Tag Archives: Economy

In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers???

25 Mar


There’s a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review Online with this “provocative” title. It suggests that selling in a more traditional way– find a point of pain and address it– may not work in the current B to B environment. The authors discuss being provocative, which includes the following elements:

To begin a provocation-based sale, you must do three things well: identify a problem that will resonate with a line executive in the target organization; develop a provocative point of view about that problem (one that links, naturally, to what your company has to offer); and lodge that provocation with a decision maker who can take the implied action.

The article discusses how to go about these steps, and offers examples of companies that have used the approach. I think HR executives could take a similar approach to “selling” the value of HR in these challenging times. Some leaders may be willing to abandon good human capital practices to “save money”, which is exactly the wrongdirection to go. For those of us committed to building great workplaces– because we know that is one key ingredient right now– let’s be provocative!

Grown Ups Need Recess Too…

6 Mar


… Such is the claim by Dr. Stewart Friedman at Harvard Business Online. He comments on research published by the journal Pediatrics, which shows that recess breaks are good for the educational achievements of children. Dr. Friedman posits the same thing can happen for we grown ups:

The paradoxical lesson of this story is relevant not just for school children but for us grownups, too: taking time out to restore and rejuvenate ourselves results not in reduced performance caused by less time dedicated to work, but to increased performance caused by the stronger, more focused effort you bring to work after fruitful rest.

But in the midst of this soul-crushing, terror-inducing recession, how can anyone think seriously, and without guilt, about undertaking activity that isn’t directly reducing costs or increasing revenues? The short answer is that you can’t afford not to.

Dr. Friedman goes on to offer several ideas of what you can do to refresh yourself daily. He mentioned my favorite– crossword puzzles. I’m hope you find something that allows you put the pressures of the day behind you, at least momentarily, so you can return to them with a stronger constitution.

Recession Opportunity– Underutilized Talent

4 Mar


A report published in Business Week shows an opportunity waiting for business to seize right now– underutilized talent:

According to a winter 2008 Accenture (ACN) survey, which BusinessWeek has an exclusive first look at, 46% of women and 49% of men worldwide believe they are insufficiently challenged in their jobs.

“What this means for companies is that they have a huge opportunity with the talent they own to get more return [out of these] same people, if they just know how to ask them and how to engage them,” says Armelle Carminati, Managing Director of Human Capital and Diversity at Accenture. “Your employees are eager to do more. They are capable of doing more. They want to do more. This is a great competitive advantage for you as a company because you don’t have to hire new talent in a challenging environment—you have the talent in place.”


  • How could you more effectively engage the talent of associates where you work?
  • By not doing so, do you risk losing them to a competitor who will?

To RIF Or Not To RIF– Is That The Question?

20 Feb


There’s a fine article in the Omaha World-Herald about the ongoing debate of whether to sever employees or institute salary freezes/ cutting back hours as options to reduce costs given the tough economic climate. A number viewpoints are offered about both approaches. The article also raises an important issue about management and how any effort should be approached– here’s David Sokol, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway-owned MidAmerican Holdings Company:

In such cases, though, businesses sometimes become shortsighted,  Sokol said. They don’t realize that if they’re not careful, they could lose an awful lot of their best talent.

“Step number one is to make sure that you’re communicating openly and honestly about what’s going on, so that they’re not just hearing rumors. Because, frankly, your employees tend to be lot smarter (than that) . . . they normally know well ahead of your telling them.

As I’ve started in previous posts, it’s probably beyond my pay grade to advise a company whether they should conduct a RIF or salary cutbacks. I do think it my charge to continue pointing out that the success of either tactic will depend heavily on how management goes about it, including communicating in the way Mr. Sokol advises.

“Will Corporate Giving Suffer In The Crunch?”

19 Feb


The Times Online asks this important question, one which I hope all employers are carefully considering. I may be more sensistive to this as a former nonprofit executive, who knows how important corporate giving is to providing needed services in a community. Cadbury is featured in the article as one company that is holding firm:

These are uncertain times for charities dependent on corporate giving but Cadbury – associated with philanthropy since its Quaker founders created the Bourn-ville workers’ village in 1895 – insists that it, for one, will continue to give in the recession.

