The Pandemic Is Bringing Out The Best In CHROs Today For A Better Tomorrow

The Pandemic Is Bringing Out The Best In CHROs Today For A Better Tomorrow

The post-Covid-19 workforce will hardly resemble itself from just a year ago

During the last 10 months, I have been actively keeping in touch with many high-performing CHROs across the United States and Europe from a variety of sectors. And while the pandemic has produced a significant amount of hardships for businesses in general, the current Covid-19 landscape has presented human resources leaders with the opportunity to show their stuff, and in most cases, they’ve done that very well. In many companies, these important leaders are not just creating the systems to manage through a crisis and to take care of their employees, but also influencing their chief executive officers to be proactive and helping them understand the need for higher levels of empathy, communication, and transparency with the employees.

Companies quickly adjusted to having more meaningful virtual town halls and creative ways to communicate that dig deeper into the humanity of employees and demonstrate an understanding from leaders that may not have been evident beforehand. This is a journey that many HR leaders are helping their internal clients successfully navigate.

Now that we are starting to think about post-pandemic – timing TBD – the bar has been set to a higher level in some of those areas that CHROs need to think about. For instance, once leaders improve the quality of communications, as well as the frequency of communications, employees will naturally expect both to continue. HR pros need to ensure the C-Suite maintains this when we get back to “normal.” We cannot backslide to vague and infrequent interactions between leadership and employees. This will likely take some prodding and nudging of the CEOs to make sure that happens.

As the pandemic intensified, several companies were setting up crisis funds to help employees in need and I strongly recommend to clients, and any leaders reading this article, to continue setting aside money in the budget to assist workers that have a personal crisis. HR leaders are going to play a crucial role in persuading CEOs to keep on with this practice. There is a great deal of fatigue in the workforce at all levels. Best-in-class companies are revisiting their EAP plans to ensure they have the capabilities to manage through the mental, physical and economic impact of the last 10 months.

There is another crucial element that CHROs need to be thinking about: Talent Management. Tied into this are questions about what the company is going to look like coming out of the pandemic. Everything is going to change and there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. One thing HR people know for sure is the question of how to best collaborate between employees staying home and employees going to office need to be addressed almost immediately. But that is not the only change. HR leaders can help the company think about what will be needed to prepare and execute strategies for the changing consumer and customer.

To be sure, all of these unknowns can be unsettling, but at the same time, we are also presented with an exciting opportunity to create a future that requires a different type of talent. If you are not sure of the future, create it! That means, human capital and performance tomorrow will not be the same as it was yesterday.

We often talk about seeing around corners. Well, I think now we need to be able to see through walls, create the future, and then make sure that we have the talent that will then drive us forward and make companies successful in the future.

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Here’s Why Today’s Leaders Should Choose “And” Thinking

Here’s Why Today’s Leaders Should Choose “And” Thinking

HR Strategy, Work Culture by Elizabeth K. Olson
To the detriment of talent development and work cultures everywhere, we most often employ “either/or” thinking. Let’s talk about why today’s leaders should more often choose “and” thinking….

So many important aspects of human capital are nuanced and interrelated, yet seemingly polar opposites. For instance, recognizing the individual performer or recognizing team efforts. Showing respect for each person or showing respect based on performance and rewarding managerial-style performance or rewarding leaders.

Some organizations state only half of these pairs as desired values, hence the “or” between them. This is a mistake because when we see these values framed as either/or choices, we miss the synergy from leveraging the best from both sides. We cause harm from overfocusing on one value to the neglect of the other. After all, many values are interdependent, and ideas we think might be opposites are both highly desirable. The misleading part about this is that they need to live in tension with one another over time. These pairings can be called paradoxes, wicked problems, or polarities that require “and thinking.”

“And” Thinking Versus “Or” Thinking

Both inside and outside of work, complexities exist that require us to think about these tensions between seemingly opposing pairs, rather than choosing A over B. For instance, one critical thinking point for leaders is the push-pull between continuity and transformation.

Those business leaders often find themselves executing complex change initiatives that enable their companies to compete better. At the same time, they must create and maintain consistent foundational cultures employees can lean into – no matter what. All too often, when the message is only why complex changes are necessary, without acknowledging what has been going well (and what needs to remain in place), even the best plans blow up.

Everything done “the old way” is now wrong. Right?

