Category Archives: corporate culture

The Power of Vulnerability

Many HR leaders — along with leaders of every stripe — tend to view vulnerability as a weakness, and strive to “engineer it out” of their organizations. This is a mistake, according to author, consultant and University of Houston research professor Brené Brown, who delivered a keynote address at the Indeed Interactive conference in Austin, Tex. today on “Vulnerability and Workplace Transformation.”

Far from being a weakness, vulnerability can be a source of strength, power and innovation if people understand how to use it properly, said Brown, who’s spent the past 13 years of her career studying vulnerability, shame, courage and worthiness. Leaders who have an honest understanding of their own vulnerability, and who are comfortable displaying it during critical moments, are better equipped to lead and inspire other employees, she said.

Brown, whose TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability in 2010 became the fifth most-viewed TED Talk ever, cited her own experience in the wake of the talk’s popularity as instructive. Although it garnered more than 25 million views, the video also attracted some nasty comments from online viewers denigrating Brown’s appearance.  The anonymous comments included suggestions that Brown get Botox injections for her wrinkles and “If I looked like that, I’d feel vulnerable, too.”

Feeling traumatized, Brown compensated by “binge-watching Downton Abbey and eating lots of peanut butter.” But while watching the iconic British drama, she researched who was U.S. president at the time, and came across a speech excerpt by Teddy Roosevelt that inspired her:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;  …  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Roosevelt’s words not only helped Brown put the comments in perspective, but inspired the title of her 2012 book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.

“If you’re not in the arena, being brave and getting your ass kicked, then I have no interest in your feedback,” she said. “The world is filled with cheap seats, with people who hide behind anonymous comments and never get in the arena.”

Feeling vulnerable often leads people to try and compensate in ways that aren’t always helpful and, in some cases, damaging. She cited a brief disagreement with her husband that could’ve turned ugly had she not applied her own lessons in being aware of and mastering one’s vulnerability.

“Emotions drive our responses to tough things,” said Brown. “We tell ourselves stories about things that are happening and we get a reward from our brain that makes us feel better, even if the story isn’t accurate.”

However, vulnerability is not only the source of shame, fear and anxiety but also of love, belonging and joy, she said. It’s also the source of courage, empathy, trust, innovation, creativity, accountability and adoptability.

“If you foster a culture in your organization that doesn’t allow for vulnerability, then do not expect people to take risks and innovate,” said Brown. “If you don’t understand vulnerability, you cannot manage and lead people.”

Of course, leaders can’t display vulnerability in every situation, she said, citing the CEO of a start-up who told her he’d decided to share his vulnerability by going public with his feelings of being in over his head and having no idea what he was doing. “People who invested money in your company obviously aren’t going to want to hear that,” said Brown. “But if people sense that you’ll reach out for help when you need it, rather than not saying anything and continuing to plug along, that’s OK.”

The ability to be honest about what you don’t know or are uncertain of is a strength, not a weakness, said Brown.

“To be alive is to be vulnerable,” she said. “To be a leader is to be vulnerable every moment of every day.”

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A ‘Love Letter to [all the Bad-Rapped] Managers’

Who hasn’t heard and read the reports in the last few years on the real reason employees leave their employers? Bad managers, right? 522472388 -- managerNo doubt anyone visiting this site has seen and heard them.

We’ve certainly written our fair share, from criticizing managers’ reluctance or inability to truly promote career development to pinpointing the need for managers to grow their big-data skills to lamenting the unhappiness and decimation of the middle-management ranks in general, which of course supports the theory that unhappy managers make for bad bosses.

Which might be precisely why this recent post by Maren Hogan on the HR Examiner site, My Love Letter to Managerscaught my eye, an eye that’s always on the lookout for something counterintuitive (warning, she doesn’t hold back on some of her descriptors). That or the fact that I am a manager, so a love letter to me … well … what’s not to like?

Counterintuitive does seem to be the operative word here, when you consider all that’s been said about retention and turnover, and the especially egregious part managers play. As Hogan puts it,

“Retention issues? It’s the manager’s fault.
Productivity problems? Blame the manager.
Engagement dipping? Someone get management in here!

