Archives for September 2011

Hands Off the Talent: Tread Carefully in Shuffling Employees

Jim Collins’ best-selling book Good to Great was published 10 years ago and quickly became a major force in leadership development, not to mention the catch phrase of the decade. It contained a number of insightful, refreshing and enduring ideas that inspired business leaders and talent development professionals everywhere. For awhile the buzz was all about Level 5 leadership, hedgehogs and bus drivers.

I am happy when a newly appointed leader aims to take an organization from good to great, applying many of Collins’ principles. But I counsel the leader not to put on the bus driver uniform too soon.

Collins used a public transportation metaphor to describe the importance of a leader selecting superior talent with his “first who, then what” principle. He asked readers to imagine organization life as driving a bus. Using this metaphor, the task of leadership is to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off and then the right people in the right seats.

In today’s talent management parlance, that would be selection, outplacement and assignment management. The Good to Great proposal was to pay attention to the talent before just about anything else.

And that’s where new leaders can get in trouble.

When a new leader arrives, there are a number of early challenges. I’ve seen leaders become bus drivers too soon and mindlessly start kicking current team members out and adding back their old teammates to the short- and long-term detriment of the organization. Of course, there are teams in need of upgrading or that could benefit from removing a negative, blocking employee. But moving people out of or around an organization or team without the right context will make the wheels fall off.

There are two critical items on a new leader’s start-up agenda. Assessing the talent is an important one but it needs to be considered in concert with other early challenges. In observing new managers who get off to an impressive start and build long-term momentum, I find they first have a good handle on establishing task clarity or getting clear on where the bus needs to go. This means assessing and developing a longer-term view of where they need to take the organization — usually a two- or three-year perspective.

Of course, they also focus on the practical near-term actions of the first 12 months. In some situations, circumstances such as a day-one crisis or a difficult turnaround dictate a singular spotlight on the present where timely actions are necessary to provide breathing room before more strategic thinking can take place. Successful leaders usually make the best use of current team talent. In other words, the bus driver needs to start heading out in the right direction with the current riders, even if the map route is only for a few miles.

The second start-up agenda item is appraising the organization’s capacity to deliver the tasks identified from the long- and short-term framework. This is where most leaders take on the bus driver role, thinking about what seats are needed on the bus — organizational structure; who needs to occupy the critical seats — position skills and experiences needed; and motivation to go along for the ride, matched against the current and available bus riders.

Good to Great thinking makes sense here, but should include a broader view of what talent systems and processes best align with strategy. Changes in talent practices can have more of an impact than just changing out the people.

Compelling, fresh approaches come around from time to time, and Good to Great was an exciting contribution to our field. But any new lens to view organizational life can be oversimplified and misused. Talent shuffling is an important way a new leader can drive the organization to great, but good driving includes following the right route and making sure the organization’s practice — in addition to its people — is in good working order and ready for the journey.

About the Author:

Kevin D. Wilde is the vice president and chief learning officer at General Mills and author of Dancing with the Talent Stars.

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

Contingent Labor Contracts: Do It Right, Save Millions; Do It Wrong, Spend Millions

Hiring contingent workforces and managing related compliance issues accounts for significant human resources department time and resources but can also present a considerable opportunity for executives to wring out large cost savings.

Securing workers for categories including manual labor, clerical, information technology, and consultants account for 30 to 60 percent of a Fortune 1000 company’s expenditures, representing billions in spending.

As baby boomers retire and the economy continues to sputter, strategically leveraging contingent labor continues to increase. And, as the labor market becomes more global, contingent workforces will become even more strategic to an organization’s operations, thereby driving increased flexibility and the need for proactive management and automation.

Securing a qualified contingent workforce is often placed within the larger category of services procurement, which includes hiring both contingent workers and engaging statement-of-work contracts around human-driven services, such as facilities management, hospitality services, IT contractors, etc.

With multiple services being contracted around different requirements and skill sets, many HR and procurement professionals struggle to automate the process—especially for complex services such as consulting, IT development, marketing and outsourced services. As a result, there are significant inefficiencies in how these services are sourced, purchased, tracked, invoiced and paid—leaving tens of millions of dollars in untapped savings.

Key challenges in hiring/managing contingent labor include:

Labor procurement is decentralized: Disjointed buying and management of contingent labor makes implementing

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a centralized services procurement system problematic.

Comparing labor providers is difficult: Labor-powered services are inherently subjective—quality, delivery and commitment play key roles in evaluating and selecting a provider. Also, different managers may use varying descriptions, contract structures and pricing for the same service, making comparing bids from multiple staffing providers difficult.

