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Cultural Transformation - Is it worth the journey?

Lately I have had a lot of exposure to organizations that have literally transformed their culture and because of this business grew exponentially and turnover decreased dramatically. I was thinking about the significance of this but also the gut wrenching work that cultural transformation takes and how I applaud these organizations for taking this bold step. Several of these firms were recognized at the New North Summit including Bassett Mechanical, JJ Keller and Hoffman Corporation.


I want to share a true story about a friend of mine who decided that this would be his legacy…to create a company very different than the one his parent’s ran (you know the profile – hard day’s work for an honest day’s pay). Todd is a second generation owner of an Executive Search firm. As we know, recruiting is much like working in a call center, turnover is very high. As a general rule, either people “get it” or they don’t…the intuitive part of recruiting is virtually impossible to train.


I’ll begin with the end results. His organization recently was named “Best Places to Work in Scottsdale”. Number One spot. And much like all the others who have been down this path of transformation, nothing was left to chance. This process was well thought out and planned. So what are the critical factors of successful transformation – if interested read on:


1)      Values of your organization need to be made crystal clear. And behaviors defined that align with those values. If you say you value innovation but don’t let anyone share input or new ideas, then you don’t really value innovation. If you say your door is always open but you’re never get the point.


2)     Positive reinforcement for right behaviors and swift consequences for lack of accountability. People want to know if they are meeting or exceeding the standards of excellence. And they want to feel significant and rewarded if they are extraordinary not ordinary. Public recognition of a job well done reinforces the right behaviors organization-wide.


3)     Top leadership has to buy-in and demonstrate commitment to the transformation long-term. True cultural transformation can be years in the making. Staying true to what it is you are striving for, knowing that sometimes you may falter, is critical. Admitting mistakes and redirecting efforts to get everyone back on track are critical to long-term success.


4)     The staff has to be included and excited about cultural transformation. Like herding cats, if the team doesn’t buy in, it will be impossible to make the changes necessary for true transformation. Include employees in the process and decision making around culture…peer to peer is the best way to generate buy-in and enthusiasm for what “can be”.


5)     Eat this elephant one bite at a time. Start small – a department, a team and grow from there. When people see the successes and fun others are having they will want to be a part of the change and the buy-in process is much swifter. Success begets success.


6)     Make sure everyone is having fun in the process. This is where Todd excels. From pancake breakfasts to themed rooms throughout the organization, it is hard not to catch the enthusiasm and energy around the office. A contest, sport themed days, none of it is too silly because it generates the fun and laughter we experienced as children. After all, aren’t we all just big kids at heart??


In conclusion, starting cultural transformation is a huge undertaking and it is not for the faint of heart. But from a profitability and workforce standpoint, it is one of the best cost saving – revenue generating measures you can implement. I would challenge new product innovation to people innovation any day. Give it to the people and see

where your organization will land.


Updated 12/20/12

Give an inch and they take a mile
So today I’ve had it.  I’ve moved lunch hours to accommodate kids, allowed people to run to the bank before it closes and ended our days early so everyone could enjoy an adult beverage at the local pub.  But today is the straw that broke the camel’s back.  “Sharon, can I leave work early so I can take an hour and a half to sight in my scope for hunting?  I need to do it before it gets dark.”  Seriously?  Is this the same person who just last week was talking about needing additional monies for the holidays??

I’m sure none of you run into this – you try to be kind.  You give an inch here and there and all of a sudden, it’s a mile.  And they no longer ask – now they simply inform.  And if you do lay down the law, well you shouldn’t micromanage like that.  As I write this I think to myself, you shouldn’t be writing about such a negative subject.  But if this is reality in your world, read on…

As Oprah would say, here is what we know to be true….

1) Employees readily recognize that if privileges are abused they will be withdrawn. Therefore, co-workers are going to be unwilling to tolerate the nonsense of people trying to con their way into time off on the justification other than a legitimate one. So your biggest allies in your efforts to avoid the abuse of your flexibility are those who work for you. As a result, if you do take an employee to task for attempting to take advantage of your flexibility you will likely receive the wholehearted backing of other employees.

2) You are not in business to make friends with your staff. You are in business to make a profit, and the fact is, making a profit is easier when everyone is on the same page. So that begs the question: How do you get them on the same page? By being the boss, that's how.  Sometimes you get people on the same page by coaxing them along. Sometimes it is by offering incentives. Often it is by being a person of honesty and integrity. But sometimes, it is by being the tough guy or gal.
The employee who is taking advantage of your kindness is akin to the unruly child whose parents do not know how to set limits. And it is only by setting limits that that child learns a) what is expected, and b) who is really in charge.

