Growing your own talent

Leaders today face challenges from all directions. None have easy solutions: the rising cost of living is pushing employees to leave their jobs or demand higher pay, but wage hikes will deepen the problem of inflation; staff like the flexibility of remote work, but are concerned about delayed career progression, isolation and preferential treatment to those who come into the office; businesses must invest in their teams to grow back from the pandemic, but are pushed into mass lay-offs to save costs.

By far the biggest challenge of our generation is the so-called talent crunch. The gap between the skills businesses have and the ones they need is nothing new. But the last two years have changed some of the dimensions; graduates of the pandemic postponed courses, unsettling the flow of entry-level professionals coming into the job market. Juniors already in work missed out on the chance to upskill and move into mid-level roles, leaving a schism between young and old. Sudden digitisation let areas of the economy scale quickly, but only made worse the shortage of highly skilled tech experts and sales gurus.

Clearly, businesses cannot keep raising wages to solve the supply issue. This wave of lay-offs comes, in part, as companies are forced to go back on overly generous pay packages handed out last year. Renewed demand for specialist skills created a bubble that sooner or later had to pop.

Wages are and will remain an essential consideration when starting a new role, but seeing yourself growing in a healthy environment is what will make you stay

Again, there is no easy answer. But as it becomes harder to find talent, leaders will always have to come back to the supply shortage. Where the job market is unable to provide the skills most in demand, it will fall on businesses to offer better learning and development opportunities for the upcoming generation.

A combination of paid-for training and peer mentoring schemes will go a long way toward mending the gap between junior and senior staff. Broadening the search to include those who have most but not all of the experience in demand will bring down costs, allowing businesses of all budgets to attract staff who will add value to their business.

This is important: a wage-driven market will only price out the smaller companies most in need of growth. Investing in learning and development allows companies to stand out on how well they foster a dynamic culture and how well they inspire a sense of purpose in their employees. Employers are then chosen not strictly on what they can offer today, but on what they can promise to provide over the years as they invest in their staff.

After all, regardless of where people work, one of the main reasons they cite for leaving companies is a lack of space to learn new skills: 94% say they would stay longer at a company if given the opportunity to learn, and career progression is still the main draw for candidates drawn off elsewhere.

Building a culture that communicates to employees that their employer is invested in their growth is the difference that will allow good teams to hire and retain top talent at the start of their growth trajectory. Wages are and will remain an essential consideration when starting a new role, but seeing yourself growing in a healthy environment is what will make you stay. There are many small changes businesses can make to upskill their workforce and tackle the cultural problems of post-pandemic work outlined at the start of this article:

• Make time for reverse mentoring and rotating lunch-and-learns to give all members of the team an opportunity to show their worth and bring new voices into the conversation
• Redesign your office space to facilitate collaborative working, communicating the message that working from home is appropriate and acceptable for ‘deep’ work, and the office a place to build relationships and share ideas
• Create a knowledge hub within your workspace, on a web portal or via Slack, giving employees space to share industry excellence and inspiring news
• Consult with staff of all levels on how useful they find training to ensure resources are being used effectively. Including staff in decisions that concern them helps keep engagement high and gives them an active role in their success
• Encourage learning, using internal communications to acknowledge and celebrate personal achievements, aligning KPIs with a clear path for promotion, and rewarding those who go above and beyond to support colleagues.

Demand for skilled employees is on the rise. It will only get harder for companies to compete with the big players for the best talent. If they want to remain competitive, businesses today must find something even more important than money. They must foster an environment worth staying in, offering engaging, purposeful work with a clear commitment to personal and interpersonal development. It is time to stop seeking top talent. It is time to create it.


Top challenges to creating culture in a remote and global workforce

Remote working has made it easier for companies to expand globally, but it comes with the challenge of maintaining a company culture across potentially many locations.

Software developer Aiven has employees in sites in Australia, Germany, Japan and the US. Anna Richardson, vice president of people, shared her top challenges of looking after a worldwide workforce, and how to overcome them, with HR magazine.

Creating workplace culture:

How to create a culture that works for everyone

What do employees want organisational culture to look like in 2022?

Creating culture change through storytelling

The potential for communication breakdown

Communicating with a global workforce is more challenging due to different time zones and language barriers. As such, Richardson said there’s a risk of workers becoming isolated and working in bubbles

She said: “There’s certainly a risk around creating silos still, so I would say that’s one challenge, as well as all the challenges around just generally how connected people actually feel to what we’re doing as an organisation.

“People are still feeling quite isolated. If they’re not surrounded by colleagues and come to the office regularly, there certainly is a greater potential for isolation and also potentially burnout which is definitely what we’re seeing within our workforce.”

One of the ways the company overcomes this disconnect is by embracing different sub-cultures across the business.

She added: “We lean into that – creating subcultures is perfectly normal and expected. For us, it’s more about the managers setting expectations with what their team needs to deliver.”

Virtual grievance procedures

Raising issues can be more difficult when there’s not a permanent office base too, but Richardson and the HR team have worked hard to put the right channels in place.

She said: “We were just about to launch a whistleblowing platform where people can really speak up. If they see something that ethically is not aligned to what we’re about, they can do that. It doesn’t matter how sticky or pointy that question is, but it’s really important for us to get engaged and what’s on people’s mind what’s bothering them.”

Ensure workers feel trusted

With so many staff all over the world, its impossible to watch over employees all the time. Richardson said that it’s important for employers to show their workers respect and give them the space to carry out their tasks when necessary.

“Trust your employees to be able to do their jobs. You’ve hired them for a reason – treat them like adults. Give them the tools and the resources they need to be successful in their jobs.”


How to be a reviver rather than a survivor with leadership

The determining factor of an organisation’s success in response to each and every disruptive opportunity is leadership – whether that be recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the threat of recession, sustainability demands or the great resignation.