This pervasive contradiction lowers morale and confuses, thereby sabotaging the energy and focus needed to implement the change.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Coordination

One of the biggest derailers for employees is the pendulum swing between centralized coordination and decentralized coordination. Organizations are frequently in a seesaw around this polarity. It’s as if one is better than the other, so they over-focus on one at the expense of the other.

For instance, a new chief executive officer is instituted and says: “We’ve lost the entrepreneurial nature of this organization, and we must decentralize and give control to each of the business units.” Because centralization and decentralization are interrelated, people complain there is no coordination and little ability to share services effectively. That causes the next CEO to say: “We have to centralize; everything is all over the map. Nobody knows who’s on first.” After finally getting used to the new structure, it whipsaws back to some version of the old one. With the average tenure of CEOs being three-and-a-half years, organizations must simultaneously focus on centralization and decentralization.

The Solution: Mapping Versus Gapping

One way around this conundrum is to institute a mapping process…

Instead of executing a gap analysis, which is how most people approach change, we think about the upside and downside of their preferred value or pole in the polarity equation. We then do the same for the countervailing pole. Then, as the diagram illustrates, we outline action steps for gaining the upsides from each pole. We also design strategies for avoiding the downsides of each if we over-focus on one pole to neglect the other.

That is “and” thinking.

Once we get the tension right between the different energetic poles, my clients find themselves comfortably resting in a virtuous cycle. They begin to get the best of both options, no matter how opposite those options seem. For many leaders, this comes as such a relief. Because those leaders, rather than focusing on the power of both – the “and” – tend to over-focus on one side of the equation. They then find themselves in a vicious and contentious cycle that isn’t good for them, their fellow leaders, or their teams.

Harness the power of both poles. Expand your thinking to “and.” You’ll soon create a virtuous cycle that will enable your organization to thrive, freeing your teams to unify under healthy “and” tensions versus the opposing camps that can form from “or” decisions.

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The Pandemic Is Bringing Out The Best In CHROs Today For A Better Tomorrow

Executing Talent Planning And Management When You Are Not In The Office

When the pandemic started, HR pros and talent managers learned very quickly how to use platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc. The ramp-up was quite remarkable, really, and comfort levels were soon realized because after all, that was all that we could do. That was then and this is now. As the shutdowns stretch into the winter months, we are beginning to see that there are certain tactics that are missing.

Based on what I have heard from leaders in North America, Europe, and Latin America the piece that is missing is that two-minute conversation that you have when you’re walking down the hall. As all HR leaders know, those unplanned, spur-of-the-moment meetings are critical to leadership opportunities, team building, and coaching. Gone are the days of ducking your head into somebody’s office and saying, “hey, great job on that account,” or, “let’s take a couple minutes to just talk about another approach.”

What is the solution? Let’s get old-school and pick up the phone. Dropping a text or making a short phone call to say “good job” is where leaders need to be right now. The issue is that leaders need to remember to do this because these outreaches can easily fall to the backburner and then become old news or forgotten. These communications take little effort, but they are important. I recommend adding some structure to that. Having a list that you keep beside your computer that helps remind you to call a certain employee to say, “Thank you,” tell them they’ve done a good job, give them some feedback on something that maybe they could have done better. Make it a point to have that coaching moment.

To be sure, it is important for managers to find impactful ways to talk with their direct reports and manger during the pandemic, however, let’s remember that leaders should also do a good job of communicating frequently with his and her peers. Check in to let them know what your team is working on, your priorities, and of course, explore how you can support their priorities.

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Work-from-Home Can’t Work Forever: Blackstone CEO

Work-from-Home Can’t Work Forever: Blackstone CEO

The massive work-from-home experiment that businesses globally have adopted in response to coronavirus-related travel lockdowns has fueled a great debate on the future of offices: Will the practice become a permanent feature for employees? For Steve Schwarzman, CEO and chairman at Blackstone Group, the answer is not likely.

“This working from home is on one hand very efficient,” he said last week during a Sanford C. Bernstein investor conference. “At one of our meetings, somebody said, ‘Well, why don’t we do this all the time?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, one reason is you can’t train new people like this.’”

Working from home appears to function well for existing employees, Schwarzman said. The crux is in the difficulty for new employees to absorb a company’s culture without personal interaction, he added.

“To run a great organization, you have to keep hiring people,” he said. “Particularly if you as a business are growing, you need more people. And those people have to learn your culture.”

Culture entails many aspects that require picking up cues from the more experienced, established members of a team on how the company does business, Schwarzman said.

