Five Keys to Building an Innovative Culture

After nearly 25 years of experience working in an innovative high-tech company, I’ve heard, experienced and talked about the critical elements needed to build an innovative culture numerous times. Innovation isn’t something that just happens; it’s a mindset and a business outcome that requires a commitment from both management and employees.

Here are the five keys to building an innovative culture.

It all starts with risk. Risk aversion is the key reason employees don’t innovate. Employees who are afraid to take a risk and fear consequences of failure will maintain the status quo and resist change. Encouraging, rewarding and enabling risk-taking is essential for innovation to happen. Learn from mistakes and make those lessons impactful. Share internal stories of both success and failure. Showcase risk taking and the positive impact it has on the business. Celebrate employees who take risks and challenge the status quo.

Leaders typically inhibit innovation. I haven’t yet met an engineer who doesn’t want to innovate. Effective leaders need to model an innovative mindset, thinking and behavior. If leaders don’t generate new ideas, challenge complacency and initiate change, then innovation stalls. If leaders don’t innovate, neither will their employees. Employees see what leaders do and they follow their behavior.

Saying no is easier than saying yes. Saying yes means accepting new ideas. Saying no means I like it the way it is and I don’t want to do any additional work. Change takes time, effort and energy. Saying yes enables innovation. Managers who say yes are catalysts of innovation. Don’t think about all the reasons why something can’t be done differently — say yes and do it.

Getting it done is often better than getting it right. Life is in beta. We are living in a time when the next version is just around the corner. There’s a 2.0 on the verge of being released. Leaders who wait for everything to be perfect before launching or executing are inhibiting innovation. Launch then learn. Iterate. Release the next version. Don’t wait for perfection; just get it done. There is time for continuous and disruptive innovation, but it has to start somewhere.

Embedding innovation into the culture and consistently communicating about it is the only way to sustain it. Management, employees, customers, suppliers, everyone in the company ecosystem has to drive innovation and communicate about it. An organization culture is built through norms, behaviors, attitudes and values — ensure innovation is a common thread that runs throughout the company. Initiate it, encourage it, reward it and celebrate it.

AUTHOR:  Tamar Elkeles is the chief talent executive at Atlantic Bridge Capital.

Reprinted from Talent Economy

Company Culture: How to Capture Your Values

Have you ever walked into work and thought: I’m not sure who we are and why we do what we do?

While there’s no one way to run a company, and businesses operate differently from one to the next, every organization has a culture and exhibits values, whether explicitly stated or not. As a company evolves, it will have to reevaluate its processes and standards to accommodate its growing workforce.

Sometimes this means rethinking whether you are clearly communicating your values and reinforcing them day to day. Whether you’re a budding startup or a centuries-old conglomerate, there are certain key elements and factors that go into revisiting what you stand for, and where you’re headed next.

While culture and values flow from everyday decisions and behaviors, starting the conversation at the top is key to long-term success. If you do not have buy-in upfront from the heads of the company, staying on course will be difficult.

CEOs and their leadership team must exhibit the behaviors they expect of others within the organization. Actions speak loudest. Every choice should take your values into account. From how you evaluate candidates to how you assess and reward existing employees, decisions will be viewed through the lens of your values — Do we do what we say we do?

Ask the tough questions.

If you’re gently reforming or radically overhauling your company culture, the first thing you have to do is be open to change and that means being prepared to ask tough questions.

If you’re a founder-led organization, chances are they have a specific view or focus to convey. If the organization has been around for a while, you might have already established some values or themes. The most effective first step is to ask aloud:

  • What have we said (or shown) our values to be?
  • Have they been explicitly communicated?
  • Are they any unspoken values?
  • Why do we need to state our values? What If we did nothing?

You’ll want to dig into the details you uncover. Sometimes it’s easiest to accomplish this step by bringing in someone from the outside to help. An external facilitator who has been through this process before will offer an outsider’s perspective and help you find what you truly stand for. A good facilitator will tell you to stop, collaborate and listen. Pay close attention to the questions that arose in the earlier steps, specifically where people expressed confusion.

While approval from senior leadership is critical, there’s no better place to turn for input and insights than your employees. They live the culture every day and they know what it’s like to work there. Focus groups can provoke responses you might not have expected. You can also send out a targeted survey to discover what the focus groups might not yield — discomfort, shortage of faith, low morale and more.

