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June 2008

Maximising the Value of the Workforce

“More than ever, today’s global organisations are focusing their time and attention on maximising the value of their workforces.” 

Those are the opening words of “The IBM Global Human Capital Study 2008” which distils the findings of discussions involving “more than 400 organisations from 40 countries, across a range of sizes, industries and geographies.” 

The report identifies that “enhancing workforce performance in today’s business environment requires:
• An adaptable workforce that can rapidly respond to changes in the outside market;
• Leadership to guide individuals through change and deliver results;
• An integrated talent management model that addresses the entire employee lifecycle;
• Data and information to deliver strategic insights and measure success.”

These 4 points not only provide the basic structural framework for a report with more than 50 pages of written content, but summarise the major challenges that business leaders today are facing. While they clearly warrant a closer look, which I may give them in coming weeks, perhaps the most significant thing about them is their inherent dichotomy!

That opening sentence sums up the focus as being the need to “maximise workforce value” while the tone perhaps more accurately protrays the sense that it is a management task to “enhance workforce performance.” On the surface these may appear to one and the same thing, but they are actually very different. The former phrase implies the need to recognise the workforce as an investment, whereas the latter is seeped in traditional top-down management thinking, reinforcing traditional ‘command and control’ attitudes that workforce performance is something that management drives rather than facilitates.

What is particularly remarkable, however, is the admission of the final point that there isn’t the mechanism in place to actually measure this workforce value. This is exciting because this is precisely what the Zealise solution provides: the mechanism that actually does link the two. Thus it really does offer the answer to what IBM says and smart people know are management's most pressing problems.

Dare to care!

To build a ‘customer first’ culture the customer must come second. ‘Customer care’ is impossible without ‘people care’ first.

“Your people must come first because there is a rule of thumb in business that says, ‘Your people will only treat your customers as well as they are being treated; thus to have satisfied customers they must be served by passionate people.’” Mac Anderson: The Essence of Leadership.

I have written previously about the need to put the customer second and I won’t belabour the point again here. I just wanted to make the point that the common key is the word ‘care’ and share another powerful quote from the same source that reinforces the point. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

That statement almost certainly encapsulates customer thinking when they have had a good customer experience. But how do you as a manager get your people to care to that extent?

Well, if the logic is valid it must surely hold true in this context also. In which case the statement could be re-phrased: “They won’t care much until they know how much you care.”   

That is the essence of people management. So the crucial question then becomes, “How do your people know you care?” That, of course, is precisely the question that Zealise helps answer! As our name implies, we provide the stimulation and the means to create a culture of caring that engenders the happiness, and hence the enthusiasm and passion, to provide exceptional customer service.

Pleasure or Happiness?

That was the question posed by Philip Humbert in his newsletter this week and it certainly gave me pause.

Building on his understanding of the points made in Martin Seligman’s book, “Authentic Happiness” (which I haven’t read) he argues that pleasure is always susceptible to the law of diminishing returns and thus, because it can never sustain us, “pleasure for it’s own does not work!”

Citing one fascinating specific Dr. Humbert goes on to say: “When people are measured while watching comedies on television, even while they are laughing, their actual emotional state shows a mild level of depression! Think about that, and it's implications!”

On the other hand, however, “when we substitute 'gratification' or 'fulfilment' for pleasure, our sense of happiness actually increases, and the increase remains over the long term!”   

This must hold true in the workplace as well. After all, we become what we think, and if our personal lives are dominated by the perpetual pursuit of pleasure, it surely follows that our working lives must be too. So if we either cannot find pleasure at work, or suffer from the law of diminishing laws that the pleasure we do find in our work brings, it is hardly surprising that we become disenchanted and disengaged.

Might it even be that we have too much work-life balance, and a lack of happiness in our personal lives compounds a lack of fulfilment at work and vice-versa, creating a vicious cycle that is contributing to the dramatic increase in employee disengagement?

Of course employers cannot be expected to sort out their peoples’ personal lives, but, maybe, just maybe, they can make the workplace a more fulfilling environment and not only break the cycle and create more engaged employees, but contribute to a generally happier society.

And helping create an environment with happier, more-fulfilled people is precisely what Zealise is all about. After all, as Burton Hills said, “Happiness is not a destination. It is a method of life.” That has to include our work lives. 

