How to Build a More Resilient Business
Written by Elizabeth Dunn Andreini, President of Accelerate Marketing
If you’ve been thinking about how to help your business thrive (or at least survive) during the next phase of this COVID-19 global pandemic you aren’t alone. A “New Normal” will take a long time to arrive, likely years, and we all need to plan accordingly. Whether our economic recovery is “U” shaped or “W” shaped remains to be seen, but it is unlikely we will see a short “V” shaped economic recovery. Instead, we need to take a new approach in our businesses, embedding a willingness to make continual adjustments coupled with the agility to make changes, an approach I call “Resilient Reinvention™”
As the economy slowly restarts, employees return and companies reopen, it won’t be business as usual. There is broad consensus that as businesses reopen and the level of interaction increases, we will see a resurgence of COVID-19. We may need to pull back again creating a pattern of fits and starts for many businesses in a variety of regions. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, indicates he expects another outbreak of coronavirus in the fall, “In my mind, it’s inevitable that we will have a return of the virus, or maybe even that it never went away.” Supply chains will continue to be inconsistent and erratic, especially if multiple countries are involved. So rather than plan for a “New Normal” that may not occur for several years, businesses should plan for continued change and erratic phases in this post COVID-19 world by deliberately building in the resilience capabilities needed to better enable their company’s success.
What are the characteristics of Resilient Reinvention™
? Businesses that adopt this approach focus on how to rapidly respond to the period of revolutionary (transformational) change we are in, rather than the world of evolutionary (incremental) change we are used to. Adopting this approach impacts business strategy, planning and operations in multiple ways. There are five critical areas that businesses need to realign to build more resilience into their business and adapt to a more rapid pace of change.
1. Rebuild Organizational Structures to Emphasize Employee Resilience
Companies need to proactively develop scenarios with differing structures and numbers of employees based on changing business needs and evolving go-to-market strategies. Existing employees should be assessed to gain an understanding of their attitudes, aptitudes, and skills. With the right attitude and the aptitude needed to gain new expertise, the skills an employee starts with are less relevant as long as they can adapt and grow. All new hiring should prioritize a high tolerance for change and an aptitude for learning in addition to desired skills. Companies should emphasize training and cross training more than ever.
2. Create Resilience in Go-to-Market Strategies and Product Offerings
Being able to quickly pivot in the face of unexpected challenges and shift their marketing and sales’ focus positions a business to better take advantage of changing revenue opportunities and gain market share while other businesses are still desperately trying to adjust. To enhance resilience, companies should proactively evaluate current/future products and services solutions, considering what else could be offered and how it might be sold. Evaluate which products could be sold, how and to which additional audiences to look at ways your offerings might be reinvented. Consider alternatives if services are unavailable or products can’t be produced or distributed through typical sales channels. Taking a closer look at non-traditional distribution choices adds additional flexibility.
3. Develop Deeper Financial Resilience
Building a more resilient business model and capital structure is another key component of Resilience Reinvention™
. As businesses shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19, many companies gained a renewed understanding that “cash is king”. Cash flow, debt structure, lines of credit, Accounts Payable length, equipment leasing, rent or mortgage terms and payroll costs are some of the financial aspects that should be evaluated with scenarios developed for increased flexibility. Ensure executives understand which financial levers might need to be pulled and their impact on providing financial maneuvering room. It’s will be helpful to model potential downsizing scenarios such as when pay and benefit cuts or employee furloughs might need to be made.
4. Strengthening Corporate Systems for Improved Resilience and Responsiveness
Delivering metrics and key performance indicators to executives and managers consistently is crucial. Ensuring timely, accurate data to uncover trends needing to make strategic shifts may require some companies to overhaul their systems, integrate disparate systems, and prioritize data hygiene but that effort will be well worth it. A business might need to change a product offering, pivot to nearshoring or onshoring rather than offshoring, shift to different market segments or develop new distribution strategies. Having effective communication systems with up-to-date contact information, to reach employees and contractors as well as customers and vendors should also be prioritized.
5. Planning for Business Disaster Resilience
If there is one overarching lesson the COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted it is that companies should preemptively discuss specific disaster planning scenarios and develop robust playbooks on how to respond rapidly to such events. Aligning on mitigation scenarios in advance could make all the difference to a company’s survival. Disasters such as cyber hacking for ransom, a massive earthquake at headquarters, manufacturing facilities or distribution centers, global contagion, terrorist attack, mass shooting, and simultaneous death or disability of multiple executives (particularly in the case of family-owned businesses) are just some examples of disasters that could cause profound impacts with business-ending results.
Companies must fundamentally change how their businesses are structured and managed to adapt to a world that will see continued economic disruptions over the next several years. With the global coronavirus pandemic likely to last for years, businesses can’t reply on the return of a “New Normal” anytime soon. Businesses should start now to refine and rework their infrastructure, hiring, product offerings and go-to-market strategies to build more agility into their business. By using the Resilience Reinvention™
approach highlighted in this article to build in the assumption of continuing change and consider in advance how to overcome, mitigate, as well as take advantage of new opportunities and market changes, businesses will become more nimble, respond more quickly with coordinated plans and not just survive, but thrive, even in the uncertain times we find ourselves in now.
Further information about Dr Fauci’s comments about coronavirus returning in the fall can be found here: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/28/fauci-warns-us-could-be-in-for-a-bad-fall-if-coronavirus-treatments-dont-work.html
As the President of Accelerate Marketing, LLC, Elizabeth is the “secret weapon” CEOs turn to at key growth points when they need to transform marketing and product management to grow their customer base, increase revenue and scale their business. Elizabeth is a pragmatic strategist, experienced at working with rapidly growing companies and driving high impact change.
In addition to providing experienced executive insight and guidance, Elizabeth often works as an interim CMO or VP to provide the hands-on leadership needed to re-architect marketing and product management and improve execution from the inside. With a talent for building and leading teams, Elizabeth effectively builds the foundations needed for growth.
