Archives for November 2012

The Limits of Feedback and Appreciation

Providing employees with specific information on their productivity is one no-to-low-cost way to drive improvements in their performance. A recent Harvard Business Review Daily Stat (To Boost Workers’ Productivity, Tell Them How They Rank) reminds us of this reality, via the story of a German wholesaler that saw an average and apparently sustained jump in average productivity after sharing information about employees’ relative performance. When the conditions are right, most of us will respond positively to feedback that either points directly to actions we can take or triggers an instinct to better our showing relative to our peers.

Appreciation, we all know, can work in a similar way. Big bang without the big bucks (and without a lot of the baggage that can accompany the delivery of those big bucks). Having our work recognized, knowing that somebody notices what we do and cares enough to directly acknowledge it — this is powerful stuff and it can have a tremendous impact on work energy, motivation and performance.

Amid the exciting possibilities of all we can achieve with feedback and appreciation, it can be easy to lose sight of an important fact. The employment relationship, when you strip away all the bells and whistles, is an economic one at its core. And the foundation of that economic transation, for most workers, is their cash compensation.

Right or wrong, good or bad, this is what’s top of mind for the average worker when they take toll of the “rightness” of the employment exchange.

In my conversations with workers, I find many are particularly sensitive to this balance. Top performers, often acutely so. They believe that when their efforts create economic value (e.g., profits) for the employer and other stakeholders, that they should reap some of the rewards of that success. In their minds, this might be through increases to base salary or some type of profit-based incentive award.

The point? While feedback, appreciation, and the well-placed “thank you” may deliver motivational impact that a cash award or raise does not, we cannot overlook the importance of the cash package as the baseline of the employment relationship.

We must get cash compensation right – and do the communication and information sharing necessary for employees to understand how this critical baseline of the relationship is set and managed. If we fail this, if employees believe that there is a fundamental imbalance at the core of employment exchange, chances are

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good that our efforts to provide sound feedback and express genuine appreciation will fall on deaf (or at least highly skeptical) ears.

About the Author:

Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the managing partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management. Reprinted from Workforce Management

How Workplace Conflict is Killing Your Bottom Line

Some conflicts are hot, simmering with hurt feelings, suspicion and verbal sparring. However, most workplace conflict is cold. Resentments are clutched close to the vest, disagreements are quietly acted out rather than talked out, and mistrust is passed in whispers to third parties rather than confronted face to face.

Research by corporate training and organizational performance company VitalSmarts shows that 95 percent of the workforce struggles to confront colleagues and managers about concerns and frustrations. As a result, workers engage in resource-sapping avoidance tactics including ruminating excessively about crucial issues, complaining to others, getting angry, doing extra or unnecessary work and avoiding the other person altogether.

For example, VitalSmarts asked managers at a nonprofit firm with offices across Central America this question: “If you could say anything to your headquarters’ leaders without fear of reprisal, what would you say?”

One Nicaraguan manager’s response illustrates the cost of silence in organizations. “I would tell them to stop making us offer training to all of our clients,” he said. “These working poor can’t afford to waste time, but we force them to endure six weeks of training that makes no difference in helping them improve their incomes.”

If true, this manager was saying his staff wastes about 30 percent of their time and budget on a failed activity. Worse, they undermine their customers and mission at the same time.

While this example is extreme, research shows these kinds of conflicts are common. In its 2010 “Cost of Conflict Avoidance” study, VitalSmarts found employees waste an average of $1,500 and an eight-hour workday for every crucial conversation they avoid. In extreme cases of avoidance, an organization’s bottom line can be hit especially hard.

The study found that 8 percent of employees estimate their inability to deal with an uncomfortable issue costs their organization more than $10,000. Further, one in 20 estimate that during the course of a drawn-out silent conflict, they waste time ruminating about the problem for more than six months.

In a 2012 study on high-performance cultural operating systems, VitalSmarts studied more than 7,000 managers and found the cumulative effect of silence on organizations is significant. Organizations with a culture of silence — where people fail to address crucial concerns — pay an across-the-board tax of 27 percent on their ability to execute and a tax of 30 percent on their capacity to innovate.

