Shattering The Illusion Of Inclusion

When asked about Diversity & Inclusion as part of a global survey back in 2015, only 7.2% of CEOs claimed they were addressing or planning to address disability as part of their D&I efforts1.

Fast forward to 2019 and the evidence suggests that little progress has been made. According to a labor force characteristics summary issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in February this year, during 2018 the rate of employment for persons with a disability was less than half the rate for persons without a disability. For people with intellectual disabilities (ID), it’s estimated to be in the range of 17%2 to only 6%3.

Some positive steps are evident. In the UK, for example, significant advancements have been made on disability awareness, confidence and protection over the last ten years. 2010 brought in the Equality Act, which incorporated the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) into a comprehensive and more forceful piece of legislation. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games challenged societal perception of the abilities of disabled people, leaving a positive legacy that, for example, includes ‘The Last Leg’, a popular TV series that uses comedy to make disability non-taboo.

Looking to the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games has led to a decision by the Government of the United Arab Emirates to make every public school in the country inclusive of people with ID. More recently, there have been renewed calls for disability inclusion in the workplace from political figures in the U.S., such as Ted Kennedy Jr. and investors representing more than $1 trillion in combined assets led by New York State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, and Oregon State Treasurer, Tobias Read. So why has change been so difficult to achieve up to now, especially for people with ID?

Whilst cultural change is necessary and positive, it undoubtedly introduces fresh challenges for employers. The combination of new legislation and evolving social attitude has led employees to have greater expectation of employers. In the cases of the ME TOO movement, shared parental leave legislation, and same sex marriage legalization, employers have responded by placing more value on the power of diversity in their workforce. Many have adapted their workplace policies and procedures to reflect this, such as enhanced sexual harassment training and new more flexible maternity/parental leave policies. Whilst employers have expressed challenges in facilitating this, they have seen many positives through lower staff turnover and higher staff engagement.4

However, for people with disabilities, they are often looked at through the lens of their disability, rather than their capabilities. This may be further compounded by fear and uncertainty around how to approach, communicate with and respectively support people with disabilities. Furthermore, if a disability is hidden or invisible (such as specific intellectual disabilities), many employers are unsure of how to detect the need for adjustment or support.

This inevitably means that it can be hard for people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, to enter the workforce, and even if they do, they may not be comfortable with current working structures and practices.

One of the authors of this piece, who has an intellectual disability, describes how he was made to feel like he did not belong and felt excluded, despite being successfully recruited to an organization’s Board of Directors:

“I was given a different term limit to all other members, in the interest of ‘creating more opportunities’ for other people with disabilities, despite the fact that I had been very active and achieved results. I was confused why there were different terms for disabled board members and that my position had been terminated early with no relation to performance.”

The reality is that many working cultures are broken, because nobody has sought to change them. They may not be perfect, but they are comfortable for many people, particularly those that lead them, and often there is a dominant ‘in-group’ with shared demographic and cultural backgrounds that knowingly or unknowingly exclude others.

An uncomfortable environment can manifest itself in different treatment, or a failure to adapt working norms. It creates what we call the ‘illusion of inclusion’, where diverse groups are represented yet unable to fulfil their potential.

According to Stephen Frost and Raafi Alidina, authors of Building an Inclusive Organization, “it’s the dominant group that needs to adapt”.

For too long, non-inclusive work practices designed by the majority or dominant group have been not just accepted but positively endorsed. They negatively impact on many groups – working parents, people of different faiths and those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

For example, employees are regarded as hard-working and loyal if they work excessive hours and are always in the office. ‘Bonding’ meetings may take place in pubs, golf courses or at client dinners out of usual hours. These work practices and environments are simply inaccessible to some, and are often linked to reward, development and promotion, and may naturally exclude diverse groups.

Employers must seek to level the playing field for all. One such example of this is the introduction of shared parental leave, which provides both women and men with more choice in managing their careers and work life balance, and has opened up access for women who have for so long been career limited by the ‘norms’ applied to working motherhood.

So what lessons can we take from this to make the working environment more comfortable and how can we change workplace policy and procedure to adapt for people with disabilities, in particular people with intellectual disabilities?

In 2018, Kerry Group, the world’s leading taste and nutrition company, arranged for a leadership cohort from its consumer foods division, Kerry Foods, to work on a project with a group of people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

The project started through Special Olympics, a movement which promotes inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in over 190 countries. As a direct result of the program, Kerry Foods now has six new employees, and the impact on the sites where they are based and the enterprise as a whole has been profound.

According to Emma Rose, Director of HR at Kerry Foods, “It’s not about being nice or doing something good. These new employees are doing value-added work with performance expectations. The difference is the personalities and attitude of our new employees, which have had a positive effect on colleagues and helped everyone to be more open.”

The Kerry Group story provides a great example of what is possible, and employers reporting a positive impact on morale and on business is not unusual.

The catalyst was direct interaction between people with and without disabilities that promoted experiential learning and developed inclusive leadership. It is an experience that Special Olympics has seen on and off the sports field for over 50 years. And it is the basis for a new approach that Special Olympics calls Unified Leadership.

The premise is that people with intellectual disabilities influence others to be different. They do it by being who they are, people who haven’t really fit into a world that is built around education, background, income and aesthetics.

By simply engaging and working with people with intellectual disabilities, leaders and employees build empathy and see the workplace and wider world through a different perspective. They get past any bias they may have around intellectual disability by simply educating themselves through experience. They also develop an understanding of leadership where everyone has value, vulnerabilities are accepted and power is shared rather than exercised.

The Unified Leadership approach starts with lessons learned through sport, complemented by training for people with intellectual disabilities during which they look to improve skills and behaviors. Following the training, they connect with leaders without disabilities, who learn from interactions and experience a powerful mind-set change. In that sense, inclusion is a ‘two-way street’ where both parties take responsibility for adapting to help create more inclusive workplaces and communities. In the business world, the approach is reflected in reciprocal mentoring, a practice increasingly embraced by inclusive employers, where mentors learn from the experience of working with junior mentors, empathize with members of staff who are different from themselves, and benefit from authentic feedback for personal development.

