Change is Really in the Air!

November 11th, 2008

We all know that there is significant political change in the air, but there also appears to be some notable changes in how companies in the U.S. are approaching human capital management during the recent economic downturn.

Towers Perrin recently released the results of their “Compensation in Crisis” pulse survey, which features responses from more than 450 U.S. organizations. The survey was conducted in October 2008 and the companies surveyed are from a wide range of industries and sizes.

Towers Perrin’s Ravin Jesuthasan explains that the surveyed firms’ “commitment to the retention of key talent is a significant shift from past national recessionary periods, when a slash-and-burn mentality reigned. Companies are entering this period with leaner workforces and the knowledge that across-the-board mass layoffs can create significant long-term problems.” 66% of respondents believe a significant organizational headcount reduction is somewhat or very unlikely, while 46% think a more targeted head-count reduction is probable.

Most importantly, 54% polled stated that they are somewhat to very concerned about turnover of their high-performing and business-critical employees as a result of the way their company handles the economic crisis. As a result, many firms are taking a more proactive approach (including cash retention awards and targeted salary increases to help retain and motivate top performers).

To read more about this very interesting and suprising survey (from’s Market Watch), click here.

Getting Back to Basics

September 7th, 2008

The American Management Association‘s always interesting and timely podcast series, AMA Edgewise, recently featured an interview with two leading subject matter experts on the topic of employee engagement/retention. The featured interview is with Beverley Kaye, co-author (with Sharon Jordan-Evans) of “Love ‘em or Lose ‘em: Getting Good People to Stay “. In addition, there are some highlights from an earlier interview with Judith Bardwick (author of a number of great books, including “One Foot Out the Door: How to Combat the Psychological Recession That’s Alienating Employees and Hurting American Business“). If you are new to the subject of employee retention, the two will provide you with an excellent introduction. If you are experienced, the podcast provides an excellent “back to basics” refresher. I recommend taking 20 minutes out of your busy day to gain some exposure to the critical insights from these two thought leaders! You can find the podcast here.

“Life-Saving” at Starbucks

July 2nd, 2008

How Starbucks Saved My Life

I just finished reading a great book that very effectively describes the power of engagement from the employee perspective.  How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else is a highly entertaining story of Michael Gates Gill, a Yale-educated, former J. Walter Thompson advertising executive with a highly privileged family background. At age 63, Gill found himself in a predicament: his business and marriage were failing, an affair had resulted in the birth of a newborn son, and he was diagnosed with a brain-tumor (without health care coverage). Serendipitously, he finds himself having a coffee in a Manhattan Starbucks during a new employee recruiting event. He strikes up a conversation with the manager and gets offered a job. Working at Starbucks turns out to not only be a temporary “life-saver” for Gill, but ultimately turns out to be the best job he has ever had!

The book is a very engaging read and I recommend it highly. After reading the book, I noticed that the AMA had done an interview with Gill on their always interesting Edgewise podcast series. You can read more and listen to the podcast here.

Zappos Gets It!

May 28th, 2008

As Gillian Welch sang in her 2001 song Everything is Free: “I never minded workin’ hard, it’s who I’m workin’ for…”.
There has been a ton of deserved recent press concerning the online shoe retailer Zappos. From extraordinary customer service to a firm commitment behind taking long-term approach to its business, the retailer seems to be making all the right moves.

Most impressive, though, seems to be their approach to recruiting and maintaining a dedicated and engaged workforce in a business (call-center-based online retailing) plagued with disengagement and high employee turnover. I recently read a story featured in Bill Taylor’s Game Changer Blog on Harvard Business Publishing’s Discussion Leader Online entitled “Why Zappos Pays New Employees to Quit and You Should Too”. One highlight on the piece was regarding Zappos‘ policy of paying new recruits who are uncertain whether working for the retailer for the amount of time worked/trained, plus a $1,000 bonus to quit. According to the article, if a new recruit is on the fence about whether the company is a good fit for them, they are likely to take the offer and leave sooner rather than later. This provides the company with a employee-friendly tool that allows them to “weed out” those recruits who do not appear to possess the strong sense of commitment actively sought in a long term Zappos employee.

