Posts belonging to Category leadership development

Rough Road Ahead for HR?

rough roadFindings from a new study suggest HR departments aren’t ready to respond to the talent challenges facing them now and in the days to come.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report compiled data from a survey of 2,532 business and HR leaders at organizations from 94 countries around the world. In the poll, 86 percent of respondents cited leadership development as the biggest challenge for their organization, followed by employee retention and engagement (79 percent).

At 77 percent, “re-skilling the HR function” ranked as the third most-pressing issue, with many executives feeling their HR teams lack the skills and data they need “to understand today’s global business environment, local labor markets, evolving workforce demographics, shifts in technology and the changing nature of work itself,” according to a Deloitte press release.

For example, while 75 percent of respondents rated “workforce capability” as an “urgent” or “important” challenge, only 15 percent said they believe they are ready to address it. More than two-thirds of those polled (70 percent) see new learning methods such as free online and mobile learning platforms as urgent or important, but just 6 percent say they have mastered the content and capabilities necessary to make online learning accessible and digestible for employees.

Overall, more than one-third of the business leaders polled (34 percent) said their HR and talent programs are just “getting by” or even “underperforming,” with less than 8 percent of HR professionals expressing confidence that their teams have the requisite skills for today’s global environment.

While leadership may be underwhelmed with HR’s performance, it seems many organizations aren’t doing a great job of equipping HR teams with the tools they need to keep pace, either.

In the study, 43 percent of respondents described their organizations as “weak” in terms of providing HR with the appropriate training and experience, with 47 percent saying the same with respect to preparing HR to deliver programs aligned with business needs.

With “radical shifts in demographics and technology” occurring, “doubling down on the human capital practices of the past” won’t be enough to help HR teams do more than just get by in the future, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, in a statement.

“The research shows that organizations should re-imagine their approach to engaging people and move to re-engineer many of their HR practices,” according to Bersin. “Attracting top talent has become a serious competitive issue that demands attention at the highest levels of the organization.”

A Couple of Firsts at GM

By  now, you probably have heard that Mary T. Barra will soon be the first woman to lead a major automaker, when she replaces Daniel F. Akerson when he retires as General Motors’ CEO in January. But while this wasn’t mentioned in any of the stories I read covering the announcement, my guess is Barra (pictured below with Akerson) is also probably the first woman or man to take the helm at one of the “Detroit 3” who has spent a stint (though admittedly a relatively short one) in the top HR job.

GMManagementChanges04-mediumBarra, 51, has worked for GM for 33 years, most recently as executive vice president of global product development. But before taking on that post, she served briefly (from 2009 to 2011) as vice president of global human resources at GM, taking over that role from Katy Barclay, now the top HR officer at Kroger.

As a New York Times story points out, Barra’s appointment represents something of the “changing of the guard” at GM, which now has four key positions filled by women, including Melissa Howell, GM’s current senior vice president of global human resources.

At some point, it might be interesting to learn directly from Barra how she feels her time in HR has shaped her thinking. Certainly, when she officially moves into her new role, she won’t be the first CEO who has made a stop along the way in HR, but there’s no denying it’s a fairly rare occurrence.

That said, Jason Hanold tells me this is changing, with more companies including HR as a key rotational assignment in order to occupy a C-Suite role. “This is a growing trend in succession planning and talent-management considerations,” says Hanold, managing partner at Hanold Associates LLC, an executive-search firm specializing in CHRO assignments. I certainly would have to put this in the category of a good thing.

Hanold says he’s never personally met Barra, but understands she has a reputation for being “a strong, smart leader who drives consensus-building versus being a consensus-driven leader.”

Jena Abernathy, senior partner of leading executive-search firm Witt/Kieffer, who focuses primarily on CEO searches, also chimed in on the appointment, noting that gender isn’t the only breakthrough here.  In many corporate cultures, she says, time in HR is “considered a non-starter for moving any further in the organization.”

Abernathy says she has “observed first-hand over the past two decades that very capable, competent women end up in support positions in senior leadership such as HR. What Barra was able to do was move into other roles that allowed her to have more operational experience and exposure, and ultimately positioned her for the top job at GM.”