Be willing to use a variety of methods to collect and capture information from employees. Some will be more forthcoming than others, but the goal is to get to a 360-degree view of the company. However, do not expect or wait for consensus; you will never get there.

Communicate, put into practice and reinforce.

You’ll want communication to not only come from the top down, but also the bottom up. When you have finalized a set of values, share the wisdom broadly in multiple ways: from senior leadership at company town halls and also between managers and employees in smaller meetings. Let your employees know what came out of the exploratory sessions and where they can find additional tools and resources to serve them better.

Some of what you say will stick, yet other messages won’t take right away. Make sure you’re committed to stay the course and reinforcing the message with action, through behaviors and future decision-making.

Continue to let your employees know you’re assessing the organization and you will report back when it’s the right time to move ahead. Respect your employees for having their say. Repeat the message in company updates and begin emails with, “Because you shared …” They will feel valued and therefore get on board.

AUTHOR:  Matthew Jagoda is the chief people officer at Shutterstock, a content licensing company that includes images, videos and music. 

Reprinted from WORKFORCE

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



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

A Highly Engaged Workplace Culture: Essential Elements

(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Kronos, the global leader in delivering workforce management solutions in the cloud. Kronos has launched a new workforce analytics as a service offering that allows small and midsized businesses to understand how labor hours are being spent by visualize workforce data using interactive technology.)

You guys know I’m a long-time volunteer leader with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM.) One of the volunteer roles I held was chair of the HR Florida Conference. The conference theme during my year as chair was “The Art of Human Resources.” After reading the third and final study from The Workforce Institute at Kronos, it looks like there’s a little science to HR as well.

As a reminder, the last study focused on who owns culture. The short answer: we all do, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out the data. In this study, respondents identified the 25 essential elements of an engaged company culture. Because owning culture and the elements of it are two very different things.

There are five major areas in company culture: relationships, leadership, compensation, work, and learning. There’s a lot more information in this report so be sure to take a look at the complete findings. Here are some interesting results to note:

  • HR professionals claim their organizations used to have policies against rehiring employees, but with talent wars heating up, seventy-six percent (76%) indicate they’ve become much more accepting of boomerangs.
  • There’s a major disconnect with onboarding. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of HR professionals say they have a formal onboarding process compared with 13 percent (13%) of employees.
  • Nearly 25 percent of employees say having an empathetic and flexible manager is an important part of their work-life balance.
  • Wellness programs are increasingly popular, with almost a quarter of respondents citing their importance.
  • One-third of employees say time off is the best way their organization can support their work-life balance.

The real takeaway for me was that company culture has so many elements. And those elements are dynamic – both as a single element and combined with other elements. It’s like the periodic table. The Kronos graphics team did a fantastic job of representing culture like the periodic table.

CC0226 Infographic v3


If we think about company culture like the periodic table, then we use the analogy to encourage managers to be like a chemist. The science nerd in me says this could be a new and fun way to present classic messaging about the importance of company culture. For example:

•  Create your own company culture “periodic” table. Whether it’s literally or figuratively, make sure everyone in the organization understands what makes up the company culture and how they contribute to it. This can take place on career sites, during onboarding, and at company training.

•  Use the individual elements to design formulas for success. Think back to chemistry class for some of the common compounds we learned. For example: rubbing alcohol is also known as isopropyl alcohol and known by the chemical formula (CH3)2 And laughing gas is dinitrogen oxide represented by the formula N2O. Apply the same idea to the workplace.

•  Work-Life Balance happens when managers are empathic and flexible regarding “me” time. The formula for work-life balance is WI = Em + Fx + Me.

•  Employees stay with companies when they have friends at work, are appreciated for a job well done, and receive career development opportunities. The formula for Retention is Ap + F + Cd.

As human resources professionals, we have to find new ways to communicate the same messaging to our audience. I don’t think it’s a surprise that concepts like work-life balance are important to employees. But packaging the conversation a little differently could resonate in a way that may not have in the past. Or simply add a “big bang” to a concept that’s already working.

As I mentioned, this post only scratches the surface of the data presented in the report. Be sure to download the full report from The Workforce Institute website. Also you can listen to a couple of related podcasts on “Who Owns Company Culture?” and “Kronos CEO Aron Ain on the Importance of Workplace Culture.” The culture conversation isn’t going away anytime soon. 


Reprinted from HR BARTENDER





How HR & Marketing Can Build a Better Brand Together

Enduring brands are built by people—not ads, clicks or views.