Special Olympics implements its own model internally across its programming, and now plans to extend the approach so that it integrates with the corporate world. The advantages for business are huge. Beyond challenging traditional perceptions of what it means to be a leader, companies can gain different perspectives to problem-solving and communication, reflecting an enhanced degree of neurodiversity.

Embracing enhanced diversity of thought, perspective and opinion also helps companies foster greater creativity, increase innovation and mitigate against risk.

Perhaps, most importantly, employers gain access to an untapped talent pool of potential employees who are resilient, loyal and committed – all traits that any employer is looking for.

Here are our top tips for creating this in the workplace:

1. Educate: Provide training for everyone on recognizing behaviors and verbal cues, supporting and initiating adaptation that creates an empowering environment for people with disabilities, and simply ‘letting go’ so that people with disabilities can fulfil their potential.

2. Engage: Make ongoing efforts to engage with and learn from people with disabilities, through forums and other initiatives that create a safe space for everyone to share. This will lead to improvements that make the workplace more inclusive, and help with early identification of potential impacts when changes are being considered.

3. Check: Ensure that solutions are appropriate by gathering feedback from people with disabilities and asking their preference before taking action. For example, people with intellectual disabilities could review a recruitment process, because typical hiring practices such as interviews and psychometric tools may be barriers if utilized in traditional ways. This could help develop a process that facilitates neurodiversity while still maintaining a solid rigor, which is not just a benefit to people with disabilities – enhancing understanding of difference, and the power of adaptation, has value for everyone.

4. Adapt: Commit to and implement changes identified through engagement. Examples of potential changes that may enhance inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities include:

a. A flexible approach to working hours and location. Like many staff today, people with intellectual disabilities may benefit from and be more productive through flexible hours or home working to avoid traffic and disempowering office cultures.

b. Managing noise levels in the workplace, for example in an open plan office. Some people may find loud noise distracting, so creating quieter spaces or even a quiet room might empower them to be more productive.

c. Allowing more time to answer questions or learn new tasks. People with intellectual disabilities will be able to perform many tasks very well, but it may just require more time initially to learn or perform new tasks proficiently.

5. Discover: Tap into the diversity of thought and input of staff with disabilities, which has been linked to problem solving and creativity, by utilizing them to help shape new products or services that have benefits beyond facilitating customers with disabilities. In addition, partner with other disability-confident employers to learn from each other. This could be formal or informal, but most organizations are willing to share their experiences because of greater recognition that diversity and inclusion are critical to long-term sustainability.

It is now up to employers. They need to be sustainable in a modern and increasingly global market where disabled people are speedily more prevalent within the labor market. Inevitably, policy, process and system changes will require some financial and resource investment. Just as they would invest in new IT systems, or a more suitable office, companies must invest in the future of their working culture. This investment will undoubtedly unleash new talent, and it will end the illusion of inclusion by creating a more engaging, empowering environment for all employees.

Progress has been made, but not enough – this is your chance to help it along.


Executive Presence: 8 Warning Signs That You Don’t Have It

What does executive presence mean to you, and why do you want to embody it? Maybe you secretly dream of walking into a room and just owning it to the point that your very presence will capture positive attention and captivate the audience. Maybe you hope to develop an ability to charm others so you can compete for a promotion or gain the advantage in a negotiation or debate. Maybe you desire to wow people and get them to like or favor you more because you display a distinctive level of gravitas or expertise. And maybe you just wish you could gain more respect and have your voice, recommendations or ideas heard and taken more seriously.

Even a term as ubiquitous as executive presence can be, and often is, misunderstood.
When I discussed this topic with executives and managers, those were just some of the examples they recently shared with me for what executive presence looks like and why they want themselves and their employees to embody it. The problem is that the above examples (or reasons) show that most people think executive presence is about them and how they come off or present themselves to others. This is a common misunderstanding of the concept. Executive presence is not about you. Instead, it is about how those you are presenting before or working with experience you.

With so many people striving to embody it, it’s amazing the level of ambiguity you’ll find when you ask people to actually define it. The exercise becomes even more daunting when you ask recruiters, executives and managers to precisely define executive presence (a soft skillset) as a behavior or competency that employees can indeed develop. I’ve asked some and many couldn’t. If you don’t define executive presence, your employees and executives aren’t likely to develop it either. I have defined executive presence below, but first I will focus on what it looks like when a person clearly doesn’t have it.

8 warning signs that you don’t have executive presence.
1. You rarely speak up, or you tend to shy away from asking questions.
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Executive presence requires assertiveness—even boldness—at times and in a respectful and authoritative manner. In order to put forward an executive presence, you first have to be intentionally present and courageous enough to take up your space in the world. You have to believe you belong in the room, know your own value and appreciate that you can—and should—have an impact.

If you don’t speak up, you risk being perceived as inferior. You are also diminishing your executive presence because you aren’t giving others an opportunity to assess your willingness to fight for their needs or for anything else for that matter. You aren’t giving people a chance to observe your passions, your interests or your engagement, and this makes it difficult to develop trust and instill confidence about your abilities from others. And if you don’t ask questions even when you should for clarity or to have a point reiterated, you aren’t giving others an opportunity to help you, and you risk coming off as completely disengaged or a know-it-all.

Keeping Girls In School In Madagascar
2. You speak up too much and end up dominating the conversation.
Yes, executive presence is about being confident enough to take up your space in the world, but it is not about undervaluing the value, input, recommendations and ideas of others. When you are dominating the conversation, you aren’t listening effectively, and this diminishes executive presence. Those with executive presence appreciate the value of strategic silence in order to achieve a goal, advance the conversation, navigate politics or develop relationships.

