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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Developing Creative Teams - The Art of Working with Others

This ASTER image uses short wavelength
infrared bands to highlight in bright pink
the altered rocks in the Morenci pit associated
with copper mineralization.
U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
The importance of team work and the ability to collaborate with others continue to be strong competencies successful organizations need to nurture.  With that as a background, I’m republishing this article which I wrote last year.  It is still very relevant and hopefully will spark some ideas for you about how to foster these capabilities within your own style, as well as in the work behaviors of those who report to you. 

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

When a team works well together it’s like viewing an inspiring piece of art. Unfortunately most business leaders report that rather than a creative team working in sync to innovate solutions, they are more likely to experience a lack of agility, creativity, communications, empathy and commitment. What are we missing in preparing employees for the real-life challenges of the 21st century?

IBM’s research last year, conducted with 700 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) from around the world, Working Beyond Borders provides some insights to the disconnects we’re experiencing between our leadership talents and the needs of the changing workplace. Based on their findings, how we train our leaders hasn’t kept up with changing global business circumstances. They suggest a more strategic and integrated business approach needs to be developed and implemented to close the gaps between where our businesses are with leadership development and the future needs of a global marketplace.

Organization development efforts need to focus on addressing an integrated plan to re-tool and educate employees, providing:
  • new leadership skills and experiences, acquired and applied at a faster pace
  • a restated business protocol that embraces needed workplace flexibilities to connect people to information and each other
  • an updated business culture that encourages and rewards creativity and innovation vs. demonstrated performance that follows a "play it safe" status quo mentality
So how do we get there?

Strategic Challenges to Overcome
The analysis of the data collected from the CHRO’s boils down to three key strategies organizations should embrace in order to be prepared to grow and thrive along with the business trends moving us to the future:
  • Organizations need to get a handle on the talents and skills they currently have and compare those to a reasonable estimate of the workforce knowledge, skills and abilities they will need in the future. (If you missed my blog last week on Preparing Workers for the Future, you may want to reference it.  Preparing this will help to clearly define how various workforce needs will be staffed, i.e., full-time, part-time, outsourced, etc. This assessment will also help identify high-potential individuals ready and capable of succeeding in a robust leadership development program.
  • As the world spins faster and faster it is imperative that organizations improve the intensity and speed at which employees can develop and apply new skills in a creative manner without fearing consequences connected to failure. This paradigm shift provides an opportunity for organizations to think outside-the-box when it comes to training methods integrating dynamic on-the-job project approaches such as: job rotations, mentoring relationships, creative problem solving assignments, and job shadowing opportunities. EMI has found that programs built from a competency-based training model are much more targeted and lead to a broader integration of job responsibilities. Reward programs that motivate and acknowledge creative solutions to problems further demonstrate a culture change commitment to innovation.
  • Study after study continues to point to the need to build collaboration skills within our current and future leaders. The ability of individuals to work well with diverse groups, either face-to-face or through the technology advancements that connect us, is essential. Individuals with low Emotional Intelligence (EI) and underdeveloped capabilities to empathize and communicate with others while managing their own preferences will have a role; it just won’t be as a leader. 
These challenges, deemed highly important by the CHRO’s, were also seen as ones that currently are beyond the capabilities of their firms to achieve. This acknowledgement provides a great opportunity for HR to collaborate with other C-suite leaders, as well as the business, academic, and consulting communities, to create practical solutions. Together, we can dialogue and work across silos to energize solutions that are creative and forward-thinking.

So What’s Next?
We’ve all heard the Confucius saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." That seems appropriate here. It can be overwhelming to think about the many changes involved with addressing the issues IBM’s research documented. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the first step -- acknowledging the need for a strategy that integrates solutions into an updated corporate culture and operational practices -- can be managed by breaking it down into workable pieces. Utilizing the skills of external expertise can allow the internal HR leader to actively participate in the collaboration and introduce an "unbiased" perspective to oversee the flow of the project.

