Category Archives: mentoring

Women’s Disparity, Dearth in STEM

When I was 10 years old, my father put a microscope/chemistry set under our Christmas tree — not for either of my studious siblings, 538088903-women-in-sciencebut for me, the nutty little gymnastic tumbler who rarely stopped long enough to observe much of anything, let alone how the world worked.

Years later, when I asked him about it, he told me he put that there because he sensed in me the inquisitiveness and intuition of a future scientist, like he had become and his father before him.

I never lived up to his hunch, though I did love math, and I certainly chose an inquisitive career. But I’ve often wondered what stopped me. Was there something in me or my environment that never allowed that chemistry set to become more of a beacon than a toy?

A new study from the University of Washington, Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others? suggests there well may have been, a force that persists to this day, and one that could account for the varied representation — as well as the under-representation — of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

According to the study’s report, the most powerful factor driving this disparity and dearth is a “masculine culture” that makes many women feel like they don’t belong.

Granted, the masculine force in my case was completely encouraging, but was it the rest of my world around me — the lack of female role models in scientific jobs, the other stuff I was given to play with, the general expectations of what drives women onward and our perceptions of the fields that seem so out of reach?

Lead researcher and author Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology, says maybe so — maybe all that and more:

“Students are basing their educational decisions in large part on their perceptions of a field. And not having early experience with what a field is really like makes it more likely that they will rely on their stereotypes about that field and who is good at it.”

She and her fellow researchers analyzed more than 1,200 papers about women’s under-representation in STEM fields and, from those, identified 10 factors that impact gender differences in students’ interest and participation in STEM. Then they winnowed the list down to the three factors most likely to explain gendered patterns in the STEM fields — a lack of pre-college experience, gender gaps in belief about one’s abilities and that most powerful one, that masculine culture that discourages women from participating.

Cheryan isn’t the only one taking the declining, diverging number of women in STEM careers seriously. On Thursday, Accenture and Girls Who Code released their joint research finding that the share of U.S. women in technology jobs will decline from 24 percent to 22 percent by 2025 — “a new low over the next 10 years, despite so much focus recently on closing the gender gap in tech,” says Accenture’s report. In the same token, it states:

“[I]nterventions to encourage girls to pursue a computer-science education could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million, growing their share of technology jobs from 24 percent today to 39 percent in the same time frame.”

I’ll never forget my interview a few years back with Colleen Blake, one of our 2013 HR’s Rising Stars.  At the time, she was the senior director of global people operations for San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade Communication Systems Inc.

A busy mom, but with a rich past in information technology and science, she was also passionate about encouraging women in STEM careers. Her company, in fact, realizing its own deficits in that area, asked her to be its liaison and mentor for women pursuing those fields.

As she recalls, Brocade leaders “had approached me when I returned to work [after her daughter’s birth] and said, ‘Colleen, we have this problem encouraging women in this field.’ To be tapped on the shoulder like that felt like a real sign for me, that I was meant to do this — not just for me, but for my daughter as well.”

It does kind of baffle the mind that, with so much attention to the problem and with crusaders like Blake, we’re getting worse, not better. What this means for you, I can’t pretend to know, though creating better support systems for women in tech does come to mind. Perhaps it’s best to leave you with two cogent quotes from the Accenture release. The first, from Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code:

“Despite unprecedented attention and momentum behind the push for universal computer-science education, the gender gap in computing is getting worse. The message is clear: A one-size-fits-all model won’t work. This report is a rallying cry to invest in programs and curricula designed specifically for girls. We need a new mind-set and willingness to prioritize and focus on our nation’s girls, and we need it now.”

And this, from Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America:

“Dramatically increasing the number of women in computing is critical to closing the computer-science skills gap facing every business in today’s digital economy. Without action, we risk leaving a large portion of our country’s talent on the sidelines of the high-value computing jobs that are key to U.S. innovation and competitiveness.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Workers in the West Like Bosses Best

When it comes to finding someone to blame for issues like, say, sagging retention rates or sinking employee engagement scores, managers sure seem to take it on the chin a lot.

Kristen Frasch, our managing editor, pointed out as much on Monday, using the HRE Daily space to reference just a few fairly recent reports that underscore managers’ supposed shortcomings.

The bulk of Frasch’s post, however, focused on Red Branch Media CEO Maren Hogen’s recent “love letter” to managers, in which she offers an “ ‘atta boy’ and ‘atta girl’ to those blamed for everything from a lack of snacks in the workplace to why you can’t have ‘just one extra week off,’ ” and encourages disgruntled employees to also look at themselves when trying to pinpoint the source of their unhappiness.