3. You struggle to moderate your emotions or struggle to adjust to others’ emotions.
Executive presence requires highly developed emotional intelligence. If you can’t or won’t effectively manage your own emotions, you won’t be able to effectively persuade others, establish credibility or earn respect. And, if you lack the willingness or ability to adjust your plans or the conversation after reading contrary emotions in others, you risk losing their attention.

Executive presence requires more than great speaking skills. It also requires the ability to adjust accordingly in response to the needs of your listeners or audience. Otherwise, they may perceive that you aren’t able to address or prioritize their concerns. As a result, they may disengage, and you won’t gain their trust.

4. You are prone to outbursts or tolerate workplace bullying.
Executive presence requires highly developed conflict resolution and conflict management skills. Others will observe how you respond to challenges, difficult people and stressful situations, and they will notice if you use—or tolerate—bullying, abusive language, yelling or unnecessary force to demean, humiliate or otherwise diminish another person in order to lift yourself or someone else up or to save face. As an effective leader with executive presence, you need to set the example, and it needs to be a good one.

5. You show up late, or you don’t take time to interact with and engage your audience.
A large part of executive presence is making others feel important and valued. Executive presence is about helping others get more comfortable with you. It is about helping others believe they matter. If you show up to events or meetings late or don’t make it your business to prioritize their interests, you will not connect with the audience in the best way.

Take the extra time to network and mingle with people. Shake hands; engage with interest and eye contact. Make your audience believe that you sincerely care about what they care about and what they are focused on. Show them that your attention is far more focused on them than it is on yourself.

6. You fidget, ramble or display a disconnect between your verbal and non-verbal messages.
Executive presence requires effective and consistent communication and messaging. Anything that diminishes credibility or confidence with your message diminishes your executive presence. When you fidget, ramble or cause a disconnect between your spoken words and your body language, you are diminishing your credibility. Even more, those you are speaking with come to view you as lacking—lacking in confidence, lacking in self-esteem or lacking in expertise. Surely, none of this supports your desired outcome.

7. You behave unprofessionally, look unkempt or smell bad.
Executive presence requires professional behavior, a well-styled and maintained business wardrobe and top-notch hygiene. If you allow your behavior, attire or hygiene to become a distraction, you won’t be viewed as someone with an executive presence. Even worse, people you are trying to influence or persuade might just end up pitying you. And not only won’t they ever view you as a power player or executive, they won’t even view you as an equal.

8. You fail to set standards for integrity, ethics and boundaries.
You won’t be viewed as someone who displays an executive presence if you don’t set standards and hold yourself and others accountable for professional standards and for upholding integrity and ethics. If you create ethical dilemmas for the organization or your team, you will diminish your executive presence. Also, if you fail to create boundaries so as to eliminate or reduce inappropriate workplace jokes and behaviors with clear lines between personal and professional acceptable conduct, you will diminish your executive presence.

What executive presence is really about.
When it comes to executive presence, the expectation seems to be that people will just magically show up with “it” – some kind of vague or mystical wow factor that will help them stand out from the rest and elevate themselves, their colleagues, their teams and everyone else along the way. This won’t happen. Executive presence needs to be clearly – and unambiguously – defined and then developed in employees and executives so they can achieve greater levels of success.

Here’s the deal. It’s not really about you. Executive presence is more about how other people experience you. It is also about confidence, but executive presence is less about how confident you are in your own abilities than it is in how confident others are in your abilities. Executive presence is a reflection of how willing others are to engage with and do business with you. It reflects the level of credibility others subscribe to you.

To the extent that executive presence is about you, it is about your ability to inspire confidence in others to trust you; it is about your ability to inspire others to listen to you; it is about your ability to make others comfortable approaching you. And it is about your ability to elicit the trust necessary for others to seek you out for advice.

So the next time you want to proclaim executive presence on yourself or someone else who simply dresses the part, talks the talk and shows up with a boat load of charisma, stop and pause. How people dress and talk indeed factors into it, but executive presence is about so much more. Now, you hopefully have a better take on the many other factors that really comprise this broad term.

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10 Principles of Organization Design

A global electronics manufacturer seemed to live in a perpetual state of re-organization. Introducing a new line of communication devices for the Asian market required reorienting its sales, marketing, and support functions. Migrating to cloud-based business applications called for changes to the IT organization. Altogether, it had reorganized six times in 10 years.

Suddenly, however, the company found itself facing a different challenge. Because of the new technologies that had entered its category, and a sea change in customer expectations, the CEO decided to shift from a product-based business model to a customer-centric one. That meant yet another reorganization, but this one would be different. It had to go beyond shifting the lines and boxes in an org chart. It would have to change the company’s most fundamental building blocks: how people in the company made decisions, adopted new behaviors, rewarded performance, agreed on commitments, managed information, made sense of that information, allocated responsibility, and connected with one another. Not only did the leadership team lack a full-fledged blueprint — they didn’t know where to begin.

This situation is becoming more typical. In the 18th annual PwC survey of chief executive officers, conducted in 2014, many CEOs anticipated significant disruptions to their businesses during the next five years as a result of global trends. One such trend, cited by 61 percent of the respondents, was heightened competition. The same proportion of respondents foresaw changes in customer behavior creating disruption. Fifty percent said they expected changes in distribution channels. As CEOs look to stay ahead of these trends, they recognize the need to change their organization’s design. But for that redesign to succeed, a company must make its changes as effectively and painlessly as possible, in a way that aligns with its strategy, invigorates employees, builds distinctive capabilities, and makes it easier to attract customers.

Today, the average tenure for the CEO of a global company is about five years. Therefore, a major re-organization is likely to happen only once during that leader’s term. The chief executive has to get the reorg right the first time; he or she won’t get a second chance.

The chief executive has to get the reorg right the first time; he or she won’t get a second chance.

Although every company is different, and there is no set formula for determining the appropriate design for your organization, we have identified 10 guiding principles that apply to every company. These have been developed through years of research and practice at PwC and Strategy&, using changes in organization design to improve performance in more than 400 companies across industries and geographies. These fundamental principles point the way for leaders whose strategies require a different kind of organization than the one they have today.

