“Angel Investing as corporate venturing within a company” guest blog on CUREconnect

Angel Investing as corporate venturing within a company concludes the 3-posts mini-series as guest blogger for CURE.

However, it’s not over!  Please check in occasionally for more innovation and intrapreneuring-related posts in the future!

CURE serves as the bioscience cluster of Connecticut, a diverse network of small and large life and healthcare sciences companies, ranging in scope from therapeutics, to healthcare technology, to medical devices. Universities, government agencies, scientists, educators, mentors, students, entrepreneurs, business experts, service providers and investors join in to begin nucleate the breadth of the network.

As participants in CURE, we educate, cultivate entrepreneurship, support the build of bioscience companies and collaborate to ensure a sustainable, high-value bioscience and healthcare community that improves our quality of life and keeps the Connecticut community strong.

“Intrapreneuring: Building an innovation eco-system with the School for Intrapreneurs” guest blog on CUREconnect

Intrapreneuring: Building an innovation eco-system with the “School for Intrapreneurs” continues the mini-series as guest blogger for CURE.

My first post “Why large organizations struggle to innovate” looked at innovation obstacles in large organizations.  This second post discusses on how to overcome these obstacles and followed by another successful approach covered in my next post in few weeks.

CURE serves as the bioscience cluster of Connecticut, a diverse network of small and large life and healthcare sciences companies, ranging in scope from therapeutics, to healthcare technology, to medical devices. Universities, government agencies, scientists, educators, mentors, students, entrepreneurs, business experts, service providers and investors join in to begin nucleate the breadth of the network.

As participants in CURE, we educate, cultivate entrepreneurship, support the build of bioscience companies and collaborate to ensure a sustainable, high-value bioscience and healthcare community that improves our quality of life and keeps the Connecticut community strong.

“Why large organizations struggle to innovate” guest blog on CURE

“Why large organizations struggle to innovate” is my first post in a mini-series as a guest blogger for CURE.  This first post looks at obstacles large organizations face to innovate, while the following posts will look at ways on how to overcome these obstacles over the next few weeks.

CURE serves as the bioscience cluster of Connecticut, a diverse network of small and large life-sciences and healthcare companies, ranging in scope from therapeutics, to healthcare technology, to medical devices. Universities, government agencies, scientists, educators, mentors, students, entrepreneurs, business experts, service providers and investors join in to begin to nucleate the breadth of the network.

As participants in CURE, we educate, cultivate entrepreneurship, support the build of bioscience companies and collaborate to ensure a sustainable, high-value bioscience and healthcare community that improves our quality of life and keeps the Connecticut community strong.

Innovation drives Diversity&Inclusion 2.0

The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management.  What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.

Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction.  As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.

Struggles of the  Front Runner

Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage.  In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.

The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement.  D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades.  For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.

This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs.  It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on.  Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.

Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?

The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’.  This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency.   It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.

Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive.  The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested.  It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups.  When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.

D&I 2.0

“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example.  Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do!  It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.

The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots.  In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization.  So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).

While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization.  It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.

D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers.  A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency.  They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition.  For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.

The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.

Challenging Transition

U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance.  With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively.  This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support.  This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.

In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed.  Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees.  This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.

How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization?  How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!

Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce.  It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes.  It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.

~~~

Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):

Join me for the SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting at Yale University on Feb 22

“Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World – Strategies, Innovation and Implementation”

Join me at 11:15am at the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association‘s new Connecticut Chapter (SAPA-CT) Milestone Celebration Meeting held at Yale University (N107 The Anlyan Center, 300 Cedar St, New Haven, CT, 06511), 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Feb 22, 2014.

SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting, "Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World - Strategies, Innovation and Implementation"
SAPA-CT, Boehringer Ingelheim, BMS, and Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) will co-sponsor this event

Women in Life-Sciences: Pharma Think Tank at UCSF on Oct. 30, 2013

UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement
UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement

Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1)

Turning back?

In times where many companies push their employees to work from home and employees request this new freedom, YAHOO’s announcement surprised putting away with it all and returning to the old 9-to-5 office hours.  (WSJ, March 5, 2013)

Senior leaders like YAHOO’s new CEO, Marissa Meyer, have doubts if remote working models work – or they struggle how to make it work effectively.

Executive paragigm: Cutting cost vs. increasing productivity

When organizations move to remote work models such as “working-from-home” or variations of it, their primary objective is either

  • Saving fix cost by reducing their office space footprint or
  • Increasing the productivity of their workforce.

They cannot have both because once hard decisions have to be made, the other side falls short – and hard decision will have to be made on the way.

If the chosen approach is to increase productivity, the implementation focuses on how to enable employees to become significantly more productive in a sustainable way, even if it incurs cost lower than the productivity gains.

Open spaces for collaboration

Sadly, however, cost cutting tends to rank top on the list for large and mature organizations, which can ultimately sacrifice productivity. Reducing office space “footprint” aims to cut cost from entertaining the real-estate and work environment including everything from utilities, to furniture, to site security, to property taxes, etc.

In practice, individual (‘closed’) offices are replaced by open office environments with the goal to have more employees working in less, shared space.  Setting up colorful open office environments with cubicle clusters or zones for different work purposes is often sold as boosters for creativity and innovation, which somewhat obscures the true motives.

These office setups typically mimic the environment and agility of entrepreneurial start-up companies.  They suggest increased collaboration by enabling those spontaneous and valuable ‘water cooler’ talks that randomly bring together a diverse mix of employees to exchange their ideas and collaborate on a spur, which then leads to new products and creative solutions.  Some offices spaces even seem inspired by “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory” (with less edible elements): nice to look at and tempting to get close but caution is advised before taking big bites…

Why not to focus on cutting cost

While architecture and interior design can very well affect creativity and collaboration, there are many reasons why this approach tends to fall short:

  • The goal of cost-cutting is to have more people sharing less space, so the open office environment works best when not all employees work there at the same time, which becomes the end-game of cutting cost.  The approach consequently requires some employees to work remotely, typically from home as ‘tele-commuters’, which effectively leads to creating virtual teams.
    Thus, not all employees are physically present at the same time to start off with, which defeats the idea of spontaneous meetings around the water-cooler or pulling teams together spontaneously as needed.
  • Size does matter:  start-ups take their energy and agility from everyone collaborating in the same space at the same time, which is the opposite scenario of large companies trying to reduce this footprint and, subsequently, ending up moving towards remote working models.
    The start-up model does not scale for large, mature companies.  This is one of the reasons why large companies often break the monolithic organization at some point to form more agile hence competitive entities.  A lesson learned perhaps from Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”
  • Since cost cutting has priority, typically, the workforce was trimmed down, so the remaining staff carries more work on less shoulders.  Not only does this leave less time for the remaining office staff to hang out next to the water-cooler for a random chat, but there is less staff to meet and hang out with in the first place.
    Little to no attention is given on how to make the remaining workforce more productive to manage the increased workload and invest accordingly, as here these ‘hard decisions’ come in and cost cutting is given priority.

Now, this does not mean there are no more water-cooler talks – they do happen and can be extremely valuable.  But they happen less frequent and with a smaller pool of people you could possible bump into randomly.  Since this “water-cooler innovation” model does not scale under the cost-saving paradigm, it effectively reduces the innovation potential resulting from random meetings overall.

What does your workplace look like, does this sound familiar at all?

Paying the price for cutting cost: Virtual Teams

Under a cost-cutting paradigm, the need for working remotely leads to the formation of more virtual teams throughout the organization.  We already find 66% of virtual teams in Global 500 Enterprises include members from at least three time zones and 48% including external business partners (Harvard Business Review study of Project Management Best Practices in Global 500 Enterprises).

When ‘cost-cutting’ has priority, the performance of virtual teams still comes second.  Faced with the increasing need to enable communication for a distributed workforce, for ‘cost-cutting’ organizations here comes the next challenge:  how to facilitate collaboration and information flow on a budget?
This is one of the hardest decisions management is confronted with.

With tight budgets in mind, the focus turns to ‘enabling technology’ and often leads to implementing a better phone or teleconferencing system.  However, cost-saving and -consequently- company-wide standards lead to compromises and mediocre features due to (what else could it be?) cost saving considerations.

What is the cost of ‘rich’ communication?

Face-to-face communication remains the ‘gold standard’ (more about the why follows in part 2 of this blog post.)
Typically, information-rich channels such as latest ‘tele-presence’ systems are disregarded for their ‘expensive’ price tag.  They allow communicating in the broadest possible (virtual) way peer-to-peer. 

If they are purchased at all, they often remain restricted for privileged use by executives; so there is an implied business case for rich communication channels.  

Unfortunately, these are far less frequently shared with their staff lower in the organizational hierarchy.  Regular employees and middle management are often enough left alone with more limiting conferencing systems and other technology to figure out how to make ‘virtual teams’ work.

Interestingly, I have never heard serious consideration given to quantify the opportunity cost, i.e. what the costs are of not implementing a tele-communication system that gets as close to face-to-face conversations as possible.  It would be interesting to find out if the actual cost to buy a more expensive system is offset by the gains for its users and businesses across the organization, don’t you think?

Though this would be coming from the less popular approach to increase productivity…

Composing effective teams

Also the mix of the team members should be considered and lots more can be said about this aspect alone, so let’s just pick a few that that tend to be less on people’s minds:

For example, generational differences translate into different work styles and preferences than can strengthen or weaken a team.  As an example: “Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

Another soft factor that remains stubbornly neglected is the team composition of introverts and extroverts complementing each other for better results.  Extroverts seem favored by hiring managers over introverts, but extroverts don’t necessarily make good team mates as recent UCLA studies show:

Introverts are often perceived anxious or neurotic, which feeds into the stigma of volatility and negativity that can drag on the team, when in fact they tend to work very hard so not to let their team mates down.

In contrast, extroverts appear to be the better team players yet in their core personality its all about being in the center of attention.  Extroverts are good at building relationships and getting themselves noticed; this self-presentation may leave a good first impression but the self-centric core proves rather disruptive in collaborative situations, so the researchers concluded.

Also little attention is given to whom needs to work together and should be closer connected or even collocated; this approach of looking at network and workflow is usually sacrificed by enforcing cost-control top-down.  Established departmental silos and cost-centers effectively become barriers for collaboration rather than by following the internal workflow and connections throughout the lower levels of the hierarchical pyramid that often remain hidden from the executive view down from the pyramid’s tip.

Why to Invest in communication and collaboration

A study on communications ROI by Towers Watson finds a 47% higher total returns to shareholders by companies that are highly effective communicators. (Capitalizing on Effective Communications, ROI Study, 2010)

Even more reason to focus on enabling collaboration and productivity – and to invest into enabling communication and relating technology accordingly.

Let’s leave the misery of why virtual teams fail here – check back soon for part 2 on How to make virtual teams work!

 

Top 10 posts for Employee Resource Groups (ERG) / Business Resource Groups (BRG)

Here are my Top 10 posts for Employee Resource Groups (ERG) / Business Resource Groups (BRG):

1.  Why do companies need business-focused ERGs?

The answer is as simple as this: Because it makes good business sense!

2.  Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.

3.  How to start building a business-focused ERG?

Let’s start with what it takes to found a successful ERG on a high level and then drill down to real-life examples and practical advice.  What you cannot go without is a strategy that creates a business need before you drum up people, which creates a buzz!

4.  Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine!  (part 3 of 3)

While many companies demand creativity and innovation from their staff few companies seem to know how to make it work. – Is your organization among those hiring new staff all the time to innovate? The hire-to-innovate practice alone is not a sustainable strategy and backfires easily.

5.  How to create innovation culture with diversity!

Strategic innovation hands-on: Who hasn’t heard of successful organizations that pride their innovation culture?  But the real question is what successful innovators do differently to sharpen their innovative edge over and over again – and how your organization can get there!

6.  “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

What every new employee resource group (ERG) requires most are people: the life-blood for ideas and activities!  But how do you reach out to employees, help them understand the value of the ERG and get them involved to engage actively?

7.  Next-generation ERG learn from U.S. Army recruitment!

What do Generation Y (GenY) oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERG) share with the military?  – More than you expect!  A constant supply of active members is the life-blood for any ERG to put plans to action and prevent established activists from burning out.  The U.S. Army faces a similar challenge every year: how to attract and recruit the youngest adult generation?  Next-generation ERGs listen up:  Let the U.S. Army work for you and learn some practical lessons!

8.  Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG

If you are planning to found an ERG or are a new ERG Leaders, you might find the attached Q&A helpful.

9.  How to attract an executive sponsor?

