As we address the skills gap and the need to change how we educate, the skills most lacking are those related to problem solving, work ethic, leadership, time management and organizational communications. Unless and until we can rely upon pre-employment training to develop these toolsets in our team members, employers need to absorb the burden of this development, thereby enjoying the incredible ROI on the initiative. Many are still failing to capture this incredible upside opportunity.
As corporate educator, guest academic professor and consulting CHRO to both academic institutions and a wealth of employers realizing the outcomes of pre-employment education, I draw upon 360-degree visibility, impact and passion.
These 5 key skills represent the most critically lacking employment skills, as well as, the most efficient means of employer resolution. These also represent the most popular and successful HRS workshops across widespread talent functions, hierarchy and lifecycle stages.
1. Problem Solving:
There is nothing less common than sense, and few academic institutions are properly developing critical thinking. With the crazed-wave deployment of unlawful personality profiles and meaningless instruments, we’re strongly recommending talent assessment such as the SR2, pinpointing problem solving, trainability and critical thinking beyond job knowledge. Critical thinking can be taught, and many unique problem-solving styles can succeed in the workplace. Critical thinking is not necessarily a pass-fail proposition. Via proper assessment and delivery, educational bullets such as problem solving, data interpretation, metrics, cost-benefit analysis, and the Six Hats of Thinking are highly effective at identifying individual trouble spots and capturing opportunity for development.
2. Work Ethic:
While the U.S. continues to lag global competitors in average work week and appropriate recharge use of break time, productivity will equally lag. Employers have a responsibility and an opportunity in setting forth culture and expectations of the work hours, commitment and focus needed for individual and corporate success. The less committed employees are demotivating the more committed. Window-dressing engagement is not enough. As third party expert educators, we’ve realized the upside, and we need to get this message out! If work ethic factors are extrinsic, corporate education can mitigate, if not eliminate, the problem.
“Cash is King” only to the point that life’s needs can be afforded. Thereafter, employee retention, employer brand, risk management and workforce productivity all rely more heavily on proper leadership. Old-school methods of promoting the best “doers” are rightfully replaced with promoting more interested and trainable leaders, and then developing them with lifelong leader learning. Poorly trained leaders decimate success in a labor-intensive organization. Furthermore, as long as employees are willing to forego 15% compensation for a better boss, employers find a less costly and more productive win in properly selecting and developing leaders. For proper role modeling and culture, leaders must be seen embracing learning, while balancing their immediate credibility. Leader learning is best deployed as a partnership between internal and external expert trainers.
4. Time Management:
While the first component of time management might be gaining worker commitment to expand the workday, actual time management and efficiency-based routines are currently under-taught. While lean thinking and efficient use of technology are often properly attended, time management in work flow planning, appropriate multi-tasking, prioritization, communication tactics, team meeting protocol and compartmentalization are critical to education initiatives. By teaching holistic time management, we additionally reduce energy shift and optimize quality.
5. Organizational Communications:
Beyond the time management principles involved in crafting communications, fabulous upside is gained through proper teaching of communication mode selection, non-verbal cues, body language, time, place, audience and tone. While anti-harassment is lawfully essential to employer reasonable care, teaching acceptance of dissimilarity also delivers competitive edge, better invention and enhanced problem solving. Exceptional curriculum includes the benefits of diverse thinking, as well as, the protocol most effective with each of the 16 personality types. Today’s most popular topics also include Internal customer service and building organizational bridges.
When teaching these 5 skills, 3 key rules are critical to learning, yet still under-attended by those employers missing the mark. These 3 simple rules include:
1. Address unique audience learning style and aptitude,
2. Deploy simultaneous assessment toward curriculum development and success benchmarking, and
3. Remove fear of reprisal.
More specifically, participative learning remains preferred by most, while auditory learning remains least effective. Pacing too fast, too slow and/or audience adaptation failures remain common pitfalls. Training from, or in the presence of, supervisors creates fear of reprisal and fear of presenting the “stupid question.” (I always remind here the only stupid question is the one not asked.)
While employers cannot rely solely upon external expert educators, both internal and external trainers must partner for optimum learning. Roundtable workshops, facilitated by topic experts deploying Gestalt Protocol, are the fastest and most meaningful method of speed-track knowledge transfer and useful application. Live case studies are highly engaging for even those not prone to academia, and these similarly avoid distracting perception of internal bias. In our corporate education series, our own case studies are revealed in full protection of employer confidentiality and intellectual property, of course.
We invite you to stay tuned for continuing information on this topic including steadfast findings and ever-emerging trends. Keep training!
Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, April 15, 2016
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For those who create jobs, a new year creates new opportunities and new threats. While we at HRS highly recommend each CEO to empower a fully functional HR initiative, we simultaneously advocate these 10 areas for highest executive support and visibility before giving up the reins. CEO to CEO… here is the drill-down!
Invest Only into Programs Supported by Data-Driven Metrics
While HR earned its seat in the boardroom by producing undeniable results on the Income Statements and Balance Sheets, avoid the assumption that all HR professionals grasp fiscal responsibility and know-how. Dubbed “The Pioneers of HR” in a 2015 Fortune Magazine spread, HRS knows exactly how thin the landscape was in prior decades, and we promise that more are boasting accolade than actually proven. While it’s possible to find a statistic to support any thesis you choose, be certain the statistic is valid and supports a meaningful takeaway for optimum outcome. Statistics can be developed internally or externally at the start, but should be benchmarked internally upon program commencement.
Ensure a C-Level Eye on Key Employment Law Changes
CEO’s must have a high level knowledge of these laws before properly delegating implementation and due diligence in 2016. Especially if a Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) is not in place, the items which cannot disappear from C-level are: handbook policies, ERISA Section 510, HIPAA, anti-harassment, trade secrets, ACA, FLSA, social media, independent contractors and joint-employer relationships, at a minimum. Top tier execs must ask the right questions and provide adequate support and empowerment to the right leaders of these critical initiatives.