The picture isn’t completely bleak, however. Although an absence of candid dialogue generates quantifiable costs, its presence yields some advantages. Organizations that develop a culture where candid dialogue is encouraged experience a corresponding bonus in their ability to innovate and execute.

For example, Mike Miller, a former IT director at Sprint Nextel, reported that undiscussed conflicts between the marketing and IT departments consumed roughly 20 percent of his time and attention during a period of many months. As the organization developed cultural competence at these crucial moments, performance improved markedly.

Miller said he experienced improvements firsthand. He sat down and effectively addressed his basic concerns with his marketing counterpart, and said, “I literally got my life back. Hours in each day that had been filled with damage control and political maneuvering were suddenly returned to me.”

There are a few individuals who know how to speak up and skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues with their colleagues. VitalSmarts’ research confirms this skilled minority wastes less time complaining, feeling sorry for themselves, avoiding problems and getting angry. As a result, these people are more productive and influential.

When everyone in an organization can do what ordinarily only these few seem to be able to do, the organization benefits. The capacity to execute on strategy improves by 19 percent while collective ability to innovate climbs by 27 percent.

It’s About Competence, Not Character

Many talent leaders understand that silence creates a profound drag on corporate capability. That’s why corporate values statements are festooned with calls to create openness and candor. Most of these value statements get it wrong. Leaders attempt to provoke dialogue by calling for “courage,” “confidence” and “accountability.” However, corporate candor is less a condition of basic character and more about competence. What people often lack is not the will to speak up, but the skill.

For example, VitalSmarts did an experiment years ago where actors cut in line in front of others in public queues to see if others would speak up when someone so obviously disadvantaged them. Almost no one did. Next they had line-cutters do the same thing, but this time they cut in front of another actor who would speak up. They said, “Pardon me, the rest of us have been waiting here for a few minutes. Would you kindly join the end of the line as we did?”

At this point, the line-cutter would exit the line and move to the end. The experiment tested whether real line members who had watched a skillful, successful intervention would behave differently when challenged by a new line-cutter.

Next, a new person was sent to cut in line in front of those who witnessed the previous intervention. When the person did, the reaction was almost immediate. Subjects not only spoke up, but they also used almost precisely the same words the actor had used earlier.

What employees usually lack when they suffer in silence is not integrity, but a script. Most people struggle for words when facing emotionally and politically risky parleys. If they had greater confidence that they could muster a sentence that would get their point across without creating even more conflict, they’d speak up more often than they presently do.

The good news is that speaking up and resolving conflicts are skills anyone can learn and master. VitalSmarts researchers have spent the last 30 years identifying the high-leverage behaviors demonstrated by the most skilled communicators who know how to speak up in way that is completely honest and respectful. As a result, they resolve concerns and solve problems without damaging their relationships.

For example, the handful who speak up effectively tend to do a few things better than their peers. Among other things, they:

Confront the right problem. The biggest mistake people make is to confront the most painful or immediate issue and not the one that gets them the results they really need. Before speaking up, stop and ask, “What do I really want here? What problem do I want to resolve?”

Rein in emotions. People often tell themselves a story about others’ real intent. These stories determine their emotional response. Master communicators manage their emotions by examining, questioning and rewriting their stories before speaking.

Master the first 30 seconds. Most people do everything wrong in the first half-minute of a conversation, such as diving into the content and attacking the other person. Instead, show respect for the other person and his or her interests to disarm defensiveness and open up dialogue.

Reveal natural consequences. The best way to get someone’s attention is to change his or her perspective. In a safe and non-threatening manner, give the other person a complete view of the consequences of his or her behavior.

There are two keys to changing a culture of silence into one of candor: skills and models. When people see respected leaders use new skills in ways that appear to work, they are emboldened in their attempts to do likewise. The key to dramatic changes in corporate candor is to combine these two keys into a single intervention. Have leaders teach the skills. Rapid and measurable improvements in openness are often the result when leaders are regularly engaged in training and modeling new cultural norms to employees across the enterprise.

For example, after Sprint Nextel trained its IT workforce in how to better conduct crucial conversations, the division saw a 93 percent improvement in productivity and a 10 to 15 percent improvement in quality, time and cost metrics.