For more on Zappos story, be sure to take a look at this article from the New York Times and Taylor’s follow-up blog entry on the subject found here.

The Mind-Body Adventure

May 21st, 2008

Although this is not directly related to the subject of employee engagement, it is important when one of the contributers to TMIE gets a very public “shout out”! Tom Fleming (one of the folks behind “The Most Important Element” and my consulting partner at Integrated Elements) is featured in the June 2008 issue of Experience Life Magazine. Tom, who is a marathoner and general outdoorsman, discusses the importance of keeping a strong mind-body link, framed by a recent adventure he had mixing kayaking and yoga in Mexico. You can read the article, “Mind Body Adventure” online by clicking here. In addition, Tom recently successfully completed the Boston Marathon with his friend Gavan Goodrich. Out of the 21,963 runners who completed the race, Tom & Gavan finished with identical times of 3:44:05. Nice job, Tom!

Starting Out on the Right Foot

April 29th, 2008

I recently read an interesting article on the business section of Canada’s Globe and Mail website called The article is entitled “Rolling Out the Welcome Mat” (4/26/08) and in it, author Kira Vermond discusses the critical importance that a strong “onboarding” experience during a new employee’s first 30-60 days of employment plays in ensuring their long term engagement. The article also contains some great examples of how some forward-thinking companies (such as Bayer, Inc.) are coming up with innovative ways to make an impact in those first few critical months.

Have you seen any interesting and effective “onboarding” techniques? If so, we’d love to hear about them!

Blessing White’s “The State of Engagement 2008″

April 18th, 2008

According to a recent article found in the Michigan’s WWJ Newsradio 950 “Daily Dash” Column (“Survey Reveals Low Employee Engagement in U.S. Workforce” by Jennie Cromie, April 16th, 2008), the Skillman, NJ-based HR consulting firm Blessing-White is readying the release of the 2008 version of their annual employee engagement report, “The State of Employee Engagement 2008″.

The survey, which is scheduled to be widely released in May of 2008, reflects that only 29 percent of employees are “engaged” and 19 percent are actually disengaged from their jobs. The article goes on to point out that, from the 7,508 respondents worldwide (including 3,342 U.S. respondents), the top three factors that influence employee job satisfaction were:

  1. additional opportunities to use talents
  2. better career development
  3. more training

and the top three reasons employees leave were:

  1. lack of career growth
  2. dislike of the actual work
  3. bad management

The article also points out that organizational trust appears a factor (just 53% of the employees surveyed trusted their company’s senior leaders). To read more about the upcoming survey results, the WWJ NR950 “Daily Dash” article can be found here in its entirety. Interesting stuff!

The Employee Engagement Network

March 28th, 2008

There’s a really exciting new web community, only a few months old, that is focused on the topic of employee engagement. David Zinger has created The Employee Engagement Network and the site’s robust membership of thought leaders, practitioners, managers and other interested contributors is growing rapidly. Built upon the familiar formatting foundation of popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, navigating around the EEN is a breeze and the clear focus on the member community easily allows for informal networking, the seeking and sharing of ideas, sharing of resources, etc. Members can set up a customized profile, blog, and join/participate in groups, such as “Manager Tools for Employee Engagement“, “Employee Engagement Writers“, “Engaging Quotations“, “Engaging Books“, and even “Engaging Films” (with more to come).

Kudos to David and all of the pioneer members for initiating this great site. I strongly encourage you to check it out!

Due Process

March 10th, 2008

This past February, the always excellent This American Life radio program (heard on your local NPR radio station) aired an episode entitled “Human Resources”. Among a few other interesting stories in that week’s, they had a piece concerning the NYC Department of Education’s Teacher Administrative Reassignment Centers (often referred to as the “Rubber Rooms”).