Bring Salary and Hourly Practices into Alignment
With Department of Labor (DOL) proposed overtime changes still embattled until late 2016, a major hike in minimum salary threshold may create unlawful “ivory tower” practices where they previously didn’t exist. Become more mindful of benefits, payroll handling and policy discrepancies between exempt and non-exempt team members. Be proactive.
Engage Without Coddling
Attracting and engaging the right talent cannot be accomplished without employer branding and a precise amount of ethical bribery, in view of forecasted 2016 shifts. That being said, some novices out there are “over-coddling” and making a pure mess of things. Let’s not forget Maslow’s Hierarchy, ERG motivation theories and that truly happy workers have no reason to work at any stage other than self-indulging self-actualization. Give your employees a reason and the resources to attain corporate goals.
Keep HR and Accounting Completely Distinctive Functions at Lateral Vision
The keys to success in HR are absolutely neither a subset nor acquired along the accounting career path. These two critical functions each earn a boardroom seat, with critical communication between, and neither gets more leverage. While the HR effort cannot succeed without fiduciary vision and ability to assess proper fiduciary talent, the accounting effort can be tremendously successful with only limited communication from HR. In fact, too much information in the hands of the accounting team yields EEOC and HIPAA penalty risks.
Personality Tests Belong in the 1970’s, with Mood Rings
Beaten down as unlawful 40 years ago, personality tests are somehow re-emerging for those who didn’t previously see the lightbulb. Throw in ADA protected mood disorders and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and personality tests tee up some real risk. Hiring without proper assessment poses even greater risk. Behavioral assessment delivers far more lawful, meaningful and reliable findings; keeping it job-related, predictive and risk free. Best options are still Simulation Scenarios and In-Baskets.
Create a Politics-Free Zone
Wherever you sit, divisionary tactics and heated arguments are likely to be found. The workplace is ripe for passionate political arguments that threaten. Other countries already classify politics as protected. Arguing the Bill of Rights from every angle, the U.S. has begun protecting employees against harassment and discrimination due to political affiliation. While the political forum is likely to emerge downright uncivilized for some, an opportunity exists to actually capitalize on the problem by aligning your brand as a safe haven for those who work smart, work hard and respect others. DeBono’s Six Hats of Thinking, after all, requires perspective from all sides.
Train, Train, Train! Talent May be Easier to Develop than Find
As a guest professor serving 6+ top-ranked institutions, I promise that even the best are concerned with proper education for today’s workplace. The employer who delivers appropriate development tools gains the competitive edge and exponential return on investment. Success is contingent upon corporate training in not only operations, but also workplace behaviors, leadership, organizational communications, problem solving and legal compliance. Avoid “canned curriculum” and deploy a topic expert to deliver on-point discussion and applied Q&A. Not only is it nearly impossible to “pick the right employee off a shelf,” but employees meeting life’s basic costs are willing to give up 15% of immediate pay for development opportunity. While cash can still be king and broken promises crush credibility, consider a well-balanced approach as investment into both employee and employer.
Take HIPAA and Anti-Harassment to New Levels
2015’s Q4 reveals new privacy crackdowns, and government fines are being wielded about. Privacy lockdowns are a “bottom-up” approach. Meaning, if you’re a CEO… be sure to know very little about employee personal and medical lives, and be certain your leaders are trained to refuse all such information except on a “need to know” basis. Knowing the wrong things about your employees can backfire just as much as knowing too little. For lawful compliance, even an HR department may need 5-7 separate files per employee depending upon the structure, and many items should never leave HR’s gatekeeping. Department managers, accountants, IT and company-wide team members need updated HIPAA training and enforced compliance -- pronto. Hand-in-hand with HIPAA, and with interplay between, Anti-Harassment due diligence needs another escalation. With newly protected classes, increased tension and steeper penalties, the courts are busy, and the courts are expensive! 3rd party experts can provide “affirmative defense” certifications not available through internal or video-based training.
Choose Carefully Your Automation Levels and External Partners
A well-implemented HR automation system can exceed 300% ROI through vastly improved efficiencies and turnkey statistical decision tools. While this opportunity cannot be overlooked, some are going too far and reversing the benefit. Before we dehumanize human resources, 1) safeguard ability for audience adaptation and case-by-case judgment, 2) recognize that more keystrokes do not improve efficiency, and 3) lock down intellectual property where law allows. Inasmuch as HRS is recognized by the USPTO for world-deployed HRIS automation invention, even we know the boundaries. Don’t let your payroll and HRIS companies sell you the functions at which they fail. And finally, when choosing external partners, look for those who bring track record of success and extraordinary knowledge base, rather than just shiny new things that will become yesterday’s forgotten toys.
As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR since 1983, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. HRS is available to deliver extraordinary assistance with each action item recommended herein. Representing a wealth of industries, HRS clients range 25-100,000+ employees, start-up and emerging to Fortune-ranked. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites. For more information, contact us.
Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 04, 2016
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Each day, more employers abolish their annual review system. Why? Because feedback delayed an entire year is arguably worthless, accomplishes negative value, creates fear of feedback and decimates corporate resources. For the annual review to succeed, feedback must be ongoing throughout the year, and the annual review cannot produce surprises. Any employer who over-attends annual feedback and under-attends daily feedback is in critical need of realignment. As showcase employers such as Adobe, GE, Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte have recently rejected the annual review in favor or regular conversation, they understand that performance appraisal done right is the catapult to success!
Jack Welch’s 1980’s described “rank and yank” methodology at GE has merit, if and only if, the 10% being guillotined after one year of poor performance are 1) provided the tools to succeed along the way, and 2) damage controlled short of a full year’s underperformance. Frequent feedback by education-empowered leaders is most certainly inherent to the success blueprint. Leaders must effectively lead daily, not just annually.