“They have to know not just the mechanics of how you do a piece of work, but how do we think about it?” he said. “How do we think about risk? What do we believe is the right and wrong approach to be doing things from an ethical perspective?”

Communications over video can’t easily replicate those informal and formal discussions a team would have in an office setting, Schwarzman said.

“That’s really hard to do on television,” he said. “You have to have people sitting around talking about situations. It’s much more iterative.”

But some human capital experts say while new employee training is indeed a likely snag, it’s not impossible to maintain and build a corporate culture through remote technology.

Onboarding is clearly one of the challenges, says Bob Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners, an executive coaching consultancy, and managing partner at the Sierra Institute, a coalition of chief human resource officers.

“There are things that can’t be done as well virtually, and it’s very difficult to build a culture when people are not together,” he says. “Senior management helps to define the culture of an organization… and that’s hard to understand when you don’t see them day to day.”

Onboarding new employees virtually would be a challenge, Ryan says.

“Important training could be lost unless the new employee puts in a concerted effort to meeting all of their peers and stakeholders,” he says. “One of the most important groups that you need to learn from is your peers.”

Onboarding in a virtual environment is indeed “suboptimal,” says Laura Queen, CEO at 29Bison, a human capital consultancy.

“Video cannot replace face-to-face human contact,” she says.

But there are many ways that companies can still build and maintain culture via remote technology, and even increase productivity using such tools, Queen says.

“You don’t have to have face-to-face contact all of the time,” she adds.

Corporate culture often entails values, beliefs, and assumptions about the work experience transmitted through language and storytelling, Queen says. It’s possible to find new mechanisms to do that via technology, especially through tools that support learning and assimilation, she says.

One tool her team uses is Nuclino, an internal wiki platform where individuals can share intelligence on particular topics, a concept that also can work on communication systems such as Slack. Queen recently posted information about an arcane defined benefit pension question that sometimes comes up with the firm’s clients, so that other colleagues can tap it as a resource in the future, she says.

Ryan says his team has built a customized, confidential customer relationship management platform to similarly share internal information, specifically in response to the recent work-from-home shift.

Ongoing regular training and development can even be more effective in virtual settings, because many professionals have proven their willingness to participate and shown the ability to focus even better in video meetings, Ryan says. Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are all effective for such gatherings.

“What I am hearing over and over again is that virtual meetings are going to become a more consistent part of the future,” he says.

A bigger question that companies face is whether their embrace of working from home capabilities will define their identity to the marketplace, Queen says.

“If your viewpoint is that culture can’t be transmitted virtually, then it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she says. “Long term it may be that a firm attracts people who are more willing to work face-to-face and less willing to work in a virtual environment. And that says to people who want a work-from-home opportunity, that this firm is not a place for you.”

That may become an important distinction, she adds, because working from home has gotten a big stage to showcase its utility.

“I think the horse has left the barn for knowledge workers with regard to the work-from-home situation,” she says. “There is an expectation that if you’re going to be a credible competitive attractive employer you’re going to have to provide some level of remote work capabilities.”

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The Pandemic Is Bringing Out The Best In CHROs Today For A Better Tomorrow

The CHRO Defining Moment Is Now

Here’s a list of best practices

As a principal for Shields Meneley Partners, working with C-Suite clients on career transitions, and as the managing partner for The Sierra Institute, an exclusive, invitation-only peer networking group for chief human resource officers, I have a significant amount of real-world and real-time input when it comes to best practices for the HR world. As you can probably imagine, the pandemic has created a sea-change for this executive function and after a month of my own research, including several enlightening Zoom calls with more than 20 of the most influential human resources practitioners today, I wanted to share the cohort’s list of best practices.

No. 1

Stay in constant communication with all your employees. This communication must be transparent, and the messages need to be easily digested. Worried workers need to hear the plain truth.

“The importance of employee communication cannot be overstated,” Sean Kimble, CHRO of USA Compression Partners, told me. “Leaders at all levels, especially those closest to the men and women running the day to day operation of the business, are often the most critical to keeping the team informed.”

No. 2

The Chief Executive Officer plays an important role in that communication. The CEO is the leader and he or she should deliver messages while support and information need to be curated by the HR leader. One of the best practices my group of HR officers has leveraged is the creation of short videos, pushed out to all employees so that he or she can keep them up to date on what is going on.

