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into the working world have not even experienced it to start with, so don’t expect them to respect and live the outdated rules!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.

‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?

In IBM’s 2010 CEO study, the high-profile interviews revealed a game-changer for the next 5 years: mastering the increasing ‘complexity’. Yet, less than half of all CEOs feel prepared for the challenge! – Read what is meant by ‘complexity’ and what the CEOs look for in successful future leaders!

‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders ready for ‘glocal’?

What is the key challenge in the coming years and how to prepare future leaders.

IBM released its high-profile annual CEO study with interview results from 1,541 CEOs worldwide. The focus is on ‘complexity’ as newly identified challenge that CEOs face increasingly over the coming years.

(Note: the study results are no secret and available in the public domain:  http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/ceo/ceostudy2010/index.html)

Complexity is what develops when a company tries to make their product and services easier to use for their customers and clients. – Why? Look at what we customers expect of the products that we buy these days:

Example – let’s take cars: New cars these days are highly integrated products that go far beyond only ‘taking you from A to B’. As added features we find WiFi and DVD players installed for entertainment. The radio receives traffic reports feed into the car’s navigation system to guide you around heavy traffic. There are distance sensors that automatically sound alarms and engage the brakes should we get too close to an obstacle too fast. Collision detection systems adjust your seat belt and deploy airbags to keep you safe and then call help through the car’s mobile phone system automatically while directing emergency rescuers to the car’s crash scene.

Integration entails inter-dependencies
These technological marvels in a car are integrated to run smoothly ‘behind the scenes’. They also pose significant challenges for the manufacturer that needs to keep the features as easy to use as possible for the customer or run even completely invisible to the customer. Nonetheless, all these components must work together seamlessly in an integrated way that create complex inter-dependencies among them.

This requires the manufacturer to integrate services and products outside their typical ‘automotive’ spectrum and ability. They need to collaborate with other suppliers that may not even have established ties to the car industry.
Note that the traditional product ‘car’ has undergone change to become an integrated ‘mobility and lifestyle’ product.
This increasing technological complexity at an increasing speed translates into the manufacturer’s organization and challenges its leadership.

Is there a ‘magic bullet’?
“The vast majority of CEOs anticipate even greater complexity in the future, and more than half doubt their ability to manage it.” – This fundamental statement strikes me most IBM’s 2010 CEO Study though it does not hold true though for a minority of outstanding organizations, which found ways to deal with complexity and produce 20% profits over their competitors nonetheless!

The ‘magic bullet’ facing unpredictable uncertainties seems a mix of

  • Creativity (it’s the highest ranked leadership quality by all CEOs!) that allow to react fast to a changing environment
  • Integrating customers into their processes
  • Simplifying what organizations do and produce.

Perspective of CEOs in Life-Sciences
Now, how does this translate into our daily work? Most of my professional life I spent in different areas of the Life-Sciences industry in Germany and the USA that I chose as an example. What caught my eye here are the responses by CEOs from Life-Science organizations in Germany and the USA in comparison. – How do they rate the upcoming complexity challenges, how prepared do they feel and what do they look for in future leaders over the next few years?

The 3 Needs
US CEOs (86%) more than German CEOs (81%) expect higher complexity in the years to come but only 45% (in both countries) feel that they are prepared to cope with this new challenge successfully. This opens a larger-than-ever ‘complexity gap’ reflecting the uncertainty on how to operate in the volatile and murky waters of the new business environment.

1. Creativity
Interestingly, the German CEOs rely confidently on creative leadership making decisions quickly (over thorough decisions) in the future by 18% above all CEOs sampled. The US CEOs, in contrast, seem more pessimistic by relying on quick decisions slightly less that CEOs overall. Both, the German and US CEOs equally make integrating customers to better understand the customers’ needs their highest priority

2. Simplification
The CEOs take different approaches to how and how much to simplify: While the Germans seem more radically simplifying products and operations more than CEOs overall, the US CEOs focus on reducing fixed costs willing to increase variable costs to allow for up-scaling ability as need arises.

3. Focus in Emerging Markets
The study including all CEOs proves that 76% aim at the rapidly developing markets. It is not surprising that market factors is their #1 external focus followed by technological and macro-economic factors.

Key Attributes of Future Leaders
What kind of leadership we need to manage complexity successfully over the next 5 years?

The CEOs agree on the following three attributes:

  • Creativity (60%) ranks highest overall followed by
  • Integrity (52%) and
  • Global thinking (35%).

What CEOs are looking for are leaders that understand and collaborate closely with the customers, show strong people skills and have a deep business insight with intelligence data.

The future leaders are innovators able to think on their feet and open to experiments when speed needs to rule over correctness. The capacity to simplify for the customer is crucial. This entails reducing the resulting complexity by stripping what matters down to the core and focus on that. Sound planning may have to give way to situational yet strategic management to avoid information paralysis and gain competitive advantage.  – The coined term ‘glocal’ means to integrate globally using all resources available worldwide while doing locally only what is necessary.

What do you think – are we ready for the complexity challenge? Any suggestions how to prepare?

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!

The blind side of HR? –or- A case for talent retention!

Discussion of the provocative thesis that HR strategists are blind-sided and focus on talent acquisition rather than on talent retention. This opens opportunities for ERGs to fill the gap by engaging the present employees and running projects targeting talent retention for the organization!

The blind side of HR? –or-  A case for talent retention!

Ask whom you want, the corporate “war over talent” is declared and raging out there worldwide. We see companies going above and beyond to spot the precious future brainpower, lure them with all the goodies and reel in the catch – but what happens later?

After the first days of sweet honeymoon with ‘new hire orientations’, fancy status symbols and back-patting, the shiny brochures start wilting, the warm words of welcoming encouragement fade and reality kicks in – and sometimes hard.

Now, did you notice that HR strategies these days tend to focus on talent acquisition but neglect employee engagement to secure talent retention?

It’s not enough to bring in the ‘top talent’ when you can’t get the most out of your staff effectively and consistently long-term. To drive innovation and game-changing business models to their full potential, we cannot relinquish the expertise and insight of people familiar with the company or flourish on ideas from newly hired staff alone.

When true ‘on-boarding’ fails (and what I mean by that is embedding the new employee firmly into the organization’s human fabric) the wedding is short-lived. Good people are easy to move again to find their next job somewhere else and leaving the company behind with an unproductive vacant position. New employees may also soon pick up on limiting or meager career prospects that they soon will share with their not-so-new-anymore co-workers that were not granted the opportunity to develop and ‘grow’ into the open position. Then, the costly investment in the new hire went down the drain while the company still needs to fill the vacant position with another candidate to be snatched from the competition at a cost…

On the other hand, what is the effect on the more seasoned employees that ever hiring new staff has over the transfer and development seasoned staff? They see the influx of fresh blood affecting (and sometimes disrupting) the established company’s culture as well as limiting their own career opportunities. When will the veteran staff feel they are no longer valued and find it is time to make a move and be courted by a new employer that values their talent more?

How about this provocative thesis:   HR strategists –by the very nature of their job!- see the organization as it should be in contrast to the functional managers throughout the organization see it as it is in the reality they have to deal with every day. Therefore, HR strategists are naturally blind-sided!

Does the HR strategic perspective make sense to focus on acquisition, i.e. hire talent the company should have, and not so much on retention, i.e. the talent the company already has?
– I leave this question open for discussion. What are your observations or experiences?

If this thesis holds true then ERG leaders face opportunity and, perhaps, have an obligation to show positive “organizational citizenship behavior” by doing what is right for the organization. Focusing on ERG engagement projects that aim at employee engagement and talent retention then has a bright future!

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)