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, April 26, 2011

Crisis Management - A Must in Today's Business Environment

We’re all aware of the dramatic news reports and instant images sent around the world when there is a disaster. Certainly no one can forget the images of September 11, or the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the massive destruction resulting from the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The business community, as well as communities at large, is constantly being reminded of the vulnerable nature of our world and the extreme cost of these types of disasters. Certainly some are the result of Mother Nature’s work, but other events can be just as devastating, such as financial failures from poor business management, cybercrime, computer viruses, violence in the workplace, and union strikes. Is your business ready to handle these types of crises? Do your employees know what to do in the case of an emergency?

FEMA Director Craig Fugate spoke at the National Hurricane Conference in Atlanta last week and stressed how important it is for public officials, as well as communities to be prepared to fill in the gaps in support when a disaster occurs. His message is a call to action for business leaders to ensure that each organization is prepared, that employees are aware of and preparing for disasters in their homes - mirroring what they see being demonstrated at work - and that clients and customers know how to connect to ensure continuity with on-going orders and projects. So what is your business doing to answer this call?

Crisis Management Planning
No one wants to think like a terrorist or imagine the worst case weather disasters, but that’s what needs to happen in order to be prepared; we have to imagine what types of disasters could come our way. Developing a plan using the available resources and ideas of what others are doing is best approached as a team effort. Preparedness is important naturally for an organization’s human responsibilities, and also for the financial and economic impacts disaster can bring. Establishing and implementing a practical plan to address disasters can help minimize disruption, down time, and operational chaos.

The planning phase should be led by a credible senior leader, often the Human Resources Manager. The role of this leader is to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to systematically examine and plan for what is required based on the results of strategic and analytical discussions focused on:
  1. Considering the entire universe of things that can go wrong, i.e., terrorism, pandemics, epidemics, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.
  2. Analyzing each event and assigning a likelihood that it will actually happen
  3. Addressing those situations with the highest likelihood of occurring and considering both contingencies: your work sites are operational, and your work sites are closed or capacity is reduced
The Internet offers a broad range of information about various specific types of crisis management planning which may be helpful to your team. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security offer information on how to plan for continuity and disaster management in the workplace, as well as provide resources for individuals to utilize when planning for managing disasters with their families at home. In addition, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers some excellent articles, templates, and tips to assist both planning processes. HR should be evaluating catastrophes through three distinct lenses:
  1. Employees severely impacted by the disaster (loss of family members, homes, etc.)
  2. Employees impacted by the disaster (energy or transportation losses)
  3. Employees not directly impacted
Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Stay Informed.
The American Red Cross program for disaster preparedness works under the mantra Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be informed. It’s easy to remember and work with, and similar to the one utilized by the Department of Homeland Security. Working with the information available at websites such as the one provided by the Red Cross your Planning Team can gather helpful advice on how to integrate this information at work, as well as how to design and communicate tips to share with employees for preparing at home.

The Kit should contain at least the basic supplies, and someone should be identified as responsible for rotating the food and water items based on shelf-life.

The Plan should contain at least two places for employees to meet, one outside the building for sudden emergencies, and the other outside the immediate area should employees not be able to return to work in the case of an evacuation. In addition, create a Communications Plan so everyone knows who and how to contact (depending on what lines of communication are open) in the case of a disaster or evacuation. That emergency contact information, perhaps a toll free number, should be provided in writing and each employee should be requested to program the information into their mobile phones.

It’s important for the Business Continuity and Disaster Plan as well as the Communications Plan to be in writing but they also must be integrated into day-to-day business strategies. A roll out campaign with employees will be necessary initially to share the information. It should then be reviewed in on-boarding sessions with new hires, as well as periodically for updating. In addition, periodic practice sessions should be designed and conducted, just as you currently do with building fire drills.

There are a few things the HR Manager or Planning Team can do to implement the Be Informed step:

  • Research what types of disasters or emergencies may occur in your area; what are other businesses planning for?
  • Build relationships with local emergency preparedness officials and ensure you are staying up to date on information relative to health-related or terrorist events.
  • Identify how local authorities will notify you during a disaster – radio, TV NOAA Weather Radio, etc. Identify someone responsible for making sure this equipment remains in working order.
  • Know the difference between different weather alerts and educate your employees to be mindful of these distinctions, especially in parts of the country where conditions can change quickly.
  • Educate employees who travel about possible disasters and emergencies that may occur in those locations and what to do in the event of such a disaster.
  • When a disaster occurs, the workplace can change immediately. If there are injuries, emergency response is likely to be delayed. Make sure a representative number of employees are trained in first aid and CPR; and if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, that someone knows how to use it.
  • Provide all employees and their families with Emergency Contact Cards, available through the Red Cross.
So What’s Next?
We are more vulnerable at work than we’ve ever been, making developing, implementing and sustaining a realistic Crisis Management Plan no longer a luxury. It needs to be a critical element of your strategic business plan, aligning with your HR, operations and financial strategies.

