The Daily Recruiter

The Ezine for Executive Managers … brought to you by The SearchLogix Group.

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Be Very Afraid

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” By Jillian Reilly of Braveshift”

There’s one statement we at BraveShift hardly hear spoken in workplaces. And yet it echoes off the halls. Silent and yet screamed, absent and yet everywhere, it’s as simple and familiar as it is taboo. A phrase we can probably remember saying when we were children – when Dad turned the lights off at bedtime, when Mom prepared us for the first day of school. But for most of us, as the years passed, the words stopped passing from our lips.

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3 Ideas to Change Company

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” By Jennifer V. Miller, of SmartBrief “

According to a Deloitte Consulting study, 88% of executives state that to build an “organization of the future,” they must transform their business practices. Transformation requires extensive change, which is difficult. Or is it?

In the Harvard Business Review article “Stop Using the Excuse that Organizational Change is Hard,” organizational psychologist Nick Tasler writes that we’ve come to believe the trope that “change is difficult.” Tasler observes that many change initiatives do actually achieve success, but negative biases “can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Perhaps changes isn’t as difficult as we think it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are legitimate barriers to transformation, both personal and organizational. Consider these three factors to help you sort out your change management challenges.

Outdated change-management philosophies

Many change-management practices are rooted in philosophies that are nearly three decades old. The problem is, many of them don’t take into account today’s business realities. Many change management systems are aimed at helping organizations maneuver through a specific, large-scale change rather than dealing with myriad micro-changes that leaders and their employees continually experience. Many of the models are linear and process-oriented, with the framework of grief or loss as their conceptual underpinning.

“Modern change management theory is based on a model of destruction, whereas the change management theory that I have found actually works for individuals and organizations is based on a model of creation,” writes Dana Theus of InPower Coaching. Theus advocates for leaders to see change as an act of creation, and invite people into the change process earlier.

New York Times-bestselling author Cy Wakeman believes it’s time to move past the “stages of grief” philosophy common in many change management models. In her latest book, “No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results,” Wakeman writes, “Although change can indeed be a challenge, I don’t see how it make sense to grieve the natural and inevitable changes required to make a business successful in the same way as we would a death.”

Reframing the change-management conversation

Traditional change-management models that are based on loss and driven by a select few at the top of the organization tend to frame employees as helpless casualties. When a small cadre of leaders assume the majority of responsibility for managing change, it “generates negative energy and passive participants,” writes Theus.

Wakeman concurs: “When people are allowed to remain passive it breeds contempt,” which makes employees even less likely to engage in the change.

Wakeman advocates a shift in the way we talk about coping with change. Calling change management “so 1990s,” she suggests that we move from “managing change” to developing “business readiness” in employees. In the former, leaders bear the burden of softening the blow of the changes from employees. The latter helps develop a change-ready workforce.

“To be relevant in the future, leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus instead on ‘readiness’ by developing employees’ future potential on a daily basis,” writes Wakeman. “Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary and neutral.”

Leaders can do this through daily “downloads” of easy-to-digest information that create a workforce that’s ready for what’s next. They don’t shield people from reality, or invest excessive amounts of time with work arounds so that people will be more comfortable with the change.

Resilience as a key competency for change readiness

The key to being ready for whatever your workday brings is resilience.

Dean Becker is managing director of Adaptiv Learning, a company that provides resilience training. Becker has studied resilience for nearly two decades. Resilience is about “bouncing back” says Becker. Beyond that, it’s also about staying focused when there is ambiguity or oncoming change in your work situation. Speaking at the WorkHuman conference, Becker defined resilience as “the intelligent deployment of limited resources.”

“Most of us have wasted precious time and resources trying to solve problems over which we have little or no control,” says Becker.

Leaders and employees alike need to learn to put their resources where they’re likely to do the most good. But we’re often tripped up by what Becker terms our “habitual patterns of thought” — some of which lead to unproductive thinking. This dwelling in what “should” happen, or what’s “not fair” leads to what Wakeman calls “emotional waste”: mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behavior that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results.

Both Becker and Wakeman say that we can learn to redirect these unproductive thought patterns. Wakeman encourages leaders to give brief, targeted feedback, then encourage employees to reflect on their past actions and focus on the reality of their current situation.

Becker adds, “We all have habitual patterns of thought — about ourselves, our world, our future — that can interfere with our ability to accurately assess problems and find solutions.” With practice retraining our thinking, we can make better choices, he says.