Now, just days later comes a survey from CareerBuilder that should give managers—more than half of them, anyway—another reason to feel good about themselves.

The Chicago-based employment website and HR software provider polled 3,031 employees, asking respondents to rate their supervisors’ performance, assigning them a letter grade between “A” and “F.”

Overall, 62 percent of employees graded their bosses’ performance as either an “A” or “B,” with 22 percent giving their manager a “C.” Ten percent said their supervisor merited only a “D,” with the remaining 6 percent reporting their superiors had failed, earning an “F” for their efforts.

Pretty solid scores for most managers, but those in the Western region of the United States seem to be doing something particularly special.

On average, Western-based bosses were graded higher, with 32 percent of respondents giving their supervisors an “A” grade, and 35 percent saying their manager deserved a “B.” Workers in the Northeast were a tad more critical, with just 23 percent handing out “A”s to their bosses, and 34 percent reporting their managers were worthy of a “B.”

What’s the secret to supervisors’ success out West? The answer may lie in a laid-back managerial approach that employees seem to respond to in a big way.

For example, 30 percent of workers in the West said they interact with their boss once a week, or less, in person. More than one-quarter of employees in the South (27 percent) said the same, as did 24 percent of respondents from the Northeast and 23 percent of workers in the Midwest.

Less face time doesn’t necessarily equate to less feedback, though. In fact, 69 percent of employees in the West said they feel their bosses provide enough guidance and input, while 59 percent of workers in the Northeast feel their managers offer sufficient support.

In a statement, Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder CHRO, reckons that “we’re starting to see a slight shift of favor toward management styles that are seen as a little more hands-off, which employees view as trust from their bosses.”

Naturally, there’s a point where a manager can become a little too detached. The key, of course, is finding the sweet spot between aloof and overbearing, which many managers—especially those in the Western states—have apparently recognized.

“Everyone craves respect,” says Haefner, “and it seems like bosses in certain regions have figured out the perfect balance to keep subordinates happy.”

Gaining an Edge via Mentoring

Few of you, I’m sure, need to be convinced of the value of mentoring.  But are certain workforce demographics more likely to gain from a formal mentoring program than others?

ThinkstockPhotos-479512083Well, according to a recent paper titled “Network Intervention: A Field Experiment to Assess the Effects of Formal Mentoring on Workplace Networks,” published in a recent edition of Social Forces, the answer is yes, assuming we’re talking about gender.

The paper by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business Assistant Professor Sameer Srivastava reports that women gained more social-capital affiliation with a high-status mentor than their male counterparts.

Why?

According to Srivastava, women in this study of 139 “high-potential” employees at a software-development lab for a U.S.-headquartered company in China experienced a greater increase in visibility and legitimacy as a result of their mentor affiliations than did male participants.

The employer at the center of the research had been experimenting with different ways to help employees develop their breadth of social capital and decided to use a formal mentoring program to support that effort. Employees were asked to shadow a more senior person in another part of the organization for about a dozen days over a two-to-three-month period.

During that time, the protégés attended meetings with their mentors and worked on short project assignments. The senior employees’ objective, meanwhile, was to transfer some of their organizational social capital to their protégés.

Srivastava suggests care needs to be taken before applying the findings of the research to other contexts, but he believes they certainly lend support to “the idea of formal mentoring programs as a means of addressing differences in the kinds of organizational networks that women and men tend to form, which, in turn, contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.”

Let’s Get the Career Conversation Started

Even the best managers don’t always look forward to talking with employees about how they can be better at their jobs.

But your people are craving these conversations, which, unfortunately, don’t seem to be happening at many organizations.

Take Mercer’s recent Employee Views on Moving Up vs. Moving On survey, for example. The New York-based consultancy polled 1,520 employed workers in the United States and Canada, finding more than half (51 percent) of these respondents saying they receive “no input” or “input only once in a while” from superiors on how to perform better in their roles. In addition, 78 percent of employees indicated they would stay with their current employer if they had a better sense of their career trajectory with the company.

Leave workers in the dark about how to improve and advance at your own risk, warns Ilene Siscovick, partner and North America talent and career leader at Mercer.

“Clearly, lack of communication from managers along with a lack of transparency about career progression within the organization is impacting employee loyalty and hampering retention efforts,” said Siscovick, in a statement.

The aforementioned percentages are significant, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider some other recent research.

