We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What’s Driving the Disconnect Between Job Seekers and Recruiters?

I’ve been hearing a lot of recruiters say for the past few months that they have openings they are trying to fill, but they can’t find the right talent. "How can this be?" we’re all asking when there are a lot of people out of work and actively looking for jobs. There’s also a large population of employed workers, 74% according to a recent survey by Harris, known as the "silent majority," who have acknowledged they would consider changing jobs if they were approached. And together with the voices of recruiters who say they can’t find qualified talent, I hear from job seekers who are just as frustrated about responding to openings they are qualified for, only to hear nothing back. So what’s the problem? What’s causing the disconnect?

May Not Be One Factor
Over the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few firms pulling teams of consultants together to work on change and human resource (HR) projects. One common problem recruiters involved with organization development (OD) projects experience is rooted in the fact that there isn’t one clear definition of what OD is. As HR is becoming more strategic rather than transactional, I’m wondering if this transition in describing competencies is also becoming a problem when recruiting for HR positions. Is the disconnect we’re experiencing in the job market a reflection of non-qualified candidates, or is the root problem something else, or possibly a combination of factors?

Consider the problems caused by non-standard jargon, especially in professions such as OD and HR. Some companies refer to their learning and professional development programs as OD, while others look beyond training and consider all people and organizational changes experienced by a transitioning business unit to be OD. It’s the same with change management expertise. One recruiter might be searching for a candidate with experience managing one specific aspect of a merger and refer to that as change management, while another may only consider it sufficient change management experience if the expertise includes all aspects of the holistic merger project. HR recruiters not familiar with the experience and expertise required for strategic HR positions might easily overlook someone with the right qualifications and label them as "overqualified" for a position requiring OD, change management or skills supporting conflict resolution and influencing change.

Linking my personal consulting experiences with the frustrations I’m hearing from recruiters, as well as job seekers, I’m wondering what the impact is when the recruiter’s role expands to areas where he/she doesn’t have specialized expertise. So often I find individuals in recruiter roles who have backgrounds in a certain area of HR, such as benefits or training, being asked to source and identify talent in HR and OD - areas they have never worked in. In situations like this, without specific detailed profiles and examples of qualifications, how can they adequately decipher the experiences and knowledge being shared by interested job seekers to determine transferable skills and backgrounds for the position?

We’re living in a world of instantaneous expectations and I wonder what impact this perception is having on the recruiting process? Have we shortened the cycle too far, so that it now appears to resemble "speed dating" rather than sourcing and recruitment? How much can we really get to know an individual’s work/life experiences and how they transfer to the "new" normal of work in 15 or 20 minutes?

So What's Next?
The profession of sourcing and recruitment is changing. Although the world is speeding up as it gets smaller and smaller, perhaps it’s time to slow down the process of matching required talent needs with available talent. Maybe the process of evaluating fit should include more than a 20 second review of a resume or a successful number of matches of keywords. Perhaps until we get more sophisticated with language and our abilities to understand how skills transfer, we need to encourage slowing down the recruiting process and taking the time to really understand how past experiences translate to meet the current day needs of the organization. There’s no doubt that some percentage of job seekers don’t have the up-to-date skills required to address marketplace needs, but the rest of the population is an available resource that we need to learn how to connect with. This situation provides organizations and the HR profession with an opportunity to establish training courses or university-style programs to develop the skills they are looking for and to structure some type of interview feedback or job opening profile that indicates specific trainings and experiences that are lacking in order to raise the job seekers’ awareness that his/her skills are no longer up-to-date.

I recently attended a SHRM-Atlanta Chapter meeting. Sitting with me at my table of eight were four recruiters. All four confirmed they had a staggering number of job openings for HR talent, more than they’ve had in the past few years. And in a room of over 300 HR professionals they were declaring they couldn’t find the right talent. We’ve got a disconnection and we need to fix it, as 2012 sounds like it might just be the year for getting people back to work.

I’m curious about your observations. Do you think we have some disconnections in our recruiting processes? Please share your comments below. I’d also encourage you to share this email with a friend so we can expand the conversation.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Colors of the Holiday Season: Red and Green; Pink and Blue

We all know the #1 goal of a for-profit organization is to make a profit. The additional objectives, such as treating employees with respect and fairness and being a good social and global steward, are hopefully priorities met along the way to the profits.

My experience about how executives approach the final quarter of the year echoes what I hear colleagues mentioning - most organizations have their eyes on two things: the financial performance for the year ending, and the strategic goals for the new year. Finding the right balance between profits, quality performance, future consumer demands, staffing levels, workload, and advancing technologies is quite a leadership art. CEOs usually find the solution for balance wrapped in organizational assessments and restructuring activities focused on integrating new processes and technologies in order to provide greater efficiencies while reducing costs. Unfortunately, this often results in cutting jobs.

As if on cue, earlier this month we began to learn of plans within the semiconductor industry to address a downturn in business through layoffs and the closing of plants. The first announcement came from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) on November 3rd; ten percent or approximately 1,400 positions being eliminated through restructuring efforts. Next, Adobe Systems announced it would be restructuring and reducing its workforce by seven percent. Additional semi industry firms are reportedly also anticipating layoffs, and who knows how the domino effect will play out across other direct and indirect industries. To get an idea of how far-reaching the impacts of layoffs can be, check out the creative, interactive Domino Effect posting on my Whiteboard at the end of this blog. It specifically addresses the housing market, but you’ll get the idea.

So What’s Next?

The new norm for annual planning appears to be a hand-in-hand combination of business assessment along with strategic and workforce planning. This newly-established partnership between operating executives together with finance, organization development and human resources leaders seems like a "dream team." Get the right people in the room with the right information about future expectations and facilitate a creative and innovative exploration of practical options for achieving the appropriate balance between financial, stakeholder and employee expectations. As I wrote in my book, Learning to Live With Downsizing, layoffs are not the only solution – but in order to identify others, the team needs the leadership and courage to explore out-of-the box alternatives, along with the likely risks associated with each.

The simultaneous timing of organizations’ strategic planning and restructuring framework with a holiday season of personal reflection and connections with friends and family in a spirit of love and kindness seems ironic. While employees are being thankful for what they have and sharing with others less fortunate, the rug may be about to be ripped out from under their feet.

I believe as a result of this emerging trend in planning and subsequent layoffs during a season framed in kindness and celebration, organizations should pay particular attention to the emotional needs of the employees being let go, as well as those remaining. Both will be impacted by the changes the organization is introducing; albeit in different ways.

As organizational leaders, we have a responsibility to employees who have contributed to the journey so far to be as fair and respectful as possible with the process of separation, and the process they face for moving on. In a blog I published in July 2010, I addressed this specific issue. I felt it might be helpful to repeat it here, so here is a link to Separation – Do It with Grace.

