How to set leadership development goals for dummies

Here is my trusty, dusty “how to” blog. There are people out there a lot smarter than me who have great theories and advice for setting leadership development goals. This is not that.

This is “Setting Leadership Development Goals for Dummies,” an original (kidding, of course) title I’m quite proud of, and a title I would read if I were searching for a “how to” article on setting leadership development goals.

There are so many great books and tools out there; I have many more to read, learn and practice. I thought this month, however, I would try out my own how to set leadership development goals blog, based on my 18 or so years of considering myself a leader.

1) Stop thinking of leadership development goals as goals with beginnings and endings. There isn’t an end. If you think there is, get over it. There isn’t. Most everyone will teach you goals are measured, and they are usually measured by someone else. That doesn’t work either. Only you can truly measure your leadership progress. The trick is you have to be willing to be honest with yourself.

2) In order for it to be a goal, you must write it down and share it with someone other than yourself. If you don’t write it down, it’s only an intention, not a goal. In order for you to see growth within yourself, you have to be deliberate about it and put it on paper.

3) Make the moments mean something. For example, if you have a leadership goal to listen better and you find yourself interrupting all the time, make a mental note of it at the time. Before the end of the day, write down what you did and acknowledge you need to do better, and then practice doing better. It’s not enough to keep apologizing for your rudeness every time you do it; you have to intentionally work on changing your behavior.

4) Self-awareness doesn’t give you an excuse for being a poor leader. Setting leadership development goals isn’t simply about becoming more self-aware. Sure, unfiltered self-awareness is important. Being self-aware and deciding what you want to do to improve, and then working towards that improvement, is crucial. If you do one without the other, you’ve missed a huge opportunity.

5) You can’t just ask for feedback — you have to listen to it with your whole heart. If you would really like to see growth on your leadership journey, you have to do more than be open to feedback. You have to ask for it, listen to it, internalize it, and then do something about it as you work towards your goals.

6) Unlike measurable goals, your leadership goals should be ever changing as you grow as a leader and as a person. They are one in the same.

Notice I didn’t tell you what your leadership goals should be. You have to figure that out for yourself. Notice also I wrote about nothing all that earth shattering. I kept it simple for all the dummies (myself included!).

Like you, I consider myself a student, someone still growing and learning as a leader every day.

If you have questions on how to set leadership development goals for yourself and your team members, maybe this simple “how to” will help you start a needed conversation. If you think you have it all figured out (you probably aren’t reading a how to set leadership development goals blog), it’s more than likely you don’t and you should break it down to a “how to” that is just this simple.

Good luck to all of us dummies. Leadership development goals certainly aren’t simple. If they were, we would have many more enlightened leaders out there. The good news (refer to step #1) is there is always time to start and none of us will ever truly finish.


5 ways to get the most from your HR technology

Are you getting the most from your investment in human capital technology?

Given the proliferation of solutions, most small- to-mid-tier companies are overwhelmed by the choices. Should you buy an all-in-one system? Do you purchase individual solutions and integrate them? How do you decide in the first place if the investment is even justified?

In our work with companies of all sizes, we find that nearly every management team wrestles with these issues. To avoid a costly mistake, we recommend the following.

Don’t overbuy. Many software providers are all-too-happy to sell you a system that does everything. Often times, it’s more horsepower than you need. If your actual usage is limited, it doesn’t make sense to buy functionality you’ll never use.

Firms often fall into this trap by going with a big-brand solution. They may initially be perceived as a safer choice because of their reputation, but it’s actually the wrong choice if your needs are limited. While a robust platform can meet the diverse and complicated needs of an organization with over 500 employees and multiple locations, a slimmer system can provide similar benefits to a smaller company at a much lower price tag.

Don’t shy away from integrating systems. All-in-one systems rarely do everything well. Most often, critical pieces of the functionality are subpar. We often recommend integrating software from several vendors. Most vendors have integration capabilities built into their platform, along with a ready list of systems integrators.

Factor growth into your purchase. The opposite of buying too much software is buying software that can’t accommodate growth. Projecting software needs is always tricky because variables outside of your control can impact your plans. However, a common mistake we see is trying to save money upfront by getting a system that can’t evolve with you.

Commit to (ongoing) systems training. Many companies and vendors get excited about a new system and provide initial training. After an initial burst of activity, training typically falls off. Without monthly or quarterly training, systems usage and efficiency drop, often dramatically. Regular training, including training for systems upgrades and enhancements, should be part of your overall plan. Employees routinely forget how to use the system. Providing a refresher at regular intervals will work wonders.

Don’t go it alone. One of the ways to get the most from your HR technology is to work with a tech-savvy insurance broker. Brokers with in-house technology advisors can help companies make smarter technology decisions to meet their needs and budget.

Brokers with this expertise can help companies stay current with the latest market technology and use their knowledge to help negotiate price. By relying on an outside team of experts, you can avoid tying up resources and concentrate on what you do best. Get the most from your investment and make sure technology continues to work for your organization.


4 things HR leaders need to know when ‘acquihiring’ talent

Across all industries, many HR leaders are struggling to recruit skilled tech employees and developers. Software engineers are listed as the fourth most in-demand job right now, and experts predict that the role will see 19% growth by 2024. As a result, companies are doing everything they can to attract these workers away from the competition — and they’re getting pretty creative.

