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February 2012

The Secret Ingredient for Effective Change

They might be words I wrote myself. And if they aren’t they certainly convey a message that I have been promoting for quite a while now.

But whether I have written them or not doesn’t really matter. The message still had enough power to stop even me in my tracks! And they will surely resonate with any business leader today.

So what were they? And who wrote them?

Chef with a blank sign 000007508732XSmallThey were “The ultimate competitive advantage in today’s business environment is the ability to change.” And they were written by Edward E Lawler III and Christopher G Worley in the preface to their book, “Built to Change.” (© 2006 John Wiley & Sons – Published by Jossey-Bass)

Now there is nothing new in the statement. After all we all know that change is ubiquitous. Even governments today are facing the need to change. What is striking is the claim that the ‘ability to change’ is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Yet it is not the statement itself that is so striking, but its implications. You see we are all dealing with change on a daily basis. And it’s not just our experience; we read and hear so much about it that we have come to recognise change management as an essential competency. So of course you know that it is vital for survival.  Therefore, even if you haven’t spelled it out in so many words, you know that it has to be something that gives you a competitive advantage.

But it isn’t your change management capability that gives you that competitive advantage; it’s that ‘ability to change.’

What is the difference?  It is a small, subtle, but very significant difference. As the term implies, change management is the ability to deal with change. Change ability on the other hand is the ability to adapt to change. And that is where this book really comes into its own.

It makes the point that you traditionally build organisations to be stable. Organisational design and management theory and practice all aim to maintain control, consistency and order through best practice. As a result they are inherently change resistant. Thus change management, in the author’s words, is about “unfreezing, moving and refreezing.” This is clearly counter-productive in a world of constant change.

Yet we continue to work against ourselves. For example we increasingly recognise the importance of people and value for them for their ability to think, analyze and problem solve. Yet despite this, we continue to constrain them by imposing rigid job descriptions, rigid hours, and rigid rules and systems upon them. Thus you perpetuate the paradox: you want them to be more adaptable but create a culture that precludes this.

Clearly to create the competitive advantage to survive and thrive, you have to create a culture of change ability. And to do that, you have to have people who are totally aligned with the organisational objectives. So your challenge is to find a way to create that organisational alignment.

I cannot think of a better way to lay the foundation for change ability than by making the employees co-owners of the business. Can you? So what are you waiting for?


How HR can fill the gaps!

PASS iStock_000001252419Medium“Talent troubles – can HR fill the gaps?” That was the headline for the CIPD’s “star article” in the February edition of “In a nutshell”; their pick of the best HR thinking for their members. The piece covers the findings of the 15th Annual Global CEO Survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which – as the headline suggests – shows that there is no sign of the talent war abating.

According to the survey, the talent challenge is beginning to “have a direct impact on company revenue growth.”  Statistics that bear this out reveal that:-

  • Two fifth (40%) of IT companies have missed a market opportunity because they did not have a suitably skilled workforce.
  • One in three CEOs claim the skills shortage is helping their ability to innovate.
  • 53% of CEOs see talent shortages as a top threat to business expansion.

So what is the CIPD take on this? “The opportunity this presents for the HR profession to finally get its due seems more promising than ever.” (My emphasis.) It seems that the profession cannot stop seeing itself as hard done by. Is it possible that you earn “due”? And, if so, that perhaps this lack of “due” is an indictment of historic performance? If that is the case, then these findings damn the profession even more. Particularly when only a small minority of CEOs say their HR metrics provide enough information about their workforce for important strategic decisions.

Of course you cannot blame the CIPD for putting a positive spin on the findings. And they are right; they do present a wonderful opportunity. And you can certainly not blame them for not emphasising past shortcomings, even though this might have added a greater sense of need to take action – and even urgency. But it might have carried greater weight if they had simply said, “What a wonderful opportunity this presents to the HR profession.” The implicit victimisation does the profession no favours.

Anyway, putting that aside, the findings do present an opportunity. The information gap identified includes:-

  • Staff productivity;
  • Employees views and needs;
  • ROI on human capital;
  • Costs of employee turnover;
  • Skills gaps and how to identify where to invest in employee development.

If you think about it, none of these are new requirements. Clearly, however, they are becoming more critical. And the HR profession is under the spotlight to see if it can deliver. In fact it is possibly Last Chance Saloon for the profession, because it will never “get its due” if it fails.

Fortunately you have a solution at your disposal right now. The Zealise proposition to value your people as human assets gives you the foundation to meet all those needs and close the gap completely. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons for this claim.

  • It provides the catalyst to improve staff productivity by creating a framework for a partnership between employee and manager to optimise human asset value, which in turn will be maximised by performance. This is cemented by the unique employee ownership model it offers.
  • It simultaneously provides a framework for identifying employees needs because the need to optimise his/her asset value will impel the employee to voice their needs.
  • The inclusion of employees as human assets provides the means to consistently determine the ROI on human capital, as well as a benchmark for internal and external comparison.
  • The variation in human assets from one period to the next, combined with the above ROI capability, will provide an effective means to consistently assess the effect of employee turnover.
  • The assessment of staff productivity will simultaneously help to identify skills gaps and training needs.

