Category Archives: Workplace practises

The Guru Factor: Where are the women?

The Guru Factor


Something’s got to give
Earlier this year, somewhat bewildered by our leaders and their actions (or lack thereof) over the previous few years, I wrote a post “Playing without the Queens“. In it I expressed surprise at the notable lack of public reaction as bankers and financial service leaders decimatad our global economies, while the populace merely ” whimpered ” from the sidelines. Our medieval forebears would certainly have revolted and literally broken the “banca” in protest. However, only a few months later in the Middle East and North Africa populations took to their streets and now in the U.K. certain sections of the community are doing the same. Unfortunately, I am still just as bewildered.

Change required
In London there is currently a period of crisis management, but I feel sure that before the door has closed on the broom cupboards, the blame game will undoubtedly start. For me there is one overriding message. Tony Robbins words echo loudly ” If you do what you always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. Something has to change.

We have seen in recent years “Masters of the Universe ” bankers such as Fabulous Fabrice Tourre in their designer suits, caught, through negligence/ dishonesty/ incompetence or a combination of all three, vandalising global economies to the tune of …billions, getting off pretty much free and easy, with barely a dent to their 7 figure bonuses. According to Sky News the bank bail out will cost the average British tax payer £3500. This week, yobs in hoodies from Hackney, will almost certainly receive custodial sentences for vandalising shops, nicking trainers and mobile phones to the tune of… hundreds. Political figures will take the moral high ground and preach to us, while many, only last year, were even tacitly, part of massive expense scams. Organisations are struggling to keep up with, and adapt, to changes outside the workplace. Unemployment amongst young people is reaching all time highs in many developed economies. Whole countries are bankrupt.

Lost in thought?
Courtesy of Lee Carey I came across this organisation
The Thinkers 50. The 2011 Thinkers 50 will be unveiled on November 14 in London at the first ever Thinkers 50 Summit. Now as you know I’m not crazy about the composition of think tanks in general, but in 2009 there were only 3 women on the list and one of those was part of an INSEAD duo.

This ” definitive global ranking of management thinkers is published every two years. The 2009 winner was CK Prahalad. The ranking is based on voting at the Thinkers 50 website and input from a team of advisers led by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove. The Thinkers 50 has ten established criteria by which thinkers are evaluated – originality of ideas; practicality of ideas; presentation style; written communication; loyalty of followers; business sense; international outlook; rigor of research; impact of ideas and the elusive guru factor

No women
The words elusive guru factor caught my eye and surreal images of Simon Cowell type “guru factor judges” and ” guru factor auditions” came into my mind. However, I also wonder if this is the time to stop thinking and start doing. There is a reason for the phrase ” lost in thought”. But mainly we need to do both differently. People clearly want change. Women are not only visibly absent from the financial services leadership group that caused many of the underlying problems, but also from the “thinking” list that was issued when it was all going on. Draw your own conclusions, but it’s not rocket science!

If as one definition of guru is a ” recognised leader in a field”, perhaps we need look no further than a modern-day leader such as the courageous, elderly woman in Hackney who confronted London looters, maybe not in the language of the board room ( be warned, very strong if you do watch) but at least there is a badly needed underlying morality.

Are we seeing a resurgence of candidate power?

Candidate power

Top candidates making greater demands
As the worst of the recession seems to have bottomed out and economies are hopefully experiencing an upward turn, I have noticed a slight, but perceptible shift in the executive search process. Organisations had their pick of top talent for probably 3 years, the challenge during that period was being able to sift through the sheer numbers of applications to identify the best candidates. Hiring managers who could during this period, choose their terms of engagement, are currently meeting candidates who are more demanding. Top candidates are now involved in multiple processes, very often with their existing companies being prepared to enter a bidding game and making counter offers to retain key employees.

Normal candidates
I’m not talking about corporate prima donnas, who are playing one company off against another, or leveraging their current employer with empty threats to move. These are genuinely top class individuals who have probably been held back by the lack of opportunities, caused by the economic downturn. In the intervening years we have been exhorting candidates to research and prepare to create good impressions with potential employers. But now is it organisations which are found wanting and not making the correct impression on candidates?

