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Changing Skill Sets for Changing Times: 5 Focus Areas for 2021

What skill sets are employers looking for most in 2021? How can they partner with employees to develop these sought-after skills?

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic – alongside countless social justice movements – shaped the world in a new way. Now, employers must reevaluate their businesses and see what new skills match the world’s ever-changing landscape.

For employers in 2021, what follows are five of the most in-demand skill sets for our changing times. By enabling growth in these areas, employers across all industries will help their employees and prospective teammates thrive in our post-pandemic workplace.

Skill Set 1: Remote Teamwork

The most obvious change to come from the pandemic is the new work-from-home dynamic. According to Pew Research Center, 71% of employees were working remotely as of December 2020. Given this new landscape, employees need resources — primarily, they need technology to connect and work together.

Businesses should focus on hiring talented individuals who know remote working systems well. In addition, helping current employees further adapt by getting them the resources they need will instantly improve work efficiency. Critically, all workers must have communication channels available, like Slack or Google Meet.

A lack of teamwork causes a communication breakdown and disrupts the company’s goals. But the solution is to provide the right technology and assistance.

Skill Set 2: Time Management

With remote work, limited office capacities, and social distancing, many employers changed their schedules to accommodate health and safety concerns and physical space. Now, many in the workplace may start and end work at different times. These alterations force a focus on time management.

New and existing employees should demonstrate that they can independently manage their time, schedules, and projects. Employers and HR managers should emphasize helping talent learn to meet deadlines efficiently while assisting fellow employees stay on track, further developing time management across their teams.

Of course, employers should continue being flexible with remote work teams. Allowing employees to choose their own hours lets them build their work schedules around home commitments. They can then work when they’re at their most productive, distraction-free – which is the best possible form of time management.

Skill Set 3: Soft Skills

A people-first approach helps a company stand out in the crowd. So employers may not consider soft skills “soft” for much longer.

As social justice movements and awareness grow, soft skills add the human factor businesses need. These skills include adaptability, emotional intelligence, creativity, collaboration, active listening, and knowing how to help other employees thrive.

Soft skills also lead to solutions that put public safety first. For instance, curbside pickup and delivery have been a creative solution for shopping. Employers want workers who can come up with service and people-focused ideas like these.

Businesses also need to recognize and reward employees who can slip in and out of new roles depending on what the company needs. The pandemic has put pressure on companies of all sizes — and they all need employees trained to be adaptable to these changes.

Skill Set 4: Social Media Marketing

Social media has been around a long time; however, 2020 brought a new way to use these digital bullhorns. Specifically, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok help influence and reach the 3.6 billion people who used social media in 2020.

Instagram recently added a shopping tab, which companies of all kinds can use. Facebook Marketplace continues to have a significant impact on shopping habits. Combined with the growth of TikTok’s influence, employees will want to know how to curate a business page and list the company’s products or services in an engaging way. So smart employers are looking for new employees with these talents and will cross-train existing employees to further leverage e-commerce channels.

Moreover, social media is where social justice movements, new trends, and pop culture moments happen. If employees stay current, they can add meaningful or relatable approaches to the brand’s social media pages.

Skill Set 5: Cybersecurity

As the pandemic hit the United States, people wanted information about employment, finances, and staying safe. With countless people and businesses turning to the internet for resources, cybercrime shot up drastically. Still, as people try to get vaccines, phishing scams run rampant. The FBI reported between 3,000 to 4,000 cybersecurity complaints daily last summer.

If a business faces a breach, scam, hack, or malware attack, it could lose sensitive data, like employee or client Social Security numbers and bank accounts. To prevent this catastrophic loss of data and trust, businesses must focus on hiring cybersecurity professionals and upskilling entire IT teams. Simultaneously, managers are helping current employees learn the ins and outs of cybersecurity.

Still, the best employers know cybersecurity is an industry of its own, and specialization often requires years of training. Now more than ever, it’s in every company’s best interests to focus on retaining cybersecurity talent or securing reliable outside services.

Skill Sets 2021: A New Employee Landscape

The unemployment rate is still coming down from April 2020’s record high. On the positive side, there’s plenty of new, eager talent looking to make a difference. And existing employees are showing genuine interest in providing the reskilling and upskilling to update in-demand skill sets. By focusing on these five areas of skills development, your company can revolutionize your workforce and create lasting talent pipelines – even in changing times.

 

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Workforce Development: Using AR and VR to Strengthen Your Company

The 21st Century has seen enterprises across all industries scramble for the latest technologies and team-building strategies to enhance workforce development. For a good reason: It’s no secret that efficiency begins with an efficient workforce.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have become popular powerhouses for employee training, recruitment, and several other HR processes. These new technology waves have made it easier to evaluate employees’ performance, test their knowledge, improve training and strengthen their teams.

What are AR and VR Technologies?

Simply, augmented reality is a highly interactive experience of a real-world environment. It enhances objects in the real world by computer-generated perceptual information. Think Snapchat filters, Pokemon Go, and even Waze.

Virtual reality, a similarly interactive experience, is a simulation of a completely different environment from the real world. The computer-generated simulation of a 3-D image or environment can be interacted with in a seemingly real way. For a truly immersive sensory experience, users must wear appropriate electronic equipment, such as a headset and gloves fitted with sensors.

Using AR and VR in Recruitment: A Two Way Street

Companies are deploying AR/VR technologies in their recruitment processes to maintain a competitive edge in the market. They need the best talent the labor market has to offer, and these technologies can help filter candidates by the most relevant skills. However, it works both ways; the best talent will look for the best and most inspiring work opportunities. And VR, in particular, helps candidates experience work environments remotely.

Recently, Lloyds Bank implemented VR into its assessment process for the Graduate Leadership Program. During the screening process, Lloyd’s asks candidates to solve puzzles in a simulated environment. Based on their results — which clearly demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses — the company more easily made recruitment decisions.

By providing a simulated view of the company, AR and VR can play another vital role in the recruiting process. After all, prospective employees can spend considerable time commuting to and from, as well as being in, a company’s workplace during the interview process. Virtual reality-based simulated environments can reduce that time and expense by providing candidates with a virtual yet holistic understanding of the working environment and team they could join. With AR and VR, a candidate can now be sitting in Shanghai as they gain a genuine feel for a company’s culture in Manhattan.

Gamification for Job Applicants

In today’s ultra-competitive job market, it’s never been more important to use innovative ways to engage with the best talent in a limited pool of qualified workers.

The use of gamification has proven to stand firm against the traditional application process since it offers something new, exciting, innovative, and — perhaps most importantly — efficient. Gamification significantly increases the interactivity of the recruitment process. Consider this, rather than gather essential candidate information through manual forms and resumes — such as qualifications, experience, and skills — a gamified approach can interactively reveal this information.

Innovative augmented reality platforms have grown to serve this growing application in recruitment screening. ActiView, for example, uses AR technology to help recruiters detect various behavioral habits and attributes required for the job.

AR and VR for General Training

Once employees are on board, training them can be costly, time-consuming, and ineffective. Virtual reality (VR) can help orient employees with all the technical skills related to their roles. By providing an immersive environment for new employee induction and training, new team members can familiarize themselves with new processes without wasting resources. Additionally, companies naturally expect employees to become more efficient in their roles with time. VR can help speed up these processes, and workforce development in general, as they get new employees more engaged and efficient faster.

For example, the hands-on training experiences opened up by VR allow employees to enter an immersive environment and gain experience using and navigating complex machinery and technical parts within a training room. By eliminating the boundaries between the real and virtual environments, employers take advantage of both realities in one setting — generating efficiencies and enabling faster learning.

 

corporate trading trade-off

 

As the graph above shows, the trade-off associated with traditional corporate training is offset by VR technology and immersive training. As illustrated, one-on-one expert mentor training is indeed an effective method. However, it’s time-consuming and expensive, which hinders a company’s ability to scale. On the other hand, reading a quick manual and watching a 2D video might be cost-effective. But precedent shows us this is the least effective training method.

AR and VR for Safety Training

Many industries, more than we initially imagine, operate to some degree in unsafe environments. This is particularly true within plants and facilities with heavy-duty machinery, chemicals, and life-threatening procedures. Virtual reality can play an essential role in facilities where safety is key.

For example, in the firefighting industry, VR-based training on new challenges has been massively beneficial. Specifically, it curbs training accidents and helps eliminate underperformance while demonstrating real-life scenarios. Trainees can apply the lessons learned anywhere an associated risk is part of the job spec.

Employers and organizations can provide a virtually created life-threatening or risky situation within an immersive environment to trainees. There, they can learn best practices and remedies and be better prepared to take on the challenge in real-life.

AR and VR for Team Building

Business managers, HR specialists, and young entrepreneurs have long since recognized the importance of building and maintaining company culture. Themes have shifted towards connectivity, embracing differences, inclusivity, and team-building strategies. Now, more than ever, they have turned to remote options to sustain a culture in a forced work-from-home environment.

When planning an in-person team-building event, of course, there are many options — from bars to restaurants to bowling alleys and pub quizzes. In these relaxed environments, team building can take many forms with different goals. Of course, these venues also come with their own sets of challenges — especially during a pandemic.

On the other hand, virtual reality is a notable and powerful team-building tool where anything is practically possible. Hang out with the team in virtual gathering rooms where everyone can join in playing games, get competitive and collaborate — from anywhere. The Rec Room is an excellent example of a multipurpose VR-based gaming resource. The platform provides companies with access to thousands of user-generated and custom gaming events that enable team building.

Workforce Development in a Nutshell

Ultimately, AR and VR eliminate the workforce development challenges faced — from recruiting to team-building — in a pre-technological world.

To strengthen your company, start leveraging the immense capabilities of AR and VR today.

 

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Remote Employee Training: 5 Steps to Creating Effective Microlearning Content

Keeping employees engaged in training is no easy task. This is especially true when asked to design remote employee training, where WFH distractions are almost unavoidable.

You can host day-long virtual meetings and give them PDFs to go through, but how much of that information will they actually retain? Chances are, hardly anything. That’s because this mode of training is not engaging enough. Employees start treating it as a check-the-box exercise, resulting in a waste of company time and money.

Microlearning can help you address those challenges.

This method involves delivering short and focused training content at regular intervals. It aims to train employees in short bursts, which retains their attention, guarantees more engagement, and increases learning ROI. The fact that microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient and creates a 50% increase in engagement proves that microlearning is here to stay.

Let’s look at how you can create effective microlearning content for your remote employees in five simple steps.