1. Declare amnesty for the past. Organization design should start with corporate self-reflection: What is your sense of purpose? How will you make a difference for your clients, employees, and investors? What will set you apart from others, now and in the future? What differentiating capabilities will allow you to deliver your value proposition over the next two to five years?

For many business leaders, answering those questions means going beyond your comfort zone. You have to set a bold direction, marshal the organization toward that goal, and prioritize everything you do accordingly. Sustaining a forward-looking view is crucial.



We’ve seen a fair number of organization design initiatives fail to make a difference because senior executives got caught up in discussing the pros and cons of the old organization. Avoid this situation by declaring “amnesty for the past.” Collectively, explicitly decide that you will neither blame nor try to justify the design in place today or any organization designs of the past. It’s time to move on. This type of pronouncement may sound simple, but it’s surprisingly effective for keeping the focus on the new strategy.

2. Design with “DNA.” Organization design can seem unnecessarily complex; the right framework, however, can help you decode and prioritize the necessary elements. We have identified eight universal building blocks that are relevant to any company, regardless of industry, geography, or business model. These building blocks will be the elements you put together for your design (see Exhibit 1).

The blocks naturally fall into four complementary pairs, each made up of one tangible (or formal) and one intangible (or informal) element. Decisions are paired with norms (governing how people act), motivators with commitments (governing factors that affect people’s feelings about their work), information with mind-sets (governing how they process knowledge and meaning), and structure with networks (governing how they connect). By using these elements and considering changes needed across each complementary pair, you can create a design that will integrate your whole enterprise, instead of pulling it apart.

You may be tempted to make changes with all eight building blocks simultaneously. But too many interventions at once could interact in unexpected ways, leading to unfortunate side effects. Pick a small number of changes — five at most — that you believe will deliver the greatest initial impact. Even a few changes could involve many variations. For example, the design of motivators might need to vary from one function to the next. People in sales might be more heavily influenced by monetary rewards, whereas R&D staffers might favor a career model with opportunities for self-directed projects and external collaboration and education.

3. Fix the structure last, not first. Company leaders know that their current org chart doesn’t necessarily capture the way things get done — it’s at best a vague approximation. Yet they still may fall into a common trap: thinking that changing their organization’s structure will address their business’s problems.

We can’t blame them — after all, the org chart is seemingly the most powerful communications vehicle around. It also carries emotional weight, because it defines reporting relationships that people might love or hate. But a company hierarchy, particularly when changes in the org chart are made in isolation from other changes, tends to revert to its earlier equilibrium. You can significantly remove management layers and temporarily reduce costs, but all too soon, the layers creep back in and the short-term gains disappear.

In an org redesign, you’re not setting up a new form for the organization all at once. You’re laying out a sequence of interventions that will lead the company from the past to the future. Structure should be the last thing you change: the capstone, not the cornerstone, of that sequence. Otherwise, the change won’t sustain itself.

We saw the value of this approach recently with an industrial goods manufacturer. In the past, it had undertaken reorganizations that focused almost solely on structure, without ever achieving the execution improvement its leaders expected. Then the stakes grew higher: Fast-growing competitors emerged from Asia, technological advances compressed product cycles, and new business models appeared that bypassed distributors. This time, instead of redrawing the lines and boxes, the company sought to understand the organizational factors that had slowed down its responses in the past. There were problems in the way decisions were made and carried out, and in how information flowed. Therefore, the first changes in the sequence concerned these building blocks: eliminating non-productive meetings (information), clarifying accountabilities in the matrix structure (decisions and norms), and changing how people were rewarded (motivators). By the time the company was ready to adjust the org chart, most of the problem factors had been addressed.

4. Make the most of top talent. Talent is a critical but often overlooked factor when it comes to org design. You might assume that the personalities and capabilities of existing executive team members won’t affect the design much. But in reality, you need to design positions to make the most of the strengths of the people who will occupy them. In other words, consider the technical skills and managerial acumen of key people, and make sure those leaders are equipped to foster the collaboration and empowerment needed from people below them.

You must ensure that there is a connection between the capabilities you need and the leadership talent you have. For example, if you’re organizing the business on the basis of innovation and the ability to respond quickly to changes in the market, the person chosen as chief marketing officer will need a diverse background. Someone with a conventional marketing background whose core skills center on low-cost pricing and extensive distribution might not be comfortable in that role. You can sometimes compensate for a gap in proficiency through other team members. If the chief financial officer is an excellent technician but has little leadership charisma, you may balance him or her with a chief operating officer who excels at the public-facing aspects of the role, such as speaking with analysts.

As you assemble the leadership team for your strategy, look for an optimal span of control — the number of direct reports — for your senior executive positions. A Harvard Business School study conducted by associate professor Julie Wulf found that CEOs have doubled their span of control over the past two decades. Although many executives have seven direct reports, there’s no universal magic number. For CEOs, the optimal span of control depends on four factors: the CEO’s tenure thus far, the degree of cross-collaboration among business units, the level of CEO activity devoted to something other than working with direct reports, and whether the CEO is also chairman of the board. (We’ve created a C-level span-of-control diagnostic to help determine your target span.)

5. Focus on what you can control. Make a list of the things that hold your organization back: the scarcities (things you consistently find in short supply) and constraints (things that consistently slow you down). Taking stock of real-world limitations helps ensure that you can execute and sustain the new organization design.

For example, consider the impact you might face if 20 percent of the people who had the most knowledge and expertise in making and marketing your core products — your product launch talent — were drawn away for three years on a regulatory project. How would that talent shortage affect your product launch capability, especially if it involved identifying and acting on customer insights? How might you compensate for this scarcity? Doubling down on addressing typical scarcities, or what is “not good enough,” helps prioritize the changes to your organization model. For example, you may build a product launch center of excellence to address the typical scarcity of never having enough of the people who know how to execute effective launches.

