Archives for July 2016

Office Politics: 5 Ways to Survive the Shark-Infested Waters

Whether you’re just starting your career or have been swimming in the deep waters of office politics for many years, you’re bound to run into some dangerous “fish.”

During my 25-year corporate career I held roles on the front line, in middle management and at the executive level, including a role reporting directly to the company president.

My friends would often ask me if my work environment was political. “It’s like swimming with the sharks.” I would say.

I thought I had come up with a unique — and clever — analogy. I was wrong.

Articles about office politics abound. No wonder in a survey conducted by Robert Half International, 62 percent of the workers interviewed said navigating office politics was at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. So it’s no wonder that a large number of those articles use the swimming with sharks analogy.

In a blog post entitled “Shark Week at Work! Are You Swimming With an Office Shark?” Robert Half, which is one of the world’s largest staffing firms, advises workers to “keep on top of which kinds of sharks are native to your waters so you know what to expect — and how to react.”

So here are the five kinds of shark I encountered during my career and how I survived swimming with them:

  • The Hammerhead Shark: People who choose less-talented friends over more talented strangers (i.e., you). I am a big believer in mentoring — mentoring others and being mentored. Among the people I established mentoring relationships with were people who were higher up the food chain.

Those people also served as sponsors. In one instance, an executive wanted to unilaterally hire a candidate. One of my sponsors asked for a competitive process; no guarantees, just a fair shot.

As it turned out, I was selected and the person who expected to get the job ended up working for me. But not for very long: the executive granted her request for a transfer.

  • The Bull Shark: People who pass on misinformation or rumors about you. In my experience, it was never worth my time to address every rumor or bit of misinformation about me. It was more important for me to build my credibility in individual encounters over time. Thus, some rumors would temporarily take hold. But the reputation I built usually spoke more loudly. “That does not even sound like, Greg” people would say in response to negative rumors.

A case example: I once had to ask for the resignation of a popular employee. Friends of the employee spread the rumor that I terminated him unfairly. Eventually, as people who knew me spoke up, that rumor faded.

  • The Basking Shark: People who make you look bad so they can look good. The key here is to take the high road. Focus on highlighting your own work. The best response you have to attacks on your work is to produce good work.

Once, after I had completed a temporary assignment, I was told by the regular manager that I had “failed in the field” because an ethics investigation was launched during my assignment (related to conduct that preceded my arrival). However, my response to the misconduct was praised. I never directly addressed the comment. My actions spoke louder than her words.

  • The Great White: People who highlight your mistakes to higher-ups. When you mess up, fess up. I learned to choose accountability. That is, I didn’t wait until my mistake came to light to reveal it. I always wanted my boss to hear bad things about me from me first. In doing so, I defanged this particular species of shark. As an internal client once said, “Bad news does not get better because it’s older.”
  • The Sand Shark: People who ask you to support them at the cost of doing what was right. This is a particularly dangerous species of shark, especially if they outrank you. Fortunately, I faced this particular shark only a few times. In each instance, I did what I thought was right and provided a legitimate business explanation about why I chose to carry out an order in a way that was different than directed.

Once I was asked to pay a consultant who was hired to perform ongoing work from a special project budget so that our operating budget would not take the hit. I did find some minimal work on the project and charged just that work to the project budget. I told my boss, that upon closer examination of the invoice, I found that most of the work was part of normal operations and so I charged the work accordingly.

I placed the ball back in the shark’s court (talk about your mixed metaphors!). And the shark acquiesced to how I handled the situation.

In my experience, the primary survival tips in the office shark tank are to do the right things the right way and let your actions, your reputation and your relationships represent you.

So long as we resist the temptation to become one, we can successfully swim with the sharks.


AUTHOR:  Greg Wallace is CEO of leadership consulting firm The Wallace Group. He is also the author of the book “Transformation: the Power of Leading from Identity.”