Does Your Company’s Annual Review Deserve a Kick to the Curb?
Are leaders often late in preparing and/or delivering the annual review?
Are employees shocked by ratings and feedback?
Has your company encountered legal argument or unemployment defense because of instrument content or omission?
Is the benchmark employee flat-lining between or after reviews?
Is compensation becoming more tied to timing than merit, serving more as a COLA than a performance accolade?
Annualized reviews have become default policy due to conformity with once widespread practice and a desire to delay cumbersome, often cookie cutter, legalese documentation. HR information systems, while offering efficiency to the tech savvy, are often exacerbating the practice through irrelevant templates, impossible to align. There’s a much, much better way. Consistent with young employees’ reliance upon push-button and command control feedback through technology, a revamp of the system absolutely improves engagement and productivity for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Let’s keep up with the changes!
What Should the Annual Review Look Like?
A “no surprise” recap of the year’s challenges, improvements, progress against prior goals and goals/resources for the future,
A meaningful, customized instrument to facilitate progress rather than to impede progress,
Benchmark plan of forward-moving feedback, rich with self-evaluation tools made quick, accurate and easy through metrics,
Deployment of criteria which in no way provokes and in fact reduces legal argument,
Consistent, applicable, weighted metrics which align job description, goals and compensation,
Where collective bargaining is applicable, alignment with said agreements.
Not an exhaustive list, these are the critical starting points. Opportunities exist to deploy several evaluation formats within a single employer, as long as lawful and fair consistency exists at a department and/or job function level.
Is a Great Performance Appraisal System Enough?
Yes, as long as we clarify that a great appraisal “system” cannot exist without the following:
• Getting the right people in the right company seats,
• Selecting, developing and continuing lifelong learning for the right leaders,
• Properly deploying magnets and motivators,
• Adapting to unique employee learning styles,
• Understanding and appropriately addressing the unique talent intensity and interrelatedness of each company role,
• Dedicating laser focus to legal, fiscal and brand risk management.
Legislation in Employment Law Necessitates Valuable Rewrite of the Review
The earlier weight on personal attributes now produces a 6+ figure risk for employers who miss the cues for rewrite. Given the many attributes stemming from culture, religion, genetic and medical protection, we can no longer consider personality, attitude, mood, and/or any characteristic which may attach to a protected class. While many employers are still missing the point, the more savvy, such as HRS clients, are finding not only risk management but also improved productivity outcome by swapping workplace behavior ratings for personal characteristic ratings. Actionable ratings without insult and risk better pave the way to success.
When crafting the review, consider ratings which align with job description and meaningful criteria to the unique job. You’re one of the rare few if a universal template actually fits the purpose. Most templates can be the culprit to your leaders dreading and delaying the evaluation process. If a leader is already evaluating the criteria on a daily basis, dropping the rating into the appraisal is simple. If a leader doesn’t find the criteria naturally relevant or described in applicable terms, the blank stare and frustration will replace and likely reverse progress.
Deploy “Appreciative Inquiry” by driving what’s going well to such an extent that it overpowers that which is going wrong. A recent HRS survey of 3000+ validates positive feedback 4 times as powerful as negative feedback. That being said, over-attending the positive without documenting need for corrective action can provoke a legal challenge for a well-intending employer. Failure to prove an employee was cognizant of substandard behavior and chose not to succeed will posture wrongful discharge claim, even beyond the obvious blemish to fairness. Balance is critical.
Originating in military protocol, the annual review emerged into mainstream workplaces circa 1950’s as a metric to rank, recognize and review compensation. Due to changes in leadership case study and employment law, the annual review is now under review itself. Employers continue to prototype 360 reviews and peer-to-peer bonuses. Both have their niche, but both can backfire dramatically if wielded haphazardly without precise control.
It remains absolutely the strongest ROI to invest up front into a custom, ongoing performance management system. Relevant tailored tools and lifelong leader development safeguard time, energy and risk at every evaluation rollout. Managers should not dread or find cumbersome the evaluation process. Evaluation should be at the very core of leadership. Of more than 60 performance appraisal formats available through HRS, we still find ourselves further customizing the instruments for improved client outcomes. Without exception, the appropriate fit minimizes waste and improves outcomes for all. It is far too often the inappropriate use of templates which has threatened the reputation and results of the review system.
Furthermore, because leaders are entirely disposable if they don’t create better performance in those who depend upon them, it is the performance evaluation system upon which company success relies. We at HRS advocate, design and facilitate leadership development and performance management systems that position an employer for success. We deliver and we see the results!
This thought leadership article was initially produced for IBAW and subsequently licensed by request to BizStarts.
Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, November 21, 2015
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While most employers tend to finance formal classroom or seminar learning for leaders, substantial opportunity is missed when more targeted and cost-effective methods are overlooked. Embracing our 4th decade of dedicating ourselves to the understanding of cognitive function and the variety of learning methods, we offer the following 5 key rules to success.
1. Address the 84% who prefer roundtable to classroom learning.
Learning goals differ among individuals, as do learning styles. Audience adaptation is paramount. While kinesthetic learning outpaces auditory learning more than 2:1, classroom and/or seminar activities are less effective than hands-on and interactive learning. Top academic institutions certainly get this, and they heavily deploy group tasks, case studies and hands-on assignments as key training methodology. Classroom is the set-up to learning, but most will forget the “talking head approach” unless follow-up kinesthetic training is meaningfully deployed.
Kinesthetic learning is preferred by most, and it consists of do-it-yourself or tactile activity. Interactive Q&A done well can address this learning style. Visual learning is the next preferred, consisting of videos, observation, pictures and graphics. Auditory learning is the least preferred learning style, consisting of lecture, listened instruction and/or audio-training. When learning style is unknown, kinesthetic or combination methods are best deployed as a default.