If your Year-End To-Do List includes an event that will impact employees such as restructuring, layoffs, rebranding, mergers, etc., consider these pillars in framing your approach:

  1. Promote honesty and openness – tell the story of why the event is necessary for the success and/or survival of the organization.
  2. Prepare to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more – not everyone will hear the entire message the first time, or even the third time. Remember, if you don’t tell them, they’ll fill in the gaps with their own ideas.
  3. Don’t ever say "that’s the end, we’re done" – you just can’t know what’s around the corner. So if you have to initiate layoffs, don’t announce that there won’t be more.
  4. Prepare your managers – this type of organizational work gets personal and can be painful. Decisions being made will impact the lives and families of your employees. Managers may need assistance to deal with their own emotions and should be prepared for reactions that most likely will be emotional. Use EAP and outplacement experts, as appropriate.
  5. Offer assistance – the re-employment process is not impossible, but in this market it is very challenging. Offer as much assistance to separating employees as possible. Firms such as ours offer books, coaching, workshops, webinars, and one-on-one sessions to meet the needs of employees and managers. Remember, employees will be watching and judging how friends and colleagues are treated, influencing their future engagement and motivation levels.
Economists are suggesting that 2012 will continue to be a challenging time for business, and perhaps we won’t see any clear signs of a strong recovery until after the November elections. If that’s the case, what advice would you add to improve the success of restructuring and layoff processes?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is Your Zero-Tolerance Training Program Working?

This week the topic of harassment is again front and center in our workplaces, schools, and political arenas. As an HR professional dedicated to ensuring that the workplace is welcoming and respectful to everyone, I found myself questioning "Where did we go wrong? After all the years of training, coaching, and sensitivity training, provided by firms of all sizes, why are we still having conversations about inappropriate behaviors? In addition to our training efforts, have the laws also failed?"

As many women who went to work in the 70’s and 80’s can attest to, it was not unusual at that time for bosses (primarily male bosses) to make passes at and disrespectful comments to women in the workplace. The workplace culture up until that time was primarily male dominated, and they didn't seem to think they were doing anything wrong. But the diversity of the workplace changed, and that laid the groundwork for the culture changes to come.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that sexual harassment was a discriminatory action and a violation of federal law, organizations didn’t pay much attention. It really wasn’t until 1991 when Anita Hill gave a face and a voice to the oppressive behaviors and negative impacts of harassment in the workplace that organizations began to look in the mirror. What they found was the demographics of employees had changed and the new workforce was demanding a shift in the status quo of male-dominated workplace cultures and behaviors. The workplace could no longer be the "club" for off-color jokes, bad language, inappropriate advances, or promotions for those bullied into granting sexual favors. Analyzing the claims of harassment that began to be more frequently reported, researchers helped us understand that sexual harassment and hostile work environment weren’t really about sex, but more about power.

The Intentional and Unintentional Consequences

The basis for harassment today remains the same, someone with power taking advantage of someone with little or no power. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website contains information on both harassment and sexual harassment; both illegal and punishable by fines.

With courts seeing many harassment cases over the years, they now place the burden on the employer to prove that the harassment did not occur. The courts have come to the realization that people will be people and therefore, employers should be aware that some form of harassment could be occurring within their workplace at any time. Based on that assumption, each employer is required to take the appropriate steps to ensure their workplace is free of harassing behaviors, and that processes are in place to report it, investigate it and stop it. However, even with clarified roles and responsibilities regarding harassment, the EEOC reports that nearly $100M in legal settlements were paid in 2010.

Although we have gained a greater awareness of actions that make others uncomfortable and behavioral changes have occurred to improve respectful workplace relationships, unintended consequences have also resulted from attempts to stop harassment in the workplace:
  • Individuals often don’t want to report the incident for fear of embarrassment or retaliation.
  • Individuals have learned they can get a lot of people stirred up, create moments of media fame, and often profit financially by reporting false accusations of harassment.
  • Some organizations have adopted the view that "settlements" are a cost of doing business.
  • As our workplaces have grown with diversity, so have the number of ways harassment can occur; as a result, claims of harassment are on the rise.

So What’s Next?

I’m sad to share that a recent national study, to be released next week, conducted by the American Association of University Women finds that 50 percent of 7th to 12th grade students reported experiencing sexual harassment in the last school year! Eighty-seven percent of those who reported being harassed also reported negative effects such as absenteeism, poor sleep and illness. These students, harassed by other students who had more "informal" power at school, will soon be in our candidate pools. What does this growing trend in high schools across the country mean to the orientation, on-boarding, training, mentoring and performance programs in our organization?

We are exposed, if only for a nano-second of a sound bite, to the realities of workplace vulnerabilities when they impact business leaders, celebrities, athletes or schools and universities dealing with claims of hostile environments or sexual harassment. Often our tendencies are to bury our heads in the sand, not wanting to face what might be happening within our own cultures and sub-cultures. Perhaps the reemergence of harassment in the news should be viewed as a wake-up call to investigate what our organization is offering in the form of training, coaching, hotlines, etc.

Yes, people will be people, but every CEO is responsible for setting the tone for appropriate and respectful behaviors. Boards need to be holding the CEO’s responsible, and HR should be orchestrating training, surveys and coaching programs aimed not only at raising awareness but also at helping individuals unable to change behaviors on their own. Certainly offenders who do not improve their behaviors with colleagues should be fired; obviously they are not a match for the values and culture of the organization.

Today the courts are seeing more male-on-male harassment, but that doesn’t mean that women being harassed by males has been eliminated. Nor does it mean that hostile environments due to religion, age, race, color, disability, or national origin have been curtailed. Technology and the journey we have taken to a 24/7 environment also opens up opportunities for harassment in the form of text messages, social media postings, etc. (Don’t miss the Textual Harassment video on my whiteboard below). Some experts speculate that the true picture of harassment is being masked by the recession; people wanting to hold on to their jobs, regardless of the circumstances, are not reporting abuse.

I believe, especially with the conditions of a struggling economy, businesses should not take their eyes off the need to gear up and update zero-tolerance training programs. Harassment or bullying, as it’s called in the schools, is alive and well. Businesses need to be cultivating cultures of respect, engagement, and sustainability. Claims of harassment played out in the courts, newspapers, internet and around the water cooler can quickly call into question and destroy a strong and credible reputation. Strategies to ensure that inappropriate comments, behaviors and practices are not tolerated are an investment in the future.

It’s hard to believe that people don’t know how to respect the differences and values of each other, but statistics show us this problem continues. But you know what they say – if we keep doing the same thing, why should we expect a different outcome? So my question is:

If we haven’t achieved the level of success we were looking for with the training and awareness programs we’re currently utilizing, what other actions should we consider to eliminate harassment in our organizations? What’s your organization doing?

Please share your comments below.

Collaborate for a Solution


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Corporate Culture: Intentional or Accidental

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways merger had me examining the question, "Do most organizations have the cultures they intend to have, or is their culture more 'accidental' in nature, dictated by voids in leadership?"