Can this really be true? After all, many of these problems have roots in giant, macro issues. The economy, changing workforce dynamics, an always-on mentality spurred on by technology advances. It’s sort of simplistic to blame the manager, isn’t it?”

I especially like what she says about this mega-trend, if you will, of citing management as the reason people leave work, hate work, aren’t engaged and aren’t productive. She thinks this trend “could be part of a blame culture that has slowly seeped into our workforce over the past couple of decades.” In her words,

“Whether we’re blaming millennials for the faster pace and fancy [results-only-work-environment] perks, or blaming executives for the glaring inequality between them and us, or blaming managers for every issue in the workforce, very few seem to be stepping up to take personal accountability.”

She’s got some helpful suggestions for employees who might be prone to disparaging their managers, such as considering how they, themselves, might change the situation before blaming their direct supervisor; doing better and faster work if they don’t like what’s been assigned to them so they can prove they’re capable of taking on something more interesting; taking self-assessments of their most-productive times during the workday and building their reputations as team players; and even getting better at confronting difficult and destructive employees themselves, so managers aren’t blamed for failing to take action.

So why am I sharing this with you? Well, first, I kind of agree with Hogan that managers have taken a bad rap for far too long for the ills of corporate culture.  More importantly, though, I believe employers and their HR leaders could go a long way toward curing some of those ills by paying more attention to the workloads and expectations placed on their managers.

They might also consider committing serious capital to training all employees in personal accountability, starting with Hogan’s list above.

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‘I’m Not Your Mother!’ In Defense of Happiness

Figured the day after Mother’s Day was a perfect time to run with a post I’ve been hanging on to for a while from China Gorman, then CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, now board chair of Las 520179370 -- happy workerVegas-based management consultancy Universum North America.

Her title? “I’m Not Your Mother!”

Now before you start imagining a tough stance on the softer side of workplace culture, I’m here to tell you this is all about the importance of breeding out-and-out happiness at work. But, as Gorman writes, it took some ups and downs and ins and outs to get her to this point:

“Early in my career as a business leader, I always believed that people were my critical competitive edge and that creating a strong, caring culture was my job. But happiness? Come on. I wasn’t my employees’ mother.

“The nature of the employer/employee relationship, I believed, was a commercial relationship. Employees come to work, do a good job and I pay them. The more I could remove obstacles from their ability to do good work, the more I could offer development and thanks for a job well done, the better they performed. Its wasn’t rocket science. Treat people well and they’ll treat your employees well. I got that. But trying to make them happy? I didn’t think that was part of the deal. And I was a pretty effective business leader.”

Then she matured. She spent some time at Zappos — “a culture whose leader is all about making his workforce happy,” she says. And while the Zappos culture wouldn’t be a fit for her, “it worked for them,” she adds. “And they were happy. Really happy. And their business results were such that they could sell the business to Amazon for over $1 billion.”

Sitting atop the Great Place to Work Institute, says Gorman, she was deluged in data proving there was “a direct line from employee well-being to financial performance.” As she puts it, that’s where she took a turn:

“And so, while early in my career, the notion of employee happiness didn’t register as a leadership imperative, I now believe that creating a culture that … delivers happiness to employees is quite clearly a practical and effective way to achieve top-line growth, profitability, customer loyalty and, most importantly, employee loyalty.”

As the chair of the WorkHuman Advisory Board at Dublin, Ireland-based reward and recognition company Globoforce, Gorman also came across that company’s recent white paper, The Science of Happiness. It cites some pretty compelling research posted by the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute that finds happy employees:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least-happy colleagues,
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much,
  • Spend 65 percent more time feeling energized,
  • Are 58 percent more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues,
  • Identify 98 percent more strongly with the values of their organization, and
  • Are 186 percent more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

I love how Globoforce puts it in the paper:

“It is tempting for many to think of company culture in terms of fringe benefits — like funky offices, on-site massages and free soda. These outward trappings of companies with great culture are often what we think of when we think of Great Places to Work.

“But perks grow from culture, not the other way around. Perks are just the manifestation of what makes a particular group of people [your employees] happy. Likewise, leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do — like setting goals and core values. Their participation is an important part of the picture, and trust in leaders is one of the key drivers of engagement, but execs cannot dictate a great culture. They can only lay the groundwork for a great culture to take hold.