Distinctive attributes for services: Unique contingent labor requirements such as skill sets, work methods, flexibility and price structures complicate comparisons. Similarly, the process for confirming that a particular service is received or complete can be different.

• Location selection tricky: Choosing the location for a particular type of service can be complicated. For example, if the HR team is trying to hire an IT programmer, it’s helpful to know if the going rate is $48 an hour in New York vs. $42 an hour in Michigan. The decision may be also complicated by other factors, e.g., employee’s manager’s location or whether in-person oversight is necessary.

• Compliance requirements are global and varied: Since contingent workers deliver services worldwide, compliance with various government regulations, e.g., co-employment laws (employees vs. temporary staff), labor laws from Occupational Safety & Health Administration and privacy laws is required.

Today, organizations that successfully integrate some automation into their contingent labor hiring or purchasing processes enjoy an average savings of 10 percent-plus by gaining control and visibility over that spending.

Here is a best-practice approach for automating your contingent labor program.

Define overall strategy

Start by defining the intended outcome for the contingent labor hiring/management process. For example, do you need to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley or standardize direct and indirect labor programs globally to reduce costs? Next, identify the priority labor spending categories—assembly line, administrative support, etc., and the corresponding business units, and determine the sequence for system deployment.

It is critical to build a cross-organizational team based on targeted categories and to secure strong executive sponsorship. For a global program, garner buy-in from individual localities first to ensure government regulations and business needs are met.

Enforce policies

Next, introduce controls to realize savings from policies and negotiated contracts. The system should allow the organization to start with a level of automation within its comfort zone and move to a more rigorous model that encompasses more service categories over time. Ultimately, the more categories of labor managed through automation, the more cost savings the HR department will drive for the business. Apply and maintain a discipline of controls around the process:

• Enforce preferred labor supplier selections to reduce “maverick” spending with unapproved suppliers.
• Implement full agreement between invoices and contracted terms during the invoice approval process; ensure the ability to reject/delay questionable invoices.
• Capture discounts and early payment rebates and identify additional savings opportunities.
• Automate controls for operational, safety and HR laws and policies to mitigate noncompliance risks. Controls include tenure rules, on-/off-boarding requirements, certifications, safety prerequisites and diversity standards.

It is also critical to confirm adherence to compliance regulations to ensure temporary workers are

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categorized correctly. This is especially timely as thousands of new auditors are working to confirm appropriate government taxes are paid based on proper employee/contractor classifications.

A more streamlined, efficient approach to procuring and managing contingent labor is within reach for most companies, but some automation is necessary for strengthening the process. HR departments can then ensure they are securing the right talent with matching skill sets for specific job functions and locations, while driving substantial savings and ensuring full compliance with labor regulations.

Reprinted from Workforce Management Online

Apps: Delivering Learning at the Point of Need

Organizations are harnessing the smartest smartphones, handheld PCs, tablets, the iPad, netbooks, as well as devices such as the iPod touch to deliver mobile learning applications.  “This is a resurgence and change in something that’s been proven for many years to work — electronic performance support,” said David Metcalf, director of the Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab at the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training. “Apps are enabling that in new and creative ways to have just-in-time learning right at an employee’s fingertips.”

Productivity is enhanced since apps work offline, while mobile sites don’t. It’s also more convenient — especially when users want to view PDFs or other downloads — since not all employees have online access. Ease of use offered by mobile devices supports lifelong learning, and because devices are integrated into everyday life, they facilitate authentic learning.

For example, to better inform associates at home improvement store Lowe’s about the various plants in the garden center, the organization’s learning and development team decided to build a mobile application for the iOS platform, Apple’s mobile operating system. Lowe’s saw this as vital to achieve a priority mission around customer service, loyal well-trained employees and the associated business benefits.

Lowe’s self-produced a mobile application and devised a strategy to link real-world mobile tools with a virtual store environment and associated learning games and simulations. For instance, each plant has a quick response code that can trigger just-in-time content or a direct link to a component of the virtual store. Using this app, associates have information on demand about plant details region by region as well as care and pest prevention techniques to better serve customers.

Similarly, MINI, a small car made by auto manufacturer BMW, commissioned an iPad app for a learning event at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, where MINI sales associates were invited to learn about the MINI Cooper Countryman. The sales team can use it to prepare for a pitch, and potential customers who wish to learn more about a product can take it with them on a test drive.

“While most examples focus on Apple applications, since they were the first to gain traction in this arena, there’s been a huge boom that has spawned the growth of other markets such as Android and BlackBerry,” Metcalf said. “This free-market economy will produce a much more open and broad-reaching effect.”

For instance, applications such as SuperNutrition, a result of first lady Michelle Obama’s Apps for Healthy Kids competition, work on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or any Web-capable device with a full browser.

