Thursday, August 13, 2009

Love Of The Common People 2: The reality of Swine Flu testing in Bangalore

Ever heard a doctor tell you how Swine Flu is actually good for you?

If you read my last post on my 'near-death experience' at Hyderabad, then you have the background information for this post. This post starts off the next morning (that is, this morning), when I arrived at Bangalore's Yeshwanthpur Railway Station.

After the usual fight with the auto drivers (as usual, meters are unheard of at railway stations, and the only benefit of arriving at 10.30 AM at a station is that you pay 30 rupees for a 2 kilometer ride instead of 80 rupees if you arrived at 7.30 AM), I got home at about 11. Of course, I was still quite weak from my ordeal of the previous night, and to make matters worse, wifey and the kids were also at varying stages of recovery from different illnesses. And so (with a healthy dose of advice from wifey) I decided to get myself tested for Swine Flu - or AH1N1, as every Tom/Dick/Harry and his uncle and his pet will tell you in Bangalore nowadays.

So after a cuppa at home, I dutifully checked the newspapers for the places where testing is being done in Bangalore. Today's update was that 16 hospitals in the city, including the M S Ramaiah Hospital, Mallya Hospital, Manipal Hospital and others were empaneled to conduct tests. Furthermore, some of them were said to be conducting the tests from today.

And so off I went to the MS Ramaiah Hospital. The ladies at the reception were very gracious, though I couldn't see their smile because of the surgical mask that they, like every other staff member of the hospital, were wearing. They told me in all grace, that Swine Flu testing was being done in only two places in Bangalore City - the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (oppposite Nimhans Hospital) and Victoria Hospital (near City Market). What about the news report, I asked them. "All false news, saar" was what they could offer.

As Superstar Rajni would say, I said to myself, "Kanna, what to do? Aah? Hmm." 

So off I went to my parents' place at Cox Town, to refill my inbuilt coffee keg and draft one of my poor parents into the task of chaperoning me safely to the Swine Flu testing centre and back.

At home, my dad, being the eternal optimist, decided that the newspaper required another chance, and so he called TV 9 (the news channel). The response from them was the same - "only two places in all of Bangalore, Saar." The TV 9 man then went on to add (rather comically): "What to do, saar? This is how seriously our Government is taking Swine Flu." Dad's calls to Lakeside Hospital ("no testing, all isolation ward beds full"), Mallya Hospital (ditto) and Manipal Hospital (no response on the phone) proved equally fruitless. 

By now we decided to give up the phone hunt and decided to have lunch. And so it was 3.30 PM by the time we left home in the direction of RGICD.

For the uninitiated, the RGICD is a vast complex opposite Nimhans. You need to approach Nimhans from the direction of Dairy Circle, and swing a left at the next traffic signal. Keep on going straight-o-straight till you hit the dead end (I mean the Indian dead end) and right there in front of you is a large gate with a sign board that advertises RGICD. Drive in. Go some more straight-o-straight. when you can go no more, take a right and park by the side. Then ask people where Swine Flu testing is going on (in case you need the Kannada translation of Swine Flu, my maid tells me it is 'Handi Jwara'.) They will point you to the SARS Isolation Ward. Ironically the Swine Flu testing is taking place at the same place where Bird Flu patients are kept in isolation.

We finally reached this place after a lot of trials and tribulations, at about 4.30 PM. Imagine our shock, when the security people there grandiosely announced: "Yella Aaghoithu!" (translation: testing is finished for the day." They then pointed to a small computer printout stuck on one of the fence posts of a garden there. The notice announced the following: 


Swine Flu testing will be done from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM only.

Registration closes at 4.00 PM.

Inconvenience is regretted.

Please cooperate.


Now I wasn't going to get tested, because I didn't have an Out Patient Department Card (OPD Card). Of course it didn't matter that I had nearly fainted in a public place the previous day, or that I had two young children at home who were at great risk if turned out AH1N1 positive.

And so the drama began. Over the next half-an-hour, I played the part of the very sick patient while my mom played herself. Some hussling and many tears later, we located the duty doctor who gave my mother and me a rather motivating talk about how we shouldn't take H1N1 so seriously, because we are all developing resistance to it (to transliterate his Kannada words into English, "Some some country's ghost we are putting colour on".) 

That he managed to get the point across and calmed mother down, speaks tomes about his experience. 

He then asked us to go back to the testing centre and wait for him. If anyone asked, he said, "Tell them I only want to test for the symptoms, and if necessary I will come back for a throat swab tomorrow." So we went back to the testing centre, and to a barrage of "no OPD Card, no treatment", "How many times to tell you", "Whether you listen to us or not, is your choice" and similar assorted comments from attendants and security who were well-intentioned but totally out of touch with reality.