Some of you may recall a little over a month ago I quoted former GM co-chair Robert Lutz (who’s worked closely with Barra during their time together at GM) here on this same blog saying …

If human resources was either outsourced or cut down, back to its basic function of keeping basic records and making sure people get paid and that the promotional increases take place, I think we’d all be a lot better off, because they create way more work than they actually alleviate.”

As someone who’s taken on the HR role for a even a short spell, I would like to think Barra doesn’t share Lutz’ views.

Here is a video introducing Barra as the CEO-elect to employees …

(Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors.)

The Power of Admitting When You’re Wrong

Two reports came across my desk recently that got me thinking about business leaders and when they should admit that they’re on the wrong track, or that they’ve goofed.

147298486-- exec makes mistakeThere’s no doubt been enough said over the years about the importance of confidence and commitment to one’s ideals and principles as hallmarks of authentic, effective leadership.

But this study from Boston-based Forum Corp., Driving Business Results by Building Trust, puts more stock in something it says leaders don’t do as well as they think they do: admit when they’re wrong. It finds most leaders (about 75 percent) indicated that they acknowledge their own mistakes often or always, yet only 16 percent of employees indicated leaders acknowledged their own mistakes often or always.

Even more telling, from the 948 respondents (711 leaders and 237 employees), 87 percent of leaders said they often or always apologize, while only 19 percent of employees indicated their leaders did so.

“When we asked leaders why they were reluctant to apologize,” Forum’s report says, “the most frequent comments related to their image or reputation: They didn’t want to look weak or incompetent.” Which kind of gets to my second paragraph above.

Forum says it’s all about trust:

Since mistakes are a natural part of business, as many pointed out, leaders have many opportunities to incorporate “moments of trust” into their working day: where they use mistakes to build trust and foster learning. Trying to bury mistakes or punish others for making them has a damaging effect on trust.”

Not speaking up about something gone wrong can also have a devastating effect on projects, according to this post by Gretchen Gavett: “The Hidden Indicators of a Failing Project,” on the Harvard Business Review‘s HBR Blog Network. Gavett quotes Matthew McWha, the practice manager at Arlington, Va.-based CEB, as saying, “There’s a lot of perceived personal risk in saying, ‘I’m managing a failing project.’ Or people actually think they can turn it around, so they don’t bring it up. They think they’re better off trying like the dickens to recover it in the meantime.”

According to McWha, the culture of project management often discourages the raising of important red flags that could turn problem projects around. On the contrary, the No. 1 driver of successful projects, he says, is a great manager who isn’t just “good at conducting the trains [but] someone able to manage stakeholders and risk, and be comfortable adapting and changing course if necessary” … i.e., if and when mistakes are made or a failed course comes to light.

Gavett also cites research from Bent Flyvbjerg, author of Megaprojects: An Anatomy of Ambition, and his Oxford colleague Alexander Budzier in her argument that too many projects are measured by time and budget instead of business outcomes. She writes:

In the end, even the drivers of even successful projects aren’t actually technical, Flyvbjerg and Budzier explained: They largely involve the project’s environment, whether there’s organizational resistance, and how risk is being managed. All of these internal indicators, combined with our own human perceptions about what we can and can’t do or say, play into whether projects are headed for a head-in-your-hands kind of moment.”

I’m fascinated enough by this power of admitting errors or wrong directions in leaders — a power we haven’t written a whole lot about and it seems is missing in most workplaces — that I plan to take it up in an upcoming news analysis on our HREOnline website. Stay tuned.

Got Issues? Talk to Watson

The bleary-eyed attendees sipping their coffee and munching their pastries got a non-caffeinated jolt at this morning’s opening general session at HR Tech when Kenexa founder Rudy Karsan took to the stage and told them why he’s so optimistic.

“We are living in the golden age!” he said, a statement that might be viewed quizzically in this era of government shutdowns and economic and political turmoil. But that’s a shortsighted view, as Karsan went on to note how, in fact, the human race is much better off today than at any time in its history.

“Every positive metric has not only grown but accelerated in the last 50 years, while every negative metric is decelerating,” he said. Today, an average person has better health than a monarch did 100 years ago, Karsan noted. Rapidly growing GDP and plummeting illiteracy levels are being accompanied by innovations such as vertical farming, transforming cities like Munich, where a growing percentage of that German city’s fresh produce is produced within its boundaries.