Marketing has traditionally taken the lead in communicating the corporate brand promise, but when it comes to delivering on those promises, it’s people from all around the organization who have to do the meticulous work of successfully bringing the brand promise to life. In fact, employees need to do many things (often behind the scenes) that are “on brand” across dozens of customer touch points. Ultimately, it’s the organizational culture—”the way things are done around here”—that becomes the true brand differentiator.

That’s precisely why HR has a significant role to play in the process. It’s time to recognize and leverage the critical role employees play in enhancing and delivering the brand promise.

The Challenge

The digital age has brought forth exceptional corporate transparency. In order to productively drive cohesion and a seamless customer experience, organizations have to communicate internally with employees as aggressively and consistently as they do externally with customers. Branding is no longer just visual identity and an external promise to customers, but has become a means of executing business strategy via internal brand-led behavior and culture change to create a compelling customer experience delivered by the entire organization.

Rather than viewing brand as an outcome or intangible asset, the concept of employee-based brand equity affords us the opportunity to use brand as a lever to value and capture returns across the organization, and this is achieved with HR practices at the core.

What HR Gains

Recruiting top-tier talent is crucial for any organization wanting to achieve and sustain success, and hiring the right people is essential to building a workforce that’s truly engaged in what your company does. However, attracting that talent has become an increasingly challenging proposition, as candidates have become more discerning, and have far greater resources for evaluating their fit with your organization. Discovering brand inconsistencies between what’s promised externally and the internal reality employees experience could be enough of a deal-breaker to turn off those coveted candidates.

To prevent that from occurring, we have to consistently tell our brand story through a variety of channels, not just to reach customers but to reach prospective employees as well. Many companies fall short on communicating with current employees, much less extending the brand story to those they hope to recruit.

Marketing has the talent to help HR target an employee audience—just like it does a customer audience—and bring the brand alive by creating passionate, emotional connections with potential candidates. The qualities that matter to customers also matter to the high-potentials we want to recruit—especially on the topics of culture, leadership, challenge and growth.

Marketers know how to drive and measure audience engagement, how to create engaging experiences, how to nurture audiences, and how to tell a story that keeps people interested and engaged over a long period of time.

Invite marketing to help you map the employee journey, understand what matters to potential employees, how to find them and capture their attention, how to woo them into an employment relationship, and how to nurture, grow and retain them as valuable leaders at all levels of the company. Likewise, invoke marketing’s assistance to craft congruent messages so what new employees are presented with is consistent with the brand promise.

What Marketing Gains

HR’s role is to connect the dots between the customer value proposition/brand position and the various codes of conduct around the organization, starting with the mission, vision and values, to the employee value proposition and leadership model. A frequent challenge is that these values are often generic, disconnected, and say very little about the brand they represent.

HR professionals should take branding out of the marketing communications silo and into employee and organizational processes that underpin the delivery of the brand. Reconfigure existing HR processes like hiring, onboarding, training, reward and recognition—adapting them to ensure effective delivery of the brand and strategy.

Marketers’ ongoing quest for authentic and compelling brand stories can be supplemented by human resources. Partner with HR not only to tell the brand story through them, but also to discover new stories about why people come to work at the company, what matters to them, and how their own stories mesh with the brand story. This provides marketers insight into how their efforts make a difference in helping to recruit the right people.

Making It Work

Marketing and HR need to talk about what HR wants to accomplish with new and existing employees, and explore how the message and the experience between the brand and new employee onboarding can be unified.

In “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” authors Carla Johnson and Robert Rose support increased collaboration between HR and marketing, and outline a plan for making a partnership like this work:

  • Extend the brand story through HR so the people recruited fit the culture, believe in the company’s purpose, and seamlessly step in to begin contributing in significant ways and creating delightful experiences for customers.
  • Reach candidates and new hires in new and meaningful ways based on their generational preferences.
  • Decide how and when to bring IT into the picture so the candidate experience is easy and user-friendly.
  • Help colleagues understand what could be, how all the brand pieces fit together, and how to work together to create new and different experiences for both employees and customers.

As the war for talent continues to rage, and customer expectations continue to escalate, we need to begin to create incredibly customized and personal experiences for those who have such enormous impact on our organizations and our ability to achieve our corporate goals. Increased and targeted collaboration between marketing and HR will go a long way in helping to accomplish those goals.

It’s time to recognize and leverage the critical role employees play in enhancing and delivering the brand promise.