Step 1: Determine the Learning Objective

Look at microlearning content as building blocks. While each block has its purpose, they all collectively point towards one single objective. Similarly, every microlearning content piece needs to be created with the training’s learning objective in mind.

Think about what you want your remote employees to achieve from the program. To help that thought process, consider using Bloom’s Taxonomy — a practical method of creating effective learning objectives that establishes six learning goals:

  • Remember | Recall facts and basic concepts
  • Understand | Explain ideas or concepts
  • Apply | Apply knowledge in new situations
  • Analyze | Compare ideas and draw connections
  • Evaluate | Form opinions and justify decisions
  • Create | Propose new thought processes and ideas

You can implement this while planning your employee training program in which each level delivers a specific learning outcome.

In short, start with knowing where you want to go and then work backward.

Step 2: Plan the Training Material

Now that you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to plan and organize your training content. In other words, so they meet the learning objectives, think about what information you need to provide to employees.

To start, create a course outline that details out the information you plan to include while ensuring it flows in a logical manner. Next, speak to subject matter experts and gather all the information you need to train your employees.

Step 3: Break Content into Smaller Chunks

At this stage, you’re sitting on truckloads of data, research, and information.

What’s important now is breaking down that information into action-based, smaller chunks. Not only does this prevent information overload, but it also helps learners consume information at their own pace and retain it for longer periods.

Make sure each of the bite-sized content pieces has a single takeaway focused on one learning objective. After all, you can always share links to additional articles and research for those who want to know more about any one concept.

Elearning Industry has a useful tip for creating microlearning content. It states, “Avoid throwing a whole novel at them. Ideally, each module should stick to around five to seven minutes, so being precise in what you want your employees to know is important.”

Step 4: Choose Your Formats Wisely

Microlearning is not only about creating bite-sized content, it’s also about diversifying your content delivery formats.

Review every granular piece of content and assess the most appropriate content format for delivery. For instance, if you want to explain a process, a process infographic might be the best choice. On the other hand, explainer videos might be a better choice for explaining a concept.

Here are the different types of microlearning formats you can include:

The idea is to use a mix of interesting formats that help you deliver the bite-sized training content in the best possible manner that retains your employees’ attention and keeps them engaged. For instance, here’s an example of an infographic that explains the different diversity and inclusion terms. As you’ll see, this learning format succinctly presents the essential information.

 

DEI infographic

Source: Venngage

Step 5: Create Context

The end goal of training programs is to get employees to implement what they learn in their day-to-day work. To achieve that and help employees transfer their learnings, it’s essential to create context in the content you create.

Employees need to know why the training material is relevant to them and how they can apply it in their work. Doing this also piques learner interest, helps them derive meaning from the training, and boosts performance.

You can create context by including the following tactics:

  • Create branching scenarios
  • Provide real-life examples
  • Use role-playing scenarios
  • Provide case studies

Incorporate Microlearning in Your Remote Employee Training

Declining attention spans is one of the biggest challenges learning and development professionals face.

The good news is that incorporating microlearning in remote employee training will help you overcome that and create a meaningful training experience that engages — and truly enriches — employees.

 

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How the Remote Work Era Impacts Your 2021 DEI Efforts

How will the remote work era impact your 2021 DEI efforts? How will you keep the promises made around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Before remote work became so prevalent, it was possible to keep real-world events and conversations out of the workplace. Now that’s not only impossible; it’s also increasingly inadvisable. Events in your employees’ personal lives undoubtedly affect the workplace—not only on a personal performance level, but also on a company culture level. Add in ongoing issues of racial inequality and police brutality and the expectation is clear…

Companies must increase DEI efforts in 2021.

Whether employees are having discussions about racism or simply the challenges of living through the pandemic, personal conversations happen – and will continue to happen with increasing frequency. To make sure companies handle these conversations in a productive, positive manner, it’s essential to consider developing a DEI strategy alongside their corporate strategy. The inevitable result is culture-improving programs that promote and champion the business benefits and value of a diverse workforce.

The time is now to tangibly make good on the promises companies have made over the years to increase their focus on DEI.

Here are some actions I expect companies will begin to take in 2021 to fulfill these promises.

Revamp Hiring Practices

One of the first places companies will analyze to improve DEI in their workforce is their talent pool. But merely wanting to hire more diverse team members doesn’t mean you’ll receive diverse applicants.

To increase the diversity of their talent pools, companies will revisit their hiring practices. Providing training programs and resources for hiring teams and reviewing job descriptions to remove non-inclusive terminology and unnecessary requirements is a start. So is expanding from a primarily referral-based recruitment pipeline to a pipeline full of diverse recruiting events and job boards across the country. These are examples of the steps companies will take to be more accessible and welcoming to a diverse array of candidates.

After successful remote work experiments in 2020, I expect we’ll see many companies expand the number of remote roles available, enabling them to drastically expand their talent pool. Of course, the organizational culture will also need to evolve in order to retain a more diverse workforce.

Actively Provide Ongoing DEI Resources 

Instead of having one-off discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion in response to separate incidences, workplaces will begin making DEI discussions a part of their regular culture. For some, this will mean creating support and learning groups that provide safe spaces to talk about issues. The support methods might include facilitated discussions, anti-racist books, podcasts, articles, videos, and other materials.

Companies will also begin to create dedicated DEI teams to lead the strategy and implementation of all DEI initiatives. These dedicated teams will focus on diversity training, affinity groups, recruitment, promotion, external partnerships, supplier diversity, and more.

Deliberately Become Anti-racist Organizations

Even with a diverse workforce, a company can still have a racist culture. To prevent this, companies must create and enforce actionable anti-racist policies and practices. To show this is a high priority, a temporary shift in focus away from short-term revenue goals may be necessary.

From required training and programs addressing implicit bias, microaggressions, and more to dedicated employee taskforces, this step will require strategic engagement from leadership to get it right – and enact change from the top-down. Companies should also consider implementing Crossroad Ministry’s diversity training. This program provides detailed steps to help your company move from a monocultural organization to an anti-racist, multicultural organization.

Address DEI in their Products and Services

No workplace can be anti-racist if it doesn’t also extend its DEI efforts to the products and services it provides. Companies truly committed to undertaking DEI strategy will thoroughly assess how they plan and craft their products and services. Along the way, they must note DEI-related gaps and oversights that could help their offerings appeal to their target markets.

I’m Chief Inclusion Officer of an education technology company that serves more than 10 million students and educators. In my role, this aspect of inclusion is especially important to me. One of my primary duties is to ensure our products foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students of all races and backgrounds. While it’s an ongoing process, I’m proud to say we’re making a difference in students’ lives. We’re also helping our educator partners create an equitable learning experience for all of their students.

2020 brought about many challenges – and we’re all happy it’s over. But it also helped usher in some positive changes. I expect 2021 will begin to see those transformations more fully realized in the area of DEI. And I look forward to seeing the long-lasting changes companies implement as they become more inclusive, equitable workplaces.

#WorkTrends: Sexual Harassment In Virtual Workplaces

An ill-suited conversation. A moment of innuendo. Or a comment targeted at our gender, wardrobe choices, and even our hairstyles. Each, depending on context, are considered sexually harassing messages. And yet, especially in a remote working environment, identifying harassment often comes down to a feeling you get rather than something you can prove. You feel the other person’s behavior or comment was inappropriate. But was it sexual harassment?

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Under any circumstances, this is not an easy topic. Now, with many employees working from home, the degree of difficulty has only increased. After all, sexual harassment does not always occur face-to-face or by touch; video conferences, emails and texts, and collaboration platforms like Slack are also delivery methods.

The Uncomfortable Conversation: Sexual Harassment

I invited Sarah Beaulieu, co-founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation and author of the book Breaking the Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations in the #MeToo Workplace, to join me on #WorkTrends℠. In a frank discussion, we dove into the nuances of socially distanced forms of sexual harassment. I quickly learned this is an issue Sarah deeply cares about, and has since her first discussion on the subject: “In that moment, and in the conversations that followed, I learned about the power of a single conversation.”

Sarah emphasized that work cultures are work cultures, face-to-face or not – and harassment is harassment. Regardless of our working environment, she said we need to set our own personal boundaries, and organizations must set them as well. “Individually and organizationally – collectively – we’re responsible for holding the line,” Sarah said. “When we hold that line together, and in service of our work culture, it’s less likely sexual harassment takes place.”

The Role Silence Plays

During our conversation, I was particularly struck by the role silence plays in enabling sexual harassment — and how, over time, that silence can be so damaging to workplace culture. Sarah agrees, and astutely adds: Silence is a choice – and culture is the conversations we choose to have, or not have, together.”

Yes, sexual harassment is a difficult topic. And yet I’m so glad we started this discussion. Please, listen to the entire podcast. In our time together, Sarah shares so much of herself and her work. And every word will help us start the uncomfortable – but absolutely necessary – conversations.

Find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.

 

(Editor’s note: Soon, we’re announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

 

Photo: Pixabay

5 Ways COVID-19 Will Continue to Change HR

Many companies and job titles will go through drastic changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The HR sector and the people working in it will undoubtedly experience some of them. Here are five things people can anticipate regarding HR after COVID-19 — as well as during it:

1. Companies Will Show Employee Appreciation Differently

Even while people love working from home, many find it difficult to get through their days without the fist bumps, handshakes and pats on the back that often accompanied their most productive, successful days in offices. These changes mean HR departments may need to find alternative ways to thank employees for their hard work. 

Hani Goldstein is the co-founder and CEO of Snappy Gifts, a company specializing in employee recognition products. She noted, “Working from home can be an isolating and disorienting experience for most of today’s workforce who are used to seeing their peers every day at the office.”

It’s also more challenging for employees to strike that all-important work-life balance. “Hours that were once dedicated to fun activities have been replaced with more work and increased responsibilities,” Goldstein explained. These things mean employers need to show their gratitude differently. Whether that means having team appreciation parties over virtual platforms or sending workers online gift cards, HR representatives must figure out safe, effective ways to express thanks. 

2. Remote Hiring and Recruitment Practices Will Gain Momentum

Some analysts predicted remote methods would change hiring and recruitment methods long before COVID-19 impacted the world. They were right to some extent, especially as HR professionals realized doing things remotely cut out potential hassles like travel arrangements. Remote platforms let companies extend their hiring and recruitment reach instead of only looking for candidates in the immediate area. 

HR after COVID-19 will likely prominently feature remote platforms and approaches. Suppose a human resources professional or recruitment expert can gauge a person’s candidacy for a role via a teleconferencing platform. That method saves time compared to bringing a person into the office. 