The organization development profession has come a long way to have an article dedicated to the challenges of culture on the front page of the Business section. So in a way I’m glad to see the progress of organizations relating to the importance of culture; but at the same time, I’m concerned that executives hearing so much about culture and not familiar with its relevance to successful performance may discount it as the next "flavor of the month" business trend. We need to be careful to continue our educational efforts on this topic.

The term corporate culture was coined by the McKinsey organization. There are many definitions, including: "how we do things around here" and "real-time reflection of an organization’s rulebook." An important element of the latter is the "organization’s rulebook." Who wrote yours - the owner of the business, the management team, or the strongest subcultures within your enterprise? It’s not a given that management and employees are working out of the same book.

What Do We Know About Culture?

For this blog I’m assuming that culture is the "stuff" that:
  • influences how work gets done
  • impacts whether or not the company is viewed as a high performer to be benchmarked against
  • orchestrates the processes to determine who fits in and who doesn’t
  • controls the overall tempo and mood of the enterprise
We often observe the "stuff" by the way language, stories, rituals, symbols and power are displayed on a daily basis as tasks are completed. Although efforts to guide the culture are attempted by publishing handbooks, P&P manuals, job descriptions, annual reports, and a host of other corporate documents, culture "stuff" goes beyond the written word.

It’s great to have so much research on culture today to help guide organizational performance improvements. Even the Defense Acquisition University has written, and is teaching about culture because of its impact and importance to government agencies. We most often hear about culture when organizations are merging, such as the Southwest – AirTran example. But the importance of recognizing, understanding, and working with culture is a skill set all leaders need in anticipation of future acquisitions, as well as restructurings, and the need to re-conceptualize work as a result of change. Certainly there are examples of mergers where the integration of the cultures has worked. But on the opposite side of the scale are the outweighing mergers that didn’t work: Novell/WordPerfect, Daimler/Chrysler, Matsushita Electronics/MCA, Inc., to list a few.

How Do We Assess and Change Culture?

Whether you are considering merging or planning for changes to improve alignment with the needs of 2012, here are a few steps you can take to improvement your culture. In 1992 Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes developed The Cultural Web. This model identifies six interrelated elements that create the pattern (Paradigm) of the work environment. Using these steps you can analyze your current culture and identify what’s working and what needs to be changed, as you consider the gaps between what the culture currently is and the culture you want in the future:

1.  Assess the current culture:
  • Ask about and listen to stories – what past events are people talking about? 
  • Observe the rituals and routines of daily work behaviors, signaling "acceptable" behavior.
  • Study the symbols most pronounced in the organization - logo, marketing, website, social media, dress code, office layout and decorations, etc.. What do they tell you about the organization?
  • Identify how power and influence are used to accomplish those activities and outputs valued by the organization. Look closely at the formal organizational chart, as well as the many informal factors influencing outcomes.
  • Review the written day-to-day control processes involving finances, quality, performance management, and other metrics the organization monitors and reports on. Do the activities match the procedures?
  • Identify those individuals and groups within the organization that have the most influence on decisions, operations, and the strategic direction the organization seems to be headed in.
2.  With the assessment of the current culture complete, follow the same process to identify the culture desired for the organization in the future.

3.  Comparing the themes of the current and future culture assessments, identify the differences between the two. Examining these gaps will lead to a list of strategic steps to be taken in order to eliminate the gaps, or at least minimum the differences.

4.  Prioritize the required changes and develop a plan for implementing a cultural transition.

So What’s Next?

The tagline for my business is Transforming Human Behaviors Through Cultural Evolution. I seriously believe that we can’t expect employees to perform any differently if we don’t address the environment they work in and the "stuff" that influences how they do their jobs. Culture change requires a realistic change management plan and the patience to implement it. It doesn’t happen overnight because you’re striving for a collaborative process where employees and stakeholders embrace the changes and participate as much as possible. Culture change is something that can’t be rushed.

Often organizations seek OD consultants and experts to assist them with culture assessments, change readiness capabilities, planning and implementation of the rollout. I don’t want to sound like a commercial, but often internal views are distorted by what they want to see. The eyes and ears of an outside expert are valuable in taking an unbiased approach to mapping and navigating the path to cultural change. Experts share experiences and knowledge to revise performance expectations and the workplace environment in which individuals can flourish. They provide strategies for introducing an updated vision, mission and values, along with appropriate changes to systems, policies and procedures.

Kelly Yamanouchi reported in the AJC that Southwest and AirTran are hard at work implementing their Plan to blend more than 8,000 AirTran employees into the culture of Southwest. Keep in mind that Southwest Airlines views their culture as one of its most valuable assets. Trying to integrate their culture with another organization would be difficult enough. However in this case, they are layering that job with the task of integrating it into a unionized environment. Talk about challenges!

Training is underway to assist AirTran employees with understanding and embodying the personality of the Southwest culture into their everyday routines. Each AirTran employee received an "Embrace It! Recognize It! Live It!" wristband. Repeated communication and training will continue in an effort to drive the expectation for individual acceptance and transition to the Southwest business model. It won’t happen overnight, but with the right planning, continued assessment, and patience, success is possible.

Successful organizations considering acquisitions or organizational change as a result of current economic and global conditions will be wise to consider a similar approach to cultural integration as this highly visible merger has. From the research I did this weekend, it doesn’t appear that studies over the past few years found many organizations considering the importance of culture in their strategic planning processes. Hopefully we can help them re-evaluate that approach. What are your thoughts about intentional and accidental cultures? What have you experienced that works as organizations attempt cultural change, and what should be avoided? We all look forward to you joining the dialogue by posting your comments below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prescription For A Healthy Organization: A Daily Dose of Human Connection

I've recently realized that I am observing more and more "problems" surfacing in client workplaces that have to do with a lack of personal relationships. Investigating the root cause of the situations, the conflicts are most often anchored to behavioral reactions associated with feelings such as a lack of trust, isolation, or a disconnection from feeling part of the team. At a time when organizations should be fostering engagement and designing workplaces that support retention, are business strategies associated with technology, improved efficiencies and work/life balance working against our success?

In a Harvard Business Review article originally published in 1999 and republished in 2010, Edward M. Hallowell wrote about what he termed the "human moment." In 1999 Hallowell was concerned about the problems he was seeing and hearing about from business executives he was counseling in his psychiatric practice. If he was concerned with the impact of the technologies of a decade ago - stop for a moment and consider how much greater the impact of current technologies are on this issue today!

Rather than hold face-to-face meetings with teams, suppliers or clients, it's much more cost effective today to conduct a web-based meeting. Instead of holding monthly staff meetings in the conference room, it has become quicker, easier, and less costly to communicate through conference calls. Training workshops which offered opportunities for colleagues to network and get to know each other while they learned new skills together have been replaced by cost effective and time saving webinars. And the need for office space to centrally locate employees and work teams has given way to new work designs like teleworking and flex offices. There's no doubt about it, technology advancements are providing great opportunities for faster, cheaper work alternatives, but what's the cost of the significant lack of human connections?

