« October 2009 | Main | December 2009 »

November 25, 2009

Why Should I Bother Staying?

Blog cartoon 11-25-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

There are some companies that were truly broke that decided they couldn’t give their workers cost-of-living adjustments; and then there were those companies that were struggling, but could have afforded (with a little executive-level sacrifice) to give their employees a financial boost, but chose not to. That choice may soon (if there’s poetic justice) come home to roost, as the cheapness they thought they could get away with (so as to not shave off a million from their already-multi-million dollar salaries) results in the loss of the talent they depend on to carry out their plans.

What’s your company doing about it?  I was just talking the other day with a friend who lamented with me the stupidity of companies that equate incentive and motivation strategies with slacking off. They seem to believe you can’t be working if you’re enjoying yourself. At one company, for instance, workers need to make up for time out of the office that they spend traveling on behalf of the company. The problem is the trips weren’t directly related to the worker’s primary job. They were great career opportunities that afforded the person a chance to explore the world, and, so, therefore, have to be paid for somehow (whether in vacation time or extra time working) lest they—gasp—be seen as incentives. Would it be the end of the world to allow a motivated, high-achieving employee to take advantage of a great work-related opportunity to travel without worrying it will be interpreted as an incentive?  You laugh at this extreme example, but it’s a true story related to me by my friend this past weekend.

The backlash against incentives, and other rewards-oriented retention strategies, was too broad and over-generalized. It isn’t that lavish incentives aren’t needed; it’s that the wrong people were getting them. The executives who already earn million dollar-plus salaries?  They’re not the ones who need the fabulous opportunities and luxury afforded by incentive travel, gifts, and end-of-the-year bonuses. Those employees who enjoyed the big rewards already were being rewarded with big-time salaries—for jobs they happened not to be doing too well given the hobbled state of their companies.

The executive retreats are great for leadership development and strategizing, as it’s good for brainstorming to get your “strategizers” (the ones you pay to think of ideas they don’t have to do the work for) out of the office, and it doesn’t hurt if the strategizing happens to take place in, say, Maui, HI, versus, Hackensack, NJ, but that’s not where retention and motivation focus should be aimed. Instead, train the retention efforts on those who do the work to carry out the plans, and occasionally come up with great ideas (when you’re open enough to hear those ideas and give them a try). Why waste time incentivizing and retaining those who do nothing but attend meetings and make speeches announcing their ideas?  With the economy not likely to soar for a while, it’s time to drop from the payroll (or at least the high-priced retention efforts) those whose only job function is “high-level strategy.”

A good experiment is to try a corporate culture makeover in which the employees most invested in are those whose primary responsibility is doing work. At the same time, stress to these workhorses that the bar will now be held higher for them, with a little “high-level” strategizing expected of them, too. In the tough new economy, it’s not enough to be just a workhorse or just a strategizer. Everyone—even those at the entry- or mid-level—have to be both. The sooner you teach that skill of strategizing and working at the same time, the sooner your payroll will be bursting with new pools of (truly) high-potential workers.

In the midst of our lamenting, my friend and I wondered what it would be like if companies with low budgets and concerned public relations departments at the very least treated high-performing workers to dinner at a gourmet restaurant once every six months. The events could be called “Hard Worker Dinners” as opposed to “High-Potential” dinners (“high-potential” has come to mean little more than a well-connected club at some companies). These events might involve, for instance, the company reserving a room at a great local restaurant to treat maybe 50 top workers from the entry and mid-level ranks (those not already rewarded with astronomical salaries). Those given this honor would be recognized in a mass e-mail to the whole company to inspire and shame lazier workers. It’s hard to believe, but even in this cutthroat economy with its dearth of jobs, there are still lazy people getting paid for full-time employment. I’ve seen it myself.

The worst part about retention and motivation/incentive strategies, in addition to their enjoyment too often reserved for those who can afford to treat themselves, is the ones the company seeks to hold onto lots of times has nothing to do with hard work. A lot of times the ones the company bends over to please are just relatives or friends of the executive board and well connected. Is that too bleak an assessment of mine, or do you think I’m on target?

Then, of course, you have to consider those who are not relatives or friends with the “right” people. There are those who got where they are by agreeing with everything. It sounds but bad, but don’t worry, that’s your next generation of high-level strategizers.


What are you doing to retain your best workers?  Are your retention strategies aimed at the employees who can help your company the most?

November 18, 2009

Lowly Old Me


[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

In a down economy, the wisdom of the mid- and entry-level employee is akin to that of a dog. Cute in the poor lowly thing’s attempt to communicate but not to be taken seriously. The serious decision-making must be left to the wise few who brought the company to its current financial state. The economy in tatters, and most companies still waiting to profit from the rumor of a recovery, that’s funny thinking. How brilliant could the world’s business leaders be if their decisions are what got us to the place our economy currently is?