One trend in particular is on the rise: “acquihiring.” That’s the process of acquiring an entire company with the main objective of gaining its skilled employees. According to a survey we conducted with Mergermarket, 38% of corporate executives say they’ve acquired a software company for its talent in the last five years.

As the tech talent gap widens in the coming years, it’s likely that this rate will rise even higher. But is it easier to acquire a whole organization instead of recruiting individual developers and tech professionals?

In many cases, yes. There are a number of causes for this trend. For one, enterprises that are launching large-scale tech initiatives like new websites, internal programs or applications often need entire teams of developers at once. Considering that these employees have already invested time developing internal processes and are accustomed to working with one another, the acquirer saves time and money they would’ve spent individually training each new employee and adjusting processes.

On top of that, these employees were likely present for the conception and development stages of their technology, and therefore know its ins and outs. So, they are able to provide support for their product when issues arise, which cuts research and IT costs in the long-run.

Lastly, on a broader scale, it’s important to recognize that skilled technologists likely receive a number of compelling opportunities and offers from other companies. By acquihiring, companies can sidestep the competition to secure talent.

With these factors in mind, it’s no surprise that companies in the process of their own digital transformations are executing strategic acquisitions as a way to recruit technologists. But whenever a company buys another primarily to gain its employees, HR leaders face a unique set of challenges. Here are four strategies HR professionals should keep in mind during this transition:

Be willing to adapt to new employees’ processes and policies. Even more than with traditional acquisitions, the target company often has an advantage for talent-related negotiations in an acquihiring situation. For example, if the newly-acquired company is accustomed to a more relaxed dress code or differed PTO benefits, HR leaders need to be willing to provide flexibility in this area. Because these types of mergers are primarily based on employees’ skill sets, the acquiring company will likely need to bend their own policies more than with other types of deals.
Perform cultural due diligence to avoid a clash. Another West Monroe study from 2015 found that 67% of enterprise executives believe cultural integration is extremely important to the success of a merger or acquisition. When a company is in the early evaluation stages of a talent-based acquisition, it’s more important than ever to carefully consider culture compatibility to ensure that both staffs will mesh well, as both sides of the deal will need to compromise with one another when it comes to culture. It’s critical that HR executives are involved in the acquisition process as early as possible to avoid culture-related problems during the negotiation process or even post-close. In the same way that companies perform technological and financial due diligence during the deal making process, they need to place emphasis on cultural due diligence as this is imperative when acquiring for talent.
Avoid turnover by recognizing pre-existing employees’ needs. While it’s important to adapt to new employees’ culture and welcome them onto your team, HR executives too often forget to acknowledge their pre-existing employees during this transition stage. Employment terms during an acquihire often provide perks or stay bonuses to encourage new employees to stay with the team after the deal; however, this can create disparity between new and old employees, which could lead to disputes or even turnover. When sweetening employee perks to incentivize acquired talent to stay, consider providing current staff similar compensation. Not all factors of the deal will be equal for all employees, but acknowledging pre-existing employees’ needs and opinions can help facilitate a smooth transition.
Make retention a top priority. HR professionals are always looking for ways to boost retention; but considering talent is the reason for an acquihire in the first place, it’s more important than ever to ensure that acquired employees don’t jump ship. In this case, the most valuable acquired asset is the new employees and the technological skills they bring to the table. In the planning processes of the deal, work with executives to develop a retention plan. This includes mapping out which employees may be the most essential and which may be most likely to leave, as these individuals may require the most attention post-close.
It’s clear that talent-based acquisitions pose a unique set of challenges for HR professionals. However, as skilled tech employees become more difficult to come by, companies will need to get used to acquihiring and performing the necessary cultural due diligence and retention strategies that come with it. In time, HR leaders will see the positive effects of acquihiring as a recruiting strategy when their companies are able to achieve ambitious goals that they never could before.


Don’t Lose Those Talented Team Members. 3 Ways to Hold on to Them.

Great talent doesn’t always stick around. People are always looking for the next big opportunity, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll wake up one day and find all your best people in positions at other companies.

While there are many ways to compete for great talent, the key is to make sure your people feel connected to your company and its mission. The best way to stand out as a growing company and retain your talent once you’ve landed it is by selling that mission (and your team’s future) from a career trajectory standpoint.

To do that, you need to understand the return on investment of employee development. Investing in its people helped The Clorox Company, for example, earn a spot on Glassdoor’s Employee’s Choice list of Best Places to Work 2017. According to chief people officer and senior VP Kirsten Marriner, employees stick around because the company invests in their growth.

To develop strong leaders who find meaning in their careers, Clorox offers programs specific to certain functions, as well as cross-dimensional training, The aim: to help people learn invaluable leadership skills that will improve their own effectiveness and impact.

What’s more, according to research by the Work Institute, compiled through analysis of 34,000 exit interviews, career development was the No. 1 reason employees said they were leaving those jobs. And that one factor beat out management behavior and work-life balance — even compensation. The 2017 Employee Retention Report also found that turnover costs for U.S. employers averaged about $15,000 per departing employee.

While it takes time, effort and budget, setting your employees up for success with opportunities to grow their skills is the best favor you do not only those team members, of course, but also your workplace culture and your bottom line. By providing opportunities, you can help your employees grow, form personal bonds with them and watch your business grow right along with them.

Investing in diamonds in the rough
We have one employee at Hawke Media who’s been with us for more than three years. She’s smart, hard-working and cool to be around. But there was one problem: When she first came to us, she talked like a token “Valley Girl” — “Like, I know . . . .like, totally.”