My mother finally pushed her way through to a doctor, and I limped in, coughing and playing the sick patient. When I sat down I told this young Mallu doctor the whole story. He patiently listened to me, checked my breathing with the stethescope and finally told me I did not have the necessary symptoms of swine flu. It looked to him that I had a viral fever. No throat swab needed. Simple prescription of antibiotics and dolo-650 in case the fever returns, and we were out of there.

So to summarise, for those of you who plan to get yourself tested for Swine Flu:

  • As of today, only RGICD and Victoria Hospital are taking Throat Swabs for Swine Flu. I understand that the other hospitals only doing these tests on critical patients who take a turn for the worse.
  • If you need to get yourself tested at either of these places, please make sure you go there between 9 am and 4 pm and get registered. Then sit in the queue.
  • Make sure you carry your own handkerchief or mask. The N95 mask has all but become extinct in Bangalore pharmacies, and even the common surgical mask has become an endangered species. They will not provide masks at the testing centres.
  • Not everyone who goes to the testing centre gets a swab. Swine Flu testing kits are expensive (about Rs. 3,800/- per kit according to a newspaper report today) and the test will only be administered to you if a doctor at the testing centre feels you need to undergo the test.
  • Go to your local doctor and get their opinion before going to a testing centre. The doctor at the testing centre seems to take you more seriously if you have been recommended by another doctor. In fact I overheard a doctor giving this advice to a patient there.
  • Your throat swab will be sent to Pune for analysis, according to the support staff at the venue. i.e. the results will take 24 - 72 hours, or longer.
  • And if you have symptoms of a cold, first get yourself a mask. Even a kerchief is better than nothing.

Hope this post helps many others who like me are struggling with a potential Swine Flu infection.

Love Of The Common People: My tryst with the anonymous agents of love

It all started two days ago, on Tuesday, when I was to leave to Hyderabad for a training program. There was a mild irritation in my nose and throat, a symptom I knew from countless previous occasions, indicated the onset of a cold. 

By the time I reached Hyderabad in the evening after the short flight, I had a bad headache, fever, runny nose, throat irritation, body pain and general weakness.

Of course it didn't help, that I stayed up till 1 AM preparing for the workshop the next day, and effectively slept only for about 5 hours that night. Wednesday morning was even worse - the guest house that I was in had a water problem and I was stuck without bath water for some time. Breakfast of a few loaves of bread with jam was insubstantial. All this time, the fever was steadily getting worse.

And then I started the training program.

A reality every professional deals with, is that people can sympathise if you are not feeling well on a day, but will not compromise on their results; in our world, results are all that matter. I couldn't let my participants suffer due to my ill health, and so put in every ounce of the little remaining energy that I had into the program, taking quick, brief breaks replenish my energy levels.

By evening, the program was a success, my participants were touched that I managed the show despite being ill, and I was even more ill than I had been that morning.

My journey back to Bangalore had been booked by train because of cost cutting measures. I don't remember much of the commute from the venue to the train station; only that the cab stopped once, and I went to the ATM to draw some money. I was semi-conscious the rest of the time.

The train was to leave at 9.15 PM. I reached the station at 7.30 PM, hoping that after about an hour, the train would roll in to the platform, and I could comfortably lie down. That was not to be. By about 8.30 PM, as I was sitting on a bench on the platform with my luggage, the fever peaked. I could no longer sit straight, and had to lie down. I was sweating profusely and there was a loud buzzing in my ears. The pain in my body became unbearable. In the next five minutes, I nearly lost consciousness.

With great effort, I managed to get the attention of a couple of fellow passengers waiting near me, and asked for some water. I have tremendous faith in the 'love of the common people' - and my faith was not belied. My co-passengers took charge of the situation and brought me a bottle of water and some apples. I felt better the instant food and water touched my stomach. An apple and some water brought me back to sanity. By the time I had had four apples, my energy and focus had returned, and the look of worry on my co-passengers' faces had disappeared.

Those kind people spent the next twenty minutes or so talking to me, so as to make sure that everything was alright. I offered to book a taxi for them back at Bangalore, as some small gesture of thanks. They smiled at each other like I was mad, and quietly refused any reward. When the train finally came to the platform, they simply left.

Waylon Jennings recorded the song "Love of the common people" for the first time in 1967, and I've been a fan of the song ever since I heard it for a the first time, a few years ago. Now you know why.