Internal audit
Perhaps now is the time for hiring companies to carry out internal audits to check that they are operating to best practises: They should be satisfied that:

All stages of the recruitment process from sourcing, interviewing, offer and onboarding, especially candidate communication and management, is efficient and timely. Any hiccoughs or delays in any part of these processes will result in losing the preferred candidate. Lost candidates = lost revenue, as positions remain open for even longer.

Salary and benefit levels are in line with the market. If hiring managers don’t know what market rates are – now is the time to find out.

Development and training programmes are in place to guarantee employee engagement in terms of future career opportunities.

Tomos, a recently graduating MBA suggests ” After a period of stagnation candidates need to know that companies are offering career development opportunities. For me this is as important as the salary package.”

Employer branding and reputation are strong. Just as employers can research candidates on-line, the reverse is also true. It is becoming increasingly easy for candidates to establish the corporate culture of any company by asking well placed connections, a few carefully constructed sentences about hours worked, vacation times, bonus systems, management style and so on. Glowing references from existing employees are a huge boost to the recruitment process. However, even a well-intentioned comment can send the wrong signals. One contact decided not to apply for a position when an internal connection within the company mentioned that he had a closer relationship with his Blackberry than his girlfriend.

First impressions count
Organisations which are complacent about any aspect of their hiring systems might be in for a wake up call. As Matteo, a Business Development Manager actively looking for a new opportunity confirmed, the recruitment process is the first encounter with the overall corporate image. If that isn’t strong, other areas of the company can be brought into question. “I was involved in 3 different search processes. All opportunities were attractive in different ways. The offer I accepted came from the company with the most professional hiring procedure. I felt it was one indication of how the company was managed from the top down

First impressions cut both ways.

What is your career sine? New take on career strategy

What is your career sine?

Career ladder or lattice?
Our society is evolving at a phenomenal pace. Technology has brought about changes that even 15 years ago we could only have dreamed about.

New trends
Think tanks are predicting labour shortages in key sectors, pension plans and a default retirement age are likely to be pipedreams for the next generation. Many will have to work until the age of 70.

Family structures are changing and with almost 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the nuclear family is disappearing as the cornerstone of our industrial culture. The number of highly educated women in the workforce is at its highest level. Whether quotas are voluntary or enforced, there will be an increasing number of professional women at senior levels. With the rise of single parent households and expected extended longevity, pursuing a career will no longer be a question of choice for most women, but a case of economic necessity.

Men are now expected, and want, to play a stronger role in childcare, while single parent fathers with joint custody agreements are no longer as free to assume traditional roles and commit to their careers in terms of availability and mobility.

Burnt out executives are opting for mid-career gap years while they are still healthy.

Gen Y have a different expectations to their parents about what they want from corporate life. Research indicates that they may have as many as 10 different jobs before the age of 40. Large numbers are heading home to Mum and Dad, as the post college traditional rite of passage to start their own lives becomes unaffordable, creating a new group of “Boomerang Kids “. It has been suggested that Millenials might not be fully independent of their parents until their late 20s. With a working life that might end at 70, that still gives a career spanning 40 years.

Work and life are morphing into a single continuum as hi-tech communication allows us to blend the two spheres. Work is no longer another place, or even a fixed and regular time. Now, work is what we do, when we need to, or even when we want to.

Life long learning has become a necessary part of an ongoing process to stay current in our ever-changing world, rather than a night of relaxation in classes to learn a spot of DIY or holiday level language skills, after a hard day at the office.

Job hopping will cease to be a pejorative term associated with an inconsistent and unreliable work ethic, but renamed multi-direction career strategy.

In short, society is changing and the work force has shifting requirements. But is the workplace and our current leadership keeping up fast enough? I do wonder.

New Approach
I was interested to read research and a new approach to career strategy from Deloitte called Mass Career Customisation. They maintain that ” The end of traditional career paths and work patterns is upon us.” And I would agree. Anyone who is tapped into this sector has been aware of this for a while and this might seem to be stating the obvious. But issues assume a different complexion with a big multi national consulting organisation behind them, rather than a few bewildered bloggers at ground zero, scratching their heads in collective wonderment. Not only is there is a name to what we are seeing but there is a solution – also with a name!