Some remote interviews are for work-at-home jobs. However, if a person gets hired for a position at a physical location, companies may require that the new hire tests negative for the novel coronavirus before arriving. 

3. Contracts Will Include COVID-19-Related Specifications More Often

As professionals navigate this new normal and ponder what it means for the future of HR, they should consider how the pandemic might impact their employment contracts. For example, a company might remove a line that guarantees the worker a certain number of hours per week to work, especially if the industry will experience the effects of the pandemic for the foreseeable future. 

One emerging trend — especially seen in the construction sector — concerns the addition of force majeure clauses related to the pandemic in contracts. Those cover the natural and unavoidable disasters preventing a party from fulfilling a contract’s terms. However, it is not sufficient for that entity to claim it was inconvenient to meet the contract’s terms. Courts look at several variables, including whether the conditions made working impossible.

Contracts may also state that workers must report their COVID-19 risk or agree to get screened. Drug screenings are already commonplace, and the same could become true for coronavirus tests. Legal experts and HR representatives are still working out the specifics of contracts in light of the global health crisis. However, people should expect to see some noticeable changes in contractual language soon. 

4. HR Representatives May Need to Reserve More Time for Training

The pandemic forced workplaces to adjust rapidly to new procedures to keep people safe. Cleaning happens more thoroughly and frequently, and many companies reduce or eliminate the time employees spend in close quarters. Customer-facing businesses also must adopt new procedures for keeping guests safe. 

Human resources professionals regularly schedule training sessions. However, they may need to do that more often or for larger workforce segments due to COVID-19. Some businesses invested in robots to help workers or wearable gadgets to ensure that people stay far enough apart while on the job. It could take a while for some workers to adjust to those things, although dedicated training efforts could help. 

If all or most of a workforce shifts to remote working, HR representatives may deem it necessary to plan training sessions that spell out safe practices online and give people tips for staying productive. Many employees now have to work in ways they hadn’t imagined. HR professionals cannot remove all the obstacles, but taking the time to educate the workers about what’s new could relieve the stresses they feel. 

5. Businesses Will Adjust Their Time-Off Policies According to Government Guidance

The need to isolate confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases poses challenges for HR professionals who may already face workplace shortages for other reasons. However, following government guidance on that matter remains crucial. Workplace leaders must also stay abreast of recent changes.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated the guidance about workers caring for themselves at home after symptom onset. The most recent recommendation is that people can come back to work if at least 10 days pass since symptoms began and they stay fever-free for at least 24 hours after their body temperatures initially return to normal without medication. Their non-fever symptoms must also improve. 

The CDC previously set the fever-resolution component of that three-prong test at 72 hours, so the change represents a significant reduction. These specifics mean companies may begin implementing time-off periods that people can use specifically for reasons connected to the virus. Doing that keeps people safer by minimizing the likelihood that they feel tempted to work while feeling unwell. 

The Evolving Future of HR

No one knows the pandemic’s time frame, so it’s impossible to say for sure how things will change. However, the five things mentioned here are solid predictions, especially since some workplaces have already adopted the changes.

Photo: Mariya Pampova

#WorkTrends: Hiring Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistants (VA) offer young brands the flexibility to focus on other areas of the business.

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From multitasking between meetings and meal prep to the issues of internet and noise levels, many of us are still trying to adjust to this new normal. But we don’t have to do it alone. Big and small companies are hiring helpers to come to the rescue. These virtual assistants (VAs) and freelancers can take on the tasks that give employees a break and keep the business going.  

Nathan Hirsch, co-founder of Outsource School, came to #WorkTrends to talk about this new trend. For entrepreneurs and leaders he’s got one rule of thumb: bring in help before you’re in dire straits early. “When you can’t walk away from your business for a week, a moment — that’s usually a good indication that you need to hire followers” — as he calls VAs.

The same approach applies as with bringing in any outside help: make sure everyone is on the same page and onboard well. Outsource School uses an onboarding process called SICC: Schedule, Issues, Communication and Culture. VAs also receive standard operating procedures for their first week at work and are tasked with not just reading them, but asking questions. A quiz determines whether they need more training or not — and at that point, if the fit isn’t right, each party may decide to part ways. “That’s how you protect your time, protect your investment and build trust,” he noted. 

For managers, Nathan advises “making sure you set those communication channels up front” to get the process aligned — whether that includes emails, Slack, WhatsApp, Viber or all of them. Then coach VAs on which to use when. For VAs, asking for support when needed is critical. And I predict that we’re going to see more VAs coming onboard now and into the future, so this is an option I’d take seriously. 

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends℠ hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

Find Nathan Hirsh on Linkedin and Twitter

(Editor’s note: This month, we’re announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Ben Stern

#WorkTrends: Incorporating New Hires into Work Cultures

The big question: Can managers effectively integrate new hires into a company work culture when everyone is working from home? The answer is a resounding yes. But how?

To explore this question further, Meghan invited John Baldino to share strategies that can help businesses successfully hire and onboard top talent remotely. John is the president and founder of Humareso, an HR firm that’s helping organizations not only manage their talent, but better onboard new hires into the culture.

John stresses communication as a key component of any culture, but especially important for remote workplaces. Seasoned employees may have the advantage of familiarity, “but that’s not really fair to the new person coming in,” John said. Managers need to take an intentional approach to communication that isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of tasks at hand, as Meghan noted. It’s got to have plenty of room to be human and have real conversations. 

Where are the blind spots? Look at the camera, John said. Too many of us don’t know where to look, and that can make for very awkward meetings. And that’s as true for managers as for anyone. So we all have to make sure we’re comfortable with the tech. And don’t try to make eye contact, because it doesn’t translate on video. You’ll look like you’re not looking at the person you’re talking to. Just making sure the tech is up to date is important as well, and that’s every company’s responsibility. We all have to get more comfortable with the technology and being remote, Meghan said. It’s a steep learning curve, and we’re still on it. 

So much has changed in the process of hiring. Consider the old normal orientation schedules — which played an effective role in portraying a company’s culture. Now we need to deliver that via chat across managers and departments, said John. But you can’t glean the essence of a culture (let alone participate in it) in just a few days of Zoom calls, Meghan said. Build in the time to let it all sink in. And make sure your managers have the resources they need to support new hires, and can provide flexibility to accommodate the new work/life construct.  

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

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with onboarding? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies help bring new hires into the work culture? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better shape an onboarding strategy? #WorkTrends

Find John Baldino on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Nick Kane

#WorkTrends: How to Make Your Work Culture Rock

What does a person do when the pressure is on them? That’s what NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo asked in his daily press conference on March 26. The same could be asked of our organizations. In her #WorkTrends conversation with workplace culture expert Jim Knight, Meghan M. Biro started by thanking everyone working today — particularly those of you in HR and management who are doing your best to keep your people safe. This is a transformation no one asked for — a sudden and mandatory shift to remote, to flexible schedules, to sitting in kitchens, to navigating new platforms and software, and to trying to virtually and digitally maintain the values of a workplace. What enables that to happen is culture.

Jim built his career as part of the Hard Rock International brand, creating award-winning training programs to catalyze learning and growth. He’s also the author of the bestselling Culture That Rocks: How to Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture

As he and Meghan started jamming on the concept of culture, it was clear they agree that culture is anything but a logo or a color scheme. “It’s always going to be about the people that are currently working in the business at that moment….at the core it starts with each individual with their own unique behaviors, and then when you put them together, if you’ve got similar values and shared experiences, that’s when the culture becomes more robust.”

Meghan pointed out that it’s often a challenge for organizations to find out who their rock stars are — and noted that we often know who the innovators and key players are “in our gut,” aside from the data. Jim added that often, the great ones may be flying right under the radar. Finding them is a matter of looking for those great qualities even before they walk in, and then giving them a culture that brings those to the fore, that celebrates those behaviors.“ Then you can keep them because frankly, they’re a bit in love. And part of that culture has to be wanting to help the world, support the greater good — and be larger than your product or service, both agreed. In other words, your culture has to rock — and that’s when you’ll see people lean into the pressure, take on the challenges, and truly lead.

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

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do many organizations struggle with creating a great work culture?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What internal and external strategies can improve work cultures? #WorkTrends
Q3: What can leaders do to help organizations improve their work culture? #WorkTrends

Find Jim Knight on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Bek Greenwood

Soft Skills: In Demand in the Corporate Space

With advancements due to automation and globalization, the outlook of employers has changed significantly. To know if a candidate is a right fit for their organization, they gauge their capability not from a degree, but from the attributes that they display — i.e., soft skills. 

According to a survey by Talent Q, 9 in 10 employers look for effective soft skills in the applicants. These abilities are critical in any environment that requires interaction and collaboration. They define the various attributes of personality that help us complete a job successfully, including how intently we listen to others, how empathetic we are towards colleagues, and how we approach a problem.  Among the most important soft skills potential employees should possess:

  • Communication skills — such as the ability to communicate effectively within teams and with clients
  • Interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts without hurting anyone’s feelings
  • Confidence — to be able to effectively present ideas
  • Teamwork and leadership skills— such as the ability to participate and lead within a team
  • Critical thinking and decision-making skills — to make strategic decisions despite uncooperative clients, tough deadlines, or issues within the team 

As well as:

  • Networking skills
  • Cultural Sensitivity
  • Flexibility

Soft Skills in the Age of Automation

In the past, employers hired candidates based on degrees, certifications, and domain-related skills. The competition was tough. With the introduction of automation in almost every industry, the competition has become even tougher: for some of these tasks, we are competing with robots. A McKinsey Global Institute report says that around 375 million jobs will be lost to robots by the year 2030, and two million jobs that require human skills will be created. 

Though automation is only here to make our lives and work easier, businesses are still in dire need of professionals with unique human skills. After all, bots can make transactions, but they can’t make deals. Despite the emerging importance of automation, job positions that require soft skills can only be filled by humans. We still need skilled professionals who use their emotional intelligence to make strategic, profitable decisions. 

Essential for 21st-Century Employers 

A study by Wonderlic found that  93% of employers consider soft skills ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ in their potential employees. Moreover, according to a report by  Burning Glass, more than a quarter of all skills mentioned in the US job postings (for even the most technical job roles) were baseline or soft skills. Further, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report, 90% of organizations are undergoing a structural and cultural transformation in order to be more dynamic, connected and team-centric. And employees or candidates who can’t keep up with the changing requirements may not be eligible for growth-oriented, high-paying jobs. 