No. 2.1

As an overlay to the CEO delivering the message is the tone. HR leaders noticed quickly that employees responded better to messages from the CEO that focused on the health and safety of the workers and their families as opposed to just business.

Rochelle Krombolz, SVP and CHRO, from Tekni-Plex provided me with the following point-of-view:

“At Tekni-Plex, which is an essential manufacturer of products used for medical devices, healthcare products, cleaning products, and food packaging, all of our communications and decisions have prioritized and repeated only three objectives:

1. Ensure the safety of employees and the communities in which we operate,
2. Do our part by continuing to operate/deliver products that are critical to the fight against Covid-19, and
3. Come out of this crisis, stronger and smarter than we were before, and rightfully proud of our decisions and accomplishments.

“It has been critical that our employees trust that we as a leadership team are doing everything in our power to keep them safe, while also reinforcing our shared responsibility, and even duty, to keep people healthy, safe, and fed during the pandemic.  We have also been very attentive to expressing our feelings of gratitude and pride, including telling stories about the heroes in our business who have stepped up in this crisis in so many different ways.”

To be sure, there must be discussion about the business. This is where the CHRO comes to the front to help the CEO. The CHRO must assure employees the right decisions are being made regarding the health of the company.

No. 3

Next up is the Employee Assistance Plan or EAP. This is a time for the team in charge of this program to shine, to be a real resource to all the employees, and ensure the employees have someone they can talk to. The HR department needs to make sure that that EAP is doing that efficiently. The HR and EAP departments need to come together to partner.

No. 4

Another rather touchy subject is compensation. The HR department must communicate to the C-Suite that they need to show they too are feeling some of the pain. I’ve heard of companies cutting executive pay by a certain percentage or even eliminating the regular pay for some period of time to provide the right message to employees about the shared experience and to illustrate company money is being directed properly.

No. 5

A very important function that HR needs to execute during this extraordinary time is to focus on the “human” side of their job. That means reaching out to all employees in some form and especially making extra efforts of getting in touch with people from whom you have not heard back.

No. 6

Make sure the HR team and you are taking care of yourselves. It is easy to forget that while being focused on all of your employees, the senior team and CEO. Take care of your health and well-being too.

“It is the same message we hear on planes to put your oxygen mask on first,” says Michelle Tenzyk, CEO of East Tenth Group. “CHROs and their teams are the frontlines in organizations, which require incredible commitment, integrity and way more than eight hour days. That is why the CHRO needs to stay well, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Their wellness sends a strong message to the executive team and all staff – we must take care of ourselves first in order to help each other.”

There is no doubt this is an exceedingly difficult time that includes a lot of hard decisions that are being made and the CHRO is in the center of it. This function plays a huge and important role in today’s human capital story and this is the time when we look back at it, where the CEO, CHRO, and the executive team came together to execute in the defining moment of their time.

To defend budgets in a downturn, L&D must focus on the future

To defend budgets in a downturn, L&D must focus on the future

Budget cuts and downsizing present an unfortunate reality, but that isn’t the full story for L&D, sources told HR Dive.

It’s an unfortunate reality during the COVID-19 pandemic, as with economic downturns past: talent development and training departments are likely to be subject to budget cuts and downsizing.

“History tells us that training is a line item that gets sought,” Dale Rose, president and co-founder of California-based consulting firm 3D Group, told HR Dive in an interview. “It’s a familiar path.”

But the trend is not necessarily a universal one, and Rose and others who spoke to HR Dive have worked with employers that take a different view. The difference between the current economic moment and that of the late 2000s recession, so goes the thinking, is that the underlying structure of the economy isn’t being impacted by COVID-19. “The one thing we do know is that this isn’t permanent,” Rose said.

Layoffs, furloughs and other cuts are taking up a lot of energy for organizations, Bob Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners in Chicago, said in an interview, but employers need to prepare for when the script flips. That means a certain percentage of staff should dedicate themselves to outlining the organization’s future, and “a part of [that percentage] needs to be L&D people,” he said.

As L&D professionals go into meetings with executives — in some cases to literally advocate for their department’s continued existence — their pitch cannot be to simply return to business as usual, Ryan said; “This is the time to be creative and show the CEO, CFO and CHRO that L&D is important, but it’s going to change.” Top companies, he continued, are opting to increase, not decrease, investment in talent after the pandemic.