As an experienced entrepreneur, Elizabeth’s background includes over 25 years of experience globally in marketing and product management, business development and international sales. She has experience in a variety of diverse industries, from healthcare to technology to a franchise restaurant.
Prior to founding Accelerate Marketing in 2006, she worked in both corporate and early stage environments; her career includes executive and senior marketing positions with companies such as AMS/Vertafore, UniSite Software, NetReflector and Captura, among others. Elizabeth has an MBA in Marketing and International Business from the University of Washington and a BA degree in economics from Claremont McKenna College.
Plan, Prepare, Provide: Emergency Operations During a Crisis
About 10 years ago, we published an article on weathering the worst during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Today, the same content is as applicable as ever.
Any number of crises can strike without warning and make doing “business as usual” nearly impossible. Flu pandemics, devastating weather events, earthquakes, infrastructure breakdowns. This article explains what’s needed in an emergency operations plan, including providing emergency resources and accountability for employees during a crisis.
Plan for a rapid recovery
The first place to start is to establish a cross-functional team and imagine all the possible worst-case scenarios for your company. Examining what might happen during an emergency allows you to best plan for how to respond and recover from it. When scenario-planning, consider your key personnel, equipment, and information. Ask questions, including:
- Who is critical to getting your business going again?
- What is the succession plan if these leaders are unavailable?
- What types of equipment will be needed to move forward?
- Where will key information be stored and how can it be accessed?
- Who are trusted vendors, outsource partners, and service providers who may be able to pitch in and help in a disaster?
Once you’ve established the groundwork for recovery, create a contingency business plan that describes step-by-step how to move forward after an emergency. Be sure critical personnel know the plan and what is expected of them during a crisis. Most important, provide regular updates about emergency plans and procedures.
Develop a state of readiness
The necessary personnel, materials, and environments may vary for different scenarios. Take inventory of what is already available at the organization, then acquire what else is needed. While each scenario may be unique, the contingency plan can be prepared for similar responses including
- Identify individuals with specific knowledge, talents, or skills, such as employees with emergency medical technician, CPR, first-aid or firefighting training, or hold a ham operator’s license.
- Ask those with organizational skills and ability to focus during chaos, to be part of an emergency first responder team.
- Integrate training for managers in areas of empathy, stress management, and dealing with anxiety in the workplace. Encourage them to share this with their teams.
- Develop a buddy system, or means of accountability, to help employees check in and stay connected to one another.
- Include alternative work arrangements in the contingency plan, such as working from home, staggering shifts, job sharing, cross-training, and returning to work at partial capacity.
- Buy and store emergency supplies in a central location and plan an escape route.
- Post signs and conduct drills to ensure your staff knows where the supplies are and how to safely leave the workplace.
No matter the situation, rehearsal is critical to protect everyone’s health as it minimizes time delays and damage to operations, should the real thing occur. Find a frequency that works for your business and schedule practice into the regular work cadence.
Be able to account for staff
Create and continually update a list of emergency contact numbers, including out-of-state contacts, so you know how to reach employees during a disaster. Determine who will be the point-of-contact for your staff, stakeholders, and the media. Establish a call order for contacting employees and decide whose job it is to do so. Consider asking key personnel to use different cell phone carriers in case cellular service is lost during an emergency.
You’ll also need a way for employees to find out about the status of your business following a crisis, such as where (or how) to report for work and where the crisis command center is located. Options include establishing a toll-free telephone number, setting up an emergency e-mail or text system, or creating a web page for updates. Once you’ve decided how employees should keep in touch, be sure to communicate this often so they’ll know where to turn for information in a crisis.
Provide emergency resources
If employees have nowhere to stay or can’t get to work, you won’t be able to resume business. Decide now what types of transportation and housing services you would offer if needed. Next, establish and maintain a relationship with these service providers so you’ll already be considered a client should you ever need to call on them.
After the initial crisis, your place of business may remain inaccessible due to damage or safety regulations. Consider what types of alternative arrangements you might offer to get employees back to work even before your offices are up and running again.
Continue pay and benefits
Determine how you’d continue to provide pay and benefits in an emergency. Direct-deposit and pay cards are both good ways to distribute payroll during a business interruption. If neither is an option or if regular channels for payroll distribution become unavailable, you can use a money wire service. Consider rewarding employees with gift cards to local restaurants or by donating to a charity of their choice.
Another element to consider is how long you’d continue paying employees if your organization couldn’t reopen for some time following a crisis. Establish guidelines for the length and amount of pay available in this event, as well as whether this pay would be tied to continued employment once the company was back in business.
Don’t forget about the possible effect an emergency could have on benefits and how you administer them. Both mental and physical health will be affected by a crisis, especially if payment is delayed or disrupted. During disasters, many companies choose to cover all services as in-network, waive co-payments and continue disability benefits without physician statements until things return to normal. Make sure to include mental and behavioral health benefits as well as provide counseling services, such as through an employee assistance program, to help employees adjust to the new circumstances. Supporting employees with resources to directly manage stress and anxiety will allow for them to be more productive and engaged with their work.
Be prepared, rest easy
Once you have a solid emergency business plan in place, continually modify, evaluate, and communicate it. The hope is that a catastrophe will never hit where you work. If it does, though, preparation will help ensure you bounce back successfully.
Employee Engagement Is No Laughing Matter
"Employee Engagement Is No Laughing Matter"
originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Few employers would argue that there are no hard costs to disengaged employees. But it's usually not easy to pinpoint exactly how much money an organization loses to workers who aren't committed — with some degree of passion — to their work.
A 2017 study put some dollar signs to the problem and the results might not only surprise you, but also reinforce the importance of taking employee engagement seriously.
The study in question is called DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement. It was performed by The Engagement Institute, which represents a collaboration of various firms, including The Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer and Deloitte. The study gathered responses from 1,500 participants from U.S. businesses.
