talent

From an HR perspective, will startups and young companies gain a hiring advantage over large companies in the next decade?

Large companies come with a lot of policies, protocols, and regulations. The world is changing, and people want to have more flexibility. I think startups will be popular because there is just a ton of flexibility. If the startup is running the right way, you get to structure your schedule, your day, and your work in a way that makes sense for you. There’s a lot more autonomy, and people are looking for ways to grow, learn, and be challenged. A smaller company can provide this easier than a large company.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful. To learn more about recruiting based on data, visit https://rocketreach.co/

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Why Empathy is the New Brand of Leadership

Sponsored by: Dell Technologies

When it comes to the people who work for your company, is there anything more important than understanding them and their needs? For leaders, this means seeing things from their perspective. We call this Empathetic Leadership. 

Empathetic leaders can create a space where employees feel heard, valued, and understood – and when employees feel like this, guess what happens? They’re more engaged and productive at work, making them more committed to their work and your organization. 

A recent Dell Technologies Study found that creating an empathetic culture helps companies succeed in today’s do-anything-from-anywhere economy. Leaders need to put people front and center and equip them with the right technology to innovate.

Our Guest: Jennifer Saavedra

On our latest #WorkTrends Podcast, I spoke with Jennifer Saavedra, Chief Human Resources Officer at Dell Technologies. She leads the company’s Global Human Resources and Facilities through the dynamic lens of culture and, most importantly, people. She has a doctorate in Industrial and Organizational Behavior from Tulane University. Jennifer has also served on the executive boards for many of Dell Technologies’ employee resource groups and is currently the executive sponsor for the Black Networking Alliance. 

Her work helps us understand the psychology of human behavior so that individuals and organizations alike can be their best. 

Jennifer says the last two years have redefined work:

One of the things at Dell Technologies that we’re really focused on is defining work as an outcome, not as a specific time and place. We know that employees value freedom and flexibility, and it’s really about helping everybody make an impact.” She says, “not every individual has the same way they work or the same needs. And we have a history of doing this. At Dell, we’ve been doing this for over ten years.

Flexibility is Key

Everybody wants to know what the “new normal” will look like. After two years of the global pandemic, Jennifer says Dell polled their team members on the company’s practice of hybrid work. A notable 86% of their team members said they feel Dell is leading the way. The current world of work is an opportunity to make things more inclusive.

It’s a great equalizer. We have learned a lot about how to be inclusive and make things more accessible to people. And keeping an eye on the partnership between human resources, the business needs, our team members, facilities, and IT, I think these are things that give us a lot of hope and a lot of promise.

What the Data Says

Success is a goal shared by all, from employees to executive leadership. Employees need their companies to be there and support them. While the future of work develops and takes form, it needs to be understood that agility will play a key factor. As new ideas and possibilities for work come to light, they should be carefully considered. An astounding 91% of Dell’s team members reported that they could easily adapt to the work preferences of others, whether it’s timezone, means of communication, or other.

As other companies are thinking about building their strategy, it’s really important to look at the business needs. How does the work need to get done, and how can you consider personal choice? I think you need to assess roles. Some roles need to be done in certain locations or co-located. Once you know that, you can then support your team members by understanding what works best for them.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful and inspirational. Learn more about leadership and putting people front and center with Dell’s Breakthrough Study.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

How to Help Managers Lead Gen Z Employees

The Great Resignation has highlighted the importance of employee retention, but do you know which employees you need to engage the most? What should managers do? Gen Z employees are leading the mass workforce exodus. According to a study conducted by Adobe, about 59% of them aren’t satisfied with their jobs and want to switch employers in 2022. In other words, most of your young employees are probably eager to quit.

The onus is on you to keep them engaged. However, it can be tough to understand and meet the demands, actions, and needs of the newest entrants to the workforce. Generation Z team members are redefining success and challenging workplace norms, including paid time off and emoji usage. Unsurprisingly, their willingness to push back is irritating to managers who aren’t used to such boldness. Yet it’s up to those managers to initiate the necessary changes during this transitional time.

Management Skills That Improve Gen Z Retention

To be sure, I’m not defending every Gen Z worker’s choice. At the same time, I would like to remind you that this type of generational struggle isn’t new. Millennials rocked the boat vigorously with their “every day’s a casual day” attitude. Now, Millennials are the ones in charge — and they’re encountering the same struggles they caused their managers way back when.

Your role is to help your managers be the best possible bosses to their Gen Z employees. Equip them with the tools and training they need to successfully guide the next generation of workers. It’s not reasonable to blame managers for failing to retain young talent if you haven’t given them any assistance.

How Can you Mentor Your Managers?

Strive to boost their acumen in the following areas:

1. Empathy: Look beyond the employee to discover their story.

You might expect your Millennial managers to get along with Gen Z workers because they were young once, too. But guess what? We are tunnel-visioned creatures who tend to embellish and exaggerate our memories. This kills our ability to empathize.

To counter this, remember what Mr. Rogers taught people: “You can learn to love anyone if you just listen to their story.” Your managers might never fully understand their Gen Z team members, but they can learn to empathize by hearing them out.

Will Gen Zers be willing to share their stories? You might be surprised. According to the Springtide Research Institute, many young individuals want strong, supportive mentors. They are looking for bosses who care about their lives beyond work. If your managers can forge bonds with Gen Z employees, you can avoid massive turnover.

2. Civility: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

I had an experience with a former contractor who felt like she’d been wronged. That was fine. I was ready to handle her concerns with professionalism. Unfortunately, she was completely uncivil in all communication.

People often assume that the only way they can get what they want from someone is by powering up. “Let me get mad, and then I’ll see results!” While anger can produce limited results, it’s not an emotion you want guiding your managers. This is particularly true when they’re interacting with Gen Zers. How they communicate will largely influence their outcomes.

Train your managers to assume the best of the person they might be at odds with. By working together, they have a better chance of solving the problem and establishing mutual respect. There are enough bosses on the planet whose outbursts are legendary. Equip your management team with the tools and education they need to talk to Gen Z workers respectfully and thoughtfully.

3. Stewardship: Help them help you.

Do you still use the term “our people” when referring to employees? Stop. Your employees don’t belong to you. Your business is just a pitstop along their journey. You can pay Gen Z workers a handsome salary, and they’ll still quit if you cease to treat them as individuals. Rather, encourage managers to recognize individuals’ contributions.

Promote stewardship by helping Gen Zers get what they want. When they’re successful, they’ll want to help you be successful. Focus on enabling Gen Z workers to achieve their goals. Have managers find out what each employee wants to do in the next five years, and then see how your organization can assist.

Gen Z employees appreciate this type of guidance. A report from Bellevue University shows that Gen Z places communication high on the list of appealing boss attributes. Additionally, a Randstad and Millennial Branding study reveals that Gen Z workers crave constant feedback. So steward them by having managers provide regular assessments.

Finally

Every new generation makes waves when its members enter the workforce. Rather than swimming against the tide, you can surf smoothly by helping your managers better manage Gen Z employees.

The Urgency Epidemic – Prioritization & Productivity

When was the last time you were placed in a situation at work where the sense of urgency to complete a project was overwhelming due to unreasonable timing and expectations? Yesterday? The day before that? This scenario is way too common in today’s workplace. In this episode, we will be discussing a common phenomenon that businesses across all industries are struggling with currently — the urgency epidemic.

Our Guest:  Brandon Smith

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Brandon Smith, an expert in leadership communication and a curer of workplace dysfunction. Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author, and award-winning business school instructor. He has been featured in the Wall Street CNN, and many other publications for his expertise. His book, The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time, helps readers master urgency, so they can more effectively lead others.

The most precious resource in the work world today isn’t money, it’s time. When everything at work is “always urgent all the time,” it can create, in Brandon’s words “a Petri dish for anxiety.” If employees and managers aren’t careful, it can lead to a decline in the overall efficiency and quality of work over time. Due to the continued disruption of the pandemic and current inflation, time management has become even more of a critical challenge for companies and organizations of all types. 

As Brandon states:

“So overall, if I had to put my stake in the ground and say, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It is to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever. That’s my purpose. So I’m gainfully employed with plenty of job security. The reason why I wrote this book was because this was one of those many flavors of workplace dysfunction that everyone I was talking to was feeling. It didn’t matter if they were working. They were just dealing with this sense of hot sauce being poured on everything. Hot sauce is the analogy I use for urgency. And so I wanted to try and write a book that would be at least somewhat of a help, somewhat of a cure for that particular dysfunction.”.

When Does a Sense of Urgency Become A Problem?

Most managers use urgency as a motivator. Teams can collectively and quickly align toward a common goal in order to reach a business benchmark within a short timeline. But if urgency becomes the daily standard, this can lead to an environment of workplace chaos. This can result in serious missteps or worse. Brandon states:

A little bit of urgency is a good thing, we need urgency. Urgency motivates us. So urgency can motivate us just like hot sauce. A little bit of urgency, a little bit of hot sauce gives focus, gives flavor, creates priority. It’s a good thing. But just like hot sauce, if there’s too much urgency, I mean if everything that comes out of the kitchen is doused in hot sauce, the appetizer and the salad and the entree and the brownie, we’re going to be curled up in a ball wanting relief. We won’t taste anything. So a little bit of it using the right doses and the right times is a really healthy thing for us. It keeps us moving forward. But too much does the exact opposite effect, overwhelms us, confuses us, and that can lead to burnout.”

The Urgency Trap

What worked in the past for companies and organizations may no longer apply when it comes to keeping teams motivated and effective. Cultivating a sense of urgency as a motivational tool is something most managers and team leaders have been taught they are supposed to do. As Brandon states:

“Leaders are taught really early on, yeah, if we need people to change, we’ve got to start with urgency. And there is so many organizations right now needing to go through transformations, whether it’s technology transformations or whatever it happens to be. And so what leaders are doing is running around making everything urgent and then patting themselves on their back, going back to their office, closing the door, and saying, ‘I did a great job today.’ And all they did was just create confusion and chaos because they didn’t prioritize the urgency. They just said, ‘It’s all urgent right now, go.”

Escaping the Urgency

So how do managers and business leaders prioritize projects so that everything isn’t urgent all the time? Brandon explains:

Limit what you can make urgent at a time. My recommendation is no more than five. The best teams, the best departments, the best organizations are executing off of three to five priorities. So use urgency on those things. Use hot sauce on those things, but let everything else just be relief from the heat.”

As companies and organizations are pushed to evolve in order to move forward, how will work itself change, and more importantly, how will that affect the way we prioritize projects for a more productive and focused work culture? Brandon gives us his forecast:

“The future of work is going to be a really exciting time. When I look at my crystal ball, I see it’s going to be an exciting time and place where more of our personal lives are going to be factored into the equation. There’s going to be more flexibility and I’m sure this is nothing different than what you’ve been hearing before from others. But I will say that there’s going to be a lot more burden on us to set and keep our boundaries because there’s going to be no clear breaks between work and home life.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about improving time and project management at work, contact Brandon Smith on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

How To Find Your Leadership DNA

What is your leadership DNA? It is your authentic self. The concept of authentic leadership is often bantered about. In my experience of working with leaders from the best of the best global companies, the most impactful definition is being the leader you were designed to be. How do you do that? Find your leadership DNA.

There is no one characteristic of a great leader. There are actually millions. The best characteristics for you are already hard-wired in you.  You just need to identify, build and leverage your strengths, passions and experiences to be that kind of leader you were designed to be.

Why is being an authentic leader so powerful?

People gravitate to authentic leaders. However, so many people want to copy an admired leader. This is unlikely to work for you for your brain is not hard-wired for this style. It may, in fact, focus you on your weaknesses. 

It takes great effort to fix a weakness. Instead, take that effort and focus it on further developing your strengths. Leverage the way your brain is hard-wired.

We are uniquely created. Each of us possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and passions. Whether it is handed down to us though our parent’s genes, taught to us as we are raised from childhood to adults, or bestowed upon us from a higher power; we are who we are. There is a reason why we act, think and feel the way we do. Who we are is hard-wired into our brains.

