A Higher Purpose at KPMG

musclesAccounting — perhaps not the world’s most exciting profession, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its moments in history. Accountants, after all, helped manage the Lend-Lease Act during World War II that helped defeat Nazi Germany. They helped resolve financial conflicts that enabled the agreement to free the Iran hostages in 1981, and they certified the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994.

The accountants cited above all happened to work for KPMG. Now, the firm is using these and other stories from its past to ramp up employee engagement by connecting their work to a higher purpose, writes Bruce N. Pfau, KPMG’s vice chair of HR and communications, in a new post on the Harvard Business Review’s website.

In connecting to a “higher purpose,” Pfau cites the (possibly apocryphal) story of President Kennedy and the janitor at Cape Canaveral: When JFK asked the janitor “What do you do?” the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Citing research showing that connecting their work to a higher purpose motivates employees to go the extra mile, KPMG began an initiative last year “aimed at inspiring our already high-morale workforce to reach new levels of engagement by reframing and elevating the meaning and purpose of their work,” writes Pfau.

Pfau’s team created a video that highlighted great moments from KPMG’s past, such as the aforementioned accomplishments, with the theme “We Shape History!” Next, they created posters with the slogan “We Champion Democracy,” with the goal of helping employees see themselves as part of a profession that helps societies by enabling families to make better financial decisions.

Finally, the team presented KPMG’s employees with a challenge: Create 10,000 digital posters that celebrate the work you or your team does. Employees would receive two extra paid days off if the goal was met by Thanksgiving; that goal was met before July 4 and, by Thanksgiving, 42,000 stories had been submitted.

One year after the initiative began, Pfau writes, the percentage of employees who agreed that KPMG is a great place to work went from 85 percent to 89 percent on its engagement surveys, 60 percent said the initiative had strengthened their pride in KPMG, and the firm jumped 17 spots on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work list to become the highest-ranked Big Four firm for the first time in its history.

One problem Pfau encountered was that, although a key ingredient to success appeared to be managers’ willingness to talk to their teams about the positive impact of the work they did, some managers did not do this. The difference was noticeable: The turnover rate within the group whose managers talked to them about purpose was 5.6 percent, versus 9.1 percent within  the group whose managers did not do this.

In response, Pfau incorporated “purpose storytelling training” into KPMG’s leadership development programs. The training certainly appears to have been effective in one example he writes about: In speaking to a group of 1,500 interns about her higher purpose, a partner who’d gone through the training concluded with a parable about three bricklayers restoring a church — when asked what they were doing, one bricklayer replied “I’m laying bricks,” another replied “I’m repairing a wall” and the third replied “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty.”

“So,” the partner concluded, “do you want to be bricklayers or cathedral builders?” The crowd leaped to their feet, writes Pfau.

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Engaged, Happy … And Looking to Leave

Sometimes love just isn’t enough to make it work.

A certain amount of employee turnover is an expected and accepted part of doing business, and there will always be a certain (hopefully small) number of disengaged, disgruntled workers angling to leave your organization.

New data from Mercer, however, suggests that even some of your happiest, most satisfied people may have one eye on the exits.

The New York-based consultancy’s recent poll of 3,010 employees—“a complete cross-section of the U.S. workforce,” according to Mercer—finds 45 percent of employees who report being “very satisfied” with their organizations are still looking to leave, with 42 percent of employees who consider themselves very satisfied in their jobs saying the same.

Overall, the survey found that 37 percent of all workers, regardless of satisfaction level, are giving serious thought to leaving their organizations. According to Mercer, that number stood at 33 percent when it conducted a similar survey in 2011.

How much thought employees are giving to the notion seems to vary based on age and seniority.

Older workers, for instance, say they are less likely to be seeking out new opportunities. Just 29 percent of employees between the ages of 50 and 64 said they are seriously pondering a job change at the moment. Thirty-nine percent of those aged 35 to 49 said as much. Millennials, on the other hand, seem a bit itchier, with 44 percent of these workers (ranging in age from 18 to 34) thinking about moving on from their current employers.

Those figures seem intuitive enough, when you consider that employees tend to be bound by more familial and financial obligations as they get older. What’s more interesting is the number of senior managers—63 percent—who say they’re seriously thinking about leaving their current role, compared to the number of management-level (39 percent) and non-management employees (32 workers) who are contemplating a change.

Taken together, all of these figures reflect a workforce in transition that’s increasingly on the move, according to Patrick Tomlinson, North American business leader for Talent at Mercer.