The results were daunting, to say the least. The study estimated that disengaged employees cost businesses somewhere between $450 and $550 billion a year. Fortunately, there lies some hope within other insights gleaned from the data. Specifically, 95% of respondents recognized when they're becoming disengaged. And employees tend to assume most engagement initiatives should come from leadership.
Questions and Answers
I've worked with proven tools and techniques for more than 25 years to assess organizational and leadership effectiveness, so I'm always happy to discuss ways to take active steps to increase productivity, employee morale and engagement.
Let's start with the fact that most employees know when they're becoming disengaged. This is a good thing. Why? Because if they know it, they can tell you — and you can do something about it.
For this reason, conducting employee engagement surveys is a good idea. Ask the right questions and you should be able to pick up on policies, procedures and projects that are dragging down morale and leading employees on the path to disengagement.
Employee surveys are generally best conducted anonymously to help ensure the honesty of responses. On the downside, this means you'll be unable to identify specific disengaged workers. But you can still detect negative trends and ask for suggestions on how to correct them.
Of course, the shortest and most direct route to determining whether any given employee is disengaged is to simply ask. I don't mean barging into someone's office or confronting anyone in the hallway. Rather, as part of the performance management process, instruct supervisors to ask gentle but pointed questions to determine whether a worker is:
- Truly engaged;
- Mildly disengaged (simply going through the motions), or;
- Actively disengaged (a dangerous state in which the person could willfully misbehave or seek to do harm to your organization).
For both approaches — conducting surveys and discussing engagement as a part of performance management — regularity is key. Ideally, conduct an employee engagement survey once a year and have supervisors check in with their employees several times a year (perhaps quarterly) to discuss progress toward employment objectives and whether their engagement is waxing or waning.
Now let's get back to another one of the DNA of Engagement survey's interesting findings: that employees typically operate under the assumption that engagement initiatives should and will come from leadership. This, too, is good news — mainly because it clarifies any confusion that may exist about where engagement efforts start.
Some employers may believe that it's the employee's job to find his or her own motivation and do a great job no matter what. In an ideal world, sure, maybe this is true. And, under fortunate circumstances, you might encounter employees who are purely self-motivated and go above and beyond the call with little prompting. However, by and large, workers rely on leadership to help them find their way forward and to recognize and reward their accomplishments.
So, make sure employee engagement remains a constant priority for your organization. You can do so in several "big picture" ways:
No Silver Bullet
- Establish a clear mission. Every organization should have a clearly worded and actionable mission statement. Without one, employees tend to feel like their work has little value beyond a paycheck every couple of weeks — and that's not a recipe for long-term success or the retention of good workers. Help employees understand how their work advances your goals. Discuss your mission statement regularly in meetings big and small.
- Communicate clearly. Once employees understand the big picture — your mission statement — they need consistent guidance on how to fulfill their respective roles in accomplishing that mission. Doing so means linking strategic planning with job duties, so work assignments make sense and each employee can envision their own journey ahead with the employer.
- Leverage technology. It's the solution to everything, right? Well, no, but there are certainly ways to deploy technology to improve engagement. For example, choose technology tools that are simple and appealing to the type and demographic of employees in each department or work group. Assuming you can put effective security measures in place, a BYOD — bring your own device — policy can help employees communicate naturally using tools they're familiar with. Also, use unified communication software to eliminate silos and help employees feel less isolated and more connected to their coworkers and the organization.
More than likely, there will never be a "silver bullet" to employee engagement. Every employee is a little bit different from the next, and employers face an ongoing challenge to hire the right people, onboard them properly and then keep them engaged for as long as an employment arrangement makes sense for both parties involved.
Original post by Lynda Silsbee
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
A Toxic Workplace: ‘It Could Never Happen Here,’ Right?
No business owner or manager wants to look out over their organization and grimly say, “This is a troubled place.” Yet every work environment has the potential to turn toxic, and sometimes it happens so slowly or quietly that leadership doesn’t even realize things have gone wrong until there’s a dramatic incident or lawsuit.
As a specialist in organizational effectiveness and leadership development, I've seen that every employer needs to be on the lookout for the telltale signs of toxicity. Although it might be comforting to think, “It could never happen here,” the truth is, it could.
How do you know when a work environment is going bad?
In the broadest sense, the two main indicators are shouting and silence. Obviously, if you have employees angrily yelling at one another or, worse yet, having physical altercations, toxicity levels are dangerously high. Sometimes, competition among co-workers or business units can create “shouting” in the sense that complaints and disagreements become commonplace — and they start escalating.
Detecting “silence” can be more difficult. Sometimes a workplace is literally quiet because no one is speaking to one another. Everyone is tucked away in their own isolated workspaces, plugged into headphones and isolated from management and co-workers. This might not be a bad thing for some types of positions, but this atmosphere can be a breeding ground for misunderstandings, suspicions and flat-out wrongdoings to occur.
Silence can also take place in a work environment overcome by gossip and misinformation. No one speaks openly; instead, hushed conversations take place behind closed doors or in isolated areas. And these discussions sow the seeds of distrust and disgruntlement. Suddenly you’ve lost one or more good workers because of things they heard through the grapevine, rather than valid organizational communications.
Another sign of a toxic work environment isn’t necessarily shouting or silence. It’s cold, hard numbers — turnover numbers. If your turnover rate is steadily rising and you can’t keep positions filled, one reason might be that new hires can’t get comfortable in your workplace. This is a major problem for morale, and skyrocketing hiring and training costs can break the budget.
When looking for the causes of rising toxicity, sometimes the answers are obvious. If you have one employee whose name is always attached to drama, conflict and heated disputes, well, that individual probably bears some portion of the blame for the discord. Conversely, when an organization is struggling to succeed, an entire workforce might grow weary and unhappy. This can quickly turn the working environment toxic.