2. If the message isn’t delivered 3 times, don’t bother delivering it at all.
The average human mind must receive a message 3 times before long term memory is invoked. Long term memory is defined as only 20+ minutes’ duration. While we all know exceptional learners who can receive instruction once and simply get it, these learners have likely learned their own trilogy memorization techniques, such as visualization, note taking, rehearsal, role playing or others.
Trilogy training curriculum must be deployed at least two-fold. Not only do we repeat any message 3+ times to our immediate leader learning participants, but we must also help them execute trilogy training with those they then train. All leader learning should not only consider the knowledge transfer to immediately trained leaders, but also a “train-the-trainer” approach.
3. Preserve pride and safe harbor while training leaders.
One of the biggest mistakes is internal training of leaders where hierarchy is present in the room. Seasoned leaders, especially, shut down critical questions when either their supervisors or those whom they supervise are present. In doing so, learning assessment and learning itself both suffer dramatically. While building trust between supervisor peers requires careful protocol from the experts, a relaxed mind accelerates learning and builds supervisor teamwork in a support system beneficial well beyond the immediate training exercises.
“Old school” leadership training started and ended with salesmanship training. While more than 16 effective leadership styles are profiled, a leader can only lead to the extent subordinates are willing to follow. Beyond salesmanship, therefore, substance is more important than ever. Supervisors who are transparently incorrect will lose team confidence fast. In many environments, new hires may have received more leadership training than those to whom they report. In many cases, either the talented new hire then resigns or is forced out by implying an ability to advance past the supervisor. Experts address these topics through “safe harbor” methodology.
4. When choosing a trainer, embrace that speaker and facilitator skills are reverse-correlated.
Unless a panel discussion, the act of speaking in front of hundreds or thousands most often requires an ability to disconnect from the audience and rehearse a scripted presentation. Some speakers are more of entertainers than subject masters, and while humor is engaging and promotes auditory and possibly visual learning, Q&A may suffer. These presenters most definitely have their effective place in the schemata of combination method training; however, be careful when choosing them for a rapport-building coaching role. Very few can effectively transition between the two.
For roundtable methodology, choose a facilitator who is a subject master and assessor who can meaningfully answer unanticipated questions and tailor curriculum to learning needs. Ensure that meeting skills and Gestalt protocol are simultaneously trained as not only immediate training enhancements but also to ensure company-wide meeting effectiveness improves as well.
5. Market leadership training as not only necessary but also an employee benefit.
The benefit component is easier to market when a third party trainer is brought in. However, every investment into the team is in fact a benefit to be boasted. Effective leadership training creates transformational leaders and improves career path and success rate for all trained and all reporting to the properly trained leaders. CEOs, newly promoted team leads, or anyone in between should find improved time management, job satisfaction and job success through effective leadership training.
Beyond these 5 key rules, leaders need regular refreshers and self-forgiveness in re-grounding to the basics. While leadership training needs to help leaders advance, leadership training for many needs to remind leaders of the rote redundancy which the intelligent mind would prefer to move past. Adaptation is critical. Employment law, motivation, corrective action, personality styles, six-hat thinking, appreciative inquiry, situational leadership and so many more topics are integral to leadership training, yet missed by many “cookie cutter” trainers. Do not settle for less than the best!
A learning styles survey is available at AskHRS.com/learningsurvey09
As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. Leadership training and assessment are delivered onsite for our employer clients. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites.
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Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 10, 2015
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When happy workers become complacent, work suffers. Simultaneously, demotivated workers are a substantial threat to business viability. A blueprint of empowerment exists.
Not long ago, many C-Suite leaders displayed skepticism when advised that ‘happy workers are productive workers.” To a limited extent, this skepticism served them well.
Per definition, motivation is a reason for behavior. The most widely accepted longstanding theories, such as Maslow and ERG, force us to question if “happy” is in fact the absence of motivation. If “happy” equates to Maslow’s self-actualization stage, why would happy workers be motivated to excel? Furthermore, is “happy” an effective measurement and business criterion?
Decades of studies have validated the pragmatic human capital approach to talent management, yet certain extremists are still peddling a “puppies and sunshine” approach to business. While “happy” workers are not necessarily a meaningful target, and are certainly not a lawful target, let’s explore a more prudent target.
Is “Happy” a Meaningful Criteria?
No astute business leader will ignore today’s five to seven-figure risk of incorporating terms like “happy” and “attitude” into performance criteria. Mood disorders are specifically protected by the EEOC, especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, evaluating happiness can be discriminatory per both statutory and case law. All performance appraisal toolsets that previously carried this language are no longer safe to deploy and require recrafting. With expert guidance, updated terminology equally protective of workplace outcomes is available.
Highbrow thinkers often characterize “happy” in the same realm of “utopia,” where “happy” exists as a non-sustainable target rather than a constant state of being. That being true, optimum productivity exists in the individual who can achieve fleeting happiness in the workplace and finds that work excellence is the path to attainment. That worker, in the proper performance management system, then repeatedly pursues the fleeting sense of “happy” through positive work behaviors, well-aligned with the organization’s goals. This assumes the worker is at socio-economic level beyond basic safety and security needs. An employee whose food and shelter are threatened may throw “happy” out the window quickly for extra money or job security.
Today’s expert business leader recognizes that motivation cannot happen without hope and incentive. Demotivation occurs when employees are not properly rewarded for positive performance. An employee who exceeds expectations may not repeat the excellence if behavioral reinforcement is absent. Rewards, however, must be commensurate with the performance. Both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards collaborate together in a well-aligned system, refraining from impinging upon the other’s efficacy. A bonus for only adequate performance, for example, strips intrinsic motivation and creates a derailing reward system. A bonus for no performance, as today’s federal government often promotes, most certainly strips motivation and threatens productivity.
A Relaxed Mind is a Productive Mind.