A Right Management report from July, for instance, finds that two-thirds of the individual performance drivers employees consider most important are tied to career conversations.

Earlier this year, Right polled 616 North American workers, 68 percent of whom said their managers aren’t actively engaged in the career development of their employees.

These Right Management figures help form the foundation of a feature that’s set to appear in our September issue. “Creating Coaches” focuses on a handful of organizations that excel at helping managers become coaches for their employees, and at making employee development a critical component of supervisors’ jobs—and a key performance measure for managers.

For that story, I spoke with Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc.

Since 1993, Rainmaker has conducted research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers, says Tulgan, who estimates that nine out of 10 “fail to regularly and systematically engage” in a regular, structured, one-on-one dialogue with their direct reports.

Some managers, he says, may be “naturally gifted in terms of being the kind of supportive, developmental leader that helps his or her employees with building themselves and their careers.” But becoming an effective coach for employees “isn’t about being a natural.”

Rather, “you really need to have regular, structured, substantive dialogue with your people that includes talking about how they’re doing their work and how they’re continuing to learn not only technical skills, but broader, transferable soft skills as well,” he says. “This is all part of a coaching style of management, and it has huge implications for employees’ career growth.”

HR, of course, has a responsibility to help ensure that managers grasp the importance of nurturing their employees’ development, adds Tulgan, who serves as an executive-level coach and advisor, and has written multiple books on effective management.

“I try to make a very strong business case to managers for doing this. It’s what managing is. The career development part is just the outcome of doing the hard work of managing people well in a substantive way.”

He also urges spelling out the concrete actions you expect managers to carry out in terms of coaching their reports.

Managers, for example, must understand how often they should be meeting with their people, how long those conversations should be, and what they should be talking about, says Tulgan.

Because, much like the employees they’re charged with leading, “you can’t hold managers accountable if you don’t tell them exactly what’s expected of them.”

Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

A Leadership Guru’s Legacy

As an infantry officer during World War II, leading a platoon of soldiers through harrowing combat during the Battle of the Bulge, Warren G. Bennis learned firsthand what it took to become an effective leader. Following his service (during which he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart), Bennis began his academic career, in which he became one of the world’s foremost authorities on leadership and organizational development. Late last week, Bennis passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 89.

Yesterday the University of Southern California, where Bennis spent 35 years on the faculty of its Marshall School of Business, released a statement from USC President C.L. Max Niklas commemorating his many accomplishments:

Warren Bennis was a visionary whose transformational contributions to the business world have shaped the fundamental concepts of effective leadership. Professor Bennis was one of a rare and esteemed group of pioneers, able not only to anticipate the demands of a changing world, but also guide the direction of this change through his exceptional scholarship, teaching and mentoring.”

Bennis wrote nearly 30 books during his career, the most famous of which was On Becoming a Leader, a bestseller that is considered a veritable bible among leadership-development experts. His memoir, An Invented Life, was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Bennis was notable for his belief that leaders are made, not born, writing that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.”

Leaders, he wrote, must be passionate, intensely curious, honest with themselves and be able to inspire hope and passion in others. They must have a guiding vision for the mission they’re responsible for and be willing to take risks and learn from mistakes. From On Becoming a Leader:

The leader never lies to himself, especially about himself, knows his flaws as well as his assets, and deals with them directly. … The leader wonders about everything, wants to learn as much as he can, is willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. He does not worry about his failures but embraces errors, knowing he will learn from them.”

Bennis was an adviser and mentor to many CEOs and U.S. Presidents, including Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz, according to the New York Times. He was well known for the adage that “leadership cannot be taught, but it can be ‘caught.’ ”

Although Bennis expressed dismay in On Becoming a Leader that corporate leadership appeared to be weakening due to extravagant executive compensation and a focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, he expressed more optimism in a piece he later wrote for Forbes in which he described the next generation of business leaders as “the Crucible Generation” who are less arrogant and more respectful than their predecessors:

The truth may be that history, in its kindness, gave this new generation a grand crucible challenge, as it did my own. … There are reasons enough for optimism. In just the past several years I have seen my classes of aspiring leaders move from an interest in endeavors characterized by self-interest toward a sense of shared responsibility for our society and world.”

 

Time with the Boss

Have you thought much about the amount of time you spent with your boss this week? Or this month? Or perhaps more importantly, how much time your direct reports spent with you? Probably not. But if the findings of a new study by Leadership IQ are correct, these may very well be important questions to ask.