Finally, I sat her down and told her she was smarter than she sounded. Funny thing was, she knew it. We gave her some books, sent her to Toastmasters International and hooked her up with an accountability partner who listened to her on the phone. Within six or seven months, no one could tell that she’d ever had that Valleyspeak speech pattern.

There will always be smart people out there who are a little less refined or have a weaker skill set. But if you can identify them and tailor professional development opportunities to their personal as well as professional goals, you’ll improve their lives while also strengthening your company.

Shaping professional development opportunities
Professional development is always worth the investment, especially when you get people going to coaching events, seminars and the like. Then, even if they leave your company, they’ll advocate for you and let others know that your company is an awesome place to work.

You just can’t depend on a one-size-fits-all approach. When you consider professional development for your company, you have to tailor it to your culture and your people. Here are three tips on how to do that.

1. Focus on competencies over metrics.
I know, that’s crazy. Don’t focus on metrics?!

Here’s the thing: A maniacal focus on metrics alone will build a company full of people willing to cut corners and work around the basics in order to meet your requirements; just look at Uber. The behavior of that company’s leadership — poor, at best — trickled down and spurred a lack of self-control throughout the entire business.

Instead, pick a few key metrics that matter, and focus on more subjective measurements that will eventually get you there. When we do quarterly reviews, we note objective measures such as churn, utilization rates and client revenue growth. But the focus is really on a competency scoreboard based on a four-point scale.

Do you know this? How well? Are you doing X things each day to improve? Are you avoiding these negative habits? Those are the competencies that, over time, add up to the objective success we’re looking for.

2. Do career training on a repeated basis.
Like anything else, consistency is key.

In order to say you have a strict focus on something, you have to be beating the drum on it regularly. Don’t wait for people to ask for help; create opportunities and encourage them to take advantage of those.

Every Friday, we have education and development sessions we call Hawke U. These sessions are given to more than 100 people, so it’s not the hyperfocused personal development that happens with other opportunities; instead, it’s a chance for us all to improve on certain things together. What’s more, it engages our team — Rypple found 20 percent of employees it surveyed considered career development and training a good incentive to keep them engaged.

Don’t overthink this. As a leader, you know where improvement needs to happen. Recently, our Friday trainings focused on utilizing our project management software. The point is this: Regularly take time to invest in employee development, and make it relevant to your people.

3. Empower your people.
At the end of the day, people are responsible for their own development. Encourage your employees to identify their own sources of development and then to go for it. Biotech company Seattle Genetics is great at this — it offers tuition reimbursement and on-site training for employees.

Any time there’s an opportunity for improvement, I’m open to investing in it (assuming it makes sense, of course). If our employees see anything they want to do that’ll make them more valuable as human beings, they can hit me up — I’ll probably pay for the conference, seminar, podcast subscription or online course. Want to go to a concert because you think it’ll make you a better person? Show up with your pitch detailing why that is, and if you can convince me, I’ll pay for it.

Ultimately, as a leader, you can approach training in a myriad of ways — just execute professional development in a way that makes sense for your company and your people. Doing so will not only make your business more competitive than ever but will also help you build a supportive culture on a foundation of personal and professional growth.


The War For Talent

Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” In too many Indian companies, talented people stagnate in a frustration of bureaucracy, hierarchy, poor communication and slow decision-taking. Little wonder that staff attrition is the highest in any major market, at 26.7%, according to Hay Group.

In the twenty years since Steven Hankin at McKinsey coined the term “war for talent”, the expression has become a commonplace of management-speak. Yet still most companies manage their people poorly. HR is often the poor relation function. Few employees come to work enthusiastically and most would be receptive to an external job offer. PWC reported recently that 63% of CEOs say that finding the right talent is a critical challenge and 93% think that a completely new approach to people management is essential.

Recruitment, motivation and retention of people, especially talented people, is a particular challenge in a growth market like India. For many years there were more aspirants than jobs so companies could take loyalty for granted. More recently, domestic corporates have grown used to losing their best people to multinationals. Now both domestic and international companies face the additional challenge of competing for talent with start-ups.

At a recent seminar organised in Bombay by Singapore’s SMU, Rajeev Dubey of Mahindra described best practice in Indian HR policy. He argued that the most important thing was to communicate purpose and a wider meaning to employees. Alfian Sharifuddin of DBS Bank recounted that, for his bank, the key to employee motivation was to replicate the experience of working at a start-up, without compromising on processes and controls. Kausshal Dugarr, founder of Teabox, added that start-ups also struggle to retain people, especially after other tech companies close big funding rounds and throw cash to lure away experienced staff. No one on the panel could name an Indian company they saw as a global benchmark in people management.

Here are four suggestions on how to win in the war for talent.

First, Indian businesses, big and small, need to evolve their processes and cultures radically. The basics of HR, such as role clarity, fair pay, skill development and career progression, need to become slicker. Corporate cultures need in many cases to be revolutionized, to reduce bureaucracy and hierarchy, encourage initiative and fast-track good people. As such, big companies have a great deal to learn from more agile start-ups in how they should trust and reward staff.

Second, companies both big and small need to become more innovative. Companies “doing new and exciting stuff” will find the war for talent easier.

Third, cutting edge data analytics will offer new ways to assess people before recruitment, monitor and reward performance and match skills with roles.