The Human Moment
Dr. Hallowell defined the human moment as an authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space. The prerequisites for the human moment to occur include people's physical presence, as well as their emotional and intellectual attention to the moment. Yes, the opportunity to create human moments does require energy and an investment in time and travel. However, what we're learning about the brain continues to support the idea that a deficiency of human contact leads to workers feeling lonely, isolated and confused about work assignments, direction and mission.

Emails, text messaging, instant messages, and voice messages are all opportunities for us to communicate with each other. However these communication channels don't provide for the key essential of communications - body language. We've always heard that we hear more though our eyes than through our ears and that is demonstrated time and again as we rely less on face-to-face engagements and more on the convenience of technologies.

What Hallowell's research found was that the lack of human moments results in worry. He wrote about "good worry" that leads to constructive planning and creativity and "toxic worry," which is anxiety. Hallowell found that anxiety immobilizes workers and leads to indecision or destructive actions. He concluded that toxic worry is among the most debilitating consequences of vanishing human moments, and the source of the misunderstandings that result from misconstruing communications.

So What's Next?
Thinking about this dilemma, which I'm assuming will only get more intense if we don't start paying more attention to it, my memory replayed a TV commercial from many years ago. The scene is a corporate conference room. The meeting participants are concerned and worried about why the meeting has been called, especially in light of the downturn in their business. The camera focuses on the boss, who is standing at the head of the table. The boss begins to speak and announces that the decision has been made to get back to valuing their customers. He holds up a hand full of airline tickets and announces they're returning to their roots to improve business: face-to-face customer meetings. He was selling more than United Airlines services - he was selling the power of human connections. Today, not only do we need to be careful not to be too virtual with our customers, we also have to be attentive to adequately connecting our employees.

Many organizations that promote teleworking also require their employees to come into the office on a frequent basis to attend staff and/or team meetings so teambuilding and relationships can be forged. These organizations know that workers are more productive and efficient when employees know each other personally and can tap into that relationship, trust and familiarity to avoid misunderstandings.

With the increasing advancement of technologies encouraging less need for working face-to-face, organizations need to be mindful to craft opportunities for personal interactions into their processes. Perhaps the idea of "open" meetings with pizza and snacks once a month to discuss business and project issues that members are interested in could spark connections.  Or promote lunch and learns to share skill building or project updates to offer another forum for individuals working together to meet each other face-to-face.  Ideas for gathering employees together for the specific purpose of getting to know each other and building relationships they can tap into in the future are more important now than ever. We need to encourage and plan for events focused on human interactions

The Human Resource and academic professions are hearing loud and clear from businesses complaining that entry level candidates are coming into the workplace without strong interpersonal and communication skills. The cause of this may be their personal interaction with technologies, as well as habits learned while at school. I fear this lack of abilities to interact with others will only complicate the struggle organizations are already confronting resulting from the lack of human moments available in each work day. As leaders within our organizations, we have a responsibility to improve productivity and profitability. Could improving opportunities for building human moments at work be a key to meeting those business goals?

What do you think - is the human moment important? If yes, what are some of the techniques your organization supports for making personal interactions happen?

Collaborate for a Solution

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Branding Isn't Just for Marketing

This morning while enjoying my three-mile walk, I passed a service truck with the advertisement "We Protect Your Brand" painted on the sides. Branding of course is a critical business element, so it caught my attention and I wondered how they did that – protect your brand?

As I considered the tagline, I couldn’t imagine how a vendor could provide this protection. Shouldn’t protection be provided by employees? Thinking about how employees understand and protect brand strategies, it occurred to me that unless the organization does a good job of communicating the brand strategy, it would be difficult for the employees to protect it. Those thoughts led to others focused on the best practices for ensuring employees "get" the brand and acknowledge their responsibility to promote it, as well as protect it - something I’m not sure we’re always paying attention to.

Why Branding is Important

I think when most people think about branding, they think about a logo. The American Marketing Association (AMA) goes a little further as they define a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers." Businesses focus a lot of time and money on the creation of the appropriate brand because it can give them an edge in an increasingly competitive market.

The brand is the organization’s promise to its customers. Not only does it help an organization differentiate itself from others, it also assures the organization’s customers of what they can expect from products and services. The foundation of a brand is understanding what the customer needs and is usually anchored through the company’s logo and then builds throughout the marketing and communication channels: website, marketing materials, packaging, and promotional products.

However, another key area where branding is critical is human resource engagement. It’s a very logical connection – recruiting and hiring processes are very similar to the processes used by marketing to attract and retain customers. We want talented individuals to understand what the company’s vision, mission, goals and values are so they can evaluate if the organization is a fit with the type of philosophy and culture they believe in, and can excel in.

Building the Brand through Employees

The objectives of a good brand which should consistently be applied to marketing and communication efforts, as well as human resource management activities, include the following:
  • Clearly deliver the message of what your company stands for
  • Confirm the credibility of your organization
  • Connect with customers, as well as employees on an emotional level
  • Motivate action – to buy – or to come to work
  • Solidify the loyalty of the customer or the employee
Integrating the importance of understanding and demonstrating brand into human resource processes can be accomplished through the following eight practices:
  1. Ensure sourcing and recruiting materials are consistent with the brand messaging
  2. Provide training and certification for internal and external recruiters so they understand and can clearly communicate the brand before they begin talking with potential candidates
  3. Include values, goals and mission statement information on the career opportunity section of your website
  4. Incorporate the company’s mission and values into the interviewing process by asking open-ended questions to identify if the candidate’s personal values align with the firm’s
  5. Integrate brand messages into the on-boarding process and help the new employee understand the responsibilities for demonstrating and protecting the brand
  6. Periodically offer employee training on business ethics including case studies challenging brand protection and re-enforcing how to appropriately handle business and ethical situations 
  7. Include a focus on brand in development goals and executive coaching engagements
  8. Align the strategic business, marketing and human resource plans with the brand messaging
It takes more than just a talented individual to help your organization be the best that it can be. That individual of course must do a great job, but they also have to do that great job with the passion and commitment to deliver on the promises you’ve made to your customers. Your brand is derived from who the organization is, who the organization wants to be, and who your customers perceive the organization to be. Your employees are on the front lines. Help them understand how their personal actions reflect brand. For example, if the brand is focused on quality services, it’s imperative that employees do what they say they are going to do. There’s a complete mismatch when the organization says they deliver quality, and then employees consistently do not return phone calls or respond to emails.