The future will be even better because of innovations like cognitive computing, said Karsan. This led him to the main part of his presentation, which was a demonstration of how IBM’s Watson computer can help organizations boost employee engagement and productivity by rapidly answering their questions and helping them with their development. (IBM recently acquired Kenexa.)

“One of the best ways to engage employees is to give them access to information effortlessly, where and when they need it,” he said.

Watson can serve not only as a “knowledge concierge” to employees, quickly resolving concerns related to payroll and their employer’s philanthropic activities, but it can also help managers translate the findings of employee-engagement surveys into action plans so they can become more effective mentors and champions to their employees, said Karsan. It’s able to do this not only by supplying direct answers but also combing through the company’s informational warehouses and finding relevant documents and reports, he said.

In a follow-up interview after the presentation, Karsan told me that Watson is already live at clients such as USAA. “We do expect some bumps in the road as we deploy Watson to other companies — it’ll be no different than any other major innovation,” he said. “Look at the early days of the Internet.”

Speaking of the Internet, it’s important to note that Watson isn’t connected to the Internet; it hasn’t been programmed but instead is taught the domains it knows.

I asked Karsan whether having constant access to a service like Watson could risk employees becoming a bit lazy — what if Watson went down one day and they’d have to do their own research? “If you have the right person in the right job, laziness does not exist,” he responded. “The laziness trait gets expanded when you have people doing what they perceive as meaningless work. That’s why it’s important to put the right person in the right job in the first place.”

Karsan says he’s particularly excited by Watons’ potential impact on managerial and leadership development. “These are not hard sciences,” he said. “It’s more of an art form — there’s lots of communication and collaboration involved. Watson will give you a range of solutions, rather than a deterministic solution. Watson will not replace judgment. It will lend precision to a lot of the guesswork out there — it will let us replace guesswork with data and science.”

Measuring the Value of Int’l Assignments

There’s little doubt an international assignment should be more than just a nice-to-have in today’s increasingly global marketplace. So it’s somewhat surprising to come across a just-released study suggesting that U.S. and Canadian employers put much less stock in the value of those assignments than their European and Asian counterparts.

GlobalThe research comes from The Conference Board and Right Management, which surveyed HR executives at 600 organizations worldwide and found that just 15 percent of the North American HR executives identified international assignments as a practice that has a significant impact on accelerating leadership development at their respective organizations. That compares to 48 percent among those from Europe and 44 percent among those from Asia.

Though it might not come as a huge surprise that such a gap exists, the size of the disparity is definitely noteworthy, especially as multinational employers continue to look to foreign markets to grow their businesses.

Ric Roi, head of the Global Center of Excellence for Talent Management at Right Management, points out that “North American respondents seem to concede that international postings play a relatively minor role in their global leadership development programs.”

If true, it’s fair to wonder if North American employers might someday find themselves at a significant disadvantage on the global stage.

CEOs Want Second Opinions

second opinionsC-suite executives may have a reputation for being tough-minded, independent decision-makers, but even the best leaders need some coaching. A new study, however, suggests many of them aren’t getting it.

Research conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Miles Group finds nearly two-thirds of CEOs not receiving the leadership counsel they seek.

The survey of more than 200 CEOs, board directors and senior executives of North American public and private companies found 66 percent of CEOs indicating they do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. Nearly half of senior executives said the same.

If top leaders aren’t getting this type of input, it’s not because they don’t want it, according to the study.

A full 100 percent of CEOs said they are open to making changes based on feedback, as did 90 percent of senior executives. Eighty percent of directors indicated their CEOs are receptive to coaching.

Kevin Cashman, a Minneapolis-based senior partner in Korn/Ferry International’s leadership and talent consulting practice, agrees that “most CEOs do not get coaching, but are generally open to it,” adding that Korn/Ferry research and experience indicates CEOs seek coaching to deal with ambiguity and manage complexity; build high-performing teams; lead and influence across global enterprises; and coach, develop and optimize key talent.

“[The] current generation of CEOs [are] much more open to coaching and development than previous ones,” says Cashman. “Most have been assessed or coached earlier in their careers, so [they] are open to the value.” 

With so many top leaders suggesting they are amenable to outside advice, HR has an opportunity to step in and narrow this coaching gap, says David F. Larcker, director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a co-author of the study.