More meaningful than the elusive “happy” is cognitive ability. Productivity and creative problem solving are increased when negative noise is averted. The noise of fear, anxiety and negative emotion shut down the capabilities of most, while a few might benefit from a brief adrenaline rush through sympathetic nervous system response before crashing. Where a team member believes he or she can succeed and shall receive betterment as a result, and where the negative noise is quiet, the team member is exponentially more likely to demonstrate positive work behavior.
Quality of work life deliverables which facilitate problem solving are frequently deployed by companies who depend upon invention and creativity. Work campuses and work days designed to unlock mental energy flourish. Wellness is a powerful human asset which translates into positive corporate output.
And the Answer Is…
The discussion of “happy” workers is not only an irritant to many business pragmatists but also lacks legal risk management and, quite frankly, lacks tangible meaning. The real discussion is about workplace productivity as defined by motivation, environment and leadership. Again, motivation is a reason, and complacency will not do. Failure to deliver proper incentive will also not do. We advocate and deliver lifelong learning for leaders, accompanied by proper crafting and delivery of performance management systems. New leaders do not instinctively know how to lead and require solid formal training, often in a kinesthetic learning environment. In any talent-intensive organization, getting the right people doing the right things is the heartbeat of success. Keeping talent management at C-level authority is critical.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 14, 2015
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Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the skills gap and the phenomenon of how workers are failing to meet the standards of U.S. employers. It’s an evolving situation. I argued the point of, “how could there be a skills gap now when we were just dismissing people for being overqualified a few years ago?” You can read more about my viewpoint here.
Recently, however, a new study came out that showed a new aspect of this problem, and it has to do with everyone’s other favorite topic: the Millennials.
According to a recent study from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), U.S. Millennials drastically lag behind the rest of the world in areas of basic job and life skills. Out of 22 different nations, the Millennials of the United States were tied for third-last in the rankings of reading and writing, and were dead last in math and number skills. Ouch.
As a millennial myself, I can speak to this – I am CONSTANTLY finding people my age who don’t know proper grammar and writing styles, and I find that, when you give the average millennial something to read, they will often miss some of the key points included. The math, however, seems to be more of a person-to-person distinction. Regardless, this study’s findings are quite alarming. (Note: These are just my personal findings – I have no study at this time to back it up. Don’t worry fellow Millennials, I am going somewhere with this).
The ETS made this statement in their report: “Millennials, who will form the backbone of this nation's future, are not poised to lift us out of this predicament; in fact, the lack of adequate skills in this population has become a challenge for us to confront.”
Let’s put this into perspective - all of this data is even more surprising when we factor into account that this generation is on track to be the most highly educated generation (in terms of average years spent in school) EVER. Let that sink in – this generation is highly under-educated, all while simultaneously dumping billions of dollars into our education system every year. So, let’s ask the question, “Where does the problem lie? With the students, or with those who are paid to arm them with these necessary skills?”
This issue can only be the result of a problem that our country, and our government, has spent years discussing: education. Our education system, as a singular entity, is failing to teach our kids these basic skills. I’d argue that we’re even teaching kids the wrong things. For example, I’d be willing to wager that the average American millennial knows more about the biological anatomy of a plant than how to write a proper business letter. Odds are, a child is probably more likely to wind up in a career in corporate America than as a botanist, wouldn’t you say? (Note: I don’t feel that every individual education institution is at fault here, but this is an overarching problem amongst the masses.)
We can talk about all the usual topics and criticisms here: how everyone writes in shorthand, the seeming over-fascination with pop culture, etc. The truth is, however, that none of these issues describe the problem itself; rather, they are only symptoms of the problem. The culture of this world has taken us to a place where we haven’t been before, and we simply don’t know how to teach people to be successful in it…as of yet.
We don’t know how to teach a young adult how to learn important life skills while also being able to utilize the vast amount of technology that’s at their disposal. Simply enough – the technology is winning and is making the average citizen dumber. We need to not only adapt our education system to teach kids the right tools, but we also need to adapt to teach kids how to perform their jobs as their predecessors would have – with a high work ethic and the right knowledge base.
So, where’s the solution? We can’t necessarily wait for Congress to get out of gridlock, especially with this being the final year of presidency for Obama. Let’s take action more quickly; let’s confront the problem ourselves. The issue is education, right? And it’s not a lack of desire to be educated, otherwise this generation wouldn’t be spending so much time and money on it. The answer, rather, is in the right education.
We have a specific call to action: an education that delivers critical information not just in classroom style, but also kinesthetically in hands-on roundtable format; an education that doesn’t require 4 years’ experience and thousands of dollars to finance; an education that delivers information to students as they work, and allows them to improve, while on the job, for a fraction of the cost. Summarized, our call to action is to deliver an education that actually sinks in (sic, is taught in a way through which students will learn more effectively), and transfers the knowledge of what employers actually want their employees to know. It’s an education that’s taught by the business world for the business world.
Professional Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions. Like other education leaders, HRS has built a long history off of delivering the necessary information needed for employees to succeed. We know what employers want and need because we represent them, and they’ve told us. We can convey this information to those who want to learn, and these Millennials WANT to learn. They WANT to be educated. They WANT to be successful. Let’s give them the tools to do so.
HRS is proud to launch a series of professional development workshops tailored to address this specific issue. They are workshops which will teach individuals these aforementioned skills, and can do so for either an individual company or for a group of individuals. Let’s give the population the necessary skills they are spending thousands of dollars trying to obtain, but aren’t. Let’s give everyone the knowledge they need to keep a steady job. Let’s fix our workforce.
To learn more about HRS Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions for Professional Development, please contact us or visit our Workshops page for more info.
Please find a link to the ETS study here: http://www.ets.org/s/research/30079/index.html. It’s definitely worth a look.