I have an excellent example of such a mismatch of brand values from a shopping trip the other day at my favorite grocery store, where I am a loyal customer. Usually this store employs staff who go out of their way to ensure that you find everything you need. The cashiers, especially, engage with shoppers to produce a personalized and "we’re so glad you shopped with us" experience. This gentleman unfortunately didn’t engage with anything or anyone, other than his poor attitude. There was nothing about my experience working with him that matched the brand. On my way out I commented to the manager and she knew exactly who I was speaking about without me even mentioning his name. Her comment was, "We’ve been trying to work with him to see if he’s going to be a fit."

Even in an organization where the recruiting and hiring processes are focused on aligning with the brand, some mistakes are made. Once it’s obvious the values of the employee do not align with the organization’s brand, it’s best to reassign the employee to a job away from customers, develop a performance improvement plan, or terminate the employee. Misalignment of personal and organizational brands results in lost customers! I’ll go back to that store because I know that wasn’t the usual experience, but if I was a first time shopper there, I would definitely find a different store!

So What’s Next?

The recession has complicated the marketplace. There are many organizations redefining their brands as customer needs and expectations have changed. If your organization is reexamining your brand, make sure the process and final results are communicated not only to customers, but existing employees as well. Help job candidates and employees understand how to communicate and demonstrate the new brand through successful performance interactions. The success of the organization rests on their performance. Take immediate actions to review your Human Resource processes to ensure you are sharing the most appropriate information about your expectations for how the brand looks and sounds in the everyday workplace.

It turns out the truck I saw belongs to an organization that calibrates scales used in the distribution of food products. After I researched the company and understood the service they were providing, the tag line makes complete sense. They help ensure that the public can rely on the quality, consistency and trust of the products their clients sell.

There are many voices out there competing for business in my profession and yours. Defining our brands is a journey of business self-discovery. I’m curious, what practices are you employing to ensure that human resource strategies align with company branding? Post comments, questions, ideas below.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Does Your Leadership Style Help or Hinder Your Strategic Planning?

Once school starts, businesses usually turn their thoughts to next year’s planning.  We do this because by the time we get to the middle of November, for all practical purposes, the year is over.  For many members of the planning team the balance of the year is focused on using up vacation before it is lost, planning for and attending holiday parties, traveling to family get-togethers, and getting shopping and other holiday activities completed.  

So with a little more than two months of solid planning time remaining, I found myself considering the impact leadership style has on the way we plan.  Does one style vs another create a better outcome?  What would your team say about the impact your style has on the annual planning process?

HBDI Quadrants

Just to give full disclosure, I want you to know that I am certified to administer a number of assessments that help individuals and teams explore leadership and work style preferences.  I enjoy exploring possibilities with clients through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).  The HBDI Strategic Issues Model is depicted below.

I love the HBDI for the journey of personal discovery it allows each participant to explore.  The HBDI profile provides in-depth information about an individual’s preferred way of thinking and acting, as well as how to effectively and productively integrate the preferred style with the styles of others, in order to achieve the greatest positive impact.  

I’m thinking about style because we cannot overlook the fact that the leader’s preferred work and thinking styles influence the strategic planning process, just as much as they do all our other business activities.  Ned Herrmann, creator of the HBDI, wrote in his book, The Creative Brain "In the corporation of the future, new leaders will not be masters, but maestros.  The leadership task will be to anticipate the signs of coming change, to inspire creativity, and to get the best ideas from everybody."  Isn’t this so true for today?  Based on this quote, perhaps my question should be:  “Does your style have you acting as a master or a maestro?”

Leaders planning for 2012 need to tap into the creative energies of all of their employees.  As the model illustrates, there are four basic quadrants that summarize how their preferences, and the preferences of their planning team, could influence the planning process.  Writing in very general terms, the Quadrant A leader most likely will approach strategic planning from an analytical, logical, fact-based manner.  The Quadrant B leader has many similarities to the A leader, but B has a strong desire to understand how things worked in the past and how the organization got to where it is, in order for action to be planned and executed.  A B leader may have little patience for the intellectual information Leader A is interested in.

On the other hand, a Quadrant C leader will probably view the process through a lens of  sensitivity and desire to involve as many stakeholders as possible.  This leader is very aware of moods, attitudes and energy levels.  The C leader is very tuned in to the human side of business.  And as much as the C leader is excited by the human dynamics of growth and change, the D leader is excited by new ideas, possibilities, variety, and questions.  In fact, the D leader needs to be mindful of a tendency to speak in metaphors that may be difficult for other quadrant styles to understand.

Utilizing the HBDI process to imagine how each leader might influence the strategic plan and the process for developing it, you can begin to see that the most creative and innovative plans will be realized by those organizations engaging a variety of thinking styles:  A, B, C, and D preferences. 

So to answer the question, “Is there a preferred style of leadership for planning?”  I would respond – “Yes!  The leadership style should be focused on broad participation from a diverse group of individuals interested in the future.”  The benefit to this approach will be not missing the three other styles that offer different perspectives, ideas, questions, and opportunities to make the process richer and more robust.  An additional benefit of a collaborative process is the buy-in developed during the process. 

So What’s Next?

Economists report that 2012 will continue to reflect the types of challenges we have experienced over the past few years.  The more creative and innovative an organization can be dealing with uncertainty, risk and changing times, the better.  Along with the diverse thinking of a Strategic Planning Team, an excellent model for strategic planning involves the following steps:

  1. Get Real – Collect and analyze appropriate data about the past 12 months.  Where is your organization or business today?  It might be helpful to utilize tools such as a SWOT, or conduct an analysis of your competition.
  2. Envision the Future – Use creative meeting exercises to help the team get out of the box of “getting real” to a more playful, open and future-oriented vision of what could be.  If there were no constraints, what should the organization be doing?
  3. Conduct an Environmental Scan – In the profession of Organization Development (OD) an environmental scan refers to content analysis of market, industry, clients, competitors, etc.  This step usually involves reviewing appropriate briefings, presentations, reports, research etc. to identify and highlight key, repeated words, phrases, and ideas.  These elements are then used to identify themes that illustrate the possibilities for the business in the future.
  4. Play with Scenarios – Utilizing the data, themes, opportunities, risks, etc. identified in the first three steps, play out the “What If” scenarios of each, answering the questions, “So What?”  “Now What?”  “Then What?” 
  5. Develop Feasible Options – Based on the data, activities and imaginations, hone in on the strategic options the organization should focus on, and then verify the reasonableness of those options by inviting a population of stakeholders to participate in focus meetings.
  6. Articulate the Strategies, Goals and Metrics – Write, communicate and reference the Plan in a way that makes sense to everyone.  Everyone should know how their job tasks contribute to the Plan, and where the organization stands relative to the goals and metrics on a continuous basis.
  7. Be Attentive, Flexible and Willing to Change – Everyday business is time consuming;  I guess that’s why they call it work.  Don’t get so caught up in the “work” that you forget to keep your eye on the horizon.  You need to stand ready to lead a remapping session as the realities of the journey to your destination become clearer.
I started thinking about this topic last week when a colleague mentioned that she would be doing the bulk of her planning ahead of getting together with her team.  Her thought was to not pull them away from their jobs for a few days of planning.  She would do the bulk of it; just utilizing them for one day. 