Reprinted from Workforce magazine



Learning Plays a Pivotal Role in Diversity and Inclusion

This year, our most comprehensive new research on talent management, “High-Impact Talent Management 2015,” found the most differentiating, predictive practices that directly correlate with high performing global companies are those which focus on diversity, inclusion and fairness.
While programs like leadership development, onboarding, sales training and succession management are valuable, it is how they drive inclusion and a feeling of openness that create the greatest business results of all.
We can all understand why this might be true. We live and work in highly diverse environments. The workplace contains different ages, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, backgrounds and physical abilities, and when any one of us feels left out, not included or discriminated against, we simply can’t contribute our best. Much of our new research shows that traditional hierarchical leadership models are being replaced with networks of teams — so if people on the team don’t feel included and respected, the team itself will underperform.
Our research revealed some astounding things. Among the 450 global companies we studied, the ones with a highly inclusive environment generated significantly higher cash flow, profitability and employee retention over a three-year period.
The reason I’m bringing this up here is the biggest thing we found was not that these companies had a great diversity and inclusion program, but that they had managed to build what we call a truly inclusive talent system. These top companies — this represents only 10 percent of our sample — had gone well beyond building a diversity program and creating diversity measures and benchmarks. They had embedded inclusive thinking and diversity conversations into every part of their talent system.
As a learning leader, you hold the keys to the kingdom. Most of the differentiating practices are things that fall directly into L&D’s hands. Consider:
• How well do you include diversity and inclusive thinking in your onboarding and overall employment brand?
• How inclusive is your leadership assessment and training for new leaders?
• Is unconscious bias a topic you teach managers and team leaders, and do you use it in recruitment practices?
• How well do you train and coach senior leaders as role models for inclusive thinking and diversity practices?
• Does your project management, team leadership and functional training include topics about fairness, collaboration and diversity?
• Do you, as a learning leader, truly understand all the ways diversity can and should be embedded in your learning programs, and are your programs diverse and inclusive in their design?
We recently had TD Bank, one of the leading financial institutions in Canada, present on its diversity and inclusion journey. In 2004, the CEO studied this issue and found a workplace that did not let employees bring their true selves to work every day. Since then, the company has embarked on a variety of employee experience programs and put in place a diversity leadership council with multiyear metrics to improve the bank’s inclusive culture.
As we discussed the bank’s 10-year journey, the team told us about diversity and inclusion topics included in the onboarding program, the first-line manager program and, of course, the senior leadership program. TD now has more than 300 executives signed up to promote inclusive thinking throughout the bank, and they infuse diverse and inclusive thinking into every communication and training program they roll out.
Today this is a critically important topic. Diversity strategies not only improve representation and fairness as an employer but also open up the organization to respect the strengths, ideas and passions of every employee at every level. What company wouldn’t want to unlock that incredible well of energy among its workforce?
Our role in L&D is to help lead this charge. Take some time to think and learn about diversity, inclusion, fairness and unconscious bias in your own programs — you’ll discover that your role as a learning leader is more important than ever.
AUTHOR:  Josh Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin & Associates, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate solutions, training and e-learning.

The 3 Mistakes Every First-Timer Makes with Gamification Design

I see a lot of confusion about what it means to gamify a learning program. Gamification is NOT about designing a game. Nor is it simply handing out points or badges to your learners. It’s about finding the right motivators for your audience to promote actions that achieve the desired outcomes.

As you start your gamification strategy design, avoid these common mistakes:

Mistake #1 : Failing to identify who the game is for. Why do some people engage in a gamified process, while others disengage in frustration? Why do some game elements appeal to some people, but have no effect on others?

The problem is based in our personal motivation profile, which is core to how we make decisions. The breakdown happens because we have trouble understanding the perspective of those whose profile is significantly different from ours. Dr. Reiss, of The Reiss Profile, identifies this problem as “self-hugging.” He says not only do we believe everyone should be like us, but that they are like us.

In gamification design, it is important to realize that you have different motivations for playing than most of the people you encounter. Don’t assume your players want things your way. Talk with potential players to find out what makes them tick.

Mistake #2 : Attempting to fix a broken product or service with gamification. It’s like the time my youngest son baked a cake for us. The icing looked deliciously creamy and sweet. But with the first bite, we were puzzled, because although the icing tasted as good as it looked, it was apparent something was wrong with the cake. With a second bite, our fear was confirmed, and we said, ‘The icing is great, but what’s wrong with the cake?” My son laughed and confessed he misread the recipe and put in three tablespoons instead of three teaspoons of baking powder, which caused the cake to be flat and bitter.