Moving through change is a challenge but one worth attempting. As Tasler observes, “Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.”

Think about the changes you’ll ask of your team over the course of the next few months. How can you rethink your change management practices to help your team become more change-ready?

Don’t Get to Confortable

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” By Steve Lohr, of  The New York Times”

First there were individual offices. Then cubicles and open floor plans. Now, there is a “palette of places.”

New office designs are coming to a workplace near you, with layouts meant to cater to the variety of tasks required of modern white-collar workers. Put another way, it means people don’t sit in just one place.

It’s partly a backlash against the one-size-fits-all mind-set, not to mention the corporate penny-pinching, embodied in the move toward pure open floor plans that packed more workers into less and less space. That idea was supposed to drive collaboration, but many experts agree it often went too far, with row upon row of desks and workbench-style seating more likely to generate ennui than efficiency.

“When used as a generic answer for work space design, it’s terrible,” said David Lathrop, a researcher at Steelcase, a big office furniture maker.

The new model is largely open, but not entirely. Under the revised thinking, breaking down walls to bring people together is good, but so are “team spaces” and standing tables, comfortable couches and movable walls

Privacy is also good, particularly for tasks that require intense concentration, the thinking goes. That doesn’t mean a return to the glory days of private offices, but it does mean workers have more space and more places to seek solitude than in the neo-Dickensian workbench settings. The new designs often include “isolation rooms,” soundproof phone booths, and even lounges where technology is forbidden.

And it’s meant to be tweaked as needs change. “This continues to be iterated,” said Frank Cuevas, who is working on a major redesign at IBM — and whose use of the word “iterated” hints at the kind of start-up mentality the changes are intended to evoke.

“It’s not something we’re going stop and say, ‘This is it,’” he said.

The corporations setting the new standard are not young Silicon Valley companies known for free food, slides and foosball tables at work — or for carefree spending, as at Apple, whose new corporate mothership cost a reported $5 billion. Nor are the designs one-of-a-kind projects that veer toward eccentricity. Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Instead, the companies behind the emerging new norm in workplace design are a lineup of more staid companies across a range of industries, and they may spend heavily but also systematically. They include Microsoft, IBM and General Electric. Certain workspace innovations may surface first at Google or Facebook, but the older stalwarts are combining and refining them for mainstream businesses.

“These workplace ideas are beginning to be adopted across all industries,” said Arlyn Vogelmann, a principal at Gensler, an architecture and design firm whose clients include Facebook and G.E.

The new designs are not about looks. They are an attempt to adapt to the spread of internet-era digital technology — and its hurry-up ways — into every industry. Space drives behavior, experts say, and the goal of the new designs is to hasten the pace of sharing ideas, making decisions and creating new products. They are also meant to appeal to millennial recruits, many of whom are more comfortable working in a Starbucks than in a traditional office.

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The main atrium of Redwest B, an older Microsoft building at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., that has yet to be remodeled. CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times
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The main atrium of a remodeled Microsoft building in Redmond. The company began experimenting with open designs in 2010. CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

The new model eschews the common dogmas of work life: Everybody gets an office, or everyone gets a cubicle, or everybody gets a seat on a workbench. A diversity of spaces, experts say, is more productive, and the new concept is called “activity-based workplace design,” tailoring spaces for the kind of work done.

“Office geography matters, and it can be a key managerial lever to increase communication and the cross-fertilization of ideas,” said Christopher Liu, an assistant professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

One of the most aggressive makeovers is happening at Microsoft, a change forced by business necessity. The company faces a new wave of technology, as the market has shifted to software delivered and constantly updated as a service over the internet cloud, as opposed to being loaded onto individual computers, with the code often stored on compact discs and sold as a product every few years. To compete, Microsoft has had to adopt a faster pace.

“You have to collaborate more,” said Michael Ford, Microsoft’s general manager of global real estate. “We absolutely have to change.”

For decades, the company, based outside Seattle, housed its software engineers in secluded offices, thinking that the privacy helped employees focus while writing computer code. But in 2010, Microsoft started testing open designs with a quarter of a floor, and then expanded. Since 2014, it has opened 10 renovated buildings without offices, including four this year.