122399147On Wednesday, Leadership IQ released research, titled “Optimal Hours with the Boss” (downloadable here), showing that employees who spend six hours per week with their bosses (either in person or through phone and email) are 29 percent more inspired, 30 percent more engaged, 16 percent more innovative and 15 percent more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week. For each added hour of interaction, the study found, inspiration, engagement and motivation increased. Until the six-hour mark was reached, that is—at which point, with the exception of innovation, the trend line reversed direction.

And what if you happen to be a senior executive or middle manager? Surprising to me, the study found these executives experienced their highest levels of inspiration when spending seven to eight hours per week interacting with their leaders, while middle managers felt their highest levels of inspiration when spending nine to 10 hours per week doing so.

To arrive at these findings, Leadership IQ surveyed 32,410 American and Canadian executives, managers and employees from January through May of this year. Respondents were invited to complete an online assessment that included seven-point-scale questions, such as “Working here inspires me to give my absolute best efforts” and “I recommend our company as a great organization to work for” and “I keep generating great ideas every week to help the organization improve.”

This morning, I spoke with Leadership IQ Founder and CEO Mark Murphy about the findings, and why the percentages jumped as noticeably as they did, but then, for the most part, declined once they hit six hours.

Murphy suggests things such as coaching, mentoring and other forms of interaction are only good up to a point—in this case, around six hours—but then begin to feel to the subordinate like micromanaging. “Yes, I need your coaching, I need your mentoring, I need you to talk to me, I need you to fill me in on the organization’s strategies,” he says. “But once you’ve done that, I don’t necessarily need you to stand over my shoulder.”

And why is the ceiling so much higher for executives and middle managers?

Murphy suggests one possibility could be that, because of all of the downsizing and elimination of organizational layers that have taken place in recent years, executives and managers feel they’re now at greater risk. If there are fewer executives and managers (and layers in organizations), he says, the decisions being made are going to have a greater impact, and “executives and managers are going to feel there’s going to be a higher price to be paid for any mistakes that they make.”

With this in the back of their minds, he says, “it’s likely these executives are going to want a little more time with the CEO, other executives and the board to be sure that what they’re about to do is the right action—that it’s completely aligned with the organization’s strategy.”

Obviously, there’s no easy way to way to address this issue. But Murphy suggests HR might want to do the following: Re-evaluate how your organization addresses interaction time. “Do we know that leaders are having conversations with their employees?” and “Do we have a way to measure this?”

Not that you’re looking for another question to add to your engagement and satisfaction survey, but finding some way to take the pulse of such interactions might not be a bad thing.

Female Senators Have Mentoring Figured Out

A most interesting piece in Time magazine this week about female senators — specifically, the ones who kick-started the end of the governmental shutdown by taking the lead in a male-dominated Senate and finding a way to resolve its stalemate over spending, the debt ceiling and Obamacare.

74879113-- female leaders; Time MagWhat’s really worth noting in the story are the special networks and practices in place — some more formal than others — that these senators have set up over the years to encourage, support, mentor and coach newcomers to their female-politicians’ ranks. This foundation of support established by and for female senators even crosses political aisles.

… the private gatherings among the sisterhood are a source of both power and  perspective. They occur every few weeks or months, depending on the need. Venues include the senators’ homes — and occasionally the unlikely confines of the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond Room, a space named for one of the chamber’s most  notorious womanizers. … Once a year, the group also dines with the female Supreme Court justices. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence, holds regular dinners for women in the  national-­security world. Even the female chiefs of staff and communications directors have started regular get-togethers of their own. … It’s a diverse group, ranging in age from Feinstein, who is 80, to [Sen. Kelly] Ayotte, [R-New Hampshire], who is 45. Feinstein makes herself available to every new female senator who wants advice on how she runs her offices.

… Close political alliances have developed among several of the women. [California Sen. Barbara] Boxer has taken a special interest in Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren — both are  liberal firebrands. Democrat Claire McCaskill, who hails from a red state and faced a tough re-election campaign last year, made a point of courting Republican friendships early on. Sometimes, those friendships trump party … .”

Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, clued me in to this story. Before we launched into an interview (for an upcoming news analysis), he wanted me to know about it, and what it says — not only about the power of women to find common ground and bring opposing parties together, but about their power in establishing the kinds of systems and practices their followers need if they’re going to survive in a still-hugely-male-dominated political beehive.

“They’re practicing a lot of things around mentoring that corporations aren’t doing” and probably should be, he told me.