AUTHOR:  Named one of the most influential women in the incentive industry, Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP, is an accomplished international author and speaker, past-president of the FORUM at Northwestern University, president emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association, vice-president of research for the Business Marketing Association, and vice-president of marketing for O.C. Tanner.

Reprinted from PREMIUM INCENTIVE PRODUCTS magazine

Ten Steps to Building a Learning Culture

A learning culture is an environment that celebrates and rewards learning, incents people to freely share what they know, and helps them to change based on the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. We all like to think we work in a positive learning culture, but that’s not always the case.

There’s no question that learning is likely to fail if it’s poorly designed, the content is weak, or the technology doesn’t work. But learning will absolutely fail if the culture doesn’t support it. As I mentioned in The Three Laws of eLearning Failure, when great learning comes up against a lousy learning culture, the culture wins every time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 10 key steps to building a positive learning culture in your organization:

  1. Start with leadership. Culture begins at the top. If senior leadership doesn’t support a learning culture, no one else will. If you are looking for a breakthrough, find leaders who will invest in and champion your efforts, even if the project is smaller, or less visible or significant than you would like. You need some initial success stories to help spread your message.
  2. Expand the mission. You’re going nowhere if you simply equate learning with training. Learning—individual and organizational—is much broader than courses. Don’t make the mistake of talking “learning” but doing only “training.” Think more about a learning and performance ecosystem than simply a course catalog, and then act accordingly.
  3. Get buy-in from the front line. If you want employees to learn, make sure their supervisors learn first. You can’t expect them to get behind something they don’t understand themselves. Build support for learning into their appraisals and reward managers who put learning near the top of their team’s agenda.
  4. Get the content right. Putting lots of content out there does nothing to encourage learning if the content is confusing, inauthentic, biased, low value, hard to access, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Content curation may be the most important thing you can do.
  5. Get the technology right. It’s not just about making sure the technology works, but making sure it’s the right technology for the right use. Be careful the technology doesn’t get in the way of learning, or that you are not using more tech than you need. Technology is important; learning without technology cannot scale, but technology without learning is just a “shiny object.”
  6. Ensure readiness to learn. One of the biggest factors in fostering a poor learning culture is providing learning programs to people who aren’t ready for them or who don’t need them. This can be terribly demotivating. Make sure your learners have the right prerequisites, have clear learning goals, and have adequate time and resources to learn, and are not wasting their time. Provide them with valued incentives to learn, and be sure you understand why they might be resistant to your efforts.
  7. Communicate for the long term. Launching new learning programs can sometimes be more hype than substance. Of course you need to promote your efforts, but be sure your communications strategies are long-term, valuable in the learners’ eyes (“what’s in it for me”), and truly helps them develop their own positive affinity for the learning process itself—an affinity that can be contagious if enough people buy into it.
  8. Provide for learning transfer. Making sure that what they learn in class they can apply at work is critical. And it’s just not being able to do what you’ve been taught; it’s also recognizing that what you’ve been taught is actually helpful to you in doing your job better and easier. The connection between job performance and learning is a key to building a sustainable learning culture.
  9. Demonstrate success. Better to have a small success than a big failure. Demonstration projects, pilots, and proof-of-concept work are all essential in building support for learning. As was noted in step one, culture begins at the top, but it’s also important for rank-and-file to see how the new learning programs work, and how they might benefit. Showing success is much more powerful than just talking about it
  10. Measure results and provide feedback. You want to measure how much is learned, but perhaps more important from a culture. perspective, you want to measure the value people attach to learning. And, of course, nothing speaks louder than the positive impact learning has on individual and organizational performance. So go beyond measuring course-level learning. Find out the real impact of the program on participants and the organization.

Use these 10 steps as a checklist for your organization, if you like. How well are you doing?

Learning fails when nobody really cares about it. You can always mandate learning programs, or hype them incessantly, but that is not culture change. If you truly want your learning and performance strategy to have a positive and sustainable impact—if you really want people to want to learn and the organization to want to invest in learning—you must create an atmosphere of value, support, and appreciation for what you are offering. Without it, people may just be going through the motions.


AUTHOR:  Marc J. Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a management consultant, writer, educator, and expert in the world of training, organizational learning, eLearning, knowledge management and performance improvement. He is the author of the best-selling books, E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill), and Beyond E-Learning: Approaches and Technologies to Enhance Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Performance (Wiley/Pfeiffer).

