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

Join me in Boston for the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!
Join me in Boston this week: Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference

Do managers miss the sweet-spot of remote working?

Stumbling in the dark?

Organizations often find themselves struggling with a dilemma: The need for employees working remotely, often from home, is at rise for many business reasons that include cost savings and the competition over attracting and retaining top talent.

On the other hand, many managers have a hard time allowing their staff to work outside their proximity and direct supervision. Their reasons often include the fear of change introducing the unknown but also a certain cluelessness of how to effectively manage a remote workforce and moving beyond their personal comfort zone.

These conflicting drivers open a tension field that organizations tend to struggle with. – Does this sound familiar to you?

No silver bullet
Unfortunately, there is no ‘silver bullet’, i.e. a one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone and in every environment. Too much depends on the nature of the work, necessary interactions and communication between team members as well as the jobs and personalities involved. It takes a close look at the individual organization to craft a remote working program that fits an organization, maximizes collaboration at a measurable performance level.

Common ground for remote working
However, we can learn from others how to establish a basis for a fruitful remote working program in your organization (if you don’t have one yet).  Research offers tangible results such as the “MTI Report 09-14: Facilitating Telecommuting: Exploring the role of Telecommuting Intensity and Differences Between Telecommuters and Non-Telecommuters”. The study compares telecommuters and non-telecommuters and it came up with the following findings. (Note that I use telecommute, telework and remote working synonymously throughout this article.)

  • Telecommuters show increased commitment to their organization and experience more work-life satisfaction over the non-telecommuters group. No differences between both groups though on job satisfaction and turnover intent, i.e. how likely employees are to leave the company.

On a side note, the latter two findings are quite different from my own professional studies and experience, where employees working remotely reported a 57% increase in work-life balance. Increasing workplace flexibility including remote working, i.e. giving the employee more control over their schedule and location, became a driver also for employee attraction and retention.
– What are your experiences? Do you see remote work influencing job satisfaction and employee retention? Please comment.

  • Interestingly, the study explored also ‘personalities’ and found that more extroverts tend to be telecommuters, so people with a higher drive for social interaction and communication rather than the quiet ones.

This appears conclusive in the light of the simple finding that (a) telecommuting in many companies is not implemented consequently but rather as an “idiosyncratic deal” between individual supervisors and employees. (b) These supervisors prefer granting permission to telecommute to high-performers. This can explain a pre-selection of extroverts over introverts, who may not show up on the supervisor’s radar as much and therefore tend to receive less remote working opportunities.

  • Generally, teleworkers commute from farther away. They find commuting more stressful and want to avoid rush-hour traffic.
  • Less surprising, telecommuters were interrupted more by family members given their physical presence at their off-site work location.

This seems to suggest that working-from-home could be less effective than working in the office given more family interruptions. My own observations are quite different and based on a controlled pilot project which showed that the workers in the office feel distracted by their colleagues stopping by randomly; the workers preferred working from home when they needed focus and want to avoid distractions calling this their most productive work time.
Disruptions occur at home as well as in the office. It is the employee’s responsibility and best interest to ensure a professional work environment at their home-office so not to jeopardize their work results. Consequently, also performance needs to be measured by results and not physical presence. This levels the playing field and allows for fair comparison between all workers independent of their working location and distractions.

  • In the triangle of telecommuters, supervisors and Human Resources (HR) practices the telecommuters generally view the organization differently from non-telecommuters. Most telecommuters perceive technology training is available to them and that the organizational reward system as well as their supervisors was supporting telecommuting. Telecommuters also believe that there is an underlying business requirement that drives working remotely.

Once again we see that a level playing field is viewed as an important success factor for effective teleworking. Technology serves as enabler that makes teleworking possible in the first place and connects coworkers across remote locations. Offering remote working not only becomes a business necessity but also addresses increased expectations of the modern work force to telework powered by ever improving communication and collaboration technology.
Now, the telecommuters in the study seem to understand the changed business environment that pushes organizations to open up to flexible work arrangements for competitive reasons including cost savings as well as employee productivity and retention – the supervisors ‑apparently‑ did not ‘get it’.

