03/2 2011

Why Diversity Can Backfire in Corporate Boards

A recent research study by Drs. Jean-Francois Manzone, Paul Strebel, and Jean-Louis Barboux proposes that when it comes to diversity and corporate boards, it is possible to end-up with too much of a good thing.

In a Wall Street Journal article summarizing their work, the authors concede that the many benefits of diversity – having people from different background and perspectives collaborating on problems, bringing unique knowledge to bear to a problem, and creating unique solutions does hold broad appeal.

However, the authors propose that most corporate boards never see such desired benefits.  Some of this is attributed to simple human nature – while diversity is prized, people can feel baffled or threatened by persons with different views and backgrounds. As such, some of the board members with the most unique perspectives find themselves isolated or marginalized, and ultimately frustrated.

The researchers suggest the following steps for minimizing conflict in among Board members:

  • Choose new members carefully (think about their personality, in addition to their perspective)
  • Assist newcomers (make sure they are introduced properly, and take steps to ensure that the have the opportunity to make a positive first impression)
  • Don’t give in to get along (make sure disagreements and conflict are dealt with in a positive manner)
  • Encourage initial dissenters (make it easy for newcomers to express initial concerns, even when vague)
  • Members should share the role of being a “Devil’s Advocate” (share this responsibility with different members of the Board)
  • Review the role of the Chairman or leader (diversity needs to be managed by this person)
Of course, most of the above advice is also applicable to any corporate group setting, not just corporate boards – for example, any work group could benefit from paying attention to the above, particularly when they are assimilating new group members.
02/10 2011

Are Your Employees Happy At Work — Should You Be Concerned?

Recent research shows that even in today’s troubled economy, job satisfaction numbers are lower than at any time during the past 22 years.

Survey research conducted by The Conference Board in 2009 showed that just 45% of US respondents indicated that they were satisfied with their work — down from 61.1% in 1987. Satisfaction scores are down 4% even from 2008, when 49% of respondents reported satisfaction at work.

Researchers indicate that workers have grown steadily unhappy for a number of different reasons:

  • Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting
  • Incomes have not kept up with inflation
  • The soaring cost of insurance has eaten into take-home pay

In addition, fewer than half of the respondents feel secure in their jobs, and only about 50% like their co-workers or their boss.

Employees under 25 years of age reported the highest levels of job dissatisfaction in the survey – a whopping 64% indicate that they are not happy at work.

Why is this important? Researchers state that such low levels of satisfaction may result in lower levels of engagement and involvement at work, which will ultimately impact levels of innovation and productivity.

For an individual organization, levels of dissatisfaction are important because they can impact employee retention rates. Replacing employees can be costly, particularly for jobs that require extensive training periods.

In addition, we know that in most instances, employees do not quit an organization – instead, they quit their immediate supervisor. In other words, the relationship that an employee has with his/her immediate supervisor is the biggest predictor of turnover in an organization.

Therefore, the above statistics regarding satisfaction with supervisors is particularly troubling, and points the need to provide ongoing training and development for supervisors, particularly in the areas of communications, interpersonal style, delegation skills, and teambuilding skills.

09/17 2010

“Leadership Derailment” – and What Can Be Done to Manage It

Much recent attention has been focused on the topic of “derailment” – loosely defined as dysfunctional behaviors that negatively impact a leader’s overall effectiveness. Certainly, recent headline-making examples of corporate misdeeds have further increased the attention on these derailment behaviors – Enron or Bernie Madoff, anyone?

Some researchers have attempted to provide a framework for categorizing these derailment behaviors. Research by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has provided the following taxonomy listed below. CCL believes that the behaviors listed below will serve to stall or stop a person’s career:

  • Problems with Interpersonal Relationships
  • Difficulty Building and Leading a Team
  • Difficulty Changing or Adapting
  • Failure to Meet Business Objectives
  • Too Narrow Functional Orientation

CCL measures the above behaviors via a 360⁰ survey process, where leaders receive anonymous survey results in the above areas from their supervisors, their peers, and their subordinates. Survey responses from all of the above respondent groups are collected and compiled, and a feedback session to explain results and ongoing coaching sessions to improve performance are then offered.

