How To Be A Good Internal Consultant

As an internal consultant and a member of an internal consulting team (although “internal consultant” or “internal consulting” is not in our “official” job titles), my colleagues and I are often called on to lead, support, and offer coaching, consultation, or facilitation services on wide-ranging areas, projects, and initiatives including culture, change management, conflict management, leadership development, organizational development, learning & development, onboarding, and so much more. Indeed, now more than ever, today’s HR professionals play the role of internal consultants (Miller, 2016).

The Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC) says that an internal consultant provides various client support services within the enterprise. They may be in a variety of areas (e.g., project management, quality management, human resources, information technology, training & development, finance, supply chain management, process improvement, etc.).

According to Phillips, Trotter, and Phillips (2015), “The rapid rate of change coupled with heightened competition on a global basis is increasing the need for companies and public sector organizations to develop effective internal consulting capabilities” (p. 3).

Important competencies to be a successful internal consultant (Phillips, Trotter, & Phillips, 2015) include communication skills, feedback skills, problem-solving & analytical skills, and organizational skills. Additionally, several core consulting skills (AIMC, 2017) are needed, such as business acumen, business process optimization, change management, coaching & consulting skills, and project management.

If you want a company to value you as an indispensable internal consultant — especially in the human resources, talent management, and leadership development space — here are a few tips I’d like to share based on my work and experience as an internal consultant.

First, it doesn’t matter how smart or knowledgeable you are or how much experience you have or bring. If you want to excel as an internal consultant and have top corporate decision-makers listen to you, you’ll need to master the art of influence & persuasion — how to sell your ideas and convince leaders to go along with you. Leaders are short on time and attention. You must master the ability to be concise, to-the-point, and ensure that your timing is right. For instance, if you are advocating for a specific program or agenda, but it does not align with your organizations’ goals or senior leaders’ mindsets, it will be very unlikely your proposal will ever have a chance of getting off the ground. The ability to both gain senior leadership buy-in and support and navigate an organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture is absolutely critical to an internal consultant’s success (Zentis, 2018).

Second, learn to be interpersonally savvy because it is “an essential part of getting things done within organization” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 235). “Interpersonal savvy helps you read and address relationships appropriately and at the right time” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261). I have seen individuals with graduate education and degrees (i.e., knowledge) be terribly ineffective at internal consulting because they were unable or unwilling to move out of their comfort zone (i.e., relying solely or mostly on knowledge or technical skills, rather than being savvy enough to read the situation and the relationship and understand what others need and respond accordingly).

Third, a positive attitude goes a very long way in helping you gain social capital, as well as getting you to the table of these decision makers. Regardless of how smart, talented, or experienced you are, if you have a bad attitude and cannot get along with others, you will struggle to get senior executives to listen to you. They may accept your work or ideas but will never see you as a leader or a person with the potential to become one. You have to play nicely with others. Even if you are the resident “genius” and you know how to do everything, if your attitude sucks, no one will care what you have to say, even if you’re right.

Earlier, I shared important competencies needed to be a successful internal consultant. These included Communication Skills, Feedback Skills, Problem-Solving & Analytical Skills, Organizational Skills, Business Acumen, Business Process Optimization, Change Management, Coaching & Consulting Skills, and Project Management.

Here are 8 competencies (some of these will be identical, similar to, or complement the ones previously outlined, while others will be new and different) you can incorporate into your repertoire to help become an effective internal consultant:

From CCL Compass (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

  1. Communication (p. 9) – “Listen, convey your ideas and emotions with clarity and authenticity, and adapt your personal speaking as needed for the situation and audience to foster an environment of trust.”
  2. Interpersonal Savvy (p. 261) – “You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright.”
  3. Influence (p. 17) – “Your greatest leadership asset is your ability to understand and persuade others. Influential leaders know how to get others to work with them, whether or not formal authority exists.”
  4. Tolerating Ambiguity (p. 401) – “[I]n today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. . . . Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Make peace with ambiguity and gain greater control over how you handle key decisions in daily situations and over your career.”

From Awaken, Align, Accelerate (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

  1. Business Acumen (p. 159) – A leader with strong business acumen understands the global environment, business model, and key drivers of the organization, and leverages this understanding to recommend alternatives and measure performance.
  2. Building Collaboration (p. 285) – A collaborative leader participates with and involves others, promotes cooperation, builds partnerships, and resolves conflicts.
  3. Creating Alignment (p. 57) – An effective change leader creates alignment by ensuring the structure, systems, people, and processes are aligned in support of organizational goals.

From Bernholz and Teng’s Harvard Business Review article (2015):

  1. Be Entrepreneurial & “Be Scrappy” – In Bernholz and Teng’s article, in which they offered recommendations on how to build an in-house consulting team, one of their suggestions is “be scrappy” and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. At EMC Information Infrastructure (EMC II, which has since been acquired by Dell), an information technology, storage & protection company, Bernholz (now VP, Head of Corporate Strategy at Adobe) and Teng (now VP of Global Business Transformation at Commvault) knew they didn’t have the luxury of having extensive support staff that external firms often enjoyed. So they made up for the staffing shortfall “by assigning all [internal EMC] consultants to an “office development” team, such as recruiting, training and onboarding, knowledge management, or social committee. Though these require time commitment beyond project-work, they offer team members the opportunity to shape the group’s operations and culture, instilling an entrepreneurial mindset among [internal EMC’s] consultants.”