For most of us the times are over where workers came to the factory or office only because the resources needed to accomplishing the work were concentrated in a specific location and could not be distributed (think early typewriters, heavy production equipment, incoming mail and so on). For a growing services industry these limitations no longer exist – yet this out-dated paradigm remained present in the minds of many. People tend to have a certain picture in mind what work ‘looks like’ and where it has to happen which comes down to an office with everyone present from 9am to 5pm.

  • From the supervisors’ perspective things look different than for telecommuters. Over 50% of the supervisors of telecommuter believe “that employees have to be high performers”. This view is shared by only 37% of the non-telecommuting supervisors.
    This brings us to a most critical component and success factor for making remote working work…

Management attitudes – the make or break
The MTI study phrases this barrier kindly as “challenges and obstacles emanating from attitudes of individuals in the organization”. The obstacles to implementing an effective telecommuting model often originate from management itself or even the Human Resources department tasked to make a policy.  The reasons for resistance can be multifold and include a lack of better knowledge, fear of change such as losing perceived control, lazy avoidance to probe outdated beliefs or taking a one-size-fits-all approach without evaluating the specific environment.

I even experienced the paradox of managers believing they can work from home just as effective as from their office desk and making use of this flexibility at their convenience while not trusting that their staff could be similarly effective or was trustworthy enough just as much. They see remote working being a ‘perk’ for their staff reserved for ‘top performers’ who deserve it – a double standard is being applied which is often enough based on murky or questionable criteria (if at all). These managers show a sense of entitlement while ignoring that (as the MTI study confirms) remote working increases employee satisfaction and commitment which tends to increase also performance; as an example, performance increased by 30% in the department I manage.

Some managers fear they may lose ‘control’ and that their staff may abuse the newly acquired freedom to control their schedule and work location. This ‘control’ is often based on the deceptive perception that staff works ‘better’ and is ‘under control’ when confined to an office location and ‘eye-balled’ by the supervisor.

More effective is the consistent application of measurable and pre-defined goals that demonstrate unambiguously, transparently and quantifiable whether an employee met the goal or not – independent from their schedule or work location. In practice, managing-by-performance showed more effective to distinguish effective performers from under-performers than a manager looking around the office space and hoping the staff is performing just by their mere presence.

What it takes to make remote working work
Implementing remote working is not exactly rocket science but takes an honest and diligent approach based on trust and clear expectations. From a practical perspective, a viable model includes:

  • Put away with the ‘telecommuting-is-a-perk’ attitude
  • Closely look at which jobs have remote working potential together with the affected employee
  • Identify the employee’s team, i.e. the people who need to cooperate closely even across departmental boundaries (organizational, geographic, etc.)
  • Include employees to model how remote working could work in their team, try it out and be flexible to improve the model
  • Strictly rate all employees by their performance based on measurable and tangible results that are clearly defined
  • Apply transparent standards for all employees consistently
  • Treat remote and non-remote workers similarly including equal opportunities treatment and rewards
  • Provide effective communication technology and adequate training
  • Address manager concerns and prepare management with adequate training and guidance.

It is true that managing a remote working environment provides new challenges. They include in particular:

  • Strictly managing-by-performance by setting clear expectations and exercising transparency.
  • Overcoming ‘old thinking’. Questioning ones habits and beliefs to approach with an open-mind new or different ways of working. Include your staff to come up with ideas on how to make it work.
  • Diversifying and mastering the spectrum of communication channels. Choosing and using the media preferred by the staff to communicate effectively and efficiently with employees.

If this includes peer-to-peer video, instant messaging or texting (SMS) then learn to master these technologies. Limit face-time for confidential or sensitive topics that should better not be communicated electronically; don’t abuse face-time for routine communication.

Most of all, mutual trust is the key component in the critical relationship between manager and employee. This can be the hardest to build. For managers, taking some temporary measures can prove helpful to establish a trustful working relationship with their staff; for example, start with documenting and reviewing weekly performance plans together with the employee until the manager develops more trust and is comfortable with exercising less timely supervision.

In general, if an organization lacks trust then remote working will hardly be implemented effectively, consistently or to its full potential – but then, remote working may not be the biggest problem this organization faces…

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.

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!