Microsoft, Mr. Ford said, has taken a test-and-learn approach. It learned, for example, that its early designs were too open plan, with 16 to 24 engineers in team-based spaces. Engineers found those spaces noisy and distracting, and concentration suffered. Too much openness can cause workers to “do a turtle,” researchers say, and retrench and communicate less — colleagues who retreat into their headphones all day, for example

Today, there are more private spaces, and the team areas hold only eight to 12 engineers. “That’s the sweet spot for Microsoft,” Mr. Ford said.

The company thinks it is working. Microsoft’s Azure cloud software business has surged in the last few years, as has the company’s stock price. Mr. Ford said about 20 percent of the workplaces have been redone on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., and the surrounding area. Within five years, he said, he expects the renovated share to reach 80 percent.

Offices, he said, will not disappear entirely, but they will be reserved mainly for people who regularly have confidential conversations, like lawyers and top executives.

Companies renovating their work spaces often tap into a growing body of research on building design and worker well-being and productivity. Research at the University of Oregon concluded that exposure to sunlight and outdoor views correlated to about 6 percent fewer sick days than those without. Research done by Craig Knight, a British organizational psychologist, concluded that “empowered offices” — in which workers can choose their conditions — can increase productivity on cognitive tasks by 25 percent or more.

And at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, scientists found that well-ventilated offices can significantly improve a person’s ability to perform challenging tasks like developing strategy or responding to a crisis.

But companies can also save money, by using a little less space than conventional offices do.

DWorker space is now about 150 square feet per person, down from 225 square feet in 2010, estimates Tim Venable, senior vice president for research at CoreNet Global, a commercial real estate association. But the hybrid design saves less than entirely open designs, which usually have workbench settings and in which the amount of space can drop to as low as 60 square feet per worker.

“There can be huge value to people coming together, but the real reason a lot of corporations have gone to bench seating is money falling to the bottom line,” said Mr. Lathrop of Steelcase.

Another space saver has been getting people to work from home, a trend for years in corporate America. But that trend is reversing, as companies recognize that offices can be creative clusters.

IBM, for example, recently called 5,000 of its at-home employees back to offices, though one in five workers in North America still work from home full time, the company said.

Since 2014, IBM has spent $380 million renovating its work spaces in the United States, which now bear all the hallmarks of the new hybrid design — open spaces, whiteboard walls, no offices, sit-or-stand desks, huddle rooms and phone rooms.

IBM, said Mr. Cuevas, vice president of real estate strategy and operations, offers employees up to 10 different space configurations. In January, the company also remade its headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., with senior executives departing wood-paneled offices for smaller, side-by-side glass ones without doors.

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Long hallways with offices are typical of the design in Redwest B, an older Microsoft office building.CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times
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A small white board work station in the hallway in a remodeled Microsoft building.CreditStuart Isett for The New York Times

While G.E. executives wait for the company’s new headquarters to be built in Boston, they are working in temporary offices nearby, designed according to the new principles. The contrast with the cavernous offices and silent hallways of the old headquarters in suburban Connecticut could scarcely be more striking — open spaces, sit-or-stand desks, and no parking spaces. (Workers are urged to take public transportation.)

Face-to-face conversations have replaced endless email chains, so decisions are made faster, said Ann Klee, vice president for the Boston development and operations. Still, openness has its limits. Sometimes, she concedes, you do have to ask colleagues to use their “indoor voices.” More quiet rooms are being added to the new headquarters design.

The Boston Consulting Group has also adopted the new design, with two goals in mind: prompt people to come to the office rather than avoid it, and encourage more “casual collisions” that might spur workers to trade ideas and build relationships.

Its old Midtown Manhattan office was a traditional space with offices housing one, two or four people each. “Lots of doors, lots of pillars, nowhere to really hang out, and people had lunch delivered to their desks,” said Ross Love, a senior partner in New York.

The new space, in the Hudson Yards development on the Far West Side of Manhattan, is a hybrid open design. Since the firm moved in last November, most consultants have been coming into the office substantially more often than they did to the old building.

To measure informal interactions, Boston Consulting hired a start-up in the emerging field of workplace analytics, Humanyze, a spinoff from the MIT Media Lab. It monitored workers’ physical movements, meetings and patterns of communication.

Two tests were conducted of about 100 employees, before and after the move. In the new space, workers spent an additional four to five hours a week in short, unplanned interactions. And they spent less time in formal meetings.