“I believe the conversation with business leaders needs to start and end with how learning supports business strategy and outcomes,” Chris Holmes, director of global learning and development at Booz Allen Hamilton, told HR Dive in an emailed statement. “If learning is integrated as a part of a shared outcome, then the need to ‘advocate’ for training investment can be a very different conversation.”

L&D departments can also appeal to their role in shaping the organization’s future competitiveness. “The competitive advantage that companies have coming out of this is going to depend on their talent,” Cat Ward, managing director of JFFLabs, a division of workforce and education nonprofit Jobs for the Future, told HR Dive in an interview. “We’re moving into a pretty fluid environment here.”

Distance learning provides a way forward

It’s simple enough to say that talent development will be important, but how L&D professionals keep it top of mind during and after the pandemic will differ. Ryan described practitioners at one manufacturing industry client who took matters into their own hands by making reopening-oriented training videos with their phone cameras. L&D teams elsewhere have held Zoom calls to step back and brainstorm solutions for assisting workforces that may have moved to remote status during the pandemic.

Some teams will struggle with a learning environment that is more digital. “There’s the chance for disinvestment in workplace learning, and a lot of that is due to the fact that a lot of learning at work hasn’t been digital-first in nature,” Ward said. “If you want your business to be competitive, you need to be preparing your workforce for these changes.”

But digital transition can be an advantage for L&D teams, particularly those at employers that had not embraced digital transformation before the pandemic, according to Rose. “Maybe there are benefits to someone sitting at their home office; maybe they have more time,” he said. “The opportunity of the moment is to embrace distance learning.”

At Booz Allen Hamilton, employees are actually consuming more learning content, and they are particularly focusing on content covering how to work and lead effectively in a virtual environment, Holmes said.

One understated impact of the movement to online learning post-pandemic is that it could level the playing field for talent development. In his own experience doing online presentations with clients, Ryan said he’s seeing high levels of participation and engagement from learners. “I can look at 20 to 30 people as I’m leading the meeting, and it’s just easier to manage.”

Employers will still need to deal with some hurdles when it comes to online learning, Ward said, particularly ensuring all workers have access to a reliable internet connection and other necessary technology. Front-line and middle-skill employees will also need to be included: “It’s a business advantage that your entire workforce is able to keep their skill sets fresh and stay competitive,” Ward added.

It will also be difficult for talent professionals to advocate for internship programs, many of which have been cancelled or otherwise rolled back during the pandemic. But online delivery can help here, too, Ward said. Companies like Microsoft have opted to turn their internships into digital experiences, and the tech giant has said that this move will influence its approach to internships well into the future.

Virtual reality and augmented reality, previously used by globally spread, remote-based organizations to disseminate training programs, could also help navigate a situation in which on-site operations are suspended. Ward said she’s aware of companies that have considered sending sanitized VR headsets to employees so that they can train at home.

Reopening as a blueprint

COVID-19 may not be the disruption L&D teams anticipated, but it is nonetheless a reminder that the field’s future may lie in preparing organizations to adapt to massive change.

“The way we work has completely changed,” Rose said. As organizations look to reopen in an environment of social distancing and disease prevention, L&D could emerge in a highly visible role that supports all employees. “Caring for my people has always been important, but that’s more important now. If they’re going to be effective in their work, I need to be tending to them more than I might normally.”

This care can take many forms, from facilitating how employees should reorganize their schedules to literally helping them move from point A to point B within a facility.

Soft skills training is a particular area of emphasis for companies that moved remote. “I think that has just gotten really ratcheted up here,” Ward said. Workers and managers will need assistance adapting to phone-based and web-based communication, especially if they are used to an environment that is dependent on face-to-face communication. Even the subtler act of reading the body language of team members will require adjustment, Ward noted.

In some ways, moving to a remote basis can create a new standard for work itself. “It’s a different way of setting goals,” Ward said. “There’s much more of a premium on execution … and that is going to require even more communication.”

The pandemic is not just a chance for L&D departments to prove that their programs have a return on investment; workers are watching, too, and evaluating the responses that employers put forward.

“Remember that employees will remember and value the choices that companies make,” Rose said.

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Avoiding Succession Planning Pitfalls

Avoiding Succession Planning Pitfalls

Leadership transitions happen in every company. Whether the transition happens suddenly amid news reports of questionable actions or smoothly after a retirement, a change in the top leadership of a company brings uncertainty throughout the organization.