As our new research shows, the scale and speed of change means that leaders must change too.

Exploring what leadership looks like across 300 organisations in a variety of sectors, we found a near 50-50 split between leaders who identify as revivers – leaders focused on continued acceleration, transformation, and investment in growth and innovation – and those who identify merely as survivors – those focused on cost reduction and sustaining pace of change.

Post-pandemic leadership:

Covid-19 has caused a shift in leadership skills

The leadership we need for the age of disruption

What makes the perfect leader?

It’s the 56% identifying as revivers who see the present moment as the opportunity to work in new ways. They are more focused on leaving a positive legacy, more willing to change their leadership style for the greater good and will act with more urgency.

Being a revival style leader isn’t as simple as just choosing to be one, it’s founded in the attitudes, behaviours and choices made each day. From our research, and based on our experience advising on leadership issues for global clients, we’ve identified some powerful ways for leaders to become revivers and lead with ingenuity.

Cultivate kindness to encourage risks

Kindness may sound nice to have, but the benefits are concrete and indisputable. It makes staff happier and forges a greater sense of belonging, results in better quality work, and encourages people to take risks. Without the safety net of kindness, no one will walk the innovation tightrope.

Start by thinking about how individuals and their teams can co-create their goals. Consider how they can be trusted to work on terms, and in ways, that work for them. Then think about how your systems and processes encourage and reward kindness. Crucially, leaders can set the stage for kindness by demonstrating their own vulnerability, admitting mistakes and sharing failures.

One key outcome to strive for – and ideally measure – is how psychologically safe people feel.

Work in the growth zone

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. So, leaders need to steer themselves, and their teams, away from the comfort zone to the growth zone.

That means being open to new answers and new inputs. Start conversations with what if?, not if only. Set grand ambitions that impel different teams to collaborate. And think about constrictions that create opportunities. For instance, one reliable way of driving ingenious innovation can be to not fund it.

Grow with purpose by leading with authenticity

Purpose is a word that has become ubiquitous, over-used and, at times, almost meaningless, often used as a crutch by leaders who espouse it, but fail to genuinely live it. And yet when applied authentically, it unlocks better leadership and drives growth.

Take, for instance, our work with Swedish start-up PulPac. Having already helped commercialise and scale a fibre-based packaging alternative to plastic, we’re now helping develop a disposable, compostable lateral flow test used for communicable diseases – with a current focus in sub-Saharan Africa. Purpose-driven work that is saving lives – and the planet which flows top to bottom through the purpose and leadership style of Pulpac.

The skills and experiences you may have relied upon as a leader to drive growth may not be enough. To be a leader who truly embraces ingenuity and disruption as sources of opportunity will need to focus on growth and innovation like never before.

Innovation is not solely the preserve of those who focus on new product design or marketing, for example, but should be threaded through all elements of the organisation. The role of the reviver leader will be to unlock that innovation by creating a psychologically safe space for everyone, enabling them to work in the growth zone and lead themselves and their teams with purpose and authenticity.


How employing refugees can help tackle the skills crisis

Attitudes towards refugees in the UK have not always been rosy, but the Ukraine crisis led many to rethink their views. Trinh Tu from Ipsos spoke to Personnel Today about how attitudes have shifted, and how organisations can support refugees into employment.

It’s easy to assume that public attitudes in the UK towards refugees hit a turning point when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and many thousands began seeking asylum with families here. But more positive perceptions of employees had already been gradually rising before this year, according to Trinh Tu, managing director of public affairs at polling company Ipsos.

“Even before the crisis in Ukraine we did a study and found that 75% of the public support the principle of allowing people to take refuge, and that has now increased to 80%,” she says. “But attitudes are definitely warmer since the pandemic.”

Ipsos carried out research in June for World Refugee Day looking at global attitudes towards supporting and employing refugees – three in five Britons voiced their support for allowing more refugees into the UK from Ukraine, but were less supportive of welcoming more refugees from other countries.

Employing refugees
Why hiring Ukrainian refugees sets a precedent for a fairer future

UK businesses join consortium to recruit Ukrainian refugees

Is it permissible to employ an asylum seeker?

Just over a third supported allowing more refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Myanmar (36%, 35% and 34% respectively) compared with six in 10 supporting more Ukrainian refugees, Ipsos found.

As a refugee herself, Tu finds the improvement of attitudes towards those seeking asylum encouraging, but regrets that this positivity is not shared across refugees from all geographies.

She says: “There is still fear among the public that most refugees are not genuine and those that settle will have problems integrating. Misperceptions about refugees also remain widespread, as is public division over which countries should have greater responsibility for refugees.”

Getting a job is a crucial element of enabling refugees to integrate with and contribute towards society, but this is not without its challenges. Despite labour shortages across many sectors, employers are often cautious about hiring refugees.

Currently, asylum seekers must acquire refugee status before they are able to work in the UK, and this is an area that could be reviewed by government, she adds. “Some of this is down to fear that we could attract people who are seeking asylum who aren’t genuine.”

“There’s a tension because we need people but it can be difficult for refugees to get work,” says Tu. “If we use the same recruitment practices their chances of finding work are low, which impacts their ability to integrate.”

There’s a tension because we need people but it can be difficult for refugees to get work.

Issues tend to arise around gaps in employment records or the fact that many refugees will either have no qualifications or ones that are not recognised in the UK. They are also unlikely to have the same networks or contacts that domestic candidates have, so are immediately at a disadvantage.

There are a number of organisations that can help with supporting refugees into employment, however. Ipsos works with Breaking Barriers, which runs an employment academy that helps businesses run work placements for refugees, and the charity Migrant Leaders, which highlights career opportunities to disadvantaged young migrants.