Each section of the Insights from Global Chief Human Resource Officers Study ends with recommended questions to motivate thinking and planning. Here are a few to contemplate:

Matching resources to organizational needs:

  • Which alternative work structures provide greater opportunity for efficient and more flexible deployment?
  • How do you break down the organizational silos that prevent the best use of your talent?
  • How can you reduce time to competence in your most critical jobs?
Cultivating creative leaders:
  • How are you fostering creativity and borderless thinking among your leadership team?
  • Are you radically rethinking leadership development to rapidly close the effectiveness gap?
  • Do you integrate leadership development with emerging business opportunities to better prepare leaders for the future?
Fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing:
  • What will you do to get multiple generations of employees to actively engage in online collaboration?
  • In what ways can you explore, reward and integrate diverse and unconventional points of view?
  • What novel techniques are you using to tap into the insights and ideas of employees around the world?
This is an important conversation for organizations to be having. I invite you to use this forum to share what your organization is doing to address these issues. Do you even see these as issues? How does creativity and workforce planning fit into your strategies going forward – or are you focused on something else?

Please click below and offer your comments. Also, if you found this blog sparked your creativity and interest to explore answers, please forward it to engage others who can partner with you. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Preparing Workers for The Future

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to see and hear things that indicate business leaders and job seekers are both feeling confident about economy recovery efforts. This conclusion was further emphasized when I attended a recent briefing presented by Beth Herman, Regional Director for the Atlanta Metro Market of Manpower.

Beth was sharing the results of the Manpower 2nd Quarter Outlook Survey which indicated that for a sixth straight quarter, employers have a positive outlook for the period April – June, and expect a relatively stable hiring pace. That’s good news for everyone!

Along with Beth’s encouraging statistics, she passionately focused on this point, "There are going to be jobs, but the jobs are not necessarily going to need the same skills as the ones the job seekers left a year or more ago." In other words - it’s a different world, requiring different solutions! It’s the perfect time for businesses to be proactive in developing the systems to produce the talent they will need, and for workers to recognize that they "own" their careers, and therefore need to establish a plan for managing them. As with any change, both of these role shifts require a corresponding shift in mind-set and processes.

There is no denying the facts: our workplace demographics are changing and will continue to impact our abilities to connectthe right people with the right jobs.
  • How often over the past 6-8 months have you heard someone say, "Gee, there are a lot of people looking for a job. Why can’t I find the right person for my position?"
  • How many articles are you reading about how to deal with the impact of multi-generations at work?
  • How is your industry dealing with the aging workforce and the reality that 10,000 baby-boomers are eligible to retire each day for the next 19 years? Perhaps the recession has slowed the pace, but some day they will say, "Ok, I’m now ready to leave."
  • What impact does the Center for Disease Control (CDC) falling US birth rate statistics, the lowest level since national data has been available, have on your future capabilities to develop and attract talent?
  • How ready is your business to deal with the diversity of the changing workforce? Diversity beyond gender and race, including nationality, religion, sexual orientation, family definition, workplace flexibilities, etc.
  • How is your business dealing with technology advancements and what they mean for strategies of globalization, workplace flexibilities, robots vs. humans, and competency skill sets?
Last month I was privileged to attend the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board meeting. I was energized to learn how focused our future-thinking leaders are when it comes to planning for the type of demographic changes noted above. They are already working to better align our workforce with government, education and business in order to partner on solutions for the future. Partnerships and collaborative efforts across industries, academic institutions and government agencies are being formed. How is your industry and your firm participating in these solutions? What steps can you take within your organization to prepare?

Workforce and Succession Planning
When it comes to getting a handle on what your firm will require in the future and where the pool of qualified candidates will come from, every business, big or small, needs a plan. The strategy for this type of work is built around Workforce and Succession Planning efforts.

Workforce and Succession Planning allows businesses to develop strategies that weave together talent, job skills and training. Approach them integrating the key elements and your ultimate plans will be stronger and more focused.