Lastly, Indian companies need to diversify the pools of talent from which they recruit and promote. The majority of corporate leaders are drawn from narrow seams of talent by background, education and gender. The most obvious, but not the only, underutilised pool of talent is female.

The war for talent will be won by those companies who rethink from first principles how to treat people. Young people, in particular, will no longer tolerate feeling undervalued, stifled and bored. They want to help shape change, and be rewarded accordingly.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Keys To Earning Sustained Loyalty From Your Employees

Companies with a highly engaged workforce outperform those without by 147 percent. Read that again—147 percent. Yet worldwide, few brands have succeeded in realizing the bottom-line benefits of happy, loyal employees. In fact, Gallup reports that almost three quarters of the global workforce is actively disengaged, representing $7 trillion in lost productivity.

To reap the undeniable bottom-line profits of a highly engaged and loyal workforce, CEOs must empower — and fund — talent, brand and employee experience teams to deliver on the expectations of today’s employees. A new strategy is in order. A global survey of 11,000 HR execs agreed, concluding that traditional employee engagement strategies aren’t effective, and as a result, 75% of brands struggle to attract and retain top talent.

Having strengthened millions of relationships for brands and causes worldwide, we’ve identified five critical steps to achieve the sustained loyalty your business needs.

Invest in the complete employee journey

While marketing teams have had to rapidly evolve to the changing needs of their customers, talent teams have been arguably slower to adapt. Why? Executives are partly to blame. We value bottom-line results — including market growth, customer acquisition, and customer loyalty — while employee investments still fall into the “nice to have” budget item. Arianna Huffington says it best in her book, Thrive: “We pay a heavy price — both personally and collectively — when we treat employee engagement and profitability as separate.”

Across the board, research proves that an engaged workforce leads to loyal customers, period. Rewards like benefits, trendy perks and a competitive salary are now a given. Staying competitive now requires a top-down, holistic investment in the entire employee journey, to get employees achieving results faster and extend their lifetime value. For some companies, that means that attracting and keeping top talent can no longer fall solely on the HR director’s plate — it becomes a shared responsibility spanning talent, brand and customer experience teams.

Getting better engagement results also requires teams to truly understand their people, and their respective motivations, on a deeper level. Companies should leverage human-centered insights instead of relying on annual engagement surveys and performance metrics that tell us little about what your workforce really needs to give 100 percent.

Ditch the one-off campaign

The state of affairs of employee engagement in most companies remains choppy. One-off campaigns like annual giving and wellness challenges continue to dominate, which do little to sustain employee loyalty once the fanfare subsides.

Case in point: recent studies show that boosting employee wellness can pay dividends for productivity and workplace happiness. Enter the one-off wellness campaign. For a few weeks out of the year, teams rally around a shared wellness goal—such as consistent exercise and increased water consumption. Perks are awarded and micro-communities form to generate healthy competition, yet when the campaign winds down, so does the community (and excitement) that temporarily formed—because it’s disconnected from a broader culture or community strategy. This is when employees start looking for what’s next, and the fluidity to find genuine engagement with another employer has never been greater.

If sustained employee loyalty is our goal, a better approach is in order. Companies should think beyond the campaign, namely by identifying a common thread that ties their workforce together well beyond product lines, titles or career paths. Then, actively engage your community of employees in the design process — producing experiences that are far more effective at building and sustaining meaningful interactions, forming community, driving knowledge sharing and improving productivity. What sets these experiences apart is that they are grounded in a bigger-than-profit purpose and a deep understanding of your employees’ true motivations.


Purpose is your north star, not a campaign

Millennials have a heightened desire to connect to a bigger-than-profit purpose behind their work, the opportunity to contribute at their potential, and performance rewards that tap their true motivations. Purpose has become the most critical market differentiator of our time—but it’s also your most valuable talent recruitment and retention tool.

In a recent study, more than half of workers said that the way their company markets its purpose doesn’t reflect reality, contributing to distrust in leadership and reduced productivity. Many brands have succeeded in articulating a purpose, but they fall short of the heaviest lift that positions it as a true north star for the company—embedding it across your organizational culture, work environment and employee experience.

For more than 40 years, Southwest Airlines has shared company profits with its workforce. But if you asked any of its 46,000 employees what kept them excited to go to work every day, their answer would have little to do with money. The company operationalized its purpose throughout the company culture by tying exceptional service to profit. Equally important, it used the power of storytelling to reward high performers —embedding the purpose across the employee journey.

Each week, CEO Gary Kelly publicly praises employees who’ve gone the extra mile (no pun intended) to exemplify great customer service. The airlines’ in-flight magazine (Southwest Spirit) features employees who go above and beyond, while down-to-earth videos shared internally further encapsulate the company’s passion. Purpose was never a marketing campaign for the airline. It’s the north star guiding their everyday decisions and behavior across their workforce.

Let your team’s aspirations guide you

When we design engagement strategies grounded in purpose and aligned to employee’s underlying aspirations, productive, loyal, high-performing teams can emerge.

Sometimes, appealing to team members’ aspirations means shaking things up a bit to liberate talent from established silos or job titles. This philosophy has been paramount to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s leadership success. He led the company to reorganize itself around aspirational goals like reinventing productivity—in other words, he let aspirations guide the employee experience design. This was a giant leap from their traditional, linear method of organizing teams around product lines. The resulting cross-business communities that emerged helped elevate innovative ideas faster and more collaboratively than ever before.