“It is your employees who control your culture. When they are happy, it thrives. If they are stomping around complaining … well, your culture probably stinks — no matter how great your mission statement is or how free your dry cleaning.”

A few things to think about as you contemplate “mothering” your workforce into an entire family of engaged, productive and happy people who support your bottom line.

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SHRM Speaker: Culture Must ‘Rock’

Many people think their company’s culture is about its heritage, about “the way we’ve always done things.” Jim Knight thinks those people are wrong.

“At its core, a company’s culture is about the present — it’s really a collection of individuals and, as they join or leave the organization, it changes,” said Knight, the opening keynote at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Management Conference and Expo in Orlando, titled “Culture that Rocks: How to Amp Up or Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture.” “People say ‘My culture’s not the same as it used to be.’ No duh, sister! People come and go all the time!”

Because culture is shaped by the present, it’s malleable, and HR has an opportunity to shape it through constant communication, said Knight, former senior director of training and development at Hard Rock International and author of the book Culture That Rocks. “You have to let people know what you’re trying to do, otherwise people will make it up on their own.”

A shared mindset is the key to success, Knight said. “Individual agendas produce random results, but a shared mind-set produces aligned actions.”

He cited fast-food chain Chik-fil-A as a prime example of a successful company culture that drives performance. Despite the company’s policy of having all stores closed on Sunday in observance of the Sabbath, the average Chik-fil-A restaurant generates $1 million more in a typical year than an average McDonald’s restaurant, said Knight. The company builds its culture starting with the entry-level employees at its restaurants, who receive two days of onboarding.

As part of their onboarding, the new employees watch a company video titled “Every Life Has a Story.” In the video, set to a violin score, a camera pans over a scene of customers at a Chik-fil-A restaurant, pausing over each one briefly as a bit of text appears over each person summarizing their story:  “Just lost his job and is wondering how he’ll support his family,” “Only son recently deployed to a war zone,” “Parents divorced when he was 7 ,” etc.

The video, which closes with the message “Every person has a story … if we bother to read it,” left a number of people in the audience visibly moved.

“As a training guy, I so wish I’d been the one to make that video,” said Knight. The take-away, he said, is that customers crave differentiation and that employees should want to give customers “a little more than what they were expecting.”

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Why You Shouldn’t Link Culture and Retention

Here are some vexing questions on culture: Why do people leave Google, Virgin and Zappos and take jobs elsewhere? Why, if 516216924 -- worker leavingthose companies are so focused on building exceptionally strong and compelling cultures, don’t people stay forever? Doesn’t it entirely contradict all the rhetoric about the power of culture if even the bellwethers of the corporate-culture surge can’t convince people to stay?

So poses Colin J. Browne — head of a Gauteng, South Africa-based culture, engagement and leadership think-tank firm called How to Build a Happy Sandpit — in a recent post on his company’s website. In his words,

“One of the greatest misunderstandings about culture is that it has some mystical power to lock people in to your organization for the long term. If you’re building it for that, you could be wasting your efforts … .”

On the contrary, he writes,

“[t]he answer lies in what I consider one of the most fundamental hallmarks of human nature: Familiarity breeds contempt. In a work sense, Happy Sandpit research [of 308 executives and business leaders over the past three years] shows that, within about 18 months, all employees slightly resent you for ever hiring them in the first place.

“It’s not that they don’t like their work, or their workplace, their colleagues or their bosses, it’s just that when we become used to things, we’re less inclined to see them as fresh and exciting and more inclined to overstate the irritations that surround us. And any workplace is full of irritations.”

In Browne’s estimation, given enough time and enough repetition of the tasks that make up [employees’ roles], the artifacts, strong values and general way of feeling while they are there begin to take a back seat to the day-to-day of their work. In that context, a new job offer bears the promise of reinvigoration, reinvention and a release from the things they’re bored with.

Since many more companies are awakening to the understanding that focusing on culture strengthens their employee-value proposition, the things you offer your employees may begin to lose their edginess, he says, adding that “you can get caught up in a vicious cycle if you react to that.” As he puts it,

“A far better goal for your culture efforts is to increase productivity, the voluntary sharing of talent, good will and skills, to iron out the rough spots that create barriers to team work and to develop a clear set of profiles for the people [who] you’ll have to hire to replace the ones [who] have left.

