How to Play to Your Strengths

You may have more to gain by developing your gifts and leveraging
your natural skills than by trying to repair your weaknesses. Here is a
systematic way to discover who you are at your very best.
Most feedback accentuates the negative. During formal employee evaluations, discussions
invariably focus on “opportunities for improvement,” even if the overall evaluation is
laudatory. Informally, the sting of criticism
lasts longer than the balm of praise. Multiple
studies have shown that people pay keen attention to negative information. For example,
when asked to recall important emotional
events, people remember four negative memories for every positive one. No wonder most
executives give and receive performance reviews with all the enthusiasm of a child on the
way to the dentist.
Traditional, corrective feedback has its
place, of course; every organization must filter
out failing employees and ensure that everyone performs at an expected level of competence. Unfortunately, feedback that ferrets out
flaws can lead otherwise talented managers to
overinvest in shoring up or papering over their
perceived weaknesses, or forcing themselves
onto an ill-fitting template. Ironically, such a
focus on problem areas prevents companies
from reaping the best performance from its
people. After all, it’s a rare baseball player who
is equally good at every position. Why should a
natural third baseman labor to develop his
skills as a right fielder?
The alternative, as the Gallup Organization
researchers Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton, and others have suggested, is to foster excellence in the third baseman by identifying
and harnessing his unique strengths. It is a paradox of human psychology that while people
remember criticism, they respond to praise.
The former makes them defensive and therefore unlikely to change, while the latter produces confidence and the desire to perform better. Managers who build up their strengths can
reach their highest potential. This positive approach does not pretend to ignore or deny the
problems that traditional feedback mechanisms identify. Rather, it offers a separate and
unique feedback experience that counterbalances negative input. It allows managers to tap
into strengths they may or may not be aware of
and so contribute more to their organizations.
How to Play to Your Strengths
harvard business review • managing yourself • january 2005 page 2
Laura Morgan Roberts (lroberts@ is an assistant professor of
organizational behavior at Harvard
Business School in Boston. Gretchen
Spreitzer (,
Jane Dutton (,
Robert Quinn (
are professors of management and organization at the Stephen M. Ross
School of Business at the University of
Michigan in Ann Arbor. Emily Heaphy
( is a PhD candidate in management and organization
at the Ross School of Business, and
Brianna Barker (barkerba@umich.
edu) is a PhD candidate in organizational psychology at the University
of Michigan.
During the past few years, we have developed a powerful tool to help people understand and leverage their individual talents.
Called the Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise,
our method allows managers to develop a
sense of their “personal best” in order to increase their future potential. The RBS exercise
is but one example of new approaches springing from an area of research called positive organizational scholarship (POS). Just as psychologists know that people respond better to
praise than to criticism, organizational behavior scholars are finding that when companies
focus on positive attributes such as resilience
and trust, they can reap impressive bottom-line
returns. (For more on this research, see the
sidebar “The Positive Organization.”) Thousands of executives, as well as tomorrow’s leaders enrolled in business schools around the
world, have completed the RBS exercise.
In this article, we will walk you through
the RBS exercise step-by-step and describe
the insights and results it can yield. Before we
proceed, however, a few caveats are in order.
First, understand that the tool is not designed
to stroke your ego; its purpose is to assist you
in developing a plan for more effective action.
(Without such a plan, you’ll keep running in
place.) Second, the lessons generated from
the RBS exercise can elude you if you don’t
pay sincere attention to them. If you are too
burdened by time pressures and job demands,
you may just file the information away and
forget about it. To be effective, the exercise requires commitment, diligence, and followthrough. It may even be helpful to have a
coach keep you on task. Third, it’s important
to conduct the RBS exercise at a different
time of year than the traditional performance
review so that negative feedback from traditional mechanisms doesn’t interfere with the
results of the exercise.
Used correctly, the RBS exercise can help
you tap into unrecognized and unexplored
areas of potential. Armed with a constructive,
systematic process for gathering and analyzing
data about your best self, you can burnish your
performance at work.
Step 1
Identify Respondents and Ask for
The first task in the exercise is to collect feedback from a variety of people inside and outside work. By gathering input from a variety of
sources—family members, past and present
colleagues, friends, teachers, and so on—you
can develop a much broader and richer understanding of yourself than you can from a standard performance evaluation.
As we describe the process of the Reflected
Best Self exercise, we will highlight the experience of Robert Duggan (not his real name),
whose self-discovery process is typical of the
managers we’ve observed. Having retired from
a successful career in the military at a fairly
young age and earned an MBA from a top
business school, Robert accepted a midlevel
management position at an IT services firm.
Despite strong credentials and leadership experience, Robert remained stuck in the same position year after year. His performance evaluations were generally good but not strong
enough to put him on the high-potential track.
Disengaged, frustrated, and disheartened, Robert grew increasingly stressed and disillusioned
with his company. His workday felt more and
more like an episode of Survivor.
Seeking to improve his performance, Robert enrolled in an executive education program
and took the RBS exercise. As part of the exercise, Robert gathered feedback from 11 individuals from his past and present who knew him
well. He selected a diverse but balanced
group—his wife and two other family members, two friends from his MBA program, two
colleagues from his time in the army, and four
current colleagues.
Robert then asked these individuals to provide information about his strengths, accompanied by specific examples of moments
when Robert used those strengths in ways
that were meaningful to them, to their families or teams, or to their organizations. Many
people—Robert among them—feel uncomfortable asking for exclusively positive feedback, particularly from colleagues. Accustomed to hearing about their strengths and
weaknesses simultaneously, many executives
imagine any positive feedback will be unrealistic, even false. Some also worry that respondents might construe the request as presumptuous or egotistical. But once managers
accept that the exercise will help them improve their performance, they tend to dive in.
Within ten days, Robert received e-mail responses from all 11 people describing specific
instances when he had made important contri-
How to Play to Your Strengths
harvard business review • managing yourself • january 2005 page 3
butions—including pushing for high quality
under a tight deadline, being inclusive in communicating with a diverse group, and digging
for critical information. The answers he received surprised him. As a military veteran and
a technical person holding an MBA, Robert
rarely yielded to his emotions. But in reading
story after story from his respondents, Robert
found himself deeply moved—as if he were listening to appreciative speeches at a party
thrown in his honor. The stories were also surprisingly convincing. He had more strengths
than he knew. (For more on Step 1, refer to the
exhibit “Gathering Feedback.”)
Step 2
Recognize Patterns
In this step, Robert searched for common
themes among the feedback, adding to the examples with observations of his own, then organizing all the input into a table. (To view
parts of Robert’s table, see the exhibit “Finding
Common Themes.”) Like many who participate in the RBS exercise, Robert expected that,
given the diversity of respondents, the comments he received would be inconsistent or
even competing. Instead, he was struck by
their uniformity. The comments from his wife
and family members were similar to those
from his army buddies and work colleagues.
Everyone took note of Robert’s courage under
pressure, high ethical standards, perseverance,
curiosity, adaptability, respect for diversity,
and team-building skills. Robert suddenly realized that even his small, unconscious behaviors had made a huge impression on others. In
many cases, he had forgotten about the specific examples cited until he read the feedback,
because his behavior in those situations had
felt like second nature to him.
The RBS exercise confirmed Robert’s sense
of himself, but for those who are unaware of
their strengths, the exercise can be truly illuminating. Edward, for example, was a recently
minted MBA executive in an automotive firm.
His colleagues and subordinates were older
and more experienced than he, and he felt uncomfortable disagreeing with them. But he
learned through the RBS exercise that his
peers appreciated his candid alternative views
and respected the diplomatic and respectful
manner with which he made his assertions. As
a result, Edward grew bolder in making the
case for his ideas, knowing that his boss and
colleagues listened to him, learned from him,
and appreciated what he had to say.
Other times, the RBS exercise sheds a
more nuanced light on the skills one takes
for granted. Beth, for example, was a lawyer
who negotiated on behalf of nonprofit organizations. Throughout her life, Beth had
been told she was a good listener, but her exercise respondents noted that the interactive, empathetic, and insightful manner in
which she listened made her particularly
effective. The specificity of the feedback
encouraged Beth to take the lead in future
negotiations that required delicate and diplomatic communications.
For naturally analytical people, the analysis
portion of the exercise serves both to integrate
the feedback and develop a larger picture of
their capabilities. Janet, an engineer, thought
she could study her feedback as she would a
technical drawing of a suspension bridge. She
The Positive Organization
Positive organizational scholarship
(POS) is an area of organizational behavior research that focuses on the positive dynamics (such as strength, resilience, vitality, trust, and so on) that lead
to positive effects (like improved productivity and performance) in individuals and organizations. The word “positive” refers to the discipline’s affirmative
bias, “organizational” focuses on the
processes and conditions that occur in
group contexts, and “scholarship” reflects the rigor, theory, scientific procedures, and precise definition in which
the approach is grounded.
The premise of POS research is that
by understanding the drivers of positive
behavior in the workplace, organizations
can rise to new levels of achievement.
For example, research by Marcial Losada
and Emily Heaphy at the University of
Michigan suggests that when individuals or teams hear five positive comments to every negative one, they unleash a level of positive energy that fuels
higher levels of individual and group
performance. Kim Cameron, a POS researcher, has demonstrated how this
positive approach has helped the workers at Rocky Flats, a nuclear site in Colorado, tackle difficult and dangerous work