Ultimately, management is responsible for organizational performance, so that’s the best place to start looking for sources of toxicity. It might be one individual or more in a leadership position who’s largely contributing to a bad environment, and it’s particularly urgent to address it immediately.
The importance of addressing the problem was recently illuminated by the Society for Human Resource Management in its report that was released in September
, “The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture: How Culture Impacts the Workforce — and the Bottom Line.” The report found that 58% of employees who quit their jobs due to poor workplace culture did so primarily because of their managers. SHRM estimated that the cost of this turnover to employers was a whopping $223 billion in the past five years.
These results were echoed by survey results released in October 2019 by staffing services firm Robert Half. That poll
found that 49% of 2,800 professionals surveyed had quit a job because of a bad boss. It also found that younger workers (ages 18 to 34) were more likely to quit over a bad manager than older ones. In other words, if someone in leadership is causing a toxic work environment, your organization could see its talent — particularly younger talent — fleeing for the door.
What's the solution?
To detoxify a workplace, first, identify the cause, and then tailor a solution to it. If you believe one or a few individuals are creating a toxic environment, the issue becomes one of performance management. Meet with the person or people in question. Carefully explain your reasons for concern, and lay out the steps toward resolving the situation.
Be careful: Someone who’s already behaving inappropriately at work might be unable or unwilling to react reasonably when challenged. The risk of an employment lawsuit is high. Document the discussions, as well as any disciplinary measures taken. Consider termination only after making a good-faith effort to help the employee change their behavior — ideally under a formal performance improvement plan.
When the cause of a toxic work environment appears to be more widespread, the solution must also cover a broader range of corrective strategies. Communication is always the best first move. Conduct an employee survey to gather data and get specific answers as to why employees are unhappy or anxious. Hold town hall-type meetings in which management can answer questions and hear opinions and suggestions. Establish an anonymous way for workers to report bullying, gossip and fraud.
When you start nailing down specific reasons for toxicity, the ways to resolve it should become clearer. You might need to adjust workloads or schedules if employees feel overworked. Or you might have to retrain managers who play favorites or simply lack the people skills to positively motivate the employees working under them.
Perhaps the most obvious solution to a toxic workplace is fun. If you can get people to relax and enjoy one another’s company, the bad vibes and negativity will quickly fall away. Of course, this is easier said than done. But look for ways to bring positivity to your workplace.
Among the easiest approaches is to openly recognize the accomplishments of individuals and teams and cheer for them. A little appreciation goes a long way. Don’t let your workplace teeter on the edge of toxicity.
Get Number Crunchy with HR Metrics
These days, you can apply advanced metrics to just about everything — from baseball to financial statements. Why not HR, too? Many elements of managing people are quite quantifiable.
Tracking the results of various ratios and formulas can keep an organization informed of just how well it’s doing at hiring effectively, developing productive employees and limiting turnover. Using the typical “life cycle” of an employee, let’s look at some examples of how to get number crunchy with HR metrics.
An effective hiring process will bring in new talent efficiently and cost-effectively. Two common metrics for assessing yours are:
Average time to fill.
Rushing to hire can lead to mistakes; then again, a sluggish process can leave the organization perpetually understaffed. This metric is usually calculated by:
Amount of time to fill all roles ÷ total number of openings filled
Another way of thinking of “amount of time to fill all roles” is the total days all positions were open. A long duration until new employees are brought on board could signal that the application or interviewing process is too long or that the candidate qualifications are subpar. It also could reflect the need to improve your employer brand.
Cost per hire.
This metric shows what you’re paying to recruit and onboard each new employee. A commonly used formula is:
Recruiting/staffing costs ÷ number of new hires
To calculate it, identify as many specific costs as possible — including your recruiting costs (help wanted ads, recruiter services), the cost of any applicant tracking software you may use, managers’ and employees’ time interviewing candidates, and your onboarding and training costs.
You’ve probably heard the old cliché that it costs more to hire a new employee than to retain an existing one. Well, it’s generally true, but you’ll never know for sure unless you calculate cost per hire. And if the cost of your hiring process is consistently overbudget, look for ways to cut costs.
It’s one thing to get the right people in the right jobs; it’s another to get them contributing at the level you’re seeking. Here are a couple of metrics that can help you measure just that:
Average time to productivity.
This metric tells you the average number of days it takes for a new hire to meet a satisfactory productivity level. It’s usually calculated by:
Total days to minimum productivity level ÷
number of positions filled during measured period
The “measured period” is typically six months or a year, but could be any time frame. You’ll also need to quantify productivity goals — for example, we want this salesperson closing X number of deals while handling Y number of accounts. By calculating the metric, you’ll open a window on not only your recruiting and onboarding efficacy, but also how quickly you can ramp up production as new hires are added to the mix.
Revenue per employee.
If you want an HR metric that gives you dollars and cents, revenue per employee is the way to go. It’s particularly important for businesses looking to turn a profit, as any worker should generally bring in enough revenue to rationalize his or her paycheck.
To calculate revenue per employee, you’ll need to check your financial records to see how much revenue your organization brought in during a defined time frame, such as one month. Then you divide that dollar figure by the total number of employees you have. In other words:
Total revenue ÷ total number of employees
Acceptable amounts of revenue per employee vary widely depending on the industry in question, the level of the position and many other factors. But this is a good thing to track to stay cognizant of both productivity and cash flow.
Inevitably, some employees will depart from your organization. The rate at which these departures occur, however, has a huge impact on your success. A couple of ways to keep track of this are:
New hire fail rate.
This metric indicates how many employees leave your organization relatively soon after their start dates. Commonly used definitions of “relatively soon” include within 90 days of completing a training program or before their first performance review. The metric is typically calculated as:
Number of new hires who quit or are fired ÷ total new hires in that time frame
A high new hire fail rate is an important red flag. For instance, if 15% of your new hires are fired within 30 days and another 15% of them quit, that’s a lot of fresh talent to lose so quickly. You may be rushing to hire or simply not onboarding new employees properly.