“Culture isn’t about retention. It’s about performance. Let that inform your decisions and you could save yourself from a world of pain.”

Not that we haven’t presented this premise in previous features and news analyses, but his way of articulating it caught a fresh eye so I gave it a fresh look.

I also contacted Browne to ask him specifically what HR practitioners and leaders should be doing to achieve that “far better goal.” His response:

“The one challenge shared by anyone who leads people in a discretionary environment [differentiated from a non-discretionary one, such as the military, where you are expected to follow orders fairly rigidly] is to convince people to volunteer their best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm for the long term. You can’t lift them up by their feet and shake that stuff into their brains, so they have to choose to give it to you.

“Every culture conversation seems to be about how we make that happen, but I think we’re overlooking a couple of obvious things which keep hindering progress pretty much across the board:

  1. We don’t build jobs that support best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm in the long term. You can come out of a design college and get a job at your dream digital-design company, be given the latest Mac computer and software to work on, in a great office, with exciting people and still feel like your job is boring within six months, because the projects you are working on and the clients you’re working with are, in fact, boring. Unless we’re building perfect jobs, therefore, which in an imperfect world with imperfect clients is impossible, people will find that they’ve had enough one day and go and find something else to do.

  2.  People are more loyal to their friends than they will ever be to a boss or a company. Ironically, the best reference for this is the behavior of soldiers in combat. While it’s often supposed that soldiers commit acts of great bravery for the grand notion of country, or unit or even God, the evidence suggests that, instead, they do it for the person next to them. When the order to retreat is given, they will blatantly ignore that order in order to rescue one of their colleagues. At the moments that matter, their loyalty is clear, and it’s not to ‘management’ or any sort of system. It’s to each other.”

I asked him to send me a specific, itemized list of the things HR should be doing or thinking about in light of his research. Here is that list:

  • You increase productivity when employees feel that they will let their colleagues down by slacking and care enough not to want to do that either because they’re emotionally invested or feel emotionally handcuffed. Either way, it works. This doesn’t happen overnight of course, but, by increasing the autonomy of individual teams — you can be as granular about this as you like, and I would encourage you to not be too broad — [so they can] make decisions on their own behalf [and] you make them more accountable for their results and actions, which then makes each individual member accountable to the others. You can’t be the one person who never pulls [his or her] weight in such an environment and expect to get anywhere. And to counter an obvious objection, if you find you have an entire team of slackers who merely cover each others’ backs instead of a productive team that cheers one another along, you change the challenge that they must meet and leave them to sort out the how. Raised expectations can have a very big impact.

  • They share talent, good will and skills voluntarily, because they’re sharing them with people they care about and whose success they link to their own. It doesn’t have to be altruistic; it just makes good sense as long as it is reciprocated and constant.

  • You iron out the barriers to teamwork by allowing them to decide how to work together. This goes to point one. Managers should care about the results and have a view about the way in which those results are achieved, but you’re unlikely to get the best out of people when you force them to stick to a rigid process that prevents them from developing their own flow. This may seem like voodoo to many organizations, which depend on processes to iron out the risk of defect, but those things are not mutually exclusive. You can have processes that must be adhered to, being followed by two teams with wildly different personalities, and get identical quality.

  • You create a clear set of profiles to replace those people by giving employees some say, or perhaps even all the say, about the people who join their team. They’re the ones who have to work with that new person and, unless you long to deal with employee friction, the manager’s view should be given less importance.

His list, he says, is a worthy goal of culture because it achieves the things you need it to: people giving their best efforts while they are with you.

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Bezos Offers His Take on Culture

I have no way of knowing the full extent to which last August’s New York Times’ blistering article about Amazon’s workplace irked founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. But if I’m correctly interpreting his most recent shareowners’ letter, I can’t help but conclude the story, though not mentioned by name, continues to weigh heavily on his mind.

Amazon.com Sign

As I’m sure most of you remember, the article—titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”—takes aim at Amazon’s hard-charging culture, one that reportedly encourages employees to “sabotage” co-workers.

Some of those interviewed by the NYT said “the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being ‘vocally self-critical’ is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster.

“Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.”