You know the old saying, "Every road will lead you somewhere; it just depends on what you’re looking for." So first step – get a handle on what you are looking for so you end up in the right place.  A major element of Workforce Planning is to understand the workforce you currently have.
  • What primary skills and talents do they bring to the table?
  • Who is currently in school or in training and will bring updated skills in the near future?
  • Who is eligible for retirement and when might they exit the organization?
  • What’s your knowledge management strategy and how does that tie in to succession and workforce planning, as well as training?
  • What are the critical skills and knowledge you want to engage and retain to ensure minimal disruption of growth and continuity?
  • What mentor relationships have you developed; and are you gaining the results you were looking for?
  • What flexibilities, benefits, and recognition is your workforce looking for as they plan their careers?
Job Skills
In addition to being aware of the talents of your current employees and their future career interests, it’s also important to know what skills your industry will require in the future.
  • What changes to your business model is leadership thinking and talking about?
  • How will these changes impact the required work skills the business will be seeking in order to be successful?
  • Where does your firm currently look for talent? Are these sources keeping up with your changing requirements? What new sources should you be building relationships with?
  • What universities, technical schools, high school programs, etc. are focused on developing the talent pool your business will require? Are you working with them on the changing requirements for the future?
  • How will technology impact your competency requirements?
  • How does your competition recruit in the talent pool you are interested in and are you positioning your culture and benefits to win?
  • What are those things about the corporate culture that need to be captured and passed along?
  • Where are the gaps between the talent currently being groomed and the skill sets you will need to find in the future? What are your plans for closing these gaps?
  • How will your recruiting and sourcing efforts change as greater and greater access is made to virtual employees – meaning they could be anywhere on the globe?
Training comes in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit for everyone, or for every situation. Being creative about how skills are transferred and applied is important.
  • Understanding the impact of the slowing birth rate in the United States, what gaps might you encounter in the future and how can you minimize them?
  • Would it be reasonable to offer training to employees you already know and value in order to prepare them for future positions? What positions would these include?
  • How can you partner with economic development and academic leaders to ensure your talent requirements are known and being developed? Is this something your Chamber of Commerce could assist with?
  • How can you partner with industry leaders to help employees get on-the-job or job shadowing opportunities to expose them to future talent requirements and the benefits of continuing education?
  • What type of mentor relationships should be established in and outside of your firm?
  • What incentives could you implement to motivate employees to learn new skills?
  • What training and one-on-one coaching opportunities could you offer to assist with the development of skills such as leadership and supervisory skills?
So What’s Next?
I’ve written it before: the way we did business in the past is not what’s going to work in the future. We’re experiencing a convergence of technology advancements, globalization, more refined expectations of stakeholders, and a workforce that expects to work differently. Beth Herman’s presentation, which I very much appreciated, appropriately called where we are today The Human Ageunleashing human potential becomes the major agent of economic growth. Public, private and non-profit sectors are all beginning to wrestle with these issues. The ones that are paying attention are going to be the winners.

I believe the next step is to act strategically. Get involved with business associations that are partnering with education and government to get a handle on the rapidly changing needs of business. Assess your workforce and plan for how to ensure the right skill sets are available to you in the future. We’re all in this together and a collaborative effort will be necessary, especially in these budget strapped times. It’s imperative we get a handle on what’s needed and that we spend our limited resources developing workers for the jobs that will be waiting.

What are your thoughts about how to prepare for the future? What’s your firm doing? What are you personally doing to prepare yourself for the job you will be taking five years from now, that probably hasn’t even been thought of yet?  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Not Another On-Line Meeting $%#@!

Over the past few weeks I’ve participated in several on-line meetings, and a few webinars. The technology is great! Graphs, charts, PowerPoint slides, information, connectivity – all without having to pack a suitcase! Great. But wait, if it’s so wonderful, why were they so painful? It dawned on me after the GoToMeeting I attended on Thursday… the reason it’s painful is that the attitude of many attendees is that they’re just taking another phone call. That’s the problem. It’s not a "phone call" it’s a "business meeting!" It’s time to shift our paradigm.

I think for many, it’s difficult to look at the experience as a "business meeting" because for the most part we are still only connecting via a phone – something we all use a thousand times a week and never give a thought to. Perhaps as more of us move to video cams and internet phones, the fact that others will be able to "see" what’s going on may help with the shift. But let’s not wait for that! Let’s take as much pain out of these events as we can right now. We’re all professionals; let’s make the most out of being productive and respectful.