“It’s part of our heritage,” said Cheryl Phillips at Cadbury. “It brings a sense of cohesion to the company, increases employee engagement and develops our people.” my emphasis)

The article also points out another factor that should be considered– employee engagement– which is the theme of this blog. I know of many employers who have seen these same benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR)– connections in the community, growth in skills, helping the brand image, a sense of satisfaction for employees involved in charitable work– these can bring a nice ROI to a company that is genuinely committed to giving back.

I certainly understand that times are tough and cutbacks may be necessary, but I encourage all employers to add employee views into the mix before making any significant changes to corporate giving.

Onboarding– Even More Important Than Ever

15 Feb


According to a study published at CNN/Money.Com, getting employees off to a great start is even more important than ever:

Engaging employees early in their career with a new company is essential to employee satisfaction, retention, and performance, says data from the latest Human Capital Management benchmark report from Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks Company (NYSE: HHS). Effective onboarding of new employees is so crucial that 50% of more than 600 human resources, talent management, and line of business executives surveyed and interviewed by Aberdeen in December 2008 and January 2009 for this study indicate that the current state of the economy will increase the importance their organization places on onboarding in 2009.

Aberdeen’s research found that the percentage of organizations with a formal onboarding process has grown from 62% to 68% over the past year. In addition, two-thirds of Best-in-Class organizations are now beginning the onboarding process before the new employee’s start date, nearly one-half of which are starting the process as soon as the employment offer is extended. “Best-in-Class organizations are utilizing a formal onboarding process to drive positive impact in the pre-hire and through the new employee’s first year with the company,” said Kevin Martin, vice president and principal analyst, Human Capital Management at Aberdeen. “In fact, at the majority of Best-in-Class organizations, onboarding is seamlessly integrated with both recruitment and performance management.”

I continue to be amazed at how many employers, who desparately want an engaged workforce, do such a rotten job of assimilating new employees. Let’s committ to starting the engagement process the day a person applies for a job at our company, and continue  that effort relentlessly– our survival may depend on it.

(Image courtesy http://www.lumaxart.com/)

Salary Freeze or RIF? Another View

8 Feb

I recently responded to a question from an executive in the insurance industry about whether a salary freeze or a reduction-in-force was the best way to reduce costs while maintaining employee morale and engagement. I’d like to offer the perspective of someone who looks at this question primarily through the lens of my research and consulting experiences, which leads me to conclude it may have less to do with which choice and everything to do with how leaders going about it.

I spent 12 years with a global consulting firm that assisted employers with force reductions. I’ve seen that done extremely well, where both departing employees and those remaining are treated professionally and with dignity. The communication was open and honest, senior leadership was front and center to answer questions and get feedback, and there was a specific plan that was well coordinated that helped remaining employees move forward in a productive way. For those terminated employees there were decent benefits offered–severance payments, benefits continuation, preference for re-hiring, outplacement services– which sent a message that the leadership of the company truly cared about these folks and wanted to help their transition go as smoothly as possible. (For more information about outplacement services you might find this New York Times article of interest.) In those cases I’ve talked to all parties involved and heard very positive things about the employer in spite of the RIF, feelings that often led to employees wanting to return and solid productivity for those on-the-job.

On the other hand, I’ve witnessed horrible “RIF train wrecks”, where communication was terrible, rumors were rampant, senior leadership was hiding, and there was no plan to move the company forward confidently– disaster for everyone.

I think the same can be said for salary freezes. I’ve worked with companies where that has worked well, and others where the results are less than positive. I’m familiar with one company that has been frequently awarded a slot on the “Great Places to Work” list that Fortune magazine publishes every year, and stayed on the list one year when their business hit hard times and they were forced into both a salary and hiring freeze.

The common denominator for successful outcomes? Great leadership, of course, leadership that has built over time a positive, engaging culture. It’s been my experience that how a company will go about this is just as important as what they do, and effective senior leaders can make a big difference in determining whether a freeze or RIF is successful. If that leadership has developed a culture of trust and confidence they can more easily deal with many challenges such as a difficult decision such as this.