More on People Management

"Talent-management processes can’t work if managers don’t think it is important to develop their people”

This, the sub-title of a 2006 McKinsey report titled “The People Problem in Talent Management” that I came across this week, reinforces nicely the point I was making last week and I could not help wishing I had found it just a week earlier. Summarising the results of a survey of business leaders around the world, it stated that “obstacles preventing talent-management programs from delivering business value are all too human.” In other words you cannot manage talent if you cannot manage people!

According to the article more than half the respondents claimed:
1. Senior leadership doesn’t align talent-management strategies with business strategies.
2. Senior managers don’t spend enough time on talent management. They “aren’t managing their time well or don’t see the point of managing people and getting the best out of them.”
3. Line managers were equally culpable with “insufficient commitment to developing talent” and “failure to deal with chronic underperformance.” 
4. Silo thinking was a contributory factor as “focusing on the interests of one part of the organisation rather than the whole not only hinders the mobility of talent within a company, but also undermines the sharing of knowledge and the development of interpersonal networks.”

These points not only reinforce the MIT case that “Talent Management is Everyone’s Job” but they go further and underscore the need for a change in the way we manage. Fundamentally all these are people issues, dealing with the way people deal with other people, and while talent-management provides a convenient focus, the problem will never be addressed without looking more closely at the whole people management side.

This is perhaps best encapsulated in the article itself, by the statement, “Habits of mind are the real barriers to talent management.”  Now, despite consultants’ partiality for devising new offerings, I very much doubt this is making a case for ‘habit management’! Habits are personal, and the only way to change habits is to focus on the people involved and change the way they think.

Treating people as an expense is one centuries-old habit that needs to be broken. An expense is by definition 'an item of expenditure' and there is more than a semantic link between the terms ‘expenditure’ and ‘expendable.’ If you regard people as an expense, they will inevitably feel expendable, and as long as such thinking clouds issues you will never be able to effectively manage talent. So, if you really want to win the war for talent you have to change “habits of mind” and remove the real barriers to talent management!

A Perfect Storm

Are you sailing blithely into it or are you steering well clear?

This week I came across an MIT Sloan Business Insight article (“How to Fill the Talent Gap”, September 14, 2007) that identified 5 factors coming together to create ‘a perfect storm’ for employees.  It claimed that one of the biggest dangers compounding the situation is the tendency to “waste time and resources attacking each of the issues individually” rather than with a unified plan to address hiring, training and rewarding their people.

Needless to say the article goes on to spell out a 5 point solution to the problem, identifying how business can do this; all of which make perfect sense. Yet… I have to question how useful it is to state that, “Talent Management is Everyone’s Job.”

Not that I have any problem with the statement – in fact it’s a sentiment I agree with totally – but I doubt it really gets to the core of the problem, because it leaves out the people. Let me explain by telling of my experience with my mortgage lender a few years ago. I was looking extend our home and I went in to the local branch to speak to the manager, naively thinking it would be everything was centralised and he would have to go through the same steps that I would. Seeing I had made the time to meet with him I decided to persevere and, sure enough, he picked up the phone and spoke to someone in Head Office, following the same rigmarole I had tried to avoid after earlier having spoken to an atomated voice!   

Afterwards, I learned that he was only empowered to make any decision to a value of £50K. Anything more had to be referred to higher authorities in Head Office. What a change form my father’s day, when the local bank manager was like a god!  This was when the light came on for me. No wonder employee engagement is such a problem and the service in banks is uniformly bad, because the people aren’t seen as talent: they are simply job-fillers paid to follow a process, with no discretion and no job satisfaction at all. 

There is no point talking about talent management when people are seen and treated as robots. What sort of customer experience can you expect from such people? Businessmen complain about lack of customer loyalty, but it is a problem they have brought on themselves. It is a vicious circle brought on by poor people management, compounding a sense that the customer isn’t really important.

It is not about talent management; its about people management. This is why I get so excited when I read articles like this, because the Zealise proposition addresses these fundamental issues. It fixes the causes rather than the symptoms and in doing so it automatically creates a unified approach that addresses the issues this article pointed out. It provides you with the solution that will enable you to sail well clear of any storm – perfect or otherwise!