In “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” Dr. John Ratey writes: 

“The brain is not a neatly organized system. It is often compared to an overgrown jungle of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons…The neurons form an interconnected tangle with 100 trillion, constantly changing, connections. The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically, modifies their patterns. Our neurons are constantly competing to make connections and these connections are what make us who we are.”

If you want to be average, focus on fixing your weaknesses.

When I was a child, I was poor in math. My parents did what most Asian parents would do: they got me a math tutor. Every night with my tutor I went through hell. After three months of working hard, night after night of feeling stupid, I was able to take my math skills from poor up to… slightly above poor. 

Then I got into the business world. The end of the year performance appraisal surfaced that I was weak in my analytical planning. So, week after week, month after month I worked on it. I was able to get my analytical skills up to average.  

What am I becoming? Average.

Now, there is nothing wrong with average. If you want to be average, this is a good approach. However, many of us want to be exceptional at something. If you want to be distinctive, an authentic leader, you need to identify your strengths and leverage them by focusing on developing them even further. If your organization provides a training budget for you, sign up for training courses to enhance your strengths. 

McKinsey’s study on centered leadership shows: 

“Of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.”

Leverage not only your strengths, but also your passions. These combined with your experiences are a powerful combination. 

How to find your leadership DNA?

1. Identify your strengths and passions.

There are many tools out there that can help you find them. Here are a few to check out:

2. Drill down for specificity.

Whatever tool you use, it’s important to drill down to more specifically determine the who, what, where and when for each. This brings more clarity and breaks things down into bite-size, actionable pieces.

3. Take action, now!

In his book “Smartcuts”, Shane Snow writes about the power of the “Big Mo” (momentum). Momentum is key! 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has found that the answer is simply progress. A sense of forward motion. Regardless of how small. Amabile found that minor victories at work were nearly as psychologically powerful as major breakthroughs. And momentum isn’t just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

Small steps add up! Use the power of compounding. One step forward brings you joy, especially if that step allows you to work on the things you are good at or love doing. One step forward gives you a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling that you are getting closer to your goal of authenticity.

Get on the path of being an authentic leader, more of who you already are by taking action now, and moving down that path.

Image by Fotogestoeber

How to Communicate Organizational Change to Dispersed Teams

You are a remote employee and a member of a dispersed team. And this is how your employer chooses to communicate organizational change while working from home…

“Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. 

And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

Leaves you bewildered and angry, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what the employees of Yahoo! felt when they received this from the then HR head, Jackie Reses, in 2013. 

This is a classic example of poor organizational change communication. 

Call it the fear of the unknown or the resistance to move out of comfort zones; the truth is almost no one likes change. As a leader, the first thing you should focus on is having a proper change management communication strategy.

The right communication tactics will help you get and keep your team onboard while reducing resistance and easing the transition.

Let’s take a look at how you can effectively communicate organizational change to your remote employees.

Create a Communication Plan

project communication plan

Don’t make the leadership mistake of reducing organizational change communication to a one-page memo or a 30-minute Zoom call.

There’s more to it than just making your employees aware of the change. It also involves selling them the idea and getting them invested in the initiative.

The first step is to develop a communication plan (see the example to the right) that addresses:

  • What is the key message?
  • Where will the communication come from?
  • Which channels will you use to communicate?
  • How will you deal with resistance or objections?
  • What is the frequency of communication?

Creating a communication plan ensures stakeholder alignment and helps you approach this crucial process in a more structured way.

Define the Vision

Implementing company-wide change is never easy and it gets all the more challenging when dealing with a distributed workforce. To be successful, you need to effectively communicate the change vision and the outcome it will have.

The idea is to motivate your employees, get their buy-in, and help them understand the reason behind the change.

Business and management consultant John Kotter has an interesting piece of advice for creating a powerful vision for change. 

He says, “A great change vision is something that is easy for people to understand. It can be written usually in a half-page, communicated in 60 seconds, is both intellectually solid but has emotional appeal, and it’s something that can be understood by the broad range of people that are ultimately going to have to change.”

Answer the WIIFM Question

Be it customer, employee, or stakeholder communication, it helps to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and answer the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) question. 

The same logic applies while communicating organizational change. To get consensus and support, explain how the change will benefit your employees. 

Don’t resort to buzzwords and generic statements such as “This is for the betterment of the company” and the like. Make it meaningful. Tell your employee how the change is better for them and the company.

What if you don’t have immediate tangible benefits to offer, you ask? Be transparent about it but assure them that you’re looking into it. Your employees will be skeptical, but you would rather be honest with them than keep them in the dark.

Use Visual Aids

Organizational change happens over time. It demands constant communication, reiterations, and check-ins. 

Instead of conducting a one-off virtual town hall and forgetting about it, use visual communication to support organizational change.

Not only do visual aids help you communicate complex information, but they also make it more memorable. Employees don’t have to struggle to locate (or remember) the information when leaders and communicators present useful visual aids. 

Here are some visuals you can create to make the internal communication ‘stick’:

  • Describe a change in the organizational hierarchy with a pyramid chart
  • Procedural checklist for the change managers 
  • Roadmap or timeline to chalk out the change plan
  • Strategy infographic to introduce the new strategy to employees
  • Posters and job aids to reiterate the change initiative

And here’s an infographic used by the U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health. It addresses frequently asked questions and shares information in a visually appealing way:

infographic example

Source

Make Way for Two-way Communication

It’s important to acknowledge that, more often than not, your employees will be anxious, confused, and worried about the change. This is why you must make way for dialogue and address their concerns to ease the tension. 

As you’re working remotely, you can host regular video conference “office hours” calls, Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions, and encourage managers to schedule one-on-ones with their team members. It’s a crucial time, and your employees need to feel heard.

Microsoft did this incredibly well when CEO Satya Nadella took charge in 2014. They hosted a two-way conversation between all the employees and C-suite executives on Yammer, their team chat tool. In this monthly communication, a portion of the meeting was devoted to Q&As where employees would ask questions to the senior leaders.

Taking this critical communication step helped build a commitment to the new company culture — and helped the leadership team instill trust with employees.

How to Communicate Organizational Change: The Takeaway

Change is inevitable, but a lot depends on how you communicate that change. 

These five tactics will help you communicate organizational change to your remote employees while reducing friction and keeping them invested in the initiative. 

 

Image by Sarah Pflug

5 Remote Work Productivity Tools You Didn’t Know About (But Should)

The COVID-19 pandemic severely wounded the traditional workplace, causing an even greater need for productivity tools. Even when the pandemic recedes, the workplace will not go back to what it used to be. Employers have a huge task to create an environment where your employees are happy and productive. Undoubtedly, recovery and renewal will require significant innovation. Thankfully, much of that innovation–in the form of remote work productivity tools–already exists.

There are many already known tools out there; each promise to change the world of work. But what about those not mentioned as much in leadership and HR circles? No worries! Here we have a list of some of the productivity tools that you might not have heard about–but you should.

10to8 Meeting Scheduling Software

Scheduling activities and meetings with either employees and clients/customers contribute to improved output. That’s why the first on our list is 10to8 Meeting Scheduling Software! When it comes to arranging meetings, daily standups, or weekly team meetings, this is the right tool for you.

In cases where a team is spread worldwide, the time zones are not a problem for 10to8. But the ability to integrate other existing calendars I have created in Google, Outlook, or Exchange is what I like the most about this tool. When you want to talk to your colleagues, you don’t have to ask them when they are free. Instead, you can check whether they are available at a specific time in their booking calendars. Another welcome feature is the hardworking reminders, making it nearly impossible to miss a meeting.

Communifire by Axero

Enhancing communication not only improves the productivity of your employees but the credibility of your company. A well-streamlined communication system helps decrease unmet expectations, reduce stress, and boost morale. An intranet, a centralized portal that ties together communication and enables people to send files so employees are all on the same page, is a must-have communication tool for remote-based businesses. Most users can tailor intranet software to meet your organization’s unique requirements while promoting transparency and eliminating communication bottlenecks.

Communifire by Axero is one of the most easy-to-understand intranet software choices around. Each department within your company is provided separate sections for supplying and updating communications; however, Communifire allows sharing information between all groups. Each team can add articles, blogs, wikis, photos, videos, and everything else relevant to work for teams. What I found especially useful with Communifire is the many options for customization–an essential element of any intranet platform.

Mattermost

The chances are that many of your employees will continue to work from home well after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us–which means group messaging tools will remain important to work teams. Mattermost promotes collaboration among your employees, enabling work to get done efficiently and effectively with a short turnaround time. In many ways, Mattermost replaces internal emails and substitutes messages in an inbox with a more agile and tool.

This digital space helps teammates communicate with each other, share ideas, comment, or give feedback as if it were happening in person. It offers threaded discussions and supports more than a couple of different languages, making it very useful for global teams–and a worthwhile competitor to the more well-known Slack. Like Slack, Mattermost’s freemium pricing plans for small teams feature unlimited message history and integrations.

Celoxis

A year-plus into the pandemic, companies are still looking for a way to collaborate effectively with others on project-based tasks through productivity tools. To fill this void, the tool we recommend most often is the all-in-one platform Celoxis.

This software provides updates to all relevant users about anything related to a specific project. Through timely prompts, it also urges users to complete their tasks on time. Celoxis has a range of useful project management functionalities, such as allowing project mapping via Gantt charts. With its project planning and project tracking feature, it offers automatic scheduling, multiple resources per task. Celoxis is very easy to use and affordable, making it a perfect choice for businesses still struggling to find just-the-right remote PM platform.

Scoro

Because of more flexible working conditions, many remote workers find themselves struggling to stay focused. They just aren’t getting enough work done–and we can’t blame it all on Netflix. Maybe it is time to employ time and work management software like Scoro.

Industries like advertising, consulting, and information technology are just some of the sectors drawn to Scoro. Time management and work automation, collaboration, scheduling, quoting, sales support, and billing are just some of the features Scoro offers. The platform even provides a project management component, like Celoxis. The control hub from which users obtain customer account information, key performance data, and calendar events are one of the main benefits of using this comprehensive platform in your arsenal of productivity tools.

Invest in Remote Work Productivity Tools

The longer the pandemic lingers, enabling higher productivity among employees is increasingly necessary. Introducing these tools to your employees will help them stay focused and engaged–and will undoubtedly help your business achieve its goals. Yes, there is a learning curve associated with any new technology. And, yes, the benefits of utilizing these tools may not be immediate. But, your investment in these platforms–and your people–will pay off in the long run.

 

Image by Adnan Ahmad Ali

Workplace 3.0: Say Goodbye to The Lines Between “Work” and “Life”

Welcome to Workplace 3.0…

How our workspaces have transitioned! There was a time not so long ago when most of us led dual lives – the personal and the professional. In many cases, we built our professional life to support our personal life; one that encapsulated everything but work – our family, our relationships, and our self.

The physical workspace, of course, was where our official work got done. We lived our personal life outside of that office building; to a large extent, it centered around our home. There was a fine territorial line between the two – and only the closest of our colleagues crossed over. For the majority, interaction with colleagues happened either in the meeting rooms that dotted our hallways. Occasionally, that interaction occurred during after-hour happy hours in neighborhood pubs.

The Pandemic Blurred Many Lines

One challenging year changed all of that.

In 2020, as the pandemic engulfed us from Canberra to Chicago, we were forced to move indoors. To keep the wheels of our economies moving and to maintain livelihoods, we turned to technology. And in many ways, technology rescued us. Video conferencing, while already around for over a couple of decades, got the kind of boost a start-up founder can only dream of – when they have time to dream. Buoyed by a freemium model that hooked both individuals and corporates alike, one of the beneficiaries was Zoom, which saw a whopping 326% increase in revenue.