The same is true in this case. When you own a business, you are the leader. So lead. The employee who takes advantage likely did not start out that way. It was only over time, as they noticed that you are too easy going, that they began to take liberties. You simply must put an end to it.

And when you do, while there might be some bad feelings, you will have not only fixed this situation, but you will also have set an important precedent.

3) Whether you chose your team or not, you should relax and just trust everything will be fine. If you are a boss who constantly worries about his or her employees taking advantage, then you are sending out the vibe that you don’t trust them. Your employees can sense such a vibe and can feel demoralized by it. This will lead to resentment and will get in the way of productivity. You should always trust your employees and give each person the benefit of the doubt until something happens to disappoint. Trusting your people will not only create a healthy work environment, but will make it easier for people to do their best work.

4) Part of being the “nice” boss is treating everyone equally. The way to do this is to have structured rules or guidelines. For example, if someone meets certain requirements, he or she can be granted time off. This fair play is effective and productive. No one will feel slighted. On the other hand, if you play favorites, feelings of resentment may set in with employees who are not getting the special treatment. Such feelings of resentment may lead to certain staff becoming careless and wanting to take advantage of their work situation.

 5) Nice bosses are not weak people. If you do think one of your employees is taking advantage of your kindness, stand up for yourself. Talk to the person in question in private and express your concerns. Let them know how you are feeling and allow them to change the situation with your guidance.

 6) Oh yeah, and set the example.  If you don’t take advantage, then chances are your staff won’t either. Rather, being a great role model that goes the extra mile for your staff will make them go the extra mile for you.  I know, I don’t like this one either. 

Look, people go into business and work their way into leadership for all sorts of reasons, and a big one is that they are so passionate about something that they want to do it every day. And while being passionate about, say, sales, means that you may be a damn good salesperson, it does not mean that you will be a great boss or a savvy businessperson. But if you are going to succeed in the long run, you have to be more than just a person with a great idea; you have to be a tough cookie too when necessary. 

So guess where my employee is – sighting his gun. 

Posted: 11/26/12

Aligning Talent Strategy with Business Strategy
The senior leadership for your organization has just completed their annual strategic planning process.  Goals are established and shared with the appropriate people within the organization.  You, Mr. or Ms. HR professional have reviewed these goals and quickly realize that the skills and characteristics necessary to execute on these goals may not all be in place right now – so now what do you do??
Rather than losing sleep over this daunting task, now would be a good time to put together your talent strategy to match the business strategy.  A talent strategy is a combination of a recruitment plan, solid benchmarks for tracking top performers, leadership coaching, competitive compensation analysis for retention of high performers and culture integration systems.  It also should include procedures on how internal departments will work with each other and succession plans for senior leadership roles.  Sound easy?  It is not.  Over half of the companies today lack any kind of formal talent plan.  Most departments operate in silos – especially as it relates to performance management. 
So why the lack of a talent strategy?  Quite honestly, because this requires a serious amount of extra work!!  It is a huge undertaking and one that requires consistent follow-thru and due-diligence with a strong “influence” person (yes, that would be you Mr. or Ms. Article Reader) to push other leaders to constantly make people assets as much of a priority as customer service or new business. 
So what does a talent strategy look like?  Much like a business strategy, it contains information on business results desired and the necessary implementation for successful execution of goals.  It has definition of high potential performers as well as leadership coaching needed.  Succession planning for key roles within the organization is also included.  This is career mapping at its finest!
Ok, so honesty time.  The biggest issue we have as HR professionals is garnering buy-in from senior leadership.  To some, this is an added layer of metrics that might not prove out over time.  Human Capital can be a fickle thing – how do you predict how a person will blossom in their career over time?  Communication can also be a major pitfall.  For example, do we expose who is on the list of high potential performers?  What if someone isn’t on the list and they find out – then what happens to their passion, desire, energy etc.?  Could we be facilitating our own retention problem?  Is this really a headache we wish to place upon ourselves….
So what to do?  Our suggestion and how we help organizations with this is to work with them on a long-term strategy that involves all stakeholders. Talent metrics are set up based on business plans and backed up with solid metrics to demonstrate effectiveness over time.  Paying attention to the talent you have and the talent you hope to garner over time will pay huge dividends as we continue to evolve in this shortage of great talent.  As Oprah would say, “The one thing I know for sure” is that the companies that pay attention to their people will win the long-term war on business – because people are and will continue to be our most valuable asset.  And as we know, Oprah is always right. 
Posted: 9/11/12