In recent years, CEO turnover has been increasing, according to data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. 2019 showed the highest rate of CEO turnover since the firm began tracking CEO turnover in 2002. Beyond the CEO position, turnover across the C-suite increased in 2019, according to the 2019 Crist, Kolder Associates Volatility Report.

“Obviously, succession planning is key,” said Dave Ramos, CEO of Washington, DC, based Shiftpoints Inc. and author of Drive One Direction and Decide One Thing. “However, many companies do not have fully-developed succession plans for their CEO. Sometimes the succession plan is not enough. Companies can get stuck in limbo because of the high degree of uncertainty at this time.”

Companies need to prepare now for transitions, but a traditional succession plan may not be enough. Failing to account for future business needs, lacking a diverse and robust leadership pipeline and ignoring plans to pick a favorite can all spell trouble for a transition.

Different Situations, Different Needs
“When a CEO leaves abruptly—whether due to illness, scandal, internal politics or other reasons—it can force an organization into crisis mode, often leaving C-suite leadership scrambling to maintain normalcy and reassure stakeholders that everything will be okay,” said Andrew Chastain, CEO of WittKieffer, an Illinois-based global executive search firm. “Having a succession plan in place for such an occasion that, at a minimum, designates an interim chief executive can help alleviate some of that pressure. Beyond that, careers and emotions are often tied to a certain CEO, and so it can be a trying time personally and professionally when a leader exits.”

However, succession planning serves more purposes than what to do if the CEO gets hit by a bus, said Bob Ryan, principal and partner at Shields Meneley Partners, a Chicago-based executive consulting firm. “The planning should focus personal development for key players, find business vulnerabilities, identify high potentials and get the board involved,” said Ryan. “The planning should also extend beyond the C-suite to critical positions throughout the organization.”

When planning for various transition scenarios, Carl Robinson, Ph.D., founding partner at Vantage Leadership Consulting in Chicago, says the company needs to ask tough questions around career and retirement interests and business needs.

“The company’s timing might be quite different than that of the individual,” said Robinson. “Roles are not static, and the competencies required for success today are unlikely to be the same for tomorrow. The company also needs to understand the ambitions, interests and requirements of those being considered for promotion. The maintenance and enhancement of culture is one consideration to promote from within, rather than hire from the outside.”

Drawing from a Robust Pipeline
Once the business needs are established, the company needs to take the next step of determining the appropriate candidates. Companies need to have a leadership pipeline that offers a diverse slate of candidates with a broad definition of potential.

“The challenge of identifying a diverse set of candidates rests with the organization’s broad approach to welcoming in the widest range of employees in the first place,” said Robinson. “Organizations that suffer from unconscious bias tend to confront the challenge that there are too few–if any–diverse candidates in their pipeline. This is a problem that needs to be addressed systemically and over time.”

Dale Rose, Ph.D., president of 3D Group, a feedback firm based in Emeryville, Ca., notes that the biggest mistake companies make is to use methods that are not valid predictors of performance when choosing successors.

“Too often, successors or high potentials are identified by senior leaders who have their own agendas and don’t reference valid data when making their recommendations,” said Rose. “One way to improve diversity in succession plans is to look more broadly at potential, rather than looking only at a recommendation, job history and industry exposure. While some job knowledge is essential—no one wants a marketing executive to be promoted to controller—leaders can cross functional areas more effectively today than ever before.”

Avoid Picking Favorites
While formulating a thorough succession plan may seem like the final step, companies can still stumble by failing to consult those plans when the time for transition comes.

“Many companies make succession planning an annual exercise to appease risk managers but then ignore the results when it matters most,” said Rose. “Companies spend considerable time and effort mapping out succession plans but then ignore the plan completely and pick a favorite of someone who is in a position of power.”

Rose advises that companies eschew this political mindset and empower HR to develop a rigorous talent assessment process for planning purposes and then leverage the plan when needed.

Succession plans are intended to reduce anxiety and uncertainty around leadership transitions, and companies will bolster their chances of success with a thorough consideration of business needs, a solid leadership pipeline and the courage to stick to the plan.

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To defend budgets in a downturn, L&D must focus on the future

How can employers avoid the ‘hidden tax’ of obsolete skills?

How can employers avoid the ‘hidden tax’ of obsolete skills?

Observers agree on one key point: training must appeal to workers’ desire to learn.
Feb. 4, 2020

Employers, tasked with preparing for accelerated industry changes, may be overlooking critical flaws in one key area of operations: talent development.