in record time. Begun in 1995 and estimated to take 70 years and $36 billion,
the Rocky Flats cleanup project is now
slated for completion in ten years, with a
price tag of less than $7 billion. KaiserHill, the company in charge of the
cleanup, replaced a culture of denial
with one that fostered employee flexibility and celebrated achievements. The result was that employees developed new
procedures that were fast, smart, and
POS does not adopt one particular
theory or framework but draws from the
full spectrum of organizational theories
to explain and predict high performance. To that end, a core part of the
POS mission is to create cases, tools, and
assessments that can help organizations
improve their practices. The Reflected
Best Self exercise is just one example of
the kinds of practice tools available from
POS. (For more information about POS,
see the University of Michigan’s Web
site at
How to Play to Your Strengths
harvard business review • managing yourself • january 2005 page 4
saw her “reflected best self” as something to interrogate and improve. But as she read the remarks from family, friends, and colleagues, she
saw herself in a broader and more human context. Over time, the stories she read about her
enthusiasm and love of design helped her rethink her career path toward more managerial
roles in which she might lead and motivate
Step 3
Compose Your Self-Portrait
The next step is to write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should
weave themes from the feedback together
with your self-observations into a composite
of who you are at your best. The self-portrait is
not designed to be a complete psychological
and cognitive profile. Rather, it should be an
insightful image that you can use as a reminder of your previous contributions and as
a guide for future action. The portrait itself
should not be a set of bullet points but rather
a prose composition beginning with the
phrase, “When I am at my best, I…” The process of writing out a two- to four-paragraph
narrative cements the image of your best self
in your consciousness. The narrative form also
helps you draw connections between the
themes in your life that may previously have
seemed disjointed or unrelated. Composing
the portrait takes time and demands careful
consideration, but at the end of this process,
you should come away with a rejuvenated
image of who you are.
In developing his self-portrait, Robert drew
on the actual words that others used to describe him, rounding out the picture with his
own sense of himself at his best. He excised
competencies that felt off the mark. This didn’t
mean he discounted them, but he wanted to
assure that the overall portrait felt authentic
and powerful. “When I am at my best,” Robert
I stand by my values and can get others
to understand why doing so is important. I
choose the harder right over the easier wrong.
I enjoy setting an example. When I am in learning mode and am curious and passionate
about a project, I can work intensely and untiringly. I enjoy taking things on that others
might be afraid of or see as too difficult. I’m
able to set limits and find alternatives when a
current approach is not working. I don’t always
assume that I am right or know best, which
engenders respect from others. I try to empower and give credit to others. I am tolerant
and open to differences.
As Robert developed his portrait, he began
to understand why he hadn’t performed his
best at work: He lacked a sense of mission. In
the army, he drew satisfaction from the
knowledge that the safety of the men and
women he led, as well as the nation he
served, depended on the quality of his work.
He enjoyed the sense of teamwork and variety of problems to be solved. But as an IT
manager in charge of routine maintenance on
new hardware products, he felt bored and isolated from other people.
The portrait-writing process also helped
Robert create a more vivid and elaborate sense
of what psychologists would call his “possible
self”—not just the person he is in his day-today job but the person he might be in completely different contexts. Organizational reGathering Feedback
A critical step in the Reflected Best Self exercise involves soliciting feedback from
family, friends, teachers, and colleagues. E-mail is an effective way of doing this, not
only because it’s comfortable and fast but also because it’s easy to cut and paste responses into an analysis table such as the one in the main body of this article.
Below is the feedback Robert, a manager we observed, received from a current
colleague and from a former coworker in the army.
From: Amy Chen
To: Robert Duggan
Subject: Re: Request for feedback
Dear Robert,
One of the greatest ways that you add value is that you stand for doing the right
thing. For example, I think of the time that we were behind on a project for a major
client and quality began to slip. You called a meeting and suggested that we had a
choice: We could either pull a C by satisfying the basic requirements, or we could
pull an A by doing excellent work. You reminded us that we could contribute to a better outcome. In the end, we met our deadline, and the client was very happy with the
From: Mike Bruno
To: Robert Duggan
Subject: Re: Request for feedback
One of the greatest ways you add value is that you persist in the face of adversity. I
remember the time that we were both leading troops under tight security. We were
getting conflicting information from the ground and from headquarters. You pushed
to get the ground and HQ folks to talk to each other despite the tight time pressure.
That information saved all of our lives. You never lost your calm, and you never
stopped expecting or demanding the best from everyone involved.
How to Play to Your Strengths
harvard business review • managing yourself • january 2005 page 5
searchers have shown that when we develop a
sense of our best possible self, we are better
able make positive changes in our lives.
Step 4
Redesign Your Job
Having pinpointed his strengths, Robert’s next
step was to redesign his personal job description to build on what he was good at. Given
the fact that routine maintenance work left
him cold, Robert’s challenge was to create a
better fit between his work and his best self.
Like most RBS participants, Robert found that
the strengths the exercise identified could be
put into play in his current position. This involved making small changes in the way he
worked, in the composition of his team, and in
the way he spent his time. (Most jobs have degrees of freedom in all three of these areas; the
trick is operating within the fixed constraints
of your job to redesign work at the margins,
allowing you to better play to your strengths.)
Robert began by scheduling meetings with
systems designers and engineers who told him
they were having trouble getting timely information flowing between their groups and Robert’s maintenance team. If communication improved, Robert believed, new products would
not continue to be saddled with the serious
and costly maintenance issues seen in the past.
Armed with a carefully documented history of
those maintenance problems as well as a new
understanding of his naturally analytical and
creative team-building skills, Robert began
meeting regularly with the designers and engineers to brainstorm better ways to prevent
problems with new products. The meetings
satisfied two of Robert’s deepest best-self
needs: He was interacting with more people at
work, and he was actively learning about systems design and engineering.
Robert’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Key
executives remarked on his initiative and his
ability to collaborate across functions, as well
as on the critical role he played in making new
products more reliable. They also saw how he
gave credit to others. In less than nine months,
Robert’s hard work paid off, and he was promoted to program manager. In addition to receiving more pay and higher visibility, Robert
enjoyed his work more. His passion was reignited; he felt intensely alive and authentic.
Whenever he felt down or lacking in energy,
he reread the original e-mail feedback he had
Ethics, values,
and courage
Creating a table helps you make sense of the feedback you collect. By clustering
examples, you can more easily compare responses and identify common themes.
• I take a stand when superiors and peers cross
the boundaries of ethical behavior.
• I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe
in. I confront people who litter or who yell at
their kids in public.
• I am at my best when I choose the harder right
over the easier wrong. I derive even more satisfaction when I am able to teach others. I am
professionally courageous.
Curiosity and
• I gave up a promising career in the military
to get my MBA.
• I investigated and solved a security breach
though an innovative approach.
• I like meeting new challenges. I take risks and
persevere despite obstacles.
Ability to build
• In high school, I assembled a team of students
that helped improve the school’s academic
• I am flexible and willing to learn from others,
and I give credit where credit is due.
• I thrive when working closely with others.
Common theme Examples given Possible interpretation
>>Finding Common Themes
Copyright © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
How to Play to Your Strengths
harvard business review • managing yourself • january 2005 page 6
received. In difficult situations, the e-mail messages helped him feel more resilient.
Robert was able to leverage his strengths to
perform better, but there are cases in which
RBS findings conflict with the realities of a person’s job. This was true for James, a sales executive who told us he was “in a world of hurt”
over his work situation. Unable to meet his
ambitious sales goals, tired of flying around the
globe to fight fires, his family life on the verge
of collapse, James had suffered enough. The
RBS exercise revealed that James was at his
best when managing people and leading
change, but these natural skills did not and
could not come into play in his current job.
Not long after he did the exercise, he quit his
high-stress position and started his own successful company.
Other times, the findings help managers
aim for undreamed-of positions in their own
organizations. Sarah, a high-level administrator at a university, shared her best-self portrait
with key colleagues, asking them to help her
identify ways to better exploit her strengths
and talents. They suggested that she would be
an ideal candidate for a new executive position. Previously, she would never have considered applying for the job, believing herself unqualified. To her surprise, she handily beat out
the other candidates.
Beyond Good Enough
We have noted that while people remember
criticism, awareness of faults doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance. Based on
that understanding, the RBS exercise helps you
remember your strengths—and construct a
plan to build on them. Knowing your strengths
also offers you a better understanding of how
to deal with your weaknesses—and helps you
gain the confidence you need to address them.
It allows you to say, “I’m great at leading but
lousy at numbers. So rather than teach me remedial math, get me a good finance partner.” It
also allows you to be clearer in addressing your
areas of weakness as a manager. When Tim, a
financial services executive, received feedback
that he was a great listener and coach, he also
became more aware that he had a tendency to
spend too much time being a cheerleader and
too little time keeping his employees to task.
Susan, a senior advertising executive, had the
opposite problem: While her feedback lauded
her results-oriented management approach,
she wanted to be sure that she hadn’t missed
opportunities to give her employees the space
to learn and make mistakes.
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Getting the Most Out of 360-Degree Reviews

