All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

The Trouble With Leadership

Unless you’ve been hiding under a fairly large rock lately, you’ve no doubt heard that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was asked to resign from the company he co-founded, which went from a mere prototype in 2009 to a monster with a market valuation of $70 billion earlier this year. Of course, along with that (paper) wealth generation a whole lot of other things went on, including a series of ethically questionable decisions and allegedly rampant harassment and disrespect of workers by managers, including Kalanick and his direct reports.

Mr. Kalanick has plenty of company: Senior leaders in general are failing the grade, at least according to the employees who work for them. Less than half of U.S. employees (45 percent) have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest Global Workforce Study. That’s down from 55 percent who expressed trust and confidence in their organization’s C-suite denizens for a similar study in 2014. Only 47 percent believe leaders have a sincere interest in employees’ well being, while just one in four (41 percent) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

These low scores don’t bode well for an organization’s long-term success.

“The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is worrisome, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement,” says Laura Sejen, WTW’s managing director for Human Capital and Benefits. The Global Workforce Study includes survey responses from 3,015 U.S. employees from 441 American companies, out of a total of 31,000 employees and 2,004 companies from around the globe.

Employees tend to view their immediate managers much more favorably, the survey finds: 81 percent of U.S. workers say their managers treat them with respect, 75 percent say managers assign them tasks that are well-suited to their skills and abilities and 60 percent say their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

Unfortunately, there’s much room for improvement as well: Just a bit more than half (56 percent) say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay and only half (50 percent) say managers have enough time to handle the “people aspects” of their job. Only 40 percent say their managers coach them to improve their performance.

What’s the solution? No clear-cut one, obviously, but it might be wise for HR leaders to help their organizations get serious about building a stronger pipeline of future leaders and helping current managers become better coaches.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organizations are taking a keen interest in how manager behavior affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” says Patrick Kulesa, WTW’s director of employee research.

What’s Wrong with Workplace Culture

We’re all expected to be doing more with less these days (just like last year, and the year before that and … oh never mind). But a new survey of U.S. workers by American Express finds that today’s companies may not be doing enough to help their employees be more productive; in fact, their workplace cultures may actually be standing in the way.

Take jargon, for example (no really, please take it): 88 percent of U.S. workers admit to pretending to understand office jargon, even when they really have no idea what it means, according to Amex’s Get Business Done Survey. However, two-thirds (64 percent) say they use jargon words or phrases multiple times a week — as in, “Let’s table that and circle back when the deliverables have greater impactfulness.”

Then there are meetings: One third of the employees say they spend nearly 1,200 hours a year in meetings they would call “pointless.” As Sonny Corleone said in The Godfather, “No more meetings!” Or at least, no more meetings that run on for so long that attendees’ attention starts to flag — the survey finds that when this happens, employees’ “top distractions of choice” include thinking about running errands (43 percent), taking a vacation (32 percent), wondering “What were they thinking?” about coworkers’ wardrobes (29 percent) or inserting a witty joke to make the meeting more fun (27 percent).

Email is yet another factor, as employees in the survey admit to responding to work email at less-than-productive times of the day such as after 10 p.m. (36 percent), on vacations (36 percent), while out on dates (15 percent) and eve as late as 3 a.m. (19 percent). Nothing sad about that, right?

The survey also cites some non-culture-related distractions that impede productivity, such as social media (52 percent say it hinders their productivity) and current events (30 percent said they’re “glued to the news”).

While HR may not be able to do much about the last two items other than block access via the company network (possibly a futile move in this age of BYOD), it can certainly provide managers with some tips on structuring shorter meetings and communicating effectively in a  jargon-free manner. These moves may certainly “positively impact the organization’s ability to achieve maximum deliverables in a shortened timespan.”

CEOs Make Giant Diversity Pledge

More than 150 CEOs from some of the largest, best-known companies on the planet have just signed on to the “CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion,” an effort that includes leaders from Accenture, Deloitte U.S., GE and some other fancy blue-chip names. It’s quite a big deal: The CEOs are pledging to take action to, among other things, share  successful — and unsuccessful — actions shared across organizations via a unified hub and “cultivate a workplace where … employees feel encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion.”