Conducting the meeting
If it is your responsibility to conduct an on-line meeting, here are a few things to consider:
  • Send out your meeting request as early as possible. Utilizing a calendar feature such as Outlook helps attendees respond, as well as take care of noting their calendars at the same time. Make sure you detail the call-in information such as phone number and meeting code. If the service you are using needs to be downloaded, suggest participants plan to download the software before the meeting.
  • Have you ever experienced the chaos that happens when the presenter says, "Ok, who do we have attending today?" And at that point, attendees are trying to decide when and if they should call out their names. Ridiculous. The presenter should have a list of planned attendees and read down through the list asking if the person is in attendance. That way, everyone hears the name and knows who is online. At the end of the roll call, the presenter can ask, "Did I miss anyone?" as a method for identifying anyone else sitting in on the meeting. It’s only common courtesy that everyone know who is "in the room."
  • Before you begin, share ground rules:
    • Turn off all other phones
    • Put your dial-in phone on mute if you have background noise
    • Don’t put your phone on hold. (Haven’t we all heard the on-hold music and wondered who wasn’t participating?
  • Be clear about how you would like to handle questions. Depending on the forum, you may want to take questions and discuss issues as you go through your agenda. If you’d rather wait until certain points in the meeting, let attendees know when you will be entertaining questions.
  • Even though everyone is not sitting in the same conference room, have an agenda. If your meeting includes an online presentation, include a slide of what will be covered and the objectives for calling everyone together. 
  • Use more visuals. According to Olivia Mitchell, an expert on presentation skills, since the audience can’t see you, keep them engaged with visuals so their attention doesn’t wander. In fact, she suggests that you insert a photo of yourself, or your team, at the beginning of the meeting, so attendees can visualize who is speaking.
  • In face-to-face meetings presenters usually use a pointer or special graphics so attendees know where to focus their attention when viewing a slide. This is even more important for an on-line meeting. Use graphic highlights to call attention to the points on your slide that you are speaking about so it’s easier for participants to follow.
  • Have a slide prepared for questions. The question may not be relevant to the last slide you showed, so have a generic slide in the deck you can go to when pausing for questions.
  • Most on-line meeting software works best if the moderator is using a headset. This cuts down on echoes. Check with your webinar service provider to determine the best hardware for optimum sound quality.
  • The beauty of all these technology changes is that we can now be anywhere to conduct or join in on a meeting. However, this also presents a new responsibility: think about the "noise" your location might magnify on the call and take all steps to turn it off. That means other phones, dogs, kids, planes (yes, I was attending an on-line meeting where the presenter must have been sitting on his deck on a beautiful afternoon, and we were treated to trying to hear what he was saying while a plane was passing overhead!).
  • Be aware of time and keep to your agenda. Often the structure of the on-line meeting will include having a moderator to manage questions and/or help manage time. Make sure, as with in-person meetings, that you start and end on time.
  • Silence in a face-to-face meeting can be easier to interpret because everyone has a chance to look around the room and observe what’s going on. With on-line meetings we don’t have that luxury. So remember, if you’re going to pause for attendees to read a slide, or contemplate an issue, say something like, "I’ll let you read the next slide about the project goals, and then we can discuss."
  • Leave time at the end of the meeting to do the following:
    • Reiterate actions to be taken and who will do them
    • Ask for feedback about what attendees felt was accomplished at the meeting
    • Ask for comments about what they liked about the meeting format and what should be changed for the next meeting
  • End on time
Attending the meeting
Just because everyone can’t see you doesn’t mean this is your time to "listen in" while you catch up on emails – yes, we all know that folks do this. If you’re not going to really be present, then why are you attending? On-line meetings require the same level of participation, courtesy, and respect that you would demonstrate in a face-to-face meeting. Here are some tips:
  • Just like in a face-to-face meeting, be on time. If you’re going to be late, let the organizer know.
  • Be prepared that the meeting will take an hour or so, and usually there is not a bio-break scheduled; so plan accordingly.
  • As technology advancements allow us more freedom to merge our professional and personal lives, it’s important to make sure the tone set in the meeting is professional, even if attending from home or while on vacation. Make sure noise, distractions, and your attitude are respectful of the business event attendees are coming together to participate in.
  • Plan to participate. If you were attending a face-to-face meeting, you would prepare. The on-line meeting requires the same level of preparation and participation. This is not the time to hide behind the phone and do other tasks. Again, if you’re not going to participate, why attend? Someone must have felt you had something to contribute or you wouldn’t have been invited.
  • Be aware that there are a few no-no’s for on-line meetings and respect them:
    • Do not put your phone on hold – the reason for this is that everyone else gets to listen to on-hold music, or an on-hold message. Either way, it’s very disruptive.
    • Do not call in from your cell phone, if at all possible. There’s often a lot of static, which can also be very disruptive.
    • It’s helpful to put your phone on mute, until you have something to say. That way, background noise is not transferred.
    • Don’t hold sidebar conversations without putting your phone on mute.
  • Be on time – you know how disruptive it is when someone walks in late to a meeting. Magnify that a few times, when the organizer has to keep saying "And who just joined us?" Very disruptive.
  • When offering a comment or asking a question, say your name first so everyone knows who is talking.
  • Abstain from checking emails, answering cell phones, or working on your computer. Be present and participate. You know how rude it is to look around a meeting room and see people working on their laptops or Blackberry’s. Keep your mind focused on the meeting you are attending. Resist the need to multi-task.
  • Know the features of the phone and computer you are utilizing for the meeting, especially how to mute and un-mute. Also, if this is the first time you are attending an on-line meeting that requires a software download, visit the site before the meeting so you are ready when the time comes.
So What's Next?
Somewhere I read that an on-line meeting was like a drive-in movie. You show up, plug in, and then do whatever. We’re all adults, so each of us has to manage the ‘whatevers.’ All the rest of us are asking for is that while you’re plugged in you show the same courtesy, respect and professionalism you would if you were in the theater with us.

