Archive | June, 2013

How to use “HR Bling” to good effect

19 Jun

OK, so we know that either inherently, or as practised, or both, pretty much everything HR has relied upon for managing talent in recent decades turns out to be ineffective, misleading and in some cases, damaging. We also know about the sunk cost trap in decision-making – sticking with something that doesn’t work, because you have already invested so much into it, financially and emotionally. So should we simply junk all the performance appraisal systems, competency frameworks, nine box (or 16 box) grids and other paraphernalia HR has accumulated?

That, I suggest, is once more the wrong answer to the wrong question. The right question is: How can we use some or most of this stuff to create the kind of developmental dialogues that create a dynamic, self-driven talent wave effect? And the right answer is to be critically creative in how we adapt and adopt processes for talent and performance management.

Take performance appraisals, for example. A new book by Australian Tim Baker does a pretty thorough demolition job on the basic assumptions and practice of the yearly appraisal. In its place, he proposes a series of five conversations, spread out across the year, each one looking at a different contextual factor affecting performance. These are the work climate (including team morale and job satisfaction), the individual’s strengths and talents, opportunities for growth, learning and development planning, and innovation and continuous improvement (how the employee and the manager can work towards improving efficiency and effectiveness of the business). Baker is not proposing getting rid of performance feedback – he is simply trying to create an environment where it can be more continuous, more honest, and more recognizant of contributory factors (such as the boss himself or herself) and still retain an element of pragmatic structure.

Similarly, while the nine-box grid is near to valueless as a means of making decisions about people’s promotability, the basic elements can be used to stimulate constructive developmental and career dialogue. The keys to using it effectively are that:

  • The employee is involved actively in the process
  • They select, in consultation with their boss, whose 360 feedback they would value
  • They are helped to establish where on the matrix others see them
  • There are no boxes  — just arrows from where they are perceived to be now, to where they want to be. (It can be helpful for the thickness of the arrows to indicate relevant commitment to these transitions as developmental goals.)
  • The conversation is not about where they are but about the journey they want to undertake

The impact here is to turn a secretive, judgemental instrument into an open developmental one.

So what can HR do to replace the grid as a means of identifying talent? Again, wrong question! A better question is what can HR do to help talent identify itself? And here there are lots and lots of practical solutions, including, shadow boards, wider use of project teams , encouraging contributions to intranet dialogues aimed at resolving difficult business issues, creating internal Facebook-like personal sites on the corporate intranet, and practical support to help employees better understand and link who they are and what they value with what they want to achieve in their careers.

And what about competency frameworks? As practised, they reduce the reservoir of talent, undermine diversity and focus attention on the past rather than the future. The relevant question here is not What generic competencies can we identify and try to measure?  Answering that question leads to the misguided belief that the information provides a sound basis for making judgements about readiness for promotion. It is How can we capture the evolving competencies required for each key job role in a way that will facilitate people in developing their potential?  This recognises that what’s required in many of the most critical job roles will not be the same in the medium term and it creates the opportunity to involve the employee in the analysis of “what good looks like now and tomorrow” – making the competency framework both relevant to them and owned by them. If judgements are needed about readiness for promotion, then these can more accurately be made by observing learning in the role, against the background of an integrated personal development plan and business development plan. In short, the competency approach can be made to wok by ensuring it becomes personal, flexible and something done with the employee, rather than to them.

One of the benefits of reassessing the role of “HR bling” is that it frees up HR time to do more important things. In one public sector organization, recently, for example, we discussed the role of diversity measures – in particular, what was changing in the proportion of women and men at each level of the hierarchy. Here the cathartic question was: How does this data actually help you bring about change? It didn’t – it simply told them whether the problem was getting better or worse. A better approach was to identify and measure significant enablers of change. For example, if top management identified quarterly the project teams that had most potential for reputation building, it was quite simple to measure the proportion of men and women in these teams, and the proportion that were led by women. This was data that could more readily lead to direct, positive intervention at the point where decisions were made about project team composition.

So, no, it’s not essential to throw away everything and start again. But it is important to re-examine talent management processes and work out what genuinely does and doesn’t add value. Some useful questions to that end include:

  • What do we really need to control and what would be better to enable?
  • What information do we really need, to release people’s potential?
  • What can HR do to enable talented people take greater charge of their careers, to recognise opportunities and to seize them?
  • If we think a process works, how do we assess the robust of the evidence? (Or are we only seeing the evidence we want to?)
  • And, most important of all: Are we asking the right questions?