Workplace silence is the most pernicious and curable cultural ailment organizations suffer today. If HR leaders and executives invest in modeling and training skills to alter this costly norm, not only do individuals perform far better, organizations gain great advantage in their ability to execute flawlessly on today’s strategy and innovate consistently to produce tomorrow’s.

About the Author:

Joseph Grenny is the co-founder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training and organizational performance company, and co-author of Crucial Conversations. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

Testing Your E-Learning Strategy

Is your e-learning strategy any good? Is it sustainable over the long term? Does it sound nice, but has nothing to back it up? Or have you actually thought this through clearly and are on your way to achieving your goals? Let’s find out.

I recently came across a great article in the McKinsey Quarterly (January 2011), Have You Tested Your Strategy Lately? The authors suggest 10 questions to answer in determining the effectiveness of any strategy. I took eight of these and applied them to eLearning.

1. Are you clear on the customers of your strategy?

Training professionals (including eLearning professionals) often confuse customers with consumers. In most situations, the customer is the person who pays—the client or executive sponsor, for example. They are the ones who are backing the effort. Learners, for the most part, are the consumers of the program. While both groups should benefit from the initiative, never forget that it’s the customer who is taking the bulk of the risk (along with you, of course).

2. Does your strategy tap a true source of advantage?

Too often, eLearning initiatives include a vast catalog of courses that sometimes duplicate classroom programs or are provided just in case they are needed. If you cannot demonstrate that the effort is yielding value as defined by your customer, why are you bothering?

One program that truly changes the direction of an organization may be much more valuable than a cornucopia of programs that sit in an LMS just waiting for someone to enroll.

3. Does your strategy put you ahead of trends?

It’s natural at times to be cautious in terms of what you want to do and what you expect to achieve. It’s quite another to be completely risk-averse. Waiting until everyone else is committed to eLearning, social learning, performance support, etc., guarantees that you will consistently be a follower, equipped with yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.

Holding back until technology improves is a never-ending quest. Technology is always changing, always improving. The key is to jump in, get started, and prepare for continuous improvement.

4. Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility?

Dogmatic approaches rarely work. Tunnel vision towards one particular technology, product, or process often makes us blind to new opportunities and new ways to get things done. On the other hand, too many initiatives and too many tools or approaches can waste time and resources. Develop a plan and stick to it, but don’t ignore signs that it’s not working.

Keep in mind a proverb from the Old West, “When you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

5. Does your strategy balance expectations with resources and time?

Promising the moon sounds great for a while, but when you can’t get there, the crash can be deafening. Let’s move everything to eLearning! We can convert the entire curriculum in a month! No problem getting our 5,000 salespeople to take the course by the end of the week! Heard any of these?

Good eLearning strategy walks a fine and difficult line—seeking to over-deliver without over-promising, all within a budget that is usually front-loaded with costs. Embarking on an eLearning project, especially a large one, without a solid business plan and business case that sizes it to realistic resources and expectations that all stakeholders can support, is a recipe for disaster.

6. Is your strategy contaminated by bias?

eLearning that looks too much like the classroom version, or reflects someone’s preconceived notion of what it is, rather than what it should be, can have a devastating impact on eLearning strategy. Too many organizations try to shovel processes used successfully in classroom training onto an eLearning project.

Training is training, right? Evaluation methods don’t change much, and the nature of interactivity often fails to take into consideration the unique capabilities of a quality eLearning design. The result is a product that looks awfully like its classroom counterpart, with the emphasis on awful.

7. Is there real conviction to act on your strategy?

When some executive sponsors say they believe in eLearning, they really mean it. But for others, their words don’t match their actions. This can be a real problem when trying to implement an eLearning program that is sustainable. Conviction to act is not something that’s needed only in the executive suite. Your client or customer’s level of conviction, especially at the front line, is essential as well.

Are they involved in this project out of belief that it’s the right thing to do, or were they told to do it and really couldn’t care less? But the Achilles’ heel here may be the conviction of your own training organization. Do your people really believe in your strategy? Do you?

