Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Gift of 2008 and 2009

It’s hard to imagine what possible gift could have been spawned from the worst years of economic turmoil and fallout in most people’s lifetimes. While no doubt a disastrous set of circumstances for many, the turn of events was no big surprise to some astute observers of industry. Our cultural and attitudinal underpinnings that revolve around “what’s in it for me?” are perhaps now seen in a much different light.

To be clear, these underpinnings can also be beneficial, in that one byproduct of this attitude is that individuals and their employers have kept their eye on the important prize of improving financial position -- which does tend to improve quality of life.

In general, the gift of 2008 and 2009 is the universal recognition that these underpinnings are not long-term sustainable for either individuals, or the organizations that employ them, without being accompanied by questions like “how will our society, culture and our way of life (aka ‘the greater good’) also be positively impacted by our individual or corporate pursuits?” By definition, if something is not long-term sustainable, it eventually experiences a downward spiral or even perishes.

More specifically, the gift of 2008 and 2009 is the recognition that the benefit of the individual, the benefit of the organization and the benefit of society (the greater good) must be looked at together -- through the same lens.

For those still on the fence about whether large commercial enterprises should really care about alignment of these “sustainable value systems”:

- Kotter & Heskett studied the relationship between character and business performance across 200 companies over an 11 year period; and found that companies that formally and specifically focused on character in hiring and employee development experienced 682% revenue growth and 901% stock price appreciation in 11 years, as compared with 166% revenue growth and 74% stock price appreciation during the same period.

- Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer's study on competitive advantage analyzed high performance stocks on the US market over a 30 year period … the 1970's through 2004. He found that companies that selected employees (at least) in-part based on character, and provided training to reinforce character and "good citizen" values – Companies like Southwest Airlines and Tyson Foods -- experienced a 16,000% to 21,000% appreciation in shareholder return (including dividend re-investment) over this period.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Considering a job outside your home country?

I thought I'd mix it up a bit and take on a more generic topic in this blog posting ... working in another country.

As a native New Yorker and resident of 3 other states over the years, I knew an opportunity to live and work in Switzerland for 3+ years could potentially propel my career. I also knew that it was much more than a career-related opportunity. Any chance to get immersed in another culture is an opportunity that can’t be over-stated. It’s an obvious eye-opener in terms of really experiencing how other people live. It will also likely have an impact on you in ways you won’t realize for many years to come.

I started my career (many years ago) by taking a company-sponsored Dale Carnegie course that focused on “expanding your comfort zone” -- as that invariably helps you in demanding, stressful business situations. Working in another country is like taking that course every day for the entirety of your stay! By the end of it, you are surprising yourself in terms of how so few things make you uncomfortable.

On my very first day working in Zurich, I was rushing past the regional head of HR in the halls of headquarters and said “Hi Stefan, how are you?” and kept walking. Five seconds later and 20 yards away, I heard him say in a serious voice … “if you are so interested in how I am, why did you keep walking?”

Different idiomatic expressions, the absence of rampant consumption, taking trains and watching other people’s reactions to announcements in a foreign language, an unexpected 30-minute intermission first time at the movies, 5-year olds riding bikes alongside cars as if they were in the movie “ET”, getting a fine for mowing our lawn on a Sunday (considered noise pollution), 2 channels in English on TV, having an assistant that speaks 5 languages and pilots planes to Africa … all became routine experiences.

My strong recommendation for those preparing to work outside their home country (wherever that is) is to live among locals -- in their neighborhoods -- and try your best to learn at least some local language basics … vs. simulating your home country experience. Your ever-expanding comfort zone will translate into a far better work experience as well. Some of your new colleagues will be more inclined to “have your back”; i.e., collaborate effectively with you --- which is critical for your success.

Before you know it, you’ll be stopping long enough to hear the answer when you ask “how’s it going?”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Enabling Line Managers -- The Holy Grail

As any of the very talented Product Managers around me at PeopleSoft back in 2000 and 2001 would attest, two staples in my HCM vision pitch were … “Line Manager Enablement” and “Line Managers are the stewards of Human Capital Management.”

The role of Line Managers in core HR processes like Recruiting, Compensation and Performance Management is quite obvious. What is perhaps not as obvious is the role Line Managers play in promoting work/life balance (i.e., healthy, engaged employees); promoting desirable behaviors, values and the target corporate culture overall; and getting employees to create and deliver value commensurate with their potential. So let's never forget that Line Managers hold the biggest key to realizing expected ROI from HR Technology.

At the heart of true Line Manager Enablement via HR Technology (beyond providing supremely intuitive and agile solutions) is having solutions that are aligned with the way Line Managers think about and approach the people management aspects of their job.

Step 1 is to realize that Line Managers are a very diverse group. Some are “data freaks” and want to see, slice and dice as much (potentially relevant) data as possible, including market/competitor data, financial data, strength of competencies, planning and modeling scenarios, etc. Even within this group, some managers much prefer to work with visual or graphical representations, where others are fine with plain old numbers.

Then you have the subset of Line Managers that are minimalists when it comes to data requirements before making workforce-related decisions. They just want to get through the HR process (e.g., doling out increases or bonuses) and return to the other aspects of their job.

One implication of the above for HR Technology implementers is to consider having some type of taxonomy with respect to how different classes of Line Managers want to engage and leverage HCM solutions. Given how arduous and/or costly a task this might be for very large, dispersed organizations, the degree of HCM solution configurability achievable with minimal IT support should ideally extend to the Line Manager User Experience.

And a related suggestion for vendors in this space … consider hiring more product managers and product executives that have spent time working with -- and being answerable to --Line Managers within customer organizations.