What are your thoughts about the ground rules for facilitating and participating in on-line meetings? Do you find there is a difference in behaviors when video features are included? What tips can you share for helping us all improve our on-line meeting performance? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wanted: Leaders and Creative Thinkers

The March issue of Harvard Business Review contains an insightful article, The New Path to the C-suite by Groysberg, Kelly and MacDonald. Their research focused on seven C-level jobs; the competencies the positions needed in the past, those currently in demand, and to the best of their abilities, the competencies that will be required over the next decade.

The article is very informative, especially as a professional development guide for individuals desiring to move into the C-suite. I also see a lot of relevance in the article for leaders to consider from the perspective of succession planning and leadership development. I totally understand there are times when bringing in new blood, and new ideas, is a better approach than promoting from within. However, let’s not overlook the opportunity to prepare senior leaders already in the C-suite for different responsibilities, as well as developing those managers coming up through the ranks behind them. With the proper combination of situations such as exposure, mentoring, training, and job rotations, your exceptional leaders of the future may be just down the hall.

The New PathThe research confirmed some of what has been previously speculated. There has been a lot of change taking place with regard to C-suite competency requirements over the past ten years. Add to that daily global and technology changes and the result is a continuous redefining of what is needed to operate a successful business, now and in the future. Through their research and interviews conducted by the authors, one thing became clear - the "technical and functional expertise that once was a must to reach the C-suite will take a backseat to leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals required of leaders in the future."

Groysberg and his team openly state their understanding that different times and different circumstances call for different leadership skills. However, they also acknowledge the impact of the rapidly changing landscape being thrust on leaders today. Issues such as changing workforce demographics, globalization, and technology innovations are driving new trends in the ways we search for talent. The new workplace seeks a blended combination of creativity, thought-leadership and well rounded international business backgrounds.