8. Have you translated your strategy into an action plan?

The ancient Chinese military general and strategist Sun Tzu said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Both strategy and tactics are needed, but we often confuse the two.

For example, getting a new LMS may seem strategic, in terms of cost and scope, but it is more likely a tactic, designed to enable more efficient learning and performance, which is the strategy. A good eLearning strategy talks about a goal state—what you want to achieve. Then you develop tactics and operational action plans to get you there.

What shape is your eLearning strategy in?

If, after applying these eight questions to your strategy, you are still not comfortable with its clarity or sustainability, it’s time to get busy. Use this checklist (and the McKinsey article as background) to strengthen your plans, solidify your direction, enhance buy-in, and increase your likelihood of success.

A great eLearning strategy won’t save lousy eLearning, but a lousy eLearning strategy guarantees that a great program might never see the light of day.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

How to Shift Performance Management from Pain to Gain

Ask a top executive, first-line manager, rank-and-file employee or HR professional what they think about their organization’s performance management (PM) process, and you’re certain to elicit a strong response – most of it negative. “Waste of time,” “going through the motions,” “bureaucratic exercise,” “painful,” and “performance mismanagement” are some of the (printable) phrases you are likely to hear.

In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, penalties visited upon companies for non-performance are swift and brutal. So why is such a vital activity not handled well by more organizations?

New research from i4cp uncovers game-changing strategies for leveraging PM to drive up organizational productivity.

High-performing organizations (HPOs) treat performance management as something more than a collection of human resources practices. In those organizations, PM activities share a common strategic purpose: engaging all of the organization’s talent in building momentum to accomplish its mission. Contrast this with low performers that arm supervisors with little more than an appraisal form and a list of employees.No surprise that this approach fails to produce the kind of performance improvement that can affect overall corporate performance – the true purpose of performance management. Five distinct hallmarks – direction, dialogue, inclusion, relevancy and mission – characterize the most successful PM approaches. High-performing organizations’ leaders take specific steps to develop those traits and produce outstanding results:

1. Provide direction by fusing strategic and tactical approaches to PM.

In HPOs, leaders balance PM strategies. On the strategic level, they support an enterprise-wide focus on high performance, making sure those activities required to achieve business goals drive skills development and recruiting priorities. On the tactical side, HPO leaders ensure ongoing goal review and managerial feedback. They also discuss accomplishments and development plans with employees.Corning Incorporated, a featured organization in i4cp’s research report, has a corporate model of performance management that illustrates a combined approach to PM. Corning’s feedback practices have embedded PM in the business and truly drive outcomes. According to Hank Jonas, the company’s manager of organizational effectiveness, “(PM) is really more about the business. It is not about HR. It is not about performance review. It is about, ‘how did I satisfy you as a customer?'”

2. Encourage dialogue by teaching, facilitating and promoting effective PM communications.

Leaders of HPOs don’t leave quality dialogue to chance. They insist that managers’ development includes PM competencies, and i4cp identified this approach as a key differentiator of HPOs. Supervisors’ training includes such critical PM concepts as developing goals, giving and receiving feedback, writing performance appraisals, conducting performance appraisal meetings and maintaining ongoing documentation.

3. Promote inclusion by applying PM with a broad and inclusive brush.

In HPOs, leaders regard PM as relevant to everyone, from board members and executives, to project teams and business units, to each individual employee. Organizational performance cannot occur in isolation; the performance of one feeds the performance of others.To increase inclusiveness, leaders eschew top-down PM discussions, instead inviting peers, subordinates, even customers into the process.Technology solutions make multi-rater feedback easier to implement, even at lower organizational levels. Phospate and potash mining leader Mosaic, another organization featured in i4cp’s report, uses its PM system – EDGE (Evaluate, Develop, and Grow Excellence) – to schedule, manage and document performance and career development conversations among managers and employees worldwide.