I understand the investment of associates being pulled away from productivity.  And if that’s your style or operational dilemma, then perhaps it’s best not to label the team coming together as strategic planning, but instead for providing feedback on your plan.  Don’t set the expectation that you want input and ideas about how to make next year better, when all you may want is a blessing on your vision.

I see something as important as strategic planning for my business, as well as my clients, as too important to be attempted in a vacuum.  Find some creative way to gather your  stakeholders that are knowledgeable, creative, logical, curious, passionate, and compassionate.  Be sure as you encourage exploration, analysis and innovation that you are keeping a watchful eye on your style as you orchestrate the symphony of synergy.  Leaders with strong styles that have a tendency to quiet the voices of different thinking styles may consider engaging an outside facilitator tasked to keep the process open, moving, reasonable and fun.

So what are your thoughts on the idea of Strategic Planning as a Master or a Maestro? 
Please share your comments below.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Reality of Information Overload

I know I’m not alone with this situation – constant email, text, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN alerts, multiple notices from groups I want to stay connected with, calls on the business line while my cell phone is ringing, and the unscheduled "visit" from a co-worker who just needs a minute of my time. Wow! No wonder I’m having a hard time getting things done! We all have a lot of information coming at us. How do we make sense of it in order to not miss things we should know or do? The technology age has shackled us. Do we have the skills to free ourselves?

According to a recent survey, employees and employers are worried about the impacts of information overload on productivity, morale, and work quality. We’ve modified our behaviors to embrace new technologies and now many of us have trouble controlling our desire to know what’s happening continuously on issues related to work, family and friends, politics, entertainment and business. And even though I don’t like to admit it, I too have to put on an "out of office" message, and sometimes even really do work outside the office, in order to get real work done. The truth be known, my most productive time is on a cross-country flight. Wow, four hours of uninterrupted time! Don’t give me WiFi and please don’t let passengers start using cell phones on planes. This is the best uninterrupted time you can hope for.

One report produced by the Burton Group states that our expectations for responsiveness have increased greatly and individuals now feel an instinctive need to respond immediately, or they are consumed with guilt. They refer to the "CrackBerry effect," and although we might use the term jokingly, both about ourselves and our friends, it’s beginning to look more and more like the truth.

Like many, I’m questioning if technology and our expectations for staying connected have gone too far? Jack Santos, the author of the Burton Group report, wrote that "the cumulative responses from the CIO community to all of this info-insanity is: ‘Stop the world! I need to get off!’"

Looking at our behaviors and the problems we encounter when we try to disconnect from technology for any period of time (say a vacation week) I think it’s reasonable to ask "are our skill sets for emotionally and psychologically managing the volumes of available information in step with the pace of technological advancements?" Jonathan Spira, a researcher who studies worker productivity, has written a book on the topic of information overload, quite perfectly entitled "Overload: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization."  According to his research, a worker reading and responding to 100 emails a day can easily occupy one half of the work day! Think about that – how many emails do you respond to in a day? Spira’s research goes further to reveal, "for every 100 people who are unnecessarily copied on an email, eight hours of productivity are lost." So what’s the answer? How do we tame the information overload beast eating up precious hours of productive time for each worker?

Suggestions from The Experts

Spira and others suggest a few "simple" things we can do to change our productivity metrics:
  1. Stop sending emails that only say "thanks." I know that on some occasions it is important to acknowledge that "I got it," but make these the exception rather than the rule.
  2. Schedule e-mail time two to three times a day for 10 minutes at a time.
  3. Discontinue smart phone use, or at least check it only on a predefined schedule rather than at every vibration.
  4. Before you hit the "reply all" button – does everyone need to know what you’re about to say? Good question!
  5. Turn off email and text alerts (sound and vibration) so you’re not tempted to be distracted from what you are focused on.
  6. Learn to block those advertisements that you don’t need to be bothered with in order to cut down on interruptions.
  7. Think twice - or maybe three times - before forwarding that chain notice or joke – what a waste of time.
  8. Set aside immersion time. –Bill Gates is probably the best at this with his "Think Week" retreat. This time is for getting away from technology and focusing on consuming ideas, books, articles, conversations that will stimulate new ideas without interruptions and distractions.
Tools to Assist

A survey conducted by LexisNexis suggests that businesses aren’t doing enough to help workers manage the information they are exposed to. Workers from each market said they would welcome up-to-date technology and customized tools for managing information, as well as training on best practices and self-discipline. Until better tools are available, consider utilizing available support and time management skills to manage the stress and impact of this phenomenon:
  1. Turn on your Out of Office Message so you won’t feel so guilty about not responding as soon as a message hits your mailbox.
  2. Use an RSS Reader to organize the most important information you need to access.
  3. Stay focused on connecting with the most important information you need to know and don’t worry about the rest.
  4. Form "support groups" at work to discuss the problem and to share ideas for disconnection.
  5. Practice shutting down cell phones, email, etc. about two hours prior to bedtime in order to give your brain a chance to disengage.
  6. Establish an electronic system for filing your emails and attachments to shorten retrieval time.
So What’s Next?

Information overload is not a new problem. According to an article in Harvard Business Review by Ann Blair, in 1255 the Dominican Vincent of Beauvais articulated the key ingredients of the feelings of overload which are still with us today: "the multitude of books, the shortness of time and the slipperiness of memory." Sound familiar? No one doubts the fact that the age of information and knowledge is here. What we need to do is build the skills and disciplines to properly survive it.

When attending a time management workshop you probably learned about time wasters – the people who stop by your office and ask, "do you have a few minutes?" and 30 minutes later you’re still trying to get them out of your cubicle. The colleague that calls and before you can say hello, says "I’ll only keep you for five minutes," but before you know it, an hour has passed. Or, the meeting you’ve been requested to attend that has nothing to do with the work you are currently responsible for. And the list goes on. Well it’s time to add the time wasters of email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to that group. These are all good tools when properly utilized to add value to our lives, but when they begin to dictate daily priorities, they can turn into the biggest time wasters.

Research continues to demonstrate that our brains are not structured for multi-tasking in a time efficient manner, and in fact, we should try to avoid multi-tasking at all costs. As Mr. Spira’s research concludes, "when it comes to cognitive tasks, our brains aren’t really capable of competently doing more than one thing at a time." The research seems to be clear, "workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in a marijuana smoker"! (2005 University of London Study). If we can hardly walk and chew gum at the same time, what’s to be done about all these pulls for our attention and engagement with information?

Surprisingly, there appears to be movement away from supporting distractors like email and the like. An August article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that "Companies like PriceWaterhouseCoopers have put out requests urging employees to not email over the weekend, so as to not create a false urgency for action. And the French service company Atos Origin plans to go email free in the next three years to cut down on what it calls ‘information pollution.’ There’s even an effort underway to ‘conquer information overload’ and restore sanity to working professionals. The site InfoVegan is dedicated to information obesity, diets and civic accountability." What’s your organization doing about this problem?

