Category Archives: corporate culture

John and the Thick Glass Ceiling

According to a new piece on the New York TimesTheUpshot section, fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.

If that seems like an unlikely thing to consider, that nugget of information was dug up from what the Times calls its Glass Ceiling Index, explained thusly:

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

The GCI is inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors, according to the piece. That report yielded an index score of 1.03 for directors, meaning that for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.

While the methodology behind the figures is certainly interesting and unique, the NYT piece notes that it also points to the sad truth “that in many important decision-making areas of American life, women remain vastly outnumbered.”

Twitter It!

The Long Lost Art of Listening at Work

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.

 

Twitter It!

A ‘Smarter’ Look at Transparency

Here’s an interesting twist of business-world irony: While a  company’s culture of transparency may help increase accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity, it can also undermine it.

At least that’s the view being espoused by Harvard Business School’s Ethan Bernstein in a piece that recently appeared on the Wall Street Journal site.

Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, writes that quantity should never trump quality when it comes to how an organization approaches the issue of transparency:

The problem, I believe, is the conviction that when it comes to transparency, “more is better.” But more transparency isn’t necessarily better. Rather, smarter transparency is better. If leaders can adopt a transparency strategy that strikes a balance between openness and privacy, that tears some walls down while leaving others in place, they are more likely to get the results they want.

In the piece, Bernstein shares three guiding principles employers should follow in order to strike the right balance of openness and opacity within their organizations, including his take on open-office designs.

One global company Berstein studied had recently transformed its headquarters from traditional to open offices, he writes, and so he measured face-to-face and electronic interaction of its staff both before and after the redesign.

After the redesign, interactions between individuals who weren’t on the same team jumped more than 50%. Sounds good, right? Except that interactions between individuals who had to work together to get things done fell by almost an equivalent amount, and the total amount of interactions actually fell.

The moral of that particular story, he writes, is that organizations adopting transparent workplaces “need to think even more about who should observe whom, not just leave it to chance.”

And the key for organizations, he writes, is for company leaders to strategically consider when observation will improve productivity, and when it will undermine fertile soil for innovation:

As with all transparency efforts, a lot of good can come from putting everybody on stage some of the time.

But, he concludes, requiring “a constant performance [by employees] comes with a high price: the loss of experimentation and learning. It’s a price that companies should be unwilling to pay.”

Twitter It!

Are You a Minister of Culture?

How’s your company’s mojo supply these days?

According to a new piece by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan, it’s likely lower than it could be because some “leaders can’t imagine treating their employees any better than the law requires.”

And that’s what happens when fear-based leaders tell their HR people to simply focus on employment-law compliance instead of employee engagement and other strategic issues, she writes in a new post titled “Reinventing Human Resources For The Human Workplace.”

In the piece, Ryan calls it “a tragedy when HR people are assigned to spout policies and process performance reviews rather than to serve as the Ministers of Culture every organization needs.”

“HR people who see their job as keeping the firm out of court miss dozens of chances a day to build community and trust.”

In order to do this, she says, HR needs “to actively get out there with our teammates and into the talent market and say ‘How do we make this place the hands-down coolest place to work?’ I’m not talking about slogans and happy talk or even Friday night pizza parties or foosball.”

“I’m talking about grown-up accountability for the trust level in the organization. That’s the fuel tank your HR team is responsible for keeping full to its brim. Your Finance team looks after the money. Your HR people keep the mojo stores full.”

And one of the best ways for HR leaders to maintain a company’s good energy, she says, is actually quite simple: “They have to ask way more questions than they answer.”

Indeed, when it comes to mastering a topic as tricky as mojo, taking a “curious” approach certainly seems to make quite a bit of sense.

Twitter It!

What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

Twitter It!

For Women, ‘Assertive’ Still Means ‘Mean’

We really haven’t come that far, fellow females.

Not when recent polls show too many women in business — whether by their own fault or by their being mislabeled — are still being 162892062 -- bitchy bossperceived as too gruff, too assertive, too downright mean when they’re in positions of authority.