After reading it, I had to agree. Employers would do well to tear some pages out of our female senators’ notebooks on how to help high-potential, high-performing women progress and survive in pressure-cooker environments. (This news analysis I wrote a while back for HREOnline explores just far we still have to go in helping female top talent succeed.) Only in these top, richly deserved leadership positions will their unique abilities really stand a chance of making a meaningful impact on the business.

Just how meaningful? How about something on par with what Time describes as the female senators getting “the lion’s share of the credit for starting the process to break the weeks-long stalemate … “??

I reached out to Ember Reichgott Junge for her take on the story and the subject of the strengths women bring to government. Here’s what the former Minnesota state senator, author of Zero Chance of Passage:  The Pioneering Charter School Story and an outspoken advocate for women in politics had to say:

Research from organizations like the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University  has shown for years that, when women are elected to office, they are more collaborative, more inclusive in their leadership and more willing to compromise to achieve their goals. We have seen this in state legislatures over the years, but not as much at the federal level because only recently have women reached a critical mass in the U.S. House and Senate.

I personally experienced this [female political edge] in 1991 in the Minnesota legislature as author of the first charter school law in the nation, which prevailed by only three votes over intense opposition. The bipartisan champions were all women — I was joined, as the Democratic senate bill author, by Democratic House author Rep. Becky Kelso and Republican co-author Sen. Gen Olson.  Chartering would not have passed without significant bipartisan support led by this trio of women.

There is another lesson from this story. Frankly, I thought we failed when the compromised version of the bill was passed. Minnesota chartering advocates were deeply worried that the bill was so compromised that no schools would be chartered. We know now that, without compromise, no bill would have passed and chartering might never have happened. Two years later, the legislature improved the law, making it a model for the nation. The lesson here? Compromise is not defeat. As former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe wrote in her book, Fighting for Common Ground, “compromise is not a capitulation of one’s principles.  Rather, it is recognition that not getting all that you may want may be the only way to acquire enough votes to achieve most of what you seek … .”

Here’s another example. When I was elected to the Minnesota state senate in 1982, there were only 10 women state senators of 66. When I retired from the senate in 2000, there were 22 women senators — of both parties. Along the way, some interesting things happened. During the early 1990s, an era when domestic violence and sexual harassment were not taken seriously, women of both parties banded together to propose and unanimously support a resolution for “zero tolerance for violence.” It passed overwhelmingly. Around the same time, the senate women saw the need for investment in early childhood services and crime prevention. We organized a senate presentation in which we asked several criminal offenders to talk about their abuse as children and how it impacted their lives. In just two years, women changed the entire agenda of the Minnesota senate. Instead of spending one dollar for crime prevention for every four dollars spent locking people up, we insisted that spending of new dollars for those purposes be reversed. That year, we succeeded in convincing our male colleagues to spend at least $2 for crime prevention for every new dollar spent for incarceration. We also successfully proposed the creation of an Early Childhood Committee. Women literally changed the agenda of the senate by moving issues known only as ‘women’s issues’ to a top priority that every senate candidate extolled on literature in the next election.

My experience with my women colleagues underscores the fact that we are relationship-builders. We are problem solvers.  It is not about ideas that are right or wrong.  It is about finding common ground and building new possibilities.  It is about finding the ‘next right answer.’

My public service experiences, of course, are from 1983-2000. In the last decade, we’ve seen the emergence of strong ideologies in both parties.  We have a very narrow ‘middle’ now. On the extremes of the parties, ideology will trump the ‘next right answer.’ But in the center, innovative solutions will emerge. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, my long-time friend, is such an example.  She has maintained course in the middle, building relationships with members of both parties. She intentionally asked [Republican] U.S. Sen. Snowe to be her mentor. As more women like Sens. Klobuchar and Snowe are elected around the country, the more we will move back to governing rather than finger-pointing.  Women, I believe, will lead the way.

These are the same leadership qualities that serve women well in the business world.  In the past, these qualities were viewed as weaknesses, making the woman leader appear indecisive. But as more women ascend to CEO positions, especially in the nonprofit and foundation worlds, they are accomplishing significant change. Collaboration, inclusiveness, problem-solving, and civility are now regarded as leadership strengths.

Turning Moments Into Momentum

Don’t tell Douglas Conant not to sweat the small stuff.  Or at the very least, give it serious consideration.

In yesterday’s opening keynote during Human Capital Institute’s 2012 Human Capital Summit at the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz., the former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Co. suggested that the “smallest of moments” matter big time.