This single most transformational piece of technology ensured that communication flowed seamlessly, even when we weren’t in the office. Between managers and team members. Between suppliers and buyers. And between clients and organizations. Zoom kept the communications line open between anyone and everyone who needed to interact. Constrained by the lack of personal connection that benefits from physical proximity, this was the next best thing. Everyone lapped it up. No doubt, this contributes to the observation that “Time spent in meetings has more than doubled globally” as presented in March 2021 in the Work Trends research by Microsoft.

Video Conferencing Destroyed Those Lines

Unconsciously, perhaps, video conferencing also enabled another dimension of communication. It didn’t blur the lines between the workplace and home. Zoom obliterated those lines.

Suddenly, we welcomed our colleagues, customers, stakeholders and others in the work ecosystem right into our homes. And depending on how much real estate you possessed, they entered your living room, study, garage or even, your bedroom! Now, your office colleagues were privy to your preferred color schemes, taste in furniture, and whether you had one or two rescue dogs for company.

Given this transition happened suddenly, and self (or business) preservation was the primary objective at the time, most of us didn’t put too much thought into the invitation (or was it an invasion?) of our personal lives. We did what we had to do at that moment. We went along with the flow. Now, although we may not be able to reverse that powerful flow, it is interesting to take a look at the long-term implications of the fusion of our professional and personal lives – and the potential impact of Workplace 3.0.

Acceptance of yet another “new normal”

Clichéd as it may be, the fact is that humanity can quickly get accustomed to new ways of working. After working in small offices in smaller buildings early in their careers, people of a certain age graduated to Workplace 2.0 in open-spaced campuses modeled after the large factories of the Industrial Age. We accepted traveling on the Tube to reach these work centers. We accepted long hours away from home to do our work.

Similarly, we’ll embrace this newest change as well. Many of us already have. After all, your colleagues have already been visitors to your home – albeit virtually. So the line between professional and personal has already been crossed. That cat people see jumping on your desk during a Zoom meeting is already out of the bag!

“Reclaiming my line”

Along the way, most Video Meeting platforms added functionality that inserted virtual backgrounds or allowed you to blur your natural background (“Let the laundry lie on the bed, Steve!”). Clunky initially, this feature has now been juiced up by artificial intelligence (AI). For some, this feature allows us to draw a curtain between professional and personal; it enables the creation of a virtual personal space even during professional meetings.

A bonus of this AI-driven virtual reality: Depending on what one is trying to convey, you can choose to be on a beach in the Bahamas in one meeting and amidst the stars the next. (Note: the rescue dogs would prefer a run on the beach.)

More transparency at work

Our makeshift workspaces, differentiated from our personal spaces even though they physically occupy the same space, silently encouraged one aspect of Workplace 2.0: We are to bring only our professional selves to work. The rest of us must stay outside the office doors – or at least outside camera range. Such an environment, quite naturally, encourages workers to live dual lives. We wear a sports jacket on the top and gym shorts on the bottom. In Workplace 2.0, irrespective of what was ailing us, we should put up a smiling face and pretend all is well at work. Now, with the camera now peeping right into our comfort zone, the trend is to be more transparent. To live and display ourselves –  as we are.

Of course, this new level of transparency comes with the hope that our colleagues, bosses and customers will accept us as we are – including the small children who sneak into the room during meetings.

A greater understanding of others

The true benefit of any shift in workplace modalities, and the introduction of any technology that helps us thrive in Workplace 3.0, is becoming more humane – even as we work. By enabling people to connect and relate when social distancing has been the need of the hour, one could say Zoom and similar platforms have done their part. Video conferencing has brought us closer together, even when safety protocols forced us apart. But, there is more.

As we see a young mother breastfeed her young one, even as she reviews the quarterly numbers, we see the human element in action. As we see a not-ready-for-primetime spouse enter the room only to realize the camera is on, we open our minds and hearts to others in a way that we’ve never done before. When we create mini work zones in different parts of our house, to ensure our partner and kids can also work efficiently, we take ‘sharing’ – physical and emotional – to another level. And throughout all the challenges, we gain a greater understanding of ourselves, and each other.

Workplace 3.0: Work, Changed Forever

In essence, one must acknowledge that the way and where we work has changed forever. In Workplace 3.0, we can hope that the blurring of the lines between our personal spaces and our workspaces will continue to bring us closer – to make us more human. And that humanity will foster further collaboration and co-operation at work – that we will be more accepting of each other, which will encourage more diversity at work.

And when all this happens, it will be the single most positive outcome of an otherwise extremely painful pandemic.

I, for one, welcome the lack of lines in Workplace 3.0. And I will be watching how this plays out.

 

Image from Atstock Productions

DEI Efforts that Matter: How to Drive Real Change in Your Organization

COVID-19 inevitably uprooted the way our society works. Due to the pandemic, organizations have uncovered cracks in their foundations that shed light on long-standing social justice and equality issues. At many businesses, DEI efforts are now igniting discussions designed to drive real change.

After the events of the last year or so, corporate leaders – including HR professionals – are now prioritizing these initiatives in innovative ways. Those leaders are determined to build stronger foundations among what seems like crumbling – and unhealthy – precedent. However, this transformation sits in contrast to the alarming number of organizations that remain stagnant in an era screaming for change.

Corporate America Steps Up

Many major corporations are acting fast. For example, Netflix created the “Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.” This fund dedicates $100 million over the next five years to support organizations that connect underrepresented communities with jobs in the television and film industries. These efforts are much appreciated – and much needed. After all, according to Gartner, only 40% of employees believe their supervisors foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive.

This chasm between workers seeking an environment with meaningful DE&I policies and leaders crafting and adopting such procedures underscores why organizations must make these changes. In particular, data shows:

  • Companies hire lack employees into entry-level roles, but representation figures sharply decline in upper management and senior positions.
  • In 2019, white men comprised 63% of C-level jobs while women of color only accounted for 4%.
  • Hispanic individuals are forecasted to represent one out of every two new workers entering the workforce by 2025. However, the Economic Policy Institute reported that they were “least likely to be able to work from home and most likely to have lost their job during the COVID-19 recession.”

The importance of DE&I in the workplace is simple: we must create fair, safe environments for all workers, from recruitment to retention.

As HR professionals, we are responsible for the well-being of our employees and the organization overall. This means, more than any other industry, HR is in the best possible position to enact real change.

DEI Efforts that Matter: Where to Start

Be realistic about the planning and execution of your DE&I efforts.

Integrating DE&I procedures won’t occur within a few hours or even a couple of weeks. After all, real change involves thoughtful, careful planning that will benefit your organization’s health and longevity. Notably, policies created without meaningful purpose can cause confusion and disarray within a company. In the end, those policies are not likely to be successfully applied in your office.

Another major factor in the planning and implementation of DEI efforts is the expansion of different voices at the table. When an organization has an abundance of experience, backgrounds and perspectives amid the development stages, it ensures a greater scope of representation and more thoughtful, creative solutions. Aside from providing a rich, inclusive corporate culture, a benefit of including many different perspectives is to ensure that a company does not overlook challenges one group faces versus another. Without understanding these individual hardships from the onset, your DE&I programming will not be as effective as it could be.

Lululemon, an athletic apparel company, is a strong example of this as it made many commitments to its DE&I efforts in 2020. In particular, one focused on increasing diverse representation among its employees. A vital element of this effort: Enabling an employee-led dialogue between underrepresented members and the senior leadership team.

Invest in the Day-to-Day

Workplace DE&I policies are ineffective if companies don’t invest in change focused on their employees’ day-to-day lives. While the bigger picture sets the stage for the overarching framework, you must delve into your colleagues’ daily routine. By understanding their “day in the life,” you will learn how your DE&I initiatives impact them. And you’ll come to know what improvements you must still make.

This engaging approach is imperative as the daily realities of the office – and the behaviors of those people in the office –  should mirror the overall DE&I vision. When you invoke this strategy, the workplace will reflect – on micro and macro levels – the results of successful DE&I efforts.

Examine Every Stage of the Employment Cycle

Companies should also ensure they implement their DE&I vision and strategy at each stage of the employment process. To aid in this effort, below are questions to consider when interviewing applicants. Also included: questions that enable connection with new, current and former employees.

  • Applicants: Who do you want to target during recruitment? How can your company scout prospective employees in a more inclusive manner?
  • New employees: During a team member’s onboarding, how will you educate them on DE&I policies and corporate culture? What level of education on the subject is currently in place, and – if need be – how could that be improved?
  • Current employees: Have you implemented diversity within your teams and projects to produce results that account for varying perspectives? Are opportunities for advancement fairly reachable to all employees? During interactive internal meetings and annual reviews, what questions will highlight issues or perceptions that may arise and affect your colleagues?
  • Former employees: During the exit interview process, how is your team handling the identification of trends and implementing professional actions?

Track Your Impact

To understand a plan’s efficacy, you must measure and report improvement and progress along the way. This part of the process is imperative. After all, if companies do not track their development, they will not be aware of areas that are working – and others that may need further support.

In addition to setting out a plan to track your goals, create an easily accessible dashboard that reports progress against the company vision. And based on the data gathered and reported, frequently analyze ways the organization can advance and modify your DE&I strategy.

Listen and Learn

There is no perfectly written handbook that explains the exact way your office should prepare and plan its DE&I policies. However, there is one constant: You must listen to your employees throughout the process.

Ignoring feedback from your colleagues will hamper your organization’s DEI efforts and, eventually, its path to success. As you check your progress throughout the year, make sure you establish a channel to receive a consistent cadence of feedback. For example, use survey tools and focus groups to better grasp how your employees perceive the company’s efforts and measure results. This crucial data will also help you pivot, if needed, and identify different ways the company can improve.

Don’t Stand Still, Evolve

Our society continues to experience profound change. So it is essential to revise and reshape the workplace appropriately – and in real-time.

As a workforce, we will continue to receive and provide education on how we can mold corporate practices to be more inclusive and available for many employees in the future. As a profession that thrives on those we serve perceiving us as understanding, we must continue to hear what others have to say. To quickly make changes that positively impact every employee, we must remain agile.

This is how we ensure our DEI efforts matter. This is you drive real change – in your organization and throughout society.

 

Image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

How to Best Support Employee Health and Well-being in 2021 and Beyond

Over one year into the pandemic, nearly everything about the workforce has changed — from when and where we work to how employees interact with each other and clients. How employers have adapted their benefits design and their employee well-being and support strategies have also been affected. It has become increasingly clear that this crisis has accelerated significant shifts in many dimensions of our life and work.

The pandemic has also underscored the many complexities of navigating and accessing quality healthcare and how every aspect of their well-being impacts an employee’s work performance — not just physical health.  As a result, many employers are placing health benefits at the center of their overall workforce strategy. As I’ve seen first-hand in my role as Chief People Officer at Castlight, this mindset change has created a shift in the roles of HR and benefits leaders. Specifically, C-suite leaders have become more actively involved in their employees’ benefits experience.

For the workplace of the future and the employees of today, this change is essential. Nearly half of Americans receive health insurance through their company. And a recent trust survey showed that most Americans trust their company leadership more than governmental media. That means employers are in a unique position to impact their employees’ health journeys positively.

Top Priorities for Employers in 2021

The pandemic has given employers an inside look into employees’ daily lives. Now, many organizations have an opportunity to transform how they decide to support their workforce. When it comes to supporting employee health in 2021 (and beyond), employers must pay attention to what employees consider their top priorities. These include navigating the COVID-19 vaccination process and engaging employees in a whole-person approach to their health.

Supporting Employee Well-being Through the Pandemic and Beyond

As vaccine eligibility opens up for more of the population, employers can leverage their position as a trusted resource to improve vaccine literacy. They can also help facilitate more seamless distribution among their workforce.

Employees have many questions about the vaccine, and there’s a great deal of misinformation circulating. Almost a third of the public is still hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — many are worried about side effects. Others are concerned the vaccine is too new or that it could give them the virus. Employers must step up and provide their workforce with comprehensive vaccine education materials backed by science, yet easy to understand.