“This makes a huge difference. Often managers don’t know the rules or there are misconceptions. The whole remit of these organisations is to help integrate refugees into employment,” Tu explains. “They have case workers who can match refugees to organisations and do a lot of the heavy lifting.”

Offering work experience placements has been a game-changer for both sides, she adds. “They can see what our culture is like and adapt to work etiquette, but we also get new perspectives on things from their local context.” The added bonus is the refugee candidate can fill in gaps with their work experience when seeking a full-time role.

Tu argues that more organisations could be proactive in supporting refugees into work, highlighting how this can support their goals to recruit a more diverse workforce as well as tackle skills shortages.

“Work with a partner so you don’t have to carry the full weight,” she advises. “Think about how you change perceptions, alter recruitment practices and enable refugees to join the business. It’s in everyone’s benefit for it to work.”


How to mentor sustainability

Let’s get real here – sustainability isn’t just about the business’s carbon footprint, it encompasses, waste management, resource use and biodiversity. Even larger organisations overlook some of the basics. Smaller businesses often think that sustainability is for the big boys – and achieving carbon-neutral status is going to be expensive.

So, if you’ve already got all the ducks in a row and you’re now looking at mentoring another business through the process to sustainability, you’ll need to polish up a few skills.
You’ll need a plan

Mentoring isn’t formal training. A mentor’s role is to be a sounding board and guide.

When I started on this journey, I spent a long time looking at what was the best tool to going carbon neutral and for a small business, everything looked difficult and cumbersome. I’ve learned a lot along the way and, if you’re planning to mentor someone through the process, I expect you have too.

There will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel and there will be times when you will celebrate their big wins with as much enthusiasm as they do

All businesses won’t fit into a box, so whoever you mentor isn’t going to do it the same way you did. However, you do need a framework to work within, so you cover all the bases.

This can be as simple as a checklist or if you’re more inclined, a mind map to act as your guide when you get into the mentoring process. After all, you have an end goal for this – and to quote from Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

This plan is not there to shoehorn your mentee into doing things your way, it’s a guide for you to ensure they haven’t overlooked or failed to explore options that may be exactly what would work for them.

We worked with a company called Eco Offset and found it to be a reputable carbon trading firm, but it’s not the only one and different businesses have different values at the top of their company ethos. Encourage your mentee to research their options.

You’ll need excellent communication skills

While mentoring is a step beyond coaching, you do need to have excellent listening skills and first-class questioning skills.

At the beginning of the process, you’ll need to find out not only where your mentee currently is in relation to sustainability, but also their beliefs about it, their understanding of what it means and how much time and effort they’re willing to put in. The level of investment they have in the process will affect the buy-in they’ll get from their team.

Questions are often the answer!

If you know how to ask good questions, you can help your mentee to ‘get’ the sustainability bug. Some of the things they could do are relatively simple but may need their staff to be educated to apply them. or instance, separating waste to make it recyclable or choosing to meet virtually instead of incurring the cost and fuel that a journey would take.
If you’re working with a framework, asking good questions will help you – and your mentee – to tick many of the boxes. But your expertise will guide them by asking questions like:

• Do you turn all your electrical appliances off at the end of the day?
• Who is responsible for switching off lights when they leave the premises?
• Do you use energy-saving lightbulbs and timers?
• What are your suppliers’ environmental credentials?
• How do you deliver goods?
• Do you need company vehicles – and are they already or planned to be electric?

Rather than tell your mentee what they should be doing, they’ll be more invested if they are the ones who provide the information and formulate their plan as a result. By all means, share your experience, but encourage them to research alternative options too.

You’ll need to be patient and resourceful

Sometimes you’ll feel like the sole cheerleader for a team that isn’t trying their hardest, but part of your role is to encourage, guide and point your mentee in the right direction. There will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel and there will be times when you will celebrate their big wins with as much enthusiasm as they do.

It can be tempting to do a spot of research and send your mentee off in a very specific direction – but then it’s your solution, not theirs. If they do a bit more digging they may find something that is much better for their business than your suggestion.

Mentoring for sustainability isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve cared enough to do it for your business, it’s an opportunity to pass on your experience to the next companies who aspire to run a sustainable company.


How is Gig Economy going to shape the future of work?

Gig Economy & Future of Work
Realization entails change. Change creates the drive for possibilities. And, the search for possibilities ends with a choice!

The world looked at the pandemic as a storm that took away everything. But, there is another side to the disruption that laid a foundation for the workforce revolution.

Working from Home or remote working was yet another corporate concept that people had known but never tried for long.

During the pandemic, remote working was not only a savior but also paved the way for new career avenues for the workforce.

The Gig Economy
Gig – A single professional engagement.

As the name suggests, “Gig Economy” refers to professional engagement for a temporary or short duration of time, with a single or multiple employers.

In simple words, a person with certain skills is employed to get a certain project or task done, within a stipulated amount of time. Once the job is done, both parties decide on collaborating further, or, part ways.

Professionals and domain experts opt for gigs to exercise career flexibility and freedom of choice; and the ones who offer gig engagements, scout for the expertise to get a specific job done with no strings attached.

The people who work on Gigs are often referred to as freelancers, consultants, independent contractors/professionals.

According to a report by McKinsey, 1 out of 6 workers in traditional jobs would appreciate an opportunity to become a primary independent earner.

And, this is not all!

About 55% of Gig workers also maintain full-time or regular jobs – PYMNTS.

The independent workforce is shaping up rapidly and is building a reputation like never before.

As per American Staffing Association, 78% of Americans are looking at Gig Economy as a modern way of representing the independent workforce.