This raises an important question: how can you align your employees’ aspirations to your business goals? There are six Aspirational Roles at play inside any workforce, anywhere in the world. These roles don’t neatly align to job titles or career stages. Instead, they align to an individual’s beyond-the-job aspirations, offering clues about their true motivations.

Let’s play this out with a business goal like Microsoft’s “reinventing productivity.” If you activated employees to tackle this goal by job function, your obvious choice would be to focus on staff in operations. Instead, what if you tapped “Curators” to translate future trends in high-tech productivity, engaged “Builders” to improve systems design, and “Connectors” to be your frontline recruiters for systems adoption?

Aspirational Roles have been proven effective for building sustained engagement for myriad communities, from a Fortune 100 workplace to a grassroots social change group. This framework helps companies discover what roles are in their workforce, and which are best aligned to your most acute business goals. They can then be used to design experiences that tap those roles to cultivate a mutually satisfying, long-term relationship, which is the secret ingredient to a high performing, loyal workforce.

Reinforce with cultural cues

Culture and perks will continue to play a critical role in attracting and keeping top talent. The difference is that cultural cues become a reinforcing element to robust, thoughtful employee experiences, rather than the only carrot we dangle.

Consider Squarespace, the popular platform-based website builder. They offer great perks to their workforce: flexible PTO, catered meals, stocked kitchens and the proverbial “nap space.” But the perks aren’t the point. Their flattened leadership style and open communication culture does double duty. It directly fosters collaboration — a key ingredient to sustained revenue growth — and it satisfies those hungry to build an authentic relationship with their employer.

Bright and shiny perks will catch the attention of top talent for a while, but inevitably their hunger to contribute, grow and be part of a community will always win. As CEOs, we have a responsibility to make a sustained investment in our workforce. In fact, if we don’t, we are increasingly at risk of losing our competitive edge in the marketplace. By identifying and applying the aspirational roles employees fulfill, business leaders can empower employees to make powerful contributions that drive lasting business impact.


How to attract continuous learners and keep them engaged

When it comes to recruiting talent, the most progressive and high-growth companies today place their highest premium on hiring continuous learners: the kind of people who are adept at picking up new skills and new technologies, can think strategically as well as tactically, and make a habit of adding to their knowledge base. For every candidate who walks through the door, employers are trying to find out if that’s the kind of person they are – whether by inquiring about their learning habits or simply asking them point blank.

This new recruiting imperative is true in nearly every industry, but it’s particularly crucial in the tech sector, where business plans, revenue models, competitive environments, and job descriptions are in a constant state of flux. The iterative nature of the high-growth tech world means that staff need to be able to absorb new information quickly and act fast on what they learn. For example, here at Top Hat, we’re on a major mission to shape the future of higher education by improving learning experiences, course content and student success. To achieve this, it’s imperative for our selection process to identify people who are willing and able to stretch themselves.

Admittedly, nearly every company is on the hunt for that same kind of talent, and every company claims to have lots of them already among their ranks. The real question is how to retain them. Continuous learners can be among the most challenging to keep and to keep happy. By their nature, they are motivated by – and hungry for – new opportunities.

Companies don’t always walk the talk on this one. On the one hand, they fill their ranks with continuous learners so that the fundamental pace of learning within the firm will be effortlessly fast. On the other hand, they don’t create workplaces that allow the organization to capture learning, share it and act upon it in a coordinated way. Latte machines are a great perk, but they can’t provide talented, growth-oriented people with the sense of professional growth they crave – nor do they keep an organization working seamlessly together in pursuit of common goals.

To create the kind of workplace that will truly reward continuous learning, companies have to demonstrate their own credentials in three key areas:

Fast-growing companies need their staff to pick up skills on the fly: project management, team leadership, client relations and myriad other skills. They rely on the natural abilities of their continuous learners to keep things moving, especially in the early going. But then what? If a company truly values continuous learning, it will invest in training to solidify and certify those new skills, and add still more to its employees’ toolboxes – skills that will help them better manage projects and measure outcomes. Team leaders should know what skills each team member is acquiring and encourage their continued professional growth.

Research shows that people learn better when they learn with others, and they learn best by talking. Workspace design should support those dynamics. Open-concept floorplans with lots of common workspaces encourage both planned collaboration and serendipitous collisions. Companies that want everyone to learn from everyone else don’t provide closed-door offices to employees it deems important; everyone’s personal workspace, from team leaders up to C-suite executives, should be open to what’s going on around them. Top Hat’s Toronto office features a multitude of meeting rooms, all of them behind glass walls, so that attendees and whiteboard plans are never closed off to anyone.

Some companies design workspaces to support collaboration, then neglect to structure their work teams and processes for the same purpose. An office full of smart, engaged continuous learners is full of ideas about how to make teams work better; companies need to listen to their ideas and give them the latitude to enact them. And they shouldn’t be afraid to spread ideas that work throughout the organization. At Top Hat, our marketing and HR teams apply the agile principles that work so well for our development teams, conducting their own daily stand-up meetings, scrumming their projects and working in sprints.

Above all, companies that truly value the smartest talent must demonstrate the ability to inspire and lead with purpose. Smart people know how to read between the lines. They won’t stay long with a company whose leaders’ words don’t match their deeds, or whose values don’t align with their business practices.