Reprinted from LEARNING SOLUTIONS magazine


How to Create a Workplace Culture of Wellness

Even the strongest health education and counseling programs will fail to achieve measurable impact if they are undermined by policies or an environment that encourage unhealthy choices. But how to create a workplace culture that supports healthy lifestyles? The answer may be a health culture audit.


The benefits of worksite wellness programs have been widely documented, including increased productivity and improved morale, along with reduced absenteeism, lower healthcare premiums and medical costs plus fewer disability claims. Wellness programs may also boost employee retention and recruitment efforts.

Unfortunately, wellness programs often ignore the contextual forces that influence health. This remains true despite social ecological models that demonstrate that the larger social system has a great bearing on individual health outcomes.

In other words, by weaving health promotion efforts into the workplace environment and company policies, employers can more effectively influence healthy behaviors. Such initiatives also have the potential to reach wider segments of the employee population and are generally less labor intensive.

Yet the responsibility for designing an effective worksite wellness initiative often falls to a benefits adviser or human resources leader. While these professionals possess distinctive strengths in several critical areas related to wellness, such as benefit design and administration, creating a health culture can be a daunting task that more comprehensive organizational support.

Why conduct an audit?

A comprehensive health culture audit can reveal answers to several key questions about an organization’s commitment to wellness. These include:

  • Do company policies support employee health?
  • Is the overall workplace environment conducive to healthy activities?
  • Are there offerings aimed at helping employees remain healthy?
  • Is the employer willing to further invest in employee well-being?

A properly executed audit can identify characteristics of a worksite that have potential to facilitate or impede healthy behaviors among workers. Health culture audits are also useful for measuring progress year-to-year and may predict employee risk profiles and associated healthcare cost trends for employers.

“Unfortunately, wellness programs often ignore the contextual forces that influence health.”

Audits should evaluate the availability of facilities like fitness centers, showers, recreation areas and bike racks, as well as the general “walkability” of the work place, all of which can influence employees’ level of physical activity. They should also review available food service options, including vending machines and cafeterias, and employees’ ability to store and prepare foods brought from home, all of which can either promote or discourage more nutritional eating habits.

In a similar vein, organizational policies, such as designating tobacco-free areas and providing incentives for achieving health-related goals, should also be assessed.

To succeed, worksite wellness initiatives must address all the ways that a workplace culture impacts health-related behaviors. Advisers and HR professionals who develop these programs would be prudent to undertake a health culture audit in order to better understand the challenges they must confront.


AUTHOR:  Victor Tringali is the founder and managing partner of Healthy Human Capital, a consulting firm dedicated to helping employers build healthier, higher performing work places.



Are You Developing Female Leaders?

When mentoring young women, Skillsoft’s Priti Shah always makes it a point to urge them to advocate for themselves.

“It’s always a quid pro quo,” said Shah, Skillsoft’s vice president of leadership product strategy and corporate development. “The moment the company gives you the opportunity to advocate for yourself, take the bull by its horns — make sure you’re making the most of the development opportunities that are being given to you.”

Shah counts herself fortunate to have worked for companies supportive of her leadership development over her career, but she isn’t naive about the broader reality: a dearth of women in positions of leadership, especially at the senior and C-suite levels.

So she said she was surprised but not-so-surprised at the results of a November survey that revealed not only a lack of women in positions of leadership but also a lack of support to facilitate their mobility to such roles.

In “The Impact of Women in the Workforce: A Skillsoft Survey Report,” while more than 90 percent of female respondents “agree” or “strongly agree” there is an imbalance of women in leadership roles in business today, and just over half of respondents said their organizations having programs targeted to developing female leaders was important, only 24 percent of participants said their organization had a strategy or program in place to that end.

Shah said part of her lack of shock at the survey results was due to the fact that public awareness of the value of women in leadership is still in its infancy. Much of the research substantiating the impact of gender-diverse leadership has only started surfacing in the last 18 to 24 months, she explained. Only now are organizations receiving more pressure to take action.

Research shows that organizations with high levels of gender diversity are more likely to exceed financial performance averages in their respective industries, and further, that organizations with better financial performance or more likely to have women in leadership positions.

“There’s so much research out there that shows if you do have more gender-balanced representation in your executive staff, on your boards, it’s not only the right thing to do, it also has a direct impact on the financials of a company,” Shah said. “The moment you start bringing facts and figures in to amplify what the moral issue is here, there is a lot of awareness.”

