Category Archives: relationship building

Cultivating a More-Innovative Workplace

Further evidence of the connection between workplace design and innovation was released earlier today, this time in the form of Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2016.

In its press release, Gensler, the San Francisco-headquartered architecture and design firm, says it “uncovered a statistical link between the quality and functional make-up of the workplace and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their organization.”

The survey of more than 4,000 workers across 11 industries finds that the most innovative companies provide employees with “a diversity of well-designed spaces in which to collaborate and to focus.”

As Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins put it …

“Employees truly flourish when they have room to not only collaborate but also have space to focus, and are empowered to work when and how they work best—both within their workplace, and in other locations outside it.”

To arrive at its findings, Gensler created an index aimed at identifying the most innovative organizations, comparing the behaviors and spatial attributes of those at different ends of the innovation spectrum.

The research found that employees at the most-innovative organizations spend only 74 percent of the work week at the office, compared to 86 percent for less-innovative workplaces; are at least 2 times more likely to have access to cafeterias, coffee shops and outdoor spaces; have 2 times more access to amenities including specialty coffee, restaurants, gyms and child-care facilities; and have 2 times more choice in when and where to work.

In light of findings like these, I suppose it’s no surprise that we would continue to run across employers that are pushing the envelope when it comes to their workplace designs. Take Amazon, for example, which was featured the other day in a New York Times story titled “Forget Beanbag Chairs. Amazon is Giving Its Workers Treehouses.

The story explains how the online retail giant is growing actual plants (more than 3,000 species of them) about a half-hour’s drive from its new corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle. They will eventually be housed in one of three transparent spheres adjacent to the complex that will serve as greenhouses.

Amazon employees, the story says, would be able to “amble through tree canopies three stories off the ground, meet colleagues in rooms with walls made from vines and eat kale Caesar salads next to an indoor creek.”

As lead architect Dale Alberda points out, the whole idea behind the project is to “get people to think more creatively, maybe come up with a new idea they wouldn’t have if they were just in the office.”

Remember the good-old days, when high-tech companies would rely on a couple of strategically positioned ping-pong tables for those same results?

Keeping the CHRO in the C-Suite

Human resources is rarely appreciated for providing thought leadership.

At least, that’s according to Lynda Spiegel,  who wrote “Why HR Belongs in the C-Suite” on the Wall Street Journal‘s The Experts blog today.

Spiegel, who spent 15 years as an HR professional, writes that most companies hire a senior HR professional to report to the COO or the CFO, trivializing the profession into a function “rather than an overarching discipline” integral to incubating corporate success:

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for chief executives whose understanding varied with respect to how human resources contributes their companies’ growth and productivity, but they each initially viewed human resources as a nonrevenue producing function limited to personnel management. Some came to recognize the need for a chief human resources officer to provide strategic direction alongside the CFO, COO and CMO. One CEO, however, memorably invited me to the c-suite only once. And that was to discuss the annual holiday party.

But, she continues, CHROs belong in the C-suite not only for their role in managing companies’ critical asset— aka its talent—but also because they make the C-suite team more effective. “They help focus the team as a cohesive unit and by doing so, support the CEO’s mission and with their skills in organizational psychology, can arguably better manage meeting dynamics when things get rocky.”

As Spiegel concludes: “The most effective CHROs don’t necessarily come from a HR background, but they are as much strategic visionaries as their cohorts in the C-suite.”

Spiegel’s compelling argument is sound and makes great business sense. The only question is whether the other members of the C-suite are actually reading it.

HCSC Drives Change with Relationship Data

Social diagramming and relationship analytics at Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) was on a pretty fascinating display Tuesday at the HR Tech Conference.

HCSC Social-179275875Speaking on behalf of the Chicago-based, 14.7-million-member organization handling Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in five states, Steve Betts, HCSC’s chief information officer, told a very different kind of social-transformation story at his session, titled Why HCSC Thinks Relationship Analytics Are the Next Big Thing in Talent Management.

Looking to make hefty changes after he came on board about a year ago, he sought the help of Syndio — also Chicago-based — to, first, solidify his case for change and, second, determine his best drivers for that change through all the social-graphing relationship data Syndio could offer.