Takeaway: Here’s my advice to those who wish to be outstanding internal consultants to organizations. To increase your chances of success: (1) Take a few steps back (figuratively) to really understand the issue or problem and absorb (like a sponge) everything you see, hear, and experience; (2) Build and maintain solid long-term relationships throughout the company; and (3) Work to connect the dots by thinking about and asking these questions: (a) “Why has this issue been a recurring one?” (b) “How many people or departments have an influence over this or play a key role?” (c) “Who truly holds the decision-making power and who are the influencers in the organization?”, and (d) “If others (inside & outside the company) have come up with a solution, why has it not worked?” By talking and listening to others, you will be in a great position to better know and understand the organization and the industry in which it sits. Finally, learn to get along and work well with others and be nice. If you are a jerk, you will have a very hard time providing internal consulting services.


Leading under pressure

Pressure is a goad. Whether it arrives in the guise of a burning platform or a project deadline, a strategic goal or a performance target, a high-stakes deal or an aggressive competitor, pressure can help leaders attain new heights of performance and achievement. You know the adage: no pressure, no diamonds.

Too much work, too little time
by Theodore Kinni
The problem with this pithy observation, attributed to 19th-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, is that it is both true and false. Though pressure can drive outsized results, it can also become an insurmountable obstacle to performance and achievement. It can overwhelm a leader and result in missteps that torpedo companies and careers.

The powerful effects—and vagaries—of pressure were dramatically illustrated during the Tokyo Olympics when gymnast Simone Biles unexpectedly withdrew from the women’s team finals. The extraordinarily talented and seemingly unshakable Biles, who was considered a shoo-in to repeat her 2016 gold medal win in the all-around gymnastics event, cited her mental health. Later, she said that she had been suffering from the “twisties,” a condition that leaves gymnasts disoriented midair and can lead to serious injury. The twisties are thought to be caused by performance pressure and stress, both of which were surely running higher than usual in an Olympics held during a pandemic.

When I mentioned Biles to Dane Jensen, CEO of performance consulting firm Third Factor and author of the new book The Power of Pressure, he suggested that she may have fallen prey to an imbalance in what he calls the pressure equation. Jensen finds that pressure grows more intense across three elements, as the levels of importance (how much something matters), uncertainty (how unclear the outcome is), and volume (how many other demands there are on your time) rise.

Peak pressure moments are riddled with anxiety that leaders need to manage, not ignore.

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“There is a well-accepted and common wisdom that success breeds confidence, and that confidence helps you handle pressure better,” explained Jensen. “My read, without having talked to Simone Biles or knowing exactly what is going on in her head, is that there is a countervailing force to that positive cycle, which is that as you accrue status and visibility, the ‘importance’ piece gets greatly magnified. The stakes expand. They begin to encompass your self-worth and the weight of the 330 million people you are carrying along for the ride.”

Business leaders are subject to this phenomenon, too. As they reach higher levels of the corporate hierarchy, the importance of their decisions and actions grows, and the stakes rise. And like pressure itself, the element of importance is a double-edged sword.

Over the long term, being connected to the importance of whatever you are doing inspires and directs action. As the author Simon Sinek said, “Starting with why” is a powerful motivational force. But Jensen contends that during peak pressure moments, say, a floor exercise at the Olympics or a corporate crisis, “importance can ratchet up to a level that is not healthy and is not a performance enhancer. It is actually something that is a real derailer. [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk is a high-profile guy who has had some fraying during the peak pressure moments but seems to be able to tolerate unbelievable pressure and public scrutiny over the long haul.”

How do you manage importance during these peak pressure moments? The secret is to understand that how you perceive the stakes in any given situation can be controlled. “When you get into peak pressure moments, all you can think about is how important [the stakes are], what you might gain, what you might lose,” said Jensen. “Somewhat counterintuitively, as you approach peak pressure moments, your job shifts from pulling importance close to making sure that you are not carrying it with you into the moment.”

Jensen offers a four-step technique for defusing the stakes in peak pressure moments.

1. Ask yourself what’s not at stake. “What are the things that are going to be there regardless of how the presentation to the board goes?” asked Jensen. “For instance, your family is still going to be waiting for you at home when you get out of this thing an hour from now, regardless of how it goes. That question—what is not at stake?—helps disassemble some of the manufactured importance that we often layer on peak pressure moments.”

2. Avoid the anxiety spiral. Often, leaders exaggerate the stakes in peak pressure moments. “It’s not just the deal that is at stake; it’s [the thought] that if I don’t make the deal, I am going to look like a fraud or like I’m just not good enough to do this,” said Jensen. To counter this tendency, he recommends seeking evidence for the stakes you associate with a challenge, being objective by asking yourself how you would view someone who didn’t succeed in meeting that challenge, and, if you’re still unsure whether a stake is real, giving yourself the benefit of the doubt.

3. Let go of ego-driven stakes. Just as we tend to give leaders too much credit—and blame—for the performance of their companies, so too, do leaders themselves. “You only need to own how you acquit yourself. All the other stuff—share price, revenue, profits—are only partly within your control,” said Jensen. “If it’s only important to your ego, let it go before peak pressure moments.”

4. Gauge what is truly urgent. Manufactured urgency distracts from performance in peak pressure moments. “Urgency is based on the belief that you need to act now, or else,” wrote Jensen in his book. “Ask yourself two questions: 1. What is the worst thing that can happen if I force action now? 2. What is the worst thing that can happen if I delay?” If the answers suggest that a peak pressure moment just feels urgent and could be better dealt with at a later time, give yourself a break and postpone it.