Employers have been seeing this shift firsthand, said Tomlinson, in a statement from Mercer announcing the findings. The new wrinkle, he says, “is that the inclination to leave is increasingly detached from employees’ satisfaction with jobs, pay and even growth opportunities.”

To remain competitive in a talent market that’s quickly changing, companies must create a “strategic workforce plan” that considers engaged workers as well as the disengaged employees that are planning to stick around for now, says Tomlinson.

The latter group in particular—which comprises about one-fifth of the overall workforce, according to Mercer—has the potential to damage morale and productivity even more than those who leave, says Tomlinson.

“If your employees stay, you want them engaged and productive.”

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Dressing Down the Bosses, the French Way

Many of you have likely already seen the disturbing images coming out of France after its national air carrier, Air France, announced layoffs involving 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots between now and 2017, according to the Guardian.

The story also features an image of Air France’s deputy head of human resources, Xavier Broseta, being pushed to safety over a fence after he was “left bare-chested after workers ripped off his shirt and jacket,” according to the story.

Below is some BBC News’ footage of the angry scrum that preceded the “dressing down” of the Air France executives.

This much is clear: Layoffs during difficult economic times are never an easy executive order to carry out, no matter what country you’re working in. But, as the Guardian notes, France seems to be a particularly difficult place to make such a transition:

Olivier Labarre, director of BTI, a human resources consultancy, told Libération newspaper in 2009: “This happens elsewhere, but to my knowledge, taking the boss hostage is typically French. It’s the nature of the social dialogue in our country.”

According to the Guardian story, it is “not the first time French workers have taken matters into their own hands with violent results. Since 2009, as the global economic crisis has escalated, several bosses have been held hostage by angry staff.” And:

In January 2014, workers at a Goodyear factory in northern France prevented two managers from leaving and said the pair would be held until the company gave a “satisfactory response to requests.”

The French finance minister later tweeted his support for the attacked men, notes the Guardian. “Those who engage in violence are irresponsible. Nothing can replace social dialogue,” Emmanuel Macron wrote.

Indeed, nothing can ever replace social dialogue. But most would agree that creating new jobs to replace the ones being lost would surely go a long way in charting the course of any future dialogue, no matter what language that dialogue is conducted in.

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Top Performer, Or Just Great at Interviewing?

453124957 -- job interviewI was intrigued by Robert Herjavec’s take on the interviewing process that he recently shared on LinkedIn enough to share it here myself.

He’s the founder of the Herjavec Group, a Tornoto-based information-security company, and has a pretty straightforward approach to figuring out if someone you’re interviewing is going to be with you long-term or not.

In order to be part of the team at his company, he says, “you’ve got to be a self-starter, an independent thinker, someone who is comfortable digging in and getting your hands dirty, and ideally, a strong leader … someone capable of clearly communicating your vision to your teammates.”

That could describe many organizations, I’m sure. The trick, he says, is to ensure that’s the person talking to you across your desk, the job candidate who seems to be saying all the right things. As Herjavec puts it:

“Everyone always says they are motivated in an interview. Everyone is comfortable to put in the hours, do whatever it takes to succeed … we hear it all the time. [The key is this:] How do you separate the top performers from those who simply have strong interview skills?”

One of the things he likes to do, he says, is “get to the core of someone’s skill set.” He does this is a nice, smooth, roundabout — some might say tricky — way.

“For example, if I’m interviewing for a sales role, I ask about the individual’s primary motivators. Then I let them know there is an opening in our marketing team and ask if they would be interested in learning more. To me, someone in sales needs to be laser-focused on achieving their target and driving for that number. It’s not the same person that I would hire to work on our marketing or communications team. If you waver in your approach and express interest in the second role, you’re not the person for my team.”

He also asks direct — I’d even call them aggressive — questions during an interview, such as “Why should I hire you?” “Tell me your perspective on our brand.” Or “What’s your take on the latest industry breach or happening?” As he puts it:

“If they can’t handle a conversation with me, I’m not confident to have them engage with our valued customers.”

I love the strategy here. And the aggression. No surprise Herjavec has also enjoyed a career in race-car driving.

No coddling the candidates at Herjavec Group, where multiple members of the executive team are asked to meet each one before he or she is brought on board. I guess a far cry from making sure their candidate experience is an easy and pleasant one. And probably no huge concern that word might get out on college campuses or social-media sites about the rough ordeal in store for would-be employees there.

Perhaps something to consider when you’re looking to upgrade your caliber of new hires … ?


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The Next Step for Wearable Tech

Wearable technology has been receiving a lot of attention in the press lately.