This effort is one that will be watched here at HRE with a mix of excitement and profound skepticism. After all, here in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, we haven’t exactly mastered the art of talking to one another, rather than past each other. And yet, as the press release states, when we feel respected and valued for who we are — and can see our colleagues (and neighbors, etc.) for who they are, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity — then great things can happen.

One component of the program will include implementing and expanding unconscious-bias education, which is a potentially powerful tool because it encourages everyone to identify and address their own biases. After all, nearly everyone of us has biases — and these can include biases against, say, a rural white person who speaks with an accent. Research has shown that when we let ourselves be guided too much by our unconscious biases, then potentially valuable talent — from all corners of the country and the world — gets left on the floor, and that hurts us all.

One of the effort’s toughest challenges will be, of course, the part about cultivating workplaces in which honest conversations about diversity and inclusion can take place. As you know, talk may be cheap, but the wrong kind of talk — unfiltered, taken out of context, etc. — can get very, very expensive. Companies like EY, Accenture and GE have the resources to afford the very best in training so that these potential issues can be addressed and avoided in a skillful manner. But what about the workplaces in small to mid-sized organizations — you know, those places where 99 percent of the U.S. workforce lives? Hopefully, the solutions that will be shared on CEOAction.com’s platform will be accessible to, and workable for, the companies with much more limited funds.

This Just In: Change is Awful

The saying goes that “change is inevitable.” But when it comes to the workplace, Americans would rather have none of it, according to the results of a brand-new survey from the American Psychological Association.

Employees in the U.S. who’ve been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared to those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, which is based on responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll in March.

Half of American workers report having been affected by organizational change within the last year, are currently being affected by such change or expect to be affected by it within the next year, the survey finds. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

Workers reporting recent or current change also were much more likely than other respondents to say they experienced work/life conflict and felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).

There’s plenty more in the survey results, much of it dispiriting and depressing. The upshot seems to be that too many U.S. workplaces appear to be afflicted with leaders who’ve adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. However, this article that ran in McKinsey Quarterly a number of years ago (published by the consulting powerhouse McKinsey) offers some interesting food for thought that holds true today. One of its important points, as you may already know, is that people need to understand the point of change–why something is being changed, their role in helping the change succeed and how all of it will lead to better conditions for both themselves and the larger organization. The theme is that while change may be inevitable, the negative side effects shouldn’t be and don’t have to be.

 

Of Job Interviews and Stress

Do you remember your last job interview? Was the experience a pleasant one? If you’re like most people, the answers are A: yes, and B: No. After all, regardless of how nicely you’re treated during the interview — a receptionist who greets you warmly by name, interviewers who appear to have fully read your resume, etc. — the fact is that this is a process that may determine not only your livelihood but also who you’ll be spending the majority of your waking hours with (and yes that sounds sad, but it is what it is). So considering all that, it may not be surprising if even the memory of the experience makes your heart beat a little faster and your palms get a bit sweaty.

All of this can be a good thing, said psychologist Kelly McGonigal during her keynote presentation earlier this week at Indeed Interactive in Austin, Tex. The conventional wisdom about stress is that too much of it leads to overeating, high blood pressure and a host of other maladies and behaviors that will ultimately result in a shortened lifespan, said McGonigal, a Stanford University researcher whose 2014 TED Talk titled “How to Make Stress Your Friend” garnered nearly 5 million views. However, stress is and always has been a part of life, she said — it’s how we choose to respond to it that determines its effect on our health.

“The advice we typically give to each other during a really stressed-out moment, like before a job interview, is ‘Take a deep breath,’ ” she said to attendees packing the ballroom at the Austin J.W. Marriott. “Yes, most people say that — and they’re wrong. A better piece of advice is, what if instead of trying to suppress the stress, we view it as energy that we can harness?”

