Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You Can Prevent Layoffs

As a manager, here are some actions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of layoffs in your organization:
First and foremost, watch out for creeping structural complexity. Just like any living organism, organizations have a tendency to grow, adding unnecessary layers, positions, and locations. As such we end up with headquarter staffs, divisional staffs, regional staffs, and local staffs all creating work that justifies their existence. Maintaining structural simplicity to begin with, with limited layers and as few extra locations as possible, is one way of avoiding layoffs.
Phase out products and services. Although we are always looking for new ways to benefit customers, often we don't eliminate the ones that have outlived their value. Without sunset laws for outdated products and services, we allow costs and infrastructure to build up that will eventually have to be taken down.
Manage the balance between today's revenues and tomorrow's opportunities. Managers always have a choice between investing in current operations and innovating for the future. When the balance is overly skewed towards short-term revenues, it's easy to build up costs (and people) that provide results today but cannot be sustained in the long-term.
In today's business environment, layoffs have become an accepted fact-of-life and a common tool for managers to maintain profitability. But we might be better off if we spend more time preventing layoffs rather than managing them.
By RON ASHKENAS - managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization.

Managing Up: How Do You Build a Relationship With Your Manager?

“I need to talk to you about an employee that I am having trouble with.”
Like a lot of you, I get calls all the time with people that want to bounce things off of me. I also volunteer my HR services to non-profits. This statement came from a founding member of the non-profit that I have been working with for the past year.
The executive director/founder had hired a direct report. The interview went well, and references checked out — that is, until this person started work. It seemed that as time went on, the new hire became disconnected from the executive.

Building a relationship

When the executive would schedule a meeting between the two, the direct report would just refuse to show up, saying that she had other things to do. When there were group meetings, she was very dismissive of her. It got to the point that she tried everything she could to just not have to communicate with her boss.
I thought of this scenario this week when I was part of an MBA course interview. Each student was asked to interview a corporate executive and get their insight on three questions. Collectively the questions centered on managing up. Specifically how do you build a relationship with your manager?
Besides being honored to be asked, I was impressed with the questions. For anyone that knows me, knows that I have an opinion on lots of things, however I keep it to myself only if asked.
I like questions that make me think and get away from the snap answers that I have given so many times. When you are asked the same questions over and over again, you tend to look at them as lobs.
I have served on so many panels during my career and very seldom am I asked a question that you really have to think about and formulate a response. However, these questions all gave me time to pause and think them through.
So my post this week is on the following four questions and my responses to each:

1. What do you think about managing up to your boss?

This is a subject that is not taught in college. This is a subject that in order for you to be successful, you must figure it out on the job. There is no manual, so you have to create the manual yourself.
In order for you and your manager to connect, you must be cognizant of managing the relationship. You want to be seen as a productive and valuable part of the team. For that reason, it is your best interest to figure out how to get this relationship on track. We have all probably experienced the “boss from hell,” but even in that case, until you find a way to get out, you have to find a way to connect.
Managing up is working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and your organization. This has nothing to do with kissing up. Rather, it is a deliberate effort to build a relationship between two different individuals where one is in charge of the other.

2. How do you manage your boss?

First and foremost, you must be the best employee you can be. You should strive to build a relationship with him or her, and understand your role within the department. In order to manage your boss, your first order of business is to figure out their style.
Try and think of the value that you bring to your boss. To be successful, you have to be in sync with their work style and habits. Even though you have the job and have gone through the interviews, you must show value once you get inside the organization.
The value that was created at your previous company does not translate, for the most part. You can’t live off the superstar reputation that you previously had. You have to begin again the methodical process of building up your credibility in this new environment. The first step of this process is dealing with the manager that you report to.
Ask your new manager how you would like to interact. Ask them about what type communication they prefer: voice mail or face-to-face, detail or overview? What is their preferred method for sharing information? Concentrate on making their job easier. Get to know their style. Until you figure out their style, you are going nowhere.

3. How do your best subordinates manage you?

Now the table is turned — how have your subordinates managed you? Think of your best subordinate over the years (if you have managed people). My best were the ones that, whenever there was a problem, always mentioned it but also would say that they have given it thought and offered up a solution.
Our conversations were always about solutions. I do not like “problem” reports, the ones that can always spot and bring you a problem. I do, however, love the ones that think, have an opinion, and come up with a solution. That was my style — and they figured it out.

