Many of those who forged ahead with surveys during the current recession were pleasantly surprised with the results. They found that as management and employees worked closely together to meet the challenges of lean times, engagement improved. It’s true that those who did not manage cutbacks and redeployment of resources effectively found that their employees were less engaged, but better to know and take action than to assume “in hard times, our employees will be glad to stick with us”.

Also, those who communicated effectively about business challenges and the company’s priorities in addressing them found that their employees were better aligned with the mission and direction, while organizations that elected to pull back on communications rather than share news of difficult conditions found that alignment had declined. Those who have elected not to survey have had to fall back on management’s impressions of the work climate, gleaned from qualitative and perhaps unrepresentative sources.

Now, as conditions begin to improve, and as organizations gear up to lure away their competitors’ top performers, companies need to know what their employees are feeling. I believe that those who have kept close watch on the mood of the workforce–not just with impressions, but with a sound quantitative assessment, will be much better positioned in the recovering economy.

Organizations considering surveying in 2010 need to overcome several common objections to moving forward. Below, I want to share some of the most common objections that I hear, along with why I don’t believe that these objections have merit.

  • Employees are bound to respond unfavorably given what we’ve been through. As noted above, the reverse may actually be true. If employees have been enlisted as partners in facing adversity, engagement may have increased. If instead, the relationship between employees and the company has worsened, it is important to know how much, with what groups of employees, and what needs to be done to address the issue.
  • The job market is poor. Employees have nowhere to go, so listening to them is a luxury, not a necessity. While the early phases of the recovery may be jobless, high performers often have options that others do not. You cannot afford to have your top talent walk out the door. Also, an engaged work force will do a far better job of directing its energies to help the company improve business results.
  • We have limited human resource dollars to spend, and a survey is not the best way to spend them. Return on investment in a well-targeted strategic survey is positive in the near term. Opportunities to make quick improvements in productivity in such areas as coordination of effort, eliminating unnecessary work, and improving information flow will be identified if the right questions are asked. And longer term, decisions about how to set HR investment priorities can be identified through a thorough assessment of employee views and perspectives.
  • If we ask, we open the floodgates and raise expectations for action. No one expects management to address every issue identified in a survey. But if the right questions are asked, a few strategic imperatives that warrant action will rise to the surface. Employees will understand and welcome a response to their input that makes good business sense.

The alternative to an effective survey is setting HR initiatives and investment priorities based on soft information. It is not a viable alternative as companies strive to improve results with still-scarce resources.

Let us know what your experience has been. Did you survey throughout the recession? If so, did you see a drop in engagement like the common wisdom suggests, or did you buck the trend?

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by Brian Morgan | Categories: Engagement | Comments Off

Carla called last year from a medium sized energy company and said “Our Engagement is not growing and we can’t figure out why. We put our supervisors through a full Engagement training program offered by a global HR consulting firm. Despite that, Engagement has actually declined in a number of units!

Wait a minute—I thought the supervisor was the focal point for employee Engagement! Perhaps not as much as you have been led to believe. As early as 1983, Brian Morgan and I wrote a book entitled Supervision in the 80s that documented the critical role that the supervisor plays in motivating employees to create satisfaction and energy. It is important not to forget, however, that other factors play an equally important role. I was disturbed to see that, with the growth of focus on engagement, and on the immediate supervisor, top management was no longer being held accountable for its role.

Unfortunately, the supervisor only controls so many cards in an Engagement deck that is largely designed by top leaders and function heads, such as Human Resources. I have spoken with many supervisors who are frustrated (and themselves becoming disengaged!) at their inability to deliver on engagement commitments due to a lack of adequate tools and resources. For example, at many companies there are clear examples of supervisors who are great at recognizing their people—a big driver of Engagement–but if the “big boss” doesn’t even say hello to employees he/she encounters, it can negate the supervisors efforts.

I find the pay debate to include both level of pay and the way pay is managed and communicated. The emphasis tends to be on the former, but in many companies, the supervisor can influence only the latter. When the plan doesn’t demonstrate a clear connection between contribution and pay, the supervisor can do little beyond administering (and apologizing for) the weak pay plan.