10.  Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

It’s a long list to describe Generation Y with a commonly unfavorable preconception. This  youngest generation at the workworkplacern after 1980, also called Millennial) is said to be: lazy, impatient, needy, entitled, taking up too much of my time, expecting work to be fun, seeking instant gratifications, hop from company to company, want promotions right away, give their opinion all the time and so on. But is it really that easy to characterize a new generation?Don’t miss my Top 10 Innovation posts and Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs!

The OrgChanger tag cloud

Job description for an Executive Sponsor

Job description for an Executive Sponsor
Executive sponsorship is an important prerequisite for the success of employee groups.  The challenge is finding a great sponsor, so what should you look for?  What would a job description for an executive sponsor look like?  ‑ Here are some practical ideas that have worked.

Why executive sponsorship is critical

Employee groups consist of volunteers with good intentions.  They work, typically, in addition to their day job and after hours driven by the desire to address a need close to their heart.  Together with colleagues, they seize opportunities to complement the organization’s objectives and goals and to improve the workplace.  In most cases, employee groups are not an integral part of the organization: they don’t show up in organizational charts and have no formal authority.

For most group members, this voluntary work is ‘on top’ of the regular job and not reflected in their professional goals or performance evaluation.  What makes a difference is having a strong ally: the executive sponsor.

From the organization’s perspective, some governance is needed to:

  • Prevent the employee group left to operate in a void or detach from the rest of the organization
  • Align the goals of the group with the needs and strategy of the company in a complementing and synergistic way
  • Ensure the group’s practices comply with company policies and other regulations.

The leaders of employee groups owe their members to:

  • Focus the group’s work to make a meaningful impact on the organization (instead of wasting resources and the member’s time on projects or activities that do not create value, are meaningless or even harmful to the organization)
  • Get funds, active support, and political backing in the organization.

Both, the organization and the employee group benefits from the connection with an executive sponsor.

 

What to look for in an executive sponsor?
What to look for in an executive sponsor?

No silver bullet

When you are looking for an executive sponsor, what are you looking for?  What are the relevant criteria?  – Executive sponsorship is a role, just like any other job, so what would a job description for an executive sponsor look like?

Bear in mind that there is no one right answer for the working relationship with an executive sponsor.  The sponsor role and level of involvement varies and depends on many factors.  It also shifts over time with the changing maturity of the group and its leadership, for example, or levels of involvement and autonomy of the group.  A new group may turn to the sponsor for help with forming, direction, and funding where a mature group may seek business insights, refined success metrics, and leadership development opportunities.

 Criteria for an Executive Sponsor

A perfect sponsor effectively leverages their personal brand, relationships, resources to enhance the visibility and credibility of the group.  Look to ‘recruit’ a well-known leader, who is well-connected within the leadership team and respected throughout the organization.  In an earlier post, we briefly touched on “How to attract an executive sponsor?

Ideally, the sponsor is a top-level executive ‑ you hit the jackpot if you can get the CEO!

Overall, the group’s expectations of the sponsor’s role usually include that the sponsor:

  • Serves as a champion of the group
  • Gives strategic direction to align with the organization’s business strategy
  • Helps to identify measurable success criteria that support business goals
  • Provides advice and counsel to guide the group’s development
  • Connects to a broad network of relationships
  • Liaises with the executive team and accepts accountability
  • Helps actively to identify and overcome obstacles and resistance within the organization
  • Supports the group through communication and visibility.

The stronger your sponsor, the stronger the group!  A strong sponsor

  • Shares valuable business knowledge
  • Demonstrates leadership, and is
  • Genuinely willing to help others.

A good sponsor encourages people to focus on how to engage others and improve communication, enhances the members’ leadership qualities and developing partnerships while helping to overcome barriers.

The sponsor you do NOT want

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also people you should avoid as executive sponsors for the group.  This category includes people who:

  • Provide lip-service over taking action
  • Use the group for selfish reasons; for example, by claiming and promoting achievements of group members as their own
  • Do not see the potential and value that the group can add to the organization and its businesses
  • Do not make enough time to work with the group
  • Are ineffective or unwilling to support and protect the group from opposing forces.

Finally, if you have the choice, avoid the temptation to have a group of executives ‘share’ responsibility and ‘champion’ the group collectively.  This tends to dilute accountability and action while increasing communication and coordination overhead.

There is much truth in the saying:  ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’

Too many cooks spoil the broth.
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’

One of us?

Often enough, sponsors are chosen or step up because they originate from the group’s affinity core, i.e. they are of the same ethnicity that ethic-focused group represents, a female for a women’s group, a gay or lesbian for an LGBT group, and so on ‑ you get the picture.  I advocate against this practice for two reasons, in particular:  First, with an ‘outsider’ you achieve more diversity and mutual learning experiences in the group as well as for the sponsor.  Secondly, the group becomes more believable as a business driver that attracts a broader membership base instead of risking to be perceived as an ‘insider club’ limited to members with a certain ‘diversity ticket’.

For the same reasons, you may also consider rotating sponsors every few years.

Quid pro quo

What you want is an involved and effective executive sponsor.  Now, this sponsor role comes with additional work, responsibility, and risks for the senior leader’s reputation and career.  Therefore, this ‘job opening’ must be compelling enough to attract a senior executive to step forward and sign up.

It is important to offer a value proposition that makes clear what is in it for the executive sponsor to make this symbiosis work.  It is quite similar as discussed in “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for the group members.

Know your sponsor

Sponsors are humans too, so here are some thoughts on how to approach them:  Get to know your sponsor first, just as you would prepare and approach to meet any other very important customer or external business partner.  Find out their goals, interests, beliefs, priorities, constraints of the political and economic environment, and personal work-style.  What exactly is the sponsor’s interest in your group?

Clarify your expectations mutually.  Once you know your sponsor and built rapport, it becomes easy to offer what is important to them and helping the sponsor to achieve their goals too.

A value proposition that addresses the (financial) bottom line is powerful and convincing.  It also enables the sponsor to communicate the benefits with the leadership team in a (business) language that everyone understands.  It takes business acumen, though, to specify and articulate the financial impact.  If this is not your strong suit, you need to find other compelling upsides or values that the group can bring to the business and that is close to a sponsor’s heart.

Do and Don’t:  How to work with the executive sponsor

Here is some practical advice on working with an executive sponsor.

On the Do side, preparation and focus are key.  Remember, this is a business meeting.  The executive’s time is valuable, so be respectful of it and do not waste it.  You want the sponsor to remain approachable and willing to meet with you in the future whenever you need to see them urgently.

  • Schedule appointments regularly (monthly, for example, if the sponsor agrees) with an agenda of topics to discuss
  • Provide background information on meeting topics ahead of time and come well prepared
  • Be on time and keep meetings on schedule
  • Present any problems with a proposed solution
  • Inform of  issues in the workplace that affect the group and propose what the sponsor can to mitigate or resolve the issues
  • Be honest with your sponsor – do not sugarcoat, blame others, or cover-up mistakes
  • Give your sponsor a heads-up also before taking more public and visible action so they will not get caught by surprise – if there is bad news, share it with the sponsor first
  • Discuss key goals and ask them for guidance, advice or assistance – allow your sponsor to help you and the group
  • Reserve your requests for sponsor appearances and events to where it counts most.  For example, as a speaker at a ‘headline’ event to draw a crowd, attract new members, and demonstrate the group’s value for the business.  Ask if the sponsor is willing to recruit other executives or respected business partners and customers as guest speakers or participants.
  • The sponsor could host a luncheon or dinner for the group’s leadership once or twice a year to meet everyone in person, discuss, and recognize achievements of the group and individual members.

As for the Don’ts, try to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Don’t come with a hidden personal agenda – it’s strictly about the group
  • Don’t bother the sponsor with petty day-to-day issues – focus on the meaningful impact on the business and the group
  • Don’t ask for general funding or support – be specific and have data and facts ready to support your case
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and advice – but also don’t come just to commiserate.

Beyond the job description

Don’t underestimate the importance of the right chemistry between the group leader(s) and the exec sponsor; it is crucial to establish and foster a trustful, constructive, and pleasant work relationship.

For an employee group, executive sponsorship is more than the group’s endorsement by senior management: a strong sponsor becomes the lifeline when times get rough.

So when you go out to ‘hire’ your executive sponsor, also hire for the right attitude.

Next-generation ERG learn from U.S. Army recruitment!

What do Generation Y (GenY) oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERG) share with the military?  – More than you expect!  A constant supply of active members is the life-blood for any ERG to put plans into action and prevent established activists from burning out.  The U.S. Army faces a similar challenge every year: how to attract and recruit the youngest adult generation?  Next-generation ERGs listen up:  Let the U.S. Army work for you and learn some practical lessons!

The U.S. Army brand

Everyone knows the U.S. Army. This American icon has been around for well over 230 years!

The ‘U.S. Army’ is more than a well-known military force. We recognize it as a brand.  Just like ‘Coca-Cola’ or ‘IBM’ portray and advertise a certain company image to sell its product, the U.S. Army needs to constantly appeal with a unique value proposition for new recruits to enlist. The ‘product’ offered if what the recruit expect to get out of it along the lines of ‘what is in it for me’ (WIIFM).

From this commercial perspective, it seems only natural that the U.S. Army hires world-class advertisement agencies to help meeting recruitment targets.  Marketing and advertisement gained importance especially since the U.S. Army turned into an all-volunteer force in 1973. This is similar to a voluntary ERG membership.

Aiming at a moving target

We distinguish four generations at the workplace today. Each comes with different motivations and characteristics.  The collective personality or zeitgeist influences each generation’s behavior and values.  These need to be considered to adapt and effectively connect with each generation in its own way to maximize their potential and productivity for the better of the organization overall.

You can easily find this spectrum of generations reflected in the historic recruitment campaigns of the U.S. Army.  The U.S. Army ‘brand’ changes over time and adapts to appeal and attract fresh recruits.