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

In a recent trial aimed to find out if soft skills can be taught, soft skills training was offered at 5 factories in Bangalore over a period of 12 months. Researchers found a 250% increase in productivity within 8 months of the trial’s conclusion Employees or job candidates who want to develop their soft skills can work with various soft skills trainers who offer structured training or frequently conduct soft skills training workshops. At the corporate level, some employers are hiring a certified corporate trainer. It’s imperative in either case to ensure that the training addresses the given objectives. And as the demand for soft skills continues to increase, soft skills training is on the rise as a career choice as well: those with a passion and aptitude for training and coaching are finding that opting for a role as a soft skills trainer offers both high pay and a great deal of flexibility.

Today’s organizations need human professionals with uniquely human skills, or they can’t flourish. Employers should be proactive and analyze their organizational and employee needs, conducting soft skills training to fill in the gaps. It’s the best way to keep up in this changing corporate scenario. 

Photo: John Schnobrich

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

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

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

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

1. Time Management

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

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

Teaching It

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

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

2. Interpersonal Communication

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

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

Teaching It

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

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

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

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

3. Written Communication

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

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

Teaching It

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

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

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

4. Organization

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

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

Teaching It

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

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

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

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

Work and Life Skills, Integrated

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

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

Colleges Aren’t Preparing Students for Work– What Employers Should Do

Danny Iny dropped out of school at 15 to start a business. He also got an MBA at a top business school in Canada. Guess which decision he considers the mistake?

“My own experience was that quitting school was a great choice. I had a ton of opportunities, experimented with things that I never otherwise would have been able to,” says Iny, author of “Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners, and Experts with Something to Teach.” “The MBA was a huge waste of time and money, and I can’t get that time or that money back.”

Research indicates that Iny’s experience isn’t as unlikely as it may seem. The prevailing wisdom that higher-education degrees — regardless of what they cost — are good investments just doesn’t hold true for many people.

So why are colleges failing to prepare workers for the workforce? We talked with Iny about what society gets wrong about higher education and what employers can — and should — do about it.

In your book you argue that colleges are really bad at teaching students the skills they need to be successful professionals. Why do you think colleges are so bad at teaching those skills?

The simple answer is that they were never supposed to be good at it. College is like nunchucks. In Japanese martial arts, there are two weapons that students learn, the sword and the nunchucks. But they’re very, very different in how they came to be. The sword was designed to be the weapon of the samurai. Nunchucks were farm implements. You used them to thresh wheat. They were repurposed into makeshift weapons because that’s what was available in an era where people were not necessarily allowed to bear arms.

You can do a lot with something that has been shoehorned into a new purpose, but there are limits when it’s used for things it wasn’t designed for. The idea of using nonvocational higher education programs as a path to becoming a skilled professional in the modern workforce, it’s a nunchuck, not a sword. It wasn’t designed for that. It can be made to work, but it will never be sword. You can sometimes be successful at hammering in a nail with your shoe, but it’s not a hammer.

So what was college originally designed to do?

The curriculum of higher education in traditional nonvocational programs is designed around subject-matter competency. If you go through an English lit program, you‘ll graduate with knowledge of that subject matter.

College used to be more akin to finishing school though. Completing a college education was a signal, a kind of shorthand. It didn’t really matter if you were studying English lit or political science because in a lot of ways, the curriculum was just a placeholder to represent the overall experience.

It’s not to say the curriculum wasn’t valuable. But take someone who went to Harvard in the ’50s. Nobody thought they were going to have a career because of all the Jane Austen novels they read. It was everything else that was part of the package. The problem is that the rest of the package isn’t functioning the way it was supposed to. And a lot of people are looking at the curriculum saying “This doesn’t prepare students for a career.” But it was never supposed to. That’s not a fair burden to place on it.

When you say that the “rest of the package” isn’t working, what do you mean?

In the U.S. there is a two-tiered educational system. There are about 200 selective colleges, meaning they accept less than 50 percent of the people who apply. These 200 schools, the Ivy League and top schools, make up less than 10 percent of overall colleges. Those are the ones where you get the brand cachet of having the name on your resume and the alumni network.

Then there’s almost everything else, the 90-plus percent of schools out there that are not selective, that will take almost anyone who applies, but that still charge a small fortune. They don’t have all those extra value-adds that contribute to lifelong success. That’s where the real travesty happens. It’s not that you pay a quarter of a million dollars for a Harvard education and it’s not worth a quarter of a million dollars. It’s when you pay a quarter of a million dollars to go to a school that nobody’s heard of and get an education that doesn’t prepare you to do much of anything.

Why can’t colleges just do a better job training students? Are they just unwilling to adapt? Or is it that they don’t understand the problem?

Large institutions have a lot of legacy and inertia around how they work and function. It’s not just about people’s expectations; there are cost structures. One of the staggering numbers is that when you enroll in college, only 21 cents on your dollar actually go to instruction. The rest goes to everything else that’s involved in keeping the college running. (That number is from Ryan Craig.)

The people in these systems also have a particular skill set, so they need either substantial retraining or institutions need new people, which is not palatable to most of the people in higher education.

But I try to be compassionate because what people are asking of higher education is an impossible thing. We’re basically saying “I want to give you a tenth as much money, but I want you to create something 10 times as valuable.” A lot of people in higher education are doing the best they can.

So is there any hope for colleges? Or has higher education as an industry already been disrupted?

Disruption is ultimately going to happen. Because along with all the general inefficiencies, there are also systemic changes happening to the way we consume education. The shift from just-in-case to just-in-time in education means that people don’t want the big four-year program loaded with pre-reqs that don’t really have anything to do with what they’re going to do. We want a very granular, focused training on the things we actually need to know at the time we need to know them.

Take, for example, the taxi industry and Uber. Taxi companies in most parts of the world were terrible. But it took a long time for a good alternative to be available. The technology had to be there. People have to catch on to the new thing. But finally you get this critical mass, and within a couple years it seems like “Who uses taxis anymore?”

Higher education is so deeply entrenched in American society and people highly fear the consequences of a bad decision when it comes to education. And yet college enrollment has declined 7 percent in the last five years. That’s more than a million and a half people saying “No, college doesn’t make sense.” And they’re doing it at a time when there isn’t a good, clear alternative.

In 10 to 15 years it’s going to be a very, very different landscape. We’re at that stage of disruption where the old solution very clearly doesn’t work and is cost-prohibitive, but there isn’t a clear, mainstream new solution — yet.

So faced with this reality, what should employers do differently when it comes to recruiting their workforce and how they see the role of degrees and training?

First, stop doing things that don’t work. It’s not just that the degree is becoming less and less of a signal; it’s already not a good signal. It’s already not predictive of how well someone will do in a job. A lot of the most progressive companies are dropping degree requirements. The Googles and Apples and Bank of Americas and PricewaterhouseCoopers, they’re not using degree requirements anymore in entry-level or nonvocational positions.

Second, recognize that even when the degree did carry value, it only carried value as a proxy indicating if a person had certain skills or abilities. But now we can screen for the skills we need from workers using assessments and simulation tools. We don’t need degrees to signal that anymore.

#WorkTrends Recap: How to Apply a Global Mindset to Training

How does your company manage training? If you have remote employees on the payroll or your employees work in different locations around the globe, chances are your training isn’t happening in one place anymore. So what do business leaders, HR pros and trainers need to know about training a global, virtual audience?

In her career as a global trainer, Donna Steffey has visited 25 countries over 25 years. I asked her advice on building a global mindset and applying it to training and learning.

Build Your Cultural Intelligence

Before you start working with people in another country, you just need to read up on that country’s culture — right?

That’s a common misconception, Steffey says. But it’s not enough to have knowledge; you also have to be ready to take action. She says she’s studied David Livermore, an author who breaks down “cultural intelligence” into four competencies:

  • Drive
  • Knowledge
  • Strategy
  • Action

“Before I started researching his work, I didn’t realize that desire was important,” she says. Cultural intelligence is about more than just gathering knowledge. “It’s having that drive and desire. It’s about having a strategy and a game plan for when you work with people from other cultures, and then putting that plan into action.”

Tune into Cultural Nuances

Steffey has learned volumes about the subtle differences between cultures, especially when it comes to learning. As a trainer, her students expect her to handle the same situations completely differently based on where she is in the world.

“If you as the instructor embarrass a participant in the Middle East, you should acknowledge it immediately and apologize. But in Japan, you shouldn’t acknowledge it and apologize. You should wait until you can have a private conversation,” she says.

“In South America, if something goes wrong — like let’s say you have participants who come back late from lunch — what you want to do is acknowledge those people who came back on time from lunch, and not say anything about the people who came back late.”

These kinds of subtle differences and expectations can be tough to parse, so Steffey suggests talking to a local manager before you start training a new group.

For example, she might say to a manager, “Help me understand about your culture. You’re sending three participants from India. What do I need to know about Indian culture in order to be able to serve their needs in the classroom?”

Then, she pushes for a real answer. “They’ll probably say, ‘Oh, nothing. Everything is the same.’ And that’s just simply not true. I think as trainers we have to say, ‘No, I really want to understand the folks that are coming to training. Tell me what they like, what they don’t like. What do I need to know about their culture?’”

Understanding those cultural differences is so important because they’re deeply ingrained in learners. “We can’t change our learning style. We can’t change what our culture was, how we were brought up and how we learned to learn, just because we’re traveling to the U.S. or we’re getting on a webinar based in the U.S. The learners have their own style, and we have to respond to their style.”

Engage Virtual Learners

A recent ATD report shows that only 51 percent of corporate training is face-to-face — and that number is dropping fast. If you’re leading a virtual training, Steffey suggests thinking about how to modify your in-person curriculum to better suit the remote format.

“For instructor-led virtual training, the key is to engage that learner every three to five minutes,” she says. “So often, the trainer thinks they can lecture, and they just can’t. They have to use the tools available in order to engage that learner in the virtual, remote word.”

Stay Flexible

Even the best-prepared trainers have to respond to unexpected situations on the fly. Steffey describes a common experience among global trainers: Someone is preparing for a training in a different country, using English because English is the global language of business. They’ve been told their participants are going to speak English. But when the training starts, they realize the learners’ English is not strong.

So, the trainer has to adjust quickly. Maybe they change their slide deck to be more visual, with less text. Or maybe they change their activities to involve more group work so participants can speak their own language and process the information together.

“That’s part of a good global mindset, because what it means is I have a plan, but I am aware enough of the situation to select different actions to make the training work instead.”

Finally, she says, the most important part of having a global mindset is to treat everyone, everywhere, with respect. “Allow your learners to preserve their dignity, no matter what.”