In surveys, the company’s workers say they are getting more done, faster in the new space. But the payoff, Mr. Love concedes, is difficult to measure so far.

“It’s like increasing the clock speed of a computer,” he said. “If you rev things up, you ought to be able to do more.”

Be Authentic with Staff

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” By Joyce Warner, of SmartBrief”

In my 20 years of leading teams both large and small, I’ve never heard anyone say, “We wish you would pretend to ask our opinion more!”

Of course, all staff want to and should be heard, but pretending to ask their opinions is always worse than not asking at all. People are perceptive, so they can usually tell when you are not really asking, and ultimately it makes them lose (and often never regain) trust in the leader.

And when you pretend to ask, it might sound a lot like when you ask your better half, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” Everyone knows if you want to have a nice evening out, there is only one answer to that question.

So how can you be more authentic and credible when collecting feedback?

  1. Decide if there really are two or more paths available to the organization and if staff feedback will lead to a better decision. If there really is only one viable path, don’t ask. Instead, explain the reasoning behind your decision. As the leader, sometimes you must decide, and you probably have access to more information to inform your decision. Being authentic in what led you to make the decision can go a long way, especially with bad news. Show empathy when the situation warrants it.
  2. Ask clear questions and use anonymous spot polls. The technology to do this online is ubiquitous and many free versions exist. This type of poll also helps the normally quiet voices be heard equally along with those who regularly speak up. Long surveys generally have lower response rates and can be less valuable.
  3. Right-size the number of open-ended questions in surveys. If the staff survey respondent pool is large, voluminous free response answers are a bear to code and analyze correctly. Also, have someone objective (read: external) review and process the data.  You can always go back with another survey to do a deep-dive on a specific topic if you need more information.
  4. With any committees you form to help in the decision-making process, make sure they have members that are generally perceived as competent and credible, represent the diversity of staff views, and are not afraid to speak their mind. If the committee looks cherry-picked with “yes men/women,” everyone will think it is a sham and waste of company time.
  5. Consider the appropriateness of collecting one-to-one feedback, and if you do, don’t spend the whole time trying to sway the other person to your view. It’s a huge turn-off when someone barely has the chance to express what they think and you are already giving the impression that if they don’t agree with you there will be a mark against them.
  6. Tell folks how their feedback will factor into your decision-making before you collect it.Don’t give the impression that you will go with the will of the people and then do the opposite. Be prepared to share data collected and present it objectively, or risk your staff making and projecting their own analysis of what people really think.
  7. Don’t tell some staff how you plan to act on an issue while telling others you haven’t made up your mind yet. News travels fast, and leaders don’t always really know who is friendly with whom in an organization. I like to say there is invisible fiber optic cable carrying information throughout any organization.
  8. Be present after you announce a decision and deliver only good news on Fridays or before holidays. It’s hard to be the bearer of bad news, but looking like you are running away from your decision doesn’t breed confidence in you as a leader.
  9. Own bad decisions. Everyone makes a bad decision every once and a while. The most authentic thing you can do is own it. This lets staff know it’s ok for them to be open and own it if they make a bad decision.

Full disclosure, my husband came up with the title of this piece after I shared the concept. Note to self: Stop asking him if I look fat in this dress.

Your Reputation matters

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” By Denise Lee Yohn, of Dennise Lee Yohn”

This month I’m speaking to an organization about corporate reputation and trust.  The CEO has designated trust as one of their key priorities and they’ve asked me to help their top leaders understand why corporate reputation matters and what role they play in building it.  Given how frequently corporate crises arise these days, I can imagine you might grapple with your corporate reputation too, so I thought I’d share some of my points here and in my next post.

What Is Corporate Reputation

Let’s start with some clarification:  Corporate reputation, as the dictionary defines it, is the collective assessments of a corporation’s past actions and the ability of the company to deliver future results.

Reputation Institute, a leading research and advisory firm for reputation, does a survey every year that measures companies’ reputations on 7 dimensions:

  1. Products & Services
  2. Innovation
  3. Workplace
  4. Governance
  5. Citizenship
  6. Leadership
  7. Performance

They survey 170,000 respondents around the world on their agreement with statements including

  • I believe the organization’s products are high in quality, value and service and meet the customers’ needs.
  • I believe the organization maintains good workplaces, treating and rewarding employees fairly.
  • I believe the organization’s leaders are excellent and visionary managers, and strong endorsers of their companies.