Why should companies prefer Gigs over Permanent Employment?
Well, why not?
What an employer expects from a permanent employee is:

Expertise in the field of work
Ability and willingness to take responsibility for the work and be productive
Professional commitment
These are also basic expectations that an employer sets from a non-permanent domain expert.
Today, the job market is highly competitive, and hiring a full-time candidate is not any less of a hassle.

About 68% of recruiters agree that investing in a new recruitment tech is the best way to improve the hiring function – Thrive.

However, recruitment is just the tip of the iceberg, the real challenge lies with engagement and retention. Companies in a similar space are enforcing out-of-the-box workforce strategies to attract the right talent and address the challenges of traditional employment.
It’s raining opportunities and expertise is limited. Loyalty isn’t a safe bet to take within this cut-throat competition for talent.
Even when the desired candidate with the right skill set and attitudes is hired, despite the odds, the process of engagement and creating a work environment that facilitates retention is a challenging task.

About 80% of the organizations say they are facing difficulties in filling the open positions due to the ongoing skill shortage – Monster.

Here, in this perplexing situation, the Gig Economy can actually sail you to the shore safely. Let’s understand how.

As we discussed earlier – A gig is nothing but a single professional engagement.

As an employer, what you can expect from the person you offer a gig to is as follows:

Cutting-edge expertise in the field of work
Complete ownership of the assignment
Timely delivery and work proficiency
The plug and play nature of the assignment means a vastly reduced time to productivity.
Herein, you save up on efforts and costs involved in hiring a full-time employee and building retention strategies to keep them aligned with you. And, most importantly, don’t forget about the costs that may incur due to a bad hire!

With Gigs, you go on in full control and you can also choose to divide the activity into smaller sub-activities and distribute them around several Gig Workers. This shall help you speed up your development.

For about 44% of gig workers, their contribution to Gig Economy is the primary source of income – Edison Research.

The changing face of the Gig economy
The notions of employment and the interpretation of work is shifting. Today, organizations choose to go with skills and expertise rather than the years of experience on paper.
Gig Economy has been predominant in the blue-collar space for a long. The pandemic paddled the need for the remote working culture and things started to shift left. The same talent, working 9 – 5, with a single employer in a full-time role started scouting for gigs.

This paved the onset for white-collar workers to join the Gig Economy which not only offered them the freedom of choice, greater flexibility in terms of career growth, and nevertheless opportunities to count on those additional sums during unprecedented times.

The pandemic came in as an eye-opener for the potential that existed within but didn’t get a flight to surface and shine.

The startup ecosystem observed a progressive incline when it was least expected and elevated the need for expertise at a greater bandwidth. Meanwhile, technology and the internet of things together united to revolutionize the way Gig Economy and Freelancing were looked at. The Gig Community started to shape up.

It didn’t take long for people to realize that Gig Economy offers them the freedom of choice, mix of skills, work experience that they are craving, flexibility, and last but not least social recognition for the expertise they possess.

When we talk about leadership, the Gig Economy has widened the horizons for otherwise unreachable leaders.

Business leaders who have been through peaks and valleys depict the crazy potential and the Gig Economy has conferred the liberty to utilize their talent in every way possible. Seasoned business leaders or C Suite Executives with deep experience and vast networks developed over the years have the unmatchable expertise that is high in demand with a bare minimum supply.

With Gig Economy, companies now can choose to hire a C Suite executive with powerful strategic expertise on a project-to-project basis. Meanwhile, these top-level leaders exercise their freedom of choice to work with multiple organizations under different roles, the organizations can benefit from their expertise in building scalable business processes and grow.

Gig Economy will continue to flourish as companies are drifting away from hiring based on experience and appreciating workforce strategies to hire based on skill set. Considering the costs incurred to hire top-level or senior level on a full-time basis, it won’t be too long before companies would prefer to hire Gig Professionals, especially at the C-Suite level positions.

How advantageous is the Gig Economy for you?
There is a prevalent misconception with reference to the “Gig Economy” and it’s time to change it.

The perception of a Gig player is that of an AirBNB landlord, Uber Driver, Volunteer, Online Marketplace Seller, and self-employed artist, people who perform tasks that require manual effort which could not be automated.

In reality the list includes freelance domain experts, consultants, multiple job-holders, highly skilled contractors, and other professionals.

Imagine a scenario, you are starting up and you need someone to ramp up the operations and set up business processes. Happily, today the choice is between someone with 10 years of experience and working with multiple companies in a similar space as yours as a part-time COO and, someone with 10 years of experience who has worked with 3 companies within different spaces as a Full-Time COO!

Costs incurred are the major distinguishing factor that stands out when you look at the two options available and choosing a COO part-time would be a great choice for a start-up where both cost and expertise needs are met.

The Future of Work
There is a revolution in people’s relationship with work.

Working professionals today are scouting for a quality of life, opportunities to grow, and freedom of choice.
The current job market is employee-driven and not employer-driven anymore. And people define their own worth.

Post pandemic, no one is relying on, or wants to rely on a single source of income.

With Gig Economy pacing up, while defining an effective workforce strategy,
Gig Workers are going to be a preferred choice, while full-time Employees will be few and relegated to security and core business functions

With the wide range of Gig workers across various roles in the White Collar space, Gig workers will soon be an un-eradicable part of the modern workforces.

The number of Gig Workers which was at around 43 million in 2018 is expected to rise up to 78 million in 2023 – Mastercard.

The Gig economy has helped HR professionals to leverage a global pool of otherwise inaccessible talent due to locational and other employment constraints. They now have the freedom to choose; or nture of engagement skills over experience or visa versa to get the best out of their workforce strategy.

A blended workforce strategy is going cement the skill and experience gap with all the right talent, at the right time and of course at the optimum costs.

It is time for organizations to think about their workforce strategy, the future of work and changing the way they work.


Need Employees for Your Small Business? Hire for These 8 Characteristics!