Additionally, by providing ongoing targeted communications, HR leaders can ensure that all employees get the specific care and information they need. For example — essential employees need to know about on-the-job safety protocols and whether or not they’re eligible to receive a vaccine within their state. In contrast, non-essential employees may want to know when they’ll be eligible, where they can get a vaccine, and how to make an appointment.

A Whole-Person Approach to Sustained Employee Well-being

COVID-19 has emphasized just how foundational an employee’s health and sustained well-being is to their happiness, engagement, productivity, and success. So beyond vaccine distribution, employers need to be thinking about keeping their employees engaged in their healthcare long after the pandemic ends. Many leadership teams have started reimagining how they think about benefits as a whole.

After all, remote work has offered a glimpse into everything their employees are juggling each day. Now, it is clear that employees routinely deal with issues all on top of a full-time job. These real-world demands include childcare and homeschooling, taking care of a loved one, and more. This perspective has helped employers learn more about what their teams are dealing with outside of the office. And they’re finally starting to understand the importance of flexibility.

On top of that, COVID-19 highlighted other aspects of well-being, such as mental health. For example, from before the pandemic to January 2021 symptoms of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults jumped from 11% to 41%. Now, employers must look holistically at their employee populations. They must consider all facets of health — physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial. Then they must develop a personalized, equitable benefits design that meets the health goals and needs of every employee.

The Role of the C-suite: Leading Through Complex Times

Moving forward, critical benefits conversations are no longer the priority of just the benefits manager. Members of the C-suite must become intimately involved in employee well-being as well. CHROs, in particular, need to understand their employee segments more deeply. Ensuring a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have.  Then catering to their specific needs by offering benefits in a personalized way.

Employers can (and should) play a vital role in employee well-being in 2021 — and beyond.

Specifically, given their unique and significant reach into the workforce, mid-size and large employers can be critical leaders in health advocacy. Compassion, communication, courage, and a strong community focus will continue to be imperative leadership traits throughout these difficult times. The way employers care for their employees — and the health and holistic well-being of the employees’ families — will determine their employer brand for years to come.

 

Image Provided by Southworks

Strategies for Managing Workplace Reintegration [#WorkTrends]

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, one question has been on everyone’s minds: When can we go back to normal? Of course, many areas are seeing cases and hospitalizations drop. And more of us are getting vaccinated. So that question has become: When can we go back to work? Or, from the perspective of employers: How will the best companies safely begin the workplace reintegration process while reducing risk and taking good care of employees?

Unfortunately, this issue comes with a great deal of gray area — especially among workers that remain concerned for their safety. So on this episode of #WorkTrends, we set out to learn the answers to these questions. And we had just the right person to ask…

Our Guest: Phillip Maltin, Commercial & Employment Risk Control Attorney

Joining us on #WorkTrends this week is Phillip Maltin, a trial lawyer for litigation powerhouse Raines Feldman LLP. Phil is Chair of the firm’s Commercial & Employment Risk Control Department, which provides advice, counseling and trial representation in employment and commercial matters. 

Early in our conversation, I asked Phil a question on the minds of many business and HR leaders: Can an employee — perhaps due to a fear of catching the virus — refuse to come back to work? Phil’s answer shows us just how carefully companies must approach this and other sensitive issues:

“The employer gets to control the workplace. If they need the employee to come back, that person’s got to come back. But if the employee has a disability — an auto-immune deficiency that puts that person at greater risk to one of the COVID variants, perhaps — the employee and employer must enter the interactive process required by state and local laws.” In other words, an employer must assume there may be no two situations exactly the same — and they must be ready to take each case one at a time. Phil’s advice: Engage directly with the employee by saying:

“Let’s talk about the things we can do for you that will help you get the job done — and help you get back here safely.”

Workplace Reintegration: Focus on Respect

Phil and I went on to talk about many other elements of a successful return to work strategy, including how to handle workers who wish to stay remote. We also discussed how the harsh political landscape and headline issues like social justice and sexual harassment might impact the workplace once we’re back in the office. Phil continued to dispense solid advice:

“We must remind folks of their obligation to treat people with respect. To honor the feelings and choices of others and to support anti-harassment and discrimination policies. Go through this with the common theme of respecting each other.”

As you know, the process of workplace reintegration won’t be easy. But after listening to this important episode of #WorkTrends, please take Phil’s advice — and treat everyone with the respect they’ve earned since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Want to follow Phil’s work and benefit from more of his wisdom? Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter

 

How to Discuss Hot-Button Social Issues in the Workplace

Only a generation ago, many employers skirted hot-button social issues. Their reasoning? Keep matters related to touchy subjects like politics and widespread social justice concerns at home. (Or at least the parking garage.)

While this tactic may have kept offices quieter then, workers now tend to be far more vocal. Thanks to real-time access to social media and global news while in the office, they freely share their thoughts on all topics, including the toughest ones of all. Discrimination. Race. Equality. Ageism. It’s all fair game. And each can lead to a conversation that starts simmering below the surface, affecting a company’s cultural fabric.

As an HR leader, you want to help your company deal successfully with difficult conversations. You also want to foster an environment where employees can talk about challenging topics with frankness and compassion. But where do you start? How do you encourage healthy dialogue that doesn’t cause some team members to shut down—or get heated up?

The answer is to take a multi-pronged approach, leaning into techniques that have worked for other people in your position.

Use Data to Support Future Programming

As leaders, if you want to know how your workers feel about racial and social injustice (R&SI), go to the source. Pathways at Work, a mental and behavioral health services provider,  surveyed their employees. They found that 96% were at least moderately concerned about R&SI issues.

How concerned is your workforce? Knowing this valuable information can help a company move forward with developing a comprehensive program designed to alleviate employees’ mental stress regarding R&SI, producing positive, measurable results.

One of the keys to your success is using your HR team’s data-driven process. Instead of working on a gut instinct, collect statistical evidence before proceeding. This objective process can help create the right solutions to meet your goals of a less stressed workforce.

You can’t assume to know how your employees feel about any hot-button matter. That’s why you must go to them and gauge their collective mindset. Otherwise, you might forge ahead with training or talks that aren’t relevant to your coworkers or have a false sense of urgency.

Thoughtfully Bring in Outside Assistance

Many people have set themselves up as consultants for companies that want to tackle complex topics. Before hiring anyone to lead dialogues or give lectures, get familiar with their abilities and techniques. Remember: Some teachers connect best with middle schoolers and others with college students. Consultants are no different. The consultant perfect for the company down the street won’t necessarily work for yours. Plus, some consultants have thin resumes.

If you decide you want an objective third party to lead tough conversations, do some digging. Ideally, you want to find consultants with a wealth of knowledge in the field, as well as mediation skills. Remember: The consultant will talk about serious issues that could lead to heated debates, outbursts, or emotional breakdowns. Although debate can be productive, your consultant needs to understand how to handle participants’ reactions.

A capable consultant will provide a proposal before moving forward. That proposal will give you a more robust understanding of the consultant’s capabilities, expertise, expected timelines, and objectives. You should also check out references, just as you would for a new hire. In fact, you can use your natural recruitment acumen and aspects of your in-house hiring process to pick the right outsider to help your insiders feel supported and respected.

Develop Policies and Statements Around Hot-Button Social Issues

During the summer of 2020, protests broke out across America in support of social justice for people of color. Some brands said nothing in response. Others, including large corporations like McDonald’s, made their positions undeniably clear. They stood out among other businesses that showed support; however, their response did not hold to a specific call to action. According to a letter from CEO Chris Kempczinski, the company would hold town hall meetings to hear from employees. Although including staff in suggestions for inclusion is a step in the right direction, did they really enough for such a big corporation? From one of the world’s largest employers, and one of the biggest hot-button social issues of our generation, is that a big enough call to action?

Your role in opening your office to hot-button issues can’t be a “one and done” project. In other words, you have to be willing to make changes depending on the outcomes. For instance, what if you discover through workshops that a high percentage of team members feel unsafe? You must accept the obligation to take action and reduce the tension in your teams.

Of course, you’ll need support from your organization’s upper levels of leadership to establish updated protocols that stick. Without executive support, hot-button policies tend to become “in name only” documents – employees can perceive them as shallow and unenforceable. Work hard to find champions at the top of the corporate ladder. That way, you’ll have a better chance of forming a work culture that’s beneficial for all, not just a few.

Dealing with complex social issues can be tough for any group. Exhibit patience as you navigate your workers toward a place where everyone feels appreciated. Fixing broken systems and outdated behaviors doesn’t happen within a few weeks – or even months. But in time and with attention, you’ll shape a work team unafraid to look hot-button topics in the eye.

 

Image by Joel Muniz

The Nonprofit Mindset: How This New Outlook Helps Business Leaders

With people talking about a post-pandemic restart to the economy, your business might be looking to bring in a fresh new outlook. If you’ve so far struggled to find this fresh direction in 2021, you might want to consider taking a page out of the nonprofit handbook – starting with the nonprofit mindset.

We’re not talking about changing your business model, of course. Instead, consider giving your business a unique edge in your market and make the most of limited resources by thinking like a nonprofit.

How do nonprofits do that? What measures, systems, and presentation elements are immediately transferable to for-profit enterprises? Here’s how you can think like a nonprofit to ensure your business benefits from a fresh outlook.

What Do Nonprofits Do Well?

First, let’s take a look at what nonprofits do exceptionally well.

You might think nonprofits remained focused on their mission 100% of the time. And building an operation around a force for good is undoubtedly inspiring and commendable. But many nonprofits are more than that; they’re well-oiled machines doing innovative work with a percentage of the resources’ blue chip’ organizations are able to leverage.

Most notably, nonprofits excel in:

  • Offering staff unique opportunities in the workplace
  • Developing enjoyable office and on-site working environments
  • Reacting quickly and creatively to new stories (great comms departments)
  • Diversifying their funding and revenue streams

Pick up just one of these traits by looking at nonprofit operations, and your business will gain a significant edge over your competitors.

(This Donorbox article is an excellent bit of extended reading on the signs of a successful nonprofit.)

Developing Connections and Earning Trust

Nonprofit Mindset: World Help

Image: Vet Comp & Pen

While a nonprofit user base might look a little different from your typical e-commerce store or Instagram influencer’s audience, there are many transferable methods and approaches that can help form a nonprofit mindset. Taking note of how each organization uniquely addresses its audience could inspire your next campaign or website update.

Nonprofits don’t just treat their user bases as customers but stakeholders in a mission. If their customers buy second-hand items, for example, they’re buying into that mission. If they need assistance on a personal level, they’re buying into a solution that provides them with the help they need. That greater sense of togetherness helps instill trust, as does content built around it. In other words, making people (or animals or the environment) the focus of your content (instead of your products and profit motive) is a great way to earn those users’ trust and strengthen bonds with them.

While veteran compensation consultancy Vet Comp & Pen isn’t a nonprofit, it does incorporate a nonprofit mindset in its content. Looking at their website, you quickly notice the presence of previous users/customers and their feedback. This doesn’t just reinforce the legitimacy of the company and their work, but it also strengthens the connection between them and the wider veteran audience.

It’s not enough to say you’re different; you have to prove it. And the best way to do that is by incorporating impactful testimonials into your messaging.

It’s much harder to earn the audience’s trust as a for-profit business; we’re not arguing otherwise. However, the techniques nonprofits use are hardly revolutionary. Putting typical users at the front of their web design and branding, integrating themselves into online communities, and giving them decision-making powers are all easily adoptable methods that make a huge difference.

Three lessons:

  • Make mission-focused content
  • Make your team a prominent part of your website
  • Encourage feedback from positive experiences

Creating a More Organic Social Media Presence

Nonprofit Mindset World Help

Image: World Help Instagram

You might not be much of a Tweeter or Instagrammer yourself, but you probably understand how important social media is to running a modern business. However, not everyone gets it right.

Social media is an essential tool for nonprofits. It provides an inexpensive way of getting their message and mission noticed by the right audience. For-profit enterprises should emulate this strategy to diversify their digital output without adding extraordinary costs.