Peak pressure moments are riddled with anxiety that leaders need to manage, not ignore. “Pressure is your friend in these moments. It’s where energy comes from. It’s what gives you the ability to be a better version of yourself,” said Jensen. “The job here is to embrace pressure, and the only way to embrace it is to anticipate the anxiety that comes with it and prepare for it.”


The consequence of stereotyping in the workplace

How toxic language impacts an individual’s mental health.
Mental health can manifest in many different symptoms and behaviours, including (but not limited to) irritability, reckless behaviour, alcohol or drug misuse or the practice of escapist behaviour, such as spending a lot more hours working or obsessing over a hobby.

These behaviours are often a sign that someone is burying their head, along with their mental health, in the sand. Mental health is not limited to the home, and some people may notice someone manifesting these symptoms in the workplace. But do we ever stop to ask ourselves why this might be the case? Why does this individual, perhaps a colleague, not want to confront their emotions or accept their struggle?

Some of the answers exist in the way we have been brought up and the attitudes we have experienced around mental health and wellbeing. The toxic language attached to the mental health of men, for example, ‘crying like a girl’ and ‘grow a pair’ invalidates how an individual may be feeling and insinuates that it is a weakness if they cannot quickly and silently deal with their emotions.

These phrases can worm themselves into our belief systems and alter the way we view and interpret the world for our entire lives. I cannot help but wonder how many of the men who took their lives did so because they felt they could not reach out for support, and instead tried to accomplish something impossible like ‘manning up’ or ‘growing a pair’.

In addition, there appears to be a common notion that not all individuals can experience mental health difficulties. Without doubt, men are not exempt and study after study proves that; one in eight men have a common mental health problem; men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent; a man is three times more likely to take their life, our own research has shown that more than 50% of fathers felt overwhelmed by changes to life due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the Google search volume for ‘men’s mental health charity’ has increased by 40%. It is an extensive list that puts this misconception to bed.

The consequence of stereotyping in the workplace
Research by Samaritans suggests that societal expectations of the ‘role’ of a male – to be strong, to provide, to support – have a huge impact on mental health. It is an idealised view that requires men to not feel, share emotion, or admit to struggling or needing help. In the workplace, it requires men to power through no matter what the consequence is on their health. Plus, any implication that a man is invincible, or untouchable can make an individual feel they do not have a right to ask for help if they need it.

Indeed, this stigma goes some way in explaining why men are much less likely to access mental health services. Research has shown that only 36% of mental health referrals are for men. It also begs the question, if men are expected to do all the providing and supporting, who is providing and supporting them?

To tackle the inequality that exists with male mental health in the workplace, it is important that organisations ditch harmful standards of work-life balance and give men space to express their vulnerability. Admittedly, to create this safe environment a company needs a culture of trust and that is not something that can happen overnight. However, there are some small steps a company can take to create an inclusive, caring, and open culture that can help the men in the workplace feel they have a right to seek support, and language is a good place to start.

We’ve seen that the words around male mental health can trigger low emotion and depressive thoughts. As such, instead of using words and phrases that may result in someone shutting down their emotions, line mangers, HR and employees should look to use terminology that shows compassion and care. As always, it is essential to try to create an open dialogue between the line manager and the employee. Role modelling these behaviours amongst leaders, both with the language they use and by demonstrating that it is safe to be vulnerable, will help build a culture men can open up in.

Everyone in the workplace must stop and take note of the impact toxic language is having on men and those who identify as male. The key here is to encourage every employee to consciously change their approach to how they talk about male mental health. Irrelevant of gender, societal status, or identity, it is critical men are not made to feel ashamed to look after their mind. After all, building an open culture around mental health in the workplace is not just the ethical and moral thing to do, but it makes good business sense too. Ultimately the wellbeing of the employees in the workplace will always have a positive impact on business performance and the bottom line, too.

It is never O.K. to tell someone to ‘man up’. Now’s the time to give men a voice, normalise conversations around mental health and take down the barriers that so often prevent men accessing life-saving support.


Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em: The Ultimate Stay Interview Guide

What happens when a person leaves? Do you know it in advance? In a prior blog, I wrote about the often unknown reasons that blindside employers when a rock star quits. Today, let’s look at taking a more proactive approach: checking in on what it’ll take to keep your stars at your organization.

Great people are hard to find. And can be harder to keep. I recently came across a terrific book, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. I highly recommend it.

As a leadership and culture coach, I very often work through personnel matters. So when I witnessed the clear and concise thinking from Kaye and Jordan-Evans, I knew I had to share it.

Why Employees Stay

Kaye and Jordan-Evans surveyed over 17,000 employees to learn what conditions will keep an employee with an organization. They call these conditions “stay factors”. Note that these are neither industry-specific nor role-specific, they are universal.

1. Exciting work and challenge

2. Career growth, learning, and development

3. Working with great people

4. Fair pay

5. Supportive management/good boss

6. Being recognized, valued, and respected

7. Benefits

8. Meaningful work and making a difference

9. Pride in the organization, its mission, and its product

10. Great work environment and culture

Interesting tidbit: 91 percent of survey respondents listed at least one of the first two items among the top reasons they stay. I love that challenge and learning is at the top. This is one reason I harp on Individual Development Plans to our clients!