McGonigal cited research conducted at the University of Wisconsin that tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years. The researchers found that subjects with a lot of stress had a 43-percent increased risk of dying — but only if they believed stress was harmful.

“The people who perform best under pressure aren’t actually calm, but they view that stress as energy that can actually help them,” she said. “Your body and brain have a whole repertoire of stress responses, many of which are helpful and healthy. If you choose to embrace that anxiety, it actually transforms the biology of fear into the biology of courage.”

People tend to perform better when they’re told prior to a major event that feeling anxious is natural and that it can actually help them — not just in job interviews, said McGonigal, but in a wide range of activities such as athletic competitions, during tests and even in karaoke contests (something to keep in mind for your next happy hour).

“Not everyone does this naturally, although everyone has the capability to do this,” she said. “You can access the biology of resilience in stressful situations.”

Researchers at Columbia Business School conducted an experiment in which participants were put through a mock job interview by interviewers who’d been coached to be very cold, give no positive feedback whatsoever to the interviewees  and interrupt them regularly, said McGonigal. One group of interviewees was shown a video prior to the interview that explained the damaging effects that stress can have on health. The other group was shown  a video about how stress can be performance-enhancing and can help people emerge from a difficult situation stronger and better-equipped to handle adversity. The participants who saw the positive video experienced higher levels of hormones (oxytocin, in particular) that help us react positively to stressful experiences, she said.

In another experiment focused on job applicants, this one at the University of Michigan, researchers counseled one group of participants to think about how — if they got the job — it would allow them to help others or express their values in a way that would contribute to the greater good. Members of this group were much more likely to be rated by people who watched the interviews as  confident and competent and as someone they would like to work with than those who hadn’t received the pre-interview counseling.

So, what’s the lesson here for recruiters and talent-acquisition leaders?

“Every step of the hiring process can be viewed as contributing to the community, values and mission of the organization,” said McGonigal. “One could view your own role as part of that, of helping to connect people with the organization and the community that it’s part of. And every moment that you choose to view as the next step in bringing this about also helps create a psychologically healthy state for you.”

House Passes Comp Time Bill

Hourly workers who’ve had to juggle shift schedules with picking up their kids from school or daycare or attending college classes while holding down a full-time job may have cause to cheer a bill that was passed earlier this week by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Working Families Flexibility Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R.-Ala.), would allow employers to give their workers paid time off in lieu of time-and-a-half pay (i.e., “overtime pay”) when they work more than 40 hours during a single week. The bill  now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah) has introduced a similar measure.

The House bill, which had strong Republican support, was touted as a way to “codify” flexibility for employees.

“I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than giving them more control over their time so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.) at a press conference held by Republican House leaders, reports CNN.

House Democrats were universally opposed to the bill, giving it zero votes. Six House Republicans also voted against it. The bill’s chances of passing the Senate appear uncertain at best: It will need to garner votes from at least 8 Democrats  as well as all 52 Republican senators in order to avoid a filibuster and make it to the desk of President Trump, who’s indicated he will sign it.

“This is nothing but a recycled bad bill that would allow big corporations to make an end-run around giving workers the pay they’ve earned,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) in a statement. Several similar bills have been passed by the House in recent years but died in the Senate.

The National Partnership for Women & Families has also strongly criticized the bill, saying that it would put too many restrictions on employees’ ability to decide when they’d want to use their paid time off.

If it became law, the Working Families Flexibility Act would give workers “a false and dangerous choice between overtime pay now and time off later when they work more than 40 hours in a week,” writes NPWF Vice President Vicki Shabo in The Hill. “It does this by giving employers the right to hold onto employees’ overtime wages for months, while giving employees no guarantee that they will be able to take their ‘comp time’ when they need it.”

 

Once Burned, Twice Shy

Once workers are laid off from a job, they’re more likely to quit their next job — and their next, and the one after that and probably the one after that, as well. That’s according to new research from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which compared workers’ “quits” prior to and after a layoff and determined that people who’d been laid off were 65-percent more likely to quit subsequent jobs.