Constraints on your business — such as regulations, supply shortages, and changes in customer demand — may be out of your control. But don’t get bogged down in trying to change something you can’t change; instead, focus on changing what you can. For example, if your company is a global consumer packaged goods manufacturer, you might first favor a single structure with clear decision rights on branding, policies, and usage guidelines because it is more efficient in global branding. But if consumer tastes for your product are different around the world, you might be better off with a structure that delegates decision rights to the local business leader.

6. Promote accountability. Design your organization so that it’s easy for people to be accountable for their part of the work without being micromanaged. Make sure that decision rights are clear and that information flows rapidly and clearly from the executive committee to business units, functions, and departments. Our research underscores the importance of this factor: We analyzed dozens of companies with strong execution and found that among the formal building blocks, information and decision rights had the strongest effect on improving the execution of strategy. They are about twice as powerful as an organization’s structure or its motivators (see Exhibit 2).

A global electronics manufacturer was struggling with slow execution and lack of accountability. To address these issues, it created a matrix that could identify those who had made important decisions in the past few years. It then used the matrix to establish clear decision rights and motivators more in tune with the company’s desired goals. Sales directors were made accountable for dealers in their region and were evaluated in terms of the sales performance of those dealers. This encouraged ownership and high performance on both sides, and drew in critically important but previously isolated groups, like the manufacturer’s warranty function. The company operationalized these new decision rights by establishing the necessary budget authorities, decision-making forums, and communications.

When decision rights and motivators are established, accountability can take hold. Gradually, people get in the habit of following through on commitments without experiencing formal enforcement. Even after it becomes part of the company’s culture, this new accountability must be continually nurtured and promoted. It won’t endure if, for example, new additions to the firm don’t honor commitments or incentives change in a way that undermines the desired behavior.

7. Benchmark sparingly, if at all. One common misstep is looking for best practices. In theory, it can be helpful to track what competitors are doing, if only to help you optimize your own design or uncover issues requiring attention. But in practice, this approach has a couple of problems.

First, it ignores your organization’s unique capabilities system — the strengths that only your organization has, which produces results that others can’t match. You and your competitor aren’t likely to need the same distinctive capabilities, even if you’re in the same industry. For example, two banks might look similar on the surface; they might have branches next door to each other in several locales. But the first could be a national bank catering to millennials, who are drawn to low costs and innovative online banking features. The other could be regionally oriented, serving an older customer base and emphasizing community ties and personalized customer service. Those different value propositions would require different capabilities and translate into different organization designs. The national bank might be organized primarily by customer segment, making it easy to invest in a single leading-edge technology that covers all regions and all markets. The regional bank might be organized primarily by geography, setting up managers to build better relationships with local leaders and enterprises. If you benchmark the wrong example, the copied organizational model will only set you back.

Second, even if you share the same strategy as a competitor, who’s to say that its organization is a good fit with its strategy? If your competitor has a different value proposition or capabilities system than you do, using it as a comparison for your own performance will be a mistake.

If you feel you must benchmark, focus on a few select elements, rather than trying to be best in class in everything related to your industry. Your choice of companies to follow, and of the indicators to track and analyze, should line up exactly with the capabilities you prioritized in setting your future course. For example, if you are expanding into emerging markets, you might benchmark the extent to which leading companies in that region give local offices decision rights on sourcing or distribution.

8. Let the “lines and boxes” fit your company’s purpose. For every company, there is an optimal pattern of hierarchical relationship — a golden mean. It isn’t the same for every company; it should reflect the strategy you have chosen, and it should support the critical capabilities that distinguish your company. That means that the right structure for one company will not be the same as the right structure for another, even if they’re in the same industry.

In particular, think through your purpose when designing the spans of control and layers in your org chart. These should be fairly consistent across the organization.

You can often hasten the flow of information and create greater accountability by reducing layers. But if the structure gets too flat, your leaders have to supervise an overwhelming number of people. You can free up management time by adding staff, but if the pyramid becomes too steep, it will be hard to get clear messages from the bottom to the top. So take the nature of your enterprise into account. Does the work at your company require close supervision? What role does technology play? How much collaboration is involved? How far-flung are people geographically, and what is their preferred management style?

In a call center, 15 or 20 people might report to a single manager because the work is routine and heavily automated. An enterprise software implementation team, made up of specialized knowledge workers, would require a narrower span of control, such as six to eight employees. If people regularly take on stretch assignments and broadly participate in decision making, you might have a narrower hierarchy — more managers directing only a few people each — instead of setting up managers with a large number of direct reports.

9. Accentuate the informal. Formal elements like structure and information are attractive to companies because they’re tangible. They can be easily defined and measured. But they’re only half the story. Many companies reassign decision rights, rework the org chart, or set up knowledge-sharing systems — yet don’t see the results they expect.

That’s because they’ve ignored the more informal, intangible building blocks. Norms, commitments, mind-sets, and networks are essential in getting things done. They represent (and influence) the ways people think, feel, communicate, and behave. When these intangibles are not in sync with one another or the more tangible building blocks, the organization falters.

At one technology company, it was common practice to have multiple “meetings before the meeting” and “meetings after the meeting.” In other words, the constructive debate and planning took place outside the formal presentations that were known as the “official meetings.” The company had long relied on its informal networks because people needed workarounds to many official rules. Now, as part of the redesign, the leaders of the company embraced its informal nature, adopting new decision rights and norms that allowed the company to move more fluidly, and abandoning official channels as much as possible.

10. Build on your strengths. Overhauling the organization is one of the hardest things for a chief executive or division leader to do, especially if he or she is charged with turning around a poorly performing company. But there are always strengths to build on in existing practices and in the culture. Suppose, for example, that your company has a norm of customer-oriented commitment. Employees are willing to go the extra mile for customers when called upon to do so. They deliver work out of scope or ahead of schedule, often because they empathize with the problems customers face. You can draw attention to that behavior by setting up groups to talk about it, and reinforce the behavior by rewarding it with more formal incentives. That will help spread it throughout the company.