Although children may not be doing the household shopping or cooking their own meals yet, they may be able to help impact their parents’ choices, and healthy habits ingrained early are more likely to persist during adulthood. To use this application, children sign up for a free account on the system and personalize their own avatar via phone or computer.

Each avatar has basic statistics including strength, agility, speed, wellness and energy. Characters travel through different game areas, each with several missions their characters must complete.

“The cloud is the next generation of what the Web used to be,” Metcalf said. “Apps plus the cloud is going to equal something more powerful and stronger than we’ve seen before.”

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

Employers to Ramp Up Voluntary Benefits Offerings

As open enrollment season approaches, employees likely will see that they have more voluntary benefit options than in previous years, a survey by Colonial Life concludes. The insurer’s poll of more than 750 HR managers and benefits administrators found that almost half (49%) expect to add voluntary benefits to their plans within the next year. Employers were asked about their employee benefits packages and benefits communication efforts.

The increasing shift toward voluntary is part of a larger trend among employers, as the survey reveals other changes employers plan to make to their benefits plans include:

–Increasing employees’ health insurance premiums (51%).
–Increasing employees’ health insurance deductibles and/or copays (49%).

“Not surprisingly, employee benefits have taken a hit as companies wrestle with the rising cost of providing health coverage to their workforce,” says Randy Horn, president and CEO of Colonial Life. “Offering voluntary products that complement core benefits can help companies better manage their costs. Voluntary plans can also give employees a convenient and affordable way to protect their families and lifestyles.”

Obviously, effective benefits communication is linked to the success of all programs, particularly voluntary offerings.

Virtually all employers (99.6%) in the Colonial Life survey agree their employees need guidance to make sound benefits decisions and education to help their workers understand changes in their benefits program. Yet less than a quarter of employers (23%) believe their company’s current benefits education efforts are very effective.

“Employers see a need for more and better benefits education and communication,” says Horn. “Providing personal, one-to-one benefits counseling can close the communications gaps that often hinder employees from fully understanding and appreciating their benefits.”

LIMRA data more cautious

A recent LIMRA study, meanwhile, reveals that 30% of U.S. employers with 10 or more employees are considering offering new voluntary benefits to replace existing benefits that are paid entirely or in part by the employer.

This would potentially affect between 19 million and 45 million employees over the next two years,  LIMRA estimates. Interest in voluntary is particularly high among large organizations (1,000 or more employees); half of these firms show interest in transitioning their existing benefits to voluntary.

The survey, “Voluntary Worksite Benefits: Penetration and Market Potential,” suggests the two benefits most likely to be shifted to voluntary are medical and prescription drug plans, which could boost interest in discount programs.

“Of those employers considering adding a voluntary major medical or prescription benefit, the study revealed that three of four may be adding the voluntary benefit to replace their existing medical or prescription benefits,” LIMRA states.

“Currently, 57% of U.S. employers offer voluntary benefits,” said Ron Neyer, assistant research director at LIMRA. “Assuming that most employers that express a likelihood of adding a new voluntary benefit in the next two years follow through, this will provide a new employee-pay-all option to as many as 46 million employees.”

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

Poised for Discovery: Transforming an Onboarding Program

While much of the nation has been fighting to survive the recession, Booz Allen, a strategy and technology consulting firm, has faced a different challenge: unprecedented growth. With an increased focus on business delivery and utilization, new hires need to be equipped with the knowledge, tools, and resources to be engagement-ready. And they need to be ready faster than ever before.

The firm’s legacy onboarding program had many strong components, but lacked the cohesiveness and accountability necessary to ensure a consistent new hire experience for the firm’s growing workforce. Aimee George Leary, Booz Allen’s director for learning, development, and diversity, explained, “We needed to develop a comprehensive onboarding solution that increased new-hire readiness and accelerated time to productivity to serve the needs of the business.”

Before getting started, Booz Allen conducted a comprehensive internal evaluation and external benchmarking analysis. Their research led them to determine that it was essential the new program do the following:

•         Promote accountability and participation through a cohesive brand that defines the program.
•         Make a good first impression and generate excitement before the new hire’s first day via an online new-hire portal.
•         Maximize engagement and speed learning through a combination of immersive learning activities that expose new hires to real-world challenges.
•         Drive results by integrating performance management and career planning systems and processes.
•         Encourage virtual networking through social media and knowledge management tools.
•         Keep enthusiasm high through ongoing communication via social media, newsletters, and guides.

Booz Allen partnered with industry experts to develop a branded, phased, 12-month series of learning events and activities designed to help new hires quickly engage with the organization, feel comfortable joining their respective teams, and develop a strong level of knowledge regarding the firm’s culture and core values.