How To Do A Stay Interview

How to do a Stay Interview? You simply ask the employee. Some leaders fear that discussing this topic will open a proverbial can of worms and get the employee thinking about leaving. I disagree heartily. The employee is already thinking of leaving at times, possibly on hard days, when they feel overwhelmed or discouraged, if they’re experiencing tremendous stress in their personal lives. It’s likely only a fantasy about leaving, but why not simply communicate directly about it? It’s refreshing, builds trust, and shows you care.

There’s no ideal time to do a stay interview. The goal is to do it before an employee has one foot out the door. You can do it during a development conversation, when checking in on their development plan, you can do it at year end or at the new year, any time is fine. If you don’t know what their answers might be to the below questions, then it’s time to do now!

Recommended “Stay Interview” Questions From Kaye and Jordan-Evans:

· What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?

· What makes you hit the snooze button?

· If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most?

· What one thing that if changed in your current role, would make you consider moving on?

· If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about this department?

· If you had to go back to a position in your past and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?

· What makes for a great day?

· What can we do to make your job more satisfying?

· What can we do to support your career goals?

· Do you get enough recognition?

· What will keep you here? What might entice you away?

· What do you want to learn this year? How might you learn it?

Be sure to ask “anything else I might have missed?” and use effective listening (ask “what specifically?” and the other questions in the linked blog). And be careful with your responses: don’t dismiss their ideas/input/answers, be curious as to what it’s like to be them. You don’t know, so be an anthropologist studying a fascinating creature. If done this way the interview will deepen connection, loyalty, trust, and ultimately, boost retention.

What You Can Do Now

1. Implement Individual Development Plans – people need to know they are growing and learning. This helps us feel achievement and empowerment at work—which is key. Keep it simple: have the employee and their leader develop it together. If you make it too complex no one will do it!

2. Do regular Employee Engagement surveys so you know how people are feeling.

3. Create a Cultural GAME (Growth, Appreciation, Measurement, Engagement) Plan based on the results from your survey in #2 above. Here’s an infographic.

4. Give Frequent Bi-Directional Feedback so everyone is connected and clear on what’s working and what they’d like to see more of. Here’s an infographic.

The Net-Net

· Stay interviews help you understand how your team members are feeling about their work—it’s essential to stop guessing and start knowing what will keep your stars happy

· Do stay interviews across your organization as needed, during development conversations is a good time

Put the recommended programs in place to maintain and grow the good feelings in your organization. Happy = will stay!


Why Now’S The Time To Open Dialogue With Neurodiverse Employees

until recently, the flexibility to work from home was seen solely as an employee benefit or, post March 2020, a necessity. However, one year of lockdown later, businesses are coming to realise that there is genuine anxiety about a return to co-working spaces. Yet, with many businesses yet to implement any mental health response to the pandemic, the choices they make in terms of the physical environment are even more important and fundamental to the organisation’s employee value proposition.

A New Approach
There are a vanguard of companies who are heading towards 100% flexibility, with the likes of Spotify, SalesForce and Nationwide implementing a ‘Work Anywhere’ strategy, which will enable employees to choose where and how they work. The most common trend for most businesses is towards a structured hybrid model, with employees working from offices two-to-three days a week.

As workforces make the move back to offices, it’s key that businesses engage with their staff to understand their fears and concerns in terms of the practical requirements, safety and mental health impact.

Considering Neurodivergent Employees
In this already complex landscape, it’s vital employers also consider the needs of neurodivergent employees that, statistically, will represent 10 to 15 percent of their workforce, or one-in-seven people.

Whilst some people have thrived working remotely, others have struggled. Additionally, a significant number will be anxious about what the return to offices will mean for them. Remote working has necessitated individualised workspaces, and moving back into a homogeneous office environment will be challenging for many – so now is the time to ask everyone about what adaptations they need.

Caroline Turner at Creased Puddle, which empowers neurodiversity in the workplace, comments: “The return to shared physical work spaces is the perfect time to open dialogue with all employees about what they want and need, and will give businesses the opportunity to identify individual requirements and act on them positively. In turn, this will significantly benefit the overall welfare of employees giving back both a sense of control and connectivity.”

There are several ways in which employers can implement workplace adaptations which can have a genuine impact on neurodiverse team members, with little outlay or effort:

Create quiet zones in the office and allow headphones for noise cancelling and greater concentration.
Agree to flexibility around start and finish times, as some people may benefit from earlier or later working hours.
Where employees have been on-boarded remotely, remember to offer them the same orientation for the office as you would any other new starter. They may have been your colleague for a year but they may still not have seen their desk.
Ensure wellbeing initiatives and work events are inclusive by involving neurodivergent employees at the planning stage.
Vary the dress code and review your old guidelines. The world has changed significantly in the last 12 months, and outdated rules and regulations will only hamper productively and wellbeing.
Ask neurodivergent or neurotypical employees what a good work environment looks like, and work together to make improvements.
What now?
Workplaces have an obligation to prioritise the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff, but by making positive changes and acknowledging all team members’ specific needs, businesses can only benefit in terms of productivity, retention and engagement. So keep talking, continue to communicate and inform, ask questions and take action. It’s that simple.