The Weather Channel recently reported the confirmation of 292 tornadoes as of April 19, 2011, beating the previous April record of 267 in 1974. According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK, the average for April is only 116. You may not live and work in a part of the country that is prone to tornadoes, but look at the devastation caused by the tornado in St. Louis last Friday - and they haven’t had a tornado this strong in 44 years. The time to plan is before disaster happens, not after.

I know raising awareness to possible risks and threats isn’t the best motivator for driving business leaders to take action. I’m hoping that by writing this blog on this important topic that we can start a dialogue of sharing ideas that will spark others into action. Regardless of what industry we work in, what part of the country our employees live in, or what size organization we support, a plan for what to do in the case of a disaster is good business sense for everyone. We need to keep employees as safe as we can while putting strategies in place to allow us to continue running the business and servicing our customers.

So my wish is that you’ll share a little something about what steps your organization is taking towards emergency planning, and what helpful things are you are doing to engage employees to be prepared for a disaster at work, as well as at home. Thank you for participating in this dialogue. I look forward to reading your comments.

Feel free to share this blog so we can expand the discussion, as well as information about available resources.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Supervisors Make a Difference

In his book Rethinking Retention, author Dick Finnegan suggests that turnover has such a significant impact on profits that making senior managers accountable for hanging on to "high potential" talent will put the focus where it needs to be -- keeping the right people and reducing sourcing, recruiting, hiring, relocation, training and orientation costs.  He further suggests that a shared-responsibility model for retention can work just as it does for other business functions such as sales, quality, and safety. For this model to be successful, it’s imperative that good supervisors are actively engaged forming the foundation for a solid approach to retention. Would this work for your organization? How would you rate the level of competency of your supervisors?

Finnegan quotes a number of studies that tally the price of turnover in a number of ways. The bottom line: it’s an expensive activity, costing businesses approximately $25 billion annually. To fix the problem, it’s important to understand that turnover impacts every aspect of the organization because we’re dealing with people – and no matter what business you are in, you are first in the business of people. According to Mr. Finnegan, "People answer phones, make sales calls, move products, and make hundreds of decisions every day that impact your customers. No amount of technology will replace the impact of the people you hire, train and then lose or retain." Yes, he’s also talking about the impact of the employee you retain even when they are not good performers.

With so many job seekers in the marketplace, employers who are preparing for the upswing are more selective in their hiring, looking for the very best. Unfortunately, the best may still be working for you and ripe for picking. So what’s your defense? Better supervisors to engage with your employees, especially those you do not want to lose.

The Rethinking Retention Model and Strategies
There are three basic principles to Finnegan’s Model:
Point #1 – Employees quit jobs because they can.
Point #2 – Employees stay for things they get uniquely from you.
Point #3 - Supervisors build unique relationships that drive retention … or turnover.

Finnegan suggests that implementing the following strategies based on these principles will lead to reduced turnover and a new way for the organization to view retention:
  • Hold supervisors accountable for achieving retention goals.
  • Develop supervisors to build trust with their teams.
  • Narrow the front door to close the back door.
  • Script employees’ first 90 days.
  • Challenge policies to ensure they drive retention.
  • Calculate turnover’s cost to galvanize retention as a business issue.
  • Drive retention from the top, because executives have the greatest impact on achieving retention goals.
The Supervisor’s Toolkit
In far too many situations technical superstars become supervisors regardless of their abilities to be a good supervisor. That strategy has become obsolete and needs to be replaced. Today a better model connects succession planning and professional development strategies in preparing great contributors to move up the management ladder by ensuring their interpersonal and communications skills, as well as their work styles align with the organization’s values and goals, including goals set for employee retention.

Start by identifying potential supervisors and begin to provide them, as well as your existing staff of supervisors, with training and development experiences to build, modify and strengthen their expectations of the performance success factors involved with supervision. For example, if your organization’s culture values an open, transparent and collaborative approach to projects and you promote an employee with a supervisory style based on a mindset developed while in the military (hierarchical, top down), the result will probably be a direct conflict with what employees are expecting from a supervisor in your organization. I’m not suggesting you not promote this employee, I’m just suggesting that before being granted the promotion he has the chance to understand his current style and the impact he has on others, learn about other management styles and demonstrate his style alignment with your culture, values, and operating standards.

