Blogs

LeadershipNow 140: December 2018 Compilation

Leadershipnow - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 08:36

Here are a selection of tweets from December 2018 that you don't want to miss:
See more on Twitter.



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Categories: Blogs

Looking Back at 2018

QAspire - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 08:14

This blog has been my online home for over 12 years, even before I got onto Facebook and Twitter. The blog has evolved along with me. It is a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share whatever I learn through posts and sketchnotes.

This blog has had an amazing journey so far. Hundreds of posts, tens of thousands of readers each month and plenty of social sharing just encourages me further to continue this journey.

This year was a slow one for blogging but here is a round up of some of the most popular post written in 2018:

For 2019, one of my intentions is to get back to blogging more regularly (once a week) and get into a regular rhythm of consuming meaningful stuff, thinking, reflecting on my experiences, learning and sharing.

The Year of Sketchnotes Going Places

My pursuit of synthesizing and curating my lessons through sketchnotes found newer grounds.

One of the major milestones in this journey was visualizing case studies for Tiffani Bova’s new book “Growth IQ – Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” and it was a great learning experience.

It is an amazing book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller within a few weeks and Tiffani has squeezed years of experience in this book to outline 10 growth paths through well researched case studies for each growth path.

Apart from this, sketch notes also went places and here are a few glimpses:

I created a sketchnote selfie last year and it inspired Claire (National Health Services, UK) to encourage her workshop participants to create their sketchnote selfies. Here are a bunch of people with their sketchnote selfies!

My blog was featured in Training and Development magazine (published by Association of Training and Development) last year with a special mention of sketchnotes.

My sketchnote on “Working Out Loud” was featured at European Commission in June.

Karyn Prather from Kimberly Clark (a consumer packaged goods company that has created strong five billion-dollar brands including Huggies, Kleenex, and Scott) presented my sketchnote (and insights from the amazing John Stepper) at Microsoft Ignite Content 2018, Orlando FL in September 2018.

My #sketchnote on Mindset Shifts for Transformation was presented at AIM Norway Symposium, University of Oslo by Thomas Anglero. AIM stands for Artificial Intelligence, Minds+Machines.

Richard Tubb for sharing my insights and sketchnote to French IT and MSP companies in early December at Paris.

My biggest lesson from all this?

Labor of love is powerful. Applying what you learn is powerful. And when your gifts are deployed in significant service of others through generous sharing, it results in leverage and learning.

Grateful for all the Recognitions

I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.

For the Fifth consecutive year, I was fortunate to be ranked amongst Top 30 Indian HR Influencers on Social Media in May 2018.

Also, a big thanks to my friend Kurt Harden for including QAspire blog in his annual list of “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter” for 6th consecutive year. Love all the selections in this list and always grateful for his generosity.

Change is a Constant Work

At work, it was again a year of change. Leading an organization in times of change is a challenge and an opportunity to learn a great deal in the process. Nothing in business is (and can be) stagnant and job of leaders is to communicate relentlessly and enable people make sense of changes. Leaders create an ecosystem where people not only adapt to change but also contribute positively to it.

And Other Stuff

I tried as much as possible to stay close to my intent of consuming less and creating more, dwelling in possibility and simplifying. I think I can do better on that last bit of simplifying since I have a tendency to take on more than I can handle.

Competing with the self is always exhausting because you never win!  But guided by intent of learning constantly, sharing generously and putting it al to good use, my journey continues.

A Note of Gratitude

This blog is not possible without YOU – who care to read what I write, share it along widely and encourage me all the way. I am extremely grateful for everyone who read this blog, are connected on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Here’s to a glorious 2019!

Categories: Blogs

Employee Engagement: Resources to Plan Your 2019 Strategy

Hr Bartender - Fri, 12/28/2018 - 02:57

I don’t have to tell you that employee engagement will continue to be a hot topic in 2019. Finding the best talent is incredibly competitive. The last thing companies want is to spend their resources bringing in the best talent, only to have them never become engaged with the organization (and then leave). So, debating about engagement seems like a non-issue.

But being able to craft an engagement strategy is a challenge. How to sell the idea of creating a strategy, what to include, and how to measure results can be hard. So, I’ve put together a round-up of the most popular articles on HR Bartender that focus on building an engagement strategy. 

Organizations Must View Employee Engagement as a Long-Term Business Activity

We know the business value of engagement. Organizations must view the employee experience long term, set realistic expectations, and focus on culture.

Employee Engagement and Commitment Are Not the Same Thing

Engagement is high priority today. It helps with retention and productivity. But we also want commitment from our employees. How do engagement and commitment differ?

Employee Engagement Is a Financial Strategy

The employee experience, engagement and satisfaction have value. Measurable financial value. And competition is driving that value to new heights.

How to Get to the Root Cause of Employee Engagement Issues

Action determines the success of your engagement surveys. Taking the right actions means understanding the specifics of employee feedback and what really matters.

Employee Engagement Surveys: 4 Planning and Execution Must-Haves

We know the value of the employee experience and using surveys to develop programs. Proper planning and execution are crucial in engagement surveys.

HOW TO: Turn Your Employee Engagement Survey Results into Action

Engagement surveys give employers a wealth of information. Here are three steps to turning engagement survey results into action.

Increase Employee Engagement and Retention with Better One-on-One Meetings

Communication helps managers drive employee engagement. One-on-one meetings are more important than ever to grow engagement and improve employee retention.

Employee Engagement Roadmap: It Is Not Too Late to Create Yours!

An engagement roadmap helps connect organizational actions with long-term goals and guides managers in activities that help build strong engagement.

These articles have examples and downloads that might help human resources departments guide their organizations through the exercise of creating an employee engagement strategy. I hope you find the information helpful.

Engagement has been around for decades. The value of a great employee experience isn’t going away anytime in the near future. People might try to find new names for it, but it’s still the same thing. The question is, what are organizations going to do about it. Because disengaged employees cost the organization hard dollars. 

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at the 34th Street Graffiti Wall in Gainesville, FL

The post Employee Engagement: Resources to Plan Your 2019 Strategy appeared first on hr bartender.

Categories: Blogs

Five Problems with Virtual Communication & What to Do About It

Leadershipnow - Thu, 12/27/2018 - 22:31


EVEN THOUGH WE have entered a new world of virtual communications, we still communicate in real-world ways that don’t always work in the virtual world. We’ve all sent an email or a text where we meant one thing and the recipient took it in a completely different way. They never saw the smile on our face, the touch of our hand, or the look of concern. There was none of the emotions that we take for granted in the real-world to guide them in the virtual world to a proper conclusion.

We need new approaches and to become more conscious of what we are doing. We need to sharpen our communication skills in the digital world. We have to put the emotion back.

Nick Morgan is here to do just that in Can You Hear Me? Nick Morgan is a master communicator and speech coach. And this book reflects that. His website Public Words is one of my favorite. The focus is public speaking, but the principles apply in most contexts including one-on-one conversations. Don’t miss it.

The world of communication in the real-world and virtual world are very different with different dynamics. The same rules don’t apply. This leads to five major problems with virtual communication that need to be addressed.

Problem One: The Lack of Feedback

In the real world, there are two kinds of feedback: implicit and explicit. Implicit feedback is all of the non-verbal sounds, facial expressions, touches and body language that goes with conversation. Explicit feedback is the straightforward, unvarnished communication we get from others. In the real world, there is a mix of the two. But in the virtual world, implicit communication is almost nonexistent.

In the real world, implicit and explicit work together to toughen the soft messages and soften the harsh messages. When we remove the implicit feedback from our communication, it’s little wonder we have misunderstandings, confusion, and often hurt feelings. (Emoji were introduced to help with this problem, but I find on important communications, an emoji doesn’t really convey the feelings behind our words.)

Morgan says what has changed online is the nature of trust. “Trust in the virtual world is much more fragile, though perhaps easier to establish initially. But the big difference comes when something threatens the trust.” He explains: And feedback depends on trust. In face-to-face relationships where there is trust, one party may do something to screw up, causing friction, anger, and even a bit of mistrust to creep in. But if the connection is strong enough, the feedback begins. The issue will get thrashed out, the perpetrator will apologize, and trust will be restored. Indeed, once restored, the trust may be stronger than ever.

How different it is in the virtual world! Once trust is threatened, it’s easily broken, and it’s nearly impossible to reestablish it. People simply move on. Since trust was more fragile in the first place, it shatters with very little provocation.
Here are a few of Morgan’s suggestions to offer effective feedback in a virtual world:

Virtual feedback should be appropriate and honest, but it doesn’t need to be cruel. “Leaven clarity with kindness.”

Virtual feedback should be specific and focused on the relevant object, performance, or creation and not on the person. “A failed artistic performance doesn’t entitle you to judge the character of the performer. And general comments are far less useful—and far more damaging—than specific ones.”

Virtual feedback should never be more about the giver than the recipient. We have all frequently seen where the feedback given “really concerns what the giver knows at some deep level to be the problem with his or her own work. If you’re going to offer feedback, you have to have enough security, distance, and impartiality to deliver an opinion that is truly helpful.”

Problem Two: The Lack of Empathy

Our virtual world robs us of real closeness and intimacy. “The distance provided by a virtual connection creates conditions where people are much more likely to behave badly to one another and are much less likely to be sympathetic to other’s feelings. There’s a lack of empathy.” When we are face-to-face, even the coldest of us find our mirror neurons firing when we are with someone who is experiencing an emotion. We laugh together, cry together, bond together. Put us in the virtual space, and empathy can’t work as well. The mirror neurons don’t fare as readily. We remain disassociated.
The key lesson regarding empathy: “If you can possibly begin a relationship of any importance in person, you should do so. Period, full stop, end of discussion.” If you can’t, “do everything you can, especially early on, to be consistent, trustworthy, and transparent.