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How To Integrate Well-Being Into Work So Employees Perform And Feel Their Best

While executives have long recognized that well-being is important, the COVID-19 pandemic brought home how significant it really is. Organizations suddenly found themselves called upon to prioritize workers’ physical and mental well-being as a matter of survival, as protecting their health and alleviating their stress became critical to operations. Work and life, health, safety, and well-being became inseparable.

Even before COVID-19, though, well-being was rising on the organizational agenda. In fact, well-being was the top-ranked trend in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends study, with 80% of nearly 9,000 survey respondents identifying it as important or very important to their organization’s success.

Shifting realities: COVID crisis casts a new light on the importance of well-being

Against that backdrop, when COVID-19 took hold, the crisis cast new light on the importance of well-being and made us acutely aware of the consequences when well-being is put at risk. Many organizations took quick action to redirect resources toward making work safe and keeping workers healthy, for example by moving workers into remote work arrangements, implementing testing and contact tracing strategies for on-site workers, and establishing new programs for emergency medical leave, childcare, and eldercare support, and physical, mental, and financial health.

As the pandemic went on, well-being remained paramount in many organizational leaders’ minds. Conversations about the toll of social isolation and economic recession on workers’ mental and emotional health entered the public dialogue and keeping workers physically healthy and safe continued to be a top priority.

Workers prioritize transforming work for well-being more highly than executives

Even so, there is a continuing disconnect between employers and workers when it comes to prioritizing well-being. When asked, “What are the most important outcomes you hope to achieve in your workplace transformation efforts in the next one to three years?” respondents cited improving quality, increasing innovation, and improving worker well-being. But improving well-being was the second-to-last outcome identified by executives.

HR executives were slightly more deliberate than non-HR executives about focusing on well-being as an important outcome, with 20% of HR executives selecting it as a priority, compared with 15% of non-HR executives. But designing well-being into work cannot be done by HR alone. The incorporation of well-being into work must be done symphonically, championed by leaders at every level and in every function if it is to make a meaningful difference.

Organizations can take a variety of actions to integrate well-being into work

Organizations looking to build well-being into work should consider actions, policies, and mandates at three levels – individual, team, and organizational. And they should take into account five environments in which they’re designing work, including, cultural, relational, operational, physical, and virtual. For example, here are a few actions leaders can take:

At the organizational level:

Form teams based on worker preferences, working styles, and personal needs
Embed well-being criteria in work scheduling, performance management processes, leadership evaluations, and rewards and recognition programs
Design work environments to support workers’ physical, mental, and emotional health needs
At the team level:

Model well-being behaviors such as taking micro-breaks or making only certain meetings video-based
Enable team agency and choice by allowing teams to adopt well-being practices best suited to their needs
Leverage physical workspaces that promote team collaboration and performance
Use new technologies, like virtual reality, to train team members to navigate stressful situations (e.g., interacting with a frustrated customer)
At the individual level, people should also take ownership over their well-being by being proactive and vocal about their well-being needs, checking in more frequently with colleagues and leveraging wearable technologies and apps to help master distractions, increase mindfulness and reduce anxiety.

The design of well-being into work is a practice that must be developed, strengthened, and flexed over time to be effective. As work itself changes at a rapid pace, the ways that an organization supports individual and team well-being must adapt in tandem. It’s no longer about achieving a work-life balance. The pandemic has shown us that well-being is not about balancing work with life but integrating them. When an organization is able to successfully design well-being into work, well-being becomes indistinguishable from work itself, embedded across all organizational levels and environments to drive and sustain not only human performance but also human potential.


The challenges of onboarding in remote or hybrid workforces

Companies that have been able to recruit throughout the pandemic have faced significant challenges in onboarding new employees. The difficulties that have surfaced during this period raise important questions about how organizations onboard new talent and maintain internal culture when a large part of the workforce is working remotely.

How, for instance, will recruits fit in with their new team when it could be weeks or months before they meet them?

These are worthwhile questions because when post-pandemic recovery comes, remote working will continue in many organizations. Gartner’s research predicts 48% of employees will work remotely some of the time once the pandemic has ended. Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn told the BBC that the volume of job searches using the ‘Remote’ filter had increased by 60% from the end of last March.

Onboarding is more difficult when an organization’s workforce is working remotely for all or part of the time. A sense of not-fitting-in can quickly develop when interactions are solely online and the new employee feels as if they have been left to flounder without proper induction training or personal introductions. More experienced recruits will start to question whether they have made the right move.

It is also much easier for new recruits to resign when no feelings of loyalty or personal warmth have developed an organizational culture appears poor or remote

College-leavers and first-time entrants to the job market may also feel alienated and will need special attention to make them feel valued so companies do not hemorrhage the best young talent. In the legal sector, for example, trainee lawyers have always been able to learn in the office from senior colleagues, asking them quick questions and observing how they handle cases and clients.

The pandemic has restricted the access of young lawyers to this wealth of expertise and experience, resulting in many struggling to work from home. This will be true for many other professions as well.

It is also much easier for new recruits to resign when no feelings of loyalty or personal warmth have developed an organizational culture that appears poor or remote. This is where more active policies to include and engage with newly-appointed employees reduce the likelihood of early departure and avoid the disruption and extra costs of refilling a vacancy.

To a large extent, however, the rethinking of onboarding for remote workforces is already underway inside organizations that have embraced more advanced, cloud-based HR platforms.

What HR technology has brought are vastly better and simpler communication, more effective training programs, and reinvigorated employee support. In a remote or hybrid workforce, organizations with the right technology are more systematic about onboarding, but with no loss of personality.