Key changes in the company’s scope, considered most crucial due to the fast-paced changes in the healthcare industry overall, were its needs to go from siloed teams to a highly matrixed organization, to go from a more traditional hierarchical structure to one with many points of interaction and to go from an organization with limited innovation to one that would be extremely focused on driving innovation with business partners.

“Essentially,” said Betts, “HCSC needed to change and technology was right in the middle of all of that.”

But not just any technology, mind you. What Syndio brought to the process was a robust and well-populated social-diagramming and graphing process based on employees’ answers to specific, academically validated questions that would then plant them on that diagram in terms of their strength of connectivity to everyone else in the company.

As Syndio’s senior vice president of customer success, Andee Harris, described it, “we combined the HR data and [our] relationship data to tell the full story of how work gets done at HCSC.”

Included in that “story” were pockets throughout the organization where departments were maybe siloed and autonomous, “and essentially not effective,” Betts said. The data also told him how people interacted, who they collaborated with, who had more meetings than necessary with no real leaders, who the “bridgers” were and who — all through crowdsourcing data — people went to for what.

Additionally, included in what the Syndio tool captured were several characterizations about each individual, as well as where they fell on the social-networking map — such as if they were collaborators, change agents, innovators, leaders and/or listeners.

Sentiment data combined with relationship data also helped pinpoint people and departments within the organization where support for the transformation would likely come and where more focused communication would be needed. “These aspects and characterizations could truly identify change agents who could help drive [this] transformational change,” said Betts.

The data, analyzed in Syndio’s cloud base, alerted Betts to key connectors in the company who might not have the skills necessary to drive the change he was looking for, but who could potentially bring the organization to its knees because of his or her social-connectivity strength.

“We were able to work with those people” for the good of the company and its goals, he said, “rather than let them go, which could have been devastating,” as opposed to highly successful in helping exact and promote the desired changes.

“We wouldn’t have known this without this data,” Betts said. “It really has helped me see who talks to whom, and how we interact — and how we should interact — across the states.

“It’s very addictive,” he added. “Very action-oriented.”

When It’s OK to Fake It

grin“Be authentic!” today’s leaders are urged. But what if they don’t know how? Worse yet, what if — in being authentic — they bare their soul to their direct reports in a way that causes them to lose confidence in said leader?

Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, tackles this subject in the cover story of the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review, “The Authenticity Paradox.” Today’s leaders are under pressure to be “their true selves” as an antidote to the record-low levels of trust and engagement among employees today, she writes. However, new leaders also have a relatively short time frame in which to gain the trust and confidence of their direct reports — should they unwittingly alienate or lose the confidence of those employees within that time by failing to adapt their leadership style to the situational demands, then their goals will be that much harder to achieve.

Ibarra cites the examples of “Cynthia” and “George.” Promoted into a high-visibility role that included a 10-fold increase in the number of her direct reports, Cynthia sought to establish her role as a leader who valued transparency and collaboration by sharing with them her trepidation and need for their help.  But her candor backfired when she lost credibility with people who were looking for a strong leader. George, an executive at an auto-parts company where chain-of-command and consensus were paramount, felt conflicted when the company was acquired by a firm with a much more freewheeling culture: Urged by his supervisor to sell himself and his ideas more aggressively, George felt he was being pressured to be a “fake” by subsuming his modest nature.

Career advancement requires most of us to move beyond our comfort zones at some point, writes Ibarra. Yet, because going against our true inclinations can make us feel like impostors, “we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable,” she writes.

However, moments like these can help us grow into better leaders — if we take advantage of them, writes Ibarra:

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

Learning often begins with behaviors that may feel unnatural and fake to us, says Ibarra. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and to ultimately become better leaders “is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

 

Stop Buying Into Boring HR-Tech Hype; Focus More on Trust

I was so struck by the simplicity of a recent post on the Horses for Sources website, run by IT and outsourcing expert Phil Fersht and his 477607425 -- boredteam of global-sourcing analysts, that I was compelled to share it here.

The title of the post, “Why we need to stop boring ourselves to death and focus on what really matters: building TRUST,” kind of says it all.

The gist of it is that buyers of technology services want little more than to turn a whole lot more control over to their service providers; this, it points out, is their No. 1 choice for a course of action to “reset these stale services relationships to drive more value beyond labor arbitrage and standard operational delivery.”