What many of us have been observing is that we are entering an era where core elements such as workload allocation, employment location and roles are being reviewed by both employers and potential candidates in trade-off situations. Key to the Deloitte MCC philosophy is the credo that individual priorities change over time and that ” multiple views of success are affirmed through recognition of results and value created … contribution levels ebb and flow along with personal life stages

The end of career ladder?
So are we seeing as the Deloitte approach suggests the end of the traditional vertical career ladder but an ” undulating journey of climbs lateral moves and planned descents” which they call a career lattice? I think so.

I was involved in a recent executive search where the wife of a leading candidate was employed in a senior role tied to a specific geographic location, which made family relocation impossible. Maybe even 3 years ago, his candidacy would have been ruled out as untenable. Today the question is ” We value and need this skill set. How can we make this situation work?”

Companies which are prepared to bring this flexibility of thinking and demonstrate empathy with the driving forces in today’s workplace, which alone would indicate that they are in tune with the shifts in society’s culture in general, will find themselves I believe, one step ahead of the game.

Check out your own career sine. Click here to complete the Deloitte MCC interactive test.

What have you learned?

How fast is too fast? Speed interviewing.

Speed interviewing

Would you move in with someone you’d only just met?
I was recently asked by a local journalist for a soundbite on speed interviewing. This is apparently one of the latest job hiring strategies to hit the job market and is seemingly being adopted by an increasing number of companies. The process, pretty much like speed dating, allows both the interviewee and hiring company to assess their potential match. It also exposes the applicant to a large number of hiring companies in a short space of time, as they rotate within a pre-arranged group of recruiters and hiring managers. All of this supposedly maximizes the candidate’s chance of receiving an offer. Speed interviewing is also a great money saver for any employers who want to meet as many candidates as possible in the least amount of time.

Déjà vu
Because I’ve been around for a while, this type of interview process seems to me to be new speak for job fair, a system which was, and still is, commonly used to identify graduate potential at universities. I have attended many myself, on both sides of the counter. Typically, interviews last between 5 -15 minutes and allows large numbers of both candidates and employers to check each other out. At the higher end of the scale the hiring managers and employers are as much under scrutiny by the very top candidates, who usually have their pick of the best offers. As a student, I have vivid memories of the organisations getting the highest numbers, were the ones providing the best food. Apparently even today – pizza works.

Value
I would say that the process has value to the extent that it gives a preliminary overview to both parties, based as it is, on first impression criteria only – such as physical presentation, body language, oral communication skills and so on. Any suggestion that this could be used as a substitute for an in-depth and thorough selection process – fills me with total horror. That was my sound bite! Do I think this is a valuable solution for busy people in today’s world? No I don’t. We spend about 2000 hours a year in the workplace. I think it’s a decision that should be made after careful consideration by both parties.

The thought that this process might be drifting off campus into mainstream recruitment is worrying and I spoke only the other day to a professional person in their early 30s, who recounted an interview experience which was not far removed from what I have just outlined. He described the process as “dehumanising”.

Downsides
The major weakness of this process, is that a little like it’s namesake ” speed dating“, it’s based on the chemistry between the individuals involved on the day, in that 15 minutes. So in a romantic context, it is highly unlikely that a couple would opt to move in together on the basis of a 15 minute conversation, no matter how well they hit it off. If the duo do get on, a second date would probably be the next step to progress the relationship. One would hope that corporations would exercise the same degree of caution. The risk of making a poor hiring decision leading to low retention rates and ineffective onboarding could be significantly increased. For any candidate, forced under pressure to make a hasty decision, the downsides can also be notable.

Nevertheless, if the system leads to a second interview, it should be taken seriously by all concerned. If it doesn’t, the organisation in my book has question mark on it.

Candidate Preparation
§ Appearance First impressions do count, especially when it comes to speed interviews. Candidates should dress as if they were going to a full interview.
§ Research the companies you wish to target and ask meaningful questions. It could save time later and getting caught up in low value processes or missing a great opportunity.
§ Get the recruiters contact details so you can send your CV by email. Connect with them online afterwards on a professional platform such as LinkedIn.
§ Bring a supply of copies of your resume for anyone who might want one, more than the number of people you have signed up to see. You just never know.
§ Prepare and practise your Elevator Soundbites – you may need several different versions depending on the number of companies you are meeting.

If you are offered a job on the spot, treat this like you would a date. Be flattered, but extremely cautious. You simply don’t know each other well enough to make any committment.