In a virtual world, our stories are more important than ever. “Your online presence needs to meet four criteria: authenticity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and consistency.”

Problem Three: The Lack of Control

The virtual world is unforgiving. Online, “we hold others to rigid standards of behavior and are much less forgiving. In virtual space, this double standard is particularly compelling. If you behave badly, it’s because you’re a troll, and your mother and her mother before you, back a thousand generations. These feelings are not logical, but such is the nature of virtual relationships. Lacking emotional depth, we substitute brittle, intellectual, standards.”

We don’t have control over what others say about us and others. And we rarely forgive inconsistent online behavior. So we need to be intentional about who we are and be consistent with that image. Decide now who you will be. Take control of your online life by creating a personal values statement.

As an example of the kind of transparency, control and consistency Morgan is talking about, is Chris Palmer. Palmer is an environmental filmmaker with a personal mission statement (which you can find at the bottom of this page) he published on his website. Palmer told Morgan that publishing it “has transformed my life. I use it to guide my daily activities. Instead of confusion, I have clarity. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel in control. Instead of ennui, I have purpose.” How do people see you online? What do you stand for? How could a personal mission statement guide your interactions online?

Problem Four: The Lack of Emotion

The emotions that come naturally in face-to-face communications is almost nonexistent in virtual communications. “Every face-to-face communication is two simultaneous conversations: the content (what you say) and the body language (how you say it).” Both are essential and very different. And when we take the emotion out we get bored, nasty or both.

We are wired to make an emotional connection with others. Emotions are a vital part of our communications, and we base our decisions on emotion. “And removing that natural, easy, unconscious emotional data stream, as virtual communication does surprisingly well, is particularly crippling.” The virtual space we’ve created is uniquely set up to make it difficult for us to conduct our human business in the way that we’ve done for thousands of years. We think we’ve created something convenient, cost-effective, and efficient. Instead, we’ve created something that this stultifying, expensive in terms of emotions and decision-making, and wildly inefficient.
Because of this, we need to consciously create tools that replace the unconscious connection tools we have in the real world. This would include becoming “exceedingly conscious about taking turns and allowing others to do so” and signaling that you are nearly ready to stop talking. Mediating conversations becomes more important. Morgan also suggests ways to add a three-stage “temperature” check to your conference calls.

Problem Five: The Lack of Connection and Commitment

Virtual communications aren’t as satisfying and emotionally compelling as our real-world interactions. Take the emotions out and we feel alone. We need to create engaging approaches that combine both the virtual and real-world behavior that leads to commitment in the end.

Research Lynn Wu of Wharton found that the “more that individuals used social words in their chat with colleagues, like ‘coffee,’ ‘lunch,’ or ‘football,’ the less likely they were to be laid off.” Of course, these online tools can be misused, so balance is required. Nevertheless, connection with others and job security are closely tied.

A few ways to create commitment in the real-world work well online. People look to others for cues, so use social validation to push people toward commitment. Remember the golden rule of reciprocity. A “strong feeling of cooperation allows people to connect, commit, and support each other.” Always be consistent. Look for similarity. “Similarity builds rapport.” Tell stories. “The best way to get and hold someone’s attention is to tell a story.”

In part two of his book, Morgan provides specific techniques for various digital channels of communication: email, texting, conference calls, webinars, chat sessions, and sales efforts. All contain helpful advice to avoid misunderstandings.

Our virtual relationships are more fragile and “these weaker ties mean we inhabit a more toxic world. The research shows that negative conversations stay with us longer than do positive ones because of how we metabolize oxytocin and cortisol differently.” In the real world we let our unconscious minds do the heavy lifting—and pick up on those implicit messages. In the virtual world we don’t have that luxury. My journey into the online world to understnd the virtual communicator has led me tounderstand how profoundly inhuman many ways of virual communication are. Our very human job now is to learn to put the emotional and memorable back into this attenuated world that has srung up around us.
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Categories: Blogs

Hyperfocus: How to Take Control of Your Mind

Leadershipnow - Tue, 12/25/2018 - 13:25


THERE ARE LIMITS to our attention. There is only so much we can focus on at any given time. So it becomes critical what we allow in our attentional space if we want to get anywhere in life. (And heads up. Your attention space shrinks as you age—but your mind wanders less.)

When we try to cram too much into our attentional space, we experience attention overload. When we do that we forget things because we didn’t leave enough space for what we originally intended to do.

What is going on in our attentional space is the subject of Chris Bailey’s Hyperfocus. Bailey shows us how we can use our limited attentional space intelligently and deliberately so that we can focus more deeply and think more clearly.

Hyperfocus happens when we consciously expand our attention to fill our attentional space. It is when we are the most productive—and happy.

So, how do we enter hyperfocus mode? Distractions are distracting because they are more attractive than what we are focusing on. We have to plan in advance to remove them. Distractions are costly. Put the phone down. Don’t check the emails. “It takes an average of twenty-five minutes to resume working on an activity after we’re interrupted, and before resuming that activity, we work on an average of 2.26 other tasks.” Not good.

Our smartphones rob our attention probably more than anything else. Bailey offers this great advice: “Resist the urge to tap around on your smartphone when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, walking to the coffee shop, or in the bathroom. Use these small breaks to reflect on what you’re doing, to recharge, and to consider alternative approaches to your work and life.” Reflection is one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves.

And then we have to deal with the natural wandering of our mind by continually and consciously refocusing. It also helps to plan to hyperfocus for a predetermined length of time. “Setting specific intentions can double or triple your odds of success.” Bailey has a whole chapter on taming distractions and offers techniques to help us with all of this.



Although your attentional space naturally shrinks as you age, study after study has shown that you can expand it through the practice of meditation. “Meditation involves continually returning your focus to a single object of attention—usually your breath—as soon as you notice your mind has wandered from it.” Breathing is the go-to because “the smaller the object of attention, the more your mind will wander, but the more you’ll expand the size of your attentional space as you focus on it.”

Ironically, as important as it is to hyperfocus, we must also scatterfocus. That is direct our attention on nothing at all—but in a deliberate way. In scatterfocus mode, we are at our most creative and it also allows us to recharge. And because in this mode our mind spends most of its time thinking about the future which is good because we can set intentions and plan for the future. It also “enables us to better weigh the consequences of each decision and path.”

“With hyperfocus you direct your attention outward; with scatterfocus you direct your attention inward.” In scatterfocus mode, you can capture ideas and actionable material. You can discover solutions to problems and connect ideas. It also serves to replenish our mental energy. Hyperfocus takes a lot of energy, and when we feel our attentional space contracting, we need to recharge our attention by deliberately entering scatterfocus mode.

Scatterfocus mode is a great place to connect the dots providing you are collecting valuable dots in the first place. People become experts on particular subjects by accumulating and connecting enough dots related to them, in the form of experiences, knowledge, and best practices.

As we cluster more and more dots about a given topic, we naturally develop expertise, which in turn helps us better manage our attentional space. Curiously, the more we know about a subject, the less attentional space that information consumes.

The more dots we’re able to cluster, the more efficiently we’re able to use that space, as we can accommodate and process a lot more pieces of information when they’re linked together.
With that in mind, it is wise to guard just what dots we are collecting on a regular basis. Some dots build us up, and some don’t. Defend your attentional space. It’s good to collect dots that add to our existing skills and knowledge, but it is just as important to collect dots that are unrelated to what we know. This often where new perspectives and breakthrough ideas will come from. “Every time you stop consuming trash, you make room for something useful to add value to your life.”

Not surprisingly, a positive mood expands the size of our intentional space, and a negative mood shrinks it. Unhappy people take longer to refocus. Guard your thoughts. Hyperfocus can help you get an extraordinary amount done in a relatively short period of time. Scatterfocus lets you connect ideas—which helps you unearth hidden insights, become more creative, plan for the future, and rest. Together they will enable you to work and live with purpose.
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Categories: Blogs

5 Distinguishing Traits of High-Performing Leaders

Leadershipnow - Fri, 12/21/2018 - 16:25


WHO WE ARE speaks louder than what we say. Respect for others is the cornerstone of high-performing leaders. Respect is demonstrated daily through skills that we can all learn and make a part of who we are.

Through his experience as an executive coach, Fred Halstead has defined in Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, seven skills that when practiced yield meaningful results. You may not be an expert at all but you can get better at every one of them.

Demonstrating respect is more about asking the right questions than being ready with answers. Halstead admits though that “asking questions—in particular, questions than can inspire clearer thinking, solutions, and action plans—is challenging, especially when we are used to just telling others what we know should be done.” But to succeed we must have teams that are self-reliant, who understand their purpose and can execute on that purpose. Asking questions and guiding requires real focus.

It’s about our team’s success. “Those who truly want others to excel are the ones who also achieve the greatest personal success.” To demonstrate respect and quip others we need to practice these skills with others:

1. Become a Fully Connected Listener

Listening shows respect and appreciation. Listening must come first. It requires patience. As Fran Lebowitz observed, “The opposite of talking is waiting.” Our natural desire to talk, judging others, our biases ego, and our business, all inhibit our inclination to listen. “The less we worry about appearing smart, the smarter we will appear to be by just listening and asking smart questions.”

Listening is easier when we are curious. It’s easier too when you know and believe in your purpose for listening. More than just gathering information, “when you listen to someone, you learn how that person thinks, which provides insight into how you can use them most effectively on a project, team, or in the organization.”

Listen for intent and observe body language. Much of what you need to know is communicated in this way. Respect others by taking a breath. “When we’re great listeners, we give others the gift of silence. We’re not in a hurry, so silence—time to think—gives the speaker the opportunity to formulate and express her best thinking.”

2. Ask Powerful Questions

When you ask questions, you become more engaging and it creates bonds with others. It means they will want to listen to you.