Let’s take a look at these recruiting campaigns for the four generations before we move on to extract the practical benefits for ERGs today:

1.  Veterans, Silent or Traditional Generation (born 1922 to 1945)

"I Want You"
Uncle Sam

I admit, in practice this campaign hardly affects today’s ERG anymore since most of this age group has already left the workforce by now.

Nonetheless, using the ‘propaganda’ flavor in this message proved very successful in both WWI and WWII.

‘Uncle Sam’ captures the essence of a generation of disciplined conformers with much respect for authority and an ingrained understanding that duty to the country is an obligation.

2.  Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)

The U.S. Army became an all-volunteer force in 1973, which changed the recruiting game entirely.  Not being able to rely on a general draft anymore, the U.S. Army needed a new approach to attract a steady stream of voluntary recruits.

This coincided with an upcoming new generation of the younger Baby Boomers generally characterized as full of optimism and thirst for social engagement.  To tackle the new challenge of effective marketing, the U.S. Army brought in a professional advertisement agency.

"Today's Army"
Who expects “Today’s Army” to be a fun crowd playing football?

The first ads to the “Today’s Army wants to join you” campaign (1971 to 1980) suggest membership in a nice group of people sharing many similarities.

Also, women were now encouraged to enlist. It’s all about optimism, getting together and being involved!

This was a gutsy and somewhat liberal first step to attract a volunteer force.  Though thinking ‘out-of-the-box’ it did not work out all that smoothly as indicated by changes following quickly.

"Join the People who Joined the Army"
All serious in 1973

This ad (1973 to 1976) is like a pendulum swinging back to the opposite extreme!

Tone and focus changed dramatically in this newer version of “Join the People” emphasizing the seriousness and commitment of being a soldier while also highlighting personal benefits.

The message is clear:  No more playing around here, responsibility and duty is back, no more football on the beach!

Finally, the U.S. Army settled on a more balanced campaign.

"This is the Army"
Blends people & duty

Here is an example for “This Is the Army” campaign ads.  The headlines read “In Europe You’re on Duty 24 Hours a Day, but the Rest of the Time Is Your Own” or “Back home, I wouldn’t mind doing the work I’m doing here” influenced also by a loss of military reputation after the Vietnam war.

One campaign or another, the U.S. Army missed its recruitment goal by more than 17.000 in 1979.  This announced a new generation, GenX, coming with a different background and values that required the U.S. Army to re-think and find a new approach.

3.  Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)

Birthrates cut into the recruitment pool. In addition, the smaller Generation X turns out to be tough to target.

This generation came with an inherent distrust of authority originating from geopolitical change as well as changes in western society and family structures.  Despite GenX’s dominant drive for independence and self-reliance, this generation is also looking for structure and direction in life.

6 Be all you can be ad
Personal growth

“Be All You Can Be” (1980 to 2001) emphasizes a personal challenge and an opportunity for self-development, i.e. taking charge of your fate to become a better individual.  Note that the “we” is gone,  it’s all about “me” for GenX.

The benefits offered by the U.S. Army included significant education support.  (The U.S. military remains the largest ‘education organization’ in the U.S. in terms of funding tuition, in particular.)

 

3 "Army of One" logo
Self-reliant GenX

The succeeding “Army of One” campaign (2001 to 2006) hits the true core of the independent GenX by underlining the single person in their message.

However, the campaign was also short-lived because a focus on the independent individual appeared contrary to the idea of teamwork that any military organization relies on and cannot work without.

Facing demographic decline, recruiting advertisement reached out into Spanish-speaking ‘markets’ (in a campaign known as “Yo Soy el Army”) to tap into the increasing Hispanic population.

 

Image result for image top gun free online
Top Gun (1986) movie

 

The U.S. Army made more use of TV advertisement to reach GenX, a generation brought up in front of a TV.

Perhaps the boldest recruitment stunt was the 1986 smash movie “Top Gun” – sponsored by the Pentagon in need of a major image boost. And it worked! Think about it: Tom Cruise is a self-reliant ace who has a problem with accepting authority – a poster-boy Gen-Xer. In the end, he became a valuable team player for the greater good meeting the military’s needs and got the girl.

4.  Generation Y or Millennials (born 1981 to 2001)

The ongoing “Army Strong” campaign builds on a proposition of lifelong strength through training, teamwork, shared values and personal experience.  – What a change from the previous focus on independence for GenX!

“Army Strong” also suggests contemporary leadership, personal empowerment and strength building that found on shared values.
(Read more on managing Generation Y at Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?)

Here, ‘strength’ is meant literally:  The U.S. Army overhauled the fitness training to ‘toughen up’ this generation.  Weakened by a more tranquil lifestyle (such as video-gaming),  GenY-ers often lack experience with physical confrontation that is unavoidable and crucial for effective warriors.

Army Strong
“Army Strong” since 2006

Perhaps confusing for older generations, “Army Strong” caters to GenY’s interest in making a difference not only in their lives but also for their extended communities.  Work is less central in this generation while individuality and leisure value high.

The campaign milks the social ties deliberately addressing not only recruits but also the people who love and support them, i.e. the people who influence the recruits’ decisions such as family and friends as well as the broader public.

Print ad for "Army Strong"
GenY pride and social values

Consequently, the U.S. Army presents itself more as a responsible and somewhat selfless social service in advertisements by highlighting how soldiers serve their communities and for their nation beyond executing force during a conflict.

The U.S. Army adapts its spectrum of communication channels to keep up with GenY, a generation for which technology serves as an extension of their personality and their physical selves.  Constantly online and connectedness with an appealing adventurous fun-factor, the U.S. Army is present across the entire landscape of noteworthy social media these days – it even entertains its own video game to warm up GenY.

Targets on the demographic curve

Next-generation ERGs and the U.S. Army both aim to attract a specific demographic:  The U.S. Army targets 17 to 24-year-old recruits, looking at the lower end, while ERGs typically look for the older end, i.e. young adults with professional training, perhaps a college degree and some work experience.

Thus, the U.S. Army’s target demographic starts just a few years younger than the typical employees entering the (civilian) workforce, so the U.S. Army operates a bit ahead of the age curve that becomes relevant for ERG membership recruitment.

Let the U.S. Army do your research!

Using this time difference to their advantage, next-generation ERGs, in particular, benefit from the U.S. Army doing the heavy lifting with regard to generational research.  With the U.S. Army’s advertisement contract worth more than $200 million each year (or $2,500+ per recruit) don’t fool yourself:  an ERG will never have funds anywhere close to hire a top-notch advertisement agency for attracting new members … unless you are perhaps the guys who invented Google or so…  J

From a next-generation-ERG’s perspective, here is what you can reap:

  • Target Characteristics

Using its marketing dollars, the U.S. Army identifies the characteristics of your future demographics for you – for free!  Look at how the U.S. Army is targeting today.  It gives you a clear picture of what the characteristics are of your next ERG generation tomorrow.

The U.S. Army shares its findings publicly.  This includes a sharp outline of the specific characteristics of the youngest employees that enter your workplace now or it in the near future.  So, keep an eye on the U.S. Army’s next recruiting campaign and time is on your side!

  • Trial-and-Error without getting hurt

It gets even better.  The U.S. Army provides you with field test results on whether their findings hold true in practice:  The U.S. Army’s annual recruitment figures serve as a success criterion for the recruiting campaign.  These figures are available in the public domain and found easily online within seconds.

  • The early warning signal

If the actual Army recruitment figure exceeds or falls short of the target figure (somewhere around 80.000 recruits each year), you get an idea what worked and what did not.  The latter reflects not only that the campaign lost effectiveness but may also indicate that the next generation has arrived with a changed set of values and characteristics.  – Use this as a free early‑warning system for your ERG!

Note that over the past five years the U.S. Army’s number of “accessions” (=recruits) exceeded the “mission” (=target value); note though that the “mission” bar was lowered in 2009 and 2010.

When the U.S. Army misses its recruitment target in the future, the next campaign is just around the corner.  A significant change in the core message targets the next generation.  So, here comes your next lesson and opportunity for the ERGs!

Back to the Future?

If the U.S. Army is not for you, don’t worry.  Choose any military branch of your liking – they all face the same challenge.  You don’t need to love the military to learn from it, and the lessons are valuable.

As a general yet effective approach to strategic innovation, keep an eye on industries and organizations that face similar challenges earlier than you do.  Learn from them and prepare your business and ERG for the change.

Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine! (part 3 of 3)

While many companies demand creativity and innovation from their staff few companies seem to know how to make it work. – Is your organization among those hiring new staff all the time to innovate? The hire-to-innovate practice alone is not a sustainable strategy and backfires easily.

An alternative and sustainable way to tap deep into your employees’ creative potential and turning it into solid business value is by forming an employee resource group (ERG). A well-crafted ERG serves as a powerful and strategic innovation engine for your organization!

Losing the innovative edge?
It is the large companies that seem to struggle with innovation most. When companies grow they tend to become less innovative. When this happens we see great talent turning into under-performing employees. – Why is that and is there a way out?

Stuck in mental models of the past?
Remember the heavy dinosaurs that finally got stuck in the pre-history tar pits and starved, too heavy to move themselves out of the calamity? Mental models are the tar pits that companies grow to get stuck in – unless they find a way to shed (mental) weight and think nimble again to survive.

The mental models often originate from days past when the business started and flourished with initial success. The models worked when the company grew back then but models out-date easily over time. At some point the company began to work harder to standardize its processes to ensure the output is delivered reliably and predictably and costs are driven down: the focus shifted from innovation to efficiency. Specialized and refined business functions create increasingly complex and bureaucratic processes, ‘standard operating procedures’ rule the course of action. Things don’t move fast here anymore. Improvement ideas from employee on the floor hardly make it to the top executives and starve somewhere in between, probably in the famous ‘idea box’…

> For more general insight on complexity as a leadership challenge, read this: ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?

This focus on incremental efficiency also traps R&D departments to a point where true creativity and innovation get stifled, the innovative output drops. In short, the larger a company the less it innovates. Sounds familiar?

Many companies chose the dangerous and seemingly easy way out in buying new ideas from the outside through acquisitions and hiring ‘new talent’. The danger lays in applying this practice too broadly and becoming reliant on this practice, i.e. getting trapped in a vicious and reinforcing cycle. This practice also alienates and frustrates the more seasoned employees who feel underutilized and –quite rightly so see their career opportunities dwindling. Soon enough the sour side of the hire-for-innovation practice for employees becomes transparent also to the newer employees and drives them away in frustration. This organization just found the perfect recipe to turn top talent into poor performers!