Social media can feel forced, so aim for a more organic presence and growth pattern. Rather than bombard your suspected target market with ads, aim for a more natural approach and let your brand speak for itself. Look at World Help and Choose Love and how they’ve put the people they aim to help at the front and center of their Instagram output. This approach makes the content feel less like advertising and draws people in with a story.

Aim for a multi-pronged social media presence. Don’t just focus on regular posts. Use Instagram and Facebook stories, for example, to react to topical issues and events. Give your audience incentives to share content (and be willing to associate yourself with other brands by sharing their content). And use live streaming as a way of connecting directly with influential members of your online community.

Yes, these are all social media basics – but the best nonprofits are getting it right every day. With a nonprofit mindset, so will your organization.

Three lessons:

  • Don’t make yourself or your business the story
  • React to topical events on social media
  • Live stream for immediate feedback

Learning to Do More with Less

Everyone knows most nonprofits lack the spending power of major brands and corporations. People also understand nonprofits doing more with less is crucial for their operation.

This is an important lesson for every small-time startup and garage side hustle out there. You might not have the funding – but drive, solid messaging, and creative thinking can get you pretty far. Even the way these organizations structure their workdays makes an impact.

Of course, the aims of a nonprofit can help it earn media coverage and praise that a for-profit business of the same size couldn’t necessarily win. However, this should signal every small business owner that getting involved in social causes and trying to make a difference works. It is not just a way to feel good about your business; it’s a way of making an impact on a bigger stage.

Investing in charity, championing social causes, and involving your team in community projects is a great way to gain free advertising and profile building for your business. After all, doing more with less is about making sure people are taking notice of you. You could follow the thought leadership route or put all your extra cash into funding good causes. Either way will earn you unique coverage in new and old media you can turn into leads.

Of course, always remember that the idea that social media has leveled the playing field is unfounded, as a significant budget will always help brands rise to the top. However, creative use of media on a low budget can help you get noticed by people who prefer content with care applied with precision.

Nonprofits are also known for making the most of potentially outdated forms of marketing, such as print content and fundraising emails. Sign up for a couple yourself and analyze how subtle copy and well-placed CTAs help them earn donations.

Three lessons:

  • Content doesn’t always require a huge budget
  • Audiences react to interventions on social issues
  • Giving back can help you earn media opportunities

The NonProfit Mindset: Making it Work for Your Business

Nonprofit organizations excel in creating a passionate community around their work and telling insightful stories. And they do all of that on very tight budgets.

Take a deep dive into their content output. Look at how they interact with audiences through social media and email. Emulate how they structure their teams and incorporate real-world customers and stakeholders in their outreach. Gain all this insight.

Then make the nonprofit mindset work for your organization in 2021.

 

Company Culture Philosophy: Which PM Style Is Right for Your Team?

A business’s ability to hire and retain talent largely depends on its company culture. But company culture isn’t just about how we get our work done or treat people. And it isn’t all about enjoying our work while we engage and collaborate with colleagues. In fact, many factors influence company culture philosophy, including project management styles.

Deciding which project management style works best for your team, and which results in the highest possible levels of productivity, depends on your company size and business type. After all, what works for one business or department team may not work for another.

Here’s a look at three popular company culture – and project management – styles and how they interact with various business settings.

1. Kaizen

Kaizen means “change for the better” or “improvement.” Companies worldwide recognize and utilize this philosophy within many sectors of business.

Perhaps most notably, Toyota uses Kaizen as a pillar within their production system. With this strategy, employees at all levels work to achieve regular, incremental improvements. People can apply this philosophy to their personal, social, and professional lives to slowly but surely better themselves and their situation.

While it became popular within the manufacturing environment, businesses of all sizes and industries can incorporate this philosophy within their company culture; many see positive results. The focus is on small, realistic changes and growth rather than extensive visionary alterations, which are challenging to incorporate. To incorporate this philosophy within your own company, you’ll want to make gradual changes and encourage leaders to act as role models.

Within this culture philosophy, workers can utilize apps relating to health and wellness, productivity, and learning to work towards continuous improvement every day. Additionally, feedback and incremental change will lead to waste elimination and process improvement.

2. Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a variation of traditional Six Sigma methodologies. While the exact definition varies, the general goal is to reduce process variation and eliminate waste to improve efficiency. Employees can receive statistical thinking training and earn “belts” corresponding to their training and expertise relating to Lean Six Sigma strategies. In the workplace, the higher your belt, the more responsibility you will have.

While all industries can benefit from Lean Six Sigma methodology, it’s most prominent in manufacturing and sectors that can improve their process efficiency by evaluating inputs and outputs. From a philosophical perspective, all work can be defined, measured, analyzed, improved, and controlled using this process.

This translates to a hierarchical environment in the workplace culture that strives for continuous process improvement using qualitative and quantitative techniques.

While a small or medium-size team may use this methodology, the entire company will feel its effects. The Lean component of this framework will prioritize eliminating anything that does not add value to the process in order to provide the greatest benefit to the customer. From an employee standpoint, this could lead to increased responsibility to meet demands.

3. Scrum

Scrum is a framework derived from agile project management. It follows a set of values and has distinct team roles and steps. More specifically, it has five events and three artifacts within its framework.

Managers can scale this philosophy to use at a product, team, or organization level. Ultimately, its purpose is to allow teams to collaborate effectively on complex problems and deliver and sustain valuable products. While it’s popular in the software industry, other fields have begun implementing it as well.

This culture philosophy is best for small teams and organizations that can embrace the values and empiricism fully. Each team utilizing Scrum needs one product owner and one Scrum master as well as developers. Groups that do not follow these roles or frequently disregard empiricism and the five events are likely to fail.

If you intend to implement Scrum within your organization, you must adopt transparency, inspection, and adaptation and welcome experimentation while following the Scrum values.

The five Scrum values include:

  • Respect
  • Openness
  • Focus
  • Commitment
  • Courage

Why Is Project Management Important to Company Culture Philosophy?

Now that you know three of the most popular project management styles that impact company culture, you may be wondering why it’s important to select one at all. And the answer is simple.

Despite many efforts to do so, you can’t make company culture better by adding ping-pong tables and nap pods and supplying hot lunches and snacks every day. But you can develop a healthy and productive environment by implementing positive project management strategies that help people feel their work matters – really matters. And employees who feel valued, useful, and happy at work are more likely to produce high-quality work and improve performance.

Adopt one of these project management best practices as part of your overall company culture philosophy. You’ll see improvement in employee satisfaction as you boost morale. You’ll be able to hire and retain the best talent. And you’ll soon improve your company’s bottom line.

 

Image by Aaron Amat

Leadership in Divisive Times: Dealing with Colleagues in Denial

When was the last time a colleague said something so ridiculous that it made your jaw drop? A four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com found that employers and boards fired 23 percent of CEOs for denying reality, meaning refusing to recognize negative facts about his or her organization’s performance. Additionally, our recent challenge of mostly politically-driven alternative facts and dealing with colleagues in denial can get overwhelming.

We typically respond to people denying reality by confronting them with the facts and arguments. But research suggests that’s precisely the wrong thing to do.

Research on confirmation bias shows that we tend to look for and interpret information in ways that conform to our beliefs. There is an emotional investment in continuing to believe what you want to believe. Furthermore, studies on a phenomenon called the backfire effect shows when presented with facts that cause us to feel bad about our self-worth or worldview, we may sometimes even develop a stronger attachment to the incorrect belief.

Our Mental Blindspots

These mental blindspots are two of over 100 dangerous judgment errors that result from how our brains are wired, what scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases. We make these mistakes not only in work but also in other life areas. For example, in our shopping choices, as revealed by a series of studies.

Fortunately, recent research in these fields shows how you can use pragmatic strategies to address these dangerous judgment errors, whether in your professional life, relationships, or other life areas. You need to evaluate where cognitive biases are hurting you and others in your team and organization. Then, you can use structured decision-making methods to make “good enough” daily decisions quickly, more thorough ones for moderately important choices, and an in-depth one for truly major decisions.

Such techniques will also help you implement your decisions well and formulate truly effective long-term strategic plans. In addition, you can develop mental habits and skills to notice cognitive biases and prevent yourself from slipping into them.

A Better Way to Deal with “The Ostrich Effect”

In today’s divisive world, there are two distinct types of denial: personal and professional. How we deal with those in denial on non-business matters is a personal choice. So, for this post, we’ll focus on the professional aspect of denial, or “The Ostrich Effect.” Keep in mind that these same concepts apply to professional and personal relationships and all forms of denial.

So how do you deal with colleagues suffering from the professional form of denial?

Rather than arguing, it is much more effective to use a research-based and easy-to-remember strategy I developed called EGRIP. This acronym stands for Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, and Positive Reinforcement.

For instance, consider Mike’s case, a new product development team lead in a rapidly-growing tech start-up. He set an ambitious goal for a product launch, and as more and more bugs kept creeping up, he refused to move the date. People tried to talk to him, but he hunkered down and kept insisting that the product would launch on time and work well. I was doing coaching for the company’s founder, and he asked me to talk to Mike and see what’s going on. During my first conversation with Mike, I explained the EGRIP concept:

E – Connect with their emotions

In the workplace and out, when someone denies clear facts they qualify as one of your colleagues in denial. So you can safely assume that their emotions are leading them away from reality. While gut reactions can be helpful, they can also lead us astray. What works better is to focus on understanding their emotions and to determine what emotional blocks might cause them to stick their heads into the sand of reality.

In my conversations with Mike, I discovered that he tied his self-worth and sense of success to “sticking to his guns.” He associated strong leadership with consistency, so he was afraid of appearing weak in his new role as the team lead. He believed team members were trying to undermine him by getting him to shift the schedule and admit he failed to deliver. This false association of leadership with consistency and fear of appearing weak is a frequent problem for new leaders.

G – Establish shared goals

Then, you must establish shared goals, which is crucial for effective knowledge sharing. I spoke with Mike about how we both shared the goal of having him succeed as a company leader. Likewise, we both shared the goal of having the new product be profitable.

R – Build rapport

Next, build a rapport by establishing trust. Use empathetic listening to echo their emotions and show you understand how they feel. I spoke to Mike about how it must hard to be worried about the loyalty of one’s team members and also discussed what he thinks makes someone a strong leader.

I – Provide information

At this point, start providing new information that might prove a bit challenging — but won’t touch the actual pain point.

I described to Mike how research suggests one of the most important signs of being a strong leader is the ability to change your mind based on new evidence. Along the way, I provided examples such as Alan Mulally saving Ford Motor Company through repeated changes. If I had begun with this information, Mike might have perceived it as threatening. However, by slipping it in naturally as part of a broader conversation — after cultivating rapport built on shared goals — Mike accepted the information calmly.

P – Provide positive reinforcement

Then, after the person changes their perspective, provide them with positive reinforcement, a research-based tactic of shifting someone’s emotions. The more positive emotions the person associates with the ability to accept counter-intuitive facts as an invaluable skill, the less likely anyone will need to have the same conversation with them in the future.

Dealing with Colleagues in Denial: A Different Approach

With Mike, I discussed where he could best exhibit these characteristics. Specifically, we talked about how to show those who might try to undermine him what a strong leader he is — and at the same time make the new product as profitable as possible. I directed the conversation toward how he can show strength by delaying the launch of the new product. Eventually, he agreed, and I praised his ability to show strength and leadership by shifting his perspective. From that point on, his team knew Mike based his views on objective data and evidence.

Next time you’re dealing with colleagues in denial, I wish you good luck. Remember that you can use EGRIP not simply in professional settings but all situations. Keep EGRIP in mind whenever you want to steer others away from false beliefs that cause them to deny reality.

 

Photo by MIA Studios

Should Business Leaders Be Worried About the New COVID Strains?

Should business leaders be worried about the new COVID strains originating in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and elsewhere — and recently identified in the US?