This is why many organizations, echoing Blanchard’s sentiment, use 360-degree feedback instruments, or customized multi-rater surveys, to help managers and other employees become better leaders.

Capable of providing individuals with valuable information about their workplace behaviors, including their strengths and weaknesses, 360-degree instruments can help individuals establish clear goals for self-improvement.

5 steps to better feedback
However, because 360-degree reports involve multiple perspectives, it can be easy for recipients to get confused by or refute the feedback.

Certain behaviors may be viewed positively by some raters and negatively by others. In addition, the amount of detail found in the reports can make interpreting them intimidating and murky.

So how can individuals take their 360-degree feedback and put their newfound knowledge to use? We’ve compiled a list of five tips for making the feedback process more insightful, rewarding and productive:

1. Stay positive
In order to get the most out of your feedback, it’s important to view the experience as a positive one.

Yes, 360-degree feedback gives you the opportunity to gain insight about yourself that you may never have received otherwise, and this is especially true for senior-level employees. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, it’s safe to assume that everyone providing you with feedback is trying to be helpful.

Rather than react to any feedback with shock, anger or resistance, consider it the ideal time to connect with yourself, become more self-aware and ultimately grow as a person and professional.

2. Look for themes
Due to the robust nature of 360-degree feedback, reports can appear daunting with all the numbers, tables, graphs and text. To avoid getting lost in the detail, focus on the primary themes that emerge across the data.

By starting at the higher level, it’s easier to identify common patterns regarding how you are perceived by others.

3. Focus on strengths first, weaknesses second
Upon receiving 360-degree feedback, it can be tempting to start making plans for tackling your weaknesses.

Although this isn’t entirely wrong, weaknesses don’t represent the only opportunities for development. Understanding how to enhance your strengths is just as important as understanding how to stretch or grow. In addition, by knowing how to use strengths to your advantage, you may be better equipped to help resolve or compensate for any weaknesses.

4. Identify gaps
Because 360-degree feedback is subjective — each rater is providing feedback from his or her own unique viewpoint — it’s important to identify any gaps in perception that may occur. Do you view yourself differently than your raters? Do your peers view you differently than your direct reports?

What does your supervisor or manager see that the other groups may not? Answering these questions can help determine whether you behave differently among different groups of individuals.

If there are significant gaps, or areas of disconnect between groups, it’s important to explore the cause. Are you giving yourself too much credit? Too little?

5. Create a development plan
The last and most important step in the feedback process is to create a development plan for the future. This plan will take the key messages you learned in your report and turn them into specific goals and steps that will help you become a better leader.

To create the plan, identify the desired competencies most important to you and the ones others rated as needing development. Then, list out specific ways to accomplish these competencies, such as taking on a new project or serving as a mentor to someone new.

After that, identify how you will measure your development progress, such as performance reviews or follow-up feedback surveys, and ensure that these initiatives take place.

A lasting impact
In order to use 360-degree feedback to reach one’s full potential, it’s important to treat it as a process rather than an event.

The work doesn’t end with “unwrapping” the feedback and reading it. It requires thoughtful dissection and analysis, a clear plan of action and a commitment to continuous improvement.

By regularly reviewing their development plans and following up with peers and managers, individuals can help ensure that their goals and objectives don’t “slip through the cracks” and evaporate, but instead become the new reality within their workplace.

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Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn.

When we ask managers a simple question – are you successful at training employees, most of them wanted to say yes, but they were ill equipped to do so. A lot of times managers think that they are coaching, but all they’re doing is just telling employees to do things.

So what is coaching? Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance and helping them learn rather than just telling things is coaching. If done in the right way coaching greatly helps in employee engagement and motivates employees to enhance their productivity.

Although a lot of managers don’t know how to coach people, but the good thing is that they are willing to learn and bring about a change. Managers and leaders are ready to improve their coaching and leadership skills to help their employees and organizations. There are various researches going on regarding this topic. Although we can call them work in progress, but discussed below are the initial findings and methodologies used.

First, we asked a group of participants to coach one another on a simple topic – time management. A total of 98 people were in this group and they all belonged to different backgrounds and domains. One third of the group comprised of females, while two thirds were males. The average age of the group was 32 years and they had an average of 8 years of work experience. The coaching conversations lasted a total of five minutes and it was all recorded. We asked 18 coaching experts to evaluate these conversations. The coaching experts had a graduate or master’s degree and an average of 23.2 years of work experience and 7.4 years of coaching experience.

Participants received face to face training in groups of 50. This group was further divided into smaller groups for practice, reflection, and feedback. At the end, the conversations were again recorded and evaluated by coaching experts. In total 900 conversations were recorded and evaluated. These were also accompanied by surveys asking participants about their attitude and experience with coaching, before and after the training program.

One of the biggest lessons for all participants was that when they were initially asked to coach, they demonstrated a form of consulting. Managers provided employees with advice rather than giving empathetic solutions. This kind of coaching practice was considered good coaching by all participants. But the scenario changed after the training program.

The research closely analyzed how you can train people to become better coaches. The following 9 leadership coaching skills were given main focus.