Listen to the full #WorkTrends episode with Donna Steffey:

Orientation and Onboarding: Your Sink-or-Swim Strategy Is a Terrible Waste of Talent – Part 2

In the last blog, we discussed how to make a new employee’s orientation—their first or second day on the job—an effective and memorable experience. In this blog, we are going to talk about what happens over the next thirty to sixty days as the new employee is handed over to their new department(s). The onboarding, or training and immersion process, of a new employee to their new job is critical for their success.

Unfortunately, many times a new employee is neither trained nor certified adequately in their new position, creating the real possibility of the new employee quickly becoming frustrated and disappointed with their new employer and new responsibilities. This can lead to poor customer experiences and numerous mistakes, which in turn leads to a quick departure from the job.

The lack of an effective onboarding program for each position or role is a big problem in many companies today. Consider that sixty-nine percent of employees[1] are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced a great onboarding. So how do you create a great onboarding that inspires and retains employees? Consider the following elements:

  1. The department is organized and welcoming. The employee should feel welcomed by their new team and manager and not feel as though they are an afterthought. Providing a quick note or email to the department managers is a necessary step to ensure everyone is informed. The department needs to be ready for their new employee, so ensure their business email, business cards, computer, and other necessary tools are set up, available, and ready to go. Google takes this a step further by reminding department managers to complete specific tasks proven to improve the new hire’s productivity. [2]
  2. The new employee is given a dedicated person to help settle them in. This person could be a mentor, their trainer, or just a person assigned to show them around. Introduce them to key people, and be there to answer questions. Research from the SHRM Foundation[3] suggests that new employees who receive a mentor learn more about the company and understand the culture better than their non-mentored counterparts.
  3. Connect the new employee to their products and services. Get them to try, use, play, and become familiar with your company’s offerings as quickly as possible. Have them do so as a customer.
  4. Ensure there are feedback opportunities over the first sixty days whereby someone who is the not the new hire’s manager checks in to see if the person has settled in and feels comfortable with their training and assimilation.
  5. Have an organized training program that certifies and tests that the new person can do the job.

Within onboarding, there are four considerations that should be clarified and considered:

  1. Who is going to train. Ideally, it will not be the manager because managers are too busy to focus on a new team member’s training. The trainer should represent the values and be the expert for the position.
  2. Where training will occur. This should be a place that is good for learning, where mistakes can be made and in an area where customers are not inconvenienced.
  3. When training will happen. A clearly defined schedule of what happens on which days should clearly set expectations around the training program.
  4. What is being taught. Ensure all processes and tasks are comprehensively defined and organized to support learning. Throughout the training process, tests both written and through demonstration should be scheduled.

Onboarding coupled with a great orientation is the first impression an employee has of your company and their future experience with you. With the right attention, care, and detail, you give your new staff every chance to be successful and instill in them the mindset and feeling that this is the place they want to be for a while. Please quit the outdated sink-or-swim strategy applied to much new staff today, and ensure your talent receives the time and training investment they need.

If you’d like a comprehensive look at the Culture Hacker Methodology, check out my book on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble. For best practices and insights from today’s cutting-edge leaders in company culture, check out the Culture Hacker Podcast on iTunes.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Recommended Readings:

3 Mistakes Companies Make Onboarding Contingent Workers
10 Tips for Successful New Hire Assimilation

[1] “An onboarding checklist for success.” OC Tanner Blog.
[2] Justin Reynolds, “The 3 best onboarding tips from elite tech companies.” Tinypulse. 
[3] Tayla Bauer, “Onboarding new employees: Maximizing success.” SHRM

Photo Credit: reobuyer Flickr via Compfight cc

These Blind Spots Are Ruining Performance Management

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is being chased by predators through the woods? He quickly arrives at a cliff screeching to a halt and nearly falling off into a river far below. He now has a choice, stay to face the predators, which will likely kill him, or take a chance and jump into the river below risking possible serious injury or even death. He jumps.

In my opinion, this describes the decision many major organizations made when they changed
their performance evaluations. They were being chased by the poor results of the typical
appraisal. These include significant wasted time, complaints by employees (especially
millennials) about the quality and frequency of feedback, and the lack of development discussion time. These companies jumped. Some went into the “river of software” where the hope was to spend less time and remove much of the paperwork angst. Some jumped into the “no ratings” river to avoid the difficult and often damaging conversations which managers dread and which upset employees.

The acknowledged reasons for change are not always the root causes of that change. The predators chasing the companies to the cliff’s edge are mostly just symptoms of the real root causes. Unless we know the real reasons for dysfunction how can we be sure our jump is not just a reaction instead of a proactive strategy? The predators chasing the large organizations through the woods include significant wasted time on preparing and delivering the typical performance review meetings and the high percentage of employees and managers who are frustrated and disappointed.

Many of the employees (especially millennials) who are unsatisfied with the typical appraisal process claim the feedback is poor and doesn’t help focus on developmental needs. As high as 65 percent say it is not relevant to their job (Meinert, 2015). Only 8 percent of HR executives believed their performance management systems made a significant positive improvement in employee performance (Rock, Davis and Jones, 2013).

Accenture, GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Deloitte (to name just a few) have changed, but why are employees/executives still unsatisfied? There are two reasons: the lack of appreciation for a system – we call this scotoma –  a spot of blindness. The second is the idea that a manager is THE one who must provide feedback. I call this the omniscient manager scotoma.

Recent brain research suggests that the typical appraisal meeting creates an environment that can prevent creativity and innovative problem solving. This clearly is one of the root causes of the dysfunction, but it’s just not enough to ensure a valuable, sustainable redesign.

One of the main reasons the typical appraisal fails is because it is inconsistent with systems thinking. Rarely does one hear this explanation from one of the major organizations. Systems thinking requires the placement of responsibility for results on the design and functioning of the system and the avoidance of placing responsibility for performance on the individuals or parts of the system.

Many organizations still attempt to provide consistent and frequent feedback to the individuals within their organization. Organizations are social systems with interdependent parts. Any attempt to evaluate the parts ignores the influence of the system on those parts and will either frustrate managers and employees by wasting their time and/or make performance worse.

Why do organizations continue to insist that managers deliver the frequent feedback? This idea is a holdover from the hierarchical view of organizations. Why not design a performance management process that provides opportunities for everyone to learn from each other? Why not allow everyone to innovate their service and performance to improve the quality and speed of the system interactions?

A manager cannot possibly know enough to help employees with all their interactions. This approach in performance management is the false belief that managers must be omniscient and omnipotent simply because they have the big title.

A redesign that offers the option to speak to multiple employees would provide significant opportunity for those who desire frequent quality feedback. In a future article, I’ll share my ideas on how to do a redesign.

If an organization is ready to replace their appraisal process because the leaders find themselves at the edge of the cliff, it is important to recognize the two scotomas and redesign the process to address the two root causes of dysfunction. If not, you’re just jumping off that cliff because the predators have caught you. That’s not strategic leadership. It’s reactionary and deadly to company and employee success.

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Managing Your Talent and Business Alignment

Good business leaders recognize the value in a good hire, but often times don’t appreciate that one key individual can add to or deter from a company’s overall business plan. Consider a new Chief Technology Officer versus a sales executive within the same company. Most people would immediately acknowledge the CTO’s position as being the most pivotal and in large respect, it is a critical position and one that should be occupied by someone who can elevate the company’s technical advancements. So let’s consider the sales executive’s role.

The sales executive’s role is probably one of many like it within the organization, but sales executives often times serve as the face of the company and represent the organization externally in different capacities, not all of which are sales. These individuals may be members of a local organization where they provide volunteer time and may even sit on the board of another organization. This is a very visible representation and one where the sales executive is speaking on behalf of the organization in a business capacity. Given this, would you consider this role less important than the CTO’s? Maybe or maybe not, but each position yields a different ROI, so there needs to be a different approach in regards to specific talent management practices and how they impact the company’s overall business.

Everyone is a Contributor

One thing is for certain, hiring new employees and training existing ones should be aligned closely to the business imperatives of the organization. As businesses grow, expand their services, establish a footprint in other areas around the Globe, or simply tweak their existing products and offerings because of upgrades or enhancements, due consideration of the employee population should be included in the mix of your business strategy. A hard look at your current business and what your projections for company growth and expansion of products and services will look like in five years and beyond will impact the people you hire and train today.

Understanding the impact of each division, department, team and individual should not be a siloed evaluation. All parts and pieces are links in a chain that make up your company’s foundation. When one is weak, the strength of the other links becomes compromised. It may not be apparent immediately, but over time you may experience problems in customer service, low production numbers, disconnects with prospects, high employee turnover, all of which can lead to downturns in revenue or profits. When this occurs, a prompt investigation into all aspects of your business, including who and how talent is sourced and brought into your company should be considered, as this may be where the root of the problems are based.

Being on the Same Page

There are times when leadership can be so focused on particular outcomes of their business that they fail to acknowledge other important factors, such as what recruiting tactics are used to source and qualify people to advance and align with the organization.

One overlooked item is assuming that the recruiting team is informed and up-to-date on company goals and any subsequent changes to the short-term and long-term business imperatives. Are the job descriptions indicative of what skills and experiences are needed to build the foundation for the future? Do the hiring managers understand what they need to evaluate when considering people to fit the current role and how the candidates’ skills will impact the future of the role? Is everyone aware of the company’s direction and where the company needs to be in five years? Ten years? Do they know what the success profiles are for each position? These are all questions that must be answered before they can fully execute in accordance with the company’s plans.

Employee training is another area that can be out of sync with a company’s business imperatives. Even talented contributors need training, if for no other reason, than to be kept up-to-speed with the implementation of new technologies, policies, products and services. By offering training, employers stand a much better chance to retain desirable employees, as well as determining who is open to learning and embracing the company’s evolution. Keep in mind, training is an investment into your most precious asset… your employees.

Ultimately, communication is going to drive much of what your employees know or don’t know about the company’s short- and long-term business objectives. Leadership needs to decide what kind of info will be shared, with whom and why, as well as present that info so it’s understood by all people receiving the message and resonates with each person’s level of understanding. The obvious conclusion is to assume the mission, vision and company’s values are well understood by all and are unwavering, so when making adjustments to the business plan, this understanding helps drive the point home and makes adoption of the plan easier.