The authorities have focused on downplaying concerns about vaccine effectiveness against these new variants. While some legitimate concerns exist that our vaccines might be 10-20% less effective against the new strains, this small difference shouldn’t make you too worried.

However, another aspect of these new variants should make you very worried indeed: they’re much more infectious. Unfortunately, the implications of their infectiousness have received little news coverage.

In fact, some officials claim there’s no cause for alarm about the new strains. Such complacency reflects our sleepwalking in the pandemic’s early stages, despite numerous warnings from myself and other risk management experts, leading us to fail to plan accordingly.

Are the New COVID Strains Really More Infectious?

Researchers describe the UK and Brazil strains as anywhere from 56 percent to 70 percent more infectious, and the South African strain even more infectious. The new UK variant quickly came to dominate the old strain of COVID in Southeast England, going from less than 1% of all tested samples at the start of November to over two-thirds by mid-December.

S Gene Variant

Image courtesy of BBC

To corroborate this research, we can compare new daily COVID cases per million people over the last several weeks in the UK, South Africa, US, Canada, Italy, and France.

confirmed COVID-19 cases

Image courtesy of Our World In Data

Only the UK and South Africa have seen a significant spike; Brazil is not far behind. The UK’s numbers doubled over two weeks from 240 on December 10 to 506 on December 24; South Africa’s case numbers similarly doubled in that period from 86 to 182. Given no significant policy changes or other viable explanations, the new COVID variants are almost certainly to blame.

Why We Ignore Slow-Moving Train Wrecks

Our minds aren’t well adapted to processing the implications of these seemingly-abstract numbers. We fall into dangerous judgment errors that scholars in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics like myself call cognitive biases. Specifically, we suffer from the tendency to focus on the short-term and minimize the importance of longer-term outcomes. Known as hyperbolic discounting, this cognitive bias causes us to underestimate the eventual impacts of clear trends, such as a more infectious strain of COVID.

The normalcy bias results in us feeling that things will generally keep going as they have been — normally. As a result, we underestimate the likelihood of another severe disruption occurring.

When we develop plans, we feel that the future will follow our plan. That mental blindspot — the planning fallacy — threatens our ability to prepare effectively for and pivot quickly when facing risks and problems, such as the new strains.

The Implications of Much Higher Infectiousness

The new strains likely arrived here by mid-November, with hundreds of probable cases by now. Based on the UK’s timeline, South Africa, and now Brazil, the new variants will become predominant here by March or April.

The US has maintained a daily new case count of just over 200,000 from December 10 to December 24. Imagine what happens when this starts shooting up rapidly as the new strains start to overtake the old strains, eventually doubling every two weeks when the new variants become predominant.

Hospital systems in California, Texas, and other states are already overwhelmed. The terrible March 2020 outbreak in New York City will seem like a summer shower compared to the upcoming tsunami that will flood our medical systems. Moreover, the surge will undoubtedly cause major supply shortages and hammer industries such as travel and hospitality.

Might vaccines help? Due to the timing of the rollout, not until summer 2021.

What about government lockdowns? Not likely. The extreme politicization, widespread protests, and severe economic pain from lockdowns make politicians very reluctant to impose the kind of severe lockdown necessary to fight the new strains. Even if some do, mass public non-compliance will make lockdowns ineffective.

What Can You Do?

As a trusted leader, be prepared to help your team deal with the impact of new COVID strains:

  • Communicate to them about the new strains; encourage them to take the steps necessary to protect their own households
  • Strongly encourage your employees to take advantage of mental health resources offered to prepare for further trauma
  • Coordinate with HR on how to adapt to much higher cases of COVID within your team — and ask them to look for burnout caused by the ongoing pandemic and any new surge
  • Ensure cross-training for key positions
  • If you haven’t already, transition to your team working from home as much as possible
  • Revisit your business continuity plan to prepare for mass disruptions in the spring and summer
  • Prepare for disruptions to your supply chains and service providers, as well as travel disruptions and event cancellations

By taking these steps early, and by paying attention to new workplace trends, you will have a major competitive advantage over your competitors who fail to prepare.

Don’t Let New COVID Strains Surprise You

We’re in for a world of pain this spring and early summer. The situation may feel unreal, or at least too much of an extension of the stress we’ve all gone through. But that’s simply our cognitive biases telling us to ignore a genuine problem — just like they did early in the pandemic.

Don’t let your business ignore this new warning — and be caught off guard, again.

 

Photo by Pozdeyev Vitaly

Leadership Lessons Learned From an Emotional Inauguration Day

In every challenge faced, there are leadership lessons to be learned…

To say the recently concluded American election process was emotional would be an understatement. To the dismay of many across the globe, it often assumed the appearance of a mean-spirited reality TV show. Marred with insults, insinuations, and incendiary statements, it did not bear much resemblance to the world’s premier democracy.

Months of acrimony reached a feverish pitch that ended with what many now refer to as an ‘insurrection.’ Highly divided supporters of the outgoing President marched into the Capitol House just over two weeks ago. They plundered even as they posed gleefully in the corridors of power. There was no real joy in the happenings, however. The unruly confrontation between the mob and the police in Washington D.C. on January the 6th left five dead in its wake.

By any measure, overcoming a national disaster like this would require strong will and consistent action; it would require a different kind of leadership. If there were to be any indication that a new leadership style was emerging in the days to come, it would be apparent on Inauguration Day (January the 20th), when the 46th President of the United States of America took his oath of office. As Joseph Biden Jr. placed his hand on his family’s Bible, people across the world joined in the celebrations. They felt a multitude of emotions in their hearts, even as the sun came out on top of Capitol Hill. Maybe, they thought, this new leadership would signal new hope.

So, what were the leadership lessons that warmed our hearts? What emotions did we feel that demonstrate we can once again feel hopeful?

Respect

Kamala Harris.

The name says it all. On Inauguration Day, clad in a purple coat, she was sworn in as the first-ever female Vice-President in American history. She also assumed the distinction of being the first African American and first American of Indian, South Asian, and Asian descent to be elected to this high office. She was administered the oath by Sonia Sotomayor, the first-ever Latina Supreme Court Justice. These ‘firsts’ elicit nothing but respect for the process of democracy and the maturity of the American people. They point towards a broadening of hearts and the belief in creating a more equitable society.

Leaders must show the level of respect shown on Inauguration Day was not a one-off celebration, but an indicator that the demonstration of respect is a fundamental human value.

Concern

We all felt a sense of reassurance while witnessing the discipline with which all the attendees wore masks to safeguard themselves (and, of course, others) from the deadly coronavirus. The masks stayed on even when they socialized and congratulated each other after the ceremony had closed, showcasing their genuine concern for safety. What also touched our hearts was the regular sanitizing of the speaker’s podium, dutifully performed by an elderly gentleman, each time a new speaker took the stage.

Genuine care for one another is the mantra we need in our world – a world that has seen far too many tragedies over the last year. To prosper, one of our most essential leadership lessons learned is that we must model this deep sense of concern for others.

Pride

Twenty thousand people would typically attend a Presidential Inauguration; in 2021, mostly due to the unfortunate events of January 6th, only a thousand or so were permitted to do so. Instead of exuberant people ready to celebrate the swearing-in of a new president, the National Mall played host to over 200,000 American flags and 56 pillars of light to represent all the American states and territories. Fluttering and rising into the skies and accompanied by the Marine band’s sonorous notes, the flags and all they represented filled us with pride.

Every leader, at the beginning of each day, must ask themselves a question.

“Today, will I help create bone-deep pride in our mission and our work?”

Hope

No one can instill hope better than the 22-year-old poet and Harvard graduate, Amanda Gorman, who recited a soul-stirring poem she composed on the day of the infamous Capitol invasion. To imagine that she overcame a speech impediment to become America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate is truly mind-blowing – and inspiring. The youngest ever poet to take the stage at a Presidential Inauguration, she showed us the capability, clarity, and character of our younger generation. In doing so, she gave us unbounded hope.

Even on the toughest days and in the most challenging circumstances, leaders must provide a sense of hope.

Passion

As expected, star power did not let us down. Lady Gaga, in a characteristically dramatic dress, sang a version of the American national anthem. Jennifer Lopez sang a medley of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and ‘America The Beautiful’. Country singer Garth Brooks sang a Capella version of ‘Amazing Grace’, even taking off his Stetson during his performance. The one common thread that was binding their individual performances: the passion clearly evident in their flawless singing and brightly lit eyes.

Sometimes, we leaders forget the importance of passion – passion for our work, our mission, and our people.

Grace

At the end of the ceremony, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, stood up. They escorted the outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and his lovely wife, Karen, down the steps of the Capitol building. It was a picture of pure grace, unblemished by any of the acrimony on full display during the election process. As they bid their good-byes, one could see the couples bonding over a hearty laugh. That moment showed the maturity of those that lead the nation last and those that will lead the nation next. In participating in the Inauguration (unlike his boss, President Trump, who chose not to attend), VP Pence let us know that defeat is only one side of the coin. The other side represents growth, something that all Americans can look forward to.

As leaders, work will not always go as planned. We must learn to follow every disappointment with grace and growth.

Leadership Lessons Learned

In a democracy – like a company – there will always be dissent. But there is a fine line between dissension and being stubbornly disagreeable. Two weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation led from the front and by example. After a time when hope seemed hard to find, they stirred positive emotions within all of us.

There is no doubt that this experience will drive many amongst us to keep these positive emotions burning. Burning like a glorious flame that removes all darkness, enabling us to learn important leadership lessons.

And isn’t that is what people should expect from their leaders?

 

Photo from Skypixel

Enough of the Red Tape: A Return to Common Sense

When is enough red tape and bureaucracy enough? Is it time to return to the days where common sense prevailed?

Don’t you just love the glossy annual report, no matter which company it represents? The financials change from report to report, but the descriptive material remains pretty much the same.

The company’s rosy impression almost always begins with its values, starting with Integrity and ending with People. Next comes the “meet the team” page, with the perfectly staged line-up of smiling senior executives. Then you’ll see the company’s promises to its customers (which bear a striking resemblance to the promises that friendly voice makes while the customer is on hold: “Your call is important to us. We place the customer front and center in everything we do.”).

Those annual reports look polished and perfect. Unfortunately, if you have a chance for a few off-the-record conversations, you’ll likely discover layer-upon-layer of frustrating, bureaucratic red tape. From an outsider’s point-of-view — this represents a complete lack of common sense. By “common sense,” I mean seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.

Or, said another way: To treat consumers and employees as you would expect to be treated.

The Impact of a Loss of Common Sense

Consider the global shipping company that brought me on to explore their surprisingly low Net Promoter Score (NPS) customer satisfaction rate. I was perplexed to find that the call center categorized every complaint as resulting from force majeure. Every single complaint. This made it impossible for customers to make insurance claims for damaged goods. I discovered that leadership evaluated the call center staff in terms of efficiency (time per call) rather than customer satisfaction. Clicking the force majeure button required the employee to fill out just one page, while any other option required three or more pages. Of course, they clicked force majeure.

Or how about the international company that required staff, before they could jump on a plane, to fill out a travel form for approval. Fair enough, you may say, until you learn that the form was set to auto-reset in 12 hours if approval didn’t come through. Slightly tricky, considering that most senior management works from Asia headquarters. With a 12-hour time difference, you’d stand better chances surviving Duck, duck, goose than getting your trip approved.

Lack of Empathy = Loss of Common Sense

Bureaucracy, red tape, and bad excuses have reached an all-time high. And with technology infiltrating every crack in every business — and now at home, too, piped straight into our home offices — something fundamental has vanished: empathy. Yes, I know: Empathy isn’t at home in the business world. Most executives tend to associate empathy with crying children and cupcakes. But don’t forget. Empathy is our ability to place ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what that person is feeling. It’s sharing the customer’s pain when their case is labeled force majeure, or relating to your employee’s frustration when they still don’t have permission to travel to an important meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

In fact, I’ve come to realize that a lack of empathy typically means limited common sense within the organization. It leaves one wondering: Is this at all reparable? In the business world, can we restore common sense?