Recognizing and enhancing their strengths
Encouraging a solution-focused approach
Using the guidelines given by experts in the industry, the best, worst, and most improved components of coaching were listed. The skill that the participants were best at before the training was – listening and was rated ‘average’ by our experts. On completion of training, the expert rating increased by 32.9% and the rating changed from average to ‘good’.

The skill that the participants struggled with the most was ‘recognizing and enhancing their skills’ and ‘letting the participants decide their own solutions’. Participants were rated ‘poor’ and after the training the rating improved to ‘average’. It was understood that these two areas need to be focused the most by managers. The most improved aspect of coaching was ‘letting the participants decide their own solutions’. This particular aspect saw the most growth of 54.1% and from being rated ‘poor’ it went to ‘slightly above average’ after the training program.

If we talk on a general basis, a 40.2% increase in overall coaching ability was noted in the participants across all nine categories. Given that this is such a short training program, this is a remarkable result.

Once this step is done, the next step is to encourage managers to create a safe environment for employees. And for this to become a reality, managers don’t need to spend months. All you need is targeted training that’ll help improve the managers’ coaching skills. Whatever training program you choose, it is important that you give participants time to reflect on their coaching abilities. In this coaching program, the managers rated and reflected on their coaching abilities three times.

Once after we asked them to train someone cold
Once after they were given additional training
Once looking back at their original coaching session
After the training program, mangers brought down their initial assessment of themselves by 28.8% and it made a shift from ‘slightly good’ to ‘slightly poor’. This change was in tandem with the manager’s colleagues who reduced their assessment by 18.4% and it shifted from ‘slightly good’ to ‘neither good nor bad’. This means that when managers have the right training, they can assess their strengths and skills in a better way. Therefore, it is essential that organizations devote time for managers to reflect on their skills, review what they’ve done, and what’s working for them.

This research also supports and encourages giving feedback by experts. Coaching experts should give feedback on how well the coaching and leadership skills were applied, and if any aspect of the training was missed by the participants. This practice will highlight their weaknesses and give them a chance to work on them and improve these skills. Managers get two main advantages from this approach –

They can practice their coaching in a safe environment
Coaches can discuss challenges that they have experienced and how to overcome them
Lack of training leave managers unprepared and it might also lead to waste of time and energy. If you take slight learning from each of these, it will be a success. The good thing is that even a small amount of training can help managers.

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Moving Beyond Likability: 5 Principles For Women Leaders That Men Can Learn From Too

Everywhere you look, women are rocking it. This year saw a dramatic rise in the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500, from 24 (4.8%) in 2018 to 33 (6.6%) in 2019—still low but improving. Young women have some very impressive entrepreneurial role models, as documented in Diana Kapp’s recent book, Girls Who Run The World: 31 CEOs Who Mean Business. There are a record number of women in Congress, and we saw four women candidates participate in the latest Democratic presidential debate. We also witnessed some tremendously competent and powerful female career diplomats—notably Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill—testify in the recent impeachment inquiry hearings.

And yet, “the likability trap is still a thing.” A recent New York Times/Siena College poll indicated that nearly 40% of respondents found all of the female candidates for president “just not likable” and many are drawing an inference from this that they may not be electable. Never mind the fact that President Trump is widely disliked, or that Hillary Clinton, who also struggled with likability, won the popular vote in 2016. Women continue to be dogged by the issue.

Advice on improving your likability abounds, including everything from the basics of good manners, like saying “good morning,” showing interest in co-workers and being a good listener, to behaviors that are highly gendered, like being “kind and gentle, not critical,” and “keep the kitchen cleaner than you keep your own.” Ugh. While these latter two behaviors may make people like you, they also serve to reinforce gender stereotypes and potentially undermine your authority. If likability for men means someone you want to have a beer with, for women it seems to be code for non-threatening, helpful and attractive.

Today In: Leadership
Maybe it’s time to reject the premise of likability and acknowledge that, as Stanford researcher Marianne Cooper says, “for women leaders, likability and success hardly go hand-in-hand.” What if we stopped worrying so much about being liked?

Excessive concern with being liked is crippling for leaders. It leads to inauthenticity—saying what people want to hear rather than what is true for you—and playing it safe. That’s not going to cut it for leaders in a world of increasing demands and complexity. When leaders are driven by other’s regard for them, they operate from the “socialized mind,” Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan’s term for the stage of adult development in which their identity depends on meeting external expectations and values. This approach can be effective up to a point, but it dooms them to be constantly reactive to others who, in essence, dictate their identity and constrain their behavior. More effective and authentic leadership comes from Kegan’s “self-authoring mind.” Individuals who lead from the self-authoring form of mind create and refine their own values and expectations. They are aware of their impact on others but are not driven by it. They are not overly concerned with being liked.


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Okay, I know we live in a real world in which the deck is stacked against powerful women, and there are very real consequences for women who are deemed unlikable. As Cooper noted, women are “expected to be nice, warm, friendly, and nurturing. Thus, if a woman acts assertively or competitively, if she pushes her team to perform, if she exhibits decisive and forceful leadership, she is deviating from the social script that dictates how she ‘should’ behave. By violating beliefs about what women are like, successful women elicit pushback from others for being insufficiently feminine and too masculine. As descriptions like ‘Ice Queen,’ and ‘Ballbuster’ can attest, we are deeply uncomfortable with powerful women. In fact, we often don’t really like them.” When women and men do exactly the same things, women pay a penalty in how much they are liked that men do not pay. And the price is even higher for assertive women of color, who often find themselves caught in a limiting angry black woman stereotype.

But you also pay a penalty if, in the words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “you twist yourself into shapes to make yourself more likable.” The author of We Should All Be Feminists rejects being overly concerned with avoiding giving offense. The fact is, you simply can’t control whether someone else likes you or not, and if you try too hard, you risk your authenticity.

I am not advocating for disregarding your impact on others, but I believe the risks are greater if you allow your behavior to be driven by whether you are liked or not. What to do instead? Here are some guidelines on how to navigate the likability minefield:

Focus on influence, not control. You cannot control if others like you, but you can influence their thinking and behavior. This involves building relationships, understanding your constituents and including their interests in your vision, strategy and decisions to bring them along.
Create connection. Common humanity is a powerful foundation for leadership and relationship. This means expressing care for people and seeking to understand what motivates them. Listen to others’ stories and share yours, including your vulnerability and your aspirations.
Stay in integrity. Maintaining trust is an essential aspect of leadership and success. Stand up for your values. Speak consistently, directly (no gossip), and unarguably. Keep your word and take responsibility for your actions, and avoid defensiveness and blame.
Remember: It’s not about you. This is true in more ways than one. First, much of the battle you are fighting to be a successful as a woman is taking place on an uneven playing field. The unconscious biases that others bring to the table are not personal, so try not to internalize when people don’t like you. And second, whatever you are working on is bigger than you, so when possible, take your ego out of the equation and practice humility.
Do not make yourself smaller. Being humble does not mean being meek. In order to make a significant contribution, you need to leverage all your strengths, not minimize them out of fear that others will be turned off or intimidated. Be bold, decisive and let your voice be heard.
This approach will allow you to create relationships that are based on connection, trust, and shared vision, which are a much stronger foundation that just being liked.

Source :

How to Empower and Engage Your Workforce by Focusing on the Employee Experience

Organizations have an opportunity to empower and engage employees through the experiences they create. An employee experience is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially in such a highly competitive market. But where do you start?


Welcome to the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, editor for special projects and webinars at Harvard Business Review, and today I’m talking with Michael Gretczko, principal, national offering leader, human capital as a service at Deloitte Consulting LLP, and with Jody Kohner, senior vice president of employee marketing and engagement at Salesforce.

We’re focusing today on how organizations can empower and engage employees through the experiences they create. An employee experience is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially in today’s highly competitive market. But where do you start? Companies should move beyond thinking about experiences at work in terms of perks and rewards and instead focus on delivering a consumer-like employee experience that is meaningful and offers values-based work.