4. “It is not your actual performance that counts, but your manager’s perception of your performance.”

I have always loved the phrase “perception is reality.” What we perceive is usually what we believe, and it is based on what we see, hear, and think.
So based on that thinking, it is important that your manager hear the right things about you. This had to do with departmental feedback, peer feedback, etc.
If they see us struggling with deadlines, interactions, and contribution, that is how we are going to be perceived.
If we give them reason to think that we are not in sync, we are perpetuating this thought process.
So as I thought this week of the non-profit and the fit between the executive director and her report, I came away feeling that in order for this person to be successful in her next career role, (she was eventually fired), Job 1 is that she must learn from this mistake.

By Ron Thomas - Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company). 

Why We Need to Change Performance Management to Talent Development

Performance management. Let’s think about that for a minute. When you Google the word “management,” here is what you get:
  • The process of dealing with or controlling things or people;
  • The responsibility for and control of a company or similar organization.
It’s all about control. A logical person might conclude that a process called performance management has at its core the intention to control performance. And they’d be right!

Why performance management doesn’t work today

Performance management was created to manage (i.e. control) the work of an industrialized workforce to maximize output. No thought was given to the development of the individual.
Fast-forward to today and the rise of the knowledge workforce, which is very different from an industrialized one.
  • One right way –> Multiple right ways, best approach varies with the situation;
  • Maximizing production output –> Creating competitive advantage through best use of talent.
  • Creativity detracts from results –> Creativity is essential for results
  • Command and control –> Collaboration and self-motivation.
  • If-then rewards motivate –> Mastery, autonomy and purpose motivate.
It’s no surprise that a process created to control the output of a workforce where work was standardized and repeatable doesn’t work as a tool to develop a knowledge-based workforce. No matter how much you massage around the edges.
I won’t quote a bunch of survey statistics here because, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen them – over and over and over. So has your CEO. What you may not know is that it’s also expensive, rolling in at about $2,000/person.

Practical ideas that may help

What I haven’t seen in any of my research is data confirming that performance management is delivering on its objectives. Not. Once.
It’s time for us to change our lens from performance management to talent development. And I believe HR needs to lead the way. Your leaders are waiting for new ideas from you.
While surveys and research findings confirm the problem, not many address the solution. So I’ve provided some practical ideas to help you get started.
  • Unbundle. Stop relying on one jumbo process; done once or twice a year, as the basis to drive all your talent-related actions. Take a close look at what you are trying to do with performance management and unbundle those activities.
  • Cultural shift to continuous feedback. Begin building the foundation for a cultural shift to valuing and encouraging feedback. Change the notion that feedback only goes top-down. Encourage people to get and give feedback in any direction. Emphasize the idea of agility and feedback when needed. There are lots of good tools out there that can enable this. Two of my favorites: Rypple and Cleargears.
  • Invest in improving feedback and coaching skills. Enable your workforce to both give and receive feedback effectively. For years, we’ve trained people to participate in a months-long process where the outcome is to give a grade. This does nothing to prepare them to effectively coach and develop each other. Helping people at all levels in the organization build this capability signals a shift in perspective from identifying weaknesses to capitalizing on strengths; reinforcing a cultural shift from judging and grading to coaching and development. And it’s a much better spend of your $2,000/head! Feedback and coaching support innovation and creativity much better than assessing and grading do. And, helps to shift responsibility for growth to the individual by empowering them to ask for feedback versus waiting for the scheduled time for it to be administered from above.
  • Succession planning with a purpose. Make talent reviews and succession planning an ongoing dialogue with leaders. These discussions are critical to helping you understand where you have deep bench strength and where there are gaps that need to be closed. Follow-up on agreed actions and share insights with those being discussed, encouraging people to take an active role in the planning and execution of their development activities.
When HR professionals shift their focus to talent development and bring fresh, creative ideas to leadership, they get a seat at the table that is truly value-added. They become an advisor to the business around talent, driving value to the bottom line by linking an organization’s talent strategy to its business strategy.
BY Kristi Erickson - Partner at PeopleResults, a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change.