I believe strongly that I was meant to work for smaller organizations – start-ups especially. And while I have never worked for a really large company (and so have no true frame of comparison), the way I’m hard-wired screams for me to be in a place where I can wear multiple hats. But not everyone is destined to thrive in a smaller business. However, there are some key traits you should seek when screening applicants for jobs available in the office of your start-up company…

1 – Resourcefulness
Let’s face it…many times employees at a small business have no precedent to set the stage for how they might approach a given situation or obstacle. There’s no “way we do things around here” yet and so individuals must jump in and get their feet wet to figure out what works well, and what will just be a temporary bandage to get through the issue. This can be very exciting for some, but cause a near panic attack in others. So it’s simple…just hire MacGyver, or find the most recent Discovery Channel reality TV star that fashioned a fishing basket out of jungle vine, right? But seriously, the tendency for one to be resourceful can be at least partially unearthed through a line of interview questions that ask the candidate to provide specific examples of how previous work obstacles were overcome when a new type of challenge was presented.

2 – Ability to Self-Direct…& Gets Bored Easily!
The ability for one to be autonomous and able to stay on task is not the most earth-shattering revelation on this list. But, have you thought about the “why” behind someone’s motivation to get things done? In the context of a small business environment, many times the most successful people not only cross all their tasks off the proverbial Post-it note regularly, but do so with enthusiasm because they have another Post-it note waiting for them to attack – one that has all the new ideas they jotted down the other day. The important point here is that while these people tend to get bored easily, they are in an environment where they are empowered to create their own work…so it’s impossible to get bored.

Of course all positions have responsibilities that are somewhat reactionary, but your proactive small biz Kool-Aid drinkers are happy as long as they get to dig their hands into many different cookie jars to help improve the company and their role.

3 – Passion
Unless you are screening for new Dancing with the Stars candidates by rating their tango, passion in the context of the SMB market doesn’t have to imply intense emotion, but rather a compulsive drive to continuously improve upon the processes, products and services that propel the organization forward. It basically means that your people honestly give a care about the long-term impact they have on your organization, and that your organization has on its industry and community. They do NOT get a case of the Mondays each week. I’m not trying to say that some people who work for large corporations are not intensely devoted to their occupation…I’m merely saying that in a small biz…it’s blindingly obvious when someone on the team doesn’t have the same mojo as everyone else there.

And while you’d probably begin the search for this trait by asking the candidate to describe an experience where he/she went above and beyond during a project…you might instead start by asking the prospect to tell you a story about someone who went above and beyond for him/her, first. Get details on the impact of that deed on the interviewee’s outlook and ask how he/she hopes to emulate that focus in his/her own life. Then, you might have an even better idea about his/her true passion (and how that could take shape for your organization).

4 – Unpretentious
Don’t hire people who are too fancy for their own good. You might work for a small company if…you bring your own stapler and mouse from home, or you fill up the company Brita water filter pitcher when it’s getting low in the fridge. The point is that employees have to do some things they may not be used to doing if they come from larger offices. If they are too good to help answer the office phone or start the dishwasher in the kitchenette when it fills up, then that’s going to grind some gears down the road.

5 – Inventiveness
To piggy-back off #1 on this list, you should have some people on your team that are gifted at innovation when it comes to creating efficiencies and brainstorming and executing new ideas. The important part here is to spread that creative gene around so that different teammates are engaged to excel in different areas. One might have a keen eye for detail and fresh promotional ideas; while another may have a talent for developing new procedures to anticipate potential hiccups down the road.

It’s a little trickier to screen for this type of trait in a personal interview, as sometimes you don’t truly know until you can see it in action. However, you can certainly assess one’s interests and behavioral tendencies through a pre-employment testing tool to give you a better idea of what makes the applicant tick. That way, you can explore initial assessment results with follow-up questions during a final interview.

6 – Optimism
Because the course of the ship can change frequently and suddenly in the world of a small company, at times there can be a general sense of the “unknown” in terms of what the future may bring. Some personalities can turn a lack of knowledge into the assumption that the worst possible scenario may come true…so the Negative Nancys of the world, in the absence of expectations for a clearly-defined career path inside of the organization might bolt (incidentally…our own Nancy on staff at ExactHire is in no way negative just to be clear!). In contrast, optimistic individuals have the capacity for embracing the fact that while a clear-cut ladder doesn’t exist, maybe other exciting and brand new roles will be carved out by ambitious contributors in the future.

7 – Adaptable
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because it may be the most obvious necessity in a strong hire. But what are the giveaways to the true nature of someone’s flexibility? Try to probe for an interviewee’s specific reasons for changing positions within an organization or switching companies all together in the past. The bottom line is that small companies need staff members that perhaps even crave change and somewhat fluid circumstances, as these types of organizations can evolve quickly as the result of venture capital funding, unexpected turnover, etc. If you’re familiar with Chaos Theory such that a butterfly flaps its wings in Tennessee and a tidal wave hits Taiwan…know that SMB’s are feeling the butterfly’s blustery effects closer to Texas in contrast with corporate counterparts that can distill the effect over a larger employee base.

8 – Tech-Savviness
Let’s make an argument for having an average to above average knack for embracing technology. You’re probably thinking you’d find the opposite in a small organization where budgets might be too constrained to afford the latest Software-as-a-Service and other technological tools. However, what tends to be more expensive? Automating key processes or hiring more headcount?

Hire individuals who sit at least slightly to the right on the technophobe vs. software geek spectrum. In an environment where people resources are limited and multi-tasking is a way of life, people who can get up to speed on new software applications more quickly, and without a lot of hand-holding, are going to be more productive for your company faster. And in the context of a professional office setting, one of your first clues to this skill might be how effectively the individual completes the web-based employment application available through your applicant tracking system. Or, assess how involved this person is on a business-geared social media site such as LinkedIn.