When Lawrence Polsky wrote an article about “bitchy bosses” earlier this year, he garnered hundreds of responses, clearly touched a nerve and sparked a nationwide conversation about why women leaders are perceived differently than men, according to one release I read about the article .

“Ninety percent of the leaders I have coached over the past 20 years [have been] women,” says Polsky, managing partner at the Princeton, N.J.-based global consulting firm PeopleNRG.com. “I have found the reason they are called bitchy or some  version of that, by their team or colleagues, comes down to one thing: the perception of being ‘too’ assertive. It can also be a way for employees to undermine a woman leader they don’t like or are jealous of.”

Polsky followed his article up by polling 221 professionals on their perceptions of the article for a survey he appropriately titled “Bitchy Bosses” as well.

That poll found:

  • 76 percent of women reported having a “bitchy boss” in the past, compared to 64 percent of men;
  • 89 percent said it reduced team productivity;
  • 87 percent said they or someone on their team left their job because of it;
  • 79 percent said it made them less motivated to do a good job;
  • 62 percent of men said they were lied to by the boss, compared to 52 percent of women;
  • 36 percent told human resources about the problem, yet only 10 percent said HR did anything to help the situation; and
  • 15 percent called in an outside consultant, and of those, 79 percent said that didn’t help.

A recent post on this blog by Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine supports this notion that we have a problem out there, women. His post describes, as one linguist uncovered through her research, “what seems to be a powerful bias against women who are seen as ‘too assertive’ in the workplace — and the bias seems prevalent regardless of whether the review was conducted by a man or a woman.

That research, which surveyed 248 performance reviews from 28 companies, showed women received much more critical feedback than men did. (About 59 percent of men’s reviews included critical feedback, while nearly 88 percent of women’s did.)

Some of the criticisms against women written in the reviews included: “Stop being so judgmental” and “You can come across as abrasive sometimes.” In fact, the linguist found the word “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women, but the word never appeared in men’s reviews. (McIlvaine’s post also includes a link to an HRE piece addressing this.)

More recently, in her October column addressing the scuffle caused by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments on women’s pay, Susan R. Meisinger, our HR Leadership columnist, acknowledges this double standard in how we come across affects pay as well.

“Some women aren’t comfortable asking for more money,” she writes, “because they fear it will adversely impact how they are perceived. The fear may be valid: Research shows that both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview, since women who press for higher pay are considered pushy.”

Boy, we really can’t win for losing, can we?

Of special concern to Polsky, from the research he did, is that HR doesn’t appear to be all that effective in mitigating the perception problem, at least as it concerns female bosses.  What this means, in his estimation, is that:

“HR cannot rely on hearing about a bitchy boss from employees but must be proactive to discover if the problem exists. [HR leaders] need to look for clues, such as a leader complaining to HR: ‘The people on my team are not stepping up to the plate.’  Another sign is if you sit in team meetings and many team members are very quiet. Both are clues that there is no space for the team to contribute. This points to the fact that either the leader hasn’t built trust or is eroding it.”

He offers these tips for dealing with this issue (as well as how he gave them to me below). If HR does hear about this type of behavior in a female manager or leader:

  1. Encourage employees to talk directly to the boss. Direct feedback is the most helpful for leaders to understand the impact they are having. Our research showed 43 percent of people spoke to their troublesome boss about the problem and about one in five said it helped improve the situation.

  2. If more than one person brings it up, then they need feedback. This needs to come from their manager, not HR.  Why?  If they are to turn this around, it could get messy before it gets better.  They need their manager on their side through the process, to make them aware of the perception problem. Often, these leaders are not aware of how they are being perceived.  Their manager needs to discuss the situation with them.

  3. Oftentimes, the team and the leader need support to move through this problem.  The leader needs help pulling back and being less aggressive while the team needs help being more assertive.  Most of the times I have been involved, the team needed to learn to be more assertive to push back on an overly assertive leader’s aggressive communication. What often gets forgotten, and what we always do, is help the team go through a process of open, honest dialogue with the leaders. This creates healing and forgiveness. Employees will forgive and move forward if they believe the leader is sorry and will change.

  4. If the leaders do not change, after six months of coaching and support from HR and/or a qualified coach,  then they need to be moved to a different position where they can thrive or be removed from their job.