Don’t waste your human capital
Bringing in fresh brains to an organization may justify mergers, acquisitions or hiring at times – but not as a strategy for continuous innovation and without also at least trying to tap into the innovative capacity that lays dormant within the organization.

Don’t write your staff off easily by following blindly the common yet wrong assumption that an employee loses the creative spirit after a few years and that new hires would be more innovative than whom we already have working for us. Haven’t we hired the best and brightest consistently in the past? Well, then this logic doesn’t add up, right?

Ask yourself: have you lost your innovative edge? Will you personally be more innovative once you change to another employer? – I don’t think so either. The good news is that even if you don’t believe it, changes are that managers and human resource experts of your new employer do, at least the ones who follow the outdated mental model! – But then, how long can you expect to last there before you get written off? It’s like getting on a train to nowhere.

Derailing the train to nowhere
But seriously, the seasoned employees’ intimate knowledge of the organization and its people can hold enormous potential for innovation not only under financial considerations but also as a morale booster for staff. Getting personally involved more and engaging them in driving change again actively leads the way to measurable and favorable results for the organization. These employees are the people who know your business, your markets, your customers and where to find resources and short-cuts if needed to get things done! Remember the “Radar” character in M*A*S*H who creatively procured whatever his unit needed by knowing how to play ‘the system’ and navigate the cliffs of bureaucracy on unconventional routes?

So, how can you motivate and (re-)activate your employees to come forward with brilliant ideas and getting them implemented to boost the organization’s profitability? How can you spread new hope and direct the enthusiasm to practical and meaningful outcomes for the company and the individual employee alike?

Facing organizational barriers
There is no shortage of good ideas in the heads of employees. Too few of them, however, actually get picked up and implemented since organizational barriers have many dimensions the need to be overcome first. Here are some examples:

  • A vertical barrier effectively disconnects employees from the executive level which hold the (financial and other) resources to make things happen. Penetrating this barrier means to connect the people within the organization closely and effectively again. > Readers of my previous post What does take to keep innovating? (part 1) will recognize that an executive champion is needed who brings together the technical and business champions. If you feel intrapreneurial and consider becoming an executive champion, check this out: How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2)
  • The horizontal barrier separates business functions and operating units that evolved to become silos or manager’s ‘fiefdoms’ of sub-optimized local productivity often with lesser concern to the overall performance of the organization. What you are up against here is often enough beyond specialized deep expertise but also defensive egos and managerial status thinking that led to a comfortable and change-adverse local equilibrium. As an intrapreneur you bring a much needed yet disruptive element to the organization. Since you are rocking the boat you can get caught up in ‘politics’ easily. Functional managers and their staff may perceive you as throwing a wrench into their well-oiled and fine-tuned machine that could jeopardize not only their unit’s efficiency but also their personal incentives for keeping operations running smoothly. > For more insight on the tension field of management vs. leadership check out Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?
  • Another barrier relates to the perceived value that your work creates for the organization, so let’s call it the value barrier: When you start acting intrapreneurial, you may be seen as someone wasting resources, incurring additional cost or generating questionable value (if any value at all) in the eyes of executives and other managers.

Therefore it is of critical importance to clearly demonstrate the business value your work adds to the organization. Based on an unambiguous success metrics the value proposition needs to be communicated clearly and frequently especially to executive management to gain their buy-in and active support.

These and possibly more barriers are a tough challenge. Now, I assume you are not the almighty ‘Vice President of Really Cool Stuff’ (that would be my favorite future job title!) but hold a somewhat lower rank. Perhaps you got stuck in the wrong department (the one without the Really Cool Stuff).

So, where do you start to innovate and ‘rescue’ your organization from a looming train-wreck scenario?

Breaking down barriers by innovating from within using ERGs

A vehicle I tried out quite successfully over the past years was forming an employee resource group (ERG). This grassroots approach has the power to crash right through the vertical, horizontal and value barriers while driving change effectively and sustainably through the organization as a strategic innovation engine.

> A previous post discusses the business model behind the ERG approach in more detail: Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

Here are the first steps on the way to founding an ERG:

  • Identify a business need and build a business case, i.e. a clear value proposition aimed at executive management convincing them of the need and benefits of forming an ERG within the limits of company policies. Attracting an influential executive sponsor to gain buy-in is a key requirement for instituting an ERG successfully. The sponsor serves as a political and resourceful ally, an experienced advisor and advocate but also ensures strategic alignment of the ERG’s activities with the broader goals of the company.Since executives value their time more than yours, keep it short and to the point. Think executive summary style and offer details separately for those who chose to dig deeper and to demonstrate that you thought this whole thing through. If your organization already has a distinguished officer or departments with a vested interest in employee engagement for example then connect, collaborate and leverage your joint forces. > More on how to build a case study for an ERG at: Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG
  • Get organized! Seek voluntary members and reach out to future constituency of the ERG. Active members are needed as the driving force and source of ideas that the ERG turns into business projects aimed to innovate and energize the organization.
    The first ERG I founded was “NxGen”, which stands for the “Next Generation at the Workplace”. The NxGen ERG has a generational orientation but is open to all employees regardless of their age or workplace generation. Nonetheless, from the start mostly the youngest employees (Generation Y) drove NxGen. In many cases they did not know of each other as the GenY-ers were spread thin across the various business functions of the company.The GenY-ers, in particular, found a forum in the NxGen ERG to get to know each other in the first place. We then focused on goals based on shared values or needs to build a strong support network within the company. At all times we kept the ERG open and inclusive to interested employees join from other workplace generations.

    The ERG offers its members a safe environment to discuss issues and ideas. It also serves as an informal forum to find coaches and mentors for personal development or specific projects and initiatives. Active ERG membership allows less experienced employees to quickly acquire new skills and test them in real-life by running a project hands-on even in areas outside of their job description or business function to address needs close to their heart with tangible business value. Here, the ERG serves as a very practical leadership development pipeline and safe ground for experimentation within the organization.

    > More on the virtues of Generation Y as I experience it in NxGen under: Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

  • Get active by launching business-focused projects. Again, you are targeting management and executives in particular to build credibility and thereby become more effective over time.Start with feasible projects of high visibility and short duration that address a significant business need with a clear and quantifiable success metrics. For each project seek executive sponsorship at the highest level you can attain from the business area that the project affects. Make sure to communicate your successes broadly and frequently to kick-start the ERG. Stick to a clear, specific and unambiguous metrics for your success; if you can tie it to a monetary ROI the better, as this is the language of business. > More on establishing a success metric under: Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

    Showcasing and celebrating your successes as an ERG motivates the already active members, keeps attracting new members and builds credibility among executives to keep the ERG wheels turning as a strategic innovation engine for your organization.

On a personal note
The example of the NxGen ERG is very real. NxGen was nationally recognized as best-practices ERG within 5 months (!) of its founding and became a valued and frequent sounding board for C-level executives within one year. The ERG has no funds of its own yet runs projects and initiatives nationally and internationally that already shifted the company culture and opened it more for change.

References and additional reading

Difference affords opportunity – social media leverage by an ERG

Yammer.com is a micro-blogging platform which allowed our NxGen ERG to reach out to employees and engage them in a new way for our company.

Here is what we did and how it worked for us. – Note that my good friend and co-founder of our NxGen ERG, Dr. David Thompson, wrote this article when he was invited to guest blog on Yammer.com directly!

Difference affords opportunity – how an ERG uses social media to each out to employees (by Dr. David Thompson)

Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

The proposed business model for ERGs forms a foundation for continued innovation, strategic alignment and measurable results. It turns an ERG into a true and sustainable business resource for its members as well as the hosting organization.

Summary – The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.

Limited to social?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) emerge for various reasons. They tend to start with a social underpinning that naturally unites and organizes like-minded employees. ERGs come in different flavors mostly along the traditional lines of diversity characteristics such as ethnicity, skin color, age, gender, physical (dis)ability, sexual orientation, military veterans, etc.

For ERGs, a ‘social stickiness’ is important and can be the key integrating factor of employee populations within organizations. It may also influence the choices of ERG goals and activities to a large extent. This may result, however, in possibly limiting the ERG and its members to be seen as a ‘social club’ of sorts by others. Management, in particular, may not see the direct (or even indirect) positive business impact that an ERG can have.

This is where ERGs can fall short: when they fail to tie a strong business-focused bond that ensures continued support by leadership that in return ensures the ERG can sustain and proper for the better of its members as well as the hosting organization.

Becoming a business resource

From a management perspective, ERGs can provide social ties within the workforce that are mostly seen as favorable ‑ at least as long as it does not affect the employee performance; whether perceived or real.

Better off is the ERG that demonstrates an unambiguous contribution to the bottom line. A clear business value proposition sets a solid foundation that makes it easy to communicate with and convince executives securing their continued support. The company benefits from positive business outcomes as a direct result of the ERG activities, while it engages employees broader and deeper. This uses more of the employees’ true potential to ‘maximize the human capital’ as an important element also of employee engagement, development and retention.

This approach serves not only the company but has advantages also for its employees and the ERG in return. The ERG members benefit directly in many ways such as by interesting work outside the immediate scope of their job, by developing new skills and by increasing their visibility within the organization and continued ‘employability’, i.e. their personal market value as an employee.