HR departments can create checklists and workflows that streamline the onboarding process, ensuring no aspect is overlooked. Self-service will give the new employee a greater sense of autonomy even before they formally begin, enabling them to input their own details and access videos and training materials.

Younger employees, especially, are more attracted to video content. The overall effect is to iron out admin irritations that can alienate a new recruit sitting at home or in a sparsely-occupied workplace.

A platform that offers social media-type functionality makes it very easy for a recruit to see what is happening across the organisation both professionally and socially and to feel part of the culture. It facilitates introductions to managers and colleagues so that a new person is familiar with the ethos of the organisation before they start.

To make recruits feel truly comfortable and get up to speed with what the company requires of them, it should also be simple to schedule regular informal face-to-face interactions or check-ins with managers to discuss progress, personal goals and any concerns.

This is a straightforward and intuitive form of interaction, which HR platforms enable. Similarly, new employees should be able to join discussions with fellow team members quickly and easily, enjoying a sense of inclusion even though they may be at home and have yet to meet them in person.

Regular contact with managers and teams on a platform that is simple to use and full of relevant features embeds recruits far more quickly, substantially reducing the chances of them throwing in the towel early on.

Being able to access training modules, company guides, and updates within the same HR platform is also a major advantage for a new hire who might otherwise struggle to locate the right content in a company’s system. This removes the necessity to leave the platform to find what they need, including records of how they are progressing.

HR departments and line managers will undoubtedly face all kinds of onboarding challenges as the UK economy emerges from the pandemic and remote working continues. It will be organizations with access to more advanced platforms that make the greatest success of this new pattern of work, rapidly onboarding the ablest recruits, increasing retention, and maximizing organizational efficiency.

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Rethink organisational design to maximise benefits of hybrid work

As businesses become more comfortable with remote work settings and routines, both employees and organisations are recognising that many roles can be performed just as successfully, if not more so, in flexible environments.

Implementing a hybrid workforce model requires flexibility, adaptability and shared ownership between employers and employees. The elements of organisation design (OD) — structure, workflows and role design, and networks — help operationalise these attributes.

Organisations should focus their attention on four key areas to seize opportunities for hybrid work and optimise their approach.

Team design

Most companies deploy task-based organising principles, which groups members of the workforce together based on the type of work they are doing, such as marketing, finance or IT.

In an office setting, a task-based organising principle enables organisations to centralise skills and resources and make them accessible.

An outcome-based organising principle groups employees based on specific outcomes to be achieved, such as the roll-out of a certain product. Shifting to an outcome-based organising principle can increase the opportunities for hybrid work, including segments that may have seemed ineligible in the past, by empowering employees to design their collective working schedules around the completion of a particular project.

Employee workflows

When all employees are together in a physical workplace, businesses can insist on strict workflow approval processes knowing that an employee is able to walk over to a manager’s desk and get instant feedback and sign-off.

In a hybrid set-up, with employees working at different times and in different locations, processes and gatekeepers could slow decision making and stifle innovation.

To support hybrid work, companies should design systems that facilitate autonomy whilst maintaining quality control. Leaders can consider a host of new approaches, such as simplifying hierarchy chains, defining areas where workflows can be flexible, or reducing the direct reports to each manager.

Cultural values

Since the start of the pandemic, leaders have been concerned that long-term remote working would lead to a breakdown of company culture. However, the shift to a hybrid workforce is a chance to evaluate whether cultural priorities were truly supported in the first place. Our research shows that only 19% of leaders currently manage processes based on culture.

Business leaders should consider how current organisational structures can support or strengthen cultural values in the hybrid era. For example, if the company prioritises collaboration, increasing the diversity of tasks within specific roles can encourage cross-team partnerships. Similarly, if it prioritises innovation, rethinking workflow formalisation can empower creativity.

Learning and development

Leaders are also exploring how they can help employees maintain and develop key skills in a remote environment. A hybrid model expands, rather than hinders, opportunities for development by forcing organisations out of old approaches that heavily rely on co-location.

Organisations should look at how they can increase the visibility of virtual employee networks so that staff can be connected to the right people at the right time. In fact, ‘connector managers’ are particularly adept at this since they understand the availability of skills within the business and can make the appropriate connections at the right times.

Embrace the hybrid opportunity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have been largely successful in adapting existing roles for remote working and remaining operational during lockdowns. The hybrid workplace will require more fundamental changes but offers organisations the opportunity to rethink traditional organisational structures and redefine organisational priorities to lay a foundation for future success.


Three Ways To Ensure Your Crisis Management And Communication Plans Will Work

Even before Covid-19, companies and organizations were gambling with their futures and the health and lives of employees if they did not take steps to ensure their crisis plans would work when needed — assuming, of course, that they had plans in place.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by CS&A International and PR News, about 62 percent of companies had crisis plans, though it was uncertain how many updated them on a regular basis. Almost 60% of the middle and senior managers surveyed said they never conducted a crisis exercise or were not sure how often their companies held exercises.

The Next Crisis

What effect has the coronavirus crisis had in convincing companies to prepare for the next crisis — or how to survive this ongoing national public health emergency?

Caroline Sapriel is managing partner of CS&A International, the risk, crisis, and business continuity management firm that conducted the survey with PR News. She believes that awareness about crisis preparedness has increased with Covid-19.