Michael and Jody, thanks so much for joining us today. Organizations have been investing a lot in improving the day-to-day experience for their workers over recent years. Which area seems to be the biggest challenge, and where do they need to improve? Michael, let’s start with you.

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

I think this is a really important question and one that just about every organization that I talked to, and we at Deloitte talk to is trying to find an answer to. First and foremost, what’s really shaping the interest in this question is that workforce demographics continue to change. Organizations are constantly trying to evolve and improve upon that employee experience. We’ve done this study for the past ten years that looks at the predominant trends in the human capital market, and what we found is that we’ve seen these really large changes.

For example, 24 percent of workers are telecommuting. So flexibility is increasingly important to team members and can really shape the kind of experience they have with that organization. What we’ve concluded is that there’s quite a bit of room for improvement when it comes to things like work-life balance. And really what’s at the center of all of this debate and discussion is employees are looking for work to be really meaningful. And to give people a sense of belonging, trust in the relationships, given how much time they spend at work and what a big part of their self-identity it is.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

I think that’s a really great point, Michael. The way we see it at Salesforce is that culture is just a huge part of the day-to-day employee experience. And so organizations really can’t think about it as an afterthought, right? It’s no longer a nice-to-have; it is a true business imperative. So for a company that’s growing as rapidly as we are, our culture makes a really big difference in our ability to attract and retain talent. We’re super proud that Salesforce has been named one of the best places to work, and that is the result of a deliberate and a very intentional focus on culture.

But I do want to say that we do not have this all figured out. We’re learning as we go. And one thing that I can share is that along the way we’ve developed a formula that has been really successful for us. And that formula is kind of one part being really intentional with our culture, how we think about it, how we prioritize it, how we talk about it. The second part is we really lean on technology to enhance the employee experience so that getting your job done is fun and it’s easy.

And the third part is that we figured out that we really need to look at the data. The data that’s coming out of modern technologies, the data that our employees are giving us; and in doing this, it helps us make faster, smarter decisions. So culture, technology, and data—having all three of these has really been our recipe for engagement.

Julie Devoll, HBR

So what has actually changed in the workforce that is attributing to the need for organizations to improve their employee experience? What are you seeing that’s most important to employees and their needs?

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

I think from the organizational view this has just become a business imperative. One of our studies concluded that organizations with highly engaged workforces reported a three-year revenue growth rate that was 2.3 times greater than the average. That’s a massive difference. And it’s become important that companies make sure that an experience is a big part of what they offer their talent.

From an employee view, I think what we see mostly is that this rise of the mobile workforce is also coinciding with a rise in longer days, and overworked and oftentimes even burnt-out employees in many organizations. The much-wanted flexibility that we’ve looked for for many years has actually led to this always-on mentality. Employees and employers haven’t figured out how to set guidelines around when to turn off at work and when to be able to unwind from a day. And this has really driven quite a bit of the dissatisfaction that employees feel at work.

As we went on and studied this, we’ve learned that less than half—49 percent of the respondents that we spoke to at many thousands of organizations—believe that organizations’ workers were unsatisfied with their jobs or the job design. Similarly, only 42 percent felt that their workers were satisfied or very satisfied with the day-to-day work practices, and 38 percent thought they had enough autonomy to make good decisions. Those numbers are relatively low when you consider how important this is for the success of that broader organization.

What we’ve concluded is now, more than ever, employees really want a couple [of] things. They want meaningful work that inspires them and where they can identify with the purpose. They want supportive management—leaders who are helping them achieve their maximum potential. They want a positive environment and one that has a number of growth opportunities. They really want to trust in their leadership. And they want visibility into how their leaders think and visibility into the value system that their leaders have and are driving at that organization. Their organizations need to be focused on those five things in order to be able to achieve that growth rate that we’ve seen with the best organizations.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

I completely agree with everything you’re saying there, Michael. I think that while creating a really great culture is important and it’s key to improving the employee experience, that alone is just frankly not enough. Today’s employee wants social, mobile, smart, and connected technologies, just like the ones that they use every single day outside of work. They want all of this to help them work more efficiently and effectively in their work life the same way they do in their personal life. And if you think about today’s workforce, they expect the same consumer-focused experience that they receive in their personal lives in their professional lives.

And what this all means for companies is that companies must learn new techniques and adopt technology to really help bridge this disconnect. All of the tools that you expect from your vendor of choice should also be available from your employer of choice. So, at Salesforce, we do use our own technology to help us scale and deliver a consistent consumer-like experience for our culture across the entire employment journey. So that starts with attraction and onboarding, [and continues] all the way through their ongoing employee success.

I have a couple of examples of ways that we do this, just to try to maybe illustrate that a little bit more. One would be our employee survey. This is a great vehicle for employees to be able to provide confidential feedback twice a year. But it’s unique because all of the results are accessible to all of the employees. So you’re able to really drill down into the data at a micro level, and you’re able to impact change, and you can do this from your phone, or you can do this from your laptop.

We also, instead of overwhelming new hires with all sorts of the information that you need to start a new job, just drip that information out, right at the right time just to the right person, using our Marketing Cloud technology. So it’s not some death by PowerPoint onboarding with 800 slides that you’re going to need to refer back to and try to figure out what you need and when; it’s just that right message coming to you at the right time.

Instead of endless meetings and emails, we communicate and collaborate socially in our employee community, much the way that people communicate in all of the social media channels. We set that up for people here in the office. So just a few examples of the type of technology that you would expect from your favorite brands outside of work, making sure that that same situation, that same experience can be replicated inside the office.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Michael, question for you. The employee experience was originally based [on] the customer experience model. Are there areas where employees are or should be treated differently than customers?

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

Yeah I love this question. And I love hearing, Jody, you talk about some of the examples at Salesforce. I think they’re really powerful. I think what we have learned though, is there are some differences for employees. The first is that for most employees, work is a really big part of their identity. And their relationship with employers is very personal. It’s very deep, your employee-employer relationship. And it can be quite a bit deeper and quite a bit more important to employees than the relationship they may have with the product that they’re buying. So what they experience is a bit of the customer landscape.

Secondly, the way you experience working is much more social, it’s much more about being part of this community of a workforce. Your perception of your employer is very much crafted by the experiences that your other employees have. And that’s not always true with the way you might experience a product, a customer product, or a consumer product, where it’s much more sort of a one-to-one relationship.

And third, and perhaps very relevant to this discussion we’re having here and some of the examples that Jody shared, employees want more than just an easy set of transactions. Back to the scene you’re hearing from me is that employees really want a career with meaning and purpose. And I think the best organizations will empower the human side of workers. We talk often about helping employees realize their maximum human potential. And understand the fact that employees are people at their foundation, right? And they want choices in what they do; they want to be treated as an individual. And I think many organizations have gone through this sort of pendulum swing of driving very consistent experiences, but that also feel very transactional, and then moving all the way to very personalized experiences.

I think the market has generally landed on needing to have some of these personalized experiences, technology supporting it, and letting the individual’s needs build bottom up to what the employer then provides to their entire employee base to drive the kind of engagement that’s critical.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Jody, in what ways can an organization bring a refreshed sense of meaning to work?

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

You know, a great culture is about feeling connected to a greater mission. You’ve got to understand your share of the task, and ultimately you want to have a meaningful experience with your work. So, at Salesforce, we are highly transparent about our business priorities, and this really creates a sense of purpose and belonging.

Now what this does is that it helps employees know where they are going. What’s the plan for how we’re going to get there, and what is their share of the task? And this is what creates great meaning for them. They can see in their V2MOM how it’s impacting our ultimate bottom line. They can trace their individual contributions, and it just creates a sense of purpose, meaning, and, I will add, accountability. Because at Salesforce, every V2MOM is public; it’s all a part of our own internal employee community. And anyone can look up anyone else’s V2MOM, see what they’ve committed to do, and also see the progress that is being made against the methods and metrics that you are going to deliver upon.

