This video addresses the question: How can the pharmaceutical industry reskill representatives to be knowledgeable consultants to physicians?
Today, sales expertise is not enough. The pharmaceutical representative needs to be a broker of information. Physicians now have very limited time – and dictate when they can meet with representatives, from whom they need comprehensive information that they can pass along to their increasingly educated patients.
In this video, Jo Ann Saitta, Chief Digital Officer of the CDM Group, Stephan Klaschka, Innovation and Healthcare Consultant, and moderator, Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer at Cegedim, examine this shift and the challenges pharmaceutical companies may face in properly retraining their people. These challenges include: adopting a culture of learning agility; integrating silos of information; having the ability to serve up dynamic content; and training representatives to utilize technologies that will maximize their brief but demanding visits with physicians.
Use this linkto watch all 10 videos in the series on YouTube directly – enjoy!
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Communication moving to Collaboration
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Content moving to Context
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Care moving to Cure
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Compliance moving to Culture
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Supply Chains moving to Supply Constellations
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customization moving to Configuration
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customer moving to Consumer
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Calls moving to Consults
Jo Ann Saitta
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Cloud moving to Crowd
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015- Charity moving to Cause
Meant to raise questions and serving as a learning opportunity for graduate students in academic program around the globe, this case study lifts the corporate curtain a bit to show how innovation through intrapreneuring really happens and decision points along the way.
The newly appointed director of Innovation Management & Strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based multinational pharmaceutical company, is finding his way forward in his firm’s new, first-of-its-kind role, which is central to the company’s growth rejuvenation strategy. His job has a threefold mandate: to build internal networks, to establish internal structures and to leverage internal ideas. His biggest challenge, however, may be transforming the organization’s DNA. The blockbuster business model that has characterized the company for decades is no longer appropriate. Instead, the firm needs to develop healthcare products available to end users over the counter. This shift in strategy requires innovative changes in distribution, delivery and customer focus. To accomplish this goal, he needs to institutionalize innovation so that it becomes sustainable. But in doing so, he must also identify the metrics for assessing progress. The case provides an opportunity for students to step into the shoes of an innovation leader, to develop an innovation roadmap for the organization in the face of uncertainty and to understand how to engage in innovation leadership at various levels of a global enterprise.
This case has two key objectives. First, this case provides students an opportunity to grapple with the difficult decisions associated with innovation in an uncertain environment. Second, this case highlights that anyone has the ability to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and to lead innovation. The case divides the attributes of an innovation leader into five components: observing, questioning, experimenting, networking and associating. It shows the real-life experiences of a manager doing seemingly routine activities, who evolved into a leader who transformed the DNA of a global enterprise. The case also provides a template of the tasks, responsibilities and value-added changes as an individual moves progressively within an enterprise from an operations manager to a senior manager to an innovation leader. This case can be used either toward the beginning or toward the end of any course that addresses innovation and creative thinking in a large organization. At the beginning of a course, it illustrates the challenges of acting in the face of uncertainty in a large organization. At the end of a course, the case provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned about innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation leadership.
Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, continues to have big expectations for his employees: come up with products and services that are 10 times better than their competitors, hence “10x” – that’s one order of magnitude!
10X vs. 10%
Many entrepreneurs and start-up companies, they seem to ‘shoot for the moon’! Far more than 90% of these ventures fail within just a few years. Few, such as Google, succeeded and grew to dominate internet giants. The question remains though if they can maintain the innovative pace of 10x when the innovation rate tends to sink closer to 10% in matured companies.
How big dreams changed the world
This challenge effects also other visionaries that changed the face of the world and transformed society in ways nobody has imagined, such as:
Apple building a micro-computer at times when mainframes ruled the digital world and only few could envision a demand for personal computing
eBay establishing a new online sales model that millions around the globe use every day
Google taking over the browser market through simplicity, by giving everyone control to use the most complex machine on Earth, the Internet
Microsoft cultivated software licensing to sell one piece of software millions of times over effortlessly at minimal cost.
As disruptive and transformative ventures grow and mature, the definition of what is perceived ‘innovate’ changes. Both momentum and focus shifts. With size companies struggle to continue innovating similar to their nimble start-up origins.
What happens? With size comes a downshift from disruptive to incremental change. Simplicity makes space for adding features. Adding features makes products more complex and ultimately less usable and appealing to the majority of customers.