The right questions are important. “The right question is often a crystallizer. It helps put a bow of clarity around one’s thoughts.” It can help them to articulate their own thoughts and expand their thinking. Clarity questions are “What concerns you most about this?” “If there is one thing you could do to begin to resolve this issue, what is it?” “What are your instincts telling you?” Timing matters when you are listening. Ask when you need clarity.

Great questions open the door to additional thought. “Is this the solution?” opens the door to additional thought but closes the door on the conversation. A better question would be “If there is one thing that would make this solution better, what is it?” Halstead helpfully provides examples of powerful questions to achieve specific goals. The response, “I have not thought about that” is one of the best you can receive from your questions. You’re giving the other person the opportunity to think about new solutions in a positive way. You also show respect for the person being asked the question.
3. Develop Other’s Best Thinking

Great listening and questions lead other from “I don’t get it” to “I got it.” You bring out the best in others. “By helping others grow, you give them the opportunity to take ownership of their actions and the results.” That’s leading.

Be forward thinking—solution oriented. “When leaders focus on what can be done, people are inspired to achieve more, especially when they think of and articulate what it is that they are going to do.”

One of the best ways to inspire your team to follow you because of you rather than in spite of you is to acknowledge the things they do well. More than a compliment, by acknowledging someone you are “calling attention to a specific behavior or talent, and it comes without any type of extra modifiers.”

4. Wise and Thoughtful Delegation

Delegating demonstrates that you believe in others and they often respond by “expanding their ability to do more and perform at a higher level.” As a leader, the more you put everyone in the sweet spots of their talents, including you, the greater the likelihood of achieving short- and long-term exceptional performance. Delegating wisely both develops and uses those talents
Thinking we are can do it better, impatience, a lack of trust, a lack of clarity about the job to be done, all inhibit our desire to delegate tasks. And that’s on us.

5. Create Consistent Accountability

A culture of accountability means that people will do—actually accomplish—what they say they will do when they say they will get it done. Accountability builds trust.

What often holds us back from creating a culture of accountability says Halstead, is that we what to be seen as nice. But when seen properly, accountability is nice. Accountability builds others up. Like delegating, we think we could do better and so we don’t hold people accountable. But when we do, we might learn from how they achieve the desired result. And frankly, we lack faith in others. We don’t really believe they have what it takes to get the job done properly. If this is the case, Halstead recommends that we walk them through the process so they can see what it will take to get the job done. Also, remind them of the talents they have that will be useful in accomplishing the task.

These five skills, when practiced consistently will help to inspire incredible results. The thread running through them all is “as you respect others and put the interests of others in a paramount position, our personal success thrives, maybe in ways that you could not imagine.”

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Categories: Blogs

The Secret to Leading Organizational Change Is Empathy

Harvard business - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 08:00
Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

I’m working with a CEO who’s in the midst of rethinking her company’s strategy so it can better meet customer demands and thrive financially. These are major changes that will affect every aspect of how the firm operates — from the services it offers to the structure of her organization.

When I sat down with the CEO and her executive team to think through their communication plan, I asked not about the change itself, but about how her employees might feel about what’s ahead. We started with her team because, in my work as a communication consultant, I’ve observed the same thing time and time again: how information is communicated to employees during a change matters more than what information is communicated. A lack of audience empathy when conveying news about an organizational transformation can cause it to fail.

Studies on organizational change show that leaders across the board agree: if you want to lead a successful transformation, communicating empathetically is critical. But the truth is that most leaders don’t actually know how to do it. In fact, at Duarte, the communication consultancy where I’m Chief Strategy Officer, we conducted a survey of over 200 leading company executives and found that 69% of respondents said that they were planning to launch or are currently conducting a change effort. Unfortunately, 50% of these same execs said they hadn’t fully considered their team’s sentiment about the change. Worse, about half said they were just approaching the change “going on gut.”

If you are a company leader hoping to undertake a successful organizational change, you need to make sure your team is onboard and motivated to help make it happen. The following strategies can you help you better understand your employees’ perspectives.

Profile Your Audience at Every Stage
Change consultants typically advise leaders to create personas of various audiences when they kick-off a change initiative. But, considering that people’s wants and needs will evolve throughout the process, you should reevaluate these personas during every phase of the journey.

With the CEO I mentioned earlier, we first created audience personas that mapped to key employee segments in the company by level and function. Then we interviewed individual employees in each segment to get a sample perspective on typical mindsets. During the interviews, we asked questions designed to uncover beliefs, feelings, questions, and concerns about the company’s current strategy. We also asked if there were specific changes they hoped management would (or would not) make. 

Using the insights from these interviews, we were able to identify how each employee segment felt about the change effort, and planned communications based on whether they were excited, frightened, or frustrated. Employees who were excited about the change, for example, received communication that encouraged them to motivate their reluctant peers.

As your organizational transformation unfolds and you enter new phases of the change, make sure you repeat the interviewing and empathetic listening process. That way, you can gauge how people are feeling over time, and tailor your communication to match their mood.

Tell People What to Expect
While you may need to keep some facts private during a transition, the general rule is that the more informed your people are, the more they’ll be able to deal with discomfort. So, learn about your team’s specific fears, then acknowledge them openly. 

While working with the CEO who was making strategic shifts in her company, we talked about how she could acknowledge some of the fears revealed in a company-wide survey. One employee had expressed concern that the changes would cause talented employees to leave, which would lead to a greater burden on remaining employees.

In the next company-wide meeting, the CEO acknowledged there was worry about brain drain, then shared statistics about how the recent company turnover was designed to reduce the number of low performers and alleviate resulting drag on other employees. She also explained how the HR department was redoubling its efforts to speed up the recruiting process and add more rigor to interviews to ensure new hires were more likely to be high performers.

Having the CEO talk about the departures in an open company forum might seem like a dicey proposition when HR usually prefers to keep exit details private. But feedback from employees afterward showed that the CEO was able to build credibility and trust by addressing the fear of talent loss head-on.

Involve Individuals at All Levels
A transformation won’t succeed without broad involvement. A large European retail bank modeled this well during an organizational overhaul. Following a “dialogue-based planning” model, the CEO created a top-level story for the bank, then asked his executive directors to add a “chapter,” sharing details relevant to their departments. Each director then asked their own team to add to the chapter, incorporating ideas about how a change would impact them and their unique responsibilities. This continued down five levels, all the way to branch managers, and helped every impacted individual understand their part.

An exercise like this can help everyone feel like an active participant with something valuable to add. At that same bank, the director of retail operations wrote about how customers wanted the banking process to be faster. When members of the branch staff read this, they added that document imagers broke down frequently, which was a major headache and caused regular slowdowns. In the end, these frontline employees ended up bringing about a practical, useful change at the organization — one that improved things for all parties.

Business practices evolve rapidly, but there’s one technique business leaders should always rely on to effectively motivate and lead: empathic communication. Develop and show empathy for everyone involved in your corporate transition, and you’ll lead a team that feels valued, included, and driven to help your initiative succeed.

Categories: Blogs

The Right Way to Use the Wisdom of Crowds

Harvard business - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 07:00
Paul Taylor/Getty Images

Management teams are responsible for making sense of complex questions. Maybe it’s estimating how much a market will grow next year, or finding the best strategy to beat a competitor. One popular approach for navigating these questions is turning to the “wisdom of crowds” – asking many people for their opinions and suggestions, and then combining them to form the best overall decision. Evidence suggests that the combination of multiple, independent judgments is often more accurate than even an expert’s individual judgment.

But our research identifies a hidden cost to this approach. When someone has already formed an opinion, they’re far less likely to be receptive to the opinions of others – and this can lead to evaluating other people and their ideas more negatively. Fortunately, our work also suggests a few ways to minimize this cost.

The problem of independent judgments

The “wisdom of crowds” refers to the result of a very specific process, where independent judgments are statistically combined (i.e., using the mean or the median) to achieve a final judgment with the greatest accuracy. In practice, however, people rarely follow strict statistical guidelines when combining their own estimates with those of other people; and additional factors often lead people to assess some judgments more positively than others. For example, should the boss’s estimate count for more simply because of status? Shouldn’t an expert’s opinion count more than a novice’s?

In our research we find another factor that seems to impact how we evaluate other people’s opinions: when someone forms his or her own opinion. As team leaders, we started to notice that a common source of team friction came from members committing to their own ideas before the team as a whole agreed to a course of action. We wondered whether a simple matter of workflow ordering – forming a judgment before evaluating someone else’s judgments – was causing tension.

To test this question, we conducted an experiment where we randomly assigned the order in which individuals formed an estimate of their own versus evaluated the estimate of another. We asked 424 parents in the U.S. to estimate the total cost of raising a child from birth to age 18. They also evaluated another person’s estimate – which we framed as that of “another parent.” In fact, it was the consensus estimate created by financial experts.

Even though the estimate being evaluated was always exactly the same, we found that parents who had made their own estimates first evaluated the other person’s estimate more negatively. Parents who first made their own estimate were 22% less likely to think that the other estimate was at least “moderately likely to be correct” than were parents who evaluated the other estimate before making their own.

We wondered if this effect varied among different types of people. In this study and the others we conducted, we looked at whether men responded differently than women, whether older individuals responded differently than younger individuals, and whether experts responded differently than non-experts. None of these differences mattered. Regardless of their gender, age, or expertise, decision makers who first formed an opinion of their own were more likely to negatively evaluate another’s opinion.

In a second study, we asked 164 U.S. national security experts to assess a hostage-rescue strategy and evaluate what “another national security expert” proposed. Unlike the cost-estimation question of our first study, this question was not quantitative, nor did it have a clear right answer. Despite these differences, and despite the fact that the individuals in this case were experts, the effects of forming an opinion before evaluating someone else’s were the same. Those who first formed their own opinion offered systematically lower evaluations of a peer’s strategy, compared to those who evaluated the peer’s strategy before forming their own opinion.