“HR can help by making it clear that seeking coaching can be a good thing, as opposed to something that an executive should be cautious about revealing because it identifies a weakness,” says Larcker. “Obviously, HR can set up a process of finding good coaches and pairing coaches with executives. I think it’s also important to—maybe publicly within the company—celebrate the successes that occur when someone becomes a much better leader after coaching.”

While C-level execs have been successful enough to learn the leadership positions they currently hold, “they still need to develop additional skills that enable them to become great leaders,” says Larcker.

“Nobody has all the skills they need for this type of job. It is important to have some expert advice about what needs to be improved and how best to do this.”

Looking for Leaders

leadersYouSendIt CEO Brad Garlinghouse has learned—and delivered—a lot of leadership lessons in his still-young career.

Just 42 years old, the head of the Campbell, Calif.-based cloud storage service once helmed voiceover IP industry forerunner Dialpad Communications, where he was among the executives replaced in 2001 when the company nearly closed its doors. (The organization ultimately rebounded before being acquired by Yahoo in 2005.)

Garlinghouse, who was brought in to help revive growth at AOL Inc. in 2009, is likely best-known, however, for a famous memo he penned three years earlier, while he was a senior vice president at Yahoo.

His “Peanut Butter Manifesto” took Yahoo’s top brass to task, alleging the company lacked a “focused, cohesive vision” and claiming the organization’s resources were being spread too thin, “like peanut butter on a slice of bread.”

Garlinghouse recently sat down for a Q & A with The New York Times, and shared some of the lessons he’s learned in his travels, and a few tips on how to identify growth and leadership potential in a new hire.

When asked what type of questions he asks in the hiring process, for example, he replied:

One of the questions I love to ask is, ‘How would your friends describe you in college?’ And then they’ll say a few words, and then I’ll say, ‘All right, so after you graduated from college and started working, how would your first group of colleagues describe you?’ I think you get more real answers that way than if you say, ‘Hey, describe yourself.’ You definitely see some evolution as people mature.”

He continued:

For another question, I’ll start by saying that, any successful leader, if they have been bold, has had some detractors over their career. And I will tell them a story about someone who was a detractor of mine. And then I will ask, ‘If you’ve had a detractor in your career, and I don’t need their name, who was that person? Why were they a detractor? What was it about that relationship that didn’t work?’ It’s just interesting to see how they talk about it. If somebody tries to pretend they haven’t had one, that’s actually a warning sign. It’s also a warning sign if they say, ‘Oh, I’ve had 10.’”

Rumsfeld’s Rules of (Business) Leadership

164829386-rules for leadershipOK, first off, this is not a political post. Not in the least. I had simply heard about these rules for government, business and life that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had scripted and decided to take a look.

Which prompted me to share.

Not to mention the fact that HRE also just received a complimentary copy of his book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life … more fodder for sharing (though I’ll let you go find it on if you’re prone to purchase).

Not sure I agree with absolutely every one of his rules, but there are enough in there under his “business” banner that seem to resonate with what we’ve been reading and writing about over the years to make it worth a scroll. Here are his top six for business leaders:

When you initiate new activities, find things you are currently doing that you can discontinue — whether reports, activities, etc. It works, but you must force yourself to do it. Always keep in mind your “teeth-to-tail ratio.”

Watch the growth of middle-level management. Don’t automatically fill vacant jobs. Leave some positions unfilled for six to eight months to see what happens. You will find you won’t need to fill some of them.

Reduce the layers of management. They put distance between the top of an organization and the customers.

Find ways to decentralize. Move decision-making authority down and out. Encourage a more entrepreneurial approach.

Prune — prune businesses, products, activities, people. Do it annually.

Know your customers!

In fact, if you go through all his tips, a.k.a. “rules,” for success, you can come away with some real gems to lead your HR organization simply by replacing the words “White House,” “government” and “secretary of defense” for “HR leadership” and “business leadership” in general.

Take his first five under “Serving in the White House” and tell me these aren’t great rules to operate by in a corporate setting (you’ll need to replace “president” with “CEO” and “administrations” with “CHRO positions”):

Don’t accept the post or stay unless you have an understanding with the president that you’re free to tell him what you think “with the bark off” and you have the courage to do it.

Visit with your predecessors from previous administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.