That was the conclusion of a Jan. 15 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, which said employers in several countries face two obstacles:

  • First, there is a universe of individuals who have qualifications, like a college degree, that could land them high-skill roles, but who lack opportunities to do so.
  • Second, current employees whose qualifications and training are insufficient for their roles under perform. Such employees may require additional training that is never fulfilled, BCG noted.

Both trends produce a “hidden tax” for employers and employees, BCG said. Employers spend more on training and retraining, and those costs may be increased if an employer doesn’t assign retrained employees to positions that allow them to work to their full potential. At the same time, a mismatch between an employee’s skill set and role can lead to missed income, employment prospects and career development for the worker.

Credit: Ryan Golden/HR Dive, data from Burning Glass Technologies

Learning and development programs may aim to reduce costs, but a focus on metrics like time-to-completion can only take employers so far. When it comes to solving for future skills mismatches, employers need to rethink their approach and bring learning into the organization’s broader goals, according to sources who spoke to HR Dive.

Remember the basics

Employers have probably heard talk of skill mismatches before, Dale Rose, president of consulting firm 3D Group, told HR Dive in an interview. “We’ve been hearing it for a while,” he said, “but one thing we’re wondering is, when?”

Focusing on the timing of business transformations can be a helpful frame for employers and ultimately, employers need to remember the basics. “Training is a narrow set of specifications around specific skills,” Rose said. “Companies need to map out: what are the skills, jobs and attitudes needed to shift?”

Talent development should be synced with business strategy, Bob Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners, told HR Dive in an interview. “I believe that companies see training and development as something separate from the business strategy, and that’s the real issue,” he said.

It’s easier to accomplish this if HR already has a stake in forming business strategy, Ryan noted. He gave the example of a retailer that can see its business increasingly moving to e-commerce. If the organization can recognize that e-commerce will be a major trend during the next five years, HR can strategize with other departments to prepare front-line workers for the accompanying changes to their jobs.

Taking a broader view can also help L&D teams get a better idea of how relationships between different roles will change. That’s another critical piece, Rose said, because those relationships will define how each position looks in the future.

One critical, ‘overlooked’ element

Building a career roadmap of needed skills is important, Rose said, because it can appeal to high-potential employees who don’t have the tolerance for a “low-learning environment.” Rose doesn’t believe organizations are still developing training plans to keep workers around forever, but he said road maps are good models for employers as they determine which gradual changes need to be made to existing job descriptions.

Learner motivation is “really overlooked” in the training discussion, Rose said, and it may be the most difficult piece for employers to solve. “The most gamified app on the planet won’t make somebody want to learn,” he said. “That’s the piece that employers are going to struggle with.”

One key strategy to approach this issue is to think about the needs of the individual. That can mean providing different modalities, or formats, through which to deliver training, Rose said, but he believes employers will determine which training paths appeal to individuals.

BCG, in its report, suggests a similar “human-centric approach,” adding that employers “should select employees on the basis of their skills and values and should provide opportunities for personal self-realization in the workplace.”

Large companies have increasingly sought to give employees choice in determining which training path to take. Amazon, in unveiling its Upskilling 2025 program last year, said it would offer the opportunity for workers across several job types to train in both high-tech and non-tech career fields. Walmart, which offers a $1 per day degree program, previously said it plans to expand degree-earning options into a number of disciplines.

Even those who operate on a smaller scale can take a direct approach in asking employees which development opportunities they’re most interested in, Ryan said. Sometimes, that’s as simple as posing the question to employees in focus groups.

Last but not least is leadership. “Leadership and leadership development can help create the environment that will allow that sort of growth and development to occur,” said Rose, who noted that motivation is one of organizational leaders’ many levers.

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Considering a New Job? Beware a Culture Misfit.

Considering a New Job? Beware a Culture Misfit.

Considering a New Job? Beware a Culture Misfit.

Not vetting the values of a prospective employer can lead to an early exit, but there are ways to do your homework
Jan. 15, 2020


As a new year begins, you may be tempted to switch employers in this red-hot job market.

Don’t rush. You should decode the culture of your next workplace before accepting what looks like an attractive management role, career experts say. An inadequate assessment can lead to a misfit, they caution, and you are less likely to thrive in an incompatible culture.