And this is what’s top-of-mind for services buyers, the post says, despite what you and I keep hearing about all the other hyped-up tech trends it cites: “how robotic automation, digital technology … big data and outcome-based pricing are going to be the biggest game changers to disrupt the business world since the invention of the desk.”

I love what follows, I guess to depict where all this excitable tech thinking is going to take us:

“Suddenly, there’s going to be minimal need for human labor … so we’ll just sit at home all day running our lives from our mobile devices sequencing our own genomes using some cool analytics app that we only need to pay for once we’ve added 10 years to our life expectancy. Somebody please shoot me now … let’s dial this dialog back to reality for a few minutes.”

Indeed, as reality would have it, when Horses for Sources asked attendees of its recent gathering of enterprise buy-side operations leaders in Chicago to choose among six actions that would best “improve the quality and outcome of your current sourcing initiative,” the winner, by far, was “the buyer letting go and giving more responsibility and value processes to [the] provider.”

Here’s the HfS response to that:

“Oh my god.  After all the whining about things like, ‘All they do is sell to us,’ and ‘All that cool stuff they promised us during the sales process and never delivered’ … the real reason behind this stagnation is the simple fact that most buyers are just struggling to let go!”

In order to do that, though, they need to — you got it — trust that their providers can take on higher-value work from them. And to earn that trust, providers need to prove they can do that. In the words of HfS:

“This means many need to change behavior … the [oh-so-boring] overselling needs to stop and the demonstration of real value needs to start. … Service buyers do not ‘let go’ until they know they have a safe pair of hands to trust with their beloved processes …  .”

‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’

Bruce Tulgan
Bruce Tulgan

I just came across an advance copy of a book due on shelves Sept. 15 that takes a pretty interesting stab at itemizing and enumerating every key challenge a manager will face in his or her profession. I’m sharing it here — “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” — because I’ve found the author, Bruce Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., to be pretty authoritative and sound over the years when it comes to manager-employee relationships.

HRE clearly concurs, as it will be featuring Tulgan in a webinar on Aug. 13, titled “Building a Better Boss: Engaging Managers to Inspire and Engage Workers.” In the webinar, he’ll discuss his latest research that finds “The Under-Management Epidemic,” first revealed in his company’s 2004 study, rages on 10 years later. According to the study, nine out of 10 leaders and managers are not providing their direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching today. 

In his latest book, already listed on Amazon, Tulgan reiterates and underscores that fact, bringing together what he says are the 27 — not 26 or 28, mind you — challenges he’s heard repeatedly from managers over his 20 years of research. During that time, he says, he’s asked “hundreds of thousands of managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes, ‘What are the most difficult challenges you face when it comes to managing people?’ ” His finding:

Regardless of industry or job title, managers cite the same core issues — more than 90 percent of responses over the years refer to the same 27 challenges. The same cases come up over and over again — maybe it’s the superstar [who] the manager is afraid of losing, the slacker [who] the manager cannot figure out how to motivate or the two employees who cannot get along.”

As Tulgan says in a Q&A at the end of this link about the book, including excerpts:

It turns out that when things are going wrong in a management relationship, almost always, the common denominator is unstructured, low-substance, hit-or-miss communication. … Almost always, the ad-hoc manner in which most managers talk to their direct reports every day actually makes inevitable the most difficult employee situations that tend to vex managers. What is the key to avoiding most of these problems and the key to solving them quickly and with relative ease as soon as they appear? High-structure high-substance one-on-one dialogues with every direct report.”

For what it’s worth, I have talked to numerous experts over the years who have corroborated this need for more effective and authentic one-on-one business leadership, including folks at Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, whose recent study finds a sorry lack of interactive-conversational skills among business leaders and managers worldwide. (I wrote about that study in this recent news analysis.)