Growth is another major driver of employee engagement, especially among younger generation workers. People want to be able to develop new skills, take on new responsibilities, and grow into more challenging roles. Strong supervisors will be able to find new skills and challenges through job rotation or expansion, but if the organization has no training budget, little job movement and poor career growth opportunities, the supervisor cannot create these on his or her own. And, if the top team does not have a clear, well communicated vision about the future of the company, including new opportunities for the employees, even the most compelling communicator simply has no story to tell.
I’d like to see more top leaders taking a strong hand in Engagement, working with, rather than passing the buck to front line managers. Actions that I have seen to be successful include:

  • Creating a compelling vision and direction for the organization among its workforce—(notice that I did not say “communicating” because too often that means a video and “back to work”)
  • Challenging Human Resources to create people systems that drive high engagement—a climate of growth, recognition opportunities, practices that engender feelings of fairness, reward systems that truly motivate, and performance management systems that create growth and improvement—not simply punishment and scoring!
  • Get out and talk to employees. Executives don’t have lots of free time. But part of being leaders is talking to followers. I am always impressed at how important a few words can be to a front line service employee or someone in the “back room” when it comes from a caring senior leader.

How do you compare the supervisor and leadership roles in creating engagement in your organization?
We welcome your comments–please post here!

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The leader of an internal service function recently told me how the CEO’s view of her function was driven by the perceptions of a few influential executives. More than once the CEO came down the hall, into her office and challenged a recent action or program after hearing a negative remark from another VP. “If I had not had the data at hand to push back,” the she said, “those would have been very uncomfortable discussions.” Another frequent paradigm we encounter is “I won’t challenge your function if you don’t challenge mine.” Which really means that no one gets feedback until the situation is dire—until a critical mass of stakeholders is frustrated beyond repair. Good reputations are hard to build, but can unravel over night.

My question is, why does this happen? Functional excellence is about more than doing good work and documenting it. A leader has the responsibility to ensure that the value of his or her function is clear to its stakeholders. That is not something accomplished by sharing operational metrics in monthly meetings. Nor is it sufficient to have an analysis at hand for responding to challenges. Why don’t more leaders systematically gauge and address internal customer needs and expectations?

It does not take long to see that many functional leaders are not managing or measuring their function by the value it creates. How do you really understand customer requirements and expectations? How do you translate those expectations into value producing products and services? How do you know that you are hitting the mark? While there are many tools to help answer these questions, let’s take a look at a key one: market segmentation. Any internal service provider has a number of distinct market segments.

Funders: these are the real decision makers when it comes to your budget and approved initiatives
Influencers: may be peers, other leaders, or managers whose opinions are trusted and respected by others
End-users: those who make direct use of your services; they may be at many levels of the organization and for groups like HR include the general employee population

The needs and expectations of the “market segments” are going to be very different. But it is the rare function leader who has invested the time and effort to clarify those differences and apply that knowledge to design their deliverables, measures and communication strategies.

For example, take a new training program for customer service representatives; its value is different for each “market segment.” Show Funders the initiative moves the organization closer to strategic goals. For example, improved complaint resolution means higher customer loyalty which converts directly to bottom line impact. For the influential head of customer service, it may mean fewer service escalations to supervisors, who will then have more time for coaching, helping the whole call center to meet its goals. For end users–the trainees in this case–the value may be lower stress from being better able to defuse issues with dissatisfied customers.

So too, the metrics and the communications to convey value will be different for each group. The most effective leaders understand that and embrace a strategy of proactive internal customer service based on the unique needs of their stakeholders.