Matthew Bare - Monday, April 20, 2015
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Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and recount the mindset of our society:
The year is 2009. The economy is in a massive struggle, and it is still trending downward. We see several busts, crashes, and every conceivable angle at which our financial sector could fail. Most Americans are either about to lose or have already lost a significant chunk of their life savings. Things look grim. Remember what that felt like? I’m sure you do…all too well.
It is at this time that a decree is handed out to corporate America, “Every business shall either adapt…or fail.” In order to survive during these crumbling economic times, a company had to scale back and had to become lean. Unnecessary waste and, more harshly, “unnecessary” jobs, had to be cut in order for the majority to survive and maintain their livelihoods. We all remember these times, and, chances are, most of us are still feeling the effects of these changes just a few years later.
As businesses were faced with these decisions, the ones who survived all seemed to make a common decision: just as the company had to become agile and adaptable, so did the workforce. What followed then was a decision to hire young, developable talent (a.k.a., adaptable talent). It was a smart decision; hire the young guns and develop them to be the people you will need in the future. This was not only smart because of the adaptability factor, but also because of the cost factor. Hiring a YP could be much cheaper than hiring a senior level employee.
This was such a smart decision that, as mentioned previously, numerous employers jumped on the bandwagon and made this a national trend. We saw this out of the majority of our clients here at HRS: many wanted to hire the younger, more developable, cheaper talent; it made too much sense to ignore.
Of course, the adverse effect of this was that the senior, higher trained employees became less in demand. At every turn, older workers seemed to be passed over for the younger talent. Employers no longer wanted to pay for the more experienced, more expensive talent. It wasn’t of the same value anymore, and it wasn’t as affordable (side note: this also likely explains the beginning of the YP boom, and also the analysis of the generational gap).
Our country, in unison, made the statement to a segment of our working population that all of their training, and all of their experience, was no longer valued and was no longer part of the equation to better our broken economy. Out of nowhere, U.S. workers who spent their entire career learning specific skillsets were told that they had, essentially, wasted their time. I’m sure you can understand how this would feel – or maybe this even happened to you directly.
Now, let’s fast forward to the present day: it’s 2015 and we have been in the midst of a multi-year discussion about how to fix the lack of talent and appropriate, usable knowledge base in our talent pool.
What happened to those workers we passed over that had that training? What happened to hiring younger talent, and developing them ourselves? What happened to our plan?
Short answer: the knowledgeable workers have become discouraged…pun intended.
Long answer: Our economy, almost instantaneously, went from a place of choosing not to hire the senior employees, and identifying advanced skill sets as “less than preferred,” to a place where suddenly those skills don’t exist, and haven’t existed for a long time.
We went from a place of telling the experienced worker that their skills were no longer valued, to a place of telling them that they never had the skills to begin with. Talk about being discouraged…
One of either two things is happening here, Corporate America: 1) We have forgotten about the discouraged worker, and we are wondering why the young professionals don’t have the hard (or soft) skills of a seasoned professional after only a couple years, or 2) Our demand for workers’ skills is rapidly changing and outpacing our supply. We have become too ethereal and ever-changing with our ideology of the “perfect worker,” and the common population just can’t keep up with the changing trends.
Either way, Corporate America, we have grown impatient. I’m sorry to say it. We signed up for the inexperienced, developable work force. We can’t be upset now that they don’t have the skills we are looking for…when we are the ones who haven’t given it to them. Our economy spent decades’ worth of time, energy, and resources training the workers of pre-2009 to have the skills we needed. Let’s either not let that work go to waste, or acknowledge the fact that we may need a few decades (not months or single years) to embrace the change.
Let’s give our workers a break. They’re not incapable; they’re just trying to keep up.
Matthew Bare - Friday, January 30, 2015
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On the night of August 17th, 2012, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate with his team losing 5-4 to the Colorado Rockies. It was a game between two last place teams well into the Major League Baseball season, and few people around the country were likely to witness what was about to happen.
Stanton was facing a young pitcher by the name of Josh Roenicke who was fairly effective in his role – keeping opposing batters off base. He was even more effective at an even more important role, preventing opposing batters from hitting a home run. He was a valuable piece to the Rockies bullpen, and a valued team member. After falling to a 1-2 count, Roenicke looked to have Stanton exactly where he wanted him…on the verge of an out, and on the verge of meeting his goal.
This is when the magic happened. Giancarlo Stanton sent the very next pitch deep into the bleachers in Left-Center field. The distance? An estimated 494 feet away. The longest home run in the majors since one of equal distance was hit in 2009. The pitch?
Why should it matter that a young player on a struggling baseball team hit a ball so far? Why should we care? This story matters because it illustrates something that we lose focus of all the time…
You don’t need to go after the fastball. You don’t need to swing at that pitch that’s straight and coming right at you. In fact, those pitches can often be the ones that are most enticing for pitchers to get batters to swing and miss at. In essence, they could be a “decoy.” The lesson here is that you don’t always have to lock in on the fastball.
Sometimes, it’s best to swing at the curveball.
Sometimes, that curve is going to give you the best opportunity to get a hit all day. At first, the curveball may shock you. You may not know exactly where it’s going. You may even get scared. However, if you do what Stanton did, if you size that pitch up and roll with it, you can hit that ball further than anyone else has ever dreamed of doing. You can not only meet your goals, but greatly surpass them.
When you’re strategizing and laying out your action plan, the standard inclination is to avoid the curves and focus only on what you know – the fastballs. We do this because the “fastballs” are exactly what we know them to be. We know exactly how fast and in what direction they’ll be coming in, and we’ll look to swing for the fences. We’ll look to tackle these incoming hurdles even if they’re well out of our comfort zone, because we know what they are. Sometimes, when you’re at the plate, the fastballs will all be garbage, but it’s the curveball that will provide the greatest opportunity for reward. You need to watch every pitch, you can’t ignore the fastballs, but you can’t ignore that curve.