Quantum-Chemical Social Networks

Dr. Karen Stephenson created a fusion of: quantum physics, chemistry, anthropology, ethnology, mathematics, software development, & management consulting

Why aren’t corporations more corporate? It’s one of today’s top business problems.

People work in silos and reap their personal and divisional profits at the expense of their peers and the “whole” organization. Why hasn’t this tired old behaviour been corrected, now that there are advanced tools available for mapping and measuring cross-silo connections? Today it is possible to identify key players who build the network, and reward them for their “net-work,” based on objective data, not political hearsay.

The tools and underlying research were developed by Dr. Karen Stephenson and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker and The Tipping Point. The consulting firm Karen founded — Netform — was called by CIO Magazine one of the 100 Most Innovative Firms in the World.

But it didn’t begin with the challenge of corporatizing corporations. It began with a love of art and quantum chemistry.

Art & Quantum Chemistry
“Art and drawing have always been a part of my life, so I didn’t think to actually major in it when I went to college. Instead, my studies in chemistry in high school were so interesting that I chose to major in it. While in college, I became equally interested in physics, so I combined them in what was known as quantum chemistry.” While in school, she was still drawing portraits for family and friends and went to the art department for feedback. The professor she consulted persuaded her to also go for an art degree. So, she pursued two degrees, in both art and science.

A friend asked her, “What’re you going to do with these degrees?” She replied, “I don’t know. It’s a liberal arts college — can’t I study what I want?”

She wasn’t concerned with how they fit together. In her mind, the abstract thinking underlying both art and science was the same, and understanding the logical patterns in both led her to see what others couldn’t.

“As part of the requirements for completing a major in art history, an annual exam is given at the end of the school year. In that exam, you are shown 100 slides, each slide representing a single painting. The goal was to identify the artist from only a portion of the painting or a close-up of the brush strokes or painting technique. I “aced” them all. The professor gave me a commendation, commenting, ‘No one has ever done this.” I responded, ‘Well, OK, I guess I got lucky”. But after 3 consecutive years of scoring 100%, it wasn’t luck. It was pattern recognition.

She pursued a graduate degree in quantum chemistry while working in the NIOSH laboratory at the University of Utah (National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health). “My office was on the mezzanine floor…. looking through the glass partition down on the floor below … to where 200 chemists, physicists, and technicians were working, and that was when I had an epiphany! I saw these interacting patterns among the people that had little to do with their work. They were connected in these really interesting patterns I had seen before … in Feynman diagrams, which are graphical representations showing subatomic behavior or protein-molecule changing their orientation…. So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be interesting if there was an underlying science to the way things are organized — including human beings? Why would human beings be exempt from any scientific laws? They wouldn’t!”

“I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind. It kept bothering me, and bothering me, and bothering me. ‘Kept me up at night because I wanted to know why? Why? Why were people connected in these patterns? I just know there’s an underlying logic to it.… Perhaps if I could find these same patterns in the archaeological record, for example trade networks. Maybe then, I might be able to say the two are connected.” So she took classes in archaeology, and her chemistry department head, Henry Erying, supported her inquiry. She studied ancient tribal networks with anthropologist Per Hage and the brilliant, “crazy mathematician” Frank Harary (father of graph theory). She subsequently earned her Masters in Anthropology with a specialty in Mathematical Modelling where patterns common to human interaction and other inorganic contexts were identified.

With her new master’s degree, Karen could have pursued a PhD, but instead she went to Boston with her new husband, who had just accepted a position at Harvard. She took a course at the Harvard Extension School and wrote a paper on the ancient trade networks that ran between the Tigris and Euphrates, applying her new algorithm. That prompted her professor to call her in for a consultation. When they met, she shared her background and asked who he was.

“I’m Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, Director of the Harvard Peabody Museum. I’d like you to join our department.” The rest, as they say, is history (or archaeology, in this case).

Pursuing the Puzzle
She joined the department and earned her PhD in anthropology, investigating her anthro-chemical puzzle, working with Dr. Marvin Zelen, a world-renowned statistician. “I talked to him for over a year, repeatedly explaining these patterns. Finally, after a year, the penny dropped, and he said, ‘Oh, my God! I finally understand what you’ve been trying to tell me! We can do this.’ So we jointly published an article that ended up being a seminal article in the field. A year later, I was hired by UCLA’s business school as a professor in management.” During her decade-long tenure at ULCA, she started her own consultancy to collect data from both research participants and consulting clients. She refined her methodology for collecting survey data and then created the software to process and analyse the data, making it accessible through the Internet as a software for service.

Dr. Stephenson won international recognition as one of the world’s foremost corporate anthropologists. Nonetheless, the university was slow to respond to her new initiatives despite a growing list of articles in Forbes, The Economist, Wired, Business 2.0, and a number of other print and online media. The growing recognition brought her more clients looking for answers and along with it, the enmity of the faculty.

Then she took a call from the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

He said, “We teach designers and architects how to design the built environment, but we don’t teach them anything about the actual structure of a culture or how we could design a building for a culture. Could you come here and help us try to marry these two fields of expertise together?” So, she went back to Harvard, and after five years, she had finished all the course development and teaching. She left to pursue research and consulting on her own.

The Journey of a Lifetime
“I’ve been on this 35-year journey, but I feel that I’ve only just scratched the surface.”

She has travelled on that journey 345 days a year for almost 30 years — more than most pilots — and has honed her skills deploying technology, infrastructure, and simple, creative efficiency, freeing her to do what she does best. She doesn’t use secretaries — they slow her down. Her home is sparse, like her suitcase. But her education and experiences form quite a collection.