Conant, who I personally was hearing speak for the first time, shared with those in attendance a few of the major themes of his recent book, TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments. (Conant co-wrote the book with Mette Norgaard, a leadership advisor.) Among them: Be “tough-minded and tender-hearted.” “Be authentic.” (Conant clearly is.) Lead with your “head and your heart.” But it was the notion of being “alert to the moment” that Conant continued to return to in his talk.

Conant, who headed Campbell Soup between 2000 and 2011, is a huge believer in the importance of paying close attention to the “smallest of matters,” convinced that it helped to play a crucial role in Campbell Soup’s successful turnaround.

During his roughly one-hour presentation, Conant shared with the audience a number of memorable touch-point stories, including one that occurred during his time at General Mills. One day, he said, he was called into his boss’ office and told, ‘Your job has been eliminated.’ ” (He didn’t deliver the news particularly well, he recalled.)

This was “one of my touch points and it’s been seared in my memory,” Conant said.

Fortunately, Conant continued, General Mills set me up with an executive outplacement counselor, Neil McKenna. “When I called him, he said, ‘How can I help?’ ” He was there for me from that first phone call, to a meeting later in the afternoon and then for the next 20 years, until he passed [away] roughly six years ago.”

McKenna was unarguably someone who was “alert to the moment,” Conant said.

Conant noted that he lists on his website 10 personal touch points that collectively add up to only 59 words and take only 40 seconds to recite. “But those 40 seconds have had a profound influence on my business life,” he explained.

More precisely, all of those previous touch points no doubt helped to shape his leadership style at Campbell. During his tenure there, Conant said he hand wrote between 10 and 20 notes a day to individual employees celebrating “what was working.” Each and every day!

When I retired, he recalled, “I added up all of the notes I wrote. There were 30,000 of them. We only have 20,000 employees! It created a culture that said we’re paying attention. It created a culture of what was working while we continued to drive hard [in fixing those things that weren’t] working.”

 

HR Leaders Discuss Talent Development

Although the HR executives on the “Re-Building the Bench” morning plenary session at the HR in Hospitality™ Conference represented organizations with 3,800 properties (and adding about 100 more properties each year), 55 properties (hoping to be 60 in a few months) and 16 hotels (hoping to be 25 in a few years), their thoughts on talent development and succession planning were not all that dissimilar.

And the baseline underlying all of the talent strategies was culture — especially in the hospitality industry, where each property/brand has its own personality and thus, its own sense of customer service and required competencies.

“When we look for talent … it really is dependent on the brand,” says Greg Smith, executive vice president of human resources for Denihan Hospitality Group (which has 16 hotels). “I am often amazed at how often really, really smart people fail because they don’t fit in.”

He was joined on the panel by Leslie Lerude, vice president of people and culture at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants (55 properties) and Matt Schuyler, chief human resources office of Hilton Worldwide (need I give you the number?). The session was moderated by JoAnne Kruse, founder of HCpartners and Conference program chair.

Recruiting and developing talent, Schuyler says, can be extremely sophisticated in the United States, but quite different around the world. Globally, it can range from setting up street fairs in China to try to find potential workers —  while educating them about customer service — to Saudi Arabia, where Hilton will be opening a 9,000-room hotel in Mecca staffed only by Muslim men; a property that can never be visited by senior leaders as they are not allowed in that city because of their religion.

Lerude says Kimpton — which has a corporate psychologist on staff — has long believed an emphasis on personal development is the key to happy employees. Happy employees, she says, are engaged and focused on customer satisfaction, which translates into a successful organization.

She also believes too much focus has been spent on employee engagement, when emphasis should really be placed on “trust.” Hospitality workers are overwhelmingly engaged in their work, she says, but far, far fewer trust their employers or senior leaders.

And when senior leaders see that, via survey results or metrics, they often will make changes to attempt to rebuild that trust, she says.

Schuyler agrees the Great Places to Work Trust Index — which Kimpton uses as well — offers “more actionable” information than employee engagement surveys.

As for developing talent and creating succession plans, none of the HR leaders on the panel thought it was helpful to publicly designate certain individuals as “high potentials.”

“Different leaders need different things,” Smith says, “and they need different things at different stages in their careers,” while Schuyler notes a hi-po could stop being a hi-po after “a cycle or two.”

Lerude says that, while the word is not used, the organization’s actions — such as inclusion in a mentoring program or being asked to open a new facility — show individuals their value to the organization.

And developing talent in the HR function is really no different than other departments, Schuyler says, noting that the “litmus test” for success is when other departments try to poach HR talent.