Supervisory training can take many forms: formal classroom, self-study, topic workshops, mentor programs and leadership one-on-one coaching. Individuals already in supervisory roles and those being considered for the transition to supervisor should receive, at a minimum, assistance in understanding the following issues as they relate to the goals and culture of your organization:

  1. What is supervision? Usually supervisors are responsible for the functions of: basic management activities (making decisions, solving problems, etc.), hiring, training and development, and ensuring compliance with policies and procedures. Taking on these responsibilities without understanding the dynamics of how they relate to and impact performance, relationships, and profitability can result in a great deal of discontentment in the workplace.
  2. Do I have to manage all of this adminis-trivia? Most likely coming from an operational/technical background this can be overwhelming. Supervisors need to know what resources are available to assist them. They also need to understand the legal and strategic reasons administrative functions are important.
  3. Why do I need to achieve open and honest communications – isn’t it enough that I said do it? Understanding what his/her communication style is and how that style impacts others is priceless. Most of the problems we see in organizations can be traced back to a lack of communication or poor communication choices.
  4. Isn’t HR responsible for finding and keeping good people in this organization? It’s very important for supervisors to realize the significance of the supervisor/employee relationship and the critical role this factor plays in an employee’s decision to terminate. Understanding the shared-responsibility for linking development, relationships, motivation, and performance feedback is important. In addition, just as important is knowing what to do when an employee’s skills and interest are not in alignment with the job requirements.
  5. Isn’t there a one-size-fits-all motivation to satisfy everyone’s needs? Learning what motivates each employee and being able to offer positive reinforcement options in recognizing good work is critical.
  6. What does my department have to do with Customer Service? Content employees usually deliver better services to their customers. Creating alignment with employee and customer satisfaction could be a meaningful metric.
  7. I’m ready to step up from supervisor to manager. At some point in the supervisor’s career there may be interest in moving on to a management position. Start raising the curtain on management challenges and opportunities through a mentoring process to provide a realistic demonstration of what’s expected of managers and to share techniques, tools, and knowledge that will be appropriate as the supervisor assesses his/her preferred leadership style and readiness for advancement
So What’s Next?
It appears a few elements are aligning that may quicken the beat of voluntary terminations:
  • Employees continue to report they are "ready to jump" as soon as the right opportunity comes along, mainly because they haven’t seen any growth in their organization in the last year or so and they feel stagnant.
  • Employers are beginning to search for "superstars" to lead key initiatives as they prepare to bounce back from the recession. Most often this is being accomplished through headhunters calling on successful prospects who are currently working for the competition.
  • Customers are beginning to spend a little more now that they too are feeling more confident about the future; which will result in a greater demand for goods and services in the supply chain.
So what’s next? I’m suggesting that if you haven’t already identified the top talent you want to hang on to that you do it now. Armed with that list and working with upper management and key supervisors, begin dialogues and design motivational strategies to strengthen relationships and commitments to the organization’s goals. Help these employees understand how and why they are a valuable part of the organization’s future, where their talents fit in the ‘big picture’, and what’s in it for them to stay on and grow with the organization. Taking these key steps will help to improve the probability that they’ll recommit and stay to help build the future.

Now is also a good time to begin working with supervisors, all the way to the front-lines, to build their knowledge and skill sets to help you retain the workers you have already hired and trained. Don’t give your employees an excuse to leave.

What suggestions do you have for how to improve talent retention and reduce turnover costs? What’s a strategy that you’re finding helpful? Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts on this important topic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Do You React to Change?

Respond to this question using a scale of 1-5, with 1 being a response of ‘Avoid at all Costs – I like routine’ and 5 being ‘Energized By Change – I seek out opportunities to do something different.’

There is evidence that change and the frequency with which we must deal with it will continue to increase in our professional and personal lives. This fast-paced diet of change is going to require a stronger and stronger demonstration of skills such as adaptability and flexibility. These capabilities will be necessary in our home lives as well as in response to expectations from our employers when it comes to managing our careers. If that’s the writing on the wall, what are you doing about strengthening your skills to be ready to respond in a healthy and productive manner to the changes the world is unleashing?