Working at a startup can be a wild card, fraught with uncertainty about the future profitability of the company…or what your specific career path has in store…or whether you will be exposed to the type of experiences you feel you need in your profession. You’ll probably catch yourself saying “well, that’s part of working at a small business” from time to time when addressing a lack of things that might be readily available at a big business.

However, while your most valuable new hire prospects will certainly consider this expectation; they will realize that this same phrase can work to their advantage, as well, and probably more frequently if the traits they possess align well with their respective position. Above all, hire people that are motivated to see the immediate impact their individual role has on the business as a whole – arguably the most exciting part…and enjoy the ride!


What is the Key to Workplace Transformation?

Workplace transformation is a necessary part of this transitional period as the pandemic becomes more manageable. HR leaders are leading this charge, but it comes with hiccups and challenges. In fact, 67% of respondents to a 2021 survey by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and EY said they experienced at least one underperforming transformation during the last five years.

More than ever, employees want a sense of ‘purpose’ and ‘value’ at work. When organizations get employee experience right, and prioritize the relationship with engagement and performance, they can achieve twice the customer satisfaction and innovation, and generate on average, 25% higher profits. Now is the time to act as we see dipping CX ratings, talent shortages, and the threat of automation. This FREE online event will help HR professionals approach and align their people strategy, employee experience and digital transformation to create long-term sustainability. Attendees will be able to put their real questions to the speakers and get valuable, actionable feedback that can be used to plan your organization’s plan for the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

What’s interesting about the Saïd/EY research is that it showed that successful transformation was reliant on tuning into the emotions of people and that both employees and leaders have to buy into change.

“Build a culture that embraces and empowers everyone’s opinion: Leaders need to harness the right emotions to keep workers engaged and motivated, while providing enough emotional support to prevent anxiety and burnout,” writes Matt Symonds, a Forbes contributor and Co-Founder of Fortuna Admissions & CentreCourt MBA Festival, in an article about the findings.

In addition, the research showed that companies that did engage people’s emotions were more likely to be successful in transformation. This fits neatly into what other business experts have said about ensuring that a company’s workforce has a real stake in its success.

“Building an exceptional team or institution starts with a founder,” writes Laszlo Bock, an HR executive who led Google’s People Operations, in the book Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. “But being a founder doesn’t mean starting a new company. It is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture-creator of their own team, whether you are the first employee or joining a company that has existed for decades.”

In the case of Google, every employee has stock options and a say in how the company is run. In the book, Bock explains that the founders wanted to create a company that enabled employees to take initiative, experiment, fail fast, and continuously learn from those experiences. The Googlegeist survey that allows employees to share their opinions on the direction of the company and how things are run empowers people to suggest change and be a part of it.

Giving this kind of power to employees is bold and courageous, but experts have proven that it works.

“There is so much untapped potential inside every organization; by having your people be the co-authors of change, you will significantly increase your chances of success,” according to a Q&A with Behnam Tabrizi, a world-renowned organizational transformation expert, in The Magazine of the Rotman School of Management, which is part of the University of Toronto.

Tabrizi stresses that “insiders must be engaged” for transformation to happen. He points to the many tech companies like Tesla and Amazon, which some people describe as cults. On the contrary, Tabrizi suggests they have become evangelist type of organizations because they help people connect their work to their values. There’s a higher purpose, which makes people more amenable to any necessary changes.

The example he shares is Microsoft and how it has employees write a mission statement that connects their individual North Star to the company’s North Star. Those who cannot do it are told that they probably should not work there.

Another example is Bay Networks, a company that was the result of a number of mergers and lacked culture. Tabrizi helped the Bay Networks to increase profit by twentyfold and market cap by fivefold. How did he do it? He says the key was giving people autonomy and helping them achieve a “founder’s mindset.” Employees and leaders together joined forces and felt they were part of something bigger than themselves.

Leaders are clear that employee engagement and leadership buy in must go hand-in-hand for workplace transformation to have a chance at success. Cultivating a culture in which employees have a founder’s mentality or an entrepreneurial mindset is essential to successful and meaningful change.

Some of the world’s top organizations, including Google, Apple, and Amazon have used this belief as a foundation for their culture. As a result, they are more nimble and able to pivot when necessary. It also means that transformation is easier. No one, however, can rest on his or her laurels.

“The effects of a particular transformation will last for as long as a company continues to adapt, execute, and anticipate trends in the market,” says Tabrizi in the Rotman magazine. “However, it will only be a matter of time before transformational change is required again. The challenge is to continue to change before you have to.”


When the real problem isn’t the obvious one

How do you know if you have identified the real challenge facing your business? And, once you identify that challenge, how do you know that you are solving it correctly? Answering both those questions requires not only a willingness to innovate but also the humility to change direction. This is the salutary lesson to be drawn from one of the biggest engineering feats of the 20th century, and it can help executives and leaders today understand the need to question their strategies and better evaluate their chances of success.

When Theodore Roosevelt undertook to build the Panama Canal in 1903, he thought the problem was all about digging. In the 1880s, the French had come to Central America with plans to replicate their success completing the Suez Canal, a 120-mile waterway linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez. Finished in 1865, it took ten years to build. But the Panama Canal proved a more formidable challenge, and, after eight years of digging, the French left defeated.

The US took over, believing that it was just a matter of using more efficient and more powerful diggers. Roosevelt’s instruction to his lead engineer, John Finlay Wallace, was “Make the dirt fly.” The US valiantly tried this for a year, with disastrous results.