Whether it’s email, social media, YouTube or whatever, informative availability has invaded our homes and work zones. Establishing a work culture that honors "nontechnical" time and values a healthy expectation for a balanced and realistic number of "connected" hours is a good step in the right direction. Helping our employees develop reasonable and practical skills for managing the 24/7/365-paced global environment should be on the priority list of every leader. I would suggest denying access to the technologies is not the answer. In addition to shifting the culture, organizations should begin to offer workshops about the impact of information overload to brain functionality and productivity along with training focused on building new skills to better manage the information produced by the expanding access to technology channels.

What’s your experience with information overload? What’s working for you and your employees, and where are you struggling? Please share your comments below.

 Raise Awareness and Change Behaviors

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Soft Skills Dilemma

Last week as a volunteer for the SHRM GA State Council, I had the pleasure of participating as a panelist at the Governor’s Workforce Development Town Hall meeting in Marietta. If you haven’t heard about these meetings yet you might check out their website and get involved. There are 31 meetings planned across the state from August through November. The purpose of the meetings is to bring together stakeholders interested in finding practical and sustainable solutions to the soft skills gaps Georgia employers are facing. SHRM GA State Council is excited about the opportunity to participate in these meetings and offer the human resource professional perspective on how to train and on-board individuals who have not yet mastered these key life skills.  
Melvin Everson, the Executive Director of the Workforce Development Office, opened our meeting citing research which indicates that most employment terminations are not occurring because of a lack of technical skills or insubordination. Instead, individuals (particularly young people; first time employees, etc.) are losing their jobs as a result of a lack of understanding and demonstration of behaviors such as the following in the workplace:
  • successfully being able to work in teams
  • consistently being reliable and punctual
  • communicating well with others, verbally and in writing
  • solving problems and thinking outside the box
  • dressing appropriately for the work environment
Whatever you want to call them, "life skills" or "soft skills," the nation – not just GA - is facing a huge gap in qualified candidates and workers as a result of a lack of these types of qualities. This problem will require involvement by all stakeholders, including the business community, to remedy. Are these gaps in soft skills surfacing in your organization?

What’s the Problem?

The message was the same from many of the individuals attending the meeting. Many are Baby Boomers who grew up in a time when the rule at home was, "You have trouble at school, and you’ll have twice as much trouble at home." The solidarity parents and teachers had for working together to teach the skills needed for success doesn’t seem to be the same today. We heard comments and suggestions about the root causes for our current situation that included issues such as:

  • The concept of "respect" and demonstrating that to others, including people in positions of authority, is different today.
  • For many families in the 50’s and 60’s, graduation from high school was a step beyond where the parents had been – so the journey of the family was seen as moving forward. Families aren’t on the same journey today.
  • Teachers used to serve as mentors and role models. Today, teachers don’t have the time, aren’t as passionate about that role, or are afraid to challenge children in the classroom, especially teens.
  • Many parents today are children themselves and haven’t learned these lessons yet, so it’s hard, if not impossible, for them to teach them to their children.
  • Many families today include two parents working and they are often too busy or tired to get involved with the activities of their teens.
  • Many families have only one parent "doing it all" and they are not able to keep up with everything – including discipline and manners.
  • Today, based on the violence we’ve seen play out in schools, many teachers are afraid of confronting or disciplining students.  
  • The schools are not demanding or teaching appropriate dress. As a result, when young people come to work they are unaware that there is a standard they will be judged by.
  • The availability of technology has created a culture of isolationism to the degree that young people would rather text or email comments rather than have a conversation. This lack of having to talk with others has had a dramatic impact on communication and interpersonal skills.

What’s the Solution?

Sourcing, recruiting, hiring and terminations require time; and we all know time is money. Employers are looking for a workforce that has not only the technical skills to succeed, but maybe more importantly, the self-awareness and soft skills necessary to work with others within a culture that demands respect, courtesies, proper dress and dependability. The Economic Development Offices across the country want to be able to tell businesses shopping for a state to house their operations that they have an educated and ready workforce to staff necessary positions. So how do we ensure that pipeline?

From my experience as an Organization Development consultant, Human Resource Manager and trainer it certainly looks like the solution will require a collaborative approach. The immediate answer may be that employers need to offer training to young hires as reinforcement to the information shared through the on-boarding process. Maybe something like - How to Be Successful at Work 101 (I’m already developing this workshop). In addition, matching the new hires with a mentor to help show them the ropes and model the required behaviors could be extremely helpful. Underlining the training and mentoring, each new hire has to understand that these behaviors are critical to their success in the organization, and failure to demonstrate them in a consistent manner could result in termination.

Beyond the employer taking care of current hires, our school systems (elementary through college) need to step back and identify creative ways to weave successful work skills into their day-to-day processes, courses, and parent/teacher activities. I think everyone agrees that offering training to students and parents about the importance of embracing and demonstrating these "everyday skills" is imperative. In addition to the training, students need to be held accountable, just like they will be on the job, with consequences for falling short. Teaching parents will be just as important, so they can reinforce the training at home.

The Governor’s Workforce Development Office is already working on how to integrate these important lessons into their Work Ready certification programs. This is another collaborative effort of government, education, business, students, local communities and volunteers. Some of the competencies they will be addressing, such as punctuality and dress, will need to be measured more by a demonstration of understanding, rather than testing. The GA Work Ready Program is already a national example of how collaboration and training can succeed. Adding the requirements for soft skills is another strong example of how important they are for success and how dedicated the state is to having a workforce ready to succeed in the future.

So What’s Next?

I think we all agree the lack of interpersonal, communication and soft skills is a big problem for organizations. Given the size of the problem, it seems like we all need to get involved in one way or another to develop solutions and implement them.

At the SHRM Student HR Conference this past spring, Pam Greene, Chief Membership Officer, spoke for over an hour to the attending college students about the importance of proper dress, communication, language, punctuality, management of technologies, etc. Many of the issues she mentioned are the same ones we’re addressing in the Georgia Town Hall meetings. Businesses are beginning to offer etiquette classes to address common courtesies, respect and teamwork. States like Georgia are turning up the volume on the conversations they’re having with business and education partners to influence training curriculums and attitudes of teachers, parents and students. What’s your organization doing?

As the book title reminds us, It Takes a Village to Raise A Child. That village includes: HR professionals, educators, government agencies, parents, business owners, managers, chambers, associations - anyone with a passion for helping others learn how to succeed. It will take ideas and investments from all of us to close these gaps.

For those employees you’ve already hired that don’t understand what soft skills are and how they help develop great workers, it may be worth your investment to introduce training and link it to dialogues about performance expectation. If you can salvage someone you’ve already been investing in, it’s much more cost effective than terminating them and starting all over with the recruiting, hiring and training processes.