Granted, there’s no telling whether any of us would have made better decisions in their place given the same circumstances, but shouldn’t the experience have humbled company executives enough to keep their ear open to suggestions from all ranks of the company?  The funniest thing is when a department, or the company as whole, wins an award, or is recognized in some way, and hordes of employee are squished into the celebratory photo—in deference to the “teamwork” catch phrase, but with little reality behind the “team” part of it.  The “work” part was no doubt carried out by the company’s underlings, but most had no say as to their assignments or the end-goal of their labors. If they spoke up, it was only to tell their manager what a great idea the extra work was.

Is there a way to make it better? First, I wonder why company leadership often is so hesitant to act on recommendations from any but fellow executives?  Is it a matter of arrogance, or is it the necessity to whittle down decision-making to just one a small group of people to avoid chaos?  Wisdom from the un-anointed is frightening, but what about collective wisdom from those outside the inner ring?  Sure, your executives can’t listen to every entry-level kook who comes knocking, but what about a whole band of entry-level kooks, who all noticed the same customer service problem on your front-lines? The collective wisdom of those still outside your executive igloo (an isolated-seeming place that reminds me of the mind-set of most corporate executives) is not only worth listening to—it’s a matter of listen-or-suffer-the-consequences.

Let’s say you sold Self-Actualizing Ice Cream. Machines that made ice cream that showed you your reflection as you consumed it, and then, at the bottom of every cup of Self-Actualized Ice Cream was a message about finding your inner-self. The business was such a success (who wouldn’t want to find themselves while gorging on ice cream?), you had a large store, in addition to a mail order business, in which those in search of leading a more satisfying life ambled around looking for ice cream they could see their reflection in. The problem was certain ice creams not only weren’t showing the consumer her reflection; they were showing her an unflattering distortion of her image due to a problem with the store’s lighting. Front-line workers had already spoken to their managers about the problem, and sent multiple e-mails to those at the company responsible for product development and marketing, but no response was heard, and the embarrassing problem persisted. Those at the store in search of self-actualization were leaving upset.

You could argue the front-line workers who reported the problem don’t understand that, due to budgetary constraints, and an already-rolled out marketing campaign, there is little the company can do about the gaffe, but the information they supply you will aid future product development. You could still profit from the information they give you without acknowledging their contribution (don’t want them to get too big for their britches, after all), but then you squander a great leadership development opportunity. When those on the front-line and in the company’s middle ranks take the initiative to contact company executives about a front-line problem, a ready-made pool of high-potential applicants is being delivered at your feet.  Never mind “hand-picked” recommendations from management, those bold and proactive enough to speak up about your company’s lackluster performance are the best candidates for future leadership slots.

To ensure your company creates a culture that encourages those outside executive ranks to offer commentary and problem-solving about the direction your company is taking and the products you’re delivering to customers, create an elite group of high-potentials that can only be gained access to via front-line problem-solving and improvement. This elite group would have opportunities beyond what your run-of-the-mill hi-pos are given. That means opportunities to sit in on executive strategy sessions and maybe even participate in leadership retreats usually reserved for the company’s executive board.

It isn’t enough to tell your lowest-level employees their suggestions are welcome; you have to demonstrate the importance of their input via promotions and formal recognition. At too many companies it’s just the reverse—the ones who are rewarded with promotions, recognition, and advancement are those who “don’t rock the boat”— those at the low-level who go along silently with executive strategy, even when they know it’s not going to work.  Unless there’s an issue of immorality at play, everyone interested in preserving their job has to go along with executive strategy, but it’s worth noting which, if any, of your employees are engaged enough to make alternate suggestions for consideration, and do so in a way that doesn’t anger managers. Those bold, diplomatic few are the ones worth keeping.

“Yes” men and women on your front-lines stroke the egos of executives. But to your customers, they—and the “brilliant” strategy your company leadership has asked them to follow—are all the more reason for your best customers to say “no” next time.


What does your company do to ensure the suggestions of entry- and mid-level employees are heard and, when worthwhile, acted on?

November 11, 2009

Diversity Dunce

Blog cartoon 11-11-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

If you don’t know the definition of something, does that mean you can’t do it? At first, I guess, you’d have to say it would be impossible to do anything you aren’t sure how to define, but on second thought, maybe it’s not so unreasonable your employees could pull off something whose definition they don’t know. That’s the dilemma of implementing a diversity initiative. How much of the meaning of “diversity” is intuitive, and how much of it has to be concretely defined for your organization?

My definition of corporate diversity is an organization with employees and management that don’t look like they all come from the same intra-married backwoods village. Hopefully they don’t look like any kind of backwoods village, but at least they shouldn’t look like one with so much intra-marriage they can’t think straight. It means there are people of different races and ethnic groups, but also of different socio-economic backgrounds. It’s no feat to have a “diverse” company if they’re all from Ivy League schools, or all from “nice” neighborhoods. That kind of homogeneity of backgrounds would result in stale and exclusionary ideas, right? 