We also asked participants how intelligent or ethical they perceived the other person to be, based on their recommendation. Even though the actual recommendations were exactly the same across our ordering conditions, those who first formed their own opinion made more negative inferences about the peer than those who formed their opinion later.

Why do people penalize the judgments of others after forming their own opinion? The key factor seemed to be how far someone’s estimate diverged from the other person’s. When we asked participants in these two studies to simply look at someone’s judgment and form an opinion about it, participants own estimates were pulled toward the estimate they were considering, a phenomenon often referred to as “anchoring.” By contrast, when participants made their own estimate independently, they were more likely to disagree with the estimate they had to evaluate later, viewing it as too different from their own, and thus less likely to be correct.

While disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing – combining diverse judgments and estimates underpins the wisdom of crowds –in order to be effectively leveraged it first has to be correctly interpreted. In most cases, disagreement should signal that either or both parties are likely to be wrong. Our data suggest the problem is that people interpret disagreement in a self-serving way, as signaling that their estimate is right and the other party is wrong.

We ran a final study to test this interpretation. We asked 401 U.S. adults to form a judgment before seeing the judgment of another participant selected at random from a prior study. Some participants saw peer judgments that were in close agreement with their own, and others saw estimates that differed dramatically. We then asked them to evaluate the quality of both judgments. We found that, as disagreement increased, people evaluated others’ judgments more harshly – while their evaluations of their own judgments did not budge. Our participants interpreted disagreement to mean that the other person was wrong, but not them.

Across our studies we found that forming opinions before evaluating those offered by others (compared to evaluating first and forming one’s own opinion later), carried social costs – participants thought less of the other person’s estimates and ideas, and, in some cases, thought the other person was less ethical and intelligent.

How to make better decisions

What should a manager do if she wants to get to better judgments and minimize the costs that arise from people getting enamored with their own opinions? The evidence is strong that to maximize accuracy, team members should form independent opinions before coming together to decide as a group.

But our findings suggest that groups of decision-makers should also precommit to a strategy for combining their opinions. The specific strategy will depend on the type of question a team faces. However, committing to an aggregation strategy ahead of time can protect teams from the negative social consequences of evaluating each other’s judgments in light of their own previously-formed opinions.

Teams facing quantifiable questions should aim for strategies that, as much as possible, remove human judgment from the aggregation process. A team estimating how much a market will grow faces a quantifiable question; they should pre-determine an algorithm (such as a simple average or median) for combining the opinions of different team members.

Teams facing non-quantifiable questions will have to rely on human aggregation in some form. For these questions, teams should prevent the person responsible for the final judgment from forming an opinion of her own before seeing the opinions of others. This is not always easy. By the time managers evaluate their subordinates’ ideas, they often have already formed their own opinion.

This highlights an important point: committing to an aggregation strategy is as much a structural matter as an in-the-moment decision. Unbiased aggregation requires structuring work flows so that those responsible for combining opinions do not first form their own, or at least work to not let that opinion undermine the decision-making process.

At the individual level, team members should reframe how they think about disagreement. Our studies suggest that many people interpret disagreement to mean that someone else is incorrect. With a concerted effort toward intellectual humility, however, this does not have to be the case. For teams, disagreement should be thought of as valuable information. Thinking of it as signaling value, rather than as a reason to derogate, may be the single-best way to defray the costs of turning to the crowd to answer complex questions.

Categories: Blogs

Why CRM Projects Fail and How to Make Them More Successful

Harvard business - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 06:05
PM Images/Getty Images

In 2017, CIO magazine reported that around one-third of all customer relationship management (CRM) projects fail. That was actually an average of a dozen analyst reports. The numbers ranged from 18% to 69%. Those failures can mean a lot of things — over-budget, data integrity issues, technology limitations, and so forth. But in my work with clients, when I ask executives if the CRM system is helping their business to grow, the failure rate is closer to 90%.

The primary reason they miss the mark in helping companies increase revenue is that CRM systems are too often used for inspection — to report on progress, improve accuracy of forecasts, provide visibility, predict project delivery dates, and provide a range of other business intelligence — rather than creating improvement in the sales process. Front-line sales professionals and managers rarely find the majority of these capabilities useful in winning more business for the company.

CRMs today also serve a lot of masters, from executives in the C-suite, technology, marketing, finance, and, oh yeah, sales. They try to address more objectives than are reasonable for any software system. I recently led a working session for a team of executives looking to select a CRM provider. By the time everyone weighed in on their must-haves, we had identified 23 unique objectives. With such a diluted focus, it’s virtually impossible to succeed.

I saw this clearly at another client where there was a wide range of answers to the question, “Was the CRM implementation a success?” The EVP of marketing was pleased she could now track the assignment of every single lead. The CIO was unhappy about data integrity issues that arose from the integration of more than 20 discreet databases. The EVP of sales liked the easy-access dashboard to report on metrics and the forecast. Sales management was less positive but acknowledged that it helped them monitor activity. And the sales team — well, they mostly hated it. They had to enter a lot of information that added little value (for them), and provided no help in selling more. Because the sales team had so little incentive to keep up with the data entry requirements, the quality of the data in the system became less and less reliable over the following year. The result? Incomplete or inaccurate information from the CRM was exported into Excel spreadsheets for further manipulation by each level of management.

If you want your CRM implementation to increase revenue (which it only will if it enables your sales organization to increase sales), I recommend doing the following:

Re-think your CRM as a tool to increase revenue. Period. That is why you bought this system and spent millions, sometimes tens of millions, on its deployment. Broadcast this message loud and clear from the CEO and sales leadership. Your sales team needs to understand that they drive the execution of your strategy every time they interact with a client or prospect. Your implementation of a CRM system is not about the technology, and it is not to fulfill an administrative reporting requirement, which is how too many sales teams view them. The CRM is a tool to help them sell more, access support resources during sales cycles, and manage their territory or “book of business.” If the sales team recognizes the value of this tool, you’ll get all the metric and forecast information you desire. If not, you’ll be back to modifying guesses in Excel spreadsheets.

Integrate your marketing efforts with sales activity. Historically, these two functions collaborate on CRM implementation so poorly it’s almost a cliché. Marketing blames sales for not following up on all the leads produced. Sales points out that marketing doesn’t understand field reality and truly qualified leads. Overcoming these interdepartmental squabbles requires a collaborative effort by both teams throughout the sales process. Early in the sales cycle, marketing and sales have roles to play in identifying and qualifying opportunities to actively pursue. As sales cycles develop, they should have a shared understanding of what constitutes a qualified lead, as well your ideal customer profile — both in terms of the company and level of buyer. This helps filter out business you shouldn’t pursue. Later in the sales cycle, marketing works with sales to create materials that can be customized to client objectives and case studies, instead of the generic collateral sales teams often see as low value. Finally, working together on win/loss analysis provides an active feedback loop for joint planning and addressing future needs. This kind of integration, using your CRM as the glue, will improve marketing’s efforts to create gravity with prospects, and sales’ ability to accelerate sales cycles. It’s an advantage for the business if you can use at least some of the same metrics to evaluate the success of both departments.

Managers provide coaching to improve, not reporting to inspect. The pivotal role in driving CRM success is not individual sales people. It’s sales management. They will determine how the sales team uses and experiences the CRM. If they use it solely to check on the amount of activity, call volume, or other measures of efficiency, it’s of low value to the sales team and likely be rejected or filled with fictional data. Instead use it as a tool to jointly create strategies for major opportunities, and help the sales team to maximize opportunities by coaching them throughout the sales process. I’ve written in the past about the high value of coaching and the fact that it’s rarely done well. But CRM can be a powerful mechanism to support coaching for individual sales calls, as well as opportunity, account, and territory management.

CRM is an important tool, but it is just a tool. When the laptops are shut down for the day, it’s your sales team that is responsible for bringing value to clients and driving revenue. Implement your CRM with that in mind and you’ll be pleased with your ROI.

Categories: Blogs

6 Reasons You’re Not Thinking Clearly

Greatleaders hipbydan - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 06:00

Guest post from Karen Martin:
Ambiguity has become the status quo in most of our organizations. And, it’s the enemy to efficiency, productivity, and a healthy bottom line.
Achieving clarity is the only way to defeat this enemy. But getting clear on everything, from why your organization exists and what its priorities are, to how people must operate based on their clearly defined role, requires time and effort.
Considering that it can take two people half a day to get clear on a question as trivial as what to eat for dinner, it’s no wonder that many feel that the complexity of the organizational environment makes clarity seem impossible. In addition to our current cluttered environment, habits and our psychological makeup can stand in the way of clear thinking.
Here are six traps to watch out for:
You’re in the dark. The first step in changing any habit is recognizing that you have it. This is harder than it seems with clarity since it lies in that middle of what’s being communicated and what’s being received. I might think an idea is perfectly clear but fail to get it across to you. You, in turn, may think you understand something but don’t. Communication and repeating back your understanding is key.
You lack curiosity. “Why?” is the most frequent question children ask and reflects our innate desire to know. But as we grow up, our curiosity is drummed out. This is a shame. Curiosity pushes us to try things people say we can’t accomplish or to differentiate between two options. Fortunately, organizations are filled with people with dormant curiosity waiting to be sparked. With a bit of coaxing and the cultivation of a welcoming culture, they can reinvigorate this curiosity where questions are both encouraged and rewarded.
You think you know it all. Many leaders think they know, but they don’t, and they aren’t going to ask. Their hubris gets in the way and keeps them from seeing the full picture. Fortunately, mindsets are malleable. People can overcome their hubris and adopt a growth mindset with reflection, coaching, and some work on the self. They can choose to let go of their belief that they know everything and start asking more curiosity-driven questions of more people.
You’re biased. Biases serve as filters for the brain. They sift through the thousands of pieces of information and let through only the ones they deem important. Biased decisions sometimes work out okay but leaders should beware of relying on their “instincts.” That’s because biases are unreliable by definition. My biases may be different from yours, and yours different from someone else. We are not all steering in the same direction if bias is driving us.
You pack the plate too full. Organizations give people at all levels far more to do on a given day than they can reasonably achieve. People often feel like they don’t have the time to stop, assess, and consider whether the actions they take by rote are the right ones. Few of us are in control of our time but those who are, or who can influence how time is spent by others, should invest in giving people a percentage of their time for assessments and problem solving.
You’re afraid. All of the psychological and behavioral obstacles to clarity share a common cause: fear. Fear comes in many forms and has many roots. Yet in most cases the fear people feel about seeking clarity in the workplace is based on incomplete thinking. The problem you are avoiding exists whether you seek clarity on it or not. Realize that the longer you wait, the worse the consequences of that problem can become—and the harder to fix.  Achieving clarity is hard work—but it can be liberating, productive, efficient—and lucrative.

Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Her latest book, Clarity First, is her most provocative to date and diagnoses the ubiquitous business management and leadership problem―the lack of clarity―and outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational performance. 
Categories: Blogs

How To Be More Creative In Your Career

Hr Bartender - Thu, 12/20/2018 - 02:57

I ran across an older white paper that talked about the importance of creativity. The article quoted a study from Adobe and Forrester that said 82 percent of companies believe there’s a connection between creativity and business results. I get it. Creativity is important.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of creativity, I think of artists like Prince or Picasso. I have to remind myself that creativity comes in many different forms. And for a logical thinker (like me), I can still be creative. But maybe I need a process to be creative. That’s okay. 

Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when I’m trying to be creative – whether it’s to solve a problem, design a program, or just challenge myself.

  1. Dedicate time to think. Former Secretary of State George Schultz was quoted in an article a few years ago about having a “Schultz Hour”, where he dedicated time on his calendar for the purpose of thinking. I love this idea and try to find time to do the same. One place where I get in “thinking” time is during air travel. 
  2. Apply problem-solving skills. Everyone should find a problem-solving model that they love and can use regularly. It’s like finding your own system to get yourself “unstuck”. My model is called STP (Situation – Target – Proposal). Over the years, I find that it works for me. 
  3. Think beyond the constraints. One of my personal ground rules for problem solving is “There are no rules.” I brainstorm the options and then evaluate all the details. I believe companies put a lot of constraints on themselves because they brainstorm options and evaluate them at the same time. They really should be two separate activities. 
  4. Find what works for others and bounce ideas with respected coworkers. I know many people are best practice haters, but I’m not one of them. I think best practices can provide creative inspiration for ideas. The purpose isn’t to duplicate someone else’s best practice. It’s to use them as inspiration for your ideas. 
  5. Experiment and take calculated risks. Everyone has their own level of tolerance for risk, so I wouldn’t encourage someone to take on more risk than they wish. But that being said, it is possible for us to experiment and explore. Instead of viewing options as “all in or nothing”, are there ways to test drive something and see if it makes sense? 
  6. Take time to cool down. All the things I’ve mentioned involve a bit of stretching comfort zones. After we push ourselves, take a few moments to “cool off”. You know how, after a workout, we do a cool down? Do the same here. Declare a “no decision” time out. Of course, you can’t do this for a super long time, but find someway to clear your head and celebrate your creative time.

Maybe one of the ways we need to think of creativity is in terms of curiosity. I read an article in the December issue of TD magazine about curiosity. A survey cited in the article said the 83 percent of executives encourage curiosity and 49 percent feel curiosity leads to salary growth. So not only is this type of thinking good for the organization, but it’s good for us personally. 

Creativity is a difficult subject. I see very few workshops or training programs about how to learn creativity. Most often, we hear about other people’s creative processes. And that’s okay.  But we need to be able to take that information and turn it into some guiding principles that will help us be more creative. 

What do you do to turn on your creative juices? Leave us a note in the comments.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the Wynwood Wall Art District in Miami, FL

The post How To Be More Creative In Your Career appeared first on hr bartender.

Categories: Blogs

Questions Are the Answer

Leadershipnow - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 23:26


A PROBLEM OF OUR TIME—and perhaps every generation—is that we ask the wrong questions. The wrong questions divide us. Great questions break down assumptions and create possibilities. Simply put, better questions give us better answers. It’s all about the question.

Great leaders are great at asking better questions. In the rapidly changing environment, we are in today, it is imperative. Our future depends on it. Until you ask different questions, you can’t move beyond the incremental progress most of us find ourselves in. Breakthroughs require different questions from the ones we’ve been asking.

Decisiveness is a great quality but too often we charge ahead without really understanding the issue. We don’t get behind the issue. Better questions help us to get there. In Questions are the Answer, Hal Gregersen explains: The point is not to remain in constant questioning mode, always stepping back to rethink things instead of stepping up to make a decision and get on with life. But answering yesterday’s questions is not good enough at times when we are feeling stuck, or when innovation is imperative, or when change must happen more continuously.
How do you get to the right question? Gregersen says that we can create the conditions in which questions thrive.

To increase our odds of formulating better questions, we need to get out observe and network with the intention of exposing ourselves to new and varied viewpoints. And listen. When we stop talking we’ll be amazed at what we can learn. Our viewpoint could always be improved. Be intentional about it.

We are rewarded and conditioned to have answers. We are not typically encouraged to ask. More often we passively collect information without learning to question the foundational concepts. Good questioners were encouraged to ask from early on in their childhood. “If we want to raise a generation of better questioners, we should try harder to influence what happens at home.” Intentionally fuel curiosity. Encouraging those “why” questions will fuel their curiosity and help to generate the “what if” questions that design better futures.

As you advance as a leader “and have the opportunity to lead others and have much more impact, your focus has to shift to ‘making other people the smartest in the room, with good questions.’”

Be comfortable with being wrong. Try being wrong more. “Questions don’t arise whenever we are wrong. It’s only on those rarer occasions when we think we are wrong. And for most of us, it’s only when we are practically hit in the face with how wrong we have been that questions start to get our attention.” Seek to question and improve your views. It makes sense to keep reminding yourself to admit and embrace being a little more wrong, goading yourself to stray into somewhat more uncomfortable environs, and compelling yourself to be more reflectively quiet. Immerse yourself in situations where you feel less right, less comfortable, or less compelled to speak, and your questions will multiply.
Gregersen suggests we brainstorm for questions—not answers—to find new insights. That is, what better questions could we be asking about our problem? He calls them Question Bursts. There are two rules to this exercise—first, questions only. And second, no explanations or introductions. Just the questions please. And keep it short—four minutes is ideal. You’re trying to get people to look at the problem differently. You’re not trying to elicit answers but to get people to think differently. Question Burst exercises help to minimize and potentially overcome cognitive biases and eventually generate the breakthrough answers we need.

“Asking the right questions is the only path to creating value—real value—at any level and in any role.” You have to actively support questioners because most organizations try to silence questioners. A leader who is secure enough to be questioned is a better leader. If as a leader you ask questions, you make it safe for others to do the same.

Did you ask a good question today?

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Categories: Blogs

5 Questions We Should Be Asking About Automation and Jobs

Harvard business - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 09:00
Westend61/Getty Images

We simply don’t know for sure whether automation, algorithms, and AI will ultimately create more jobs than they destroy. Opinions are all over the map. One widely cited study predicted 47% of jobs will be automated, and technological change has in fact contributed to declining employment in recent years. Some are already preparing for a world without work.

But automation has been going on for centuries, and jobs still exist: that’s because automation replaces some kinds of human labor while boosting demand for others. Furthermore, job upheaval today is relatively modest. The mix of jobs in the economy is changing more slowly in recent decades than in the 1940s and 1950s, for instance (see the chart below). Today, economists worry that the labor market isn’t dynamic enough: numerous measures of fluidity and dynamism, like migration and job turnover, have been declining for decades.

 

But this uncertainty should not blind or distract us from other pressing questions about automation that we’re sure to face regardless of whether automation adds to or subtracts from the total number of jobs. Here are five important, overlooked questions about automation and jobs:

Will workers whose jobs are automated be able to transition to new jobs? The pain from automation arises not only from how many jobs are eliminated, but also from whether workers in automated jobs can transition to other work. On Indeed’s site we have data on how some workers in threatened occupations are seeking new opportunities, such as retail workers looking at customer service and sales-rep roles. But transitions may be harder than in the past. Job churn has slowed in recent decades, as firms both hire and fire less than they used to, and because people move less than before. The labor market may be changing less today than in the 1940s and 1950s, but today’s slower employment growth and lower mobility could make transitions more drawn-out and painful.

Who will bear the burden of automation? Regardless of how many jobs are eliminated by automation, the pain will be uneven. The less-educated are far more likely to work in “routine” jobs, which are more susceptible to automation, than workers with a college or graduate degree. Men are more likely to work in routine jobs than women are. And the geographic divide is stark: just one-third of jobs in metro Washington DC and San Jose CA are routine, versus half or more in much of inland California and many smaller southern and Midwestern metros. These regional differences line up with the partisan divide: counties that voted more strongly for President Trump in 2016 have a higher share of routine jobs and therefore are more likely to be affected.

How will automation affect the supply of labor? Automation might affect labor supply, not only labor demand. Just as past technological innovations, like washing machines and kitchen appliances, reduced the time needed to do household work and contributed to the entry of women into paid employment, future technological advances related to automation might also shift how much people are willing and able to work. For instance, autonomous vehicles might turn commuting into productive work time. Or, autonomous vehicles could chauffeur kids to school and activities, freeing up parents to work more hours. Alternatively, automation could boost productivity and lower consumer prices, possibly reducing labor supply since people will need to work less to afford the same items. It’s far from clear which of these effects will win out.