Sapriel said that those who were not ready for a crisis before may not be any more committed to being prepared now if they are impacted economically and struggling financially. “It’s the age old question of whether an organization sees crisis preparedness as an investment or as a cost…those who survive without or with little preparation are likely to continue to think it’s good enough and be complacent,” she said.


Have contingency plans for different crisis scenarios
Test the plans by holding drills and exercises
Revise the plans to reflect lessons learned from the practice sessions
Here’s how three organizations are doing just that.

A Plan For Every Crisis

Project Hope knows all about crisis situations. According to its website, “From the Bahamas to Sierra Leone, Project HOPE teams are at work around the world, responding to crises, helping people overcome diseases, and empowering health workers with the training and tools they need to save more lives.”

When it comes to responding to a crisis, the global health and humanitarian organization does not take any chances — it has a different crisis plan for different scenarios. “We have templates for natural disasters, for [the] passing of colleagues, for kidnapping, etc. For responding to a humanitarian crisis, we have what we refer to as SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures),” said Rabih Torbay, president and CEO.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Rather than assume their plans will work, Project HOPE conducts drills and exercises to put them to the test. “…We have conducted a drill regarding kidnapping and crisis communications, as well as a 3-day humanitarian crisis response drill on our campus in partnership with Johns Hopkins and Humanitarian U that included many students,” Torbay said.

After every exercise Project HOPE applies what they learned to strengthen and improve their plans. He noted that, “Every time we do one of those exercises, we adjust the plan a bit based on what worked and didn’t work. What we learned is that those plans are good tools, but they are not the solution. They help remind you of what you should and should not do, based on best practices and experience. However, there are no two situations that are the same, and therefore, [there is] no perfect plan.”

Insuring Their Own Success

USAA is a financial services company whose 35,000 employees serve almost 13 million members of the US armed forces, veterans, and their families.

To test their plans and make sure personnel are ready to respond to various crises, USAA conducts annual tabletop, full-scale, and virtual exercises at their San Antonio, Texas headquarters and regional offices around the country. The crisis scenarios range from full-scale active shooter situations and anthrax attacks to the loss of data centers and fires at company facilities, according to Christian Bove, lead communications director for USAA.

In addition to planning and running their own drills, in July the company took part in Cyber Storm 2020 that was conducted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The three-day exercise brought together more than 1,000 participants from the public and private sectors to role play in a simulated response to a national cyber crisis that impacted the country’s infrastructure.

Bove said the exercise was an opportunity to cross-train with crisis management professionals from across the financial services industry and government agencies. “Anytime USAA has the ability to participate in crisis management exercises with other agencies and organizations, and we are able to learn best practices from each other, it benefits the industry and our members as a whole,” said Mickie Williams, assistant vice president of enterprise business continuation at USAA.

For companies and organizations that don’t have the expertise or internal resources to test their crisis management and communication plans, there are others they can turn to for assistance. One of them is The Social Simulator, Inc., which holds 150 exercises for clients around the world every year, according to company president Steph Gray.

In October 2019 The Social Simulator helped conduct a two-day drill for the City of Redmond, Washington. Participants included about 30 public information officers (PIOs) from government agencies in Redmond, Washington state, and Canada. The exercise sought to determine how the communication professionals would respond to a category 9.0 earthquake (AKA “The Big One”) that could hit the Pacific Northwest.

The drill, which utilized the company’s proprietary Social Simulator platform, placed special emphasis on effectively handling misinformation on social media and providing safety messages to local communities in the event of a natural disaster, Gray said. Teams posted messages, information, and updates about the earthquake on mock Twitter and Facebook pages and websites and monitored authentic-looking news feeds.

The exercise posed several challenges for the PIOs, including:

How quickly and how well could they use social media to communicate with key audiences in the aftermath of the faux natural disaster?
How would they share information, warnings, and messages with various government agencies?
Who would take the lead to ensure information and updates were posted quickly on social media platforms?
How would they work with journalists and news organizations in such a pressure-filled situation?
After the exercise, Gray said Redmond revised their public information process, made changes to their crisis management plan, and updated a memorandum of understanding with local government jurisdictions on how their PIOs would cooperate in the event of a major incident.

Learning from how others have prepared for a crisis is one thing. Applying those lessons is quite another. What steps have you taken — or should be taking — to protect your organization from the next disaster or emergency? Are those steps enough? Or will they be too little and too late?

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Prioritize people in times of crisis: An interview with the CEO

Mike Henry’s induction into the role of CEO at BHP has been a baptism by fire. When he took on the top leadership position of the world’s largest diversified-resources company, in early 2020, the Canadian transplant in Melbourne found himself almost immediately facing the impacts of one of Australia’s most catastrophic bushfires on record. And then COVID-19 hit. “It has certainly been a different start than what I was anticipating,” he said.

While he has managed to keep operations running and his workforce of 72,000 safe and healthy, Henry said that BHP’s resilience during the pandemic is built on a foundation of strong relationships fostered over the years: “This includes employees, but also communities, business partners, and traditional owner groups, who have come together to keep the business running.” It’s also by prioritizing the cultivation of win–win relationships that Henry believes BHP will thrive in an ascendant “Asian century.” China, Japan, South Korea, and India represent BHP’s key markets in the continent, and Asia as a whole accounts for more than 80 percent of the company’s sales.