ThinkstockPhotos-126914550Just last month, FitBit—by far, the current leading provider in the field—scored a major client win when Target announced it would be giving its 335,000 employees a free Zip, the firm’s clip-on device retailing for around $60. Wall Street apparently was pleased by the news: FitBit’s stock price jumped as much as 22 percent following the announcement.

So I guess it isn’t terribly surprising to see wearable technologies quite visible at this week’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Orlando, Fla. Right?

Just a few steps away from the conference registration desk, FitBit employees were distributing complimentary devices to attendees who agreed to sign up for a charity competition. (Full disclosure: I picked up my first tracker on Wednesday, strapped it on my wrist and joined a team designated “MS Mercenaries,” though I’m clearly not contributing to our tally sitting here writing this post.)

I probably should also mention that FitBit did a similar competition at our Health & Benefits Leadership Conference last year and will be doing it again later this month at our HR Tech Conference.

I also counted at least three sessions dedicated to the wearables topic on the opening day of the Benefits Forum.

One of those sessions, titled “Wearables: A Believable Future or a Passing Fad,” featured David Spierer, president of human physiology at Wellness Science LLC, a New York-based data-intelligence company that focuses on wearable-tech validation.

Spierer shared his insights and perspectives on the phenomenon, including some of the drawbacks employers ought to factor in as they evaluate and implement these devices in their organizations.

Sustainability and accuracy continue to be two major hurdles facing device makers, he said.

According to Spierer, wearables have a life span of about five-and-a-half to six months before the novelty wears off and they end up in a drawer, he said. Either that, he said, or they break.

Still, the appetite for these devices is unarguably huge. Spierer said they’re shipping at a rate of more than 21 million units a year—and some predict that number could rise to 150 million a year by 2018. So people clearly want them!

Spierer also emphasized the need for better validation.

He specifically pointed to manufacturers’ claims that these devices can measure calories, when the only way to accurately measure caloric expenditures is to wear a mask. “Carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen have to all be measured in order to get a true reading of caloric expenditure,” he said. “These devices just do an estimate.”

Yet despite such limitations, Spierer predicted that further innovation lies ahead for the technology and the future is promising.

By integrating the sensors with a complete system, he said, people will be able to do exercises at home and then send that information to their physician.

Spierer also predicted that the devices are going to become increasingly “invisible” and “personalized,” citing companies that have already added them to their clothing and are incorporating them in jewelry such as earrings.

He also expects the technology to get a lot smarter. “They’re going to be context-driven,” he said. “They’re going to know when it’s raining, what holiday it is [and] what your routine is during the day.” And they’re going to start to talk to other devices (for instance, the wearable on your wrist will be able to talk to your phone in your pocket).

“How great would it be if you were walking home with your groceries, the wearable senses your heart rate is going up, the smart lock on your front door opens … and because your sweating, your air conditioning goes on?” he asked.

I’d say pretty great—especially on a day like today, when temperatures in Orlando reached around 90 degrees.

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New Hires Face Higher Expectations

If you’re new to an organization, you’d better be prepared to hit the ground running — especially if you’re a college grad. That’s certainly the way it’s been for Ham Serunjogi, who tells Fast Company he was “shocked” at how much was expected of him during his first few days at work.

Serunjogi, a graduate of Grinnell College, started work as an intern at an environmental technology firm in 2013. In his first meeting with the executive director, he was asked whether he’d taken a database class in college. When Serunjogi replied in the affirmative, he recounts, he was told that he would now be overseeing the design and implementation of a new communication database for the organization.

“That was the first time I was ever brought into a project I had little or no knowledge about, and was expected to deliver results,” he said.

This past summer, Serunjogi began an internship at Facebook, where he encountered similar expectations. “Facebook is a very fast-moving culture,” he tells Fast Company. “There’s an expectation that you come in and you learn how to catch up with everyone else, otherwise you’re slowing down the entire organization.”

Technology companies are far from the only ones with such a mindset these days. HRE‘s Talent Management Columnist, Wharton prof Peter Cappelli, has written extensively about the trend in Corporate America to do away with the extensive training programs companies once provided to help new employees develop and acquire skills. Now, he writes, firms expect employees to come “ready made” with the necessary skills via school, college and internships — and if they have trouble finding such people, then it’s evidence of a “talent shortage.”

Yet more evidence of these higher expectations comes via a recent Harris Poll, which finds 27 percent of the 319 executives surveyed said they form an opinion of entry-level employees in less than two weeks and 78 percent decide in less than three months whether or not that person will succeed at the company.