Look at Microsoft’s Offices products, for example: Wouldn’t you wish they came out with a ‘light’ version with reduced feature complexity by let’s say 75%, so the software becomes easy to use again?
It also starts haunting Google, as their established products such as Search or Gmail need to be maintained. Additional “improvements” aka. features creep in over time. Perhaps you noticed yourself that recently Google search results seem to be less specific and all over the place while the experimentation-happy Gmail interface confuses with ever new features?
Even the most iconic and transformative companies experience the reduction of their innovative rate from 10X to an incremental 10% or so.
Funny thing is that -at least in technology- incremental improvement quickly becomes obsolete with the next disruptive jump. The current technology matures up along the S-curve (see graphics) and generates revenue, but the next disruptive technology emerges. Companies hold on as long as they can keeping revenue flowing by adding features or improvements of sorts to gain or maintain a marginal competitive advantage. Thus, incremental improvement and process optimization found their place here to minimize cost and maximize profit in a market where the product became a commodity, so the competition is based only on price.
The new technology does not yet make significant money in the beginning at the beginning of the next S-curve. The few early units produced are expensive, need refinement and are bought by enthusiasts and early adopters who are willing to pay a steep premium to get the product first. Nonetheless, development reached the point of “breakthrough,” becomes appealing to many and quickly takes over the market: the big jump onto the next S-curve gains momentum. Suddenly, the former technology is ‘out’ and revenue streams deflate quickly.
Large and matured organizations ride on an S-curve as long as possible. They focus top-down on optimizing operations. Little effort is made to address the underlying limitation of the current technology and seeking out risky new successors. Maturing companies tend to transform into a ‘machine’ that is supposed to run smoothly. A mind shift happens to avoid risk in order to produce output predictably and reliably at a specific quality level to keep operations running and margins profitable. Incremental process improvement becomes the new mantra and efficiency is the common interpretation of what now is considered ‘innovative’.
10X has turned into 10%. To keep up with the ambitious 10x goal, companies would have to constantly re-invent themselves to replicate their previous disruptive successes.
How Goliath helps David
Even our recent iconic ‘giants’ find themselves in a tighter spot today:
Google struggles to integrate a fragmented product landscape and maintain the ambitious 10X pace of innovation
Microsoft suffocates loaded with features that make products bulky and increasingly unusable while consistently failing to launch new technologies in the growing mobile segment successfully
Apple waters down their appealing simple user interface by adding features and clinging to defend their proprietary standards from outside innovations.
On top of it, all giants tend to face the stiffening wind of governmental scrutiny and regulation that influences market dynamics to protect the consumers from overpowering monopolies that jeopardize competition and innovation.
This is a fertile ground for the next wave of innovators, small Davids, to conquer markets from the Goliaths with fresh ideas, agility, and appealing simplicity. Where does your organization stand on the S-curve, riding the current curve with 10% or aiming high at the next with 10x?
Observing the down-shift
What can you observe when the down-shift happens? How do you know you are not on the transformative boat anymore? Here are just some examples:
Small Jobs – job descriptions appear that narrow down the field of each employee’s responsibility while limiting the scope by incentivizing employees to succeed within the given frame.
Safe Recruiting – practices shift to playing it safe by hiring specialists from a well-known school with a streamlined career path to fit the narrowly defined mold of the job description. They newbies are expected to replicate what they achieved elsewhere. To risk is taken to getting the ‘odd man out’ for the job, a person who took a more adventurous path in life and thinks completely different, as this may disrupt the process and jeopardize the routine output by shifting the focus away from operations.
Homogenized workforce – as a consequence of hiring ‘safely’, the workforce homogenized thereby lowering the innovative potential that comes with the diversity of thought and experience.
Visionaries leave – with the scope of business shifting, the visionary employees that drove innovation previously lose motivation when innovation and creativity slows. Now they are held to operate in a business space where they do pretty much the same thing as their competition. Naturally, these go-getters move on, as it is easy for them to find a challenging and more exciting new job in a more dynamic place. – This ‘leaky talent pipeline’ gets only worse and costly when the talent management focus shifts to talent acquisition and leaving talent retention behind.
Procedures for everything– operating procedures regulate every detail of the job. The new ‘red tape’ is not limited to the necessary minimum but rather by the possible maximum.
