- Hit the Ground Running
- How is your company preparing for success as the economy improves?
- Pay Transparency – Deal or No Deal?
- In which I set a curious reporter on the straight and narrow about sharing pay information.
- Mentoring Musings
- What are the keys to success in an effective mentoring program?
HR Leadership: 2010 and Beyond
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When: Thursday, December 3, 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Hit the Ground Running
How is your company preparing for success as the economy improves?
In a recently released survey, Riding Out the Storm and Preparing for the Post-Recession Workplace (SHRM October 2009), HR executives identified the challenges they face in the new economy. Here’s the top issues identified in the survey and some of my suggestions on how to address them.
Business and Financial Stability: Growing organically by maintaining and improving customer service levels while reducing expenses.
From my experience, companies should address this paradox by not focusing on cost reduction but by focusing on productivity – talent invested to achieve required customer outcomes. I spent some years in the steel industry where it took us along time to learn that you can’t cut your way to prosperity.
First, take some time to clearly understand the numerator of the productivity equation, the customer outcomes. The most beneficial outcome is perceived customer value, not satisfaction. I’ve addressed the critical difference between value and satisfaction before so won’t go into detail now. (For more information check out “Why Customer Value is More Important that Satisfaction” by my expert colleague, Reg Goeke, on the Resources page of our website.) Perceived value is the most reliable predictor of customer loyalty and market share. Now is a perfect time to confirm what customers in key market segments value (why did they stay with you in tough times?) and to fully understand the core business processes that deliver this value. There is a variety of ways to confirm value. The easiest and most beneficial are customer visits by employee teams trained to uncover value.
Knowing what the market values and how your business creates (or detracts) from that value will tell you where to invest limited resources for the greatest impact — money and people. Customer Value should be a key determinant in prioritizing projects in the budget for 2010 and beyond. Without a clear picture of value, I’ve seen companies cut expenses in value streams that ended up hurting them in the marketplace (i.e. cutting Rep commissions even though the Reps where key in delivering several critical outcomes in the value equation).
An important factor in the productivity denominator, maybe the most important, is talent. Value should determine where to deploy your best and brightest talent. This assumes that your leadership agrees on how to define “best” and “brightest” and that you have a process that identifies and effectively deploys this mission-critical talent. That’s a great segue to issue number 2.
Talent Management and Staffing: Assuring optimum staffing when forecasts are uncertain.
Not all investments to maintain and increase productivity have the same impact. It’s relatively straightforward to determine the ROI from a capital investment or an investment in technology. I see many companies struggle when it comes to determining the payoff from an investment in talent or trying to figure out the best place to focus limited talent. This struggle heightens when forecasts are uncertain and adding new talent is a Catch 22 — we can’t afford more talent until the business grows but can’t grow without more talent.
My experience, however, is that the struggle to identify and deploy talent in a challenging business climate does not have to be as tough as many organizations make it. With an effectively designed process, most leaders can identify mission-critical functions, roles, and processes and can-get-on-the-same-page about the organization capabilities needed for growth. (This process is easier if market value is understood. See issue #1.) It is also relatively straightforward to work through a process that identifies where the capabilities reside throughout the organization. The tough part comes in making the decisions to re-deploy talent. This often requires such things as never-before employed cross-functional moves, assignments based on developing high-potentials, and reducing or outsourcing non-pivotal roles to create opportunities to invest in value-driving roles.
The talent assessment and deployment process usually uncovers disconnects in existing talent processes. I’ve uncovered compensation systems that work against effective deployment decisions, performance management processes that send the wrong messages, career planning and development that is not focused on critical competencies, and recruiting and selection systems that don’t create the right entry-level capabilities. These are great opportunities for HR to prioritize and improve people processes that will make a difference.
Employee engagement: Re-engaging and retaining employees after a very disengaging year.
The survey data is clear. Employees are more disengaged now than at any time in recent history. After a year like this, who wouldn’t be?
One of the first questions I ask of clients is whether they are tracking employee engagement or if they are actually measuring satisfaction. Satisfied employees don’t make much of a difference in the market place. Engaged employees do not quit and put forth the discretionary effort required to grow a business. Retention and engagement are effective leading indicators of business performance.