Like the French, the US was trying to build a sea-level canal, which meant digging a 50-mile trench across Panama and letting it be filled by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This approach worked fine for the Suez Canal, but Panama wasn’t Egypt. The country is mountainous and covered with swamps, jungles, and rainforests, not desert. Wallace’s enormous steam shovels could dig up eight tons of rubble at once and place it on a train car for removal, and yet the Americans were proving even less successful than the French. By mid-1905, 60 to 75% percent of the project’s US staff had left, resigned, or died from yellow fever. At the rate they were going, completing the dig of a sea-level canal would have taken an estimated 27 years.

Roosevelt was a quick learner, and not shy about admitting he’d made a mistake. He realized he had to solve two fundamental problems simultaneously: dirt and disease. To tackle the former, Roosevelt appointed John Stevens, the architect behind the Great Northern Railway, as chief engineer after Wallace resigned. To tackle the latter problem, Roosevelt agreed to fund a US$1 million health initiative to eradicate mosquitos to eliminate yellow fever. It may not sound like much today, but at the time it was the most expensive and largest public health initiative ever proposed anywhere in the world.

Stevens concentrated on solving a vexing engineering conundrum, one he had run into while building the Great Northern, which had to cross the Cascade Mountains on its 8,300-mile journey from St. Paul, Minn., to Seattle. It wasn’t a matter of making the dirt fly, but rather what to do with the spoil: the earth that was dug out. If workers could cart the dirt away more efficiently, in specially built train carriages that could tip and empty quickly, work on the canal would speed up.

The nine-mile Culebra Cut, which had to penetrate the Continental Divide mountains that form Panama’s spine, had stymied the French. Stevens approached this challenge by deciding to dig at both ends simultaneously. By laying enough parallel train track along the length of the cut through the mountains—a method he had devised to remove dirt for the railroad—Stevens could send train carriages up the cut empty and down the other side of the cut full. Although this maximized efficiency, it also revealed another problem: no amount of engineering could overcome the sheer volume of earth that needed to be removed to dig a sea-level canal. A mountain is very different from a desert.

Stevens now faced the most daunting challenge of his career: telling Roosevelt that a sea-level canal was folly. The only way to build the Panama Canal was to build a lock-based waterway, one in which ships would move up and down vertically as they traveled along the canal in order to account for changes in elevation. This single decision changed the course of maritime and world history. Under the guidance of George Washington Goethals, a civil engineer from the US Army Corps of Engineers, 12 enormous locks were built. Each was three times larger than the largest locks previously constructed. The canal opened in 1914, just short of ten years after the US effort began. The one millionth ship passed through the canal in 2010.

There are many famous cases of business executives striving for a result only to realize too late that the real problem they needed to solve was not the obvious one: Kodak continuing to focus on film cameras rather than digital in the 1980s, Blockbuster investing in brick-and-mortar outlets to expand its market reach while failing to see that Netflix would make stores obsolete, Blackberry improving its phone’s keyboard when the world was moving toward short text messages tapped out on a touchscreen.

There are many famous cases of business executives striving for a result only to realize too late that the real problem they needed to solve was not the obvious one.

There’s also a direct analogue to the “make the dirt fly/what to do with the spoil” problem in the energy sector. A huge amount of money was invested in fracking in places like North Dakota and Texas, but there was no infrastructure developed to capture the natural gas and methane that are by-products (or spoil) of that process. And so, producers ended up flaring (burning off) those by-products even though technology exists for easily capturing them. Now regulators and society are coming down hard on energy producers for this wasteful, polluting practice.

A similar blind spot afflicted the automotive industry when it came to electric cars. Traditional manufacturers’ solution to new emissions standards more than a decade ago was to buy compliance certificates from companies working on producing electric cars (funding pioneer Tesla in the process) rather than investing in the technology themselves. The problem they should have been solving was figuring out how to produce profitable low- or no-emissions cars. They are now racing to catch up.

Workforce strategies need to avoid similar traps. With companies facing the “great resignation,” leaders should be wary of solutions to the wrong problems—for example, simply offering more money. Financial reward, these days, is not always the determining factor that encourages employees to stay or go elsewhere. PwC’s 2022 Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of 52,000 people worldwide found that job fulfilment and the ability to be your true self at work are in many cases just as important as pay.

Rich Blumberg, president of World Sales Solutions, which helps companies implement collaborative working platforms, described to me a change he made in his firm to improve employee morale, one that had nothing to do with pay or perks: an optional Monday morning call devoted exclusively to discussing the fun things people did over the weekend. “It was a simple, low-key process that bonded the team members,” he said, “and was a more entertaining way to start the week than focusing on key targets for the week, month, or quarter ahead, which could be handled in calls later in the day.”

Not all problems are created equal, and it pays to make sure you’ve identified the ones that really matter. In a world that is forever changing, give your leaders, teams, and managers license to challenge your business model regularly. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”


Enter Microsoft Viva Engage. A Real Social Network For The Enterprise?

This week Microsoft slipped in a little product launch that is more significant than you think: a new application in the Microsoft Viva family called Viva Engage. And it has a lot of implications for HR and collaboration software.

What precisely is this? I think Yahoo News summarized it well: this is Facebook and Instagram for the enterprise. Let me explain.

Ten years ago Microsoft acquired a new and innovative company called Yammer, a product that was trying to build a Yahoo-like collaborative experience at work. It’s hard to remember, but at that time social networks were very new and we thought group message boards, photos postings, and threaded discussions were the cat’s meow.

Despite its early stage architecture, it had success. Many companies use Yammer as the global “Watercooler” to create employee discussions about everything: families, dogs, sports, recipes, employee resource groups, feedback on benefits, and more.

But let’s face it, in ten years a lot has changed. Today people post Stories (personal videos, your personal timeline) to TikTok or Instagram. They post hundreds of photos and videos, memes, and heart emoji’s all over the internet. And we have our own personal drawing board to create a personal profile, making us all “creators” in our own social networks.