They may also be likelier to quit their second, third and fourth jobs after the layoff, Paul Davis, assistant professor of HR studies at Cornell’s ILR School, told Bloomberg BNA. Davis, who conducted the research, studied the work histories of 2,500 people who were laid off to determine what effect the experience may have had on their subsequent careers. People who were laid off tend to feel less committed to their subsequent employers, keep a close eye on the external market and are more vigilant about new job opportunities, he said.

Layoffs are traumatic not just for the people who lose their jobs, but for their colleagues who stay on, Davis told Bloomberg BNA. In addition to having to take on the extra work previously done by those laid off, these employees may also feel resentful toward their employer for how their former coworkers were treated while harboring fear that they could be the next to receive a pink slip. They may also be more likely to look for new opportunities, jumping ship when they can, he said.

Companies faced with the need for cost-cutting should think long and hard before resorting to layoffs and consider alternatives first, said Davis. When a layoff is deemed necessary, he said, HR should be as open and honest with the “survivors” as they can, and explain why they’re critical to the success of the organization.

 

A Costly Skills Gap

How much does it cost the average company when open job positions remain unfilled for 12 weeks or longer? Almost $1 million a year, according to a pair of CareerBuilder surveys released today. The surveys, which were conducted for CareerBuilder by Harris Poll late last year and from Feb. 16 to March 9 of this year, found that the average cost HR managers say they incur for having extended job vacancies is more than $800,000 annually. Nearly 60 percent of the employers surveyed report that they have job openings that stay vacant for 12 weeks or longer.

We’re not just talking those hard-to-fill computer science jobs, either. “The gap between the number of jobs posted each month and the number of people hired is growing larger as employers struggle to find candidates to fill positions at all levels within their organizations,” says CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson. “There’s a significant supply and demand imbalance in the marketplace, and it’s becoming nearly a million-dollar problem for companies.”

Indeed, a supply imbalance appears to exist for a variety of occupations, including truck drivers, marketing managers, web developers, industrial engineers, sales managers, HR managers and information security analysts, CareerBuilder finds.

Two in three employers (67 percent) say they’re concerned about the skills gap, and more than half (55 percent) say these extended job vacancies are hurting their organizations. Forty-five percent say they lead to productivity loss, while 40 percent say they cause higher employee turnover, 39 percent cite lower morale, 37 percent mention lower quality work and 29 percent say the vacancies leave them unable to grow their business.

Not everyone agrees the “skills shortage” is real; some economists (and our HREOnline Talent Management columnist and Wharton School professor Peter Cappelli) argue that the real culprit is a reluctance by many employers to pay for the sort of workplace training programs that were commonly offered in the past. Nevertheless, plenty of other surveys also show that employers in a range of industries are contending with hard-to-fill positions, including the manufacturing industry. In fact, given President Trump’s stated desire to “make America great again” by, in part, bringing manufacturing jobs back to this country from overseas by imposing tariffs on foreign-made goods, some manufacturers are trying innovative ways to “grow” their own talent by reaching out to high schools and community colleges to ensure they’ll have talent on hand and won’t be caught short.

Report: HR is ‘Behind the Curve’

New research from the Hackett Group finds that many HR departments are lagging when it comes to helping their organizations deal with talent shortages in key areas, and — due to a lack of resources — sufficient progress likely won’t be made anytime soon.

The report, The CHRO Agenda: An Urgent Need to Close Large Gaps in Talent and Technology Capabilities (registration required), is based on survey results from executives at 180 large U.S. and foreign companies, most with annual revenue of $1 billion or more. It finds that HR at many organizations lacks the ability to fully support key enterprise goals such as adapting talent-management strategies and processes to deal with changing business needs, address talent shortages in critical areas, manage change more effectively and develop agile executives fully capable of leading in a volatile business environment.

HR leaders at these companies don’t suffer from a lack of ambition: The report finds that they’re planning to address issues such as talent-related change and strengthening their organizations’ HR tech and information capabilities and organizational structure and processes. However, their departments are held back by limited resources, with the number of full-time equivalent HR employees expected to decline by 1.4 percent this year on top of a decline of 1.3 percent last year and budgets that are projected to decrease by an average of 1.6 percent, compared to a reduction of 0.3 percent in 2016.