The journey may never end. As colleagues Jeanne & Barry Frew noted, “One of the reasons why we really enjoy working with her is that her work has never stopped growing.”

Clients, colleagues, and friends describe her as eclectic, high-energy, brilliant, curious, quick, collaborative, connective, down-to-earth, integrative, empathetic, open, interesting, practical, fun, optimistic, smart, strategic, visionary, focused, risk-seeking, funny, confident, and a good noticer & listener. Jeanne & Barry Frew observed, “She doesn’t understand what a boundary is…. That’s one thing that distinguishes her.”

Another is communication and connectedness. According to former client Maria Leo from Merrill Lynch, “She’s truly amazing when she talks about her work. She is a gifted speaker making the concepts come alive. She makes the abstract real and relevant. She has the ability to connect with the audience and in turn they feel empowered to use that knowledge in their organisation.” She enters into client relationships as an expert collaborator, open to new ideas, listening and observing, with respect for the client’s expertise.

That goes a long way towards developing trust, not only as an object of study, but also as an essential element in conducting her studies. As Jeanne & Barry Frew observed, “Even when she has a strongly held belief, she’s willing to hesitate and listen to understand.”

Listening to understand is vastly different from listening to respond.

Seeing Differently
Connectedness, listening, and her mind’s unique collection help her see things differently. According to Jeanne & Barry Frew, “The people who sat in the silos weren’t able to see outside the siloes, the way she was able to see across them. One CEO said to her, ‘I don’t see hierarchy,’ to which she responded, ‘Of course you can’t see it, you’re sitting on top of it.’” She has a way of communicating that gets people to drop their guard, or as a Navy Rear Admiral said, “You have such a nice way of delivering bad news.” She could get people to see across a cultural divide to the connectors waiting on the other side, wanting to engage in relationship building. One of her colleagues recounted:

“I think everybody sensed it, but she saw and said it differently from everybody else.”

Looking back at her intriguing and integrative 35-year journey, Karen notes, “I wasn’t looking to create something, I was trying to solve the riddle of culture. The rest just happened. I didn’t know I was creating a new field at the time. I was relentlessly following the idea of how trust binds us together like an energy field binds the nucleus of an atom or a string of atoms in a molecule. I remember Bob Eccles (a business professor) said to me one day, ‘You need to focus.’ I looked at him and said, ‘FOCUS?? I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’m the most focused person I know. I’ve been focused like a laser beam on this idea, trying to solve this one problem, and it has taken me from field to field to field to solve it.’

She fondly remembers (with a sly smile) a finance professor at UCLA commenting on her work, “This research in social networks won’t amount to much.” That was the 90s, and early days in the field she was creating. Now, years later, clients hire her to enhance their connectivity (inward and outward) for effectiveness and innovation. When she started, business leaders couldn’t see human networks. Now they can, and those who see and use them well create significant advantage.

LA Philharmonic and The Pentagon – social network diagrams. Source: Karen Stephenson, “Trafficking in Trust: The Art and Science of Human Knowledge Networks,” in Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, edited by Lin Coughlin, Ellen Wingard, and Keith Hollihan, 242–265. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
“When you’re trying to solve a riddle, many times people on the outside — or even those in your own field — can’t see what you’re trying to do. They see you as unruly and unserious because you’re colouring outside the lines. But those lines are man-made, and they can be un-made and re-made again. If you’re chasing an idea, you have to test its worthiness by pummelling it to death. If it rises up like a phoenix and keeps on surprising you, well then, you’ve got yourself a really fine idea. People will try and stop you because what you are doing is unconventional. But you just keep on going. They are blocking you because they think they know better, but they don’t really understand. You on the other hand, know you don’t understand and are therefore more open to new ideas. Remember: innovation is the nemesis of legacy and convention.

Collecting, Seeing, Exploring, But Never Straying
Depth of understanding was key for Karen. She could see how things were connected because she looked with depth and breadth at the underlying patterns in paintings, quantum chemistry, mathematics, and anthropology.

To see at depth requires curiosity and genuine interest, and the result, in Karen’s case, was an eclectic education, a unique collection of skills and experiences, and a ground-breaking journey led by an epiphany on the mezzanine floor of a chemistry laboratory.

“None of my education has ever been wasted. I use every bit of it…. And that epiphany about a science informing organizational patterns is what I have followed. I’ve not strayed from it… ever.”

It appears that, for Karen, epiphany is a verb, not a noun.
Have you begun your epiphany?

1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;
Dr. Karen Stephenson is the Founder & CEO of Netform Resources and one of the world’s top Corporate Anthropologists. She’s “from” the Netherlands, Spain, UK, and USA (lived 6 months+, countries listed in alphabetical order) and is featured in TISTalk (MSD) Passion & Practicality. For more information on her work, see:

I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you’re all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research — you’re the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.


Learning: A Tool for Employee Motivation

Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not attainted by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence” This simply means that learning needs to be a part of the ecosystem organizations want to create. Learning can never be left to destiny.

Most of the time, companies focus on the bottom line—the profit and sales curve. However, those same companies typically fail to notice the learning curve of their employees. And if these organizations do offer learning, they tend to focus on a specific domain of expertise rather than the overall development of their employees.