Short-term focus – work output becomes mediocre and focuses on short-term goals and sales targets; the next quarter’s numbers or annual results take priority over following the big dream.
Sanitized communications – broader communications within the company become ‘managed’, monitored, ‘sanitized.’ A constant stream of (incremental) success stories pushes aside an open discussion to target the bigger problems. Opportunities are missed for open dialogue and creative disruption that fuels the quantum leaps forward to outpace the competition. Peer to peer communication is monitored to remain ‘appropriate’ and can even be actively censored. Trust in management and subsequently also among employees erodes.
Management fear of being the first
The real problem is the shift of mindset in top management that quickly works its way down: not wanting to take the risk of being first, which includes avoiding the risk to fail while chasing to next big opportunity or technology. Instead, they sail the calmer waters among more predictable competition fighting for small advantages and holding on to the status quo opportunistically as long as they can. In some cases, the management even acknowledges the strategy shift from ‘leader’ to ‘fast follower’ despite whatever the company motto proudly promotes – and thereby accepting 10% and avoiding to leap ahead of their competition by bold and game-changing 10x moves.
Interestingly, these same managers still love to look over the fence to awe the iconic leaders but steer away to take charge and work to become the leader again themselves. The nagging question remains if they could actually pull it off getting into first place.
Outside-of-the-box thinking may still be encouraged in their organization but is not acted upon anymore. Internal creativity or ideation contests become more of an exercise to keep employees entertained and feeling engaged, but the ideas are hardly being funded and executed. Instead, company resources are concentrated to run the incremental machine predictably and reliably at 10% as long as its profitable, no matter what. – They simply have no resources to spare and dedicate to 10x!
These businesses undergo a cycle of breaking through by successful disruption in a narrow or completely new segment, then continued growth to a size where the organization slows down to an incremental pace and somewhat stagnating innovation. It may then get driven out of business by the next disruptor or pro-actively break up into more competitive fragments that allow for agility and risk-taking once again to become leaders in their more closely defined space of business. This closes the cycle they are to go through next. There is a strong parallel between evolution and Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
Keeping this cycle in mind, it becomes easier to see why management undergoes the mind shift to predictable and incremental improvement during the massive growth phase of the company in the center of the S-curve. It is also the time when the disruptive innovators have jumped ship to join the next generation of cutting-edge innovators and risk-taking disrupters that prepare to take the leap working on the next S-curve.
Which way to turn?
The question is where you want to be: the true risk-taker or the incremental improver? Understanding the trajectory and current location of your company helps to make the right decision for you. It can save you from frustration and be banging your head against corporate walls and be wasting your energy in a dinosaur organization that is just not ready anymore for your ‘big ideas’ and quick moves outside its production-house comfort zone.
This leaves some of us thinking which way to turn. If you are looking for predictability, longer-term employment (an illusion these days one way or another) and good night sleep, this is the place you will feel comfortable in.
Otherwise, dare to follow the risk-taking visionaries like Elon Musk (the brain behind PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; see his recent great interview) to move on.
To say it with the words of Niccolo Machiavelli, the wise and sober realist: “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
Shoot for the moon (or Mars, if you are Elon Musk), change the world no matter what and enjoy what you do!
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.
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!
While many companiesdemand 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.
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!
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?
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!
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!
How to increase group intelligence for better decision-making – or why not to rely on a group of geniuses! New research breaks the ground to understand collaborative intelligence – but how to apply it to the workplace?
Better alone than in a team?
Think about this: What teams make the best decisions?
We all experienced it at some point: Even a group of the best and brightest people often ends up with poor decisions that do not do its individual member’s intelligence justice.
What goes wrong? How does a group of smart individuals, even geniuses, end up with poor decisions when they stick their heads together? What are they missing? Moreover, how can we avoid those obstacles to come to better decisions as a group?
Intelligence of individuals has been well studied for over a 100 years: A solid framework exists to measure the intelligence quotient (IQ). Individuals undergo a series of mental challenges under the premise that someone performing well in one task tends to perform well in most others too. Overall, the IQ is regarded as “a reliable predictor of a wide range of important life outcomes over a long span of time, including grades in school, success in many occupations, and even life expectancy,” as researchers put it.