Love Of The Common People

Living on free food tickets,
water in the milk from a hole in the roof
where the rain came through.
What can you do?
Tears from your little sister,
crying 'cause she doesn't have a dress without a patch
for the party to go.
But you know she'll get by

'cause she's living in the love of the common people,
smile's from the heart of a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can
and she can.

It's a good thing you don't have a busfare,
it would fall thru' the hole in your pocket and you'd lose it
in the snow on the ground.
You got to walk into town to find a job.
Tryin' to keep your hands warm
when the hole in your shoe lets the snow come thru'
and chills you to the bone.
Now you'd better go home where it's warm,
where you can live in a love of the common people,
smile from the heart of a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can
and she can.

Living on a dream ain't easy
but the closer the knit the tighter the fit
and the chills stay away.
Keeping 'em in stride for family pride.
You know that faith is in your foundation
and with a whole lot of love and a warm conversation
but don't forget to pray.
Making you strong were you belong
and we're living in the love of the common people,
smile's from the heart of a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can
and she can.

Living in the love of the common people,
smile's from the heart of a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can.
Living in the love of the common people,
smile's from the heart of a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can.
Living in the love of the common people,
smile's really hard on a family man.
Daddy's gonna buy you a dream to cling to,
Mama's gonna love you just as much as she can
and she can.

(Written by Ronnie Wilkins/John Hurley and performed by Weylon Jennings, 1967)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Chief Learning Officer is also the 'Chief Storytelling Officer'!


The Story Whisperer

by Dan Heath


It was an off-site training program for the new hires of a major software firm. The young employees were in their seats early - they were excited to hear from the opening speaker, an executive who held a position of astonishing power. But that wasn't why the audience was excited. They were excited because he was young - mid-30s, not too much older than them.

Everyone knew the man's career trajectory, which was characterized by short stints and cross-organizational zigzags, as if he'd taken a Southwest flight to the corner office. Needless to say, they all wanted to live that flight plan.

But the excitement in the room quickly fizzled. The young exec spoke as if he were being paid by the cliche. He urged the employees to "work hard" and to "pursue their passion." (Presumably this was intended for employees who were chasing work that didn't interest them - and doing so lazily.)It was frankly a miracle that he didn't challenge the crowd to "give 110 percent."

There are two lessons here for CLOs. First, stories have enormous power in organizations. Every young employee at the software company knew this executive's tale. It inspired them because it seemed to say, "In this company, youth is no barrier to success."

The second lesson is that, while stories have great power, storytelling doesn't come naturally to executives. Executives are taught to be concise, to get to the point, to summarize. But stories thrive on detail and depth.

That's where you come in. A CLO must also be a CSO: chief storytelling officer. To see how, consider the work of the psychologist Gary Klein, who writes, in his insightful book Sources of Power, "If you ask experts what makes them so good, they are likely to give general answers that do not reveal much. But if you can get them to tell you about tough cases, nonroutine events where their skills made the difference, then you have a pathway into their perspective, into the way they are seeing the world."

In other words, to reap the benefits of stories, first you have to coax them out of executives. You must be the Story Whisperer. Imagine that you'd scheduled a mandatory prep session with the cliche-spouting software executive in advance of his speech. You could have interviewed him and coached him to tell the right story: How did he deal with different bosses? How did he know when it was time to shift roles? What mistakes did he make? How did he make sure his work got recognized? By the time he took the stage, he'd know to tell the epic version of his story, not the headline-only version.

As a CSO, you also need to be a Story Spotter. For every major strategic objective of your organization, there's a story to match. After all, if the strategy doesn't manifest itself in behavior, it's not accomplishing anything.

At FedEx, for instance, stories circulate about employees who've gone the extra mile for customers. One story concerns a driver in Manhattan whose truck broke down in the middle of her route. She called for a replacement van, but it was running late, so she started jogging around the city, trying to deliver the remaining packages on foot. Her progress was too slow, though - she wasn't going to get her packages delivered on time. So she improvised. She flagged down a competitive firm's delivery can and managed to persuade the driver to take her on her last few deliveries.

This story is entertaining, but it's also a workhorse. It does two jobs for you as a CLO: It educates and it inspires. The tale helps employees see how seriously FedEx takes its promise of reliability, and it shows them that if they do extraordinary work, their work will be recognized and appreciated.

The FedEx story is a sticky idea that serves as a teacher, sharing a lesson in strategy. Even better, given our times, it's a teacher that works cheap. It's free no matter how widely it circulates. But stories don't spread themselves; someone has to be the first to spot them and share them. Unfortunately, there's no one in your organization who has that responsibility in their job description. What if you seized it?