Reducing Risks and Other Factors

Talent management is more than having a succession plan. It’s understanding the value each position offers and capitalizing on that value in the present with eyes towards the future. Also, external factors such as demand, the market cost to fill certain positions, the economy, geography, Visas, etc. will also impact the alignment of your talent and company-wide business strategy. Items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Your current employee pool… what new skills do they need and how can you get them to the skills level your business needs with a shorter time-to-productivity
  • Bringing new talent into your company… do the job descriptions fit the current need with skills to build towards the future
  • Anticipating issues with hiring the right people for the jobs your organization will need to sustain your future business
  • Ensuring everyone on the leadership team is onboard with understanding how the present and future of the business hinges on the alignment of talent to the business plan

There are many answers you need to uncover to truly understand the importance of how talent acquisition and your business strategy should be closely aligned; the list above is only a starting point. Keep in mind, the goal should always be to reduce risks and manage the factors within your control and it begins with a shared vision.

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Improve Leadership Training Programs with Manager Feedback

360-degree feedback can bring up a whole host of areas for improvement and goals to be worked towards. Developing based on feedback is important for anyone, regardless of position, experience level or objectives: managers are no exception.

Today major companies don’t simply want people who will listen and carry out: they want creative thinkers who will come up with innovative ideas and solutions. As a result, rather than giving orders, managers must find ways to foster this creativity. This means companies want:

  • Less micromanaging and more autonomy
  • Faster development of new skills
  • Higher employee retention

We explain how the feedback managers receive can establish specific leadership training plans to help improve skills, performance and daily practices to make sure this can all be achieved, and both teams and managers can function in the best way possible, helping both inexperienced or first-time managers and those just looking to take their leadership skills to the next level to improve how they lead their team in this ever-changing modern work environment.

Upward Feedback & where to go with it

Gaining feedback on daily practices, performance and skill sets can be an incredibly useful process. 360-feedback encompasses upward feedback from your team members, helping you to gain perspective from those who work closely with you. Hearing the views of those who work with you every day and have an acute awareness of your leadership style is a great chance to take a step back and re-evaluate. But, of course, once the feedback has been given, the process doesn’t end there. Using feedback for leadership training means that managers are able to work on the specific things that would improve both their leadership qualities and general interactions with their team on both a daily and a long-term basis.

Keep your team!

It’s often said that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If there are multiple issues within a work environment but people generally like their manager, and are satisfied with how they’re being led, they’re less likely to leave their position. Ensuring that managers are not only listening to but acting on the feedback which they receive from their team makes it clear that the team’s views are valued, and means that managers will be able to use the feedback given to communicate with and work more effectively with their team. Managers will be on the road to improvement, and team members will feel both valued and more satisfied, be less likely to leave their position and begin to work more effectively with their managers.

Engagement & Team spirit

After the leadership training has taken place, it’s likely that team morale will increase, communication will improve and employee engagement will be on the rise. It’s not just managers that will improve from leadership training either. Research from the Journal of Business Strategies found that leaders who were able to impact the long-term cohesion of their teams could account for more than 25% of the team’s overall performance. Effective leaders will keep their team communicating well and keep engagement levels up by giving them useful and motivating feedback, and making the organization a positive and impactful place to work.

Using a performance management tool such as a feedback app  has never made it easier for managers to develop. Feedback comes in the form of both real-time updates and reviews where questions can be tailored to find out exactly what skills or traits can be improved. Once feedback is received, it’s collated into an automatic report identifying exactly which skills and practices require focus.

Now it’s time for improvement: continuous feedback that carries on long after the review process gives team members the opportunity to continue the conversation and provide real-time feedback on their manager’s ongoing development. Based on feedback, the best training programs can be devised to develop managers’ skills. Just like your employees, offering regular trainings on key skills will keep managers engaged, motivated to improve their strategies and at the top of their management game!

Summary:

  • Using upward feedback for manager training means team members know their input is valued
  • Successful leaders interact with employees in a way that significantly increases employee engagement and performance
  • Employees communicate better as a team as a result of more effective management
  • Good leadership training based on team feedback will lowers turnover rates

A version of this post was first published on Impraise. 

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5 Harsh Realities of HR Pro to HR-preneur

You’ve decided to take off your Corporate HR hat and strike out on your own as a consultant, speaker or trainer. Here are five harsh realities of transitioning from HR Pro to HR-preneur…

No one is forced to listen to you. 

I remember the first time I went into an organization to facilitate a training session. I am standing in front of a room full or executive leaders, and it hits me…they are not forced to listen to me! As crazy as that sounds, think about it. In an HR role, employees have to listen to what we say due to the authority of HR itself. Employees automatically pay attention during orientations, open enrollments, and training sessions. They know when HR speaks it is time to listen up. After all, everyone knows the last person you need to cross at work is HR because we control their paychecks, promotions, insurance and makes sure your wonderful boss doesn’t dock your time card.

Take everything opposite of that and you will have your new audience. You have zero authority over attendees. They were assigned to sit in a classroom all day while their email boxes fill up, their phones ring off the hook, and their employees call out sick. The last place on earth they want to be is sitting through your training. Their organization hired you to sell them on why they should drink your kool-aid and go back to to work convincing direct reports, leaders, and peers to take a sip themselves. Fail to do so and you better believe you will have to send multiple invoice reminders to finally get paid 60 days later if you’re lucky. Not to mention, that organization will never be a repeat client.

“We” is dead.

In an HR role, it is all about the “we.” Everything you say and do is centered around working together as a team. We want everyone to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya while holding hands. As an HR-prenuer, “we” is dead. You are the “we”. There is not one looking out for you but you and if you’re not singing your own praises in pitches to clients, posting all over social media about how great YOU are, you’re never going to make it.

You will also make the mistake of bringing others into your fold that you shouldn’t due to the HR brainwashing of “we”. You want everyone around you to succeed so you run across another consultant that specialized in something you do not. You think to yourself, “Why not help someone else succeed and offer another competency to my client base?” While this is imperative to remain competitive, you cannot think with your heart. The second you release your client’s info to your friend that is also a consultant, before you know it they are taking not only their specialization but your training and consulting services too! It’s not personal. Your friend is building a business just like yourself so why wouldn’t they? It’s how things work.

If You Can’t Sell, You Cant Succeed

If there is one thing the majority of HR pros are terrible at, it is sales. In an internal HR role, you sell nothing. People only come to you when they’ve already identified the need for your services, and you have no one to compete with. It’s either you or the incompetent manager they are complaining about. Easy choice.

In a consultant capacity, you are competing with EVERYONE. Consultants are a dime a dozen because there is such a low startup cost. Have a computer, Linkedin account, and a phone? Congratulations! You can start a consulting firm. Whether or not you are qualified is an entirely different story which makes the sales aspect of your new role so critical. Many organizations have been swindled more than once by an overnight consultant, which has made the road of landing clients tough as nails. Sign up for every sales webinar you can get your hands on, buy all the books and if you have another consultant that mentors you, shadow every they do.

No One Cares About Legality

If you’re doing any form of compliance, risk management or HR consulting, please remove the following sentence from your vocabulary, “you can’t do that because it’s not legal.” This is probably HR’s most favorite phrase because it’s not only true, it worked in our internal HR roles. If we needed a manager to accommodate an employee’s disability, we simply waved ADA in front of their face. This will not serve you well as a consultant.

Instead of performing as a wannabe employment law attorney, speak to the core problem which is why the conversation is taking place at all. Clearly this manager lacks the core competencies of leadership needed to guide them on whether or not to accommodate at all. Sell the fix for the origin of the problem, not the method of putting a bunch of red tape around what organizations can and cannot do.

You Can’t Fix Everyone

Remember why you took off your Corporate HR hat I the first place? For me, it was for many reasons but one of those was definitely because the organization I was with was not open to being anything more than they were. The harsh reality of being an HR-preneuer is that same company you left is everywhere. You will consistently run into clients that only want you to come in for a sexual harassment training after paying out thousands in a settlement, but when you pitch a Leadership Development Program, they shoot you down. They insist that their leaders are not the problem, only a few managers. They only want your services for documentation to get them off the hook the next time a manager grabs Sally’s bottom.

Treat this client as getting on the thin edge of the wedge. Complete the sexual harassment training and keep hammering away to sell more and more training. Over time, they will buy-in to your philosophy that all organization’s problems start with the leaders. Worst case scenario, you have a billable training day on the books.

Can HR pros be successful in their transition to HR-preneurs? Absolutely. But we must be humbled by the fact we are essentially starting brand new careers in which we are not experts. It doesn’t matter if you have thirty years of HR experience. You are a baby in the HR-preneur world.

 

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Beyond Compliance: The Cost of Training

On September 12, 2008, a commuter train in Los Angeles collided with a freight train head on, with 25 people left dead in the aftermath. The conductor was allegedly text messaging, missing a signal.

On July 6, 2013, a train car containing crude oil in Lac Megantic, Canada rolled backward downhill, derailed, and killed 47 people in the ensuing inferno. The cause was that the conductor didn’t put on an additional hand brake.

On May 12, 2015, a commuter train in Pennsylvania derailed killing 8. The cause being that the conductor took a turn too fast.

After each of these disasters, the Department of Transportation took separate legislative actions dealing with training to prevent these incidents from ever happening again. Each law would apply to every transportation organization dealing with railroads.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway couldn’t cover the costs associated with the accident at Lac Megantic. They carried a mere $25 million in liability insurance. The costs soared far above $200 million for destruction, with $50 million destined for the families of victims alone. The provincial governments of Canada poured funds into the disaster and recovery efforts as well. Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic immediately went out of business, and its former employees found themselves out of work.

The responsibility of compliance is grave. It’s a burden one would hope not to carry, particularly when things go wrong. Consequences for undertraining your staff may not carry the same weight as with transportation, but there are significant downsides in every industry.

Striking the proper balance of time spent on training is a vital way to show that you care about your employees’ continued improvement and performance with your organization. Letting undertrained staff continue to work creates an adverse environment where their actions are hard to account for, work is done inefficiently and incorrectly, and there is a missing culture of engagement that allows employees to invest of themselves in your company.

It’s a commonly cited statistic that just a minimum wage worker costs about $3,000 to replace, but did you know that replacing a salaried employee costs about 1.5 to 3 times that person’s salary? While the expenses associated with training current employees are reported to average $1,200 per individual, the cost of bringing in someone new outmatches that of training alone. Besides, what career path doesn’t include learning and refining skills?

Across the spectrum of organizations, training is often the only protection available when an incident occurs. In pharmaceuticals, that protection comes in when there is a health incident. Companies can verify that their salespeople knew exactly how the FDA approved them to promote their products. However, the verification of this training can be impossible without a learning management system (LMS) since many salespeople work remotely.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the level of scrutiny coming from regulatory organizations has only gone up. In 2015, 70 percent of executives expressed that they would expect to see new standards keep up with (with 28 percent expecting a higher amount or regulations). The need for automated training verification with an ever-increasing remote staff widens the gap between employee management and the audit of training completion, with your business being wide open to penalties in the middle.