Why not do this at work?

Well, you may argue that “the last thing we need is one more social network to deal with.” Between Microsoft Teams, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, Snapchat, and our phones themselves, don’t we already have too many places to go? I certainly feel that way.

Well, apparently the answer is no. Each of these platforms has its own design center and each attracts different types of interaction. And based on the way they were built, they’re good for different things.

Slack, designed for engineers and gamers, is great for real-time messaging. It’s widely used by software and product companies for all forms of communication. Many people complain about it, but it clearly solves a problem.

Microsoft Teams is a more integrated platform to chat, learn, schedule meetings, and share documents. It is built on the Microsoft document foundation so you can build SharePoint sites without learning a lot about SharePoint) and share documents. We use the Teams infrastructure, for example, to store hundreds of research studies, presentations, and customer videos.

Facebook, which is the aging cousin of these tools, remains one of the most easy-to-use paradigms on the web. It continues to thrive as a place to stay in touch with friends and remember people’s birthdays.

Meta’s application Workplace, which is more successful than you may imagine, was built as a corporate version of Facebook, optimized for group chats, feedback, and collaboration. Workplace customers I’ve talked with (Farmer’s Insurance, McDonald’s, others) are thrilled with its ease of use.

How could Microsoft, then, upgrade its Yammer system to embrace these new features like videos, Stories, personal profiles, following others, emojis, and more? Enter Viva Engage.

As Microsoft puts it, this is a place to create a sense of belonging at work. I know, you can put all your personal stuff into Slack or Teams too, but Microsoft is betting on the idea that personal, family, sports, and other activities should go in their own special place. And I am now starting to get it.

Several months ago I was talking with Jim Barnett, the founder of Glint (now owned by Microsoft). Jim has founded a new company called Wisq, which is focused on building just this: a platform for workplace belonging and personal connections (they call it “A Place for Life at Work“). When I first saw it I was skeptical, coming from my traditional background that “work is work,” and my personal tendency to try to separate my personal stuff from work stuff. Well I now see that Jim was right. Companies can really benefit from a “new and different place” for personal interactions, separate from projects, meetings, and work activities.

I guess I would call this a Belonging Platform, part of the Employee Experience Platform market.

How do companies use Yammer and these other new tools? There are many use cases: open employee forums, to talk about your favorite sports teams, share recipes and vacation photos, or my favorite – post pictures of your kids and dogs. Years ago I looked at a system from Bridge that let employees post their personal interests, exercise tips, diets, and other personal mission statements – and I saw lots of employees flocking to these pages to learn more about who people really are.

That’s what belonging is all about: feeling free to be yourself at work, express your ideas and interests, and not feel that you are interrupting or slowing down work.

Unilever built its own system for this. They built a small application coupled with their internal social network that teaches people how to create their “personal mission statement.” As the company built out its Flex internal mobility and project system, the employee purpose profiles helped managers find people with different interests. These “belonging platforms” at work may do the same: teach people things about each other that really make work more fun and interesting.

By the way, there are many examples of these types of tools, each implemented in different ways.

One example of this solution is HiBob, one of the most interesting and fast-growing HR platforms in the market. HiBob, which I’ve written about many times (podcast with founder Ronni Zehavi here), is an entire HRMS designed to be “the Instagram of HR,” as Ronni puts it. HiBob has been exceptionally successful, and it’s largely because it feels like a natural place to hang out.

What if you want to use Slack for this? Many companies do. At IBM, for example, there are a number of personal Slack channels and according to my sources the single most popular channel is dogs@IBM (80,000 followers).

But Slack, like Microsoft Teams, doesn’t have features like Stories, personal profiles, and “employee following” to create belonging. So I believe this new platform market lets vendors add “social features” to their belonging tools that may not be appropriate for work-oriented collaboration platforms.

If you want to understand more, here is Seth’s overview and links to the Viva Engage details.

What Else Is New In Microsoft Viva

In addition to this new module, lots of other Viva stuff has come out. Viva Goals, the integrated solution from the acquisition, is now available. Viva Learning now has connectors to Workday, Harvard, Udemy, and other learning providers, as well as a published API. And Microsoft introduced Viva Sales, a new application that starts Viva’s journey into sales enablement (think Seismic).

I know for a fact that Microsoft has much more to come. Each of these applications are designed to be “employee first,” with integrations to existing systems and a massive infrastructure for content management and access to the Microsoft Graph.

All this investment by Microsoft is paying off. We are Microsoft 365 users in our company, for example, and we can not only create meetings, share documents, and collaborate at any time – we have instant access to videos, documents, and all sorts of calendar recommendations from Viva Insights. And we don’t have an IT department.

The Employee Experience Market Now Has Sub Markets

As the architecture picture above shows, the EX Platform market is complex. Now that we’ve established this as a real market, I think there will be “sub-markets” to consider.

ServiceNow is building out many workflow features to handle ERP workflows in addition to learning, surveys, onboarding, and more. Vendors like FirstUp and Applaud are focused on employee communications and content sharing. Tools like WorkJam and Yoobic are focused on deskless workers and workforce scheduling. And vendors like 360 Learning, Degreed, Cornerstone (EdCast), and Axonify are focused on learning.

While we traditionally think of these as “HR applications” first, employee experiences second, I’d suggest that idea is now flipped. Before you buy a tool for its core feature set, you have to consider “how and when will people use it?” This is why the Employee Social Network (aka Belonging Platform) makes sense. We can now copy all the funky features in Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok into the enterprise, separating that activity from the daily work we have to get done.

Microsoft is not slowing down: the team is tenacious and has more to come. I see the announcement of Viva Engage as “market creating” move that ups the ante for Google WorkSpace, Salesforce Slack, Meta Workplace, and many other vendors.