In June, Henry spoke with McKinsey’s Stephan Görner to reflect on his first six months leading BHP through crises, sharing how social value and strong relationships have helped bolster the company’s resilience. He also provides his views on what it will take for businesses to be successful in Asia, where he sees free trade as a continuing driver for economic progress and opportunity.

Mike Henry: Six months is still short, and I’m sure there are going to be a ton of insights yet to come, particularly because we’re still in the midst of this crisis. While COVID-19 has been a crisis unlike any, it’s not specific to BHP. And, in some respects, that creates greater freedom to lead, because you’re not under intense scrutiny. On the other hand, it’s been very pervasive. COVID-19 has touched every single person, every part of BHP, and every part of our supply chain, creating a high degree of uncertainty.

Four things have stood out. First is the importance of prioritizing people. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, there’s a premium on getting out, demonstrating empathy, and engaging with people to understand what their concerns are. Second would be the importance of creating clarity on what matters most. From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis. Third is the need to be responsive and fluid to the dynamics of an evolving crisis. Ultimately, you can’t lead from the center, because the crisis has impacted every part of the company differently depending on region or group. And the final one is the importance of gaining perspective. Early on in a crisis, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and to focus on managing what’s in front of your nose. But the earlier that you can find a means of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, and pushing out the time horizon of that perspective, the better. That will allow you to sense what’s coming and get ready for what’s around the corner.

The Quarterly: How has becoming CEO during a time of crisis—whether it’s bushfires or global pandemics—informed your leadership style?

From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis.

Mike Henry: One thing I’ve paid a lot of attention to is context-specific leadership, or recognizing that the leadership for one set of circumstances may not be the most effective for another. Again, perspective is critical. When I talk about getting perspective, it means getting out and engaging with people—both employees and external parties—and hearing what other companies are seeing, as well as the concerns they have. With this perspective, we can make better decisions to steer through the crisis in a more confident and deliberate fashion.

I’ve also realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged. My role is not so much to solve specific problems but to provide context, perspective, and clarity on what matters—while getting support in place and then getting out of the way. Through doing that, I can give people what they need to make decisions in the field at any given moment. Thankfully, we’ve got highly capable people and a good culture. They’ve made good decisions that have allowed us to steer a steady ship through what have been some choppy waters.


Mike Henry: We were well-positioned coming into this, because some great people in our procurement and supply teams are always assessing it, including the suppliers to our suppliers. We also have been studying our critical pinch points—where we might want to have a little more stock, for instance.

I want to call out our suppliers who have pulled out all the stops to ensure that they could continue to supply to BHP, even when they were in the depths of their own COVID-19 crises. This is a testament to the strong relationships we have in place, and our focus on social value. One of the things that we did right at the start of the COVID-19 crisis was to support our small, local, and indigenous suppliers by reducing payment terms from 30 days or more down to seven days. We knew that they would be hurting because of the pandemic, and we could play a role in supporting them. People remember things like that. When they’ve seen that we’re there for them in their time of need, they’ll be there for us in our time of need. And that’s what we’ve seen. They’ve invested greater effort to ensure that they can continue to support BHP and keep the commitments they’ve made to us.

The Quarterly: Do you think businesses should play a more active role in solving social problems?

Mike Henry: This is important to us, and also to our stakeholders, including investors. What people used to view as “social license” has evolved into “social value.” That’s analogous to the journey that companies and society have been on in terms of safety. Safety and operational performance were once seen as opposing forces; if you prioritized one, you had to sacrifice the other. Now, people have, well and truly, moved on from that, and everyone understands that these are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have great operational and financial performance without having good safety.

We see the same thing with social value. First and foremost, social value is a way of being and a way of running the business. Of course, we have specific initiatives around social value, but it is also embedded in all of the decisions that we make and in the day-to-day way that leaders in BHP lead. There isn’t some unit that handles all social-value activities; this is a line accountability, supported by functional experts. From mine plans to safety decisions to procurement, we’re thinking about how our employees, communities, business partners, and so on are benefitting. Through doing that, we can lift what is already a substantial contribution to our stakeholders further without eroding short-term financial or operational performance. And over time, you build greater value and greater returns for shareholders.

I’ve realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged.

An increasing number of our shareholders understand this; in fact, if we weren’t focused on social value today, we’d have a pretty rough ride with them. They understand that BHP is making investments over decades and that it is critical that we’re seen to be creating value for a broad group of stakeholders: employees, communities, business partners, host governments, and so on.

The Quarterly: Can you give some examples where social value has driven decision making?

Mike Henry: We’ve been investing for quite some time now in securing the ability to move to fully desalinated water in Chile. When we first embarked on that, it wasn’t clear that this was going to become an absolute necessity, and, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the external views were of that move. It took a degree of foresight, and definitely involved dollars and investment. But now, standing where we are today, the decision looks prescient.

Each part of the business has its own social-value plan, and there will be a degree to which they prioritize some of their activities for their local circumstances. Then they will have a regional plan around social value, and then we have group-level priorities around social value. The way we define these priorities is by assessing two dimensions: first is the degree of relevance to the business, and second is our ability to have impact. This steers us in the direction of defining which issues we want to show leadership on.

Take indigenous affairs as an example. There’s clearly a high relevance to the business; there’s a codependency between ourselves and traditional owner groups. We rely on each other to create prosperity for both parties, and we also know we can have an impact in that space through the way that we engage—the agreements we form together and the opportunities that are generated for indigenous empowerment.

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