Strategically turning this narrative around requires a number of tactics in addition to educating both men and women about the need for leadership development in women.

Build champions: Until boardrooms make a mix of gender representation a business objective, “we’re not going to see the dial move as much as we’d like to,” Shah said. Driving organizational support of the measures necessary to nurture female leaders from within should come from the top down.

“Less talk, more action”: Once stakeholders have been made aware of the issue, that is. Shah called formal and informal mentorship and sponsorship programs for women critical to change the status quo.

“In order to break the barriers of the ‘old boys’ club,’ it’s absolutely necessary for women to know it’s OK to network. It’s OK to have champions and sponsors and mentors who are advocating for them and proposing their name for the right projects, so that they get the opportunities to showcase their hard work, their potential.’

Shah said in instances where mentees worked at organizations without a strategic focus on developing female leaders, she’s encouraged them to actively seek out mentors within their respective organizations. If the advancement of women into leadership is valuable for a company’s culture and mission, such initiatives should be normalized and encouraged.

Further, initiatives should develop women at all levels. Shah said companies that haven’t experienced the type of success they would have liked may be narrowly focused on only a select group of women.

Leverage the power of big data: Research and data have revealed a problem — a disparity in gender representation in organizational leadership. Research and data also have revealed the associated consequence, and they point to an opportunity to change directions. Shah said data analytics now available and used for a range of purposes can inform and add value to corporate decision-making when creating programs and strategies to develop female leaders, and they can measure the effect of those efforts.

“They’re able to measure and track everything, and they can feel good about the fact that as they’re making these investments, they’re getting the return on investment,” she said.

This article first appeared in Talent Management’s sister publication, Chief Learning Officer. Bravetta Hassell is a Diversity Executive associate editor.


3 Things Shaping the Future of HR

By Elyse Samuels

Ken Nowack often reminisces about his father’s story of attaining the American dream.

After surviving the Holocaust, being smuggled out of Nazi Germany and hiding in France for three years, Nowack’s father eventually made it to the United States. He was then raised in an orphanage until his adolescence before he took a job with clothing company Levi Strauss & Co. at 17 years old — an offer that, at the time, came with the expectation of a career-long commitment.

“They said, ‘We promise you you’ll have this job until you don’t want it anymore,’ so my father signed a psychological contract,” said Nowack, president, chief research officer and co-founder of human resources consultancy Envisia Learning. “He stayed with the company for 39 years, never looked for another job, never had a résumé. In those days, you would give them your soul, in a way, in return for benefits and lifelong employment.”

In Nowack’s father’s era, organization loyalty held steadfast, both from employees and employers. But now the idea of a 30-year career with a single company is uncommon.

Employees, especially younger ones, appear more turned off by the idea of staying with a single employer for more than a few years. Employers are also constantly evolving as they look for new talent and skills to add to their workforces. The result is a steady flow of job churn unrecognizable to the human resources managers of past eras.

“There’s a shift from organizational loyalty to job-task loyalty,” Nowack said. “We prioritize growth and learning and development. Jobs should be like milk cartons with expiration dates.”

The evolution of the changing employee-employer social contract is one example of the many ways experts say old HR habits, practices and processes are fading.

“Traditionally, people joined an organization and they looked to build a career — it was a traditional upward trajectory,” said Lesley Hoare, vice president of global talent development at technology firm VMware Inc. “I think the way organizations are evolving, that’s not possible anymore and people don’t want it.”

Far from the days of a one-track career with the same company, organizations are now required to expand their talent management and HR programs to provide skills training, learning and development opportunities, and growth within the company and beyond.

Here are some areas where new HR mindsets should aim to have the biggest effect, along with areas industry practitioners and observers say more change is imminent.

1. The Importance of Culture

The employer-employee social contract shift highlights a larger trend in the world of HR toward a focus on culture. As individuals ask for more growth, HR faces some growing pains of its own.

Talent management practitioners are becoming increasingly important in a company’s development and strategy. And this more prominent role introduces a new focus on company culture.

So what’s the best way to build a solid culture?

Ann Rhoades, president and founder of consultancy People Ink, helps companies create what she terms value-centric cultures. The company’s clients include Doubletree Hotel, Homewood Suites and JetBlue Airways Corp. Rhoades said value-based cultures allow for long-term pay off and higher levels of employee performance.

“You have to create the opportunities for people to observe and then to learn and practice,” Rhoades said. “They [employees] have to be given the opportunity to make mistakes.”