Time to Establish The Ministry of Common Sense

That’s what I wondered until, while working with Standard Chartered Bank, one of the world’s largest banks, I had a eureka! moment. One of the bank’s staff members told me: What we need is a Ministry of Common Sense. Her suggestion was pure common sense! The bank needed a place whose mandate was to receive internal issues — and solve them.

Two months later, Standard Charter opened its brand-new Ministry of Common Sense. It had its supporters, but it also garnered a lot of laughs. Who on earth would submit their common sense issues? Even worse, who would solve them?

Working in culture transformation for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned that we find solutions within the organization itself. The only thing required is a little kid to shout, “But the emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” People just need help removing their blinders and releasing themselves from their straitjackets.

For sure, they did at Standard Chartered. First in the hundreds, then in the thousands, common sense issues arrived at the ministry’s website. But it didn’t stop there. Solutions arrived, too. Employees ensured they provided every common sense issue with a solution, capable of almost immediately solving the problem. For instance, the person who received 800 emails a day and suggested the company remove the CC and Reply All functions from Outlook. Simple common sense. Email traffic dropped in half.

Or how about another company that set up a ministry, resulting in the company banning PowerPoint presentations. Wasted time dropped by 21% — and people actually began to talk to each other.

Not So Common

Through my work, I’ve come to realize: Common sense is not actually all that common.

I’m not saying that every company needs to set up a ministry of common sense. But one thing is for sure. Adopting empathy — seeing the world through the eyes of customers and other employees — is a huge part of the solution. By seeing the world from another point-of-view, you’ll be able to spot and remove one stupidity – and one moment of insanity – at a time.

You’ll be able to remove your straitjacket while rebuilding a strong company culture that puts employees and customers first. You’ll enable a return to common sense.

 

 

Named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people, NYT bestselling author Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate BS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is out today, January 19, 2021!

 

Photo from Welcomia

Executive Onboarding During the Pandemic: Both Pitfall and Opportunity

Talent managers, human resources practitioners, and executive coaches continue to perfect work-from-home and make it the new norm. As they do, they find a hidden pitfall in their work becoming more evident each day. We’re talking about executive onboarding – specifically, for those new team members C-Suite and just below.

So how, in a remote world of work, does the new team member get to know their new colleagues?

Let’s say you just started that new position in the (now virtual) executive suite. You are looking to become part of the team quickly. Chances are you have already thought about how you are going to talk to your direct reports. You have a sense of how to communicate and collaborate, of course. To help matters, your new boss and you have already figured out how you will interact. As some of our clients initially thought, there is a general sense of feeling good about their new situation. And yet, the piece that is missing is an important one.

The fact is we miss the opportunity to connect in person – especially as the new addition. And we haven’t yet learned how to get to know our peers in the organization while working remotely.

Executive Onboarding: A Challenge Even in “Normal” Times

As is the case when working in-person at an office, remote teams and group leaders tend to become siloed. After all, when working alone, it is easy to become narrowly focused on our own departments. Although a natural occurrence, this makes it difficult for the new chief marketing officer, for example, to know much about what the chief financial officer is doing.

Scheduling video calls with equals is not typically on executives’ wavelengths. But in today’s world of work, it should be – it must be. Because when the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing, problems result. Company efficiencies and productivity suffer. As we coach our clients: You are not just joining the team you will run, you are joining your boss’ team. Neglecting to invest in the development of relationships with team members and leaders at your level, in your situation, creates a leadership dysfunction that is not good for the company – any company.

Developing Relationships in a Virtual World

The key to a successful onboarding process and the development of one-on-one relationships is active listening. In the new work-from-home landscape – where the watercooler conversation, spur of the moment “let’s grab a coffee,” and unannounced pop-in are absent – how does one develop those relationships? Where are the opportunities for active listening? It is not through only one’s direct reports, nor is it solely from your boss – a key source of learning comes from peers.

Your peers will likely have various levels of experience and institutional knowledge about the company. That experience and well-earned knowledge will likely become essential resources for your own team’s success at some point. After all, the Chief Procurement Officer will likely need to rely upon the Chief Supply Chain Officer, and vice-versa, to succeed. Not only will they know the business, but they will also know your people. And developing those relationships, over time, is an integral part of being a good executive.

So how does a new executive team member develop those relationships while working from home? Here are three suggestions:

Develop a Comprehensive Communication Plan

Along with your hiring manager, develop a detailed onboarding plan that ensures you will communicate with all stakeholders. This is especially important for connecting with new peers, an oft-forgotten cohort. It is natural to devise a plan to configure best practices for your new boss and those reporting to you. But developing those relationships with your equals is critical to your success because these people will help you navigate the workplace culture from your same vantage point.

Plan for Spontaneous Connection

Leaders at every level must find a substitute for the unplanned office drop-in to say hello. Those interactions are typically low-stress and ultimately derive high returns when it comes to relationship-building. For WFH, we suggest keeping a pad near your computer to write down a reminder of what you might say when you virtually drop in. That means preparing what you want to say in that short text and quick call—no need to schedule a videoconference to relay that “job well done” encouragement.

Schedule Virtual Happy Hours

Carve out some valuable end-of-the-day time for an after-hours virtual coffee or cocktail with your new team and with your peers. New leaders should accomplish this task through one-on-one meetings or in small groups. Be sure to develop these relationships in a more casual setting because everyone a more relaxed environment will encourage team building and team bonding.

Connecting with one’s peers within the organization should happen regularly for established leadership teams, regardless of work circumstances. When it comes to onboarding in a remote work situation, we encourage our clients to intentionally reach out to their new colleagues via video call or telephone call. Not to accommodate formal meetings, but just to say hello. This aspect of virtual executive onboarding will also help understand the company culture and, just as importantly, what you can anticipate others will expect of you.

How Will You Improve Executive Onboarding?

Deliberately making that introduction, sharing enough personal information to form a bond, and offering your help to new colleagues will surprise some new coworkers and fellow leaders.

Those actions will also make an excellent first impression and go a long way toward easing the transition into that new position—all while working from home.

 

Photo by Ronstick

Our Now Normal: Why is There No Culture Button in Microsoft Teams?

In our now normal, company culture seems to have taken a back seat to… well, everything else. So how do we retain our best talent?

Statistics tell us that 2020 was “the year of productivity.” As the world of business moved all its staff into their bedrooms, efficiency levels skyrocketed. Gone were those unproductive hours in the air, on the road, in the canteen, and at conferences. They were replaced by an endless stream of back-to-back Zoom meetings, with hardly a minute left for a toilet break or a single creative thought. Instead, we belong to the next Outlook notification: “Reminder: Microsoft Teams meeting: 15 minutes.”

But I’d suggest that while quantifiable productivity rose in 2020, company culture went into free fall. Not an especially big deal, one might argue, as business owners found themselves caught in limbo between panic and delight. While bent over backward, they watched the bottom line swell while transportation and real estate costs plummeted.

Ironically, this new reality might spell the end of the very concept of the corporation. At the very least, it raises a truly fundamental question. One that millions of employees are secretly asking themselves behind closed doors…

Why bother working for a corporation?

Our Now Normal

Here’s the issue. As employees dropped like flies, cut loose throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the fata morgana of a “permanent job” showed its true colors: a nice idea, but with very little solid underpinning. Instead, employers rewarded employees with an unexpected bonus, a pipeline of bureaucracy channeled straight into their bedrooms. Forget about the separation of private life and work life in our now normal. Many families found themselves with multiple family members juggling multiple conference calls while simultaneously handling the baby and the toddler, the dog, the cooking, the cleaning. And in return? They heard that their salaries might be reduced, since their remote work took place in a low cost-of-living area.

Friday afternoon happy hours were a thing of the past, along with birthday songs, late afternoon hangouts, company parties, and townhalls. In their place, you guessed it: another Zoom meeting.

Some have realized that maybe it’s time to rethink the workplace. Or at least how they fulfilled their role in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to go freelance. Not a big difference when you think about it. No concerns about distance, or the fear of receiving notice, or the monotonous workday. For many of the most highly skilled people, it won’t take very much convincing.

What is Next?

In the aftermath of COVID-19, with countries like China, Korea, Taiwan, and Australia finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s been a dramatic surge in such search terms as “personal branding.”

Here’s the situation. Many employees are coming to the conclusion that a future working for one employer simply does not make sense. Instead, now they’re building their personal brand, making contacts, attracting business, and offering their services to the world at large.

I’d argue that we’re reaching the tipping point, at which the very idea of working for a corporation no longer makes sense. Why bother fighting a never-ending stream of politics, bureaucracy, red tape, rules, and regulations when you can keep a nice arm’s length from all of them? How does a good night’s sleep sound, without the constant worry of losing your job?

In sales, they say it costs ten times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. It’s at least that much in the case of employees, but most companies seem to have forgotten that fact.

Investing in Culture

Which brings me back to the beginning, when I observed that Microsoft didn’t pre-install a “culture button” in Teams: As a leader, that’s your role – not Microsoft’s (or Zoom’s, or Google’s). It’s your job to start focusing on your organization’s culture. That money saved in rent and travel costs? That money doesn’t belong to the bottom line. The truth is, it belongs to a bleeding culture in crisis.

Now is the time to reinvent what culture means. As managers and leaders, we need to be aware that many of our employees ask themselves, “Why should I, as an employee, stick with a company when the only connection I have is through the internet?”

As managers and leaders navigating our now normal, we need to ask ourselves: How can we reinvent the sort of culture that leads our best people to decide to stay with us?

 

To learn more about Martin’s new book, please visit MartinLindstrom.com/Ministry-of-CommonSense.

 

Photo by Narith Thongphasuk

Why We Shouldn’t Completely Deride or Discount 2020

Ask anybody: last year wasn’t ideal. But perhaps we shouldn’t completely discount 2020 just yet.

When the ball dropped above Times Square at the very end of 2019, the world welcomed 2020 with much joy and hope. No one then would have probably imagined how our lives were going to be turned upside down in a matter of months. Ever since the coronavirus began spreading from Tokyo to Toronto, it seems many of us have been playing catch up.

From figuring out how the virus was spreading to how one could protect oneself, to how to conquer it, the pandemic took over our lives. The downstream impact on the economy turned out to be equally, if not more, painful for the public at large. Falling revenues and job cuts tended to go hand in hand for many of the industries impacted by the disease – both directly and indirectly. Given this global reality, it isn’t surprising to see memes on social platforms that showcase the despair many still feel. Nor is it surprising to see so many companies and communities struggle to navigate post-pandemic realities.

While this is understandable, I submit: Let us not wholly deride or discount 2020.

After, all there is so much we have learned about ourselves – and each other – this past year.

Learning How Resilient We Are

In recent times, communities have faced the ravages of the pandemic head-on. Healthcare workers took on the onus of leading the charge; they became our first line of defense. As patients overran hospitals at the same time those facilities ran out of critical medical equipment and supplies, engineers innovated to keep the supply lines moving.

Such innovation enabled 58 Gin, a UK based boutique liquor brand to make hand sanitizers and support the fightback. Similarly, in India, the R&D team at automaker Mahindra’s plant was able to develop a life-saving ‘ambu bag.’ In just 48 hours at a price point of under one hundred dollars, they helped meet the acute shortage of ventilators. In myriad ways, people’s resilience showed we were not going to cave in to our unseen enemy.

Learning More Deeply About Ourselves

Forced to reduce our outdoor activities and limit our footprint, many of us got a chance to press the ‘pause’ button. We received the gift of more time with ourselves and our loved ones. In the process, we gained a deeper realization of our true selves. From understanding the futility of extravagant celebrations to a change in shopping patterns, we moved ahead in a more sustainable way – for ourselves and the planet.

This year, on Cyber Monday, online sales increased at less than half the projected rate, growing 15.1%. As our countries start opening up, we will witness some ‘revenge’ behavior when it comes to shopping or travel. But there is no doubt that a large number of us have recalibrated our lifestyle going forward.