Soon after the NYT’s article appeared, Jeff Bezos sent a memo to employees expressing is disbelief in the article’s claims, noting that it doesn’t reflects the Amazon he knows.

Well, now roughly eight months later, Bezos obviously felt that further clarification or messaging was needed.

After noting that Amazon has now become the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion, Bezos went on to share his point of view on the topic of corporate cultures, pointing out that, “for better or for worse, [corporate cultures] are enduring, stable, hard to change.”

The letter explains …

“They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it—not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events—by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore.”

It continues …

“If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one—just that it’s ours—and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful.”

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, as to whether Bezos’ latest shareowners’ letter is his final volley at the NYT’s article—and certainly that was one of its intended targets. But a close reading of it certainly suggests Bezos wants the world to know he’s quite satisfied with the culture he’s built at Amazon.

And why wouldn’t he be? After all, whether Amazon is your cup of tea or not, Bezos now has 100 billion reasons to be satisfied.

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Free Speech, Politics and the Workplace

Could employees face workplace retribution for attending a Donald J. Trump rally? (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Could employees face workplace retribution for attending a Donald J. Trump rally? (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Given the tenor of this very unique election season, it’s entirely possible that chats between colleagues that stray into politics could end up causing the water in the office water cooler to hit boiling temperatures. So maybe it’s understandable that HR might want to keep conversations and activities related to political causes as far from the workplace as possible. But in a number of cases workers have complained that they were fired because of their political beliefs, and Justin Danhof wants to do something about it.

Danhof is the general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy and director of its Employee Conscience Protection Project. The organization, which describes itself as conservative, says all employees – conservative and liberal – deserve the right to engage in political and civic activities outside the workplace without fear of retribution from their employers. It is targeting large, publicly traded corporations to commit to protecting their employees from such discrimination and has so far convinced 13 major employers – including Home Depot, Walmart, General Electric, Pfizer and Visa – to sign on.

“Our mission is to expand freedom wherever we see corporate culture limiting freedom,” says Danhof.

The organization was inspired to act after Brendan Eich, the CEO of technology firm Mozilla, resigned his post in the wake of an uproar after it was discovered that he had donated funds in support of California’s Proposition 8, a state referendum that sought to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The activists demanded his head and he ended up leaving Mozilla of his own accord. We sat back and said, how can this happen in America?”

The episode led Danhof and his group to delve deeper into the protections afforded Americans who engage in political activity outside the workplace. They found that only half of working Americans live in jurisdictions that afford even a limited measure of protection against employer retaliation.

Danhof says this lack of protection dampens employees’ willingness to engage in civic participation. “Here we live in the greatest country in the world, and yet so few people participate in the political process that we actually cheer when six out of 10 people show up to vote,” he says. “That’s pathetic.”

Danhof’s group approaches large, publicly traded companies with operations in multiple jurisdictions and asks them to adopt a policy that simply states that no adverse action will be taken against employees for engaging in private political activity.

“We don’t think people should ever lose their jobs because of their political beliefs,” says Danhof.

Of course, some political beliefs are more controversial than others. Suppose an employee spots his supervisor participating in a rally for white supremacists, for example?

Publicly traded companies have a fiduciary duty to protect shareholders, says Danhof, and have the right to take action against an employee whose actions potentially damage the company’s reputation. That said, he adds, the issue isn’t always clear-cut.

“There’s a large swath of the American public right now that believes if you show up at a rally for a certain political candidate — and I’m not going to name names — then that’s a hate activity,” he says.

The Employee Conscience Protection Project is currently trying to get Starbucks Corp. to sign on, and will continue urging other publicly traded companies to do the same. Large, publicly traded companies typically have multistate operations, including in jurisdictions where employees have no legal protection from retaliation, says Danhof, and can serve as examples to other companies. “We also prefer to engage the free market on this, rather than trying to get state governments to pass laws,” he says.

Many employees believe – erroneously – that the First Amendment protects their right to speak freely when, in fact, that protection does not necessarily extend to the workplace, says Danhof.

“We think a Tea Party supporter should be able to work for a Bernie Sanders supporter, or vice versa, and not have to be fearful about potentially losing their job,” he says.