He was hoping the sweetness of the icing would compensate for the bitterness of the cake. Instead, it left me wondering, “Why would you take the time and energy to put this delicious icing on such a terrible cake?”

The same is true for your gamification design. If done right, it will draw in your users, and they’ll want to see if it tastes as good as it looks. When they find out your customer service department should be called the Customer Torture Department, they will wonder why you bothered gamifying the process. You have to solve the problem of a bad product or service before you can leverage the power of gamification.

Mistake #3 : Believing that PBLs are gamification. When asked about choosing a gamification platform, I advise, “If the salesperson starts by describing how his or her gamification platform provides points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs), run from the room as fast as you can.” Surprised, people often respond, ‘What do you mean? I thought that is what gamification is!” Of course, they did, because most (but not all) gamification platforms on the market begin and end with oversimplified, non-engaging mechanics.

PBLs are part of gamification, but if all you focus on are those mechanics, then say hello to your colleagues as you join them in the 80 percent of gamification projects that will fail this year.

Leaderboards actually can drive users away if used inappropriately. Imagine that you oversee a help desk, and in an attempt to improve efficiency, you add a leaderboard, award points, and issue cash rewards to employees with the fastest times in resolving Tier 1 issues. Chances are good that you instead will see wait times increase and a spike in employee turnover. Why? Because the help desk employees won’t view your gamification efforts as positive feedback, but rather as management watching over them.

You cannot simply add a cookie-cutter gamification overlay to a system and expect success. Take a closer look.

Designed properly, gamification will provide learners with a sense of accomplishment, skill building, achievement, and purpose. Now it’s your turn.


AUTHOR:  A gamification speaker and designer, Monica Cornetti is rated as a No. 1 Gamification Guru in the World by UK-based Leaderboarded. She is the founder and CEO of the Sententia Gamification Consortium and the author of the book, “Totally Awesome Training Activity Guide: Put Gamification to Work for You.” For more information, visit or

Reprinted from Training magazine

Spread the Word: Smart Communication Strategies for Recognition & Reward Programs