For pharmaceutical corporations, in particular, it’s hard to know who has received crucial training on new laws and FDA regulations. That industry places immense responsibility on the salesperson. Even more problematic is that the role of a salesperson is to be more invested in relations with potential clients, and thus training can be seen as limitations on time and the ability to sell, pitting the mitigation of liability risk against the inherent ambition of a sales rep. In this case, without an LMS, corporations become extremely vulnerable to massive penalties. Training visibility, thus liability mitigation, remains a systemic problem in pharmaceutical sales, amongst many other industries.

The value of automated learning can be more obscure as well. In Medford Massachusetts, a paramedic training instructor falsified records showing that the staff had received continuing education classes. The instructor was initially sentenced to two and a half years in jail but later avoided the sentence, paying a few thousand dollars per forged registry. The damage to public trust is harder to weigh.

  • Streamlining training is now the most cost-effective approach to achieving sustainability as a business. Organizations have reported 95% completion rates for large staff.
  • Automating schedules for certifications and workflow for trainers and their managers cuts down on margin for error and ensures education. While having a spreadsheet available that shows each of the dates of expiration for staff members helps to keep information easy to edit, there is still the problem of taking training information and making that electronic. Having an automated system keeps materials, completions, and the user training readily available. Managers and trainers stay in the loop about dates and records about training that is due. This is a huge step when you wear many hats in an organization, beyond just continued learning.
  • Immediate access to data allows visibility into training deficits, which means that when you want to see your staff’s schedules for training and credential or certification renewal, you won’t have a rude awakening after a long manual calculation. That information will be available via data reporting. If you don’t have certification needs, automated learning will keep you up to speed on which employees being considered for advancement are getting the attention you have promised them.
  • Identifying red flags is mission critical to staying ahead of the curve. Organizations miss out when they cut corners on compliance or staff competency and expect that value to come from staffing alone. Those organizations are not getting the most out of their people when new hires come into the organization, and that organization does not gain their employees’ loyalty, extending the gesture of expected advancement when that new hire arrives. If you’re already taking care of training and communicating (through action) the strength of your procedures, then this does not apply to you. However, if you’re employees see that their training are up for completion the day before they are due or after, it will make you appear disorganized, and make them feel like they would be more appreciated elsewhere. On the audit side, it would be far worse for you to have one uncredentialed employee in your organization at any moment, and every employee’s training costs could immediately be outweighed by the expense of a fine.

While compliance has typically been regarded as a costly hassle for doing business, safety and compliance are quickly becoming seen as nonstarter overhead. The investment in the continued education of your staff should not be seen from a standpoint of potential savings, but from the perspective of those your organization holds the responsibility of serving.

A version of this post was first published on conselium.com

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Four Essential Best Practices for HR in 2016

Welcome to 2016! Although it’s already March, it’s not too late to cover a few best practices for human resources professionals, as well as how to analyze information about your current employees and help develop strong teams, once people are on board. So, without further ado, here are four best practices for HR professionals for the new year.

Diversity & Innovation

A recent Forbes article by Adam Hartung points out the importance of diversity and the need for HR to make a concerted effort to recruit outside the company—if only to gain a new and different perspective of the usual order of business. Innovation only comes as a result of change, and change is not possible without somebody being willing to rock the proverbial boat. In other words, you need to be willing to take a risk and hire someone from outside the inner sanctum, so to speak, to have the chance to gain knowledge and insight from someone with a different perspective.

Also, never underestimate the value of empathy and emotional intelligence, in relating to colleagues, job candidates, and new employees. You’ll need to base your hiring decisions on more than just skills, qualifications, and experience. As Gabrielle Garon emphasizes in a recent TalentCulture article, your expertise as an HR professional should include the ability to relate to employees as people, rather than merely team members or experts in their field. Relating to employees as people requires the capacity to look beyond what’s on paper and initial impressions, and to ask the right questions

HR, IT, & Data Analytics

The Talent Analytics blog provides a very helpful Beginners Guide to Predictive Workforce Analytics, which clearly lays out the essential components of data analytics for HR, arguing that “Predictive workforce projects need to address and predict business outcomes, not HR outcomes.” Hence a focus on the big picture and efficiency, as opposed to abstract factors.

Rather than trying to determine the best employee traits at your company based on your current workforce, for example, first determine what it is you need to accomplish with each upcoming project, as well as what traits are required in the people chosen to carry out that task. From there, you can more quickly determine the best ideal candidates for a given project. In this way, you’re focusing on the business at hand, rather than abstract predictors of success. Also, though, make sure to pay attention to the potential for turnover, retention, risk, and talent when looking for viable candidates.

Research & Development, Training

The best HR practices include keeping an eye on how to train existing employees internally and dedicate a substantial part of the company budget to research and development. This means hiring workers who can act as skill trainers and instructional leaders. Moreover, finding the best people to utilize as trainers means being able to identify desirable traits and talents desired in company trainers, and then to successfully recognize those qualities in both internal and external candidates for the position.

It’s crucial to focus on individual talents during the search for company training candidates, so as to match skilled leaders with an interest in and a talent for teaching to the position. Making sure that the trainers you pick are born teachers, rather than experienced project managers or product developers, can help avoid future frustration and lack of productivity. As a hiring manager, you can help ensure job satisfaction by using a talent assessment tool as part of the interview process, as well as making sure to focus on employee strengths and incorporate them into their duties.

Quality Recruitment

If you want to reach out to the best people, all while giving a nod to the first strategy discussed in this article (innovation), it pays to utilize the best sites out there. One effective method involves recruiting talent that isn’t necessarily applying with you for a position—for example, via LinkedIn. This is also known as finding ‘passivejob candidates, and it involves strategies such as networking, focusing on growth and satisfaction in job descriptions, and communicate with recruits as people, rather than potential job candidates.

In a recent article on the biggest trends of 2015, Meghan Biro estimates that nearly 80 percent of job seekers utilize social media in their job searches—and, furthermore, younger generations are estimated to use social media 90 percent of the time! Advertising job positions on a platform like Twitter, for example, will open up the field of applicants even further by making it accessible to a much wider, public audience. This can also help with the innovation component since it’s more likely that external applicants from outside the fold will apply for a position as opposed to merely internal candidates. Moreover, as Biro also points out, social media recruitment can be extremely profitable.

What’s the bottom line, then? Emotional intelligence and holistic, long-term thinking rule the day. Don’t be afraid of data, but at the same time, don’t allow facts and figures to be the sole determining factors in the decision-making process. In other words, think with your heart as well as your head. Here’s to a unique and successful 2016!

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Leading a Horse To Water: Too Much Training Within Industry

For those of you who are not familiar with TWI, a.k.a. Training Within Industry, well, have you ever seen those WWII era posters lionizing Rosie the Riveter? The collective ability of Rosie and her many colleagues to manufacture tanks and B-29’s at an astonishing rate was one of the main reasons why the Allies won the war. But Rosie and friends were not master machinists.

They were housewives and secretaries, hurriedly pressed into service. There was no time to train them to be true masters at any given machine shop trade, so instead, the people running the factories invented “TWI.”

TWI is a complex concept, but a big part of it was to break jobs down to their basic elements. This allowed previously unskilled workers to learn much faster, and quickly become a productive worker on the assembly line.

This approach was so successful that Japan modeled its post-war economic recovery on it, and just fyi, when we talk about Toyota Lean Manufacturing, this all began with TWI.

It’s unclear whether it was TWI’’s influence or just the general industrial economy that has led to it, but this break-it-down-to-simple-steps approach has migrated into much of our culture. If you look around the blogosphere or the bookosphere or the consultosphere, you will see this element of TWI in many other iterations; all sorts of non-manufacturing tasks have also been reduced to their fundamental basic steps, with the same promise of increased productivity.

The trouble is, what works in manufacturing environments doesn’t necessarily work in non-manufacturing environments. Some tasks– like, say, healing, teaching or leading– can’t be reduced to a simple series of steps, at least, not beyond bare minimum functionality.

Just one example: I spent ten years at the virtual feet of various “experts” who offered simple laid-out linear systems of how to publish a book. In the end, I found the answer was not writing the perfect query letter to an agent, nor was it “great writing,” nor was it in “getting on Oprah.” Turns out the “trick” wasn’t a trick at all; it was writing a book that people actually wanted to read, and having the guts to risk failure and rejection by putting it on sale.

I had the exact same experience in learning music, dance, and management. There is no standard system for discovering your unique capabilities and pushing them to their highest potential. Training, advice, and mentoring are certainly helpful, but in the end, if you want to “get good,” you just gotta hunker down and do it.

While the idea that someone else has broken things down for you and made it easier is very appealing, these systems actually get in the way of developing true mastery. When you work towards true mastery, these previously adopted “quick and easy” approaches often evolve into bad corner-cutting habits needing to be undone, making the process less efficient, not more. Worse, it is very easy to become overly reliant upon these external systems and lose faith in yourself.

So when it comes to achieving “excellence,” cultivating creativity, or developing maximum leadership potential, yes, many people will offer you five easy steps for leading a horse to water, but if your goal is to make him drink, that requires a reassessment of your perception of the universe and your place in it, not to mention a complete rethink of your relationship with the horse.

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Don’t Just Assess Your Team’s Performance, Cultivate It!

It’s a good time to consider our roles as managers in helping people achieve their potential. In addition to assessing what they’ve done, take the time to consider what you’ve done — and can do — to help them achieve what they might.

Excellence requires opportunity, as does skill building; this is one of the greatest gifts you can give people. It also helps organizations retain employees and improve productivity.

Use These Three Tips To Cultivate High Team Performance And Create Opportunity:

1. Self assess your cultivation performance: Reflect on how much time and effort you invested in creating opportunities to excel and cultivate skill building opportunities for people on your team. How many opportunities did you provide — and did the person know it was an opportunity to excel or skill build? What impact did they have? Candidly compare this to your own experience and ideals.

2. Plan to cultivate talent and opportunities for 2015: Start with a map of skills individuals on the team already have and skills they should build over the year. Layer in excellence they’ve demonstrated and where there is potential to demonstrate excellence in new areas. With this information, develop your roadmap for what you’ll do to create these opportunities. Make it actionable with quarter by quarter actions you will take; hold yourself accountable for your plan.

3. Take pride in the effort and the outcome: Individuals on your team should succeed because of you, not in spite of you. More importantly, helping and watching other people thrive is one of the most gratifying things you can do. Take the effort personally; observe how you feel when your people stretch, grow, learn and excel. A happy professional consequence of your efforts: you’ll be developing your own skills as a leader. Talent development is the hallmark of great senior executives.