You may think that it’s a wild card without any rhyme or rhythm, but it may just wind up being a slow, hanging pitch that you can knock right out of the park. The curveball may wind up being your greatest gift.
Let’s look at this using another analogy – language. The average person may be given the best, most helpful advice on the entire planet. However, if the advice were presented in a foreign language, we wouldn’t even blink twice at it. We would let it slip right past us. Why? Because we didn’t recognize it.
We as people tend to stick with only that which we know – the fastballs – and ignore what we don’t – the curve. What we need to remind ourselves of is that we’re missing so many opportunities by ignoring the curves. We may be missing a vital piece of information or a once in a lifetime opportunity that will give us our true “home run.”
We all need to do a better job of recognizing what is coming our way. Don’t just sit there and wait for the fastball when it may never come. Analyze what’s coming your way, recognize your opportunity, and hit the curve.
Matthew Bare - Wednesday, June 04, 2014
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No matter the organizational headcount, C-suite executives must focus due diligence upon talent management, workforce ROI and legal compliance. For any labor intensive organization, the keys to success rely upon increased workforce productivity, astute risk management and surgically cut talent dollars. In doing so, idle time, legal costs, under-utilization and any such wasteful spending must be avoided. Expert solutions exist and are catching on quickly. Those not paying attention will be left behind.
Employment law is ever-changing and requires daily research. Beyond pure legal advice, legal compliance experts need to deploy business acumen, organizational psychology and aligned mission commitment to deliver best decision tools and implementations. Top executives are earning spectacular ROI and competitive edge by finding their own perfect internal-external partnership balance. Some are outsourcing it all, but better options exist.
The options promoted here do not involve the outsourcing of the employment relationship. For many, outsourcing employees can be counterproductive to ROI. Employees want to feel part of a team, and in today’s world of “pay without play” where some label work a “choice,” employees often deliver commitment only with reciprocity and incentive. In many environments, outsourcing employees can be an expedient method of deteriorating engagement and productivity. Keeping workforce on the payroll and outsourcing certain or all HR management, however, can be a collaborative win for the entire organization.
Third party expert operations have long been enjoyed by employers of all sizes and cultures. Employers under 200 are eligible to partner for all HR operations. Employers of limitless size find third party partnership extremely beneficial for talent assessment, education, compliance certification and change leadership. Most employers will attain betterment through a stable, highly competent and dedicated HR team, rather than revolving part-time talent with limited versatility. Employers who embrace external experts enjoy competitive edge and visionary foresight. Top quality is accessed with keen cost control, unbiased expertise, widespread case study and flexible utilization.
As we re-evaluate the HR team, workforce headcount only matters so much. For the average employer, the optimal team is comprised of functional management plus specialists and support under the direction of a Chief HR Operating Officer (CHRO), a right hand to the CEO. CHROs can be internal or external partners. An established CHRO already succeeding is always to be treasured and protected, as premier talent is undoubtedly rare and worthy of appreciation.
When selecting a professional consultant as CHRO, employers should seek quick adaptability, C-suite proven excellence, vast third party expertise and, of course, flexible utilization for cost control. HR practitioners for top partner firms never stop learning, growing, embracing and delivering new value. Among many other deliverables, they bridge gaps and engage workforce into the company’s mission. CHROs should facilitate a highly effective and well-aligned supporting team.
Delivering fiscal due diligence, the average cost of third party partnership is less than the average cost of internalized operations. Done well, spectacular ROI is expected year one and builds substantially in consecutive years. Through selection of the right partner organization, the HR team stays in place, benefiting from learning curve balanced with constantly emerging fresh ideas and case studies. Access to dedicated expert talent on demand without idle time is a steadfast cost reduction and quality optimization technique. Impartial third party experts avoid bias and deliver information with enhanced credibility. Everyone wins.
In some organizations, CHRO and CFO responsibilities are merged. This yields mixed results. Merging CHRO and CFO roles can produce conflict of interest or limited perspective; however, both CHRO and CFO need a clear grasp of fiscal prudence, organizational psychology and legal compliance. Ideally, each of these practitioners is ready to deploy as needed but never underutilized. Neither role should be subservient to the other.
Some fabulous internal HR leaders exist in today’s companies, and many of them are existing or future HRS clients. They call upon preferred partners for compliance, talent assessment, education, decision tools, case studies, affirmative defense and third party expertise. Astute business leaders recognize these top performers and keep them engaged with incentive and growth. Partner organizations deliver the tools and opportunities for such growth.
Cookie cutter solutions are abused, overused and rarely appropriate in HR. Every employer is unique across widespread criteria, including but not limited to company brand, culture, history, demographics, business model and keys to success. Accredited consultants deliver the ability to assess and tailor programs which plug into these unique paradigms. Those who devote only to a single employer at a time and/or “job hop” do not necessarily deliver the third party expertise necessary to capture success opportunities.
While the essentials are somewhat universal, today’s business leaders enjoy a healthy range of HR options. Whether enjoying premier internal talent, premier external talent or a custom blend of the two, HR is never a remedial function. The HR function should be in the hands of those who deliver extraordinary legal knowledge, fiscal due diligence, talent management, lifelong learning for leaders, policy establishment, organizational communications, conflict reduction, operational efficiency and forward thinking, to name a few. HR is an executive function which, done poorly, can decimate an organization… and when done well, delivers impactful ROI, business sustainability and critical risk management. Today’s top executives keep it eye-level and empower extraordinary partners.
Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Chief Empowerment Officer. Summary Bio.
Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 05, 2014
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As the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest not only presents rock stars, but also presents a rock-star employer brand worthy of spotlight and emulation. While the widget shop next door might not enjoy intrinsic stardom, the same techniques that reinforce and sustain Summerfest’s brand are those that can make any employer shine. Successful talent management aligns with successful employer branding.