Because new employee orientation jumpstarts the onboarding process, it is imperative that the revamped program makes a good first impression, reinforces new hires’ decision to join the firm, and delivers business impact.

Promote accountability and participation

The program is broken into three phases throughout the new hire’s first year. These phases are branded Engage, Equip, and Excel. Each phase has its own milestones and objectives. The program’s design provides a recognizable framework that is applicable to all new hires, while allowing regional offices to tailor some local content for enhanced value. Orientation attendance is mandatory across the firm to drive a consistent new-hire onboarding experience for all employees.

The initial phase, Engage, is designed to excite and prepare new hires for their first year. This phase typically spans two to three weeks (from acceptance through their first week on the job). Two key program elements within this phase are the New Hire Portal and Firmwide Orientation.

Maximize engagement and speed learning

Booz Allen’s Legacy Orientation program has been transformed from a two-and-a-half-day program that occurred around the fourth week, to a four-day program that now occurs during a new hire’s first week. The new Firmwide Orientation uses experiential and discovery-based learning to create an interactive and engaging experience, connect the learning to the real world of Booz Allen, allow for practice and application, and provide for early networking opportunities.

Built on discovery-based learning activities focused on networking, skill development, and early career planning, the first day of Firmwide Orientation centers on an information-rich, table-sized learning visual called a Blueline Blueprint. This unique classroom design concept functions as a launch point for a broad range of individual activities and team challenges.

Discovery learning techniques demand that learners play an active role in the learning process and apply themselves in new and different ways as they work in cross-functional teams, explore different points of view, learn from each other’s experiences, integrate new information with past experiences and current knowledge.

In addition to its role as a launch point for a broad range of interactivities, the Blueprint serves as a visual landscape, inviting participants to explore the firm’s history, its people and culture, institutional structure, client service, and core values and mission. New hires collaborate in cross-functional table teams made up of six members each, spanning different work teams, regional offices, and levels. Working in these teams jump-starts the development of working relationships and networks, which are critical components of success at Booz Allen.

During days two and three, new hires are immersed in a realistic job preview that equips them to engage fully with the organization and the firm’s clients. Teams of three learners each compete in a simulated, year-long client engagement. A second Blueline Blueprint combines elements of a process map with a traditional board game (not unlike Monopoly or The Game of Life). It serves as the critical “touchstone” throughout the simulation.

The game also provides exposure to foundational planning tools and analysis skills that help prepare new hires for performance on the job. An adjunct instructor, who is a seasoned employee with knowledge gleaned from client engagements, adds to the experience by providing “real world” insights and examples from her career.

The fourth day, a highly interactive and hands-on workshop, is based on a firm-specific “formula for success.” New hires use laptops to explore online resources designed to assist them with career planning and development.

Senior leaders play a key role in the program by delivering welcome messages and leading personal discussions on how to succeed at the firm. Meanwhile, new hires learn the “secrets to success” and receive tips on how to navigate the company’s culture through structured networking events, which occur both in-person and online via Booz Allen’s social media and knowledge management tool.

Keep enthusiasm high

Phase II, Equip, spans the period encompassing the new hire’s second week through their first six months, and provides employees with the tools, skills, and behaviors needed for success at the firm. Key program elements within this phase include: Local Orientation; 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins with the manager; detailed onboarding toolkits; a six-month pulse check; and a series of e-newsletters. All of these are designed to reinforce and build on the information, knowledge, and relationships developed in Phase I by providing opportunities for learners to apply them on the job.

Drive results

Phase III: Excel, is focused on continued professional development, affiliation building, and embodiment of the firm’s values. This phase spans month seven through the end of year one, and its key milestone is the new hire’s first annual assessment.

To complement the year-long program, the onboarding team also has harnessed the firm’s social media and knowledge management tool to provide a social space designed to connect new hires, and those who support them, throughout their first year. As a member of the “Onboarding Community,” any employee can discover and contribute information, activities, and resources that support and enhance the first year experience, and can communicate via blogs and forum discussions.

The results

Since its launch in November 2009, more than 8,000 new employees have completed the new hire program. Greater than 95 percent of new employees have acknowledged the program’s positive impact, reinforcing their decisions to join and stay at Booz Allen.

As a result, attrition for employees with tenure of six months or less has been reduced by four percentage points. And new hire time-to-productivity has been accelerated by several weeks, saving the firm millions of dollars of lost revenue. Internal survey results also reveal higher (a 6 percent average increase) levels of perceived job readiness and impact among new hires.

Booz Allen’s onboarding program has been recognized as a “best in class” solution. The work has been rewarded with a Bersin Learning Leaders Award for Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence and ASTD’s prestigious Excellence in Practice Citation and Award.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

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