Considering that everyone is now expected to be “an A player” right out of the box, job candidates need to prepare accordingly by interviewing their potential employers as much as they’re interviewing them, Decisions Toolbox chief recruitment officer Nicole Cox tells Fast Company.

Use that time to clarify what will be expected of them, she says. And, “after they’re hired, ask if they’re meeting those expectations.”

One would also hope that employers do their part to clarify expectations — and give new hires the time and support necessary for proving their capability.

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Anxiety Disorders and the ADA

A recent Pennsylvania district court ruling underscores what one attorney calls the “fundamental difficulty” that employers face in responding to mental health-related disabilities in the workplace.

In Kiera Barber v. Subway, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has ruled that Subway must head to trial to defend claims that the sandwich restaurant chain violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by terminating an employee rather than accommodate her disability.

The chain of events that led them to this point begins in the summer of 2012 …

Court records indicate that Kiera Barber—who worked as a “sandwich artist” at a Subway location in Harrisburg, Pa. for roughly two weeks starting in May 2012—completed an online employment application and subsequently interviewed with Akash Patel, the owner of the Harrisburg franchise. During that face-to-face meeting, Barber informed Patel that she suffers from anxiety and may need to take breaks when and if anxiety episodes occur during her shifts. (She also produced medical documentation of her anxiety disorder and social phobia, at Patel’s request.)

Patel, who had previously advised Barber that a sandwich artist’s duties included preparing sandwiches for and interacting with Subway customers, reportedly noted that Barber’s requested accommodation “wasn’t a problem.”

On June 12, however, Barber suffered an anxiety attack while preparing a sandwich at the front of the store, eventually retreating to an employee-only area to attempt to get her symptoms under control. According to Barber, Patel followed her to the back of the store, asking about her condition and pressuring her to return to work. When her condition did not improve, Barber requested permission to leave early.

And that’s where the concerned parties’ accounts of that June day begin to “diverge considerably,” according to court documents.

Barber says that Patel responded to her request by saying he “[didn’t] see any reason to keep training you if you’re going to keep having anxiety attacks.” She also testified that Patel “commanded” her to leave the store.

Barber claims she was never told that she was fired, but “perceived his order to leave as a formal termination of her employment with Subway.” Subway, however, maintains that Patel adequately accommodated Barber’s request and expected her to report for her next scheduled shift. When she didn’t, Patel concluded that Barber wasn’t coming back at all. Court records show that neither Barber nor Patel have initiated contact with the other since the June 12 incident.

It’s worth pointing out that this opinion is at the summary judgment stage, where the threshold for success is much lower than at trial or in the motion for summary judgment phase.

But, however the case plays out, it can still be instructive for employers, says Michael Studenka, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based partner at Newmeyer & Dillion.

Because mental-health disabilities are invisible to the eye, managers can simply perceive behavioral symptoms—tardiness, a lack of attention to detail, an inability to relate to co-workers or customers, for instance—as substandard work performance, says Studenka.

As such, mental health-related issues can be “a source of great exposure” for an organization, he says.

“Employers have an obligation to engage in the interactive process when they know or have reason to know that an employee is suffering from a disability in the workplace,” continues Studenka. “HR cannot be everywhere at once, and thus, in order to comply with this requirement, employers must remain vigilant in regularly training supervisors to recognize potential mental-health disabilities that exist in their workforce, as well as handling requests for accommodations based upon the same.”

Managers, he says, are “the eyes and ears of the company,” and “must understand what they need to do if they become aware of, or even suspect that an employee is dealing with a mental-health issue.”

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Pushing to Repeal the CEO Pay-Ratio Rule

WorldatWork is the latest organization to voice its objection to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s CEO pay-ratio rule.

Cara Woodson Welch, vice president of external affairs and practice leadership forWorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association and compensation authority issued the following statement today encouraging House Financial Services Committee members to pass H.R. 414 the Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act which repeals the recently finalized U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules implementing the CEO pay-ratio requirement of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank):

“Advancing this legislation and relieving companies from the disclosure requirements which have now been finalized by the SEC is sorely needed,” she said.

“Now that the rules are final, compensation and executive compensation practitioners are faced with the daunting task of trying to identify their median employee in order to comply with the CEO pay-ratio rules.

This process, she says, will be extraordinarily expensive, time consuming and burdensome for companies and will fail to result in any meaningful benefit for shareholders and potential investors.

“Once published, the ratio itself will require significant explanation to truly understand and it’s unlikely that shareholders, potential investors, members of the public or the media will take the time necessary to fully comprehend the methodology used by each company to reach their median employee calculation.