© David Clutterbuck, 2013

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Using analogy in coaching and mentoring

19 Jun

Coaches and mentors use many tools to stimulate the learning dialogue. Among the most frequent, though we are often unaware of it, is the process of analogy.  An article by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander explains that “an apt analogy allows a person to treat something new as if it were familiar.  If one is willing to let go of the surface attributes and concentrate on shared properties, one can take advantage of past knowledge to deal with things never seen before.”

They explain that analogies are central to human cognition and that we generate them continuously every few seconds – indeed, most of our language is composed of analogies. Analogies provide a shorthand for simplifying complex thoughts – for example, “Which path shall we take?” Analogies are the basis of concepts  (“fluid mental structures that, through many successive analogies, evolve continuously”) and are therefore essential to learning.

Coaching and mentoring can be conceived of as ways to help people develop more helpful, more insightful concepts, so it’s not surprising that coaches and mentors often seek to find an apt analogy that will help a coachee or mentee grasp a new concept or set them thinking in a new direction. Given that we all want to become better coaches or mentors, is it therefore possible to become more effective in using analogy? The following guidelines may help.

  1. Seek first to help the client access their own analogies, using questions such as:
    1. What does this remind you of?
    2. What similarities do you see between this and what you have experienced before?
    3. If the client is struggling to understand their situation or their thoughts, you can explore their analogies in greater depth. If, for example, they say, “I can see light at the end of tunnel”, ask them: “What do you notice about that light?”, or “How far will you have to go to reach it?, or even more challenging, “Is the light coming towards you or are you going towards the light?”
    4. If appropriate, expand the analogy – for example, “Who else is in the tunnel with you?”
    5. If you intend to offer an analogy of your own, try first to understand why and how it works for you. Then consider how helpful it will be in opening up the client’s insight. Remember that some analogies have very different meanings in different cultures. (For example,  “put an issue on the table” can mean opposite things to an American and a European.) If you think it will be helpful in introducing a new perspective, try to avoid phrases such as “It’s like…” (even if you add “for me”, you are in danger of imposing your perspective). Do use phrases, such as “What similarities can you see with…”, which are less directive in tone.
    6. Try to become aware of the analogies you use most frequently. What can you learn about our own thinking processes and assumptions from your pattern of use of analogy? If appropriate, record a few coaching or mentoring sessions to do this analysis.

Using analogy is so fundamental to how we think and who we are, that it’s easy to take it for granted. Like many other mental processes, however, making it more conscious can make it more powerful.

How social networks affect careers and succession planning

5 Jun

Research into social networking suggests that people can on average manage a maximum of 150 strong connections and a much larger number of weak connections (Dunbar, 2010). Strong connections tend to be characterised by a higher quality and frequency of communication, greater trust, greater sense of shared purpose in one or more areas, and more likelihood of putting oneself out for the benefit of the other party. This applies both to individuals and to organizations – studies of company networks show that geographical separation is not a major impediment to the creation and nurturing of informal networks. (Casper & Murray 2002). Weak connections turn out to be more important than might be obvious, especially when it comes to finding new jobs (Granovetter, 1973)

In the context of career development and succession planning, there is potential in being more proactive at both individual and organizational levels. Employees may use their strong connections in other firms either to identify career opportunities directly, or to gain access to these people’s own strong or weak connections. When they maintain strong connections within organizations they have left, they may be re-recruited, having gained valuable additional experience and expertise. In industries, where employees tend to move between firms relatively quickly (for example, merchant banking or management consultancy) companies save millions of dollars annually because ex-employees turn to their former bosses or mentors for advice when they are ready for their next move. Although there is little empirical evidence to support the proposition, anecdotal evidence suggests that people, who devote time and energy to building career-oriented social networks experience faster career progress.

Social networking provides opportunities to engage with a much larger number of weak connections than ever before. And if each of your strong connections is prepared to contact their strong and weak connections on your behalf, the size of your secondary network can potentially be tens of thousands.