Julie Devoll, HBR

So what role do engagement technologies play in helping connect employees to a sense or meaning of purpose? Michael, let’s start with you.

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

My observation is that these new technologies really give us the potential to do things that we could never do before. And at the center of that is the ability to really help navigate this focus on personalization. To really get to know the employee versus trying to guess. I mentioned our human capital trends report a little while ago; our study there indicated that only 38 percent of employees were satisfied or very satisfied with the tools and technologies they have at work. It goes to this gap that Jody talked about between the consumer and the employee experience.

The workforce of today is really digitally savvy, more than they ever have been. And they want a consumer-grade digital experience that is very much about how they interact in their personal lives. For employers, that engagement platform can really help them understand exactly what matters to their employees. And we think at the center of this [are] the sensing and analytics that employers can do to really get in the heads of their employees, to understand worker preferences.

We do a lot of this work with our clients to help them build the systems and the processes and the management hygiene to be able to understand that, and then translate that into workplace technology that creates those personalized experiences, when you know but not guess what your employees need. It should be fully mobile, it should be user friendly, it should be intuitive with interfaces and dashboards. And it needs to make sure that workers feel like they matter, that they’re prioritized, and that we really understand them as employees of our organization.

These personalized digital platforms and some of the great technology that’s in the market today help make sure there is that connectivity. And when you have that connectivity and workers feel like they’re known and understood, we see a lot more productivity and we see that revenue growth that we talked about earlier. And I think we’re just seeing the beginning of the potential in these engagement technologies and the beginning of the potential to really drive great organizational performance through our people and to make the experience of coming to work be a really great one.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

That is just spot-on, Michael. We definitely know that effective technology is an important part of the day-to-day employee experience. Beyond that even, technology empowers an organization to bring its values to life. It makes a value more than just something that’s painted on a wall; it makes it real, it makes it something your employees can actually touch and interact with.

A great example of how we’ve done that to improve our employee experience is, as you may know, giving back is a huge part of our DNA here at Salesforce. It starts on day one; all employees participate in their first volunteer activity just a few hours into their first day. And then moving forward, employees get paid [for] seven days off to volunteer per year. Additionally, they actually have another $5,000 in matching donations to nonprofits of their choice.

But what we were realizing is we’ve got this unbelievable value around giving back, and we really empowered our people to give back, but as we were growing, we needed to leverage our technology to scale our giving-back efforts so that we could really measure our impact. And that’s where Volunteerforce comes in.

So Volunteerforce is an app that lets employees discover new volunteering and giving-back opportunities, based on their location, their preferences, and their history. We track and we celebrate the numbers of hours volunteered in the app. And then based upon an employee’s previous volunteering or giving experience, the app can help make intelligent recommendations to them about upcoming events or organizations they may enjoy or they want to consider giving to.

And by the way, the number of hours that we intend to volunteer as a company is in the corporate V2MOM. So we state the goal publicly, we give them the technology to be able to interact with it to show that it’s real, and ultimately this has helped us fuel an incredibly passionate community of citizen philanthropists, and we are just super proud of our employees. To date, we have volunteered more than 4.3 million hours across the globe, and I can see that in the app, and I can see how many hours I personally have contributed to that.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Jody, it seems like the employee experience is constantly evolving. What do you think will impact the next significant shift in focus?

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

Well, one of the most interesting and frankly notable findings from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that employers are now at the forefront of trust. So the survey revealed that, globally, trust has changed remarkably over the past year. People are placing less and less trust in their government and more and more trust in their employers. And so what this means is that we really have to be prepared to be transparent and to have the tough discussions about social issues. Our goal is to foster an open dialogue and provide employees with the channels necessary to address their concerns quickly and effectively. And we can do this through things like our employee survey, our internal employee community, and even the V2MOM.

Last year, we actually launched the Office of Ethical and Humane Use because we wanted to make sure that there was due process and collaborative thinking across our whole industry for responsibly developing artificial intelligence and other fourth industrial revolution technologies that are shaping our world. We did this because it was important to our employees, because they surfaced this to us, and because we had the systems and the mechanisms in place to hear them and be able to respond to them.

So ultimately it boils down to the fact that it is critical. It is truly critical to foster a safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up.

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The Value Of An Analytics-Based Approach To People Decisions

Organizations today are navigating an unprecedented period of disruption. Digital transformation, artificial intelligence, global economic unrest, cybersecurity, and increased competition create enormous challenges for the most agile and innovative organizations.

How can organizations thrive in such a fast-moving world? By focusing on leadership development.

Organizations have a laser focus on cultivating leaders who can create a compelling strategic direction and engage their teams in making those strategies real.

And they spend a lot to do it: CCL research shows organizations invest an estimated $34 billion annually in leadership development — but only about 1 in 10 executives can tie that investment to a clear business ROI. Why? Because organizations don’t leverage their organizational and leadership data assets to inform their investment decisions.

Smart leadership analytics can de-risk decision-making. By using data to inform investments, executives can place strategic bets that create the leaders, teams, and organizational culture to compete. Analytics can help executives build a roadmap for setting the right priorities, launching the right initiatives, and producing results that get noticed.
The Benefits
Here are four of the many ways an analytics-based approach to people decisions can improve business outcomes:

1. Revive “dead” data to accelerate ROI
Data is king in every organization and every function. Think about the data required to manage your sales pipeline, supply management chains, financial reporting, marketing investments — what function doesn’t use data to uncover opportunities and prioritize initiatives?

Unfortunately, many organizations fail to bring the same rigor to people investments. They gather all types of data on leadership competencies, employee engagement and corporate culture — but then put the information on the shelf or fail to use it effectively. Even worse, the organization may put precious resources into securing and managing that dead data. Not only is the value of the investment lost — but the organization may incur ongoing costs for maintaining that data.

Analytics can breathe new life into this “dead” data by creating predictive models that link leadership and organizational data to business outcomes. These science-based, predictive models can show you how a 1 percent improvement in a certain leadership or organizational behaviors will reduce costs, increase retention, improve customer satisfaction scores and other significant business metrics. Models de-risk decisions so you can determine what leadership and culture investments you should make based on the anticipated payoff.

2. Lift the cover on networks
Hierarchies are dead; networks are in. Sound like a familiar hot topic for your organization? Informal networks are central to business performance. But these seemingly invisible webs can be hard to identify and to influence since they rely on relationships — not formal reporting structures.

Customized diagnostics and analytics can help you uncover these hidden connections and understand how they affect business outcomes. You can determine whether your company networks are diverse and inclusive. You can find the “go-to” people who everyone trusts — learning the secret sauce that keeps them so connected. You can determine whether your leaders span organizational boundaries by leveraging a team of teams.

Data scientists conduct network analytics to create detailed reports and visual representations of your networks. These visual stories equip you to leverage existing connections, create new patterns of connectivity, better align structures to organizational goals, and help individuals in key roles lead more effectively.

3. Emulate productive leaders
The talent war is real. Finding the right talent is expensive — and adding headcount has real consequences for your margins. You can focus on optimizing the productivity of your talent base with smart analytics, modeling both the capabilities of individual leaders and the organizational conditions that lead to higher productivity.

Data scientists can create productivity models by identifying the characteristics of high performing leaders and teams. These characteristics can then be used both to create criteria for selecting new talent and to implement development plans for existing leaders and teams. Analytics can help you deliver the same — or better — results with fewer people.

4. Banish “in-the-dark” planning
Workforce planning has never been more critical. Organizations need highly effective leaders at all levels in order to survive and thrive. But what does “effective” mean in the context of your organization? Do you need digitally savvy leaders? Change champions? Big-picture strategists? Customer-care gurus?

Data scientists can help you pinpoint the precise skills and capabilities you need to accomplish your strategic objectives. You can make smarter decisions about your recruiting program, retention efforts, and leadership pipeline. And you can create new action plans and development initiatives that promote those precise aspects of leadership, culture, and employee experiences your organization needs.
Putting it into Practice
Ready to use an analytics-based approach to guide your leadership development efforts?