Don’t begin to think you’re the president. You’re not. The Constitution [or, in your case, company bylaws] provides for only one.

In the execution of presidential decisions work to be true to his views, in fact and tone.

Know that the immediate staff and others in the administration [i.e., workforce] will assume that your manner, tone and tempo reflect the president’s.

I’m leaving a ton of good ones out.


Putting a Lid on Leadership Skills

leadershipLeaders, it turns out, can actually be a little too good at leading.

At least that’s the premise of Fear Your Strengths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem. In the new book, authors Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser “address a glaring oversight in the field of executive development—namely the lack of attention paid to the danger of leaders taking their strengths too far,” according to a press release issued by Kaplan DeVries Inc.

Kaplan and Kaiser culled from years spent working with executives to provide examples of leaders for whom the strengths that helped push them up the ladder have ultimately undercut their effectiveness once in the boss’s seat.

For instance, one such go-getter—a division president at a large healthcare technology company—is apparently “so adept at wielding his intellectual firepower and charisma that he shuts down people around him,” according to a colleague. As a result, he explains, “people then seek to be in agreement with him rather than bringing their best thinking,” effectively disengaging team members and hampering their ability to contribute.

The authors conducted “thousands of assessments” of senior executives, in an effort to determine when these leaders’ greatest strengths could betray them. Kaplan and Kaiser identified a set of what they describe as fundamental leadership qualities—strategic leadership, operational leadership, forceful leadership and enabling leadership—that can be detrimental when overemphasized.

Many executives are “lopsided,” the authors say, and favor certain qualities at the expense of others, without even realizing it.

The notion that many leaders have a tendency to overplay their strengths is often overlooked in leadership development, according to the authors, who provide a few tips for tempering executives’ excesses.

For instance, they say, asking a leader’s colleagues whether the leader displays too much, too little or just the right amount of a certain characteristic can be instructive, and help a manager or executive find the right balance of the aforementioned qualities.

“If you literally don’t know your own strength, you have no way to calibrate or modulate it. In a relentless effort to be better, you have no way of knowing if you are going too far.”

Bersin Envisions a More Distributed HR Function

IMPACT_2013_Final_LogoJosh Bersin, principal, CEO and founder at Bersin by Deloitte, delivered a content-rich, provoking opening keynote at Bersin’s Impact 2013 conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday morning. The message was, in essence, that businesses and their HR functions need to do business and HR completely differently than even just a few short years ago if they’re going to compete in the global marketplace.

His vision, if you will, involves a more distributed network of HR expertise, localized for every state, country and culture. No more preaching HR from above.

Some of the top drivers of change, he said, are clear gaps in leadership, skills and education — borne out by research, Bersin’s and others’; an explosive role of technology; and disparities in economic growth and opportunity, country to country.

“Successful global interconnectedness,” he said, “means understanding what true localization really is.” He offered some examples of companies that have learned the importance of understanding what doing business in a different culture really means. Ford, for instance, before it introduced its highly successful Ford Figo in  India, knew its people had to learn what the road conditions were, what colors would sell, etc.

For HR leaders, embracing the challenges of doing business globally will mean understanding and transforming the learning culture, optimizing local talent acquisition and localizing the leadership pipeline. “High-performing leaders in certain cultures have characteristics specific only to those cultures,” Bersin told attendees.

From a business standpoint, he told me privately after the keynote, HR leaders need to embrace a more distributed HR, veering away from the old Centers of Excellence model toward one involving Networks of Expertise. The future of HR, competing in a global business world, he said, needs to “be a model where local HR specialists are trained enough to tweak [programs and initiatives] at a local level and HR leaders are creating standards based on integrating skills and information” throughout the corporation, not innovating and then passing it on down the chain.

In fact, he even went so far as to say that the concept of the HR business partner needs to be rethought and redefined. “Business partners need to be held more accountable,” he said. “They need to be more powerful and [need to be] experts locally,” much the same way houses aren’t built by generalists, but by specialists — each contributing the best of what he or she can do.

To help HR-leadership expertise along, his company introduced at the conference its Bersin by Deloitte Playbooks, step-by-step programs to help business leaders and their teams tackle current HR, talent and learning challenges — locally throughout the world — based on Bersin’s WhatWorks research.