A good indicator of a positive organizational culture is low turnover. Conversely, a constant churning of employees in and out doesn’t bode well for productivity or a good reputation in the labor marketplace. Turnover percentage is typically calculated as:
Number of terminations (voluntary/involuntary) for a specified period ÷
average headcount × 100
If your organization is large enough, you can focus this metric on certain segments of your workforce, such as upper management or an age group (Millennials, for example). High turnover at the management level can leave you bereft of effective leadership, and an inability to hang on to younger employees could mean future staffing shortages.
Using the data
A common and fair question about HR metrics is: What’s a good number? You might understandably wonder what’s too high or too low. The right answer will depend on various factors, such as your industry, the size of your organization and how long you’ve been operational.
You may be able to benchmark your chosen metrics against other similar organizations if you can locate applicable data. Sometimes industry associations and HR consultancies will maintain this information or be able to direct you to it. Another sensible approach is to track your metrics over long periods, so you can see, historically, whether your organization is trending up or down in the various categories.
Doing your best work
The metrics we’ve described here are just a few examples of many, many possibilities. Performance Dimensions Group has extensive experience working with organizations like yours to identify the measurements and assessment tools that will enable you and your employees to do your best work. Contact us here
Teach Your Computers Well: Cognitive Technology Taking HR to the Next Level
It wasn’t so long ago that the notion of thinking, talking computers was largely science fiction. Now many of us have one in our phone, and more and more people are installing them on tabletops and kitchen counters in their homes.
This is cognitive technology ― essentially, various products equipped with artificial intelligence that enables the device to “learn” as it takes in more data and perform functions that, previously, only humans could do. For employers, one area in which cognitive technology is having an enormous impact is HR.
A few of the most widely used types of cognitive technology today are:
Since the advent of photography and video, human eyeballs have been required to analyze the information gathered by these two mediums. No longer: Now the cognitive technology of computer vision allows machines to extract, analyze and understand data within one image or a sequence of images.
For centuries, only human beings could learn new, complex tasks and concepts. Machines had to be built, adjusted and, eventually, programmed. But they couldn’t learn. Many types of software can now do just that ― “learn” by adjusting their responses and output based on all of the accumulated data received.
Again, many science fiction movies have portrayed humans talking to computers or robots, and many of us (or perhaps our parents or grandparents) have laughed at the concept. Well, it’s now a reality. Through speech recognition, a computer can learn to understand human sounds, translate those sounds into language and respond accordingly. (Note: You may also encounter the term “natural language processing.” This is a subset of speech recognition that focuses on the language component.)
From heavy lifting to fine motor skills, human arms and hands were historically necessary to perform so many tasks. Now manufacturing plants are filled with robots, and robotics is having a major impact on other industries as well (health care, construction).
So let’s get down to specifics. How can cognitive technology, in one or more of its various forms, help organizations accomplish their HR objectives?
For starters, many observers and professionals within the field believe cognitive technology can drastically improve how organizations acquire talent. Why? Because the hiring process really plays into the strengths of cognitively enabled devices and software.
In the first few months of 2017, IBM’s Institute for Business Value and the Smarter Workforce Institute released a joint report entitled Extending expertise: How cognitive computing is transforming HR and the employee experience
. The report revealed several key activities in which cognitive technology particularly suits the complexities of HR, including:
- Making data-rich and highly complex decisions based on multiple inputs from different data sources,
- Conducting frequent and varied user interactions and then interpreting and addressing these interactions, and
- Processing huge volumes of unstructured data: for example, various forms of text, as well as images and even auditory recordings.
Think about the hiring process. An employer may receive hundreds of resumés and cover letters. These documents may be accompanied by writing samples or a portfolio of design work or examples of software code the candidate has written. From initial contact through various interviews, many types of interactions may occur. And all of this creates a huge volume of data ― texts, emails, notes, voice mails, images, etc.
The right cognitive technology can serve as a collaborative partner, assisting the organization in sorting and categorizing the information and arriving at the best possible hiring decision. And it can do so quickly and efficiently, speeding up the hiring process and putting those ideal candidates to work in a much more timely fashion.
And the potential HR benefits don’t end there. Employers can use cognitively enabled systems to create onboarding programs that more realistically interact with new hires and are smart enough to identify potential engagement problems before they get out of hand. Software imbued with machine learning functions can track an employee’s training progress and help direct them to career opportunities within the organization.
There are also operational capabilities of cognitive technology that many employers can use ― particularly larger ones. For example, a system using machine learning and speech recognition can answer questions via phone or computer about employee handbook issues and benefits matters. Doing so will free up actual HR staff to focus on more pressing matters and work toward strategic goals.
Reaping the benefits
How important is cognitive technology to the future of HR? According to the aforementioned IBM report, more than 65% of the CEOs surveyed believe that cognitive technology will significantly drive value in HR going forward. Meanwhile, 50% of responding execs believe that cognitively enabled systems will affect key roles in their organizations.
Don’t get left behind! Consider how this trend might affect your organization and what steps you might take to reap its benefits. For help, please contact us
. Performance Dimensions Group is always looking to provide the latest, cutting-edge resources and skills to nurture organizations along the path to achieving high performance.
Working From Home Is Great, But It’s Not For Everyone
For some employees, working from home would be a dream come true. No more laborious commutes, greater flexibility to deal with child care and other family obligations, and let’s just say the rules on “office attire” would be considerably loosened. But these idealistic thoughts aren’t shared by everyone.
Some employees, even younger ones, still crave the structure, support and social bonds of the office. They’d prefer not to have to
telecommute, though many would still like the option to do so occasionally. Or so a recent survey seems to indicate.
The data in question was generated by multinational consultancy Randstad and published in its Q1 2018 Workmonitor survey. (Although the organization’s surveys often target employees in more than 30 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, these results focus on U.S. workers.)