It may not be a complete solution, but it is likely to be as effective as any tools you use currently. In addition, it will also provide you with a capability for conducting proper cost-benefit analysis on training, and will also create the capability to measure the ROI on training and development. 

There you have it. If you are looking to close the gaps that your CEO is finding a challenge, you have the solution you need right here. So what are you waiting for?


Employee engagement does not have to be difficult

It is hard enough to find a universal definition of employee engagement. Now new research identifies that there are 4 types of employee engagement

So where do you go from here?

4 types of engagement

Of course any research that throws new light onto the subject has to be welcome. The problem is that all this combines to make employee engagement so much more daunting. And goodness knows it can be daunting enough. You need to make the subject simpler, not more complex.

And as you are well aware you can do that by a focus on “employee” rather than “engagement.” It all boils down to the fact that employees are people. Focusing on the personal can go so very far to removing all the complexity. While people are all different, we all want basically the same thing – fulfilling work. We want work:

  • We enjoy
  • That enables us to better ourselves;
  • Where we can make a difference; and
  • In an organisation that can make a difference.

I think we all know and understand that. So for me this research does not add anything new. It simply puts these basic elements into "management speak." It possibly provides a new credibility and gravitas to the subject, but that is about all.

And yet…

I am still delighted it has been published. You see it simply reinforces what I have been saying all along. If you want your people to contribute more you have to address all 4 of these requirements. And to do that consistently you need to do only two things:-

  • Empower them to do their work better; and
  • Give them an ownership stake in the organisation.

And, as I have been saying all along, the best way possible for you to do that is to:-

  1. Recognise them as human assets – and thereby create a partnership with them to optimise their human asset value; and
  2. Introduce an employee ownership scheme that cements their contribution to the organisation. 

It really is not rocket science.


How to do the impossible

Oh, how I laughed!

I know it dates me, but one of my abiding memories from school is haircut inspections, when prefects – those privileged elite empowered to enforce the rules - checked our hair. No, not for lice! They were checking to ensure that it wasn’t too long!

So you can imagine how funny I found it when I learned a few years ago that prefects are still conducting hair inspections. Only now they are checking that hair is not too short! (Don’t ask; I have no idea how they are expected to enforce that! In my day they could insist you had a hair-cut; but what do they do now – insist that you wear hair-extensions?) Well, traditions have been maintained! But if anything ever proved the inanity of rules for rules’ sake this has to be it!

One has to laugh. Yet I remember this whenever I think of HR and the administration of work-force attendance. Ever since I can remember they have been focusing on efforts to reduce absenteeism and the lost productivity it causes. And here you cannot say the pendulum has swung, because they are still grappling with this problem. However, industry is also struggling to manage the opposite problem – presenteeism: people coming to work when they really are not well enough to do so, and thus presenting a health hazard to themselves and their fellow-workers.

Impossible 000019168636XSmallSo how do you manage two diametrically opposite actions? I know that if I were an HR Manager, I would throw my hands up in horror at being expected to do the seemingly impossible. But it is not only an HR problem; it affects all managers and leaders. So what are you doing about it?

Hopefully you are doing what most sensible people do when confronted with a challenge; looking behind the problem. Amusing though my analogy may be it highlights how easy it is to get caught up with the superficial. The fact is that it doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with something as inane as the length of hair or something far more important, you are ultimately dealing with behaviour. Consequently you need to look at what you can do to remodel behaviour, not to reinforce rules.

And shaping behaviour is about leadership. That is why I found my friend Steve Roesler’s blog “Leadership: It’s about you” so interesting. I particularly enjoyed his Peter Drucker quote, ”Look over your shoulder. If you don’t see anyone you’re not leading.” If you put that in context, if people are not behaving in the way that you want them to, it is because you haven’t convinced them of the need.

Take the absenteeism/presenteeism issue. For starters, do you really have the ability to (always) tell whether an employee’s absence is justified or not? So why get into that territory? If you have people who don’t care enough about their work to pitch up when they need to or who are so afraid of the consequences if they fail to pitch up when they know they really shouldn’t, you don’t have a rule-enforcement problem. You have an employee engagement problem.

And that being the case, what you need to do is create an environment where the individual has enough integrity to make that call for themselves and you and his colleagues have enough trust to respect their decision. That is about creating shared values and not rules. And that is the ultimate in leadership.

Of course, if you are looking for an ideal mechanism to prove your leadership and create those shared values, you don’t need to look any further than an effective, equitable employee-ownership scheme. If the employee has a stake in the business and how it performs, they will be far more likely to make the decision that is best for both them and the business, because the two are aligned.

So this might just help you do the impossible! It is only a catalyst, but it will embed the ethics you want and engender the employee engagement that will ensure you get better results, whilst also taking away so much of the pain, frustration and wasted effort you currently put into trying to manage your people. It offers a win-win for everyone.