“The best solution for avoiding this ill-conceived requirement is full repeal. WorldatWork strongly supports H.R. 414 and respectfully asks members of the committee to pass this legislation and move it forward to the full House for consideration.”

WorldatWork submitted formal comments in 2013 and on July 6, to the SEC on the agency’s proposed regulations implementing the CEO pay-ratio requirement of Dodd-Frank.

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Concern Over U.K.’s Older Workers Hits a U.S. Chord

474168522 -- older workerThis article from the United Kingdom caught my eye. Called “Missing Million,” it was put out by Business in the Community, one of the Prince of Wales’ charities.

It talks about older workers (50 year of age and up) and how more than a million of them have been “pushed out of work involuntarily,” thereby wreaking havoc on an impending skills gap that’s already pressing down on the U.K. economy. As the article puts it, “these missing million older workers could potentially boost the U.K. economy by £88 billion, if they were able to stay in work for longer.”

The three-part report “highlights the value of older workers,” it says, “making recommendations to government and responsible employers at a time when there is much discussion and growing business engagement in how we can all collectively support longer working lives.”

It brought to mind a feature I wrote several years ago, When Junior’s in Charge, highlighting the challenges older workers face in corporate America as they find themselves answering to much-younger managers who don’t value their worth.

In that story, I cite a book written by Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Bill Novelli, former CEO of AARP, titled Managing the Older Worker. It highlights just how much U.S. employers are missing out by not recognizing this worth and making better use of this level of skill, knowledge and dedication. (Here’s an excerpt, as published on HREOnline.com, from the book.)

Here, too, is yet more — and much more recent — fuel to add to the fire of the worthy senior worker. This study by PsychTests.com, released Aug. 29, reveals that those in what we’re calling the Greatest Generation — now 70 years of age and older — outscore all their younger counterparts in the top five most-productive work traits: emotional stability, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. In essence, the PsychTests release says, “this 70-plus generation is more pleasant, tolerant, even-keeled and diligent than all the generations to follow.

All this also made me hearken back to Cappelli’s August column on HREOnline  about the United Kingdom taking the lead on engagement and the importance of HR.

I shared this latest U.K. report with him to see if, indeed, he thinks the United Kingdom might be leading the way again, setting yet another example for employers across the pond when it comes to workforce and talent management.

Interestingly, he told me, it’s “the Asian countries [that] are taking the lead in trying to make better use of older workers, especially Singapore, where they have tight labor markets.”

“In the United States,” he said, “we still have a great deal of prejudice against older workers that probably won’t change until more baby boomers retire and start kicking up a fuss.”

Hats off to the Prince of Wales, at least, for trying to kick up a fuss over this missing and maligned segment of the United Kingdom before it’s too late.

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Telecommuting By Way of the Middle Lane

There’s no denying that telecommuting is now a well-entrenched strategy at many companies, both large and small. But despite its widespread acceptance, many organizations continue to struggle to get it right.

ThinkstockPhotos-80700729No surprise, then, that there’s been more than a few studies on the subject over the years, including one just published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research and resulting article—titled “How Effective Is Telecommuting? Assessing the Status of Our Scientific Findings”—suggests that, like many things in life, telecommuting works best when it’s practiced to a “moderate degree.”

In their article, the researchers—Tammy D. Allen of the University of South Florida, Timothy D. Golden of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Kristen M. Shockley of City University of New York—note that telecommuting is rarely an “all-or-nothing work practice” and “the frequency with which work is done away from the central office is likely to make a difference .”

For example, the research finds that job satisfaction is highest among those who telecommute a moderate amount, compared to those who telecommute either a small amount or more extensively.

What’s more, the researchers write, “individuals who spent more time telecommuting exhibited lower job performance as a result of professional isolation than did those who spent little time telecommuting.”

They also report that autonomy plays a significant role in the success or failure of an initiative.

Workers who have more autonomy and more control over telework and when they complete their tasks, they say, seem to benefit more from telecommuting arrangements than those who don’t.

In a commentary accompanying the report, Families and Work Institute Vice President of Research Kenneth Matos and President and Co-Founder Ellen Galinsky note that the research “provides a powerful blueprint for practitioners to maximize the positive impacts of telecommuting while minimizing its drawbacks and understanding the nuances of what makes their telecommuting programs succeed or fail.”

I suppose a key word here is “nuances.”

As this latest research makes clear, employers would be well served to remember that the “devil is in the details” when it comes to crafting an effective telecommuting program.

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