Lead by example and put the roadmap into practice in the new year to increase the competencies, capabilities and satisfaction of your team. Join the conversation on this and other topics to share what works best for you.

P.S. Workboard can help you be more efficient in distributing opportunities to excel, in building the fact base to support performance promotions, and quantifying and comparing the impact of people on your team — and your team’s impact on the company.

Train Your Employees To Have Great Phone Etiquette

The link between your customers and your business lies mainly with the people who are answering your phone. The first interaction that a customer has with an entity is with a customer service representative. With that said, wouldn’t you want the business lines being answered by people who will make a great first and lasting impression? By ensuring that you have employees who can provide your customers with a memorable experience (in a good way), you can improve your chances of converting them into buyers and retaining existing customers.

The phone reps you have within your business should communicate in a professional and coherent manner each and every time they answer a phone. Your representatives should also speak with confidence, expertise and in an engaging way. Customers pay attention to more than you realize when they contact your call center. This interaction can make or break a new or existing relationship. Having a team of skilled phone reps to handle customer support is equally important. The idea is to provide a place where people can call to get the service they need to complete a transaction or continue the use of a product or service you offer.

Read on to see how you can train your employees to be great representatives of your business. 

Hiring employees to handle the call volume of your call center is only the beginning. Providing them with the necessary tools to perform their job satisfactorily is also necessary. Having business phone systems that allow your employees to manage the needs of customers is important. Once you have an automated business phone system, you can proceed with giving your employees the direction needed to be excellent representatives.

What Elements Are Problematic During Customer Calls?

Before you begin training your employees, you’ll need to determine what elements of customer interactions are problematic. Write these down, so you’ll know what areas your team needs to address. You’ll need to focus your training around these elements, so that the right areas are getting approved. This will also help you to establish what your expectations are for phone interactions between the reps and customers.

What Happens at the Beginning of the Call?

When your phone reps first answer the phone, how do you want your customers to be greeted? Not only does this include the words/script that should be recited, but how it is recited. It’s important that there is clarity and courtesy being conveyed through the tone of the representatives, so to make customers feel welcomed, rather than than they are an inconvenience.

What Tone of Voice Should be Used?

When customers call your business, they shouldn’t be met with mutters and flat tones. Upbeat seems to work well for cable companies and phone providers that have a strong focus on customer service. The tone of your reps’ voices should also be sincere, to show a genuine interest in helping customers with their questions and problems. It’s important that this tone is kept throughout calls, even if customer are problematic or rude.

How Long Should Calls Last?

The amount of time your representatives spend on calls will vary based on the situation of each customer. However, there can be a timetable drawn up that can act as a guideline for how long certain types of calls should take. This will also help give your phone reps an idea of how to better meet your standards.

Do Your Reps Have Sufficient Product and Technical Knowledge?

If you have a company with multiple departments, you can easily combat this issue by having customers transferred to the right department for assistance. However, the reps that answer the phone shouldn’t be completely clueless. It’s a good idea to train your employees about the products and some technical knowledge. For more complex situations, the IT department can be contacted. Since prospective customers will contact your initial reps first, extensive knowledge of products and services is necessary to help convert callers into customers.

Developing Training For Your Employees

Once you have covered all areas of customer-rep interactions, it’s time to implement them into your training. The format can be in video, presentation or in-person. Make sure to allow your employees to ask questions, so that everything is understood and actionable. Test calls can also be performed to ensure that the employees have gotten everything memorized.

No matter how you decide to train your employees, make sure that you have everything included that will help make the culture of your call center customer-centric.  After all, this is the point of access for bringing in new customers and keeping your existing customers happy.

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Best Behavior, Best Practices: The Etiquette Of Successful Onboarding

Let’s talk about the etiquette of onboarding new hires. Newfangled definition of bringing a new employee into your business, meet old-fashioned principle of good behavior in social situations.

The process of bringing a new employee up to speed so they feel welcomed and become productive fast — without neglecting to complete all the necessary organizational paperwork and tasks — is certainly not a newfangled concept. It remains critical to most businesses. A new study in Bersin by Deloitte confirms it: 79 percent of the business leaders polled consider successful onboarding a top priority.

An effective and positive onboard experience can be a key factor in inspiring and keeping employees, as well as supporting them as they ascend the organizational ladder. It’s an asset to their success over the long term. What’s new are the means and methods: increasingly, onboarding is digital, working across many platforms and channels — online, cloud-based, mobile, social, audio, video. There are more amazing options for customizing and integrating —even in a newly merged hospital, for instance — an enormous, complex challenge for HR at any phase — HR can offer a solution via onboarding that seamlessly blends performance and talent management programs.

I recently focused on optimizing the onboarding process with tech. And it reminded me of just how far we’ve come; onboarding a matter of decades ago was mostly likely punctuated with handshakes and people, with advice on getting used to the new electric (!) typewriter and a walk through a few forms. This was the analog method — done by people. Talking. Face to face. And as onboarding has gone digital, we have to make sure it doesn’t leave ye ole human factor behind.

The challenge is to remember that talent is people. Onboarding’s success is best leveraged with what engages and inspires. According to the Bersin study, an awful first day will cause 4 percent of employees to beat a hasty exit. Further, said Katherine Jones, a VP at Bersin by Deloitte, “22 percent of staff turnovers occur in the first 45 days of employment.” That’s a huge loss.

For a successful onboarding process, make sure it addresses the big picture in a way that engages your new employees. It observes some rules of etiquette (that’s what I call them) that blend good behavior with good presentation:

It’s consistent — branded and packaged to create a solid, positive, inspiring first impression, with the same messaging throughout (that’s the same for all new hires).
It’s tailored — customized to the nature of the new hire’s role, generational group, and specific tasks (Bersin even recommends individualized portals for day one).
It’s easy to navigate — with fluid prompts that makes its user feel productive.
It’s automated across the board so there’s no need to stop the process for an individual tutorial, and so everyone has the same experience (back to that issue of consistency).
It’s rich — in design, and content. We love content. And we love color, and fonts, and logos, and options, and boxes. I’m not being reductive here: in the digital, mobile and social age of information we read differently, we experience information differently, and a static design with a minimum of content is just not going to keep our attention.

Finally, consider the cardinal rule of conversation: keep it short, keep it sweet. If the onboarding process seems like a wall of tedious tasks, that’s a turn-off. It’s not a disaster, but it won’t forge vital first connections between a new hire and his or her role within the company. It will certainly not inspire talent to see themselves as potential contributors to the company’s vision and mission. So think beyond that wall of paperwork and organizational tasks. Engaging new hires and inviting them into the spirit of the company is be just as important as making sure you have all the data straight. And it’s far more polite.

To learn more about how to empower your new hires on day one, download TalentWise’s latest whitepaper.

TalentWise, is a technology company that’s transforming the way HR manages job offers, screens, and onboards new hires. TalentWise has built a single, online platform that streamlines the hiring process end-to-end with compliance built-in. To find out more about how your organization can onboard better, check out their blog by clicking here.

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It’s Time For A New Job-Skills Training Model

I attended a presentation by Mary Owens at a local financial advisory firm. In her well-presented talk about the return of manufacturing to the U.S., she articulated a number of facts that got me thinking:

  • Manufacturing was returning because North American fuel (read: natural gas) is now becoming cheaper than the combination of diesel and Asian labor.
  • U.S. factories are utilizing the most advanced technologies.
  • And last, we can put millions of people to work.

This is good news, right? I think so. But we still have a major gap in fulfilling the training that these factories need. She described quite succinctly these additional points that I have been thinking a lot about:

  • Many industries are beginning to (re)grow, and they are using new technologies to do it.
  • In many industries, employers can’t find “locked and loaded” employees who have the skills to perform the jobs they need filled.
  • The current higher education and vocational system isn’t serving the employment needs of employers or job seekers.

Mary’s plea, as I understand it, is to invite the wealth community to invest in an educational system to feed these employers’ needs. I like Mary’s pluck. She is not the first to say it or practice it. It makes sense to see the need and fill it.

But … not so fast. Since writing about workplace apprenticeship a few weeks ago, I’ve continued to ruminate about these additional convergent problems:

  1. Trade schools and career colleges, while making a comeback, are not prolific enough to be a relevant source of fulfillment for these factory and other supporting jobs.
  2. Higher education has too many of the wrong students and isn’t coming close to fulfilling its pledge to any students or fulfilling its own historical role.
  3. Job seekers can no longer afford to create the debt that higher education is demanding.
  4. The public can no longer afford to support this Herculean effort in the form of needed government subsidies.
  5. Employers want to shift responsibility away from themselves and blame everything else—from schools to generational birth year, from government to parents.

If business wants “locked and loaded” workers, then where should it get them?

In his post, “How Education Is Failing To Serve Business’ Needs,”  Mark Lukens  discusses this very topic. His analysis of the raging debate about education not serving humanity’s need to think creatively is extremely relevant. To that point, I agree.

Then he says,

“If the education system is to serve the needs of business, then we need to start by asking what those needs are.”

 Ugh. I cringe. Education should not be the bitch of business. Education should be its own system and its own reward. And yes, I agree, it should shift its focus to help us to learn the needed skill of creative thinking; however, I envision a world where we get to learn for a variety of reasons, at a variety of times, and not always for job skills.

This bears the question, “Where do we learn the skills needed for a rewarding job?”

The answer keeps pointing me to employers. If they are the ones with the needs and they want a consistent, customizable result, then it is on their shoulders.

I believe that it is time for a new model. A model of efficiency and fairness. Let’s take the burden off of higher-learning institutions and the public. Let’s take the financial burden off of the individual as well. Let’s institute a model that allows business to serve itself. The model would allow people with the right behavior profiles to enter into paid apprenticeships to learn the absolute needed skills, aptitudes, and values needed by the employer.

We have hundreds of years of history filled with examples of an apprenticeship model. The last 100-plus years have taken us off track and placed the “burden” elsewhere. I expect that employers are going to rebel against this responsibility. But when they see that it actually MAKES them money through efficiencies rather than turnover costs, possibly the whining will stop.

I envision higher education rebelling because it will see its head count retreat. But it is time to stop the churn of unsuccessful, unhappy, and broke students overfilling our colleges and universities. It is only in the last 50 years that “everyone” went to college. Now “everyone” doesn’t get a result. So let’s stop it.

If we are to get out of our current morass, grab opportunity by the nose, and get back to work, it is time for employers to see themselves as training organizations. Profitable training organizations.

The future of work is dependent upon it.

 

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