Psychometric tools are also used to measure derailment tendencies. For example, psychologists Robert and Joyce Hogan have developed a report known as the “Leadership Challenge Report” that provides feedback to test-takers in the following derailment areas:

  • Excitable – being overly enthusiastic about people or projects, but then becoming disillusioned easily, and not showing a high degree of perseverance
  • Skeptical – Lacking trust in others, and being cynical and overly sensitive to criticism
  • Cautious – being resistant to change, reluctant to take chances, and being indecisive
  • Reserved – lacking interest in and/or being unaware of the feelings of others
  • Leisurely – having an elevated independent streak, and being procrastinating & uncooperative
  • Bold – having elevated arrogance, and being unwilling to admit mistakes or learn from experience
  • Mischievous – being risk-taking and excitement-seeking, and being different for the sake of being different
  • Colorful – demonstrating attention-seeking behavior, being dramatic, and not allowing input from others
  • Imaginative – being creative, but not demonstrating sound common sense or good judgment
  • Diligent – being too much of a perfectionist, and focusing on minutia and not delegating
  • Dutiful – being eager to please and unwilling to act independently

For Hogan, individuals with elevated test scores in any of the above areas are seen as being at risk for exhibiting the behaviors shown. Interestingly, Hogan believes the above behaviors are most likely to be shown when an individual is under pressure or stress.

Some research suggests that the base rate of failed leadership in US corporations exceeds 50%, suggesting that derailment behaviors like those described above are pretty rampant. Given this, what should leaders with derailment tendencies to for development?

As with any type of development effort, self-awareness is the initial step in making needed changes. Either the CCL 360⁰ survey or the Leadership Challenge Report can provide this critical self-awareness.

Once a leader is aware of their tendencies, they can reflect upon past instances when they have exhibited any of these behaviors, and through this process can learn to identify any common “triggers” that prompt these behaviors. Recognizing these triggers – and actively taking steps to correct the derailment behaviors that might automatically follow – can help the leader avoid demonstrating these behaviors.

In addition, leaders are encouraged to seek-out a trusted peer or colleague who can help provide ongoing feedback on their progress. By letting a colleague know that they are working on avoiding a specific behavior, the leader makes it OK for the colleague to provide real-time feedback on their progress – a true key to any leadership development effort.

08/2 2010

What is “Talent Management” — Why Is It Important?

The term “Talent Management” (TM) is the latest iteration of the name of activities that are associated with identifying, managing, and developing the human capital of the organization.

In earlier times, such activities were regularly labeled as “Personnel” activities. In the 80’s, the term “Human Resources Management” was adopted to reflect the reality that the human capital of the organization was, in fact, a “resource” that required as much care and attention as the other resources possessed by the organization (such as capital, equipment, etc.). The term “Talent Management” is now used to describe the broad scope of business activities that are undertaken in this arena.

A recent survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that the nine areas listed below were common TM activities that were being undertaken by organizations:

  • Leadership Development
  • Succession Planning
  • Career Planning
  • Performance Management
  • High Potential Programs
  • Learning and Training
  • Competency Management
  • Retention Strategies
  • Professional Development

In addition to the scope of the activities listed above, TM initiatives are also distinguished by the following:

  • Each of the above activities are viewed from a “systems” perspective – meaning that the activities above are inter-dependent with each other, and are linked in their design and application
  • TM initiatives are focused on the future — meaning that organization looks ahead to the business and staffing challenges it will face 3-5 years into the future, and will focus on developing the TM strategies needed to meet the hiring, training, and retention challenges of the future

It is important to note that successful organizations will not confine TM activities solely to the Human Resources Department – nor will they have these activities simply be the responsibility of Department Heads or teams of executives. Instead, both groups will contribute expertise to address talent management issues — Department Heads and executives will contribute insights into the business challenges and skill requirements needed in the future, while HR leaders and training professionals will be responsible for developing the strategies and methodologies to prepare employees to meet these challenges.