Requirements of an Innovative World
In a recent article written for FedEx entitled Adjusting to a Rapidly Evolving Economy,  Catherine Bolgar, former editor of the Wall Street Journal, suggests that the traditional approach - get an education and then go get a job - may be becoming obsolete. Combining her notion with what business leaders say about the way they will fill jobs five years from now ("We haven’t developed those job requirements or titles yet") and it becomes clear that continuous learning and building a capacity to embrace and quickly react to change are skills we all need for the future. The fog isn’t completely lifted on how education and innovation will transition together, but as John Howkins, author of the book, The Creative Economy says, "When somebody stops learning now, it’s like they’ve stopped thinking, or at least being creative." Certainly you don’t want that description to apply to you, and you also don’t want any colleagues on your team who have given up their passion for learning and development. So what can you do?

Naturally our basic curriculum will remain relevant. We still need to learn math, science, and the ABC’s; but technology has changed what we do with the information we’re learning. We no longer have to memorize the answers – they are just a click away. But what’s important now is knowing how to understand and use the unlimited data available, analyze what it means through the filter of the big picture, and make recommendations of what steps are best to consider for moving forward. These are fast becoming critical skills for 21st century workers. 

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about my experience judging at the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Student Conference.  In the past the SHRM student conference competitions were based on a Jeopardy! style of questioning, requiring students to memorize employment regulations, definitions, laws, etc. This year the format changed to one where students prepared a two page executive summary of a case study, including issues, possible solutions and recommendations. In addition, they gave a 30 minute presentation of the case, demonstrating analysis and problem solving logic. This format change was initiated as a result of what SHRM is hearing business leaders need from new employees coming into the workplace. Key among those abilities to be successful are the following:
  • Adaptability
  • Problem-solving
  • Analysis and recommendations
  • Collaboration
  • Mentoring
  • Entrepreneurship
Technology – a Big Driver of ChangeI was recently in the grocery store with a friend who was visibly upset and appalled that I had selected the "self-checkout" option. "Don’t you realize that you are taking someone’s job away by using this lane?" he demanded. My response, as heartless as it may have sounded was, "They’ve already lost that job, and it’s not coming back!" As technology helps businesses improve efficiencies and cost-savings, jobs will change. That’s how it’s always been – it just hasn’t been this fast.

I looked over at the other four check-out lanes that were still being managed by real people, and hoped they, as well as their employer, have their eyes open to the future. The ‘checkout’ position is going to become obsolete and they need to be learning a new skill to help them move on to the next job in their career. We’re already reading about the research and development of shopping carts with scanners on them; you’ll be "checking out" as you are shopping. How quick and easy will that be? There isn’t anything we can do to stop the march of technological progress. What we can manage is how we prepare and handle the on-going changes technology and globalization will bring.

So What’s Next?Individuals, as well as the business and academic communities have a responsibility to address these new skill sets. For individuals who do not like change, it’s important to take the necessary steps to get comfortable with it. Try new things to relax your preference for control and structure. Set up situations where you don’t know all the answers before the questions are asked. Put yourself in elements that you are not familiar with to strengthen your confidence that you can deal with whatever happens.

Employers can also help employees build these necessary skills. Through a variety of assessments employees can become familiar with their work style preferences and use that knowledge to modify them and grow capacity to deal with change. An assessment like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator for example, opens opportunities for dialog and discovery about how individuals deal with information, decisions and structure. What we know about preferences is that they are just that -- "preferences."  Just because someone has a strong tendency preferring a lot of structure and routine, doesn’t mean they can’t learn to embrace and deal with changing situations and less predictable work relationships in a healthy and positive manner. It just takes time to help them understand their preferences and assist them in shifting their immediate reactions. Self discovery work like this does require patience, commitment and possibly the accountability of working with a manager or external business coach to stay the course. However, the results can be very rewarding for both the individual and the company.

Establishing a mentoring relationship also has the benefit of sharing knowledge and building collaboration skills while dealing with real-time problems and situations. For mentors and mentees these relationships can lead to life long friendships, career development and often spotlight leadership potential that may not have been realized to date.

We may not know all the requirements for those jobs without titles and job descriptions that we’ll be filling four or five years from now, but we do already know some of the success factors that the employees in those positions will be measured by.

What are you doing to make sure you aren’t viewed as "behind the times" when it comes time for your next promotion or career change? What are you helping to facilitate in your organization to better align your workforce readiness preparation with the skill sets of the 21st century? 

Large and small organizations- public, private and non-profit - see the need to change their business strategies. Don’t forget the importance of aligning the people-management functions along with those business changes.

I’ve written this blog to start a conversation about skills required for the future and what we can do to develop them. What’s your advice about ways to improve flexibility and "soft skills"? What steps do you suggest to improve understanding and alignment with the changing relationship of education and business skill set needs?

I look forward to your answers to those two questions. Please click below and share.

How do you react to change?