How will automation affect wages, and how will wages affect automation? The pace of automation depends on prices, not just technological feasibility. Just because a robot or algorithm can perform a task as competently as a human doesn’t mean that human will be replaced. Automation depends on the cost of the technology relative to the cost of human labor. In today’s tight labor market, for instance, rising wages and worker shortages might encourage automation and boost productivity. At the same time, automation that replaces workers in some sectors could push them into the labor supply for other sectors, potentially depressing wages, slowing productivity, and aggravating inequality. Again, it’s not clear which force will be stronger.

How will automation change job searching? Artificial intelligence has the potential to predict better matches between job seekers and open positions. Automated screenings and tests can potentially remove human biases that disadvantage certain candidates. However, algorithms might also reinforce human prejudices if the algorithms are trained on biased datasets. Plus, algorithms might be differentially applied to certain groups: one expert warns of a future where “the privileged … are processed more by people, the masses by machines.” Finally, people might be skittish about automated hiring. A recent survey found people less enthusiastic about algorithms evaluating job candidates than about driverless cars or robot elder care-givers, which could slow down their adoption

We don’t need to wait to discover whether automation creates more jobs than it destroys to start answering these questions and acting on the answers. Making job transitions easier, focusing on those most at risk of job loss, and thinking about labor supply, wages, and job search are all essential for navigating these new technologies — whether or not automation ultimately adds to or subtracts from overall employment.

Categories: Blogs

Not Everyone Can Build a Digital Ad Business, Plus Debating Radical Transparency

Harvard business - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 08:20

Youngme Moon, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, and Mihir Desai discuss Verizon’s write-down on Oath (Yahoo, AOL) and the challenges with building a digital advertising business. They also debate the notion of Radical Transparency, before sharing their After Hours picks for the week.

Download this podcast

Some recent picks:

You can email your comments and ideas for future episodes to: harvardafterhours@gmail.com. You can follow Youngme and Mihir on Twitter at: @YoungmeMoon and @DesaiMihirA.

Categories: Blogs

How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

Harvard business - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 08:00
Richard Newstead/Getty Images

As you rise in your career and your visibility grows, you’ll likely be called upon to participate in a panel discussion. It’s a powerful way to share your ideas and become recognized in your field, but there’s no question that preparing to speak on a panel can be stressful — you have to figure out what to say, practice being concise, and worry about overlapping with your colleagues.

It’s even more fraught, however, when you’ve been asked to moderate one.

Now you have to bring order to an unwieldy group of strangers and somehow unify their disparate perspectives into a meaningful conversation. As a professional speaker, I give more than 50 talks at companies and conferences each year, participating in everything from keynotes to panels. Here are four strategies I’ve developed to ensure that when I’m moderating, I create the conditions for an insightful exchange.

First, it’s important to prepare your panelists in advance for what to expect. At one recent conference where I was a panelist, my moderator didn’t contact me until the morning of our session. “Unfortunately I couldn’t find your email address in my mailbox,” he wrote me, “and I couldn’t obtain it from the [conference organizers]. They’ve been a bit overwhelmed I guess these last few days. But [fellow panelist] gave it to me this morning and so here is the outline. Let me know if it works and see you later today!”

I’m comfortable improvising onstage, so this wasn’t a problem for me; but for any panelist who might want to prepare before giving a presentation, this would have been panic-inducing. It doesn’t take much to get on the same page with your panelists — one pre-event conference call, a couple of emails asking for their thoughts on the topic, or even sharing your draft questions in advance should suffice. But forcing your panelists to go into the event blind, with only a couple of hours to prepare, is frankly a dereliction of moderator duty.

Second, realize that your sole mission is to ensure a great audience experience. As moderator, one of the hardest — and most frequent — challenges you’ll face is whether to cut off long-winded panelists, and how to do it tactfully. It’s awkward to interrupt someone, especially if that person has stature in your field, and you may naturally worry about offending them. But it has to be done.

The moderator’s sacred responsibility is not to assuage panelists’ egos; it’s to stand as an advocate for the audience, asking the questions they wish they could and ensuring a thoughtful discussion. You want to keep the panel from turning into a platform for someone’s bloviation. If the event organizers had wanted that person to monologue, they would have given them a keynote. Instead, they put them on a panel in order to get their perspective as part of a group conversation, and you’ve been chosen to uphold that intention.

If you’re wondering whether someone is droning on too long, the audience probably thinks they are. It’s crucial to remember that the audience will be rooting for you to stop the soliloquy. I’ve discovered one way to help the verbose panelist save face: cut them off with a positive statement. You can capture their attention by simultaneously making a hand gesture and breaking in verbally, and say something like, “That’s a great point, Joe, and I’d love to hear how Preeti would respond to that.” Cutting them off is a far better alternative than simply sitting there and looking uncomfortable, or making half-hearted attempts to catch the offending panelist’s eye.

Third, don’t be afraid to wield the power you’ve been given. Too many panel moderators seem uncomfortable with the responsibility they’ve been given and take a hands-off approach to the session. For example, they’ll “toss out” questions to the entire panel, without specifying who should respond, resulting in awkward silences, as people try to figure out who should go first — or complete chaos, as the most aggressive panelist dominates the conversation. Maybe the moderator does specify a speaking order, but it’s the rote mechanics of Panelist A, then Panelist B, then Panelist C — the predictability of which will bore the audience by the second round.

Instead, direct your questions to the person who will have the most relevant answers. That means, of course, that it’s important to research the panelists in advance to know enough about which topics are in their wheelhouse. If Panelist A says something incendiary about tech founders, and Panelist C launched a startup last year, don’t wait for Panelist B to respond just because it’s his “turn.” Instead, follow the action and direct the conversation appropriately.

Of course, you want to be fair as moderator and not allow one person to dominate at the expense of other voices. But fair doesn’t necessarily mean equal: if Panelist C gets five questions and everyone else answers three, that’s not the end of the world if that panelist is especially interesting and adds to the conversation.

Fourth, remember that the moderator needs to embrace the role of interlocutor. When panelists say something interesting, or confusing, you should jump in with a follow-up. “Tell me more,” you could say, or “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you explain that in more detail?” That enables the conversation to go deeper, away from the panelists’ typical talking points and into more fruitful territory.

Moderating a panel can be a challenge even for experienced professionals. It’s true that you’re not answering any questions yourself, and you know them all in advance, but there are still unpredictable elements. You have to choreograph the interaction of multiple opinionated leaders, keep everyone on topic, and probe for deeper insights. If you take the steps above to proactively craft a great experience — rather than sitting back and hoping it will take care of itself — you’ll set yourself apart as a uniquely thoughtful moderator.

Categories: Blogs

Will the Huawei Arrest Influence the U.S.-China Trade Talks?

Harvard business - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 07:00
Paul Taylor/Getty Images

The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of China’s Huawei, by Canadian police upon the request for extradition by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has resulted in confusion regarding U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Some believe hardline national security elements of the U.S. government ordered the extradition request in order to sabotage the trade talks or at least to disregard them in the historic tradition of U.S. national security agencies putting their concerns above trade issues.

Some believe that President Trump ordered the extradition request as a way of bringing pressure to bear on Chinese President Xi Jinping for further trade concessions.

Some believe the U.S. has a vendetta against Huawei and senselessly got carried away by its hatred in a way that may undermine the trade discussion.

As it happens, the truth is almost certainly much less exciting.

Let’s start with the last issue. It is true that the U.S. government has a deep concern regarding Huawei. But that concern is not entirely without foundation. Huawei is the world’s largest telecommunications-equipment maker. Its founder came from the People’s Liberation Army  and has had a continuing close relationship with the PLA as well as with other security agencies of the Chinese government. It has been the beneficiary of extensive government subsidies, contracts, protection, and, some say, government-sponsored hacking of foreign technology companies and of the U.S. government.

The U.S. government has charged Huawei with illegally selling U.S. components to Iran, and the FBI has been tracking Huawei executives for some time for purposes of making an arrest. It was fortuitous that Meng happened to be in Canada when she was, but the FBI move was not made in a sudden fit of anger. The warrant for arrest had been out for some time.

Did a group of hawks deliberately try to sabotage the trade talks? The Chinese probably wouldn’t mind if this view were widely believed, but it seems unlikely. In the first place, the real hawks are the administration’s trade negotiators led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Assistant to the President Peter Navarro. They certainly didn’t want to sabotage themselves. Moreover, since the timing of the arrest was fortuitous, it was not something that could have been purposely arranged to sabotage the trade talks.

If it’s true that Trump and Lighthizer did not know of the arrest in advance, it does raise the issue of why no one told them. There are two possible explanations. One is that the FBI was focused on its case and simply didn’t think of the arrest in the context of the trade talks. However, National Security Adviser John Bolton was informed but did not pass the information on to the president. Informing the national security adviser would be a natural thing to do in this kind of a situation.

Why didn’t Bolton inform the president? One possible answer is that he saw it was a case of the FBI simply doing its job and thus there was no reason to interrupt the president who was in the midst of discussions with President Xi. Another is that Bolton is a national security hawk who might prefer a breakdown in trade talks that might relieve pressure within the U.S. government to take more vigorous defense measures with regard to China. Or maybe it was a combination of the two. Take your pick.

What about the notion that the president ordered the arrest precisely in order to wring more trade concessions from Xi? This is unlikely. First, the timing was unpredictable, and the president could not have known in advance that an arrest was even possible. Second, intertwining the arrest with the trade talks would be more likely to undermine the talks than to lead to greater concessions.