Perhaps your company has well-defined decision rights, wherein each person has a good idea of the decisions and actions for which he or she is responsible. Yet in your current org design, they may not be focused on the right things. You can use this strong accountability and redirect people to the right decisions to support the new strategy.

Remaking your organization to align with your strategy is a project that only the top executive of a company, division, or enterprise can lead. Although it’s not practical for a CEO to manage the day-to-day details, the top leader of a company must be consistently present to work through the major issues and alternatives, focus the design team on the future, and be accountable for the transition to the new organization. The chief executive will also set the tone for future updates: Changes in technology, customer preferences, and other disruptors will continually test your business model.

These 10 fundamental principles can serve as your guideposts for any reorganization, large or small. Armed with these collective lessons, you can avoid common missteps and home in on the right blueprint for your business.

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How Building Your Organization’s Coaching “Muscles” Can Strengthen Performance

Did you know that your organizational culture can increase the likelihood of having a high organizational performance by 97%? That is, when the culture includes feedback, fairness and a future-forward focus. That sounds like a coaching culture to me! This finding is one of the conclusions from a recent research study conducted by RedThread Research, “The Makings of Modern Performance Management.” Let’s look at how taking a coaching approach to strengthening these essential cultural elements can build your organization’s coaching and performance “muscles” at the same time.

Organizational Coaching
Give (Good) Feedback Often and to Everyone
Organizations that have high-feedback cultures are 108% more likely—twice as likely!—to score high on organizational performance, says RedThread Research. Given that the half-life of a skill is estimated to be five years, and the importance of feedback in learning anything new, it’s easy to see how making feedback a way of life for an organization can dramatically improve performance.

The big question, of course, is: how do you get people to offer feedback that other people actually want to receive? Taking a coaching approach to offering feedback can help. You can encourage people to do just that by:

Helping them see that how they deliver feedback is just as, if not more, important than what they say. Feedback that is delivered with a heavy dose of judgment is rarely well received.
Teaching people to see minor disconnects as coaching moments when they can offer feedback in service of helping others learn from day-to-day challenges.
Offering feedback within coaching conversations to ensure that people are able to turn the awareness that they gain from the feedback into actions that forward the action for them.
Building these kinds of feedback skills increases confidence—and confidence is what is needed for people to choose to offer feedback to others. That’s what we found in our own research, where 96% of respondents said our Untying the Knot® approach to coaching and feedback conversations positively impacted offering feedback to others. Some of the people we interviewed indicated that learning coaching and feedback skills gave them the confidence to engage in conversations they were previously avoiding, or not conducting in an effective way.

Creating a consistent language and approach around feedback throughout your organization can make sharing feedback less intimidating, since all employees have the same tools for conducting these conversations. Equipping leaders with feedback-friendly approaches and perspectives can transform offering feedback from a risky maneuver into a healthy, productive exercise that people feel comfortable engaging in.

Integrate Fairness and Equity in Your Culture
These honest “in the moment” coaching and feedback conversations contribute to the perception of fairness and transparency in the organization. That’s really important, because fairness is the next element of culture that RedThread Research identified as contributing to having a high-performance culture.

Performance management is one area where the perception of fairness is essential. Interestingly, internal fairness is more important than external equity, which means, people believe the organization is fairer when salaries are similar between colleagues versus comparing salaries in the external market. Conversely, when people perceive that the processes used to evaluate their performance and establish compensation are unfair and inequitable, the consequences can be significant. When the perception of unfairness grows within an organization, so too can the culture of distrust and hostility—which could result in turnover or lower performance.

You can potentially increase the perception of fairness and equity in your performance management process by:

Inviting people to share their thoughts on how they would like to see performance managed. RedThread Research highlighted an organization that did just that. IBM regularly gets employee input to help redesign performance management, which results in a more nuanced, fair approach to its system. Adding an option for grievances naturally makes it more trustworthy.
Encouraging managers to take a coaching approach when people express concerns about the system or seem reluctant to engage fully in whatever approach to performance management is being used. Rather than explaining away, arguing about or ignoring concerns, it’s far more productive to ask people, “What’s concerning you about…?” Inviting this kind of “in the moment” feedback, and responding with a spirit of inquisitiveness and an openness to honestly explore possibilities will go a long way to establishing the perception fairness in the organization.
And, of course, expanding your leaders’ skills to take a coaching approach to the performance conversations themselves is crucial. That could look like appreciatively exploring what contributed to outcomes that didn’t hit the mark and offering coaching to help people learn from their experiences. When done well, these kinds of supportive exchanges give people a fair chance to improve behavior when needed, and can also be used to help people prepare for new opportunities to learn and grow.
Refocusing performance management conversations to going beyond “here’s what’s wrong” to giving more emphasis to “here’s what’s possible,” if you use the insights you gain from feedback to broaden your capabilities, seems likely to deepen the perception of fairness in the performance management process. That’s important because “future-focused”—meaning, “an organization creates the conditions for employees to develop the knowledge, skills and capabilities they need to thrive in the future”—was also highlighted by RedThread as being a major contributor to establishing a high-performance culture.

Focus on the Future
Coaching is innately future-focused when it is defined as being a process to support people to realize more of their potential. When this is the perspective that coaching is offered from, it’s natural to use “in the moment” coaching conversations to help people understand how they will benefit in the future from learning new skills. In fact, that’s a fantastic way to motivate people to stick with the learning process long enough to master the new capability. For example, a manager might use feedback and coaching to motivate someone to learn how to influence across boundaries by helping them understand how this essential skill will be valuable for resolving increasingly complex issues in the future. If your organization’s definition of coaching doesn’t support a future-focus, it might be time to upgrade to an approach that does.

I know, sometimes people say, “just tell me what to do.” They don’t seem to value a future focus. While it might seem expedient to acquiesce to their request, it’s a disservice to the person. Remember those skills that are timing out faster and faster? It’s important to expand our perception of what it means to be a good manager to include preparing people for the future. Exercise your coaching skills by coaching people to understand why learning how to learn is a foundational skill for remaining relevant now, and in the future.