Envisia’s Nowack agreed, saying this type of encouragement to learning is vital and must come from the top of the organization. Without visionary leaders who are open, culture will never change. “The single most salient driver for culture at an organizational team level is really what leaders do or don’t do,” Nowack said.

Many HR practitioners and industry observers are preaching a more powerful position for HR leaders, as culture and other people-oriented initiatives continue to take center stage as drivers of growth and success.

In a July Harvard Business Review article, Dennis Carey, vice chairman at global advisory firm Korn Ferry, wrote that with the enhanced focus on talent, the top organizational HR officer is poised to join the ranks of other top C-suite leaders in guiding higher-level corporate strategy.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, HR was a personnel office. It wasn’t positioned strategically to have much impact,” Carey said. “Over time what has happened is that some really good HR leaders emerged and became direct reports to the CEO.”

Carey said he thinks chief human resources officers could find a more realistic pathway to becoming CEO in the future. CHROs are not only gaining clout in organizations but also being trained differently, with an emphasis on business acumen and strategy.

2. Nontraditional HR

John Boudreau, a professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business and Talent Management columnist, said in many ways traditional notions of HR will be upended.

“Leaders will face the challenge of fundamentally rethinking the meaning of ‘HR’ and its role in their organizations,” Boudreau said. “They must prepare themselves and their HR organizations to have HR leading change not reacting to it; to have HR educating leaders not just responding to what leaders want; and to consider that in the future world, expertise when it comes to talent and organizations may be more pivotal to success than traditional areas of expertise such as finance, operations, engineering and marketing.”

Rhoades cited examples like strict working hours, seniority models, non-competes, full-time-only positions and annual 360-degree reviews as structures and practices likely to experience the most change. Replacing them will be policies that are more flexible and efficient for managers and employees in today’s world of work.

One policy change already experiencing this sort of change is the annual performance review. Companies like Adobe Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have made headlines by ditching the once-a-year performance appraisal approach in favor of more frequent, qualitative performance conversations. Other companies have since followed.

Aubrey Daniels, founder of behavioral advisory firm Aubrey Daniels International and who is a blogger, said companies that haven’t already made a change in this area should reconsider the validity of the workforce evaluation model known as stack ranking, where managers rank employees along a curve.

He said companies should move to a more coaching-oriented environment, where managers aren’t entrenched in annual ratings paperwork but are working with their employees on a daily and weekly basis to help them change their behavior and improve their performance.

“My recommendation is you scrap the whole thing,” Daniels said. “It’s a total waste of time that serves no useful purpose. HR should do this from top to bottom. We need to ask the question, ‘How does this help the performer?’ ”

Amy Wilson, vice president of human capital management products at technology firm Workday Inc., said helping people improve in their jobs is increasingly going to come from how talent managers use the troves of employee data now at their disposal.

“There are more real ways to determine how employees are doing rather than a potentially subjective performance rating,” Wilson said. “We should be looking at the real things that happen — how many job changes have they had, how many promotions have they had, and so on. We can get this real data analysis and don’t subject our employees and managers to archaic appraisals. The new process is about the conversations employees and managers are having.”

3. Even Greater Focus on People

A common thread in the changes to come in HR is the focus on people from the organization’s top strategy-setters.

“I think talent is always a hot topic and should be” said Keagan Kerr, vice president of corporate affairs and human resources for Coeur Mining Inc. “You’ll see more HR practitioners learning more about organizational effectiveness and culture and people because that’s what makes a difference in the organization.”

Michael Beer, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said talent managers should focus on people in a way that’s meaningful and personal.

“The biggest problem in HR is the truth cannot speak to power,” Beer said. “You really want managers to have a direct conversation with their people. They need to create the mechanisms to allow conversations to be open and productive. They should be directly in touch with those issues instead of using HR as a canary in the mines to tell them something is wrong.”

Workday’s Wilson said she often sees a higher need for inclusion of all people in an organization. “What we’re seeing with our customers is this need to engage every single person within the organization,” she said.

“Businesses do not compete — people do,” Korn Ferry’s Carey said. “It’s people who drive value. It’s people who decide on strategy. It’s people who have to organize to get things done. It all relates to people. The people need to have the right attitudes, right skills, right passion. It’s the difference between winning and losing or winning and being mediocre. This is the linchpin for value and success in companies.”

Elyse Samuels is an editorial intern for Talent Management.


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