Perhaps the most surprising discovery was that 62% of respondents said they prefer working in the office, not from home. Now you might think that most of these employees are older folks too set in their ways to abandon their cushy offices for the chaotic uncertainty of a workspace at home. But the “in-office preference” rate was even higher among younger workers. That is, about 65% of 18- to 24-year-olds stated that they’d rather be in the office than working from home (or elsewhere).
However, as mentioned, having the option of working remotely was widely favored by those who responded to the survey. To wit, 82% of responding employees in the United States like the concept of being able to work remotely whenever they like, and 80% of them said they support the idea of “agile work” (that is, working from anywhere, anytime) because it increases their productivity, creativity and job satisfaction.
Welcome Back, Flextime
These results could leave some employers flummoxed. After all, among the often-touted bottom-line benefits of telecommuting is less need for office space. Let everyone who can work from home do it, downsize your facilities by leasing a smaller property and, voila, you’ve saved some dollars on overhead — literally.
For better or worse, reality has a way of complicating things. Many employees want a common gathering place to do their work and aren’t necessarily swayed by the freedoms of the work-from-home lifestyle.
What this data may indicate is more of a swing back toward the tried-and-true concept of “flextime.” As you’re probably aware, under a traditional flextime program, employees tailor the times they start and stop work. Doing so helps them manage work-life balance while providing their employers with more hourly coverage over the course of a day.
Of course, the employer retains the right to approve, modify or reject an employee’s proposed work hours. That way, the manager can compare and adjust all employees’ schedules in a given work unit to ensure that someone starts the day at the earliest available time and another starts at the latest time.
So, does a flextime program’s advantages outweigh its risks? Under the right circumstances, the advantages clearly win. Employees get more scheduling freedom while employers enjoy higher productivity with no increased costs.
However, flextime may sometimes benefit individuals yet decrease a work unit’s productivity. When considering a flextime program (or re-evaluating your current one), consider the type of operation rather than a worker’s status. For instance, administrative job functions may be more conducive to split shifts than parts assembly.
The major difference between flextime programs of yore and one that you might implement today is technology. Twenty-five years ago, the concept centered on different shifts of people coming into the office and varying schedules. Now employees could spend part of their workday in the office and another part at home. Or work certain days in the office and others remotely.
But it’s here that many employers and employees hit a roadblock. According to the Randstad survey, 66% of workers who like the agile work concept are unable to make use of it. In some cases, this may be because of the nature of their jobs. Again, someone who assembles parts for a living probably can’t work from home.
Another reason is that, per the survey, 35% of employees said their employers don’t provide the equipment needed to work from home. So, in other cases, perhaps the employer just can’t afford a mass purchase of new laptops or all the security software necessary to safely maintain a remote workforce. Overall, the survey found that a mere 36% of respondents said their employers support flexible work options.
A Path Forward
For you, the employer, the ultimate lesson here is rather simple: Don’t dismiss the idea that some or even all your workforce could work from home, either full-time or on a flex-time basis. But don’t feel like you must be completely tied or controlled by the concept, either.
Granted, many more employees do work from home than did in decades previous. Yet, as the survey indicated, plenty of workers still want to go into a workplace and interact face-to-face with their colleagues and managers.
Make it a point during strategic planning and performance management meetings to regularly discuss the idea of telecommuting and flextime (or one or the other) in light of what your workforce looks like at the time. Performance Dimensions Group can help your organization better understand the issues you face and guide you toward a customized solution that supports your objectives. Please contact us.
Recognizing and Dealing with Actively Disengaged Employees
Most employers worry about employee engagement. And for good reason: One Gallup study found that disengaged employees contribute to as much as $450 billion to $550 billion in productivity losses a year. The cost of even a mildly disengaged worker can hit an organization hard — especially a smaller one.
Now imagine a worst-case scenario: What if you had an employee who wasn’t just uncooperative and minimally productive, but intent on staying at your company to collect a paycheck no matter what? This is the specter of the actively disengaged employee.
How To Spot One
Perhaps the only good thing you can say about actively disengaged employees is that they’re relatively easy to spot. Whereas a typical worker who’s not fully engaged may slack off from time to time, the actively disengaged consistently behave in a variety of counterproductive ways. Examples include:
Displaying a negative attitude most or all of the time.
Some people come across as charming curmudgeons — they resist change and grumble a lot. But, once you get to know them, it’s clear they care about their jobs and the organizations they work for.
Actively disengaged employees aren’t like this. There is no soft side, no relenting of their constant, nonstop negativity. When pressed for solutions to departmental or organizational issues, they may throw up their hands and say, “It’s hopeless!” or “You people would never understand!”
Sowing dissent among the ranks.
Perhaps the most telling sign of actively disengaged employees is that they’re not content with being unhappy; they’ve got to express that unhappiness regularly and encourage others to feel the same way.
So, if you’ve got someone who’s always complaining to others behind closed doors or over cubicle walls, who’s always the first to roll his or her eyes when a new initiative is announced, you may have an actively disengaged employee. And this person’s negativity could infect otherwise engaged employees and drastically inhibit effective onboarding of new hires.
Showing no interest in helping others … or worse.
The success of any organization is largely predicated on teamwork. If everyone can work together toward a common cause, things will get done and progress will be made. When collaboration is scant or difficult, productivity will suffer and it will take a long time to accomplish anything.
The actively disengaged tend to resist teamwork. They’ll either refuse to join collaborative efforts or join them only to complain and disrupt. In worst cases, an actively disengaged worker may “un-train” or “mis-train” others, teaching them how to subvert proper procedures or even perform illegal acts such as stealing property or committing financial fraud.
Where To Start Looking
In a small organization, an actively disengaged employee usually sticks out. But, for midsize to larger employers, extremely problematic workers can burrow deep into their respective departments and eat away at productivity while those in leadership have no idea they exist unless someone speaks up.