“In the moment” coaching is an individual and organizational muscle that can enhance performance while building a coaching culture. Like any muscle, you have to use it, or you will lose it. The more you stretch and strengthen your organization’s coaching capabilities, the stronger your culture becomes, increasing your ability to achieve high performance.

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From Talent Management To Talent Experience. Why The HR Tech Market Is In Disruption

Have you noticed how many interesting new HR software companies we have? There’s a reason. The craze for “integrated talent management systems” is ending, now replaced by a market for “talent experience” solutions.

In this article I’m going to discuss the history of “integrated talent management” and explain why it feels so dated. Then I will explain why the concept of “talent experience” has taken over and how it is transforming the HR technology market.

The History of Integrated Talent Management

HR technology follows general tech and social trends. In the early 2000s companies started to automate the forms we used in HR. Technologies like applicant tracking systems (ATS), learning management systems (LMS), and performance management systems (PMS) were growing explosively, giving birth to a market of these “talent management” tools.

As more and more of these tools became available, companies started to realize they needed a more integrated approach. So around 2006 and 2007 the concept of “integrated talent management” took off.

Here is the slide we used from 2006.

talent management
Companies bought this vision: one of the world’s largest defense and aerospace firms decided to build competency-based job descriptions for every job in the company. Hundreds of companies went down this path.

The idea was to integrate talent practices around competencies. If we built an “integrated talent system” based on job and competency models, we could better select the right people, set goals for reward and promotion, create careers based on competency levels, design consistent solutions for succession management, pay for performance, and … well you know the rest.

It was a lovely vision, and the word “integrated” was at its core … and there was often a new VP of Talent to manage all this.

talent management
Software vendors started building integrated suites. We had a decade of acquisitions, and companies like Cornerstone, SuccessFactors, Taleo, Saba, Lumesse, Halogen, ADP, Ceridian, and then Oracle, SAP, and later Workday all jumped on board. Many of the standalone applicant tracking, learning management, and performance management software companies went away.

The focus was limited: topics like employee engagement, experience, and diversity were “left on the side.” I remember a talent leader at Clorox asked me (circa 2006) “why isn’t diversity in your talent management model?” I scratched my head and said, “I’m not sure, it probably does belong there.” But it wasn’t a big issue at the time, so we left these features out.

As the market for suites heated up, a frenzy of acquisitions took place (it felt like musical chairs). SuccessFactors acquired Plateau; Taleo acquired; SumTotal acquired Mindsolve. Then SAP acquired SuccessFactors, Oracle acquired Taleo, Skillsoft acquired SumTotal, ADP acquired Workscape, Ceridian acquired Dayforce, and all the other vendors were left looking for buyers.

A few vendors, like Cornerstone, Skillsoft, and Saba, were big enough to grow and bought others. Others started to struggle, and many were later acquired at small valuations.

Enter the Cloud and a Massive Recession

Around 2008 the whole market changed. We had a massive recession and the idea of buying expensive HR software to “integrate stuff” was shelved. Companies started to look at “optimization” not “integration,” and we entered a period where we focused on “making these talent practices work better,” and do it at the lowest possible cost.

The technology landscape also radically changed. 2008 was the year the iPhone was introduced, and platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube took off. So as we were figuring out how to stop spending money and manage HR in a more focused way, the idea of using mobile, video, social media, emerged.

The HR tech industry took a turn. Workday launched the idea of a “born in the cloud” HCM system and changed the market completely. The company showed us a new vision: an integrated cloud-based platform that was cheaper to buy, cheaper to operate, and easier to use. We suddenly wanted “systems of engagement” not “systems of record,” and the older talent management systems looked dated.

While Workday led the charge, vendors like SuccessFactors, Oracle, Cornerstone, and ADP quickly jumped in. Social, mobile, and analytics were the next big thing. We just assumed we could integrate things through the cloud.

Digital Transformation, Leading to The Employee Experience

Somewhere around 2012, businesses started working on “digital transformation,” and CEO’s became focused on digital skills, agile transformation, and new ways of managing jobs and careers. LinkedIn and Indeed and Glassdoor transformed the recruiting market, so HR departments became focused on culture, engagement, and employment brand.

Today, after almost 12 years of economic growth, almost 40% of the workforce is independent and the talent issues are evolved: We must compete to find smart people, create transparency and mobility, develop a growth mindset, and build a culture of trust, inclusion, transparency, and fairness.

And given the level of employee stress and business focus on productivity and wellbeing, we have all become focused on the “employee experience.”

Looking back, we’ve come a long way from “integrated talent management,” which was entirely focused on the needs of HR. Now we are focused on employees, and how we make their work and personal lives better. Hence a focus on “talent experience,” not “talent management.”

The Word Experience: It’s Everywhere

There are many definitions for the word “experience,” but the one that stuck with me is this:

An experience is an encounter. It’s an event that you come in contact with, react to, face up to, and remember.

What has your experience with HR been like? Usually not so hot. Well now it’s HR’s job to fix all this, and problems like integrated talent management just have to take place behind the scenes.

Does all this make sense? You bet it does.

Look at our personal lives. Young people now prefer “experiences” to “belongings,” and we are all so busy, stressed out, and overwhelmed by emails that we just don’t have time for “experiences” we don’t like. How many times have you downloaded an app, clicked on it, and then deleted it in ten seconds if it was too hard to use. I do it a lot!

Such high expectations have arrived at work: if employees don’t find the work experience compelling, they complain, gripe, post something online, or just quit. We have to upgrade all of HR (software and practices) so it’s useful, productive, and meaningful. Which is why I’ve written so much about the shift from “systems of engagement” to “systems of productivity.” If this software doesn’t make my life better, I’m not using it!

It’s difficult to design “experience software.” Just as Learning Experience Platform vendors have disrupted the LMS market, so the Talent Experience Vendors will disrupt the talent management market.