There seem to be five main reasons why people build social networks around their job and career needs:

  • Task information – what you need to know to be effective in your current roles
  • Task achievement – support in doing your current roles
  • Career – Linking with people, who can play an active role in furthering your career objectives
  • Development – meeting people, who can help with your personal growth
  • Mutual support/ kinship – the comfort and confidence that comes from knowing that there are other people who share the same issues and concerns as you do, and who can offer mutual help and learning

Research suggests that social networking builds self-esteem (Ellison, date) probably because it generates a sense of being supported, even though most of the connections may be weak links.

In general, most social networking is unfocused, both in terms of what people give to their networks and the rewards they look to from them. If proactive network management has wider job and career benefits, however, there is a case for employers to support employees by providing skills training in network management, access to wider people resources, and technology platforms that support networking. So, for example, they might:

  • Promote communities of interest around specific job roles, technical specialisms or other areas of perceived commonality, such as gender, nationality, or disability. These communities need not be limited to the organization – the key question is: “Who do we collectively and individually know, who could add value to this network?”
  • Assign members of the talent wave the task of developing networks that will provide access to potential recruits, to market or technological information, or some other valuable resource
  • Help employees add value to existing social networks by, for example, facilitating the wider dissemination of responses to individual requests for information, or by creating topic bulletins that network members will want to circulate to other networks, of which they are a part.

Employers can develop closer cooperation with non-competitive strong connections, to enlarge and enhance the collective talent pool. Large Japanese companies facing difficult times have sometimes loaned employees to companies in their supply chain. The benefits of this include retaining talent, maintaining relationships with key business partners, and two way importing of know-how, particularly in the context of quality management and cost saving.

Making this informal process more transparent could have major advantages for all the collaborating organizations. Yes, there is some danger of losing key people, but this is at least balanced by having a wider pool of talent to draw on. Moreover, the arguments about holding on to talent have in many cases already been had, in great depth, in the context of moving talent between divisions and departments within the same organization.

The critical questions here include:

  • Where is the best developmental opportunity for a member of the talent wave, regardless of which organization they currently work in?
  • What leadership qualities and characteristics, skills and experienced will be needs common to the organizational partners?
  • What kind of collaborative developmental programmes (such as action learning sets) can we create that will develop talent waves that stretch across organizational boundaries?
  • How can we use employees’ personal social networks to reinforce this corporate collaboration and vice versa?
  • How can we ensure that talented employees look first for new career roles within the consortium?
  • How can we support and sustain social networks across all the organizations, so opportunities become known to those employees, who might benefit most from them?

This “free trade area” in talent may seem radical, but we already see practical examples of similar collaboration in people development. Companies, such as Lloyds TSB and An Post, the Irish post office, have gone outside corporate boundaries and into their network of strong connections to find mentors for talented employees. Public sector organizations in some local areas of the UK, such as Suffolk, have combined resources to create mutually accessible pools of coaches and/or mentors. The National Health Service, police, local government and higher education have been particularly active in this regard.

Integrating the organizational and employee social networks

For many organizations, the main engagement with employee social networks is to mine Facebook pages for potential employees, or for evidence of employee misbehaviour. It’s not surprising, therefore, that people tend to feel that their employer should “keep their noses out of” their social networks. A more practical and socially acceptable strategy is to create platforms, on which work-related forums can evolve naturally and organically, with the minimum of observation and control by the organisation. The role of the leadership and HR in such forums is to cast the seed – for example, by sharing issues and concerns and asking people for comment – then to step back and let it grow. It’s important to allow evolution to take its own course: if a topic doesn’t take off of its own accord, it can’t be forced. The ultimate accolade is when these networks welcome and ask for participation by leaders!

 

© David Clutterbuck 2013

References

Casper, S & Murray, F (2002) Careers and clusters: analyzing the career network dynamic of biotechnology clusters Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, Vol 22, Issues 1-2, March-June 2005, Pages 51-74 ???

Dunbar, R (2010) How many friends does one person need? Faber & Faber, London

Ellison, NB, Steinfeld, C & Lampe, C (2007) The Benefits of Facebook “Friends”: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol 12, Issue 4, p 1143–1168, July

Granovetter , M (1983) The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited, Sociological Theory, Vol. 1, pp. 201-233