“The consistent finding here is that most HR organizations are simply too busy fighting fires to get out in front on strategic issues,” says Harry Osle, Hackett’s global HR advisory leader. “In many cases, they are in reactive mode, with too much on their plates and an inability to say no to work that does not allow HR to become more strategic.”

HR must change this mindset if it’s ever going to deliver strategic value, he says. “To build a true leadership position within the organization, it is essential that HR find ways to more effectively manage and prioritize its service portfolio, adopt proactive demand management techniques from IT and make headway on transformation and improvement in key talent areas.”

Hackett finds that HR organizations are planning to “dramatically increase” their mainstream adoption efforts in several digital technology areas, including cloud applications and Software-as-a-Service, social media and collaboration technologies and advanced analytics.

Avoid Hiring the ‘Takers’

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker? I came across a fascinating TED Talk the other day by Adam Grant, a management professor at Penn’s Wharton School and the author of two bestselling books, Originals and Give and Take. The latter book was about how helping others can fuel our own success, and was the focus of Grant’s talk, “Are You a Giver or a Taker?” which he delivered late last year at IBM.  There are three basic types of people in every workplace, he said: givers, takers and matchers.

Grant surveyed more than 30,000 people across industries and throughout the world, and found that most fall somewhere in the middle between givers and takers — he calls them “matchers.”

“If you’re a matcher, you try and keep an even balance of give and take: quid pro quo — ‘I’ll do something for you if you do something for me,'” he said. “And that seems like a safe way to live your life. But is it the most effective and productive way to live your life?”

The answer, said Grant, is ” a very definitive … maybe.”

Interestingly enough, although he found that givers display attributes that would seem to make them ideal employees, in the course of his research Grant found that they actually tended to be the worst performers in the various jobs that he studied. Givers tended to get the least work done, sell the least amount of products and, in medical schools, the students with the lowest grades tended to be the ones who most agreed with statements like “I love helping others.”

The givers are so giving, said Grant, that they tend to neglect their own work.

So, should you avoid hiring givers? Absolutely not, he said. In fact, givers tend to bring tremendous advantages to the organization as a whole, and HR and recruiting leaders should be screening out the takers instead.

“Givers make their organizations better,” said Grant. A huge body of evidence demonstrates that the more often people help others, share their knowledge and serve as mentors, the better organizations do on every success metric, from customer satisfaction to higher profits, he said. Givers spend a lot of time helping others but often end up suffering along the way, from a career perspective, said Grant. Interestingly enough, while many givers are bottom-dwellers in terms of job performance, they’re also disproportionately represented among top performers in terms of productivity, sales results and grades. Organizations should build cultures where givers actually get to succeed, he said.

Takers, by contrast, often rise rapidly within organizations — but they tend to fall rapidly, too, said Grant. Because takers tend to be “kiss-up, kick-down” types — currying favor with the higher-ups while dissing the people below them — they inevitably inspire revenge from the matchers, who make up the majority of most organizations, he said.

Matchers are positively influenced by the behavior of givers, however, and by building a culture in which asking for help from others is encouraged, organizations will not only inspire matchers to emulate givers but also make it easier for the givers themselves to thrive, said Grant. Fostering such an environment will encourage the givers themselves to seek assistance rather than risk burnout by helping everyone else to the detriment of their own well-being, he said.

Meanwhile, avoid the damage that even one taker on a team can wreak by filtering them out during the hiring process, said Grant.

“My favorite way to catch these people in the interview process is to ask them the question, ‘Can you give me the name of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?'” he said. “The takers will give you four names, and they will all be more influential than them, because takers are great at kissing up and then kicking down. Givers are more likely to name people who are below them in a hierarchy, who don’t have as much power, who can do them no good. And let’s face it, you all know you can learn a lot about character by watching how someone treats their restaurant server or their Uber driver.”