It may also be necessary to initiate a program for candidates interested in applying to your organization. This could involve some mandatory "training" on soft skills as part of the application process. This unusual step could send a strong message about the value your organization assigns to these skills and could raise awareness for the candidate about how the behaviors integrate with the hiring and performance management processes adhered to by your firm.

One person at our meeting raised a good question: "We’re all on the same page about the importance of these skills and that’s why we’re at this meeting. But what about those stakeholders who aren’t here? How do we reach them?" Good question! I’m not sure of the answer, but I believe the more we keep the dialogue going and expanding, the greater our chances to get the right people involved.

This is a complicated and multi-faceted issue. I was honored to be a part of the conversations in Marietta and look forward to the various changes that will be implemented in our education and business systems to solve this problem.  

So your challenge - What are your thoughts about how we can come together to not only dialogue about the problem, but share solutions? I’m interested in learning if and how this issue is impacting your organization. Please respond below.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Strategies for Managing in Difficult Times

It appears the economy is in for a wild white water experience through the rest of this year; and perhaps into 2012. Questions I’m hearing include: "What does this mean for my business?" And, "I was thinking of making some changes in 2012; does it make more sense to implement them now?" And, "How much longer can we afford to hang on?"

What does the dialog with your leadership team sound like? What are you thinking about when you hear how your customers are reacting to these challenging times, and how their "adjustments" might influence your need to adjust?

As a business owner I too am concerned, trying to make sense out of where things are headed. The optimism of the first half of the year seems to have melted away, scorched by the heat of this unusual summer weather, leaving us with the familiar uncertainty of global markets, a lagging job market, Wall Street instability, unsuccessful political leadership (on all sides) and lots of hard-working individuals feeling high levels of stress and frustration about their jobs, careers and dwindling retirement accounts. But just as we do when confronted by other major issues, we have to take a step back to assess what we know and make decisions based on facts and research (90%) and then of course, integrate our decision with our expert judgment based on experience (10%). After that, it’s a matter of working the plan and continuing to modify it as time continues to change the global atmosphere.

We continue to hear that it will be small- and mid-sized businesses that lead us out of these troubled times. But these business owners can only take on so much debt and risk without customers lining up for their products and services. In order to assess the level of risk and determine reasonable next steps, management should gather the leadership team to take stock of what’s going on in the firm, with customers, and around the globe. The next six to nine months may not be as promising as the first half of the year suggested they would be, but with the right level of leadership and preparedness, strategies associated with operations, finance, and the workforce can be adjusted to make the ride through the white water up ahead more bearable.

5 Business Strategies to Incorporate

Today, looking through the consulting lens of Organization Effectiveness, I see a worthwhile need for incorporating these five strategies into a ‘Second Half Business Review and Planning Retreat.’ Would these work for you and your team?

Planning - Assess what’s currently going on in your industry and business community, and envision what the next 12 months will require. Engage your leadership team, as well as gather ideas from employees, customers, suppliers, etc. Your agenda should include, at a minimum, the following. After you conduct the planning retreat, modify your Strategic Plan as appropriate and communicate the near- and far-term expectations with employees.
  • Gather and analyze feedback from customers about their plans for the next 6-12 months.
  • Generate ideas from a variety of stakeholders about short- and long-term trends in marketing, technology, day-to-day operations. What does the organization need to keep doing, what can it let go of, and what should it add?
  • Review the Strategic Goals previously planned for the 3rd and 4th quarter. What changes would you suggest?
  • Examine the markets that are working, and others where investment may not be paying off at the moment. What changes might be useful here?
  • Conduct a SWOT Analysis to identify organizational Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats/Risks, and analyze the data in order to develop themes that will aid future planning efforts.
Workforce - Based on where the organization is headed and the changes in technology that have been or will be implemented, what impact can the organization expect to see on its workforce? Is the organization structured in a manner that drives strategic goals through an environment of collaboration and transparency? Are employees engaged for a healthy and productive day of work, or can they be organized in a more efficient way to improve the effectiveness of their time and contributions? Is retraining or new training required? Are part-time contractors the answer for now, or is the organization ready to commit to full-time workers? Hopefully the idea of layoffs can be avoided, but if not, what transition assistance can the organization offer those displaced workers?

Roles - Considering the jobs employees should be doing, are job descriptions and processes for communicating performance expectations up-to-date and effective? Has leadership communicated changes to the vision/mission/goals and specifically informed employees about what they are responsible for and how their contributions impact the success of the organization? Employees need to be engaged in order to produce the performance expectations that will drive the strategic goals. Is leadership satisfied with how engagement and performance management goals are articulated and implemented? If not, what changes should be made?

Performance - What does the scorecard look like? Do metrics reflect organizational goals and objectives? Are expenses reasonable for the growth and productivity you are achieving? Are there initiatives the organization should explore such as teleworking, volume buying, or consolidation of facilities that would make sense and save money? Are there ways to introduce technology applications to streamline processes and reduce costs? Can a variety of workforce solutions (full-time, part-time, consultants, temporary) help manage payroll and benefit costs in the short-term until workload is more stable and predictable?

Investments - What’s on the horizon to drive and support business growth that the organization should be considering investing in right now and down the road? What’s the plan for how these investments will be financed? Does capital need to be secured? What expectations does the organization have for how these investments will pay off and when?

So What’s Next?

A good project manager will tell you that planning is essential for success. As significant changes are taking place in the business and financial markets, leaders are well-served by taking a step back to objectively assess the impact of market changes on their organizations. And no successful leader would take on this type of assessment and planning without the participation and collaboration of thought leaders and stakeholders.

In order to improve the results of the leadership retreat, be sure to engage with a skilled facilitator who will partner with you to design the meeting agendas with a focus on full participation, strategic objectives and desired outcomes. The benefits of having a facilitator assist will be evident in the quality of the conversations, creativity produced from seemingly conflicting viewpoints, and outcomes achieved from collaborative brainstorming and open dialogs.

Often impartial facilitators are available internally. (Not to sound like a commercial, but if you don’t have someone available within your firm to assist with meeting planning and facilitation, please consider having us work with you.) The point is, a key stakeholder should not plan to design, facilitate and participate in the meeting. That’s too much to expect and usually negatively impacts the ability of the group to achieve quality outcomes.

I’m the eternal optimist. I see the events of the last few weeks more as a sad statement of what our political system has disintegrated into rather than what we are capable of achieving. My glass is definitely more than half full, and I’m hopeful that we’ll find a way to embrace solutions that will spur the growth and innovation I believe our country can achieve. For anyone in Washington reading my blog, please note that I’d be glad to work with you to facilitate some productive meetings focused on what it’s going to take for leaders to act as leaders. Call me (770.587.9032).

Now, my question for you -- What do you think? Do my five strategies resonate with you?   What would you add or change?
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Please share your comments below.

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