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Compliance Efforts Not So Great Globally, Either

507249886 -- compliance word cloudIt wasn’t that long ago that I wrote a news analysis about the problems with ethics and compliance programs here in the United States.

Experts in that piece lamented the lack of clout being given to many corporate ethics and compliance officers, and the tendency at far too many organizations to require ethics officers to wear too many hats — doubling up on such governance responsibilities as risk management and human resources, thereby not being able to focus properly on any one of them, especially ethics and compliance.

Well, it appears those two disciplines are in need of collar corrections on the global stage as well. According to the recently released NAVEX Global’s 2015 Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific State of Compliance Programmes Benchmark Report, despite tighter government enforcement, boards are not getting regular compliance reports and 40 percent don’t have regular reporting cadence with their boards or are not sure. And the majority say their budgets for ethics and compliance will remain the same or will be less in the coming year.

To come up with its findings, NAVEX Global partnered with an independent research agency to investigate how companies headquartered  across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) develop and execute their ethics and compliance programs.

Researchers polled 247 key decision-makers and individuals responsible for ethics  and compliance programs. The purpose of the survey was to benchmark “the top priorities and challenges faced by ethics and compliance professionals headquartered in EMEA and APAC,” according to the report.

From the report (edited slightly for English readers):

“It is not surprising that measuring program effectiveness was cited as the biggest program challenge, since this is a complex undertaking. Organizations struggle to define the right combination of key indicators of culture and compliance to demonstrate the program is working.

“The key challenges of time availability and managing regulations speak to the need for programs to be properly resourced. A robust risk-assessment process can help to identify and better manage resource allocation and to prioritize jurisdictional issues. Successful programs regularly review resources against the organization’s risk profile to ensure appropriate management and mitigation actions .

“Survey write-in responses to challenges included concerns about implementing standardized programs across locations and being seen as a “troublemaker” for bringing up issues. The wide variety of responses serve as a reminder that every organization has its own culture and challenges to be factored into the development and implementation of an effective ethics and compliance program .

Key takeaways from the report:

  • Take a Risk-Based Approach: Program components and implementation strategies can be complex and will vary significantly by company and by region. The development of these programs should be driven by the organization’s risk profile, which can be identified by conducting a comprehensive ethics, compliance and reputational risk assessment.
  • Put Meaningful Program Measurements in Place: Consider a variety of metrics to determine the effectiveness of the program as there is no one metric or indication that will provide complete insights. A combination of useful metrics could include whistleblower-hotline benchmarks, feedback on training sessions, leadership feedback, employee surveys and focus group data, exit interview feedback, and legal actions.
  • Train Middle Managers and Supervisors: First- and second-level managers are culture carriers — the strongest link senior management has to employees. These managers need to be trained on communicating organizational expectations to employees — and trained on how to respond when issues arise. Investing in these managers will pay dividends in terms of creating a strong culture of integrity and compliance.
  •  Engage Leadership and Your Board of Directors: Both best-practice frameworks and regulatory bodies around the world have defined a clear oversight role for the board of directors. Neglecting this duty could mean putting the organization, and board members themselves, at risk. A regular reporting cadence — with high-quality data put into context — will help keep the board and leadership engaged.
  • Do More With Less: Make good use of systems and processes that will improve the efficiency and accuracy of their programs. There is still opportunity for further automation in many areas of respondents’ E&C programs.
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… But What About Gen X Workers?

What will we do as the baby boomers retire en masse, and take their decades of knowledge and experience with them? And these millennials, who many projections say will soon make up nearly three-quarters of the U.S. workforce—how do we harness their considerable abilities and put them to the best use within our organization?

Organizations everywhere have wrestled with the questions and challenges surrounding these unique groups of workers in recent years.

But there’s another, large group of employees in the middle that may not receive as much attention. Some new research, however, suggests that employers would be wise to focus more on Generation X and the many assets this dedicated cohort can bring to the workplace.

As a card-carrying member of Gen X, I absolutely remember a time when we were mostly thought of as a pretty apathetic bunch with no real work ethic. (Not that we cared about these perceptions or felt like expending any effort trying to change them.) But this new survey, conducted by the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry, finds that Gen Xers—defined in the study as those born between 1965 1980—are actually the most engaged employees in today’s workforce.