Your take-away from this rant? I won’t presume to tell any company what the best choice is from a financial perspective. But I can tell you that how you act, how you lead, how you communicate, how to vision-cast– all these things will make all the difference in the world regarding this any many other important issues in these difficult economic times.

Disabled Unemployment Rate

6 Feb


I’d like to call your attention to a serious labor and social problem– the unemployment/underemployment of the disabled. The report published at Occupational Safety & Health Online gives the numbers:

The Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy released the first employment and unemployment data on Americans with disabilities this morning. This began a monthly data series that “will assist the nation in understanding how changing labor market conditions affect Americans with disabilities. Although it is widely believed that this group typically faces a higher rate of unemployment than individuals without disabilities, official estimates were not available until now,” the DOL news release said.

This morning’s release showed the unemployment rate for disabled Americans in January 2009, 13.2 percent, was 59 percent higher than the unemployment rate for non-disabled Americans in the same month, 8.3 percent.

“Now that so many Americans are suffering job losses, there is a tremendous amount of attention being paid to employment problems and solutions affecting the general population. Americans with disabilities typically experience similar employment difficulties, even when there is a robust economy. The economic downturn may just exacerbate their struggle. These data will go far toward efforts to increase the employment of people with disabilities,” John Davey, deputy assistant secretary for ODEP, said in the release today.

Are we missing an opportunity to hire people who are ready and able to work? As  the category of this blog post admonishes: Disability Isn’t Inability.

Can’t Ya Just Feel Their Engagement?

6 Feb
Boy, here’s the look of three young people that are just thrilled to be working!
I know the photo is a bit dramatic, but it does raise an important issue, that being the level of employee engagement of the younger generation. After careful statistical analysis of over 300,000 employee engagement surveys we can report that employee engagement does vary by age. In fact, our studies clearly show that older employees are generally more engaged than younger employees. There are, of course, exceptions to this statement, but the general rule holds true.
Is this the fault of the younger generation? Are they simply not as motivated as Boomers like me? I think not. I believe the responsibility for those gaps lies, in great part, at the feet of management. Many organizations have yet to figure out how to more effectively engage younger workers. I’m convinced this  most recent generation to join the workforce is very motivated– we just need to figure out how we can motivate them when they come to work. Remember, engagement is what leaders do to create an environment that is conducive to:
  • people feeling energized for what they do,
  • makes them want to go the extra mile, and
  • keeps them from looking for other employment.

Employee engagement, then, is something we as leaders can largely control. It is our charge to create the conditions necessary to engage all employees, young and old alike– even more important now as we face this difficult economic times.

 (This is the first in a series I am calling “Funny Photos”. Our topic will remain earnest, but the photo, I hope, will bring a smile. We can and should take this work seriously, but we don’t have to always take ourselves seriously, right? Enjoy your weekend.)

An Outcome Of The Economic Crisis

5 Feb

An article in the New York Times points to one clear symptom of employee engagement in the midst of this economic crisis– an increase in contact with employee assistance programs. The article, in part, states:

A widely available but often ignored corporate perk — the employee assistance program — can help workers who are suddenly facing a layoff, as well as those who worry that the same fate will befall them.

E.A.P.’s, which generally are managed by counseling firms or divisions of health insurance providers, offer advice on family relationships, drug and alcohol problems and dollars-and-cents issues, among other matters. With so many people out of work because of the recession, and signs of economic rebound hard to glimpse, the number of calls to the programs has skyrocketed.

Aetna Behavioral Health, part of Aetna Inc., the health insurer, said it saw a 60 percent increase in program members seeking help in the third quarter of 2008, versus the same period of 2007. Financial stress was the main source of the increase, Aetna said.

“We’re hearing more and more people raising financial and economic concerns,” said Dennis Derr, who runs the firm’s E.A.P.’s. “We started noticing that trend in the middle of last year, with people saying they’re in debt or concerned about being laid off.”

In our research study, Beating the Bear Market with Engaged Employees , we identify five differentiators that can make a positive impact on employee engagement in the midst of these tough times, and taking care of employees is front and center.


  • Do you have an EAP program?
  • If so, is the program well publicized?
  • Can you help managers to encourage the use of services such as EAP?