To provide some brief background, the NYC Department of Education currently has program where teachers who are under investigation for a work-related infraction or a performance issue are placed in a probationary status (allegedly often without a specific charge provided) and reassigned from their classroom duties (with full pay) to a local Administrative Reassignment Center. They must report each day to the “Rubber Room” and are given nothing to do but sit and wait until the NYC DOE completes the disposition of their case. This process can take months or even years.

An excessive bureaucracy and inefficient process of rectifying these cases, a strong union that makes it difficult for the DOE to remove bad (or even dangerous teachers), and even a convenient method of keeping “whistleblowers” or the more vocal critics of a particular policy or school administration at bay have all been alleged as reasons for why this practice currently exists.

How does this topic relate to employee engagement? To underline the fundamental importance of employers maintaining a timely and fair process when resolving employee-related performance issues. Imagine working in an organization where, after finding yourself involved in some kind of workplace incident (a heated altercation with your boss, for example), you were, perhaps without the benefit of any indication of what you were being accused of, instructed to sit in a particular conference room each day (with pay) indefinitely until the matter could be further investigate and resolved. The appearance of guilt prior to any formal charge or conclusive investigation coupled with the intense boredom of being in a daily state of administrative “limbo” certainly represents, at the very least, an unhealthy and unfair process.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, there are a number of interesting articles available on the subject including “Class Dismissed” by Mara Altman (found in the April 17th 2007 issue of the Village Voice and “Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates” by Samuel G. Freedman in the October 10th 2007 issue of the New York Times). In addition, a documentary film on the topic is currently being developed by Five Borough Productions and some clips of their work in progress can be found at their website here.


Keeping It Simple…

February 26th, 2008

In the field of OD-related consulting, there is never a shortage of required reading and new learning opportunities. Books, magazines, webinars, podcasts arrive and pile up – it can get a little overwhelming at times. You try to prioritize, find new techniques to more efficiently tackle the task at hand, etc. and do your best.
Therefore, it is always refreshing when you happen to stumble across something that resonates particularly when you were not even looking for it. When opening my mail today, I found the Spring edition of the short quarterly newsletter from the SHRM Texas State Council, “HR Matters”. I skimmed through the issue and flipped to the cover article “Create a Winning Corporate Culture”. It was written by Dr. Gary Bradt, author of the recent book, The Ring in the Rubble: Dig Through Change and Find Your Next Golden Opportunity. Dr. Bradt also runs a consultancy practice based in North Carolina (Bradt Leadership Inc.) along with his wife, Dr. Peggy Bradt.

Although the article is fairly short and straightforward (outlining Bradt’s five basic steps to building a successful corporate culture), what struck me was this concise passage:

“Some leadership teams attempt to create culture by acting as wordsmiths, spending untold hours carefully crafting vision, mission and values statements. That’s unfortunate, because in the end culture is not created by words plastered on the wall or carried around on laminated cards, but rather culture is defined by actions on the ground”

Dr. Bradt goes on to say…

“It’s not that words don’t have a place in creating culture; they most certainly do. But a winning culture is defined by words so simple and basic a child can grasp them easily, and an executive can explain them quickly. And, in a winning culture, a leader’s words and actions are aligned. What leaders say accurately reflects the way things are.”

As simple as this sounds, I think the number of organizations that ultimately adopt this approach are few and far between. Organizations that utilize simple and easily communicated principles to guide and drive their business. Leaders who “walk the talk”, leveraging these same key principles in everything the do, encouraging others to do the same and rewarding those who do.

As Dr. Bradt notes at the end of his article:

“If I have made creating a winning culture sound simple, that’s because it is. Don’t muck it up by making it more complex than it needs to be.”

What do you think?

PS: I found an alternative online version of the above referenced article from Dr. Bradt here.