And this is where the typical actively disengaged employee might surprise you. According to the 2016 report Actively Disengaged & Staying
by human capital consultancy Aon Hewitt:
The most clear demographic relationship for Prisoners [their term for the actively disengaged] … is tenure: more tenured employees are significantly more likely to be Prisoners than less tenured employees.
In fact, per the report, those with 16 to 20 years’ tenure and 21 to 25 years’ tenure have the highest incidences of being actively disengaged. It’s perhaps a cruel irony that the ultimate result of long-term employee retention is sometimes an actively disengaged worker. But that’s what the statistics show. Other potential candidates include employees who have been reassigned to job duties they weren’t originally hired to perform, and those who have been passed over for promotions.
What Actions To Take
Your initial reaction to an actively disengaged employee may be to want to immediately terminate the individual. And, in some cases, this could be the right move.
But, as mentioned, many actively disengaged workers are long-time employees and, as such, may hold management positions. Some may even be executives working under complex employment contracts.
If you believe a higher-level employee is actively disengaged, terminating him or her too quickly could disrupt the person’s departmental operations. You may even expose yourself to a lawsuit if you haven’t established a clear written record of the person’s misbehavior and made good-faith efforts to rectify the situation. (To be clear, this applies to any level employee.)
As with any HR issue, your likely best first step is to investigate. If you’re learning of an actively disengaged employee second-hand, make sure you’re not dealing with an inter-employee conflict in which one party is portraying the other in a poor light. When multiple parties can corroborate stories of the individual’s bad attitude and questionable behavior, you can probably move forward.
The next step is simply to “tear off the bandage” and speak with the employee in question. Use nonaccusatory language and lay out your concerns, providing as many specific details and examples as possible. Naturally, you should let the problematic worker have his or her say as well. Look for opportunities to reach consensus so you can pinpoint the solvable source(s) of the conflict.
In some cases, an actively disengaged employee’s behavior may be a cry for help. Knowingly or otherwise, the person may have been acting out to get others’ attention. Conversely, some actively disengaged workers have no idea that things have gotten so out of hand. A well-handled conversation can serve as a wake-up call.
Once you’ve broached the subject and had the conversation, it’s critical to then establish a clear, agreed-upon action plan going forward. For some employees, this may simply mean that a written document of your discussion will go in his or her personnel record and you’ll expect better behavior going forward. For others, it might mean a set of performance-related objectives and regular check-in meetings with HR throughout the year.
A truly and irreparably disengaged employee, however, may be beyond help. Again, these individuals tend to want to keep their jobs and get paid to do nothing until, perhaps, retirement. For such difficult cases, your conversation may need to lay the groundwork for some sort of mutually agreeable exit strategy to get them out of your organization as quickly as reasonably possible.
Obviously, there are far more pleasant ideas and concepts related to employee engagement than this one. But employers who fail to be mindful of actively disengaged employees are often the ones most adversely affected when one shows up. Please contact us here
for more information about this topic or anything related to improving your organizational effectiveness.
Matching Your Business Plan With Organizational Effectiveness
Many companies start life as little more than a plan: a business plan. Even nonprofits and municipal agencies are born from missions initially written down on paper. Does your organization have such a plan? If so, have you looked at it lately?
A good way to kick-start your strategic planning for the year ahead is to pull out your business plan and match each section to your current conception and approach to “organizational effectiveness.” This term refers to strategies and initiatives that align, promote and reinforce the improvement of an organization or department to meet its mission, fully realize its potential and maximize its performance.
Let’s look into how your business plan, whether real or figurative, can provide a structure within which you can assess organizational effectiveness.
5 Parts to the Plan
Business plans serve many functions, depending on the nature of the organization in question. But, traditionally, they all have one thing in common: a practical structure. To that end, these documents typically comprise five parts:
A mission statement and organizational description. Many people believe only nonprofits need mission statements. Not true — every organization needs a clear declaration of why it exists and how it intends to meet that primary objective.
Think of your mission statement, which needn’t be much longer than a few sentences, as the heart of your business plan. All your goals and activities should flow from it. Do they? Or have you wandered astray from your stated or intended mission?
Ideally, your mission statement should be accompanied by a comprehensive description of your organization. Provide a brief history (unless you’re a start-up, of course) and then explain what you do, identify your marketplace or service niche, and assert why you’ll succeed. Again, review this information in light of your current circumstances. Is your organization as effective as it set out to be?
A management profile. People matter — not only in real life, but also in your business plan. Potential investors, lenders and even employees aren’t interested in a faceless, soulless entity. They want to know that competent, reasonable people are steering the ship.
So illustrate your organizational structure and management team. An organizational chart showing your structure followed by brief bios of key employees can work particularly well. If you’re a small organization or department, you may even be able to describe every employee and what he or she does. In any case, enhance your basic description with some solid reasons why your staff has the expertise to succeed.
Doing so can help you take a step back and clearly see how your organization is currently set up and who’s doing what. Then you can ask some hard questions about whether work is flowing as it should or if you might need to realign something. You may also realize that some positions have become redundant or outmoded. Or perhaps you need to add staff to keep up with growing demands or changing technology.
A financial portrait and strategy. Although stakeholders and other business-plan readers definitely want to learn about the personal (and personnel) aspects of your organization, they also want assurance of its financial stability. So include basic data such as a current and pro forma balance sheet, an income statement and a cash flow analysis. Don’t cut corners with these calculations — get a financial professional’s assistance or, at the very least, verification. If you’re a start-up, project this information as accurately as possible.
Above all, make sure your numbers demonstrate that you and your management team have considered the key drivers that will determine your success or failure. Don’t pad the business plan with overly optimistic financial projections that could ultimately depict your company in a bad light.
If you’re struggling financially or falling short of your goals, again look into the alignment of your organizational structure. Also consider whether your processes or job designs aren’t achieving the right results. You might have heard the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Similarly, organizations that work effectively tend to see positive financial results as well.