So what is the key to success, how do you ‘build’ an innovation-driven and business-focused ERG?

A ‘business model’ for ERGs

My proposal is to establish the ERG as a self-propelling and sustainable system, an ongoing process that continues functioning quite independently from changes in the ERG leadership and consistently delivers innovations. Individual leaders are important for operations and make valuable contributions, but the ERG must be able to continue functioning even if key players become unavailable and replaced.

The following dimensions are generic and apply to any organization. Here, we use them to describe a general business model for the ERG:

1.       Strategy

2.       People

3.       Processes

4.       Organization

5.       Metrics/Rewards.

Dimensions of a business model
The five dimensions of an ERG business model

To illustrate the model and making it more tangible I use a generic example. It is based on NxGen (for Next Generation at the Workplace), a generational-oriented and business-focused ERG that I founded. NxGen was recognized in early 2010 as a best-practices approach by the National Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC).

1. Strategy

The strategy brings to the point the ERG’s goal and objectives. A well-thought-out value proposition is a foundation for the ERG.

For example, NxGen is a forum to develop leadership skills, networking and problem-solving that aims to open up cross-functional/cross-disciplinary opportunities for its active members through strategic business projects with measurable results. As a goal, NxGen aims to become a sounding board for management as a valued business resource.

2. People practices

People, active volunteers, are the life-blood of every ERG. Staffing and selection are crucial and continued activities to induce fresh ideas and prevent burn-out of established ERG members. What you are looking for are active volunteers who are passionate and energetic. You want members who become active change agents, role models, within the organization. Value a diverse set of backgrounds and capabilities that can complement another.

Rather than trying to recruit new members, focus on how to attract new members to engage and actively participate (in contrast to the ones signing up to receive email updates or a periodic newsletter, which is a passive form of membership). NxGen membership is open to all employees.

There is a broad range of benefits for active ERG members that can include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Insight and work in other business functions and departments
  • Members lead a relevant project possibly in another business function
  • Experiment and learn in a safe and nurturing environment
  • Develop and apply skills like leadership, consulting, problem-solving
  • Build an open and supportive network with members coaching each other
  • Increased visibility within the organization
  • Potential to open new career opportunities
  • Making a measurable change in the organization here and now.

At NxGen, we see that younger employees (primarily Generation Y also called Millennial, born after 1980) tend to drive the ERG activities most. The explanations I offer is that GenY’ers, in particular, enter the workplace as well-educated professionals, optimistic and motivated to make a difference. GenY was brought up to believe they can achieve anything and are interested to explore lateral career moves. They are used to collaborating in teams to overcome obstacles and network while leveraging technology effectively to this end. At the workplace, GenY typically is not (yet) part of the decision-making bodies due to their junior positions ‑ but they do want to be heard (and should be listed to given their increasing numbers in the demographic shift of the population that has reached the workforce).

3. Processes

The ERG acts through business-relevant projects. At NxGen, the member ‘grass-roots’ identify otherwise un-addressed or under-served business needs that the ERG chooses to pursue. Based on a clear value proposition (return-on-investment, ROI) for the organization the ERG seeks executive sponsorship for each project. The executive sponsor ensures strategic alignment with the organization’s goal, expertise in the functional area, political support and funding for the project (since the ERG has no funds of its own).

The project scope often lays outside of the immediate job description of the ERG-appointed project leader allowing for broader hands-on learning opportunities. Applying professional project management methods to all projects ensures the projects deliver the specified deliverables.

The ERG core team steers and administrates the ERG project portfolio which is documented in an annual business plan and shared publicly. As resources are limited, not all imaginable projects can be conducted at once but are staged. Projects can build upon and leverage each other while making use of synergies whenever possible.

In the beginning, it might be challenging to find meaningful projects that make the best use of the ERG’s resources and capabilities with favorable business impact. It takes time and persistence to develop a trustful relationship with executive management and to gain credibility as an ERG to attracts more complex and important projects from management in return.
NxGen works and communicates openly, it acts transparently and leverages (social) media to inform and connect with its members and non-members displaying operations and result of the ERG’s work.

4. Organization

The NxGen ERG operates within a general framework set by a company’s office to ensure all ERGs abide the company policies. This office also provides an organizational home for ERGs within the company. It generally coordinates and supports the different activities across ERGs and ensures each ERG has a distinguished executive sponsor to connect the ERG with senior management.

A charter defines the basic roles and processes of the NxGen ERG in more detail and is posted publicly. A core team of active members guides the ERG activities and ensures ERG operability. The core team is lead by the ERG’s elected chair and co-chair(s); it further comprises the project leaders, distinguished role-holders, and liaisons to key functions in the organization. The core team members support and advise each other. The ERG provides a safe and social environment that relies on trust among the members to connect, to build relationships, to network and to run projects.

NxGen actively reaches out to other ERGs, innovative groups within the organization but also other operating units and companies to cooperate, share, benchmark and collaborate on common goals.

5. Metrics and rewards system

How do you measure success, i.e. the effectiveness of an ERG? An annual business plan covers the portfolio of ERG projects. It serves as an instrument to measure the ERG performance across all ERG activities that the ERG chair is held accountable for.

What are the rewards for active ERG members? Besides the benefits listed in the above section ‘People’, accountability and success for individual members derive from their projects or their input to other ERG activities that all have clear objectives and a success metrics attached. Driving the change and making a difference is a reward in itself.

NxGen and individual members received several awards and recognition for their work inside and outside the company which the ERG celebrates in public. Some members list their ERG involvement and experience proudly on their résumé which is an indicator that the ERG’s value proposition is effective for its members, i.e. the members value the ERG membership, projects, recognition and awards as means of their ‘employability’.

Building the ERG as an innovation incubator

The business model positions the ERG clearly as a powerful business resource for the organization but it can be even more. The ERG can serve as an ‘innovation incubator’ by combining an attractive system with creative space in an effective governance framework. The processes create measurable value for the individual and the organization that can significantly contribute to process innovation and also drives product innovation.

In an empowering bottom-up movement, the ERG directly connects its active members from any level of hierarchy with the decision-makers high up. This bears the potential to cut right through established or perceived boundaries such as hierarchy, bureaucracy, and red-tape or functional silos that may severely limit the effectiveness and innovative effectiveness of other units that were created top-down within the organization.

Herein lays the deeper potential of ERGs as a true business resource and going beyond possible self-inflicted limitation to social affinity. ERGs can well be the means that contribute to driving the future success of an organization for an organization that understands and value how ERGs open opportunities to tap into its workforce and unleashes hidden potential.

Additional reading

Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

GenY for managers: look beyond the labels! Understand the drivers and grasp opportunities that Generation Y brings to your workplace!

It’s a long list to describe Generation Y with a commonly unfavorable preconception. This  youngest generation at the work place (born after 1980, also called Millennials) is said to be: lazy, impatient, needy, entitled, taking up too much of my time, expecting work to be fun, seeking instant gratifications, hop from company to company, want promotions right away, give their opinion all the time and so on. But is it really that easy to characterize a new generation?

Generational clash has changed
Clashes between generations were always present to some degree: Young people want to prove themselves, probe the boundaries and seek opportunity. The older are in power, hold the wealth, make the decisions and are typically reluctant to change and letting go of their well-established and comfortable status quo.

However, something significant has changed: Where in the past three generations used to live at the same time, we now see that four generations are working together simultaneously.  A conflict that used to predominate the homes is now also present in the workplace (as a result of several factors that include demographic change, geo-economical impact, longer life expectancy and increasing retirement age).

While in our personal lives we may be able to avoid or by-pass some areas of generational friction these same ways may not be possible in the workplace. Here you have to get along and collaborate with your co-workers. This is challenging not only for the multi-generational workforce but also for the managers facing the new need to mitigate generational conflicts, integrate the staff, and provide a constructive and collaborative work environment.

Why managers struggle with the mysterious Generation Y
For managers it is important to take a close look at GenY, since GenY outnumbers the significantly smaller GenX (born 1965 to 1980) and is the largest workforce generation. The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) retire from the regular workforce leaving a gap. Nonetheless, given the typical career progression, higher management positions are still firmly held by Baby Boomers or their preceding Pre-Boomer generation (born before 1946) – the generations farthest apart from GenY.

Ignoring the differences between generations or addressing them in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ manner backfires. It also misses to leverage particular traits of the young generation that become critical for an organization to sustain in the face of change coming at ever faster pace and with increasing complexity (see my earlier blog: ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?).

It is Generation Y that people seem to have the hardest time wrapping their heads around. Simply pigeon-holing GenY does not do them justice and doesn’t help understanding and managing them either.

‘Kids’ entering the workplace?
It is even a common misconception that GenY have not yet arrived at the workplace and that they are ‘kids’ just coming out of school or college. If you consider the demographics, however, the early GenY’ers are 30 years old now, so they are hardly ‘kids’ anymore. They come well educated and already gained some experience at the workplace for several years now. They are not ‘out there’ anymore but ‘in here’ now!

Instant gratification and fast promotions?
It is true that GenY seeks fun (who doesn’t?) and grew up with high-end video games in which the players typically rack up points in fast progression opening up new levels or challenges to continue the game. But that’s only one side of the coin. It also forms a mindset to figure things out, address challenges with optimism in a playful way, master technology, compete in ever-changing surrounding as well as hooking up with a network of friends to play and succeed together – don’t be fooled, these are the critical basic skills in the world we live and do business in!

Entitled?