Modern IQ tests consider an IQ close to 100 as average.
Does ‘Group Intelligence’ exist?
When we look at what it takes to make more intelligent decisions as a group than as individuals, the first question this raises is whether something like a measurable ‘group intelligence’ actually exists. If so, is it measurable and –perhaps‑ higher than the intelligence of its members?
Only recently, scientists took a deeper look at the intelligence of groups and made surprising findings. The joint team included MIT’s Tom Malone, whom we met previous in a post (“Collective Intelligence: The Genomics of Crowds”) as well as others from well-known academic institutions comprising the MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College.
The researchers approached group intelligence following a similar systematic approach as the intelligence metrics for individuals. However, they linked group intelligence to performance as an endpoint, which makes their finding even more valuable for the workplace!
Outsmarting genius as a group
First, the researchers established that group intelligence in performance indeed exists and is measurable. They also found that the group’s intelligence does not add up to the sum of the intelligence of its individual members. In fact, the collective intelligence, or ‘c-factor’, shows only a weak correlation “with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members” – this is remarkable finding! It means is that you cannot boost a group’s intelligence by composing or spiking the group with genius-level individuals!
Obviously, factors apply other than high individual IQ to increase the intelligence of the group.
The results from two studies consistently and overwhelmingly demonstrate that group intelligence outsmart individual intelligence – by far!
What it comes down to is that a high general intelligence is merely a measurable value in the lab but it does not also translate into a more successful life! An individual IQ above 135 or so can lead to quite the opposite (for reference, ‘genius’ starts at 140 on Terman’s classification). The higher IQ becomes rather a hindrance than an advantage in real life: a very high IQ tends to clutter and confuse a genius’ mind with more irrelevant options, which make it harder for them to see the most applicable one and come to a decision.
In contrast, practical intelligence relates more to social savvy or ‘street smarts’ – a cunning and practical understanding that proves advantageous in the real world more than a high general IQ!
Here is the magic sauce!
Surprisingly, the strongest correlation of group intelligence is with three factors:
The average social sensitivity of the group members, i.e. “reading the mind in the eyes” of another person. There is something to be said for bringing together emotionally intelligent people.
Equality in the distribution of conversational turn-taking meaning an equal share of time to speak. Our society and businesses seem to favor smooth-talkers and attracted to extrovert and outspoken individuals that seem to signal competence, decisiveness, and determination.
Group intelligence, however, does not increase when there is a strong vocal leader, who dominates the discussion to push everyone in his or her direction. Be careful not to leave out the brilliance of individuals who may get steamrolled by the loud and dominating: introverts, in particular, are at a disadvantage. They are easily stuck in an extrovert world.
Given that the introvert/extrovert ratio in the USA is roughly 50/50 (according to the 1998 National Representative Sample), failing to include introverts effectively is a costly mistake, as it excludes their knowledge and valuable input to the decision making process ‑ and lowers the collective intelligence of the group. Introverts, for example, favor structured communication that plays to their strengths by allowing them to research and prepare; they need more time to express their refined response.
The proportion of females in the group composition; the more women the better. This appears to account largely to a higher social sensibility that women have over their male group members in general. However, all three factors have to come together, so building female-only teams does not do the charm either.
In a nutshell
When we bring it all together, what surprises me most is how little of this solid research has penetrated the workplace. Where employees and management teams make decisions, the survival of organizations is at stake and relies on leveraging the collective intelligence of the group effectively.
A myriad of practical applications for these findings come to mind. Here are just two examples:
Women still struggle to achieve gender equality in many organizations ‑ the amount of women in management positions is a widely used metrics that refers to the female proportion of the workforce. The common approach is to achieve this by ‘swinging the stick’ to establish and enforce quotas and leave it at that – Mission accomplished?!
Wouldn’t it be more compelling to offer the ‘sweet carrot’ of increasing group intelligence in leadership teams for better business results that includes leveraging the natural advantage of females?
Again, the female quota alone does not boost the group intelligence. We also need social sensitivity and equal shares of talking time. Thus, a flanking business application would go beyond how we compose teams based on gender. It considers social sensitivity measures and some structure to how we conduct group discussions or meetings to maximize the collective intelligence by including and engaging all participants. A challenge also for how we recruit, train, and evaluate our workforce.
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.
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.’
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 itshould 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!