Marketing or service objectives. Of course, expertise and past success mean little without an up-to-date strategy for bringing your products or services to the public. So describe your intended market or constituency, giving specific details on its size and how much of it you intend to serve.
What is your current market’s or constituency’s growth potential? What new and specific geographic, economic and perhaps even political factors now play a role?
Another important aspect of your marketing or service objectives is competitive intelligence. Name your five biggest competitors and convince business-plan readers that you can serve your market better than these rivals. Don’t conceal your weaknesses, either. Recognizing the challenges you must still overcome conveys that you and your management team are in touch with reality.
An executive summary. Many organizations write decent business plans that no one ever reads, because they forget to provide an executive summary. Truth is, many readers (such as venture capitalists, nonprofit donors and loan committees) will often initially look only at this section.
That’s not to say they’ll never read your entire business plan — it only means a concise, readable executive summary may be necessary to getting your foot in the door. Plus, your executive summary can serve a selfish purpose as well. The better it’s written and more updated its information, the more useful you’ll find it when assessing organizational effectiveness and brainstorming ways you might improve.
True to its name, your executive summary should hit the highlights of each business-plan section. Don’t slam readers with a lot of numbers or technicalities here. Just give a clear, confident synopsis of who you are, what you do and where you’re headed.
Once again, as you write or revise the executive summary, look for disconnects between the words on the page and reality. Your ultimate objective here is to match what your organization does on a day to day basis with your description. And, of course, you want that description to be positive and growth-oriented.
A living document
Your business plan is not mere words. It should be a living document that your leadership team studies and revises regularly to keep your organization on the right course to success.
Performance Dimensions Group has extensive experience working with organizations such as yours. Our organizational effectiveness team can help you revise your business plan — or write one to begin with — to help you accomplish your goals in the coming year.
It’s Go Time for Me Time: The Fine Art of Delegation
Many people strive to take “me time” in their personal lives. Doing so usually involves a relaxing, solitary activity such as a long, hot bath; a stroll on the beach or in the woods; or a weekend on the couch binge-watching a TV favorite.
But there’s such a thing as “me time” at work, too. In the office, it’s not so much about chilling out as it is focusing on the projects that really bring out one’s passions and strengths. Unfortunately, many of today’s leaders and key employees face major difficulties in finding “me time.”
In a popular 2013 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Make Time for Work That Matters,” researchers found that knowledge workers spend an average of 41% of their time “on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others.” This means you might be spending anywhere from a third to almost half of your workday on stuff that doesn’t really matter and someone else could do.
The solution, at least in part, is delegation. The HBR article found that 47% of desk-based work can off-loaded with relative ease. Activities related to “managing across” departments may also often be moved to someone else without too much operational disruption.
5 steps to delightful delegation
Naturally, handing off work-related responsibilities to someone else must be handled carefully to avoid confusion and conflicts. Here are five steps to making delegation delightful:
1. Choose tasks wisely.
Selecting the right tasks to delegate is critical. Prime candidates are tasks that frequently reoccur, such as document sorting or management, and relatively small project-related actions. (Yes, micromanaging is ill-advised.) Also look for tasks that require a specific skill in which you have no expertise, such as, say, reconciling bank accounts. Could an accounting staff member, temp or intern better handle it?
Think about how long the task in question takes to accomplish and then balance the value you bring to doing it yourself vs. how you might otherwise spend that time. Always try to devote your time to projects that provide the most value to your organization and can best benefit from your talents. You may be tempted to say, “This will take me longer to explain than to do myself.” But if it’s a task that you perform often, training someone else will free up your time today and in the future.
2. Pick the right person.
Before you delegate a task, consider the person’s main job responsibilities and experience. How do those correlate with the project or operational activity in question? Also consider the staffer’s schedule. Does he or she realistically have the time to do the job well?
Keep in mind that, even if the employee doesn’t have direct experience with the task, it may represent a welcome opportunity to test his or her wings in a new area or take on greater responsibility. In fact, it’s here that delegation can become a useful training and professional development tool.
3. Perfect the handoff.
When handing off a task, be extremely clear about the goals, expectations, deadlines and details. Explain why you chose the individual and what the project means to the organization as a whole.
Also let the employee know whether he or she has any latitude regarding the task’s methods and processes. A fresh pair of eyes might see a new — and better — way of doing it.
4. Keep in touch (to an extent).
Delegation doesn’t mean dumping a task on someone and walking away. Ultimately, you’re still responsible for its completion — even if you’ve off-loaded the work. So provide strong initial training and then stay involved for a while by monitoring the employee’s progress and providing coaching and feedback as necessary.
Remember, however, there’s a fine line between remaining available for questions and micromanaging. Constantly peering over the staffer’s shoulder is a sure way to signal distrust and build resentment. If you’re going to delegate, delegate. Half-measures will likely only lead to lower productivity for everyone.
5. Acknowledge the help.
A good delegator never takes credit for someone else’s work. Be sure you generously — and publicly — give credit where credit is due. This could mean verbal praise in a meeting, a note of thanks in a newsletter or an email to the person’s manager if he or she works outside of your department.
If the project’s size and scope warrant it, consider offering a bonus, extra time off or a special gift. Such a gesture will not only thrill the staff member in question, but also motivate others to accept delegated tasks.
To be clear, delegation isn’t necessarily simple; and it’s not a be-all, end-all solution to time management. In some cases, unduly laborious tasks should be simply eliminated through operational streamlining or organizational realignment. In other cases, you may want to outsource broader functions that are preventing leaders and key employees from reaching their potential.
Nonetheless, exploring the possibilities of delegation is typically time well spent. Need some help getting started? Please contact us here
. Performance Dimensions Group specializes in employee engagement measurement and management training, which includes helping your best workers get more productivity and satisfaction from their valuable time.