And these new vendors are taking over. The iconic vendors in this phase are not Workday, Oracle and SAP (who are all trying), but new rocket-ship vendors like ServiceNow and hundreds of startups, covering every topic from on-demand learning to well-being, feedback, agile goal management, and AI-based recruiting. I think SAP’s $8 Billion acquisition of Qualtrics sets the pace of what’s to come, and I would not be surprised to see other big surprises come next.

Talent Experience Systems

What is this new marketplace all about? It’s a focus on making employee’s work, life, and careers better – not just automating HR. Consider how the world of talent management has changed.

People don’t work for one company their whole career: they move, transition, and work part-time. Two-thirds of Xennials (Gen-z) now do side-hustles.
Employees don’t want to wait for compliance training or manager-driven learning, they want to learn all the time. And the want access and control to the topics they learn.
Professionals don’t want to wait for their manager to give them a promotion, they want to try new gigs and projects on a regular basis.
People work in teams not hierarchies, so they want goals that are simple, transparent, and easy to update.
People don’t just want vacation policies, they want wellbeing programs, mindfulness, and help with their personal and financial fitness.
When we decide who to promote, the 9-box grid and talent reviews barely work. We want the systems to tell us who has the best network and who is most likely to succeed. And then we want to give that person an opportunity, even if they’re younger than the boss.
We can’t keep up with job descriptions and competencies any more, because jobs are changing faster than we can see. We want systems and data to tell us what capabilities most needed, and then AI-based tools are to tell people how to perform.
And the whole idea of job descriptions and competency models is under attack. Do we really need them when the work we do keeps changing? HP just told us they did away with job titles, (simplifying the number of levels in the company from over 60 to around 14), so people no longer mind changing roles as the company needs.

And we must focus on simplicity and productivity. The pace of business has become breathtaking. Cities are crowded with workers; commute times are long; airplanes are filled with business travelers; and it’s common to travel across many time zones just to meet with clients. We’re all having the time of our lives in this booming economy, but its stressful, competitive, and salaries are barely keeping up.

In other words, the issues companies face are very different than they were a decade ago: we want the “experience at work” to thrive.

The 2000s Today
Our Focus Integrated Talent Management A Meaningful Work Experience
Our Goal Integrated HR transactions Positive employee experiences
Our Systems Processes integrated into one platform Tools and apps focused on employee journeys
Our Platforms ATS, LMS, TMS Dozens of cloud-based tools and platforms
Integration Integrated around competencies and job models Integrated around individual people, roles, and needs
Tech Design Practices Multi-page portals with integrated back end data Simple intuitive experiences with seamless back end integration
Underlying Technology Integrated data models and transactions Microservices, cloud to cloud interfaces, chatbots and AI-based services
Our Design Point Business Processes Employee Moments

The Radical Change in the Tech Market

As I’ve watched the HR tech market explode (read my report on the 2019-2020 market here), the changes have been pretty radical.

We thought the cloud-based HCM system was a panacea, we now realize it’s just a platform.
We used to want fewer HR systems: we now have more… but they are far better integrated.
We used to sacrifice best of breed for a suite: today we search for best of breed and focus on the experience.
We used to look for a big, stable vendor. Now we look for a stable core platform and buy from many innovative vendors.
We used to integrate systems on the back end. Today we integrate them on the front end (from the user experience).
And with all this change, vendors that focus on integrated suites have fallen behind. I can’t tell you how many companies tell me their LMS just doesn’t drive much value anymore. We need a new breed of HR technology to help us make work better. (Here are a few examples.)

When you look at these systems, you find several new things:

They are employee centric. Often the system starts with a user profile like LinkedIn or Facebook, and from there includes tips, nudges, activity streams, and activities based on employee journeys, moments that matter, and important work activities.
They use nudges, video, short messages, suggestions, chat, and mobile interfaces to communicate. While these systems still need forms and tabs to capture data, more and more of their design is conversational, so it can fit into the flow of work. Most of them have interfaces to email, slack, Microsoft Teams, and other messaging systems.
They require no training. Unlike ERP systems, these systems are “walk up and use.” The designers created them as “fit for purpose” applications so it’s obvious what they’re used for. They often start with a simple walk-through or they just “work” as-is without lots of customization.
They are focused. Unlike the Integrated Talent Management systems that tried to do everything, these systems do one thing very well. They can all input data from your ERP or active directory to get access to user information, but they don’t try to replicate or replace any of your HCM or ERP system. This makes them highly functional and innovative, focused on a particular problem.
They are cloud from the ground up. These new systems are not “refactored” applications from an earlier day. They were built with cloud architectures so they are very adaptable and can change and add capabilities quickly. And most of them have well developed mobile apps, not just responsive interfaces.
They use AI. None of these systems are “AI” tools – but they all use AI in various ways. Each of them, in their own designated area, collects lots of data about the transactions and employee journeys they manage – so they get smarter and more predictive over time.
They are replaceable. Most of these systems don’t require massive ERP-like implementations. They may take months to implement and quarters to learn how to use, but they are essentially replicable because they work in focused areas. So you can take a risk on the vendor being acquired, and if you have to change tools you don’t have to rip out all your core HR infrastructure (with the exception of the Core HR companies).
They are truly experience designed. They feel like “journeys,” they are fun and enjoyable to use. They have gamification (points, nudges, recommendations), they let people find other people and communicate with them, they encourage notes and personalization, and they bring people together.
What This Means to HR Leaders and the Market

This history lesson has a point. We’ve moved to a new place. It’s no longer good enough to buy an “integrated HR suite” and expect your organization, culture, or employee experience to transform. Today, as I describe in Employee Engagement 3.0, we need to really focus on how we make employee’s lives, jobs, and productivity better. This means using design thinking, agile, journey maps, and co-creation of solutions that work for people.

I’ll be talking a lot about this at the HR Tech Festival in Singapore this May. Stay tuned for the new Josh Bersin Academy coming soon, where you can learn even more about this new market and how you can evolve your organization to make work better.

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