Or putting it another way: would you move in with someone you’d only known for 15 minutes?

70 or bust? No! Bring forward workplace changes

How old will you be when you finally retire?

Why wait until 2040 to implement workplace changes?

I seem to be receiving lots of invitations to retirement parties recently. A number of my friends and associates are heading off into the sun or sunset with a variety of fabulous plans: sailing around the Mediterranean to the Baltic, travelling around the world, spending time in summer homes, learning new sports, going back to university, volunteering, spending time with their families and taking up new hobbies. Some simply wanting to potter around in their gardens.

One thing they all have in common was that they are well under the age of 65.  So in some ways it was quite a contrast to see the cover of last week’s Economist ” Pensions: 70 or Bust,” staring out at me from a news stand, suggesting by 2040 for economic reasons, the retirement age will need to be extended to age 70.

Changing retirement age
65 has been considered by many as an aspirational average retirement age and in a number of countries is considered the default age. However, many people like my friends, take steps to retire earlier and it has been quite common for people to retire at 60, or even younger. Recently, particularly since the recession, there have been calls to scrap the default retirement age to allow those who would like (or need) to work longer, to do so. I have come across many who either wish to, or have been forced to, re-enter the workplace as property values and pension pots nose-dived. But in the future individuals may actually be obliged to work those additional years before they will be entitled to any company or state benefits – if they will even exist then at all.

70 or bust
The Economist suggests in its lead issue last week that by 2040, the retirement age in Europe will have to be increased to the age of 70 years. Since 1971, the average life expectancy rate in the advanced countries has risen by 4 – 5 years, and forecasts suggest that until 2050 it will grow by additional three years. People living longer and retiring earlier is not a problem per se , but forecasted labour shortages because of declining birth rates will not allow this.

The article also suggests that this birthrate reduction means that ” in the US, there will be only 2.6 workers per pensioner in 2050, while in France, Germany and Italy – 1.9, 1.6 and 1.5 workers per pensioner, respectively. Countries are already intending to raise the retirement age: in the United States – to 67 years, in the UK – to 68 years” . However The Economist maintains that these measures don’t go far enough.

By raising the retirement age it argues that employees will receive more years at a higher income level, governments will of course profit from further tax revenue, and a later retirement should stimulate a growing economy. However if governments are requiring individuals to stay economically active longer than previously, it means that organisational and employees practises and attitudes will be obliged to accommodate this demographic shift.

Specifically:

  • Discrimination policies will need to be enforced particularly in the areas of recruitment and retraining. A 50-year-old candidate potentially will have 20 more years on the career clock.
  • Workers in jobs requiring certain physical skills and stamina will have to be reassigned to lighter roles if necessary.
  •  Older workers will require cross generational and new technological training.
  • Older employees quite often have spousal and elder care roles. Support will be required.
  •  Flexible work schedules may be required (reduced, compressed, extended work weeks, job sharing, part-time hours, unpaid vacations will all have to be options)
  • Home offices and remote working should be considered.
  •  Re-organization of work and the redesign of jobs could be desirable.
  • Health and wellness initiatives would be beneficial.

Commonalities
It also struck me that some of these proposed measures to support an aging workforce would also be useful to women, but not by 2040. But today. So if organisations are going to be required at some point to implement changes, why not pre-empt a crisis and bring those plans forward 29 years, before we’re all keeping our teeth in jars on our desks and needing ramps for our walkers. If many of those proposals were introduced earlier, they would perhaps stem the exodus of women out of the workforce at critical points in their careers, some of whom never return. Who knows, many might be tempted to have larger families – if managing a career and a modern family simply became easier for everyone.

Those who wish to work longer can do so and those who wish to retire earlier can head off in the direction of their choosing. Then perhaps then some of those gloomy pensioner support ratios might look a little healthier. Or is that too simple?

What do you think?

Grown up gap years: avoiding burn out

Mid career breaks. How to stay sane and avoid burn out
Just before Christmas I had an email from Thailand from an ex business associate. He was in between jobs and had negotiated a six month career gap. At 45 he had been working his socks and body parts off for over 20 years and needed a time-out to re-charge the flagging batteries. It was the best thing he’d ever done he claimed, wished he’d done it earlier and felt it should be mandatory for all executives. “You don’t know how tired and under performing you are until you actually stop. I also realised how worn out many of my team and peers were too, especially after the last 2 to 3 years fighting for survival during the recession. It’s not good for concentration, impacts the effectiveness of both the team and decision-making process and ultimately impacts the bottom line.”