Sometimes I think the “corporate culture” movement of establishing Such-and-Such Company Standards has a detrimental effect on diversity because it encourages a culture in which people may be of different races and ethnic groups, but they all have the same ideas and approach to life. Let’s say one employee would like to decorate her cubicle with inflatable green turtles, some of which pop up over the cubicle wall, and another employee enjoys a spare and clean cubicle with nothing but an unflattering picture of his wife and embarrassing baby picture of himself?  Is such variance OK?  Or is it detrimental to establishing a consistent corporate culture?  It’s detrimental to creating a consistency of culture, yet it’s diverse. Those two employees most likely won’t have the same ideas or approach to getting your company’s business done, and that probably would be to the benefit of your company. After all, if you want the greatest chance for success, it’s best to spread out your approaches and resources, like those people who buy 500 lottery tickets instead of just one to increase their chances of winning. Hopefully your company’s chances of success aren’t as much of a shot in the dark as attaining a winning lottery ticket, but it’s a statistical truth that the more of a thing you put into whatever you’re trying to win, the greater your chances. So, what does it say about your company’s chances for success if your employees all promote the same culture, and by extension, the same ideas?

The worker of the green turtles and the worker of the ugly pictures would still have different ideas regardless of whether they were allowed to decorate their cubicles as they wished, but I think the green turtles lady would be hesitant to bring her ideas forth if the corporate culture made a point of celebrating work approaches epitomized by the ugly pictures man. Is the “consistency” of your corporate culture, and the homogeneity it’s promoting in spite of your touted “diversity” initiative, silencing those with new ideas that could help propel your next blockbuster innovation?

How many of your workers have the same definition of diversity as me?  I guess most just think of “diversity” means hiring and promoting people of different races and cultures. If your company does happen to have a truly diverse mindset, however, no definition is necessary because it’s been internalized by your employees and managers to the point that it’s an instinct or reflex to be open-minded. Individuals in that kind of enlightened company don’t need to be reminded to value people of other races or ethnic groups because they’re always looking for and excited by new ideas—and the place you get new ideas, they would have learned from being open-minded, is by interacting with people who have different life experiences from their own.

If you define diversity, do you risk limiting it? Once you define it, after all, it doesn’t mean anything beyond whatever you’ve said it means, and that, ironically enough, is just the opposite of true diversity. True diversity has an infinitely wide scope of people, ideas, and work approaches. Do you agree with that, or do you think the definition of diversity has to be limited or have parameters set around it?

Companies seem afraid of free-for-alls, and I’m not sure why. What if employees came in at all different times of the day, wearing all different types of outfits, and doing their work in all different types of ways? Assuming ethics or laws aren’t breached, shouldn’t you judge them according to outcomes rather than methodologies?  You could always give up your stifling “corporate culture” rules for six months, as an innovation test, and see what happens. If it’s a disaster, you could just go back to the old corporate culture ways, right?  Or would it be too late because Corporate Pandora’s Box will have been opened?

So much to consider when it comes to diversity. But that’s the way it should be. If there weren’t so much to think about (and define?), it would just be your most uninspiring employee’s most uninspired idea repeated like a programmed robot.


Does your company define diversity for employees, or do you think they intuitively know what it means?  What role, if any, does your “corporate culture” play in promoting diversity?

November 04, 2009

Merger Malaise

Blog cartoon 11-4-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Sometimes when you hear about an impending merger, and you're one of the workers who will be affected by it, rather than one of the decision-makers who arranged it, you feel a malaise coming over you.

You wonder, if you're in a close-knit industry, whether you'll end up working again with a manager or colleague you fled from at a previous job. It's not a charitable feeling (I heard it's best to be forgiving), but it makes perfect sense from a survivalist point of view. You survived them once, but could you do it twice?  If you're lucky enough to avoid working with the dreaded ones again, there may be new dreaded ones brought into your path. You may end up with new colleagues that ruin your formerly happy work environment. What if your work group inherits a less talented, less hard working employee from the company you merged with who also happens to have a higher title and salary than you, and will get to keep the title and salary after joining your group?  In other words, automatically a higher title and salary than you, though you've been there longer, and work harder?  What if, as I've ranted about before on this blog, he's one of those "nice guys" no one wants to get rid of?  A lot of irritation will befall you in that case post-merger.


Even more dangerous is ending up with a malicious (not just a slacker but a malicious and manipulative slacker) in your merged work group who is happy to bolster herself by undercutting your efforts. Then, of course, on top of that, the analytical (slightly neurotic) merged worker will wonder about whether she will inherit a new boss who will make her work life not as much fun (trying to find a diplomatic way of saying "miserable").