   Don’t underestimate the value and power of constant, friendly and clear communication in recognition and reward programs—you can’t win a game you didn’t know was scheduled.
   It’s easy to get wrapped up in the sourcing and creativity involved with the rewards themselves, but the methods and strategy involved in driving awareness and excitement of incentive programs are crucial to employees’ participation in and happiness with the reward and recognition experience.
   There is recent research to back this up. In 2015, the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) revealed results of a study of the total award experience using responses from 452 members of the Incentive Marketing Association, which commissioned the report.
   Debunking a myth that the award itself was the most important aspect of the entire award experience, the study showed that 12 percent of respondents claimed that type of communications was a preference driver in a large award scenario, while 16 percent said it was a preference driver in a small award example.
   When the type of award presentation—defined in the study by whether the award is presented in public or private, and by who is presenting the award—is considered as a piece of a program’s communication plan, those numbers rose to 21 percent and 25 percent, respectively. The results were consistent regardless of age, income, gender or role.
   IRF President Melissa Van Dyke said the findings were not surprising as much as empowering to those who already emphasize communications.
   “It’s vitally important to how the reward itself is received,” Van Dyke said. “That was very reinforcing to us because you can have a fantastic piece of merchandise, a wonderful product, but if the program and the award itself are not communicated correctly and in a manner that resonates with the recipient, the reward itself is going to lose value.”
   Van Dyke said people enjoy recognition, with or without prizes, so communication of incentive programs serves many functions and shouldn’t stop once the award is earned. Who notifies the winner is important, as is whether that notification is private or public, or both.
   Does public awareness occur in front of a gathering of colleagues, on a company-wide e-mail, at the dedicated incentive program website or all of the above? In the past decade, social media notice is a consideration as well. Successful programs give employees what they need to know, often, and understand that post-award communications are as crucial as the launch and motivational messaging.
   Van Dyke said that while it’s easy for incentive program administrators to be concerned with the wealth of technological ways to stay in touch, they must never forget the power of human touch.
   Don’t underestimate the value and power of constant, friendly and clear communication in recognition and reward programs.
   “We really stress not losing the value of interpersonal communications, the one-on-one, that manager or that teammate saying, ‘I see what you did, here’s why it’s important, and thank you,'” she said. “It’s not possible when we’re at the home office or different parts of the world, and that’s when technology is fantastic, but if we’re sitting right next to each other, we’re in the same locale and we work the same shift, you really can’t replace that one-on-one communication.”
   The attention paid to incentive program operations is necessary, given the investment companies make in them. In an incentive program end-user survey in early 2015, the Incentive Federation found that while most companies spend less than $50,000 on incentive programs, that number is skewed by the large amount of smaller companies.
   When broken down by company revenue, 45 percent of firms with between $1 million and $10 million spend $50,000 or less, while 24 percent lay out $100,000 or more. Those numbers shift as the revenue rises; 76 percent of companies with a least $1 billion in revenue spend at least $100,000 on rewards and recognition.
   It raises a chicken-or-egg question, but if the IRF survey (and past studies showing correlation between more frequent communication and employee participation) reflects how programs should be run, spend on communications has to be significant. It follows that the concentration on the best practices for those communications will follow.
Communication in Practice
   Those are fine theories, but how is communication handled in real life? Kelly Honrobia is a channel account manager at Fujitsu Network Communications in Dallas; she’s responsible for managing reseller partners and making sure they are always thinking about Fujitsu when they are talking to their customers.
   Honrobia lives what the research reveals. When asked how important communication is to her incentive programming, she said, “It’s essential in making the incentive successful.”
   Honrobia explained that for her missions—sales incentives focused on gaining mindshare with reseller partners—e-mail is the most effective tool. A series of e-mails leads up to a launch, she said, followed by additional e-mails once the launch begins, and a direct-mail piece that includes a small giveaway.
   She said she is sure to curry favor from upper management. “Engaging executives and making sure they are bought into the program is important,” Honrobia said. “When they forward the general e-mails that go out to the audience and add their own messages and endorsement, it is very powerful.”
   Demographic research shows differences in recognition and reward preferences among generations; for instance, millennials enjoy public award announcements and technology as merchandise. Honrobia said that also extends to use of communication channels.
   “You have to know your audience and use communication channels that they pay attention to and respond to, like e-mail, social media, videos, direct mail,” she said. “If you have a very large audience of many different demographics, you will need to utilize more channels to communicate.”
   She said she uses as a planning tool a calendar showing what messages will go out on what dates using which channels. “However, I think you also need to be flexible and ready to add or change the way you communicate,” she said. “Track your e-mail open rates. If people are not opening the e-mails, start sending direct mail or post information on internal web portals, send out fun giveaways that help serve as reminders, get time on team meeting agendas to promote the incentive, make it a contest and highlight the top three to five people who are earning the most rewards and create a video of them endorsing the program.”
   Clearly creativity is involved in Honrobia’s strategies. She also is a big fan of patience and persistence in the case of low initial participation. She says the most recent incentive she ran started off a bit slow and then picked up when her team increased the communications.
   The program sought to change partners’ behaviors so they would learn more about Fujitsu and position Fujitsu solutions when talking to their customers and rewarded sales reps for activities such as attending training, registering deals and inviting customers to visit Fujitsu labs.
   “Initially some of the reps got involved, but we needed more people to participate,” she said. “We started sending personalized e-mails to each rep every two to three days reminding them of the incentive and giving them real examples of where they could be earning their rewards.”
   After about two weeks, participation rose 78 percent, she said.
   “I’ll just say, ‘Don’t give up on the incentive if it doesn’t seem successful at the start,'” Honrobia said. “Just change the way you’re promoting it until you see the results you’re looking for.”
Communication Basics & Beyond
   Honrobia has a list of do’s and don’ts that she would share if she were training a newcomer to incentive programming:
   “Do: over communicate; make sure your communications are consistent until the very end of the incentive; use many different communication channels; get executive buy-in and have them help communicate; make your communications fun—incentives are meant to inspire; keep track of as many statistics as possible so you can also accurately communicate the results of your incentive back to the stakeholders.
   “Don’t: expect your incentive to take off from the very beginning, because incentives usually take a while to take hold; give up; taper your communications, which is hard because it’s easy as program managers to lose steam, especially if our audience is not as excited as we are.”
   Honrobia said social media has changed programming in a couple ways, for programmers and for employees. Feedback via social media has made it easier to adjust a program and its communications throughout the process, as well as enable the employee audience to promote the program to its peers.
   She mentioned technology as another boon for programmers. Hootsuite, for example, allows people to manage all social media and to disseminate messages from one place or one platform, so that using social media to promote incentives is easier, more consistent and faster.
   Honrobia also sees the economic benefits of using third party vendors to run incentive programs with software.
   “Incentive companies have pre-made, easily customizable web programs that can essentially be turned on,” she says. “Of course, you still pay for the intellectual property, but, overall, the cost to develop an incentive has decreased due to not having to create it from scratch. The incentive companies truly are the experts and they have built communications into their systems.”
The Right Tools
   These companies use software that can send automated messages such as personalized monthly statements of activity on individual reward accounts, automated periodic reminders that the program is available, and confirmations that let participants know a reward had been applied.
   Leslee Vivian is communications director for just such a company, Carlton Group Ltd., which offers software as a service (SaaS) for companies looking to farm out their incentive and recognition programs. She said the communications aspect of its cloud-based performance enhancement software product, named Power To Motivate (PTM), is essential.
   “If they don’t know about it, they can’t participate,” she said of incentive programs.
   The software brands every message and media, beginning with a welcome e-mail at the launch of each program. That message posts as a web news article on a dedicated website to which members log in to see all program-related communications. Points totals are e-mailed to members, doubling as program reminders. The software’s messaging makes suggestions for redemption based on points balance or past redemptions.
   If a company is running programs for different divisions, the software can multi-task, Vivian said, running simultaneous programs with unique branding that target different groups such as call center employees and field reps. P™ can also handle recognition programs like years of service, for example.
   Vivian said P™ leverages its technological genetics to make program participation fun. “We’re really looking to engage the members in communication, keep them excited and interested in the program,” she said. “We introduce elements of gamification, there’s games to play, there’s leaderboards, there’s tracking. They see where they are, and how they compare to other members of their team.
   “Because they can see multiple ways to earn points there’s always a motivation to keep selling or keep achieving goals that have been set for you so you can earn more points and redeem for a huge variety of rewards.”
   Mike May is president of incentive program consultants SpearOne. He believes in the power of electronic communications and social media but says non-virtual communication, like one-on-one recognition, should never be minimized. Inside his own company, for example, employees give each other handwritten notes with $10 Starbucks gift cards for small appreciations.
   Define goals; lay out a timeline; keep push communications succinct; have themes for premium products; and make communications at least 10 percent of a program’s overall budget.
   “I walk around and see in the cubicles where they’ve saved the cards that say, ‘Thank you for working late on that special project for a client of mine last week,’ ‘Thank you for the great idea,’ or ‘Thank you for extra special customer service,'” May said. “Those notes stay around longer than the couple of iced lattes they got.”
   Similarly, May said reminding employees of an incentive program with desktop items still works in a world of text messages, Facebook notifications, Tweets and e-mail blasts.
   “The premium (desktop) items are sadly sometimes squeezed out of the program, but yet they’re the most effective because a kickoff announcement that gets printed and mailed is really just going to last for that day,” May said. “People aren’t going to keep it around. If they did keep it around they’re going to file it away in a drawer and never open it again, whereas if you do a promotional product, hopefully that’s going to stay on top of their desk if it’s a desk item or a keychain, something that ties into the theme of the program that they’ll use in their personal life. It’s around and is a constant reminder. I’m a huge believer in the tangible.”
   May is not exactly old school, but he does say there is a danger of relying too much on technology-based messages.
   “There’s a place for them, we do tons of it, but they’re less effective because most people when they’re reading their e-mails sit there with their index finger on the delete key clicking as fast as a teenager plays video games,” he said. “There’s an over-rotation toward electronics. There’s an underfunding of print communications and I would say there’s even too little of the premium promotion relative to the effectiveness.
   “We recommend strongly that (electronic communication) be a parallel tactic, that it not be exclusive. To do it well, electronic communication, it needs to be graphical and if you make the investment in graphic design for e-mails the incremental cost of printing and distributing that item as a flyer is not that much money, but yet so many people don’t.”
   Investing in graphic design talent and technology is one item on May’s list of best practices. Others include: define goals; lay out a timeline; keep push communications succinct; have themes for premium products; and make communications at least 10 percent of a program’s overall budget.
   The money goes to the mouthpieces.
   “The communication is so important to ensure the incentive promotion is not the best-kept secret that the company has,” May said. “What you hate is when somebody earns a reward, you announce to them that they got the reward and their response is, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know there was a contest.’ You want to avoid your contests being the best-kept secret.”
Reprinted from Premium Incentive Products magazine


3 Steps to Align Culture With Business Strategy

    On this blog, I tend to write about ideal company cultures and best practices for improving different aspects of them. When on the road to improving a culture, it makes sense to measure first. However, culture is a pretty nebulous concept, making it hard match up with data. Consulting firm Deloitte says it figured out a way to do just that.
     Culture is the “set of values and attributes that shape how things get done in the organization,” said Anthony Abbatiello, a principal in Deloitte’s human capital practice and who is also responsible for leadership and culture business. Ultimately, culture is how the business strategy becomes reality.
    To measure how the two align, Deloitte created a product called CulturePath, which defines behaviors that should exist to support business, assesses a company’s current culture and compiles insights that can guide the company in the future. Using 72 data points, Deloitte analyzes survey results from employees to catch themes in responses, Abbatiello explained. A company using this product can see analytics, which provide support when making decisions on how to move the culture forward.
    When asked if this measurement can be done without the Deloitte product, Abbatiello said companies can define their cultures and align their strategies with identified attributes, but it’s difficult to measure behavior without a diagnostic tool. Culture is a success factor for business growth, so a tool can only help a company to examine their culture.

To define company culture and measure it, Abbatiello outlines the following steps:


  • Align culture and strategy.
  • Look at the eight indices, as outlined by Deloitte, and identify what behaviors to enable from these indices. The four core indices are foundational to each organization. Risk and control: This determines the extent to which people take risks at the company.
  • Collective focus: A balance of team vs. individual focus.
  • External orientation: How much an organization emphasizes a focus on customers and stakeholders.
  • Change and innovation: The extent that an organization emphasizes ambiguity, change and risk.

Four differentiating indices drive an emotional connection to help the workforce execute the business strategy.

  • Courage: How readily people challenge status quo.
  • Inclusion: Working with diverse colleagues’ ideas.
  • Commitment: Willingness of employees to support the larger business plan.
  • Shared beliefs: How easily people join in common understanding of the company challenges and opportunities.
   Measure how the business strategy aligns to these indices to determine how to gauge emotional connection to staff. Have the business leader and their human resources partner manage this culture.
   With CulturePath, high scores on the differentiating indices indicate that staff is connected to the business strategy. Low scores mean alignment is lacking.
   If they see a low score, companies might be tempted to change their culture. However, Abbatiello thinks the focus should be around aligning culture with the business strategy, which requires effort over a long period of time. To do so, he recommends the following:
1.Define who your culture carriers are. These are often leaders. Define what leader behaviors need to be in order to live the culture. For example, to increase courage, leaders should support their staff when taking risks.
2.Systematically reinforce the behavior. Find important company events where culture comes out, such as sales process, annual budget process and the performance management process. Rewarding or aligning those with attributes of behavior is important in monitoring culture.
3.Have leaders tell stories. “There’s a power of storytelling in an organization that is really important for the culture and for connecting emotionally with your workforce,” Abbatiello said. When communicating the importance of taking risks, employees will respond to a story about a risk the leader took, how they failed and what they learned. This is more powerful than simply hearing a leader say, “Take risks.”
   Storytelling is particularly strong, as it helps express the emotion behind a culture goal. “Emotions are the driving force for human behavior, much more than reason,” Abbatiello said. Use that to your organization’s advantage to build or create the culture that best matches business strategy.
Reprinted from Talent Management magazine

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