Simply put, corporate culture consists of the prevailing beliefs and behaviors that guide workplace interactions. “About 30% of executives taking new jobs fail to figure out the company’s culture correctly and end up leaving relatively soon,” said Peter Crist, chairman of executive-recruitment firm Crist/Kolder Associates.

In rarer instances, some who stay are thrust into a change-agent role. Inc. veteran Sebastian J. Gunningham joined WeWork as a vice chairman in 2018 and soon also became its chief automation officer as the then-highflying startup was growing at breakneck speed and sported one of the startup world’s biggest valuations. He said he found it harder than he expected to help WeWork develop a customer-focused culture like Amazon’s.

The office-sharing startup named Mr. Gunningham co-chief executive in September to succeed its charismatic co-founder Adam Neumann. Investors had blanched at WeWork’s steep losses and Mr. Neumann’s eccentric leadership style, and WeWork’s parent, We Co., had to scrap its public offering.

“I obviously did not do enough homework on the culture decision,” Mr. Gunningham said of his move to WeWork. His advice: “Make good cultural decisions before you move from company to company.”

“Posing the right set of questions is your best bet for getting a candid read on whether a company’s culture is open to outsiders,” said David Reimer, chief of the Americas region at Merryck & Co., a leadership-development firm.

Here are five strategies to uncover both red flags and positive signals about a corporate culture, based on advice from nearly 20 recruiters, career coaches and executives:

Identify Who and What Count

To grasp unwritten norms, discern what is acceptable behavior—especially for rainmakers, said Gail Meneley, co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a career-transition firm. She recommended inquiring whether sales stars operate under looser standards, such as completing deals without required internal approval.

“You may feel uncomfortable working for a business where there are different rules for different people,” she cautioned.

Small but significant gestures can offer hints about what behaviors matter. In 2017, Brad Neuenhaus became chief business officer of MindEdge Learning Inc., a provider of online education. He did so partly based on a company lunch he had attended as a customer. He recalled being impressed when a MindEdge leader exhibited respect for employees by clearing their plates.

“I wanted to be part of their organization,” Mr. Neuenhaus said. “Culture starts at the top.”

Grill Recruiters About Suitability

A recruiter who has handled placements for your target employer should know whether its culture would suit you, Mr. Crist said. He suggested asking him or her “why the five previous people you recruited (there) were successful.”

In hindsight, Julie Currie wished she had quizzed the search firm differently before joining a company’s human-resources department. “I should have asked why other individuals had left the role, and what was the leadership turnover and why?”

Ms. Currie left that company after a brief stint and now runs human resources for the biggest unit of Western Digital Corp., a memory-chip maker.

Make Sure Actions Match Promises

One media-industry executive who left her last employer after a brief tenure says that, before joining, she should have pressed that company’s board about why management had avoided changes needed for its turnaround. She realized that she and board members had different expectations about how the company could thrive.

After that experience, she says she conducted deeper cultural dives during her latest job hunt. She has just begun a new executive position in the technology industry.

Brian Newman agreed to quit PepsiCo Inc. for the top finance job at United Parcel Service Inc. in 2019 after UPS CEO David Abney “did an incredible amount of due diligence on me in a short period of time,” he recalled.

Getting hired within weeks by a shipping giant that long preferred homegrown management talent convinced Mr. Newman that Mr. Abney “was truly committed to transformation,” he added. The new CFO began in September.

Request a Temporary Consulting Gig

Businesses rarely let management candidates attend meetings and gain close looks at how key players operate. Yet tech-industry executive Tissa Richards did so by consulting for Armory, a software startup that she could see herself joining permanently. “It’s kind of like dating someone before you marry,” she said.

Armory gives staffers unusual freedom to pursue projects and access to sensitive data such as workforce compensation. After attending numerous company meetings during her 2019 projects, Ms. Richards concluded she enjoys Armory’s culture of empowered autonomy and transparency.

Walk the Halls

Some managerial applicants ask rank-and-file staffers what it is like working for their prospective employer. A former UPS executive at a logistics company regretted not doing so with administrative assistants before taking his position several years ago.

He later discovered his boss had gone through 12 assistants in the prior 14 months. The executive stayed less than a year. “I failed the most in assessing the cultural fit,” he said.

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UPS declined to comment.

While walking around corporate offices, also heed unspoken cues, advised Joelle K. Jay, an executive coach. Notice whether employees smile at you or avoid eye contact.

“Pay attention to your internal warning systems,” Ms. Jay said. “How would you feel about [working] with these people?”

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