4. Ensure relevance by aligning and integrating PM with other organizational components.

Integration of PM information systems and data with workforce planning proved to have the highest correlation with market performance in i4cp’s study, but integration with overall talent management also scored highly.In U.S.-based companies, integration with compensation and rewards was the top differentiator between HPOs and lower performers. Achieving this level of linkage is impossible without a solid technology platform that integrates different talent management-related processes, such as talent acquisition/recruiting, learning and development, and workforce planning.For example, Corning ties PM to needs assessment and learning based on identification of developmental needs and objectives taken from the performance review.Performance ratings and the content of the performance documents are pulled in as part of the overall talent planning process. Corning further integrates performance review information into systems supporting succession planning and filling of open positions.

5. Tie PM to the mission by having leaders champion and actively participate in PM efforts.

Getting the entire organization to invest its time and energy in PM is more easily accomplished when C-suite executives see PM as a process vital to the organization’s bottom line and one that has a positive business impact. The leadership team at Corning is highly involved in the PM process and participates in competency identification, calibration sessions, goal alignment, critical metrics discussions and progress reviews in open forums.Practices like these, along with virtual town hall meetings or Q&A lunch sessions, enable employees to see and hear that leaders back PM’s importance.Furthermore, top executives’ recognition of employee success stories and customer accolades help to connect personal efforts with key corporate success measures.Practices applied in high-performing organizations prove that performance management can be productive rather than painful. When driven by a clear purpose that provides direction, promotes dialogue, encourages inclusion, creates relevancy and supports the overall mission of the organization, PM becomes a true performance differentiator.

About the Author:

Tony DiRomualdo works for the Institute for Corporate Productivity.

Study: High-Impact Learning Functions Tied to Higher Revenues

Companies with high-impact learning functions outperform their competition by a wide margin, a recent study shows.

The research, produced by Oakland, California-based research firm Bersin & Associates, says companies with a sophisticated approach to employee development averaged three times higher revenue growth from 2008 to 2011.

High-performance learning organizations also are eight times more likely to be viewed as strategically valuable by executives and three times more likely to align learning-and-development initiatives with overarching corporate goals, according to the study.

Bersin & Associates defines high-performance learning organizations, referred to as “HILOs,” as those that excel at building organizationwide capabilities that drive business growth. Released in August, the report includes findings based on Bersin’s analysis of the learning function at nearly 300 organizations.

Having an effectively trained workforce is one of the most pressing challenges facing companies, says David Mallon, a vice president at Bersin & Associates and co-author of the report. They are squeezed between two economic realities: Companies need to develop a lean, high-performing workforce while they shave operating expenses and break into new markets.

“We know

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that, for whatever reason, some training departments do a better job of moving the needle than others. This research tries to establish what they do that results in positive, measurable change for their companies,” Mallon says.

However, simply ramping

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up new training programs won’t necessarily enable an organization to dramatically improve its financial performance, Mallon says. In fact, high-performing companies have shifted from employee training to a broader focus on building organizational capability, which encompasses training as well as other factors that affect the learning function.

Now in its third year, Bersin’s study examines 15 different aspects of corporate learning departments, ranging from organizational structure, staffing levels, program design, governance and others.

Among those various elements, three common traits are shared by high-performance learning organizations, Mallon says.

First, they use sophisticated techniques to measure and evaluate learning. Second, they focus less on training and more on creating an organizationwide “culture of learning.” Lastly, they have well-developed strategies to create, harness and organize an increasing volume of learning content.

Those three factors usually are the strongest predictors of success of learning organizations, Mallon says.

The best organizations, in fact, place lots of stock in the notion of measurement of learning.

Global banking firm Credit Suisse Group has connected the dots to demonstrate that career development boosts retention of top performers, leading to higher customer satisfaction and stronger financial performance, Mallon says. “They can string together those variables in a way that proves how career learning ultimately affects Credit Suisse’s profitability.”

Other factors are crucial, too, such as how a learning organization is structured, its use of learning technologies or the presence of a chief learning officer. Those items help set the stage, but usually aren’t huge differentiators for companies, Mallon says. “They get companies to a certain plateau, but to get beyond that plateau, they need to master things like measurement, content, culture, performance consulting and so on.”

Bersin announced the results in tandem with its HILO Maturity Model, a trademarked assessment tool. The model helps organizations evaluate the effectiveness of their learning function based on objective measures, and provides a road map for making improvements.

About the Author:

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Reprinted from Workforce Management

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