Keeping Top Talent: How Leaders Can Manage Increasing Employee Turnover

A weak labor market associated with the economic downturn may have held down turnover rates in many organizations. But, it could be argued that we have been in the eye of a turnover storm.
Data from Hay Group’s employee opinion database, including responses from over 1.69 million U.S. employees working in 152 organizations, offer leading indicators of future turnover. And the trends indicate cause for concern.
The percentage of U.S. employees indicating an intention to remain with their current companies has declined 8 percentage points since 2009, with the result that 44 percent are now reporting plans to change employers in the next five years. Perhaps recognizing these shifts, fewer U.S. employees are confident about the ability of their companies to retain high quality employees, falling from 56 percent in 2009 to just 43 percent presently.

Where to focus to keep top talent

Those organizations that fail to identify and act on issues negatively affecting employee commitment during this break in the storm are likely to find employees exiting in increasing numbers as other opportunities become more plentiful. High performing and high potential employees, who can find alternative opportunities even in tough labor markets, are particularly likely to be turnover risks.
Where should leaders be focusing now to keep more of their top talent?
To provide insight, we conducted additional analyses on Hay Group’s employee opinion database. We isolated employees who indicated that they are committed to their companies for more than two years (the “stayers”) and compared them with employees reporting intentions to leave within the next two years (the “leavers”).

Five key retention factors

By examining the largest gaps in workplace perceptions between these two groups, we can identify key factors affecting employee retention.
  • Playing for a winner. Employees are unlikely to bind their futures to organizations unless they view them as well led and headed in a positive direction. Some 60 percent of “stayers” report trust and confidence in company senior management, versus just 35 percent of the “leavers.” The “stayers” also report considerably more faith that the direction and goals of their companies are the right ones at the present time (73 percent versus 51 percent).
  • Somewhere to go if I stay. Today’s employees have become increasingly aware that they are responsible for managing their own careers. As opportunities for career development are among the most consistent predictors of employee engagement, it should not be surprising that the “stayers” are much more optimistic about their ability to achieve their career objectives with their current employers (64 percent versus 31 [percent). Likewise, 67 percent of the “stayers” report that their supervisors provide ongoing coaching for development, as compared with 45 percent of the “leavers.”
  • A fair exchange. If organizations want employees to do and deliver more, it’s essential that they have confidence that they are valued as people, that their extra efforts are recognized and appreciated, and that there is a reasonable balance between rewards (tangible and intangible) and contributions. The “stayers” rate the care and concern for employees displayed by their companies much higher than the “leavers” (62 percent versus 39 percent). And they also report greater levels of satisfaction with the fairness of their pay in relation to the work they do (53 percent versus 31 percent).
  • Support for success. As many employees are being asked to do more with less, they need to feel that they are working “smart” as well as hard. Of particular concern are efficient work processes and collaborative support from co-workers to allow employees to perform at their best. The “stayers” give their companies higher marks for being effectively managed and well run (73 percent versus 51 percent) and are considerably more favorable regarding cross-work unit working relationships (63 percent versus 41 percent).
  • A sense of control and influence. Critical to optimizing work processes, especially in dynamic environments where goals and objectives are frequently changing, is leveraging the ideas and input of employees at all levels. Some 73 percent of the “stayers” indicate that they have the authority necessary to do their jobs well, as compared with 51 percent of the “leavers.” The “stayers” are also more positive about the support their companies provide for employee creativity and innovation (70 percent versus 48 percent).

Implications for employees, too

Taken together, these findings provide organizations with a road map for managing increasing turnover risks in the months and years ahead.
Leaders who are successful in keeping their best people will need to foster a positive view of future company prospects and opportunities for individual growth and development, focus on structuring work environments to support employees’ success in their roles and leverage employee input to promote high levels of effectiveness, and reinforce the balance between what employees contribute and what they get back from the organization in return.
The findings also have implications for individual employees.
Research has generally suggested low correlations between the reasons employees cite for leaving in exit surveys and explanations given in follow-up surveys months later. While some employees may be less than candid with their employers at the time of exit, others may simply struggle to identify and pull together the sources of their dissatisfaction.
Are you feeling frustrated in your current job and thinking of quitting? If so, consider whether these turnover factors hit home for you. Your manager would likely appreciate discussing them now – as opposed to learning about them in a resignation letter.
By Mark Royal - senior principal in Hay Group. Contact him at