Learning to Value Others More

If there is one visual of 2020 imprinted in our minds and hearts representative of the year, it is the image of grateful people on their balconies, singing songs of praise for our frontline workers. These first responders put themselves in between us and the virus to help save lives, even as they put their own lives at risk. People across the board realized and acknowledged their efforts.

Once the initial heartfelt act of gratitude went viral, others replicated the demonstration of appreciation in cities worldwide. We learned it isn’t race, gender, economic status, or even ‘follower count’ that defines someone’s true worth. Instead, it is their true value to society.

Learning How Nature is Capable of Revival

As COVID-19 forced us to lock down our cities, close our skies, and shutter down our factories, nature got a much-deserved chance to heal. Research by Science Direct establishes that “vital environmental changes have occurred during COVID-19 lockdown.” We’ve gained cleaner waters and purer air; even the noise level has been reduced by 35 to 68% all over the world.

In many cases, environmental scientists were able to benefit from the lockdown. For example, in New Delhi (consistently one of the ‘Most Polluted Cities of the World), they were able to determine the baseline levels of pollution. This much-needed metric will clearly aid the design of policies to better control pollution in the near future.

Learning How to Open Our Hearts to Others

DC resident Rahul Dubey won millions of hearts, not only in his home state but across the world, in 2020. At a critical moment, with police armed with tear gas bearing down, the 44-year-old welcomed more than 70 strangers into his home. Those strangers had gathered in the street to protest the shooting of George Floyd. But soon, their peaceful protest was anything but peaceful.

By opening his doors, he undoubtedly saved dozens of people from a potential stampede and further escalation of conflict. His noble act not only ensured his inclusion in Time Magazine’s Heroes of 2020 list, but it also confirmed to us that not all heroes wear capes.

Resist Temptation to Discount 2020

Despite all the strife we have witnessed in 2020, the year gave us many moments worthy of our gratitude. These moments, of course, do not bring back lost loved ones or livelihoods. But they do signal the fact that, as a species, we are built of strong mettle. And that by continuing to join hands, we will come out stronger on the other side of this virus. And anything else that comes at us.

So, please…

Do not deride all of last year. Do not discount all that happened in 2020! Instead, as you look forward to a more hopeful 2021, be grateful for all we’ve learned!

 

Photo by VivilWeb

Futurecasting: 7 World of Work Trends We’ll See in 2021

Futurecasting is sometimes akin to looking into the sky and trying to connect the stars. As we look ahead to the future this time, though, we know the direction we’re going. We know where the prominent work trends are taking us.

The pressures and complexities of 2020 and the pandemic forced an awakening. The innovation developed, creativity demonstrated, and momentum generated since that global reckoning has been so strong, there’s no turning around now; we’ll never go back to the way it was. So the tools and strategies we’ve leaned on throughout the pandemic will continue to redefine how we work in 2021.

With that in mind, here are seven key work trends that will continue to make their mark this coming year…

1. Remote Working

As an option, a necessity, a perk, and an official policy, remote working is here to stay. It’s a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” And the many employees (and their managers) who have now experienced the ability to function remotely and now know the advantages remote work brings won’t want to go back.

As companies scale back on real estate spends (sorry realtors), remote working is a way to maintain a large workforce on a tighter budget. So we’ll see countless organizations following the path of big tech firms who have pledged to keep their employees remote for the time being — if, of course, they can accomplish the job and responsibilities without the need for a shared physical workspace. Once again, big tech is leading the way and disrupting the status quo. Only this time, it’s not transformative leadership creating the change; it’s the technology itself.

2. New Hires, New Experiences

For new hires (and particularly for Generation Z), that traditional rite of passage of joining a workplace and learning a whole new set of behavioral and social norms isn’t going to be as prevalent. This wholly digital generation has already changed the way we experience technology. Now, they’ll help us usher in a whole new way to enter the workplace. Soon, we’ll come to know this new wave of hires as the “remote generation” (or “hybrid generation”).

The brand-new job experience will not have the same impact as it did past generations. We don’t yet know how younger hires will feel about the value of that experience or workplace culture. But we will — and soon. The difference here: The 2021 work culture will be digital in nature. So the experience will not be as sharp a contrast as going from the classroom to the world of work.

3. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has become the de facto way we meet. It has become so ubiquitous in the workplace that “to Zoom” is now a verb.

Zoom may have been the frontrunner. But there are plenty of existing competitors and new visual collaboration platforms that will help how we work together evolve. After all, this is a very hot aspect of HR technology and will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most dominant work trends.  So I predict increasing capabilities to communicate just as effectively over mobile as we once did face-to-face. I also see better ways to archive and transcribe our video-based conversations and more ways to extend the work done via videoconference to teams and stakeholders.

4. Upskilling

In 2021, we will see a big shift from hiring being the primary driver of increasing an organization’s capabilities to upskilling existing talent. Organizations that had to tighten their hiring budgets after sustained buffeting from 2020 and the pandemic will shift resources into training and development. Those that did just fine despite economic turbulence — in industries that actually grew during 2020 — will be adding a robust reskilling and upskilling program to their HR strategy.

The bottom line for everyone is that institutional knowledge is critical for maintaining continuity and weathering a crisis. Upskilling existing employees will become known as a smart way to hold onto that intelligence while evolving skills to meet new challenges. Upskilling will become a business imperative.

5. Mental Health

Without question, our mental health has become an enormous issue. A recent report by Monster revealed a whopping 69% of employees working from home experience severe burnout. It’s not that working from home is particularly hard on everyone by itself. But the rush to remote without an underlying culture and infrastructure — and without an end-game being defined — has caused some stress.

Because one of the key triggers of burnout is mistreatment by supervisors and managers, we’re learning about the importance of setting boundaries and doing frequent check-ins. Many of us are also making sure our people have access to the mental health benefits they need. To help us continue this critical work trend, we’ll soon see even more apps that help with emotional and mental well-being (such as a meditation app and a mindfulness training tool). And we’ll see more forward-thinking companies providing these practical and widely-available tools as part of their overall well-being programs.

6. Inclusive Cultures

Diversity is critical to every aspect of the workplace — and organizations need to do better. So we’ll see a lot more leaders focusing on how to improve a sense of belonging in their organizations, as well as some authentic soul-searching as we dive into legacies such as systemic racism.

Our timing couldn’t be better. Currently, 70% of job seekers in a survey by the Manifest say they consider a company’s commitment to diversity when evaluating them as a prospective employer. But diversity in terms of hiring and promotions is only one part of the equation. Companies must pay attention to their work cultures, gauge how truly inclusive they are now, and then work to close the gap between what is and what should be. This is perhaps the mother of all work trends and will play a critical role next year. Because in 2021, organizations are not going to be able to get away with a performative statement or symbolic gestures. If you truly believe in equality — if you genuinely believe black lives matter, for example — you’re going to have to show it.

7. Empathetic People Management

Let me add a few words to the phrase above: “empathetic people management… for the right reasons.”

The pre-pandemic talent crunch triggered many reflective moments around how to better conduct HR and talent management. The goal for many companies is to be perceived as a better employer brand and to successfully engage and retain your people. That’s all well and good. But we’re not in a talent crunch right now.

Yet between February and October 2020, some 2.2 million women in the U.S. left their jobs. Overwhelmed, undersupported, and stressed out, many women — particularly working mothers — reached a tipping point and gave up. That’s an incredible talent drain. When they come back to work, they’re going to look for companies that set up the structures that truly support their people through empathetic people management for all the right reasons.

Looking Ahead to 2021

2020’s silver lining is that we’d been stubbornly dancing around what was truly important in the workplace — and to the workforce. We were forced to reckon with real-time discoveries in an authentic way. So we now know exactly what lies between us and where we want to go. We’ll bring that wisdom, and these work trends, to 2021.

This welcome knowledge, together with knowing we have better tools and a clearer vision of what must come next than we’ve ever had before, brings me to my final bit of futurecasting…

2021 will be the year HR once again finds its soul. 

In 2021 and beyond, we will take better care of our people — and each other.

 

Photo by Yurolaitsalbert

How to Provide Constructive Feedback That Improves Performance

For previous generations of workers, employer feedback too often consisted of some variation of “Don’t screw up!” But in today’s workforce, employees need and want a lot more detail. They seek constructive feedback that helps them correct their weaknesses and further prepares them for long-term professional growth.

However, not all feedback is created equal. There are significant differences between destructive and constructive feedback, but they aren’t as apparent as you might think. Some managers believe constructive feedback means sugar-coating while destructive feedback means blunt rudeness — neither of which is correct. It’s difficult to say why this misconception persists, but HR teams need to reframe that line of thinking.

Constructive Feedback and Performance

When you know how to provide useful feedback to employees, you create the conditions for higher engagement, satisfaction levels, and performance. Destructive feedback has the opposite effect; according to one TriNet study, destructive performance reviews cause 1 in 4 Millennials to call in sick — or look for a new job.

Traditionally, consistent feedback occurs when employees and employers meet for annual performance reviews. During those reviews, the two sides discuss everything from the employee’s performance throughout the year to raises, promotions, or even demotions or termination. The employer would then wait another year before giving the employee additional feedback, and the majority of those meetings would focus on critical evaluation.

Today, more routine and consistent feedback loops have become the norm. Employers maintain open lines of communication and set clear expectations for feedback. They also encourage employees to provide feedback freely and confidently, with some managers holding monthly meetings designed specifically for this purpose.

But these measures alone aren’t enough if employees don’t receive constructive feedback from managers throughout the process. A recent Gallup poll found that only 26% of workers strongly agree that manager feedback on employee performance positively impacts future outcomes.

Useless feedback is as bad as destructive feedback, and it can be demoralizing. This takes a toll on the team and the company, causing employees to lose motivation or leave. Constructive feedback builds up employees instead of bringing them down, and it helps them identify performance gaps in a positive way that doesn’t cause them to feel personally attacked.

Feedback is essential, but it matters how you provide and facilitate that feedback.

HR leaders can use the following tips when coaching management on how to give feedback to employees constructively. The goal: To help them grow and become even greater assets to the organization:

1. Put Feedback on the Schedule

Leaders should not isolate opportunities for feedback, and they shouldn’t blindside employees when those opportunities do come. Some employers offer feedback sessions monthly; others hold them every week. By creating a consistent feedback schedule, you can ensure your team understands and is prepared to meet timelines and expectations.

For example, at the end of 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed a one-on-one with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. During the stream, Sandberg revealed that weekly feedback sessions were essential when she began working at Facebook in 2008. Since then, the two C-suite leaders start and end each week with a one-on-one.

2. Uncomplicate the Process

In most businesses, things happen much more rapidly than they did generations ago. This has been especially true over the past ten months or so. Having frequent, regularly scheduled constructive feedback sessions gives managers and employees the chance to get on the same page, even as things change. However, more frequent feedback can also become more complex, and employers will do well to keep the process simple.

HR teams might lend managers a hand by creating a simple online form that employees can use to quickly and easily submit answers. Much like a customer satisfaction survey, completing it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Then, managers can generate a report based on those form answers to share and discuss during the next feedback meeting.

3. Find the Right Cadence

After setting an initial feedback schedule and simplifying the process, HR teams might look at each employee’s desire for feedback to determine individual cadences. Managers in every industry have strayed from the once-a-year performance review model; employees have responded positively to the increased feedback, but not everyone needs to meet every week.

When employees feel micromanaged because evaluations come too frequently, that feedback loses its usefulness. Everyone might agree on weekly feedback sessions at first. But you might consider shifting to biweekly or monthly check-ins if they start to feel like a burden. Work with your team to find the most productive cadence, and be agile enough to change things up.

The distinction between destructive and constructive feedback is in the results. Knowing how to provide effective feedback to employees consistently helps ensure that it’s helpful, engaging, and empowering.

With these tips, HR leaders can help managers draw that distinction more clearly while guiding employees in their growth — and improving their performance.