The best tool I’ve found for re-engaging employees is improved communication. This doesn’t mean a better newsletter or an email from the CEO. It means a communication plan that clearly outlines the strategy messages, that links every employee to the strategy, and that uses a variety of media. Since this is complicated and important communication, it needs to be as face-to-face, two-way and small group as possible. The best communication tool is a performance planning and review process that links the objectives of functions, managers and employees to the business objectives and that allows for regular review and revision.
Pay Transparency – Deal or No Deal?
I recently responded to the following query from a reporter on sharing pay information. I thought I’d publish the response for my readers as well.
"Company management has varied opinions about whether openly sharing pay information is helpful to work environments and productivity or whether it is an unnecessary distraction."
I have implemented numerous compensation systems over the years, as both an HR and business executive and now as an organization effectiveness consultant. You are correct in pointing out that there are varied management opinions on this topic and, in many cases, they are just that — opinions, not based on sound data. As my Six Sigma mentor, Sharon Gregory of HexSab Solutions and Beyond often says, “The plural of opinion is not data.”
If you consider survey data on pay transparency, you’ll find that employees want to know what growth opportunities their company can offer (and the earnings potential that goes with the opportunities). This is particularly true of high potential/high-engagement employees that research shows make the most difference in a company’s overall performance.
Pay system transparency isn’t the only component needed to create a high-engagement, high-productivity culture. Other factors, such knowing the company’s strategic direction, having trust in management, and having challenging, meaningful work, are also key. If you only deal with pay transparency and not these other factors then, yes, openly sharing pay information will be an unnecessary distraction.
Making a difference in work environments and productivity is really a question of measuring and building an organization culture that supports a company’s growth strategy. Determining a company’s pay transparency policy without having a business case for it and understanding where it fits in a broader organization cultural context would be misguided.
My distinguished colleague, Jay Duffy, and I had a great discussion a few weeks ago, prompted by a potential client who wanted to create a mentoring program for high potential employees. We have both had experience with mentoring in past lives, especially Jay, so I thought I’d share the notes from our conversation about the keys to mentoring success.
- As with any project, designing and implementing a mentoring process should be built on sound change management concepts. The project must have an agreement at top levels on the purpose of the effort, built from a sound business case. (i.e., Reducing turnover of high potential employees, improving talent pools at lower levels, reducing risk by increasing critical knowledge transfer, or confirming talent assessments.)
- Effective change requires a thorough stakeholder analysis and communications plan. The what’s-in-it-for-me for each stakeholder should be spelled out. For example, mentoring programs can fail because the mentees’ manager is not in the loop. Managers need to understand their role in the process. There also needs to be consistency between what is said to the mentees in their performance reviews and in the mentoring discussions — disconnects will only cause frustration. The Mentee’s managers may want to know why they aren’t being mentored so there will need to be candid conversations with the managers about their career potential, if that has not already taken place.
- It is easy for other priorities to slow the mentoring process especially when mentors are the top executives. The priority given to mentoring should be outlined in mentors’ performance plans. Regular follow-up, measurement and reminders will help.
- Mentees have the expectation that something will come out of the process (promotions, higher pay, etc.). Expectations need managed and the purpose and outcomes of the mentoring made clear up-front.
- A wide range of issues can come out of mentoring discussions. Mentors need guidelines on how to handle them. It’s also beneficial to debrief with mentors to anonymously identify the issues and get them on the radar screen.
- To tell or not to tell high potentials that they are high potentials is always an issue. Executives are often concerned that telling will create turnover. We have not had that experience. The key is the quality of the discussions that managers and mentors have with the mentees over time. This usually leads to considering what to tell everyone else who is not on the high potential list. People will hear of the mentor program and will ask why they are not included. Our experience - be candid and develop scripts for managers so that everyone knows where they stand.
- Not all executives make good mentors. Al Schnur of PCI HR Consulting points out that mentors need to, 1) be motivated to be mentors and take the time to transfer their knowledge, 2) have the ability and skill set to be an effective resource for mentees, which requires specific cognitive, technical and interpersonal competencies, and, 3) have the ability to implement the mentoring program. Debriefing and providing coaching for mentors along the way will help.
Keeping these points in mind will help make mentoring an effective component of your overall strategic talent management process.