From these responses, they produce a reputation score for each company and publish a ranking.

They have identified what they call “supportive behaviors” that a company’s stakeholders will engage in if it has a positive reputation, such as customers will buy their products, investors will invest in them, and employees will want to work for them.

Ronald Alsop, in his book The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation: Creating, Protecting, and Repairing Your Most Valuable Asset, examines these behaviors as well.  Based on these two resources and several others, I’ve compiled the following list of benefits of having a strong corporate reputation among different stakeholder groups.

Corporate Reputation Impact on Stakeholders

  • Investors and financial analysts. An excellent reputation generates higher valuations and stock prices.  Alsop reports on a study of 216 companies where higher stock values were found among companies with a strong reputation and another study of 10 investment portfolios which showed they garnered higher prices if investors were confident they represented less risk — in other words if they trusted the companies more.  And according to PR firm Weber Shandwick, 60% of a company’s market value is derived from its reputation, so the better your reputation, the higher your valuation.
  • With reviews so prevalent and easily accessible, what other people say about you and your products is critical.  Weber Shandwick also found that your advertising and website influence consumer opinion about you far less than online reviews and what people say (56% and 74% vs. 83% and 89%.)
  • When a company has an excellent reputation, its employees have better morale and better productivity. They’re also less likely to leave the company, which can save your organization huge turnover costs.  And they’re more likely to act as brand ambassadors, proudly communicating about and representing your brand to friends and neighbors in their communities, the business partners they interact with, and even prospective employees.  And speaking of potential recruits, reputation also impacts your company’s ability to compete in the war for talent among prospective employees.  You can attract top talent employees with less cost.
  • Regulatory bodies and government agencies pay attention to the public sentiment of companies and their products.  Apple has definitely benefitted from this, not only in getting a more favorable outcome from a Senate hearing on its tax practices, as reportedby The New York Times, but also in getting permits for its new corporate office in Cupertino.
  • Undergirding all stakeholders is the goodwill of the public.  During crucible moments, your reputation determines whether the public gets behind you or demonizes you.   Consider what happened earlier this year when Kraft’s attempt to take over Unilever was squashed.  Kraft had lost public trust after the way it handled its takeover of Cadbury.  It had reversed the promises it made when it initiated the hostile takeover, closing factories, laying off thousands of workers, taking cost out of Cadbury product recipes which changed the taste of its beloved chocolate, and eventually spinning off the snack businesses which signaled that it didn’t value the Cadbury brand which is so beloved by so many. So when Kraft made a bid to acquire Unilever, it quickly found out it didn’t have the support it needed from regulators, from the industry, and most importantly from the public.

Bottom line, the better your reputation, the more you reduce operating costs and risk and increase valuation, revenue, and growth potential. That’s why your corporate reputation matters.

 

Personal Stress

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” By Naphtali Hoff of Smart Brief”

One of the greatest challenges for professionals is to leave behind their personal challenges when they enter the workplace. We all have a job to do, but when there are struggles at home or with family, such as illness, financial pressures or familial discord, it can be really difficult to hunker down and focus enough to get work done.

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Communication Problems

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” By Scott Mabry of Soul To Work”

The key to solving all your communication challenges is to hire for psychic ability. I know, you’re probably asking yourself why you never thought of this before.

To help you get started, here’s a quick test from the Universal Psychic Guild that you can include in your talent acquisition process. (I was below 20% so I probably missed the cut).

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Leadership

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” By Julia Felton of Lead Change Group”

No-one I speak to disputes the fact that we live in a VUCA world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We are living in a world where change is ever greater, where the future is less predictable, where the options increase exponentially, and the way we think about these options has undoubtedly changed.

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Open Mind vs Closed Mind

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” By Ray Dalio of Farnam Street”

Why is it that some people seem to make constant progress in their professional and personal lives, while others appear to be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over?

While the answer isn’t cut and dry, I’ve noticed an interesting mindset difference between these two groups: they approach obstacles and challenges very differently.

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Killer Question

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“By Matthew Upton of Linkedin”

It’s the end of an interview. This one was particularly grueling and it was the end of a hectic day as well, but you feel like it went well.

Then there it is…”do you have any questions of us?”…ummm…”well, it seems like you have answered all my questions”…or, you grasp at…”what training will I receive?”.

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