Of course, the president subsequently has thrown doubt into the equation by stating that he would intervene to halt proceedings against Meng if he got a really big trade deal from Xi. But the fact is that the president does not have the authority to intervene in the legal proceedings against Meng. So his statement seems to be something he thought of subsequent to, rather than before, the arrest.

A key part of the equation is Lighthizer’s strong insistence that the talks and the arrest are two completely different and unrelated activities. He knows the Chinese would probably like a public perception of some kind of relationship because that would weaken his negotiating hand. So he is emphasizing that the talks and the arrest are not at all entangled. Since Lighthizer would be the big loser in the case of any entanglement, it is easy to believe he was not part of any nefarious scheme.

In summary, it’s highly likely that Meng’s arrest and the new U.S.-China trade talks were not initially related. The degree to which the Chinese government and the Trump administration allow them to become part of the negotiations remains to be seen. I just hope that the Trump administration keeps them separate. Too many times in the past, the U.S. government has needlessly sacrificed crucial trade priorities to the goals or concerns of national security agencies. It would be a shame for that to happen again.

Categories: Blogs

Case Study: Should a Direct-to-Consumer Company Start Selling on Amazon?

Harvard business - Wed, 12/19/2018 - 06:05
sudo takeshi/Getty Images

Sitting in his office, Mark Ellinas frowned at his computer screen. It was filled with row after row of electric bikes, from expensive models to cheap knockoffs that seemed held together by spit and a prayer. Though they varied in style and price, the bikes did have one thing in common: where they were being sold. The website he was looking at, flush with options, was Amazon.

As the CMO of PedalSpark, a small maker of high-end electric bicycles, Mark was considering strategies for selling the company’s new ride. The market for electric bikes had exploded in the past few years, especially in China, and it showed no signs of slowing down. PedalSpark’s signature bike, a $4,000 luxury model available only through the company’s website, was selling well and had been named to a few “best e-bike” lists. Now PedalSpark was about to introduce a cheaper, entry-level model, which it hoped would have broader appeal. The bike was targeted at price-sensitive riders, people who were willing to trade higher battery life and motor power for a lower price tag.

Editor's Note

This fictionalized case study will appear in a forthcoming issue of Harvard Business Review, along with commentary from experts and readers. If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication, please be sure to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and email address.

Two years ago PedalSpark had hired Mark away from his marketing position at a children’s bicycle maker. That company had sold exclusively on its own site, and Mark’s expertise had served PedalSpark well with its first product. He was excited by the challenge of selling the new bike in an increasingly crowded market, but the question was how to do it.

His two direct reports were split. Gideon Bear, the sales manager, tended to favor aggressive approaches. He wanted to sell the new model on Amazon, which had, as he’d put it, “a few more customers than our site.” But Tamar Nourse, the product manager who’d recently come on board, was worried about whether the bike would stand out on Amazon. She thought that keeping the new model on PedalSpark’s site, where their team could control the entire sales process, would be better over the long term.

Bzzt. Mark glanced at his phone and saw a text from the CEO: Where are we on the online channel strategy? Looking forward to your presentation. The new model was almost ready, and the CEO wanted a decision soon. With the presentation scheduled in two days, Mark still had some time to think—but not much.

Giving Information to the Enemy

Mark closed his laptop and walked down the hall to Tamar’s office. He knocked on the open door. “Hey, got a minute?”

Tamar looked up and adjusted her thick-rimmed glasses. “Hi, Mark. What’s up?”

He sat down across from her. “So, about the bike. In the meetings with Gideon it feels like you’ve been holding something back. We have to make a decision, so I need you to tell me what you aren’t telling me.”

She took a deep breath. “Mark, I’m still new here, and I don’t want to rock the boat. But I really think selling on Amazon would be a terrible move for us.”

“Why, though?”

“The day we put the bike on sale, Amazon will start vacuuming up information about our customers, our margins, and the market’s potential. If it ever decides to get into the e-bike business, we’ll have hand-delivered all the data it needs to squash us.”

“I know worrying is part of your job, but is it possible you’re being a little paranoid here?”

“You should ask my B-school classmate Marta.”

“Who is she?”

“A few years ago she was the founder and CEO of a successful start-up. She’d had an idea for a new kind of tablet stand. She spent a year developing a prototype and finding a manufacturer in China that would work with her. Then she started selling on Amazon. Now she’s the former CEO of a company that doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Wow. What happened?

“For about a year the tablet stand got great reviews and sold well at $40 each. During the back-to-school season, she was moving a few thousand a month. Then a bunch of copycat products started popping up. She had to fight them off as best she could. She complained to Amazon, but it didn’t do anything, of course. Then AmazonBasics debuted its new tablet stand. It was a lot like hers, though different enough to avoid a lawsuit. It was also half the price.”

“E-bikes are a lot more complex than tablet stands, though. What are the chances Amazon will make one of its own?”

Tamar’s lips curled into a small smile. “I don’t know, but if we went head-to-head against Jeff Bezos, would you put your money on us? Amazon’s private-label products are projected to hit $25 billion in sales by 2022.”

Mark shuddered. “A dark thought to have before lunch. How do you figure our chances against the existing competition?”

“We do have great bikes, but quality isn’t enough on Amazon. Whatever your product is, there’s always a cheaper version, and usually that’s the one people buy. It’s a never-ending, anything-goes price war there. I’m guessing that isn’t what we want people to associate with our brand.”

Nodding slowly, the CMO rubbed his chin. “Good point, and I don’t disagree. Gideon is pretty keen on the Amazon idea, though.”

Tamar adjusted her glasses again. “I get why—more customers and more visibility. That may help us sell bikes in the short term, but what about the long term? If people buy the new model on Amazon, will they be loyal to the maker or to where they bought it? We built the PedalSpark brand by selling the luxury bike on our website. Why try to fix what’s already working?”

Trying Something New

That afternoon, Mark asked Gideon to meet him in the cafeteria for coffee. The sales manager poured milk into his steaming cup and swirled it around with a straw. “Amazon, Mark. You know what I think. What are you thinking?”

“Undecided. There’s a lot of risk in selling the bike there, but a lot of upside, too.”

“Yes! I’m glad you see that. Amazon Prime has over 100 million members, and it’s growing. Imagine the sales if a fraction of them ordered the new bike—and imagine how many of them will if two-day delivery is available. Someone gets excited about e-bikes on a Wednesday, and by Friday she has one of her own to ride. The possibilities are endless.”

“It’s fun to daydream about, Gideon, but are we set up to handle higher volume and a shorter fulfillment window? Orders that come through our site have a shipping time of two weeks. I’m nervous about promising something we can’t deliver—and to a bunch of new customers, no less.”

“But that’s the beauty of Amazon,” Gideon said, his voice rising in excitement. “We have options. I know I’m telling you your job right now, but we can sell product to Amazon for it to resell, or sell the bikes ourselves and let Amazon handle the warehousing and shipping, or list them on Amazon and ship them on our own. You’re always talking about the value of running small, controlled experiments, so let’s try one and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, we’ll switch tactics and adapt as we learn.” He grinned. “Everyone in this company agrees we have a great new product. All I want is to get it to as many people as possible.”

“There are three options, yes, but they don’t give us a lot of wiggle room if things go badly. We may be able to play with the bike’s price a bit, but we can’t lower it that much or we won’t make any money—and it could make us look cheap, too. I do think a higher price point is fair for the bike we’re selling. Even luxury brands that sell on Amazon today hesitated about it for a long time, and it would be a good idea for us to think about why that is. The jury is still out on whether luxury brands benefit from being on Amazon.”

“You know who sells on Amazon? Apple. Versace. Rolex. Jimmy Choo, Mark—Jimmy Choo. And more will follow. Whichever companies don’t will be on the wrong side of retail history.”

“We aren’t Versace, Gideon. Besides, a lot of those brands sell a very small subset of their products on Amazon—and usually not their flagship ones. They save those for their own sites or stores, where they can control the buying experience. We’re trying to raise our profile as a high-end brand, right? How would we look if we were one of dozens of e-bikes in Amazon’s listings?”

“Sure, but we already have the luxury bike selling well on our site. I agree, we shouldn’t change anything there. But the new bike is for everyone. And everyone is on Amazon.”

Mark took a sip of coffee, thinking.

“Look, I get it, you have some concerns,” Gideon continued, “so let’s talk numbers. Based on what our competition is doing, I figure if we put the new bike on Amazon, we can reasonably expect to sell 10,000 units a year.”

“At what price point?”

“$899. That’s a little higher than we’ve been talking about, but it gives us some room to go lower when we need to.”

“And what are the latest numbers for luxury bike sales on our site?”

“Last year we sold 2,000 units at $4,000 apiece. Remember, the new bike won’t be only on Amazon. We’ll sell it on our site, too.”

Mark scratched his head. “What we really need is a way to quantify the risk that Amazon will enter the e-bike market. It would make this so much easier.”

“That’s the big mystery. Amazon will have all the consumer data, and we’ll have very little of it. But look at it this way—there are already a lot of e-bikes on Amazon, so they’re already watching the market. Even if they do make their own bike, that could be years away. We might as well find new customers while we can. People can’t buy our bikes if they don’t know about them.”

Mark stared at Gideon for a long moment. “Let me ask you something. How are you so sure about all this?”

Gideon laughed. “In my moments of doubt, I think of Instant Pot. It’s a quality appliance—not quite luxury, but good—that has a cult following and that made its name on Amazon. At one point, 90% of its sales were from there. Do you know how many Instant Pots were sold on Prime Day this year?”

“No, but I’m a little surprised you do.”

“I cook a lot. The number, Mark, is 300,000. In just 36 hours. I think we could be the Instant Pot of e-bikes.”

The CMO stirred his coffee. “You may be excitable, but I’ll admit it’s kind of contagious. I just can’t shake the feeling that once we open the door to Amazon, there will be no closing it.”