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by Jerry Seibert | Categories: Functional Excellence | Comments Off

As research for my newly released book, Reinventing Talent Management, I interviewed 75 executives, both before and during the recession, with some fascinating insights:
• More firms than I expected, even in financial services, continued to fund and budget for leader development. The cynical view is that there is always money for the top of the house; the more benevolent view is that even during extremely tough times, senior executives see the value and need for leader development. Many execs were surprised to find out how thin their top talent ranks were when they asked some of their long tenured, high salaried people to hit the golf course a few years earlier than expected. Many of the interviewees mentioned a real knowledge chasm that ensued.
• Almost no firms reported a degradation of executive interest in employee Engagement. Most assumed, incorrectly by the way, that their Engagement scores were sure to drop (see earlier post “Is the Recession Killing Employee Engagement”) on why that hasn’t been the case).
• Many executives, after acknowledging what a tough time it was, spoke about future talent issues—about near term gaps such as losing intellectual capital as baby boomers retired, or post-recession challenges—talent shortages in one area or another; lack of trained leaders; weak positioning globally; and so forth.
• Regarding the current recessionary environment, most worried about tough talent decisions: managing labor costs–affording to keep talent and intellectual capital that took years to gain; recalibrating workforce mindset to new realities; getting more focused on the customer; and optimizing performance.
• And as I have now lived through five significant recessions, I have seen that there is always the challenge of communications. Do we share the bad news with employees? While more executives recognized the fruitless delusion of ‘hiding??? the negatives, their natural instincts as marketers and motivators is to ‘spin’ a lot of communication. We’ll talk about this and some of the above issues in more depth in upcoming postings on this blog.
• One noticeable difference in this recession is the interest of executives in measuring things: a far greater desire to measure customers regarding their perceived value of products and services; a wish to know what the workforce is feeling; and, a need to know how “my” function is doing. In my opinion, this has been a healthy change from the ‘head in the sand’ mode of recessions past.
I came away from these interviews with a stronger sense that executives managing through this recession cared more deeply or perhaps more expressively, about talent issues. The talent challenges of the prior five years most likely galvanized many to the inevitable talent challenges ahead…….
Are your leaders reacting this way? We would be interested in what you have observed uniquely or differently about talent management thinking and actions during this recession.
I welcome your thoughts, questions, and suggestions!

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by William Schiemann | Categories: Talent Management | Comments Off

The following is the first in a series of posts??that will relate  to key issues identified in??my new book Reinventing Talent Management,  co-published by John Wiley and the Society of Human Resource Management.  The ideas in that book, and in these posts are based on extensive research across thousands of firms, and over 70 senior executive  interviews.

A Once in a Lifetime Experiment

When I began the interviews for Reinventing Talent Management, the global economy was robust with many cries of talent shortages, high turnover in A-demand jobs, and battles for the best talent.  About half way through the research, the economy plummeted providing an unusual glimpse at how viewpoints change when the world is much gloomier.  Some views of talent remained the same while others changed quickly.  The perspective changed from a reactive—find a person to fill the slot—to a more reflective mode.??

In some ways in looking back on the interviews from the go-go period, organizations appeared to be less strategic, tactically running faster and faster on the talent treadmill.?? Many leaders described environments in which they were growing so fast that it was hard to catch up, all the while not really challenging the overall talent framework.  In a fishing analogy, it was a “talent catch and release” environment because many organizations were losing talent as quickly out the back door as they were hauling it in the front.  It was like fishing with huge nets hoping to find the remaining minnows. 

As the economic sky was falling, viewpoints changed.  While the recession has hurt many people, it may have helped organizations and their people in the long run.  It required people to stop and ask fundamental questions around Value.  When we don???t have a plethora of customers, we have to determine what they value most and deliver it better than anyone else.  When we want talent that meets strategic objectives and stays, we need to identify it carefully and nurture and develop it better than other organizations. 

Executive interviewed in the final phases of this work were asking more future oriented questions, perhaps some that you might identify with:

  • What things are we doing that really add value to our external customers or internal stakeholders?
  • What do we really want from our talent?  People with the right values?  Right competencies?  Aligned with our vision and strategy?
  • Are we really seeding, growing, and harvesting our talent effectively? 
    • Are we really recruiting talent that is not only competent, but also capable of becoming engaged and aligned with our vision and goals?
    • Are we really acculturating new talent in a way that is likely to lead to long term engagement and loyalty?
    • Are our training and development efforts really producing talent changes on the job?
    • Do we lose top talent that we could have saved if we had the right early warning systems and process to address gaps?

A future Blog will address some of the key challenges in thinking about managing the overall talent lifecycle in new ways.

Your comments and ideas are most welcome


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by William Schiemann | Categories: Talent Management | Comments Off