Take these steps to get started.

• Does your HR team include data scientists? If not, find a way to get access to those skills either with dedicated roles, using internal resources, or outsourcing. Accurate data and analyses will empower you to make informed decisions — and you will need skilled resources to ensure data and models have high integrity and accuracy.

• Inventory your data and ask how it has been used to drive decisions. Have you linked your people data to specific ROI metrics? Have you collected text data that has never been analyzed? What does your competency, engagement, and coaching data tell you about the strategic challenges your organization must address? A data inventory will help you begin leveraging data to inform both short and long-term decisions.

• Use analytics to think about how you identify and grow high potential employees. Is your 9 box sufficient? Too subjective? A more objective, data-driven approach would use competency and employee engagement data to identify new leaders.

• Use network analytics to understand how teams work together — and whether the team lead optimizes that team’s productivity and joy. Links between members and to the team lead or boss reveals how the team functions — and whether some members are isolated. Diagnostics like CCL’s TeamVantage can reveal whether team dynamics are helping or hindering growth.

Data analytics can help your team make the right moves at the right time, so your people investments won’t be wasted and go unnoticed. You can invest where it matters most and can document your business impact and return on investment.


Do Employee-Centric Strategies Boost The Bottom Line?

Creating, and consistently delivering, a great customer experience is an operational cornerstone of the world’s most successful brands. But what about delivering the same caliber of experience to employees? Hiring managers and human resources departments need to audit their organizational approach in putting employees first, or risk losing the battle to recruit fresh talent and retain top performers.

No doubt, there are companies that believe their workers are happy to simply have a job and collect a paycheck – but with today’s competitive job market that’s a risky approach. That’s because findings from research conducted by NTT DATA Services have revealed that enterprises who put their own employees at the center of their growth and transformation strategies reap significant rewards in so many areas – including higher returns.

Creating an environment where employees want to work involves more than simply providing advanced technology resources or comfortable work spaces. An optimal employee experience results from a variety of factors. The integration of current technology and the physical environment are top of mind. But a strong, demonstrated corporate culture, diversity and inclusion efforts, employee performance benchmarks and skills development play a key role as well. The common denominator is engagement with—not just communication from—leadership.

Most employees want to perform, grow as professionals and add value to an organization that cares about them. When you invest in creating exceptional employee experiences, employees are not only more productive, more profitable, they also tend to stay with the company longer. For companies, the results are quantifiable where the bottom line is concerned.

In North America, the impact of the ongoing skills shortages, as well as different preferences among a multi-generational workforce, prompted us to look deeper into the impact of employee experience on the workplace, and how well companies who put employees at the heart of their strategy performed relative to peers who did not. In addition to seeing a more innovative culture develop within the enterprise, our research indicates that of companies with a strong employee experience strategy 78% reported enhanced revenues and a 69% a stronger recruitment pipeline.

All of this, in turn, triggers an ongoing cycle of high employee engagement, driving high performance and fueling innovation—thereby gaining additional customers and potential revenue.

This kind of transformation cannot simply be accomplished with higher pay or occasional “team” outings and events. Employee engagement done right is a multi-faceted process, requiring a thorough understanding of your workplace as experienced by employees. So where do you start?
Consult with your team members at every level. Ask for their feedback, opinions and suggestions regarding their work environment. Make note of it all. Take them seriously. An engaged workforce is an invested workforce.
Keep track, measure your progress, and adjust if needed. Vendor partnerships, measurement strategies and stress testing are valuable tools that can keep you on track and headed in the right direction.
Keep your employees as the focus of the process – not costs, or convenience, or a calendar. Creating an environment where employees want to work is the goal. Get it right and you’ll not only be more likely to keep your top talent, you’ll become a “trophy destination” for other top players who can help forge your competitive advantage and boost your ROI.
Challenge resistance to change by using employee feedback surveys, end-user consultations and strong organizational change management strategies to ensure that employees’ needs are understood and met – and result in a positive impact on the bottom line.
To summarize, a well-planned workplace that places a premium on employee-centric strategies can develop the foundation bedrock that leads to improved business metrics. If your organization is committed to having the competitive edge, the answer lies within.

Big HR Data Is Here: How Do You Use It?

Analytics is a word which conjures many opinions and images. You can probably imagine lengthy and complex spreadsheets or pie charts and graphs presenting all kinds of averages and counts.

In Greek, the word “ana” means above and “lysis” means solution, which results in “beyond solution”. As a child, my parents used this word frequently to encourage thinking through problems, as they spoke to me in Greek. Analysis and problem solving is a part of me, while spreadsheets, pie charts and graphs are merely tools. In and of themselves, they will provide lots of information, but unlikely to provide a “beyond solution”.

Big Data Literacy
Analysis has always been an important part of work, and Human Resources has historically been reticent to adopt data literacy, analysis and insights as key capabilities. As organizations drive towards talent strategies and an uplifted employee experience, as part of HR’s realignment of its fit-for-purpose, analytics adoption is an essential component towards the maturity of the Human Resources function. Strategic use of people data will solve business problems. Organizations must make decisions based on sound

Analytics is a word which conjures many opinions and images. You can probably imagine lengthy and complex spreadsheets or pie charts and graphs presenting all kinds of averages and counts.

In Greek, the word “ana” means above and “lysis” means solution, which results in “beyond solution”. As a child, my parents used this word frequently to encourage thinking through problems, as they spoke to me in Greek. Analysis and problem solving is a part of me, while spreadsheets, pie charts and graphs are merely tools. In and of themselves, they will provide lots of information, but unlikely to provide a “beyond solution”.

Big Data Literacy
Analysis has always been an important part of work, and Human Resources has historically been reticent to adopt data literacy, analysis and insights as key capabilities. As organizations drive towards talent strategies and an uplifted employee experience, as part of HR’s realignment of its fit-for-purpose, analytics adoption is an essential component towards the maturity of the Human Resources function. Strategic use of people data will solve business problems. Organizations must make decisions based on sound data analysis. As Sherlock Holmes stated, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts”. Is data available for analysis? If available, we need to engage objectively in the analysis to allow the data to inform our decisions, rather than justify our theories.

Analytics Capability
How do we start to build the analytics capability? HR leaders can take several steps to build the foundation.

Educate yourself.
Learn as much as you can about workforce analytics. Read books, take online courses, attend conferences. Network with experts and ask many questions.
Understand analytic approaches. Each type offers valuable insights and as your capability matures, you will use all approaches. *
Descriptive Analysis. This is a view into an activity that includes volumes, cuts or costs.
Related Analysis. This approach offers insights related to performance against requirements or standards. If you have a service level agreement, then measuring performance against the agreement is a related analysis.
Analytical Analysis. This answers questions regarding the relationship between activities and outcomes, such as the quality of newly hired employees and turnover in the first year of employment, or the relationships between a high assessment score and improved retention.
Predictive Analysis. This identifies statistical relationship between multiple activities and outcomes to predict what will happen in the future.

Begin your journey by collaborating with your information technology (IT) business intelligence team.
Discuss your goals and solicit ideas and guidance. Obtain commitments for the necessary resources that will be required to establish workforce analytics capabilities. Much like Human Resources, IT departments have challenges managing capacity and demands from the business. Ensuring that you have collaborated with the senior IT leader committed to the goal, ensures proper resource allocation and support.
Discover your company’s current analytics ecosystem. Learn about the tools, data architecture and strategies. Moreover, most importantly, understand HR’s role in that ecosystem.
Create the infrastructure.
Hire the right talent skilled in:
Data validation, data mart and data model development.
Using statistical platforms such as R or SAS. They should also know burgeoning languages such as Python. The talent should have a degree in analytics or statistics and know how to create data models. In the beginning, the data repository you create may not have all the necessary data elements. But the data scientist can use disparate and manual data sources to begin testing hypotheses and formulating the business questions.
Basic reporting to answer simple questions. It is best to separate reporting from data science functions.
Depending on the available investment, you will need a leader of the analytics capability to create the roadmap, understand the business questions, connect with the business to understand and meet needs. If investment is limited, then the HR leader who oversees this and perhaps other capabilities must have direct and frequent oversight of the function.