Also, overlook it, he says, if it’s a one-off. If there is only one person complaining, make sure this is not an employee with an axe to grind. Check into it. “I have seen where an employee with an axe to grind gave anonymous feedback to make the leader look bad,” Polsky says.

Also overlook it if the female leader has been charged with implementing a new vision/strategy/approach. “Employees,” he says, “might be complaining because the leader is  pushing them more than the previous manager/leader/situation required.”

This notion kind of feeds into a piece by Mark McGraw, posted here earlier this month, suggesting there are times when “being a jerk” can be effective in business. Unfortunately, the researchers in his piece don’t address the “bitch” factor, only the multi-gender “jerk” factor.

I guess the million-dollar question that has yet to be answered is: Why are women getting the lion’s share of the “bitch” complaints? And (perhaps for Polsky to take on in 2015) what can HR do to even that score?

 

Twitter It!

Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”

Twitter It!

A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as knowyourcompany.com, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

Twitter It!

Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

Twitter It!

The Fabrication of Culture

myth vs. factLaurie Ruettimann lumps the whole “corporate culture” concept in with the likes of Sasquatch, unicorns and Keyser Soze.

In other words, it’s a myth.

In a Nov. 4 blog post that I’m guessing has already been forwarded through a few HR departments, Ruettimann takes the idea of a super-duper corporate culture—and those who espouse the importance of having one—out to the woodshed.

“You are incorrectly applying the word ‘culture’ to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office,” writes Ruettimann, a consultant, speaker, writer, blogger, HR Technology Conference and Exposition® panelist and a former HR leader.

“That’s it,” she says. “Your [lousy] software company or little marketing agency doesn’t have a culture—it has a CEO and a leadership team that has particular points of view about how work should ‘feel.’ ”

There’s more.

“I’m on record saying that ‘culture’ is what we talk about when a company’s products and services are unremarkable,” continues Ruettimann. “We pay employees in culture when we can’t pay them in cash.”

We could debate how “culture” is defined, and could argue whether employees care about a great working environment as much as they care about the size of their paychecks. But saying that a company’s culture doesn’t matter—or even exist—is sure to raise some eyebrows throughout HR and beyond.

Take this response posted to Reuttimann’s blog, for instance.

“Maybe there’s a better term for it … but corporate culture is the thing that makes [or] breaks an individual’s experience at a company. The other tangibles are very important too … I don’t care how much a company pays me, if the environment is [shabby] I’m not sticking around.”

Provided he is paid fairly, another commenter says “it’s company culture that dictates whether I flourish, stick around or leave. Of course senior leadership need to set the rules, describe how they want their employees to operate … it’s their [bleeping] business that they are in charge of running.”

(Incidentally … Ruettimann and the commenters on her blog aren’t stingy with the expletives, are they?)

But salty language aside, it’s not as if some of what Ruettimann is saying shouldn’t resonate with readers.

For example, she urges her “friends and colleagues in human resources to start making evidence-based decisions.” Whether it’s based in reality or perception, there’s certainly a school of thought that says HR is still much more of a touchy-feely function than a true “strategic partner” or contributor to the bottom line.

While many within the profession would contend that HR has made great strides in using data and analytics to connect the function’s role to business performance, others feel there’s still a long way to go.

“I just want to say this article actually had me screaming YES!” writes another commenter. “… I am so tired of being associated with decisions and practices being made that are based off nothing!”

Another reader notes that “we try to sell people on culture when there is a lack of selling points in other areas. If you’re paying me a market-appropriate salary, providing good benefits, decent PTO and don’t let crazy people manage, I’m going to be happy and stay. Forget the complimentary Keurig, or the Foosball table, or the fully-stocked kitchen. Those things are [OK], but they’re not going to keep me.”

While free snacks and table soccer don’t begin to sum up what goes into creating a company’s culture, this comment still starts to get at what may be the biggest takeaway from this provocative post. It may be extreme to classify the notion of corporate culture as a figment of HR’s imagination, but it seems fair to say that employers and HR should be careful to provide their people with a lot more than just a “cool place to work” if they want them to stay.

Twitter It!