We spoke with Eric Heinritz, Director of Food & Beverage Operations for Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF), parent organization to Summerfest. Heinritz offered us some of his leadership team’s most successful talent engagement tools, and these keys to success are accessible by every employer. Too many employers, however, continue to miss these opportunities.
As Dallas-based strategy, marketing and brand expert Dar Hackbarth describes it, “You have a brand whether you want one or not. Your brand, simply put, is not your logo or your advertising tagline; it is instead how people perceive you.” Brand management relies upon daily leadership commitment and so much more. Hackbarth continues, “The good news is that you don’t have to book Prince, Foo Fighters or Tim McGraw to create a rock-star perception about your workplace.”
Milwaukee Word Festival hires a few thousand quality seasonal employees each year and gets it done successfully. The organization's empowerment of the year-round team creates a magnetic culture. "It can be difficult to find organizations that are willing to loosen the reins and truly empower their employees. Empowerment is often laid out as lip service or what I like to call the 'faux empowerment tactic'," offers Heinritz. "The employee should be integral to a decision making process that affects his or her actual job, not simply put on a committee that plans the annual holiday party or organizes the company softball team. If an employee does not feel a true sense of ownership, they are not truly empowered and are not as likely to be fully invested in the job."
Align with the External Brand.
Hackbarth reinforces that a company’s workforce is key to a strong, believable external brand. “People are the most powerful brand touchpoint you have. They are likely the most frequent and in-depth medium via which you interact with customers. You can try to change your brand through different graphics or words, advertising or social media, but if your people are saying and doing one thing while your words and graphics are saying another, you lose.” He observed that Summerfest does a good job of interweaving its longtime smiley-face logo within the smiling, happy demeanor of its employees. “Summerfest markets itself as a happy place to be, and they do a nice job of educating their employees to be living embodiment of that smiling brand.” He continues, “Neither good external messaging nor educated people come first; neither is more important than the other. Rather, it is the ‘chicken and the egg together’ that make a branding strategy successful.”
Listen to Employees.
"Listening sessions are another great tool. Not only are you going to discover the common issues that the team struggles with, you will also likely gain some fresh ideas," delivers Heinritz. "The best listening sessions are those that are not run by a team's direct supervisors. The team is most likely to open up and freely share concerns and ideas when that intimidation is removed. It may be necessary to utilize an experienced moderator who will be able to keep the group focused on practical criticism and foster those fresh ideas."
To Eric's point, third party facilitated learning sessions continue to emerge in popularity. With an unbiased expert deployed, the meeting has structure and contribution without fear of reprisal. HRS regularly substitutes roundtables in lieu of seminars. The participation not only elicits important team ideas but also delivers empowerment and augments learning. Further supporting participation, most people are not auditory learners but rather kinesthetic learners. Heinritz adds, "Most importantly, these listening sessions will require follow through by management." Leadership response and positive energy are the building blocks to successful consecutive sessions.
Listening can also be in written form, and employee surveys have been widely used by countless employers over many, many decades. Heinritz discusses his company's survey success. "The addition of an employee survey last year proved to be one of the most powerful and impactful tools we have implemented in years.” Well-crafted surveys can evaluate processes, leadership protocol and team effectiveness. Surveys can be voluntary and better present themselves as an employee benefit where voluntary. However, those reluctant to volunteer can be just as or more important to contribute. Heinritz tells us the MWF survey was voluntary and offered protected anonymity, along with an option for further discussion with management. When crafting a survey, be certain to add only those questions employees are qualified to answer and management is willing to address. We caution against questions calling forth evaluation of practices outside respondents' knowledge base. However, well-crafted questions that anticipate response can assess impact upon employee engagement, and well-crafted questions manage expectations of potential outcomes. Similar to 360 reviews, language and anonymity must be carefully considered.
Build your Brand into your Employees’ DNA.
Taking the idea of employees as brand missionaries further, Hackbarth added that “the best companies bake their external brand into their core employee values,” He cited Harley-Davidson as an example of a company that does this well. “Most people intuitively get the Harley brand. What they likely don’t know is that the brand has its roots within five core company values: tell the truth, be fair, keep your promises, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity. These operating values are ingrained internally, they emanate outward from employees, they interweave into marketing efforts, and the world then sees them as the encouragement of freedom and straightforward American values, values we’ve come to associate with Hogs and denim.”
Hackbarth also cited an aviation company he worked with to help rebuild their external brand “from the employee out.” The company developed several ongoing education sessions to emphasize the ideas of brand selling, brand service, and daily brand behavior. These sessions were mandatory for new and long-time employees alike. The company reinforced the training by creating a quarterly recognition program in which rank-and-file employees nominated each other for specific acts of exemplifying the brand. “Sales and customer satisfaction numbers increased measurably as a result,” he said. “There are significant bottom-line benefits to having a workforce that all walks the talk.”
Employer Brand Management Delivers ROI.
Employers like Summerfest understand that getting their employees involved creates success for all. Techniques like the ones mentioned above are universal keys to success and have been studied and validated for more than half a century.
An employee who volunteers to weigh in on his or her own departmental tasks should certainly be heard; that employee repetitively performs a task first-hand and is therefore integral to decision tools in process design. Not only is that information valuable to process evaluation, but the employee will also feel substantially valued.
HRS has been “rocking” employee involvement training for more than 30 years, starting with Quality Circles in the early 1980's. We continue to deliver programs such as these herein, and we've had the good fortune of educational collaborations with many top employers including Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Hackbarth summarizes, “If you create ways to align your external brand with your employer brand, and nurture employees who become a living embodiment of your external brand, you’ll amplify everyone’s perception of you and turn the volume up on your bottom line.” Hackbarth has guided countless employers in turning their brands “up to 11.”
For more information regarding our feature experts, please visit summary bios for each...
Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, March 05, 2014
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