Build the data repository.
During this process, it is best to convene a small HR team that can blue sky a high-level product to document required data elements and sources. There is no need, at this point, to have a detailed map of your visualizations. You simply need to understand the overall direction and goals of your end product to inform the data collection.
Pilot, experiment and iterate.
As the data warehouse is populated and validated, start designing visualizations. Identify the part of the business experiencing the most significant talent challenges. As a healthcare example, given the Registered Nurse shortage, I piloted visualizations for acute care inpatient nursing leaders. The nursing leaders needed access to basic information such as turnover and vacancy rates over time, counts of hires and terminations, net hires and number of applicants in the hiring funnel, etc.
Based on feedback from this group, we updated and iterated the visualizations in preparation for publishing to a wider audience.
Find the quick wins to establish credibility.
There are many business needs and those that have the most airtime in executive and finance circles are usually going to get the most attention. Before you engage in any work, ensure that you have a willing customer. Although a project, on its face, may have tremendous merit, if the customer is not committed or engaged with the project, don’t spend the money or the time. Commitment must come from the senior leader.
As you establish your analytics capability, it is critical the HR business partners have access to relevant data at their fingertips. This HR team connects directly to the business. They are a key enabler to circulate facts and fight false beliefs and assumptions. As Sherlock suggested, theorizing based on facts is the best way to find solutions.

Finally, create a multi-year roadmap. Although this may seem counter intuitive initially, it is best to create your multi-year roadmap after you have laid the analytics foundation. As you build the foundation, and increase your knowledge, you can identify some short-term goals. The vision and roadmap will follow.

In Summation
As you embark on your journey, here are a few items that may require your attention.

Information technology departments may change analytics tools, strategies and partnerships with vendors that may affect your analytics capability development. Create a strong partnership with your information technology team.
Once you have created your data repository, HR should retain ownership of HR data. One of the benefits of having a data warehouse is to merge workforce and other business data to create insights. It is essential that HR consults on all data being extracted from the repository to ensure proper understanding and use of the data.
Many times, when evaluating data, process patterns will emerge. If the pattern is not expected, you may need to evaluate the underlying process or procedures.
Above all, have courage as you create this new capability. If you research, read, learn from experts, ask many questions, and tolerate setbacks, you will find success!

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Compensation and Benefits Best Practices

In today’s world, every HR professional is looking at their compensation and benefits strategy. As companies fight for talent, a critical change in the strategy could ultimately seal the deal for high-performing talent courted by company recruiters.

Employees today are more likely to move to another company with better offerings. Not only that, but it’s easier than ever for employees to research this information. Workers are regularly sharing just about every piece of information they can online. That includes compensation and benefits information. With that data, employees can evaluate employers based on what they’ve found.

But the compensation and benefits strategy goes beyond the War for Talent. In fact, it’s something that has to be considered for every employee. Sometimes, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach and sometimes it’s more individualistic. Either way, it’s important human resources keeps a handle on the strategy.

Compensation and Benefits
Best Practices
Understand the budget
HR needs to make sure they understand how the company budget is structured when it comes to compensation and benefits. Why is this important? HR needs to understand how the money is going to be spent. Keeping compensation and benefits balanced is critical to making sure HR can continue to adapt the strategy accordingly.

Consistently review employee compensation
Most HR departments only look at the compensation of employees at the end of the year or during an employee review period. This helps determine salaries going forward. However, reviewing compensation practices at least quarterly allows HR to make adjustments as needed. Understand, that doesn’t mean the adjustments happen that often, but it does make it easier.

Create salary ranges
This aligns with the previous practice. It also helps ensure the organization is competitive in the industry. These can be developed by benchmarking similar jobs or based on internal practices.

Audits are a must
Additionally, HR should audit compensation on a regular basis. There are any number of changes that could impact salaries and the need to adjust those for employees.

Pay high performing employees well
Higher performance should mean higher pay. This is an important piece of not only compensation and benefits, but also retention. Employees who don’t feel they are paid what they are worth will going looking for a company that aligns with this belief.

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Benefits as part of the strategy
In addition to retention, benefits also help attract new employees. The goal here is to be competitive and the preferred employer in the industry. Often times, benefits are a deciding factor for a potential new employee.

Develop a plan
The plan developed is the compiling of all the previous practices into one strategy. Understanding how the HR department is going to apply these practices throughout the year will help ensure success at the end of each process.

A compensation and benefits strategy remains in a fluid state. It’s not meant to be rigid. A stiff and stale process can lead to immeasurable loss as the company tries to attract and retain the best workers for the organization. With a fluid approach, the compensation and benefits strategy can increase the organization’s competitiveness and help find the best talent available. Companies with a strong sense of the compensation and benefits strategy will be able hire the right people more often than not and will see great business success.

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5 Places to Focus Your Energy When Leading an HR Reboot

I was recently asked about how I would go about rebooting the HR function and it really made me think about what the key functions HR provides to an organization and how we impact the bottom line.

Changing leadership in any organization can be a scary time, but can also be a chance to reshape the organization. Changing HR leadership has the same impact, and also has the ability to effect the entire organization.

Rebooting HR
Here are my top five places to focus your energy during a reboot, why I think they are critical and how to move the needle.

Administrative tasks – Being good at administrative tasks is Number 1 on my list. For those of you that follow me closely, that may be a surprise. It’s true that I am not a big fan of bureaucratic HR, but there are key things that we have to do well to support the organization. We need to maintain accurate records, ensure policies are applied equitably, and keep track of many small details. This is our cost of entry and is what allows us to work on the fun stuff. Do this well and no one will care. Do it poorly and no one can succeed!
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Talent – Most organizations refer to talent as hiring, recruiting or Talent Acquisition. I like to put it all together and look at these functions as how the organization is going to hire, develop and engage a strong team.
We have to go out and find amazing people to join your team. Search LinkedIn, be active on the forums and always be a net giver. Proactively identify where the needs are going to be and build your relationship in that community. If you are going to need web developers, you should know what Ruby on Rails is, what the changes are in version 5 and how the early adopters are dealing with the changes. This is how you will find the best Ruby programs to join the team when you are ready to hire.

Succession Planning – For this column, I will keep this simple, but it really is an important task. First, I sit down with leadership and identify all the key roles. Ignore talent at this stage and look at what capabilities are required to deliver the company mission. Once I have a good understanding of what skills are needed to drive the bottom line, I turn my focus to the team. During this stage, I want to understand what we are good at and what are the team’s individual strengths.
Those two documents can then be matched up to align the team and ensure our key leaders are in our most critical roles. Finally, build and execute development plans for the gaps.

The teams that can best distribute talent across their key roles will always out perform their competition.

Employee development – First, make sure that you are not waiting for Day 1 to start onboarding an employee. Reach out once you have a signed offer letter, assign a mentor and start engaging the new employee. Once on the team, pay attention to the new employee. Does a new employee have a full calendar? Have you identified key meetings, relationships, mentors? Schedule meetings with senior leadership. Remember: development should last a full career and not just the first 90 days.
Your team will experience a lot of waste if the new team member has to waste time getting up to speed.

Culture – My most basic caution here is that culture is an output and not something you can control. You need to have a set of core values and then make decisions based on those values. I wrote my key values on my wall with a sharpie. This serves as a public reminder for both me and my team. It’s what we believe in and how I make decisions. Don’t underestimate the impact of being consistent.
Overall, I think HR has to take an active role. Engage your business partners and really understand their needs. Once you are trusted and seen as a partner, you can install people leadership programs and drive the business.

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