Sunday, November 23, 2014

How Do Organisations Create Stress in the Workplace?

I was fascinated when I found there’s a journal entitled ‘Work and Stress’ and in a 2009 article Raymond Randall, Karina Neilsen and Sturle Tvedt wrote that “organizations and researchers often encounter difficulties when evaluating organizational level stress management interventions. When interventions fail, often it is unclear whether the intervention itself was ineffective, or whether problems with implementation processes were to blame.” They highlight how “in current European legislation there is a clear emphasis on the use of organizational-level interventions (changes in the design, organization, and management of work) as a way of improving working conditions and tackling problems such as work stress.”
Stress is a topic that is rarely discussed in most businesses and would be considered a ‘negative’ reaction to ‘normal’ work pressures by many managers throughout the world. With the world still struggling from the global financial crisis and further economic recessions on the horizon – should employees feel more stressed anyway, and what should organisations be doing about it if anything?
Individual reactions to stress will always vary and will be determined by many influencing factors at a specific point in time – remembering that employees will bring personal issues to work that if not identified can lead to stress at work depending on the organisational culture and how ‘safe’ they feel discussing personal issues that may affect performance.
Randall et al highlight how “several studies have discussed the importance of employees’ perceptions of involvement and participation in determining the success of an intervention. These constructs appear to be multi-faceted since they appear to be important at both the design stage and the implementation stage, and at a local level and an organizational level (e.g. Nytrø et al., 2000). Participation also plays a major role in well-known stress intervention theories such as the German Health Circles (Aust & Ducki, 2004) and risk management approaches to work stress (e.g. Cox et al., 2000). Participation may help to ensure employee buy-in and commitment and make use of employees’ expertise, thus improving the chances of intervention success (Kompier, Cooper, & Geurts, 2000; Kompier, Geurts, Grundemann, Vink, & Smulders, 1998).”
What I find fascinating with this work is that it takes all this research to determine what most would think is very obvious when it comes to change and minimising stress – it's all about communication, communication, communication. Letting people know what’s going on and keeping them involved are the cornerstones for successful implementation of anything – and by being transparent and keeping involved any stresses, both real and perceived, are reduced.
Around the world management for some odd reason miss the very basic concept that stress will always be minimised in an organisational environment where employees feel ‘safe’ to speak their mind – to discuss issues in a non-threatening, transparent environment.
A lot of organisational stress is caused by the failure of management to communicate on key issues that affect employees and instead for some misguided reason prefer to leave them in a state of uncertainty where many stresses are in fact ‘non-founded’ perceptions driven by a way too creative grapevine – creating too many negative self-fulfilling prophecies that end up not only harming individuals but the organisation as well.
Unfortunately it’s poorly run organisations where stress exists and but is not recognised by the management as anything other than the sign of a weak employee – someone who can’t hack-it in a tough business world. These organisations are often run by command and control leaders who have no empathy for an individual who feels any form of stress – even when the stress is created by an employee who only wants to do their very, very best.
In a healthy organisation there should be healthy levels of stress – that means that employees like the organisation are being pushed to be the very best they can be. Most of the time this should be exciting and motivational, but there’s no denying that at some points in time there will be levels of stress, but these should be recognised and embraced.
Randall, R., Nielsen, K. and Tvedt, S. D. (2009). The development of five scales to measure employees' appraisals of organizational-level stress management interventions. Work and Stress, Vol. 23, Issue 1, p. 1-23.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do We Really Understand What Talent Really Is?