Voluntourism
Another colleague is about to take off on a gap period to do some “Voluntoursim” a relatively new concept where individuals combine voluntary work with travel. One site describes this experience as .. “The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination

He had no specific job lined up for his return, but his employer had agreed to keep a position open for him “Yes “ he said ” there’s some risk, there are no guarantees that any openings will be in line with my expectations, but I wanted to do something different, give back and travel. This seems ideal. I’ll take my lap top and i-phone with me, keep in touch, but I just need to clear my head. I also want to do this while I’m physically fit and intend to come back refreshed and ready to go! Savvy organisations will realise that this can only help them be more profitable

No longer retirees
When I looked on Google there are literally dozens of organisations, companies and blogs set up to cater for this new trend of older people taking career breaks and going to destinations as diverse as India, Ecuador and the Arctic Circle. These trips of a lifetime were frequently associated with post retirement plans ( or even post graduation), but as those days are being bumped further into the future by economic and social change and retirement may now not start until employees are in their late 60s, many want to take those trips while they can. My own father, sadly, was diagnosed with cancer the week before he retired and was never able to fulfill his dreams. Today, many are not prepared to wait and take a chance.

Flexible working
A new study (“Flexible Work Models: How to bring sustainability in a 24/7 world”) of 3,300 professional men and women published by Bain & Company on the adoption and effectiveness of flexible work models finds that a lack of availability of these programs, as well as their poor utilization, can dramatically increase the likelihood that employees stay with their current company and more effective implementation can improve retention of women by up to 40% and up to 25% for men.

Despite the fact that flex models are one of the hottest recruiting and retention tools, they aren’t sufficiently used at many organizations,” said Julie Coffman, a Bain partner and study author. “Companies can no longer get away with just offering cookie cutter options; they must tailor them to their employees and also provide adequate levels of support and resources to ensure better cultural acceptance.”

10 Steps to burn out
So what would cause an executive or any other employee to start internet researching and reach for their credit card, when to the outside world they have great careers. According to the Bain report, a combination of 5 of any of the criteria mentioned below, identify the hallmarks of a challenging work situation, which could lead to a need for a break:
§ Unpredictable work flow;
§ Fast-paced work under tight deadlines;
§ Inordinate scope of responsibility that amounts to more than one job;
§ Work-related events outside regular work hours;
§ Expected to be available to clients or customers 24/7;
§ Responsibility for profit and loss;
§ Responsibility for mentoring and recruiting;
§ Large amount of travel;
§ Large number of direct reports;
§ Physical presence at workplace at least 10 hours a day

When employees work in excess of 50 hours per week, that can also contribute to a feeling of burnout. This is of course without factoring in any of the usual domestic pressures or any other specific difficulties, which routinely crop up in most people’s lives and contribute to overall life stress. Not surprisingly, by mid – career many wish they could take a break. Seemingly, those that can, are actively trying to make that happen in ever-increasing numbers.

Organisational view
One HR Director I spoke to said ” At one time it was mainly women who wanted flexi-time arrangements or sabbaticals to extend their maternity leave, so that they could stay at home with their children. Now, leave of absence requests are becoming increasingly common from both men and women of all ages, as employees seek not just challenging careers, but opportunities to take breaks and recharge their batteries. Our top executives are entitled to extended leave periods every 5 years. For both younger and older non-executives sabbaticals tend be the best-fit flexible work option. They very often choose to travel or do voluntary or project work. Others use a break for child or parental care, or even to pursue further education. Some organisations are also offering employees the opportunity to buy additional holidays, which effectively means that they take a salary cut in exchange for additional time off. In some functions this can be easily arranged. In other more operational areas it can be more difficult.”

As all Gen Y research has indicated, Millenials will demand greater flexibility from their organisations in the future. So flexi-time options previously associated with supporting women to take care of their children, will move further into mainstream cross gender HR policy. This will mean organisations will be pressed to consider the provision of a full menu of flexi-time options including parental leave, flexible hours or remote working as well as extended leave of absence.

I’m already looking at the map!

So how about you? Would you like to take a mid career break?