Gideon held up his coffee for a toast. “To opening the door—just a crack—and seeing what’s behind it.”

Searching for Answers

Back in his office at the end of the day, Mark was staring at his computer again. Tamar and Gideon seemed so sure of what to do, but the CMO was struggling to make up his mind. Both ways forward had their merits.

The screen of his laptop still showed the Amazon site, with its rows of e-bikes. Sighing, Mark opened Google and typed “What are the dangers of selling on Amazon?” into the search bar. The query returned almost 250 million results.

“Hard to tell whether there are more horror stories or more success stories,” he muttered. “Well, this bike isn’t going to sell itself. I have to decide something, one way or another.”

Question: Should PedalSpark sell the new bike on Amazon?

Tell us what you think in the comments below. If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication, please be sure to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and email address.

Categories: Blogs

How One CEO Creates Joy at Work

Harvard business - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 15:16

Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, says it took him years to learn what really mattered at work and how to create that kind of workplace culture. As a company leader today, he works hard to make sure both his job — and the jobs of his employees — are joyful. That doesn’t mean they are happy 100% of the time, he argues, but that they feel fulfilled by always putting the customer first. Sheridan is the author of Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear.

Download this podcast

Categories: Blogs

How to Build Trust with Your Employees

Greatleaders hipbydan - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 12:24

Guest post by Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss:

“I didn’t tell the complete truth, and our relationship hasn’t been the same since.”

This may sound like the confession of a person with marital issues, or the breakdown in a long-term friendship. But it’s a quote from a CEO client of ours. Someone who learned the hard way about the importance of maintaining trust between the C-suite and front-line employees.

It’s a critical lesson we can all absorb through his experience: Communication is key to any good relationship. And just as you can erode trust with a miscommunication, you can rebuild it with honest, clear communication. Here are three ways to do it.

Create a steady drumbeat of communication.

Timing is everything, as they say. Create, publish and stick to a monthly or quarterly schedule of communication, so employees know what to expect, and when to expect it. Organizations that communicate on an ad-hoc basis are creating a vacuum of information – and employees will fill those gaps with misinformation and rumors.

Major announcements and breaking news can’t wait for the next meeting or newsletter, of course. So, it’s OK to go off-schedule when you must. Just make sure employees always hear about important company news from the company itself – before getting a Google alert or seeing it on Eyewitness News.
Discuss, discuss, discuss. 
You naturally build trust with employees when they have opportunities to ask questions, state their opinions and drive for more clarity in the information they receive. Online discussion – for example, allowing employees to comment on your company’s intranet news stories – is a good first step. But nothing will demonstrate your commitment to authentic, honest discussion than a live town hall or an “Ask Me Anything” session for employees.

Let’s be honest: It’s a risk to put an open mic in the hand of an unscreened and potentially upset employee. But company leaders who demonstrate a high degree of trust in their employees will find that trust returned more often than leaders who favor heavily filtered and overly controlled communication.

Make time for informal communication.

Unscheduled and informal chats help break down walls between leaders and employees. It may sound like the simplest of tactics, but it’s often the most difficult for executives to do well.

Some leaders tout an “open-door policy,” not realizing that few entry-level employees would feel comfortable walking into an executive’s office. Instead, challenge yourself to get out of your office and out of meetings at least once a day. Walk the halls. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. Get coffee in the breakroom. This is your chance to not only have informal conversations with employees, but to literally be seen as an approachable, accessible leader.

If you have a distributed workforce across many locations or time zones, consider online options. Employees connect on a different level with leaders who jump into internal social media discussions to comment and answer questions. You also may want to hold regular “virtual town halls” where employees and leaders can chat online about the company. And don’t discourage personal questions (not too personal, of course). Learning about a leader’s previous jobs or her favorite movie goes a long way to creating a relationship between leaders and employees, and establishing trust in the workplace. 
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss own a communications agency, ROCKdotVOSS.com, specializing in executive and employee communication. Their workplace novels – B.S., Incorporated and Operation Clusterpuck – are funny, heartfelt stories that show corporate leaders what NOT to do.
Categories: Blogs

Holidays Can Be Stressful. They Don’t Have to Stress Out Your Team.

Harvard business - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 10:08
Epoxydude/Getty Images

The festive spirit is everywhere during the holiday season. For some, each day feels like waking up to a holiday song — “children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.” But, for others, it can be the loneliest and most stressful time of the year. According to a 2015 Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.” Almost half the respondents cited finances as the main culprit for their tension, while being over-scheduled, choosing the right gifts, and remaining healthy also contributed to people’s holiday woes.

“The holidays are filled with both joy and stress,” shares Ellen Braaten, PhD, in Harvard Medical School’s blog, On the Brain. Dr. Braaten blames our increased multi-tasking during the holidays as the reason the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Long-term, this high-level demand on the brain can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells, and cause existing brain cells to die. On the bright side, seasonal stress is acute, so it can be remedied. But preventing it all together should be the real goal.

Coping with personal stress is already challenging, but when combined with workplace stress, it’s no wonder holiday cheers soon devolve into holiday sneers. The American Psychological Association found that 38% of people say their stress increases during the holidays — only 8% of people say they feel happier. Employees are often contending with shortened deadlines, meeting expectations for the end of the fiscal year, and coping with stressed-out customers, which are just a few of the reasons for their increased anxiety. The resulting costs for employers can be quite significant.

Based on an analysis by Peakon of more than 15,000 employees across the U.S., the UK, the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland) and Germany, 7-10% of people reported reduced productivity for the entire month of December, with 30-40% reporting a fall in productivity by mid-December. Dr. Chris Rowley, Professor Emeritus at the University of London Cass Business School, writes in his article, “Festive Celebrations: Human Resource Impacts and Costs of Christmas,” that nearly one-half of the workforce hits “festive fizzleout” by December 18th, where they spend more time worried about the holidays than about work. Rowley claims that more than two-thirds of workers were less productive throughout December, with nearly one-half admitting that they did 10-20% less work. Reasons for reductions in output included a combination of exhaustion, lack of motivation, and even hangovers. Women tend to be hit the hardest, with nearly twice as many women reporting that they are more stressed about Christmas than men.

Unfortunately, the tools most employers use to improve company culture are backfiring. The annual holiday party is a great example. According to a 2017 survey by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 80% of companies plan to host a holiday party. However, according to new research from MetLife Employee Benefits, 37% of employees decline to attend the company Christmas party. The most cited reason for not attending was that the holiday parties, which are typically held in the evenings, clash with family duties at home. And, for those who do attend the holiday party, there is a 77% drop in productivity the next day, with more than half of the staff wasting the first four hours of the following day because they’re recovering from the night before — which is slightly better than the 20% who call in sick. And the U.S. isn’t the only country that struggles with this dynamic. For example, the festive fallout from employee stress and lost productivity cost U.K. companies roughly £11 billion in 2016.

So how can managers help combat stress and keep both productivity and spirits up during the holiday season? Here are a just a few ways:

Reach out. Ask your staff how they want to celebrate the holidays at work this year. Poll your team — there are plenty of online tools that make it easy to do a simple survey, such as Survey Monkey or Typeform.

Be inclusive. In an interview I conducted with Ben-Saba Hasan, SVP and Chief Culture Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Walmart Inc., he shared that leaders must recognize the different ways people celebrate the holidays. “As leaders, we need to create an environment where our team members feel comfortable and safe, so that we foster greater awareness among those in the dominant culture for those whose holiday observances look different from their own.”

Mini Khroad, Chief People Officer at Khan Academy, told me in a recent interview: “The holidays should always be an important time at companies. Ensuring that employees have the ability to recognize national or other holidays, at work and in their personal lives, helps to make the workplace enjoyable for everyone.”

Protect personal time. Why not offer one extra day off leading up to the holidays for employees to attend to personal needs like gift shopping, family demands, or down-time to regroup — whatever they need.  One mandatory day off can make all the difference in employee stress levels. These small but much-appreciated gestures increase loyalty and gratitude on your staff and offer long-term payoffs. Why does this matter? Research has proven that grateful staff are more engaged, community-minded, and happier at work.

Rebalance workloads. Competing demands sit at the top of employees’ stress lists. Work and home pressures converge at this time of year, and time seems highly compressed. Plan a review of the workload and see if some project deadlines can be extended into next year. “Periods of high stress such as the holiday season represent an opportunity for managers to treat employees as individuals by understanding and appropriately responding to their specific needs,” says David Almeda, Chief People Officer at Kronos. In a recent interview I had with him, he suggested that “tactics such as rebalancing workload among team members, or allowing atypical works hours for a set period of time, will deliver results, increase employee commitment, and materially decrease employee stress.”

Give time instead of gifts. Research by neuroscientists Dr. Jordan Grafman and Dr. Jorge Moll demonstrates that we are instinctually made to give. When the subjects donated to what they considered worthy organizations, brain scans revealed that parts of the midbrain lit up — the same region that controls cravings for food, and the same region that becomes active when money is added to people’s personal reward accounts. Ben-Saba Hasan connected this thinking back to his team as they bonded over volunteering in their community this season. “I believe one of the best ways to manage stress and care for yourself is when you turn your focus toward caring for others first.”

What is important for employees themselves to remember is this: most holiday-related stressors are self-imposed and preventable. Financial stress can be avoided by purchasing less, overcommitting can be averted by saying no, multitasking brains can be managed with reprioritization, and exclusion can be prevented by reaching out. Start today. Ask someone how they’re doing. Listen with compassion, empathy, and kindness. If needed, offer help.

As we head into the busiest part of the holiday season and stress levels increase, remember:  many of us are feeling this anxiety, and much of it can be made more manageable with the tactics above. Bringing more awareness to the increased pressure your employees are feeling at home and at work during the holiday season can go a long way toward helping to keep both productivity and employees’ spirits up.

Categories: Blogs

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