As it is, and as Tulgan’s book lays them out — grouped in chapters according to stages of one’s management career and types of problems — here they are, all 27 of them:

1, when going from peer to leader; 2, when coming from the outside to take over leadership of an existing team; 3, when bringing together an entirely new team; 4, when you are welcoming a new member to your existing team; 5, when employees have a hard time managing time; 6, when an employee needs help with interpersonal communication; 7, when an employee needs to get organized; 8, when an employee needs to get better at problem-solving; 9, when you have an employee who needs to increase productivity; 10, when you have an employee who needs to improve quality; 11, when you need an employee to start “going the extra mile”; 12, when your employees are doing “creative” work; 13, when the employee you are managing knows more about the work than you do (I, Kris Frasch, suspect that might be something managers are experiencing more frequently these days, given our demographic shifts in the workplace); 14, when an employee needs an attitude adjustment; 15, when there is conflict between and among individuals on your team …

Breath …

16, when an employee has personal issues at home; 17, when there is a superstar you need to keep engaged; 18, when you have a superstar you really want to retain; 19, when you have a superstar you are going to lose for sure: how to lose that superstar very well; 20, when you need to move a superstar to the next level to develop as a new leader; 21, when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty; 22, when managing under resource constraints; 23, when managing through interdependency management challenges; 24, when managing around logistical hurdles; 25, when managing across differences in language and culture; 26, when you need to renew your management relationship with a disengaged employee; and 27, when you need to renew your own commitment to being a strong, highly engaged manager.

As Rainmaker puts it in one promotional, “The 27 Challenges are enumerated not in order of frequency or difficulty, but rather according to the bigger-picture human capital issues in which [they] fall. Like a guidebook through the real life of a manager — from the ‘new-manager’ challenges, through performance management, retention, and all the way to the latter career stage when so many managers face the challenges of ‘renewal.’ ”

Tulgan says he hopes readers will use this book like reference material, referring to the specific challenge one is encountering and his solution for overcoming it, maybe reading others to prepare a little, but then shelving it until it’s needed again.

Personally, I can’t imagine many other challenges than the ones listed above, but Tulgan assures me there are hundreds more. Solve these ones, he says, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on how to apply “the fundamentals of management to gain control of any situation.” People managing managers, he adds, should keep it on hand, too.

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.

Just How Involved Should Parents Be at Work?

Not like we haven’t written about the moms and dads of young employees — primarily millennials, born between 1981 and the early 2000s — inserting themselves into key moments of their children’s work lives, starting with the hiring process.

178760957--dad and son at workBut this recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription site) went beyond what I knew — or what we’ve reported on — when it comes to steps employers are taking to encourage this trend.

The story mentions Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual, which regularly invites parents of its college-aged interns to open houses and encourages managers to send notes home to them when their kids reach their sales goals. They’re even allowed to come along to interviews and hear details of job offers made to their sons and daughters.

It mentions Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc., which recently held its second annual “Take Your Parents to Work Day,” bringing in more than 2,000 moms and dads; and St. Louis-based car-rental firm Enterprise Holdings Inc., which provides information packets for the parents of interns and new employees in its management-training program and lets the parents listen in when managers describe job offers.

Interestingly, though, it also mentions a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that finds only 6 percent of recent U.S. college graduates want their parents to receive a copy of their offer letters and only 2 percent want their parents to receive a copy of their performance review. And that’s well below the global norms of 13 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

I don’t know. Sounds to me like our kids are more ready to cut the cords and grow up than their parents want them to be.

But hey, who am I to criticize? I’m one of those parents. I text/talk regularly with my 32-year-old and 29-year-old sons — a third-grade teacher (and father of two) and mechanical engineer, respectively. I attend their adult-league baseball games like a sports mom who refuses to unhand her pom-poms. I’m still invited to their Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles tailgate parties — well, some of them.

I am keenly aware of this special bond of respect, regard and closeness that exists between many folks my age and their children — who, let’s face it, absolutely were raised as extra-special people who we would go to the ends of the earth for (and with, if we had that kind of travel money).

Granted, I would never stand in the back of the classroom while my older son talks to parents at back-to-school night. I would never ask to see either one’s performance review. (My guess is some of the parents asking for that kind of transparency were the more outspoken — often critical — ones I’d see at back-to-school nights and on soccer-field sidelines.)

No, I’m no “stagehand” for my kids. But I sure do ask about their jobs and lives, and they sure do share. I still know their friends, and their friends’ parents (even some of my daughter-in-law’s). I consider myself blessed to have had my children in a generation when both sets of dreams were shared — not kept secret, ridiculed or ignored.

Is this really a growing workplace trend? Should employers really be giving it wings? Will — and should — moms and dads really be inserting themselves into more and more work-related events crucial to their precious progeny? I suppose this could become a future workplace norm, especially if the generations to follow remain as committed to this mutual-respect, mutual-involvement parent-child experience.

But I’m thinking it will eventually abate. Demographic behavior traits change with the ages. Priorities change too. As my grown sons tend more to their own and include me when they can, I find myself happily and healthily letting go, refocusing on the grandkids, proud of the men they’ve become and the jobs they’ve secured — with my help and without it.

The Office of Tomorrow … Today!

future officeA desire to boost communication and collaboration was a big part of the explanation behind Yahoo!’s much-debated decision to call its telecommuters back to the office.

As a step toward bringing Yahoo! employees closer together, perhaps Marissa Mayer and company should get in touch with Herman Miller Inc.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription required), the Zeeland, Mich.-based office furniture manufacturer—often credited with introducing cubicles to the workplace in the 1960s—is cleaning up these days, helping companies ditch the cubicle concept in favor of cutting-edge office layouts that encourage teamwork, not to mention save space and cut costs.

Herman Miller’s revenue, the article says, has increased by nearly one-third in the past two years, thanks in part to high-profile clients such as Microsoft Corp., which hired the company’s consultants to track how space was being used at a handful of Microsoft locations. Upon finding that conference rooms designed for 20 people were often being used by only two or three at a time, Microsoft created a number of “focus rooms”—cozier spaces more ideal for meetings of two-to-four people.

The notion of “post-cubicle” offices isn’t new, of course, with such spaces beginning to pop up at least a decade ago, corresponding with the rise of electronic communications and the type of ever-evolving technologies that have changed the definition of what a workstation can be. But the recent recession put a damper on the trend, the Wall Street Journal notes, citing figures from market researcher IBISWorld that found the office-furniture industry’s revenue dropping 26 percent in 2009, for example.

This year, however, figures to be a strong year of growth, according to IBISWorld, which predicts office-furniture makers’ revenue will reach $21.5 billion this year, an increase of more than 4 percent compared to 2012.

Silicon Valley companies are well-known for their innovative, inventive work environments—think Google’s new “Bay View” campus, which features angled walkways designed to create accidental encounters—but they aren’t the only ones reimagining the modern office.

Campbell Soup Co., for instance, recently remodeled its Camden, N.J. headquarters with furniture and input from Herman Miller. In addition to standardizing managers’ and executives’ offices at 120 square feet in order to create more open space for common areas, Campbell has created “huddle rooms” to host smaller meetings, similar to the spaces in use at Microsoft.

The changes have certainly had the intended effect, says Beth Jolly, a Campbell spokesperson.

“People are collaborating much more,” Jolly told the Wall Street Journal, without being “bound by walls or cubes.”

CEOs: We Need HR to Be Strategic

A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit confirms that most chief executive officers value HR’s counsel: 70 percent of the 135 CEOs surveyed said they want HR to be involved at the highest levels of planning. However, just over half of those CEOs (55 percent) actually consider the head of HR to be a key player in strategic planning. Many of the CEOs are also concerned about their HR chiefs’ lack of business acumen, with 37 percent reporting the head of HR doesn’t “understand the business well enough.”

The EIU report is based on two surveys, one of the CEOs and the other of 100 chief financial officers, along with a series of in-depth interviews with executives and outside experts from around the world. The report was sponsored by IBM and Oracle.

The CEO survey focused on how they view the contributions of HR leaders across organizational strategy, planning and executive team management. More than half of the CEOs (55 percent) said insufficient talent within the organization is a key challenge that might harm the company financially within the next 12 months.

The CFO survey revealed that although their desire for HR to be a strategic player in key planning is even stronger than among CEOs (75 percent, compared to 70 percent), far fewer of them consider their HR counterparts as such (30 percent) than do the CEOs (55 percent).

The report notes that HR leaders can strengthen their bond with the C-suite by fostering personal relationships with them, “cultivating the chemistry of the senior management team” and finding opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the business. With respect to CFOs in particular, the report suggests HR share goals and results “in a qualitiative way through HR metrics” and help CFOs improve their internal finance team.