Where’s HR?The focus of the HBR article is on seven C-suite positions: CIO – Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, CFO, General Counsel, Chief Supply-Chain-Management Officer, Chief Human Resource Officer and CEO. Common across all positions is a theme of increased knowledge and experience with:

• Business acumen and orientation
• Communications
• Collaboration
• Strategic thinking
• Technology savvy
• "Soft" leadership skills, i.e., trust, empathy, professionalism, motivation, ethics, etc.
The requirements for Human Resource (HR) leadership are changing just as much as for other disciplines. However, for many reasons which would fill another blog, HR doesn’t have as established a presence in the C-suite as a position such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO). In the overview of the research on the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) position, Groysberg includes a New York Times quote from Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, "The discipline I believe so strongly in is HR, and it’s the last discipline that gets funded. Marketing, manufacturing – all these things are important. But more often than not, the head of HR does not have a seat at the table. Big mistake." I agree, it’s a big mistake; especially when we look at the "people-related" changes that are integrated in the new requirements for C-suite players:

• Planning for and implementing workplace flexibilities and a variety of work structure options
• Anticipating and embracing intergenerational work style issues
• Analyzing and preparing for the impact of cultural differences and shifting demographics
• Focusing on continuous needs to help prepare and move people through change
• Expanding confidence and abilities to work with people at all levels of the organization, including C’s and the Board
If organizations don’t take the appropriate steps to expand the experiences of their HR Managers and VP’s, I believe we will create an imbalance and run the risk that the CHRO role could tilt too far in the direction of business knowledge and lose the eye on the importance of motivation, flexibilities and development. Without the right balance of competency requirements, it’s easy to foresee the creation of a skill set gap for managing talent assessment, recruitment, engagement and retention.

I think this is an exciting time for HR. For those that are already in the profession, those in academia that teach and develop HR professionals, and organizations that invest in and promote high potentials that demonstrate the drive, interest and passion for expanding their horizons.

As the article mentions, we’ve come a long way in getting progressive organizations to see the value of HR. It’s great to identify and hire ambitious, passionate business leaders who understand the dynamics of people, as well as the criticality of matching workforce skills and training with the jobs of the future. However, for those individuals, as well as others who are just learning how to combine their technical knowledge with the human side of business there’s a place for "on-the-job" trainings that come in the form of overseas assignments, job shadowing, exposure to board meetings, and observing innovative strategic planning efforts. And really, these types of experiential learnings would be great not only for the CHRO, but for all the employees in the Succession Plan that need to expand their knowledge of company-specific issues to help expand their business orientation horizons.

So What’s Next?The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) continues to have a finger on the pulse of changing competencies required of CHRO’s. SHRM collaborates with business and academic communities to stay current in the conversation about human resource leadership competencies. In fact, the organization has also rolled out a SHRM-approved HR college curriculum to better address future skill sets for the up and coming HR/business leader. SHRM continues to partner with thought-leaders in every aspect of human capital and business management to expand research, training, and learning events to keep pace with determining the right mix of responsibilities and training as this dynamic role evolves.

The HBR article pointed to the trend that non-HR executives with backgrounds in operations, marketing and corporate law are more frequently being tapped for CHRO positions and they also acknowledged that this tendency is not without problems. They specifically cite that legal professionals are often being selected for the CHRO position as the regulatory environment has become so complex. However, tracking the successes and challenges of this skill set selection indicates that often there is more time spent focusing on regulations and compensation issues so that other responsibilities suffer.

I recognize that the bar is being raised on all jobs, not just HR. Businesses recovering from the recession of the past three years can not be successful doing the same things, the same ways they did them before the recession. And with that said we all know that what we’ll be doing in five years and within the next decade will be remarkably different than what we’re doing in 2011. It’s a rapid-change environment in which we live and work. Every business needs to attract, develop and retain the top talent to best manage this changing marketplace, and that includes the C-suite.

So why not link the Succession Plan and future workforce needs with professional development and retention efforts? What would training and development programs look like if we were developing employees for the C-suite of the future? How could we utilize mentors to transfer knowledge, design job shadowing to heighten the awareness of the criticality of strong leadership and soft skills and devise on-the-job experiential experiences to motivate and retain employees, while building a pipeline of future talent?

Do you agree that the C-suite needs to come together to collaborate about how to prepare the next generation of internal and external candidates? What role do you see HR playing in this conversation? What ideas are you considering or implementing to address this issue? What successes have you seen and what challenges are you still trying to figure out? I look forward to hearing from you. Please comment in the box below.