With so much unknown, including whether the newly merged company will continue to have need of you at all as an employee, it's no wonder your employees' productivity probably will slip during the merger or consolidation process. Is there any way around it?


What if your company came up with incentives or work goals specifically for the period of time it is transitioning as a merged unit with the newly acquired/parent company?  You could acknowledge to workers the anxiety of the situation, and the potential for work productivity to drop off, and offer them incentives such as added merit increases if they meet newly established work goals. The goals should relate to the company's new position as a merged entity. Workers could be challenged, for instance, with coming up with new marketing or product ideas for their new company, or maybe they could be tasked with learning about the company they're merging with, and coming up with ways to keep work processes flowing smoothly (their ideas, in other words, for how their work group could be changed or enhanced following the merger to increase, or at least not interrupt, productivity). Let them know the more entrepreneurial of their ideas will be rewarded monetarily. It's awful and frightening to have to promise cash, but it would be worth it if it keeps employees engaged and hard working during the merger, and taps their brains for ways to make the merger work better, right?


Also find a way to assuage fears about meeting a horrible manager or co-worker again at the newly formed company. You need to find a way to address employee fears of their work life getting adversely affected by the merger. Let workers know as soon as possible about new additions to their work group, and find out if any of them have dealt with these people before. If they have, encourage the employees to be honest in their feelings about them. If they have negative feedback about an employee your company will inherit through the merger, try your best to find a way to keep the individual away from the employee who is complaining about him. If you can't do that, then think of a way to monitor the situation so there's no chance for abusive behavior by the person your current employee so dreads. If it looks like the potential problem person will be a manager to the concerned employee, be sure to make that person's boss (the one who makes decisions about whether he gets fired or receives a raise) someone else.


To keep things simple, why merge and change work groups at all?  If a work group is functioning at an optimal level, why fix what isn't broken?  Instead of adding unnecessary baggage to the group, you could create an auxiliary or additional, separate group for the merged employees. These two work groups would then divide up projects that fall within the same area of your operations, so you get the extra manpower without creating potential interpersonal problems.


A merger can be positive if you end up with additional resources, but as one who is by nature wary of mankind, it seems as though the best of those additional resources probably aren't human. The additional sources of funding for projects, and the existing business partnerships at your new sister company that you may be able to tap into, is exciting. What's not exciting?  Sharing a cubicle wall with Crazy Sally again.


What workforce management tips can you offer companies planning a merger or acquisition?  Does productivity have to suffer?

November 03, 2009

Do you collaborate?

We are assembling a group of companies with existing active Second Life programs interested in collaborative training / collaborative applications of SL.
If you have an interesting project in one of the following areas:

    * company's knowledge base
    * development of e-learning modules
    * personnel reviews and testing
    * new hire orientation program (organization's structure and possible career paths)
    * brainstorming meetings (collaborative thinking and mind mapping)
    * project management
    * and, perhaps, other interesting applications

that will benefit from collaborative work and availability of graphical interactive representations of a concept, procedure, process, or structure you may qualify for
evaluation program of the new Collaborative Knowledge Management tool.
Please, see details at http://tinyurl.com/collaborate-in-SL and contact me via LinkedIn or SL (AHG Hallard)
(if tinyURL does not work, here it is in the full form: http://second-life-training.ahg.com/knowledge_management/Enterprise_Knowledge_Management_and_Collaboration_Solution_evaluation.htm

Here is also a full description of the Collaborative Knowledge Management:  http://second-life-training.ahg.com/knowledge_management/Enterprise_Knowledge_Management_and_Collaboration_Solution.htm The best thing about cKM in my not-so-humble opinion :-) is that it is accessible both from Second Life and the regular web interface)

November 02, 2009

Social Media in Corporate Settings

Several consumer-based technologies can be leveraged for using social media in a corporate setting.

  • One idea is to use a wiki as a replacement for the cumbersome and out-of-date course manuals. The information can be easily updated, available to anyone who has permission to view and is time and date stamped.
  • Another ideas is to use Twitter (I know, I know, you don't care what I am having for lunch). Don't use twitter in the traditional way where someone answers the question, "What are you doing?" Instead use it to have a conversation with co-workers and ask the question "What are you thinking about?" or "What problem are you trying to solve?" 
  •  Use a virtual world to conduct a role-play over distance. These worlds allow you create characters, dress those characters and place them into realistic situations. Authentic learning in authentic situations.  
  • Use a blog to have experts give briefings on how they problem solve or how they approach customer interactions. 
 Here are some other valuable links

Karl Kapp is the Assistant Director of Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies
Logoggg_2 and a professor of instructional technology. See his own blog, Kapp Notes for information on the convergence of learning and technology. He is the author of the book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning.