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Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

The Dow is up and I’m getting nervous.

Capitalism is sleeping at the switch.  Big explosion coming, but I think that we’re missing some of the clues that will be obvious later.

As I talk with CEOs and CFOs, there is a common theme of “we’re hunkered down, and going to make it if we don’t take chances or make bad decisions.”  Fine with me.  The problem comes in a two-part storm that is coming.

The first clue are the low turnover numbers.  Nobody is going anywhere, fast.  The normal “breathing” of the job market has stopped.  The  normal movement of high performers from place to place is not happening.

High performers have long had careers based on a project world, and when a project is done they either move internally to a new challenge, or move over to another organization.  This is a group of people that seldom have an updated resume, both because they are moving quickly, and because their next employer already knows them and does not need a resume.  (Low performers ALWAYS have updated resumes…)

Therefore, pressure is building for movement within the ranks of high performers.  When the “coast is clear” for movement, it will happen quickly.

The second driver of the coming explosion is health care.  When – not if – our nation figures out a way to get everyone insured with baseline medical care, the handcuffs that are holding people to jobs that they do not like will be dropped.  The good news is there will be an explosion of entrepreneurial energy as the barrier of health care will be lowered.  Bankers will open flower shops.  HR professionals will become consultants or change professions completely, knowing that they can focus on service delivery and not worry about their health care.

The scary part is that I am confident a large percentage of dis-engaged high performers in our organizations will choose to set up their own businesses.  This removes them from the available labor pool.  They don’t leave the economy, but you can’ t hire them.

Here is the really scary part.  Both of these storms are probably going to happen at about the same time.  When the Dow gets back above, say 12,000, kapow.  When health care gets implemented, kapow.  If they both happen in the same quarter, kablooie.

So, what are you doing to stay dry?  I have some ideas…would love to hear yours.

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So, we hire poorly, screen poorly and then are surprised when the last line of defense – performance management – fails?

I spent quite a bit of time at SHRM National listening to the full range of topics, all themed on improving productivity and getting the “HR Thing” right.  Much of it was spent on the administrative side of our world.  Why?  Because it is safe, and it is what we see as the “bedrock” of our world.

It’s wrong.  We should be looking at a better bedrock.  We should be spending our time evenly split on workforce planning and helping guide the organization to a higher level of performance and profitability, and management development, helping guide the individuals inside the organization to higher levels of personal performance.

I’m writing this during the monthly meeting of the Human Resource Professional Development Association.  Elizabeth Stahl is presenting, and she gets this point.  She is pushing people to have courage, take risks, and gain influence.  All of which is true, especially as my data shows that we in HR have a very slow decision cycle and are cautious, and want to protect our paychecks. It is also clear that for this group of mostly senior HR people that we, as a group, think higher levels of risk taking is a good idea…within reason.

Within reason?  Hey, we’re in a “seige mentality”.  We’re under attack, and everyone is hunkered down, protecting their paycheck.  This is a lousy time to take risks.  At the same time, our organizations MUST take risks to survive.  Our CEOs need to have us taking good risks, and helping the organization survive.

Maslow got it right.  First we are focused on survival, then on safety, then on community.

Focus on survival.  Take some appropriate risks.  And accept that these are mutually exclusive.

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Things that are currently hot topics –

Lots of interest in motivation and related issues – that includes total compensation plans and how the money spent creates a positive outcome, and how to make sure benefit plans are motivating the right behaviors.

FMLA.  It never goes away, and still an irritation.

FLSA and all of it’s fringe issues.

Termination and outplacement and workforce planning with an eye to the future

COBRA rules and dealing with the administrative workload

…notice that most of this is administrative, and not that strategic.  The push of the featured speakers at the conference was a push for more of a strategic role.  The average attendee, however, is facing a crushing administative workload upon return to the office, and new ideas are not exactly welcome right now…

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Got the computer working.  Sorry about the gap.  Back to some tidbits from David Kotter’s session.

Overall, this was the best general session of the conference because it came down from 35,000 feet and actually gave tactical advice that I could use.

Kotter also did some very basic, useful things from a media standpoint.  He did not use powerpoint, he used a sketch pad, a sharpie, and had the image put up on a screen.  Kind of a high tech overhead projector.  I have seen professors doing this in college, and Edward DeBono did it in a presentation that I saw.  I like it from an adult learning perspective.

He also illustrated one of his basic points – that people are very creative if the environment is right – with videos of first person interviews.  The one that had a sewer cleaner narrating how he had personalized his truck and equipment was a refreshing reminder of the creative spirit of the American worker.

Overhead projector with a modern touch

Overhead projector with a modern touch

Back to the content.  He made the point that a key executive  skill is getting traction for systemic change, and that there is a basic pattern for making it happen.

It starts with that poorly-defined but muched talked about ingredient – Leadership.

“Leadership is very much associated with vision.  It’s very market oriented, very rational.  It’s very much associated with getting people to really, deeply buy in to this, get aligned and work together, going in the same direction to solve problems.  It’s also about getting employees pumped up, empowered, motivated, inspired to make shifts happen.”

Then he talked about urgency.  He said that most orgnizations clearly aren’t feeling a strong sense of urgency to act when it comes to addressing the impact of our current situation.  This lack of urgency directly relates to the change management challenges we are all facing.

Begin with increasing a sense of urgency.  It helps shake things up and make things happen

Once this is accomplished, employers need to push for positive change, working to achieve some short term wins that will help make the changes stick.

Companies must create systems that managers can both manage and adapt, allowing positive changes to be triggered and implemented at the front lines of customer service.  This is where fear can keep leadership from seeing potential opportunities and, therefore, squelch a sense of urgency to act.  This inaction is the barrier to change.

Combine or alternate this fear with compacency, and things get gridlocked.

“Complacency is when you get a collective group that thinks what it is doing is just fine.  Take Washington DC, for example.  Do you think the two parties are behaving with you in a fundamentally different way than they did five years ago?  Do you think the administration is staffing people with a process that is different than any other administration?  It’s the same.  The same.  The same.”

Kotter urged attendees to avoid the frentetic activity that leaves people emotionally drained and burned out.  “These problems with our serious economic conditions are hurting a whole lot of people, especially the most vulnerable in our society.  This is unacceptable – and also unnecessary.”

I guess what I liked about his approach is that it resonated with the chaos and burnout that I am seeing in modern organizations, and was willing to have the competing issues of complacency and chaos on the same page.

Overall, turn up the urgency, and have a concice plan for change.  Then you will be developing the environment andoffering the tools to get some change done.

Kotter's list of 8 steps

Kotter's list of 8 steps

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Coming off as a kind of cranky, rumpled professor, John Kotter presented a general session that looked at economics and our nation’s sense of urgency.  Acutally, he is a cranky, rumpled professor at Harvard Business School.  Details to follow – but the big deal to me was that he didn’t use Powerpoint – he was using overhead projector technology and I found it very refreshing.

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