Indeed, 52 percent of the 1,070 executives responding to the recent global poll said as much, compared to 23 percent saying they see boomers as the most invested in their jobs, and another 23 percent feeling the same way about Gen Y workers. (The remaining 2 percent felt those fresh-faced, barely-out-of-their teens comprising Generation Z are the most engaged.)

“While members of each generation are critical to the workforce and their diversity of thought brings new ideas and insights to companies, organizational leaders would benefit by harnessing and rewarding the hard work habits of Gen Xers,” says Andrea Wolf, Futurestep’s North American HR practice leader, in a recent statement announcing the findings.

So, what can employers offer to attract these hard workers and provide the perks that make them want to stay?

According to the survey, feeling they have “the ability to make a difference in the organization” was most important to 39 percent of Gen X-age employees in the workplace. That figure is more than double the number of respondents citing “job stability” (16 percent) or “development opportunities” (15 percent) as what matters most to these workers.

In terms of retention, 41 percent of respondents said experiencing “a sense of pride in their work” was what kept Gen Xers in their current jobs, with 24 percent most valuing “financial stability” and 23 percent prizing “company culture” above all else.

And what kind of benefits get those notoriously indifferent Gen Xers revved up about their jobs? Money helps, of course, with 48 percent of respondents pointing to “pay and bonuses” as the most important benefit to employees in this age group, followed by “paid time off,” at 25 percent, and “retirement plans,” at 19 percent.

While Gen Xers might say they want time off, don’t count on them to take it, says Wolf.

“Talk to a Gen Xer about his or her vacation, and they’ll say they’re too busy to take one, or they had to cut it short because of work,” she says. “Employers may want to consider rewards other than extended vacation time to attract and retain this group.”

Too busy at work to take vacation? Thinking about retirement? Wow, there was a time when we were too busy slacking off and obsessing over Seinfeld to even look for a job or consider our financial futures. Gen X has really come a long way.

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Reliably Irrational or Occasionally Unfair?

Being consistent as a boss—even if that means being consistently awful—counts for something with employees.

That seems to be the big message to emerge from recent Michigan State University research.

Published online in February by the Academy of Management Journal, the study determined that employees who see their supervisors as being reliably unfair are happier in their jobs and feel less work-related anxiety than those who view their bosses as unpredictable.

Actually, the team—led by MSU doctoral student Fadel Matta—performed a pair of studies on the way to reaching that conclusion, according to the Washington Post.

In a lab experiment, college students had to estimate a hypothetical company’s stock price, using information about its performance. These participants were told that their peers would be sitting in another room and acting as their supervisors, but they were “actually receiving feedback on the task from the researchers,” the Post reports.

The study authors divided the students—all of whom were having their heart rates monitored in order to gauge their stress levels throughout the experiment—into three groups. Students in one group received input from “supervisors”  such as “thanks for your effort during the last round” or “it’s great to work with a motivated person,” according to the Post. A second group was on the end of a steady stream of negative comments like “it sucks to work with an unmotivated person,” while the third cohort heard mixed messages from their would-be bosses.

Those routinely hearing words of thanks and encouragement demonstrated the least stress. Those who were peppered with put-downs, however, actually fared better than students whose bosses’ feedback wavered between nasty and nice.

In a second study, approximately 100 workers filled out daily surveys throughout a three-week span, answering questions regarding their perceptions of fairness. Participants’ supervisors were polled at the study’s start, in an effort to “measure their capability for self-control,” the Post notes. As was the case in the first experiment, employees with erratic managers experienced greater stress, job dissatisfaction and emotional exhaustion compared to those who felt they regularly received the short end of the stick from the boss.

These results may stem, in large part, from “this issue of uncertainty,” Matta recently told the Post. “This notion of knowing what to expect—even if it’s bad—is better than not knowing what to expect at work.”

In the Post piece, Matta advises that employers coach wild-card bosses on how to brace workers for bad news that could be coming, as a way to (hopefully) quell employees’ insecurities.

“Sometimes you have to be unfair. There’s only so many resources you can distribute, for instance,” Matta told the paper. “But if you say ‘tomorrow this is going to be happening’—then all of a sudden people aren’t coming in not knowing what to expect. At least that uncertainty is mitigated.”

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