Why General Development So Important
Consider the simple example of stressed employees who must deal with strict deadlines, minimal resources, siloed information, and team friction. These types of performance issues can cause major setbacks for a company.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that several different learning and development solutions can help ease some of these problem areas. For instance, sales teams can use mentoring and coaching for new and experienced employees to get reps up-to-speed on such high-level topics like setting strategy, as well as day-to-day necessities like employing new communication tools to reach potential clients.

What’s more, smart companies understand that training isn’t just a way to rollout programs that teach individual contributors about new procedures, teams how to work more cohesively, or leaders how to perform data analysis. No, training and development is a good strategy for keeping employees—whether junior team members or senior-level leaders—motivated, engaged, and focused.

How to Get Started
To ensure that effective learning programs are in place, it is important to chart your course. First, your organization needs to form a focused learning and development group that includes technical experts, behavioral specialists, and general training professionals.
Next, the goals and vision of the L&D team must align with the company goals and vision. In addition to company-specific programs (think: onboarding or product training) and general development topics (think: project management or leadership development), you may need to include programs important to your particular industry (think: customer service, safety, or crisis management).

Meanwhile, the L&D team will need to develop complete job description and assessments that can be used for crucial competency mapping. This will help with succession planning and leadership development for high-level roles and workforce planning for growing areas of the business. In other words, the L&D team needs to create tools that offer a road map for employee growth.


Asian companies’ global ambitions drive demand for international talent

HONG KONG, June 21, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Robert Walters, one of the world’s leading professional recruitment specialists, has today published a whitepaper, “How to attract and retain the right talent to grow your business internationally – a guide for Asian companies”. The detailed report identifies and analyses the human resources challenges faced by Asian companies that are looking to grow internationally, including the key issues of how to acquire and retain talent, and the challenges, motivators and recommendations businesses should consider in developing their HR strategies.

Asian companies are growing in international status and changing the global business landscape. In the latest global Fortune 500 List, 40% (197) of the companies named were Asian, compared to 24% in the 2006 report. Of the Asian companies surveyed, 70% indicated they have plans to internationalise their business in the coming three years.

These companies frequently face challenges in their expansion plans when it comes to acquiring and retaining talent – the professional individuals with the skills they need to fill key roles. More than half (57%) of the companies surveyed agreed that hiring international talent is very important or somewhat important to them.

When candidates experience were asked if they are open to working in an Asian company, 57% said yes and that more than a third (37%) might consider such an opportunity. 64% indicated that they would be open to working in an Asian company that can demonstrate genuine growth potential and help their future career prospects. At the same time the majority (68%) ranked pay and benefits as one of the top motivating factors to work in an Asian company for the first time.

Joanne Chua, Robert Walters Regional Client Development Director – South East Asia and Greater China, said, “Just because candidates might not be actively looking for a job in an Asian company, it does not necessarily mean that they are unavailable. In our extensive study to identify what both companies and candidates are looking for, we found that apart from some of the hard factors such as pay and benefits, brand quality and reputation, elements such as a company’s growth potential and the local corporate culture can attract or repel job applicants.”

On the other hand, when international talent who have worked in an Asian company before were asked what they thought were the most rewarding aspects of working in Asian company, the most popular response was by far the local corporate culture (62%). This was followed by the way companies build a trusting relationship with their employees (36%) and the sense of giving back to their local community or home country (33%). These were significantly more important than better job titles (21%) and pay and benefits (9%), showing that while these are still important factors for talent attraction, they may not be the most effective tactics when it comes to retaining people.

Other Highlights from the whitepaper

60% of companies believed that it was more difficult to recruit international talent compared to talent with no international working experience. The greatest challenges they identified include:
Applicants’ expected salaries are much higher than the allocated budget
Candidates were not a good cultural fit with the company
There were not enough quality applications to choose from
It was difficult to find candidates with the required skills
Asian companies (27%) were more accustomed to referrals from existing employees and relied on their established networks when recruiting for candidates. By contrast, referrals are much less relied on by Western companies (7%).
Only 27% of Asian companies provided training for their hiring managers on how to attract international talent – an area where they face strong competition.
Recommendations to Asian companies

International expansion is without doubt an exciting and challenging prospect for Asian companies, but it is a significant undertaking and risks disruption to existing operations. While special value and advantages can be gained from securing international talent, there is strong competition to recruit the best people. Asian companies must ensure their recruitment and talent management processes are up to the task and remain robust in order to secure future success.

Click here to download the full whitepaper (English version only).

Notes to editors:

Robert Walters is one of the world’s leading specialist professional recruitment consultancies and focuses on placing high-calibre professionals into permanent, contract and temporary positions at all levels of seniority. Established in 1985, the Group has built a global presence spanning 28 countries and regions. The mainland China offices specialise in placing candidates on a permanent basis in the following specialities: accounting & finance, human resources, information technology, life sciences, operations & manufacturing, sales & marketing, supply chain, logistics and procurement.
This white paper was published in June 2018 is based on a survey conducted by Robert Walters. It gathered the views of more than 5,000 HR professionals, hiring managers and candidates working in Asian and Western companies across Mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. Additional interviews and research were collated to complement the survey findings.
In this report, the term international talent refers to home-grown or returning professionals who have worked for Western companies, whether overseas or in their home countries.
Asia refers to eight fast-growing markets in East and South East Asia covered by our research, namely: Mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. Asian companies are defined as companies headquartered in these eight countries or regions. Western companies are defined as companies headquartered outside Asia.