Look at GenY’s parents that determined the up-bringing: The generation of Baby Boomer parents indulged in perks and benefits like only few before them; the succeeding GenX only saw these goodies going away when they started entering the workforce. Fortunes were racked up or inherited by Baby Boomers.

GenY kids often grew up in a world of abundance; nothing was too good for them or out of reach – and sponsored freely by the parents with enough cash in their pockets to offer their kids any imaginable aspect of a ‘better life’.

Instead of flipping burgers during summer holidays to earn their own money, many GenY kids had spare time on their hand to learn and have fun while ‘helicopter parents’ took (and continue to) care for their well-being and even professional advancement as adults. Who would say ‘No’ if you are young and your parents offered to pay for your car, your shopping dreams or set you up for a prosperous and promising career?

This way many Baby Boomer parents did their part to breed a generational culture of entitlement or at least high expectations while reinforcing the message “You can do anything and succeed!” – It does not seem fair to hold this upbringing against their kids.
(Instead, it provokes the questions why Baby Boomers, in particular, seem to have such a hard time letting go to let their kids live their own lives without excessive parental hand-holding? – But that is a topic for another time…)

GenY is prepared, assertive and speaks up. They know what they want and how to get it. Don’t underestimate them as customers either, since GenY is a serious economic power and probably even more so than any previous young generation in history!

Lazy, impatient and needy?
Let me share with you my first-hand experience with GenY at the workplace. I gain my insight as the founder and chair of a generation-oriented employee resource group (ERG) which gives me ample opportunities to work closely with GenY’ers on various projects. It made me probe my own biases and assumptions based on practical work experience (which, by the way, I don’t always see reflected in articles written about GenY).

What I learned is quite different from most preconceptions: The GenY’ers work hard and with ambition, they are not a bit lazy.

When we coin GenY ‘needy’ or ‘taking up too much of my time’ we are actually ignoring that they want to contribute to a meaningful cause in the most effective way. What they are asking is to understand the ‘why’ before going to work. This questions and challenges the status quo in a constructive manner – which is good! If we cannot answer their question satisfactory or insist that we already know the best way ‘how-to’ then it is us (the non-GenY’ers) standing in the way of innovation and change. As a general truth it is not their questions that can be compromising but rather our answers.

Some tasks require not only book-smarts but also experience (including managing people) that many GenY’ers cannot have made at this time in their careers. Therefore, they can be over-confident and over-estimate their abilities and effectiveness; support them and offer them learning experiences as a reality-check and growth opportunity.

Empower GenY to put their specific inherent qualities to best use given that they tend to be natural networkers and solvers of complex problems, they user modern technology effectively and approach different ethnicities and cultures with an embracing ‘color-blindness’. – Are these not exactly the qualities that we need in the world we live and work in today and tomorrow?

If you plan to start an ERG that addresses generational differences, you can find great research for free:  Next-generation ERG learn from U.S. Army recruitment!

Engagement and empowerment drives loyalty
A short while back I wrote in this forum about How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm? It comes down to approaching the workforce differently by offering flexible career paths, support staff to remain employable and accommodate benefits to their needs instead of hiding behind archaic one-size-fits-all models.

As managers we need to consider GenY’s particular needs and expectations to attract, engage and retain them. We need to leverage their unique talents and skills for the better of the company while helping them to development and grow. Empowerment includes guidance and creating opportunities for GenY to make mistakes, learn and get active ‘their way’ in areas that wakes their interest and that are meaningful to them as well as to your organization. – Then relax, sit back and see beautiful surprises unfold!

Leverage employee resource groups (ERG) as an opportunity
Some managers may ask on how to get started, what could be a first step to engage and leverage GenY? One way of doing it is by founding an inclusive ERG to focus and organize your emerging workforce.

As an example, I founded the Next Generation at the Workplace (coined ‘NxGen’) ERG that has already changed the company’s perception of employee engagement, increased ERG credibility and raised the business value seen in ERGs among managers. Our NxGen approach is to address opportunities in business-relevant projects with measurable results for the business (such as return-of-investment, ROI). Our projects often focus on relevant topics are outside our immediate field of work but are always sponsored by an executive to ensure governance and strategic alignment. These projects provide an excellent and safe training ground for up-and-coming leaders. NxGen supports the organization directly through the project’s immediate deliverables as well as indirectly by establishing a free and hands-on management development program that comes with networking, coaching, and skill development already built-in. Everyone wins!

No matter if you have a dedicated ERG or not, don’t discount GenY based on labels. Dig deeper to find the treasures that this generation has to offer. Your organization’s future relies on them!

* * *

Additional information
NxGen was nationally recognized as a ‘cutting-edge’ approach to employee resource groups by the Network and Affinity Leadership Congress 2010 (NALC), a national conference focused on training ERG leaders to align with the business goals of their organizations.

Please leave a comment and, if you are interested in ERG topics, feel free to join our ERG Leaders group on LinkedIn.com to discuss, share and learn!

How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?

The paradigm of work has changed – how does it affect employees and what can be done to retain them?

How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?

Most of us grew up with a clear understanding of how ‘work’ and ‘careers’ works: As an employee you could generally rely on job security and a pension guarantee for your loyalty and obedience to the employer. Practically, the organization ‘owned’ a human asset in a voluntary symbiosis that would end with retirement.
– This paradigm changed fundamentally and even more so in our turbulent and globalized economy. Since my current work focuses on employee retention and engagement, let’s see what has changed and how it affects employee retention.

The ‘old deal’ is gone!
When it comes to employment today, employees understand that they stand alone (though this awakening may have come only recently to the more established generations). Organizations now hire people for their specific skills only as long as they need them and then move on to hire someone else for the next task.

This may well be the reason talent acquisition is often valued higher than talent retention. However, this approach also comes with losses through attrition and may not make best use of the added value that an individual can give the organization over time with through learning, personal growth, developing networks and gaining experience.

One way or another, the old paradigm no longer holds true. And the GenY streaming into the working world have not even experienced it to start with, so don’t expect them to respect and live the outdated rules!

One-dimensional career paths are out!
Under the old paradigm career paths were fixed and oriented ‘upward’ following a pre-defined and linear course of advancement in the position line-up. Deviations from the laid-out career model were rare exceptions.
More likely, an employee had to leave the organization to break out of the scheme when seeking growth in a new or different dimension of interest, to apply newly acquired or dormant skills or to make ends meet along their personal needs. There was not much room to move sideways out of the fixed career track slot into a career up through a choice of other avenues.

While the fixed model made it easy for HR and management, it neglected the potential of the individual employee who can evolve and grow, who may change interests and who may seek new challenges outside their immediate or next-up job description.

Retention is more than offering money!
Employers who wish to retain their precious talent need to offer more than a paycheck and blanket perks ‑ but this does not mean necessarily that they have to spend more money. A competitive salary is expected, of course, but not the #1 driver. Key drivers for the new workforce are career opportunities and customized benefits – money follows.

What today’s workforce is looking for are choices: flexible career paths that broaden the options and offer development opportunities instead of narrowing them down. They want to take control and influence where they are heading in a multi-dimensional space of opportunities and receive recognition for their achievements – empower them! Set clear goals and allow employees to experiment and learn on the way – don’t micro-manage them!

It becomes crucial for every employee to be ‘employable’ meaning to stay attractive for the current employer as well as the next employer under the new paradigm.

When it comes to benefits the time is over for one-size-fits-all perks! Consider non-monetary benefits that cater to the individual’s needs, preferences and independence: Non-monetary benefits may range from education opportunities over a free trip with family or friends as an incentive to flexibility along the work schedule and venue including remote working options.

This flexibility and consideration of an individual’s lifestyle is becoming even more important with GenY, who entertain closer social ties to families and friends than GenX. Networking and leveraging personal connections come naturally to GenY and extend seamlessly also in their professional world.

Shared values and inclusion
Employees increasingly chose employers by the values they share and reflect what they believe in.

Does your employer talk-the-talk or also walk-the-walk? Management tends to rely on communication channels to communicate to their employees that derived from marketing. These channels were originally developed to promote products to consumers through messages broadcasted one-way in a propaganda-like fashion. This practice was extended using new social media but still following the traditions of the old paradigm and without making use of the potential associated with the ‘social’ aspect, which is the power-engine behind the new media boom.

Give it a reality-check! – If your company has a Twitter account, for example, does your company account have only followers but follows nobody else? Here we are back to broadcasting!
If your company follows others, does it genuinely connect and communicate with its employees as well as with people outside the company? Does it engages in open discussions and learns from it?
How many managers and companies truly use social media tools to their full breadth as a two-way street of communication?

Transparency for talent retention
Retention does not have to be ‘rocket science’ even when the work paradigm changed.
What it takes is a degree of honesty and respect from an organization to treat employees fair and help them to stay ‘employable’. Authentic and open communication goes both ways and forms the basis for building trust, employee inclusion and engagement that result in employee satisfaction, innovative creativity and retention.

There is no need to fear transparency and open communication for an organization; failing to do so though is harmful to the organization’s reputation with word spreading fast and employees avoiding workplaces that do not live up to high standards and authenticity.

Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

The most compelling metrics focuses on the business impact of an ERG rather than on ‘measuring the ERG’. Here are the rationale and a generic approach to deriving meaningful and business-relevant metrics for ERG projects.

Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

So you have started your ERG and done your homework on what the business strategy of your organization is. You also found areas of need in your organization that you want to address with some serious projects. – But where to start building a project metrics? What is important, what makes sense and is meaningful?

Establishing metrics can be stressful and confusing. What metrics persuade your stakeholders? Less is often more, so focus on just a few parameters that are to the point rather than drowning in a myriad of complicated and detailed measurements that will quickly suck your precious time and bore your audience to death.

In general, your project metrics can reflect the ERG or focus on the business results that the ERG achieves – I opt for emphasizing the latter.

ERG focused metrics

Let’s look at the ERG focused metrics first. It seems the traditional approach for most ERGs that may have evolved from affinity and network groups: The basic idea in establishing this kind of metrics is to help justify the ERG by demonstrating its growth and maturity over time. The typical metrics are, for example, the number of active and passive members, the participants in meetings, how many new faces (=potential recruits) show up and how many of them signed up as members, etc. These figures are helpful to explain that there is an interest in the ERG, what happened to funds (often spent on catering) or if the organization met demographic goals of diversity, for example.

However, if you measure along these lines alone you may miss out on leveraging your ERG to get recognized and valued as a credible business resource to the organization.

Business-focused Metrics

Question for you: which message does an executive find more compelling? “The ERG has 300 members and meets monthly for two hours.” or “The ERG contributed to $260 million in sales last year.”

Now, this kind of metrics takes a different approach, doesn’t it? It aims at driving business results, the famous return-on-investment (ROI), the ‘bottom-line’. It easily grasps a stakeholder’s attention because it demonstrates a significant and direct value proposition for the company.

By the way, the above example is real! According to DiversityInc.com, Ford Motor Co. directly linked the sales of $260m in one year to an initiative of its InterFaith ERG!
– Look it up yourself if you like: http://www.diversityinc.com/cgi-bin/cms/article.cgi?mode=printable&id=284

Not all goals are high rolling and they also depend on the business you are in. The spectrum of possible success metrics is broad and ranges from obvious business goals such as increasing revenue, profit, market share, quality, speed and customer satisfaction to –perhaps‑ less obvious ones such as increasing employee satisfaction, intellectual property created, employee acquisition and retention or reducing turnover, waste or business risks, just to give some examples.

How to get started

For many ERG leaders, the most difficult question is how to establish a metrics when the targets appear fuzzy and are not as easy to grasp as a sales figure that was either met or not.

To find your bearings, try this: Relax. Breathe deeply. Then take a step back and use your imagination… Envision a picture of what the results look like when the project completed successfully. What do you see when you have reached the goal, what are the visible and tangible results, what has changed?

Now describe this envisioned picture in words in a demonstrative way using clear and unambiguous terms such as “By September 1st I want to be able to touch X and use to do Y with Z!”

This provides you with a great starting point to refine more specific requirements and also leads quite naturally to meaningful metrics in a simple but effective way such as the tangible deliverable (X), the target time until completion, some required feature (Y) and some input (Z) requirements in the example.

“What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

ERGs rely on active membership to succeed while the ERG in return can also provide the symbiotic grounds for personal and professional development and careers of its members.

“What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

What every new employee resource group (ERG) requires most are people: the life-blood for ideas and activities!  But how do you reach out to employees, help them understand the value of the ERG and get them involved to engage actively?

Communicating the benefits they have from joining and becoming an active member. Give them solid answers to their question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM).

From my experience, there are people in every organization that actively seek an opportunity to challenge and prove themselves, who want to develop new or apply acquired skills, make a significant difference even outside their immediate job requirements, impact the business results, going the ‘extra-mile’ and being recognized for it.

Take a look at the volunteers, the activists, the silent experts, the social connectors around you that show positive ‘organizational citizenship behavior’ within your organization. What are they interested in, what troubles them, what makes them ‘tick’? What opportunities does your ERG provide for them?

Now, ERGs may offer different benefits to its members. In general, fulfilling motivators can include:

  • Exposure to other business areas and insight to departments outside their day-job
  • Doing meaningful, interesting and business-relevant work
  • Solving a problem that many people share
  • Making a difference – directly, here and now
  • Personal growth and professional experience and development opportunities
  • Developing skills such as presentation, organization, negotiation, etc.
  • Meeting like-minded people to connect and network with
  • Visibility to management, leaders, and decision-makers within the company and possibly also outside the company
  • Receiving appreciation and recognition for achievements
  • Aiming for new career opportunities.

Find the driver and aim to form a symbiosis between member and ERG to the better of the organization, the individual member and the ERG.

A business focused ERG may even serve as a real-life ‘leadership development pipeline’ for the company where more experienced members support and coach the less experienced ones to reach a shared goal. This way an ambitious ERG member can gain hands-on experience in relevant business projects, lead increasingly larger projects and take on more responsibility over time while establishing a credible and professional track-record for themselves.

Now, those are achievements an employee can proudly point out in their next job interview, while the company and the ERG benefits from unleashing the employees full potential!

How to approach ‘metrics’?

There is confusion around why, what and how to measure. Resistance to measuring also seem to originate from a too narrow interpretation of the term ‘measuring’, a fuzzy approach and a lack of creativity on how to measure what. Douglas W. Hubbard offers guidance by asking powerful questions.

How to approach ‘metrics’?

There is much truth in the saying that comes in many variations: “What gets measured gets managed”, “Everything that can be measured can also be managed” or even “What isn’t measured can’t be managed”. ‑ If you don’t measure progress or success, how would you know you reached the goal?

Now, there is much confusion around why, what and how to measure as well as resistance to measuring that seem to originate from a

  • too narrow interpretation of the term ‘measuring’
  • fuzzy approach
  • lack of creativity on how to measure what.

Some people associate ‘measuring’ with lab coats, values with many digits behind the decimal point or requiring complicated formulas and ways to produce valid results. This –typically- does not reflect reality nor is complexity always necessary.

There also seems misconception that measuring has to eliminate any error and that there simply is no metrics possible for less tangible problems like ‘employee engagement’, ‘employee satisfaction’ or ‘strategic alignment’ just to name a few.

It becomes much easier if you understand measuring as a means to reduce uncertainty. When stakes to fail are high in an environment with much uncertainty, then reducing uncertainty is worthwhile, as it reduces risk and provides a quantifiable value. Even a very simple metrics can often help to answer the critical question.

When it comes to how to a systematic approach to measuring, here are some guiding questions that I found in a book of Douglas W. Hubbard; find specific answers before you measure:

  1. What is the decision this is supposed to support?
  2. What really is the thing being measured?
  3. Why does this thing matter to the decision being asked?
  4. What do you know about it?
  5. What is the value to measure it further?

(Source: “How to Measure Anything – finding the value of intangibles in business” (p.43) by Douglas W. Hubbard; www.howtomeasureanything.com)

If you take a sharp look around, you may find that many things are being measured without adding any benefit. For example: no decisions being made based on a measurement, such as a periodic report or detailed survey results.

Other things aren’t measured but should. For example: what business value does an ERG add to a company?

Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG

Answers to questions around establishing the NxGen ERG at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 2009

If you are planning to found an ERG or are a new ERG Leaders, you might find the attached Q&A helpful.

In an interview style, here are the answers to the following questions around establishing the NxGen ERG (Next Generation at the Workplace) at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in 2009:

  • Where did the idea for NxGen originate?
  • Why was the Next Generation at the Workplace ERG necessary at BI?
  • What makes NxGen innovative? How do you think your approach to creating and growing this new ERG was different from the past?
  • What is the business case for the existence of NxGen? How do you link NxGen to BI business plans/activities?
  • How does the NxGen seek to drive innovation at BI?
  • Are there specific requirements for project size, scope, etc that the NxGen group takes on?
  • How are employees able to allocate time to create and develop NxGen projects?
  • Do the initiatives that arise out of NxGen resonate with other generations in the workplace? within BI?
  • What are the criteria necessary to make an ERG like yours successful? What role do NxGen members, executive management, and the overall company have in its success

Attachment: NxGen Case Study for NALC 2010

(Published also as “Expert Insights” in the Network and Affinity Leadership Handbook, Powerful tools for Employee Resource Groups, p.76-79, Diversity Best Practices, New York, NY; 2010)

How to attract an executive sponsor?

Effective executive sponsorship is a key success factor for ERGs. This posting discusses the benefits of executive sponsorship and how to attract and recruit an executive sponsor.

How to attract an executive sponsor?

All right, I take it you started building you ERG business case, as this is the first step to getting executive support to move on. (See the previous posting.)

You want to make sure the ERG’s goals are not only aligned with the company’s business strategies and are measurable! Having a clear and unambiguous success metrics at hand is the best basis for argumentation, to check your progress and finally document your success. It makes it so much easier to build credibility and trust as well as to communicate success clearly to get support throughout the organization. (Metrics will certainly be a future topic here!)

So look at the business areas, the strategic goals and high-level projects that your CEO communicates. Consider thinking along those lines to flesh out the need for your ERG, to set goals and getting ideas for projects that your ERG could work on in support of the business.

What you aim for is attracting a powerful executive sponsor that serves you and your ERG in several ways:

  • Support and promote the ERG’s activities actively
  • Help you navigating through the deep waters of corporate politics to keep you and your ERG out of trouble
  • Build alliances
  • Point out opportunities  and
  • Provide some basic funding to run the ERG
  • Offer advice when you need it (or when you think you don’t need it but then find out you were blindsided and now are happy you sponsor picked up on it!)

Look at your executive leadership team for a sponsor that has a vested interest in your ERG and its goals. Go out and talk to them, pitch your idea! Be creative how to approach them (this is actually a nice future topic by itself!). – You may be surprised how willing executives listen to compelling business logic that you unfold in front of the.

What are the business needs of the executive sponsor? Build them into your business plan. Consider synergistic ERG projects that will also help your sponsor achieving their goals. You may even ask what you could do for them and make sure to find out what the sponsor’s expectations are.

Be very respectful of their (valuable) time. Make it easy for them to follow you (give an informative summary, for example) and prepare for them what you want them to do (such as drafting an email you want them to send out).

Remember, from the executive sponsor down to each recruit each person wants to know: “What’s in it for me?” – Prepare to deliver!