Cindy McCauley and Michael Wakefield remind us that “today's businesses face increased global competition, shifting markets, and unforeseen events. No wonder they are finding it more difficult than ever to attract, develop, and retain the skilled workers they need. Human resources (HR) departments can set the stage for success by hiring and training capable employees. But developing those personnel into dynamic, motivated, long-term participants in the company's processes must be the responsibility of all management, from CEO to floor supervisor.”
Yet as many sports team’s know, success isn’t just about recruiting the most talented players – it’s about creating a team of people that have talent in specific positions – the positions you need for your sport; and recruiting the right talented people that can work together in a positive organisational culture to achieve your short and long-term strategic goals. So talent management isn’t just about talent – it’s about developing the right talent that can work effectively as a team.
McCauley and Wakefield highlight how “talent management, which incorporates the cooperation and communication of managers at all levels, has become an imperative in the face of today's business challenges. In addition, talent management processes must be more strategic, connected, and broad-based than ever before. Effective talent management becomes even more important with the forthcoming talent shortage as many experienced leaders approach retirement. Globally, fewer and fewer managers and professionals are ready to fill these leadership roles, and companies worldwide find themselves competing for a smaller pool of talent. Businesses must have the ability to identify the most talented individuals, provide them with the necessary training and experiences, and retain valuable employee’s long term.”
Developing talent and retaining talent requires the investment of a significant amount of quality time to have ‘people conversations’ in order to really understand the talent you have, and understand their aspirations and expectations within your organisation.
Talented people look for a lot more than just financial reward – these people have their own future expectations and ambitions and organisations ignore what drives these people at their peril. Retaining talent should not be difficult – but organisations often make it difficult because after they’ve found the talent and attracted it – they then ignore it for the most part, often until it is too late and they move on to greener pastures offering jobs that meet the expectations you simply didn’t become aware of.
According to a recent benchmarking study on talent management conducted by the American Productivity and Quality Center and the Center for Creative Leadership, organizations that excel in talent management follow eight best practices:
1) Defining ‘talent management’ broadly.
2) Integrating the various elements of talent management into a comprehensive system.
3) Focusing talent management on their most highly-valued talent.
4) Getting CEOs and senior executives committed to talent management work.
5) Building competency models to create a shared understanding of the skills and behaviours the organization needs and values in employees.
6) Monitoring talent system-wide to identify potential talent gaps.
7) Excelling at recruiting, identifying, and developing talent, as well as performance management and retention.
8) Regularly evaluating the results of their talent management system.
Talent management should link to some form of succession planning that is helping the organisation develop talent not just for the short-term but for the long-term as well. You’re more likely to retain staff in the long-term if you actually think long-term very early in their careers. This means have solid long-term business strategies, that may be no more than visions – but visions that help define potential future organisation structures and hence the opportunities for different talents within the business – and then matching the organisations dreams with those of your employees.
Every job is crucial in an organisation and hence every person within your organisation should have the talent you need for them to perform their jobs and grow themselves, their roles and in doing so, help grow the organisation. Some organisations have a two tier system where they have high-potentials with talent and ‘the rest’ – the danger with these kind of systems is that you can be giving the wrong message to the ‘b’ team and create demotivation and a two-tier culture, which does not build a cohesive team and will not give you optimal results.
McCauley and Wakefield remind us that “wise leaders do not leave strategy or the bottom line to mere chance. They also know they can't just hope everything somehow works out with the people in their company. By incorporating comprehensive talent management, an organization can assemble the right people it needs to manage and lead in the future.”
McCauley, C. and Wakefield, M. (2006). Talent Management in the 21st Century: Help your company find, develop and keep its strongest workers. Journal for Quality and Participation. Vol. 29, Issue 4, p.4-7.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What is a Global Mind-Set?

Andrew L. Molinsky, Thomas H. Davenport, Bala Iyer, and Cathy Davidson state that “executives often feel inauthentic when their behaviour conflicts with their ingrained values and beliefs, and doubly uncomfortable when others assume that it is a true reflection of who they are. They may also feel incompetent, anxious and embarrassed about acting in a way so far outside their comfort zone. Deeper down, they may feel frustrated and angry that they had to make changes in the first place. After all, managers don’t usually have to adapt their behaviour to the needs of their subordinates; most often it’s the other way around. Together, these feelings can prevent executives from making a successful code switch, thus imperiling their careers and their companies’ success.”
Some organisations try to develop global leaders within their ‘home’ culture through various forms of training and development initiatives. The unfortunate truth is that there is no substitute for being in the ‘new’ culture and having to deal with a ‘live’ situation on the ground – this is something that can’t be replicated in a classroom. What the classroom can teach is; what to look for, what to research and make them aware of the discussions that need to take place with the stakeholder.
The best way to develop global leaders is firstly to let them hear from experienced global leaders – people who have had experience entering new countries and hearing their key learning points.
The second way, after having talked with global leaders is to give the potential ‘candidate’ exposure and experience through assignments in a different country as global followers – that’s the quickest way for them to experience the culture without any threat to their career and the ‘overseas’ organisation.  
The problem with the classroom is that it can’t substitute for a totally different culture – where often the ‘trainers’ themselves don’t help the situation as they are from the home country and don’t speak and act in the way their international counterparts would act.
A global mind-set is all about research, flexibility and the ability to adapt to new and seemingly ‘strange’ management and leadership techniques that are an integral part of a countries culture.
Where most ‘new’ inexperienced global leaders go wrong is assuming that their style is best – and since they have the ‘leadership’ position, the organisation and its stakeholders must change and adapt to meet their style. This will always lead to complete disaster for everyone involved – where the leader just gets frustrated with, what they see as, the organisations inability to see how effective their leadership style is and adapt accordingly – or at least that’s the internal dialogue that they have with themselves.
And the stakeholders just get ‘annoyed’ with this ‘outside’ coming in without any respect for their traditions, customs, culture and past successes.
There are enough real life case studies of organisations that have failed on the global stage by trying to ‘force’ their leadership culture on the international stage, and at the same time case studies of those organisations that have been successful.
Patience and professionalism are a key component to developing global leaders who can adapt and adopt a global mind-set; where there is no substitute to experiencing differing cultures on the ground. Even the most experienced and adaptable global leaders will still make mistakes, as all leaders do, but it’s how they react in the ‘culture’ of their environment – rather than maybe their natural, instinctive reaction from their home country – that differentiates between the good and poor global leader.  
As Andrew Molinsky et al conclude “being culturally fluent means being able to enter a new context, master the norms, and feel comfortable doing so. In situations where executives perceive a serious threat to their competence and identity, they often show a strong psychological resistance to appropriate behavior. Learning to be effective at cultural code-switching is the key to becoming a truly global leader.”
Molinsky, A.L., Davenport, T.H., Iyer, B. and Davidson, C. (2012). Three Skills Every 21st-Century Manager Needs. Harvard Business Review, January – February.