Selling "Emotional Intelligence" in a Technical World
         I’ve been in Executive search almost 20 years.  While I hate admitting that more than I am proud of that fact (aging you realize), the fact does remain that for those of us who have been in this HR gig long enough, we have learned a lot and earned the right to say a thing or two about our workforce. 
         Would you not agree that this job would be easy if we didn’t have to deal with people?  Seriously, they come to us from varying backgrounds, in all shapes and sizes, with very different viewpoints.  And our job is to shift through all of that to find the “golden” one – the one who has it all.  Charisma, good team player, outstanding leader (or ability to become one), technical competencies and great communication skills.
         I recently took a foray into the world of online dating.  I now equate this very much to my daily profession.  I set off looking for the “perfect” one.  I put out the qualifications I sought and why I would be a “dream employer” (I mean mate).  As I reviewed my options, I found myself looking far too often at the intangibles – not the things I originally found important, like does he meet my income requirements,  is he at least 6’ tall, is he a professional – but instead found myself drawn to a person by what they wrote and who they were by their presentation of themselves.
         Ok, so my interview skills did land me a few nice dates.  But we’re missing my real point and that is this – it is the “Emotional Intelligence” – who they are inside and how they make others feel – that changes the whole landscape about whether the person has potential or not.
         This experience, while cut short by the realization I have no time to date, helped me to better relate to the workforce and gave me a fresh perspective to not miss the things that really make an employee successful in any workforce.  As we all know, technical skills are just a point of entry:
    1. Are they respectful of others and a good teammate?  Have they demonstrated mentorship?
    2. Can they engage in an interesting conversation when discussing what they are passionate about?  (I understand there is an introvert profile)
    3. Do they love what they do for their profession?  Can you feel passion/energy when they speak about their job or the people they have worked with?
    4. Would they add “something” to the team that has been lacking?  How would they integrate into the existing team?
    5. Is their attitude a good one?  Would they light up the room when they enter it or leave it?
    6. Are they a good kisser? (just seeing if you’re paying attention!)
         Overall, it is the whole person, not just a resume, which makes someone really perform in an organization.  While I wouldn’t recommend online dating to hone these skills, these same characteristics are what make us good at what we do.  Like I’ve told all my recruiters, our job is “to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run."

         I’m off to hone my skills….   
Posted: 8/2/12

The Signs of Insanity
I am sure you will all agree it is good to see business back again. As an Executive Search firm, we are a leading indicator of the economy, good or bad. I remember sitting in my office in October of 2009 thinking “this is not good”. We spent the remainder of 2009 and 2010 focused on the business we could find and like everyone else, tightening our belts on expenses. And all of a sudden, in November of 2011, we could feel a change. It was more fun to talk to people – their moods were light again. And business was back, not in the way we may have been accustom to back in the glory days, but people had work to do. Too much work to do.

For those in a role of hiring, I bet you are feeling what we feel. All of a sudden there just aren’t enough people to do all the work. Everyone leaned out their staff and now we have more work than bodies. But what remains the same are the overall requirements necessary to join the team. Round peg, round hole. Unemployed, forget it. High performing people, highly engaged, willing to work tremendous hours and compensation levels at new normal – and not on the high side of normal. And they want you to find them in record speed – there is work to be done!!

When I see my friends in Human Resources (normally over a glass of wine) they look exhausted. We assure them that some things are constants and for a moment we all feel better (maybe it’s the second glass of wine). But the one thing we know to be true is that no matter the economy, the company or the increase in business some realities remain the same:

1) Good technical skills are simply a point of entry. That is a resume. It is pride, hustle and desire combined with an outstanding work ethic that we all want in a great employee.

2) Integration into the organization’s culture is one of the most significant measure of success, yet one of the hardest measures to assess in an interview.

3) Onboarding is really an important part of one’s success in a new firm, yet the one thing that most leadership folks deem as not being “time savvy”. Remember, there is work to be done.

4) The truly great candidates are being snagged up at record speed. But because the economy has dumped a plethora of candidates into the marketplace, leaders believe they have time to interview almost to the point where legal adoption is the other option. If they are a rock star, time is of the essence.

5) Finding high performing people is not easy. Good HR folks make it look easy, but we all know better. It’s not an ad on CareerBuilder or Monster (do I hear time drain!), but vetting through hundreds of calls and resumes to find just the right fit. Timing more than anything is critical and it takes skill and personality to engage those whose timing may be right to get excited about the opportunity.

I just read a statistic that stated 43% of all CEO’s plan to add staff in the next six months. In Wisconsin I believe it can be higher as Manufacturing is a sector we are seeing a tremendous comeback and obviously it is one of our most significant industries. This can be a daunting thought, or energizing that each of our roles are needed and (hopefully) appreciated once again. So keep the faith, while the process is quicker and the hill seems steeper, some constants will always remain. And if all else fails, there’s always wine.

Posted 6/25/2011

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