The right stories can carry the weight of organizational learning, so it's worth your time to excavate them, spot them and spread them. As a matter of fact, you should make it your passion - and give it 110 percent.

[About the Author: Dan Heath is the co-author of the best-seller Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which has been translated into 27 languages.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Walking Your Talk

An Excerpt from: You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School
Mac Anderson / Founder, Simple Truths


A few years ago I was invited to spend some time with Ken Blanchard at his lake home in upstate New York. Over the last 20 years Ken has probably sold more books than any other business author. His classic, The One Minute Manager, has sold over 10 million copies. He has also built a large training company with the focus on servant leadership and customer service.

I've had the good fortune to meet many successful businessmen, authors, and speakers during my career, but I've never met anyone that "walked the talk" more than Ken. He gets it. The first night of my visit to Ken's lake home, we were sitting on the deck with Humberto, his son-in-law, talking about some ways we could work together. It was about 10 p.m., when all of a sudden Ken jumped up and asked to be excused. He returned about 10:20 and Humberto asked "What happened?" Ken said, "I can't believe it; I forgot to call Dorothy on her birthday."

Later that night, after Ken had gone to bed, Humberto told me that Dorothy is an 85 year old part time employee for the company. It then dawned on me that at 10 p.m. Ken left to spend almost 20 minutes talking to Dorothy and inquiring about how she had spent her special day. However, after spending more time with Ken over the next year, I came to realize that this was no fluke. This is who he is. The last time while visiting him at his San Diego office, I learned that one of his employees who worked in the warehouse had recently passed away. On that day, Ken had invited the employee's wife to come to his office. When she arrived, he spent an hour walking around with her carrying a tape recorder to record all of the wonderful memories that other employees had of her husband. When the wife left she said it was a day she'd never forget.

You see, what many leaders would have considered a waste of time, Ken saw it as an opportunity to serve and to thank his people. He doesn't do it because it's expected of him, he does it because he truly cares. It comes from his heart, and his people love him for being the servant leader that he is.

This is an old Chinese poem that offers wonderful advice for any leader:

GO to the people
LIVE among the people
LEARN from them
LOVE them.
START with what they know,
BUILD on what they have.
But of the BEST leaders,
When their TASK is accomplished,
Their WORK is done,
The PEOPLE will remark,


Is there a catch here?


It is August. In a small town on the South coast of France, holiday season is in full swing.  But it is raining so there isn’t too much business happening.

Everyone is heavily in debt.

Luckily, a rich Russian tourist arrives in the foyer of the small local hotel. He asks to see a room and puts a Euro100 note on the reception counter, takes a key and goes to inspect the room located up the stairs on the second floor.

The hotel owner takes the note in hurry and rushes to his meat supplier to whom he owes E100.

The butcher takes the money and races to his wholesaler to pay his debt.

The wholesaler rushes to the farmer to pay E100 for pigs he purchased some time ago.

The farmer triumphantly gives the E100 note to a local prostitute who gave him her services on credit.

The prostitute goes quickly to the hotel, as she owes the hotel for her room use to entertain clients.  She pays the hotel owner.

At that moment, the rich Russian comes down to the reception and informs the hotel owner that the proposed room is unsatisfactory and takes his E100 back and departs.

There was no profit or income. But everyone no longer has any debt and the small town people look optimistically towards their future.

COULD THIS BE THE SOLUTION TO THE Global Financial Crisis? Or, is there a catch here?

-Author: unknown

(please contact me if you believe this article is written by you ... I would be glad to acknowledge the original author through full attribution.)



Sometimes we underestimate ourselves. It takes a foreigner to put into perspective what a great people we really are and our tremendous achievement in the face of what appear to be insurmountable odds. Let us hope we can continue to remain the peaceful and tolerant people we
have been through history. When fanaticism and fundamentalism rear their ugly heads in our country we must realize that they are the exception and not the rule. If we stop to compare ourselves with our neighbors and the rising intolerance and xenophobia in even developed nations such as the U.S..A., we should be truly grateful to be living in India.

New York Times reader comment on India going to the polls, "The world's biggest exercise in democracy" April 15, 2009 It is truly the greatest show on Earth, an ode to a diverse and democratic ethos, where 700 million + of humanity vote, providing their small part in directing their ancient civilization into the future. It is no less impressive when done in a neighborhood which includes de-stabilizing and violent Pakistan, China, and Burma. Its challenges are immense, more so probably than anywhere else, particularly in development and fending off terrorism -- but considering these challenges and its neighbors, it is even more astounding that the most diverse nation on Earth, with hundreds of languages, all religions and cultures, is not only surviving, but thriving.

The nation where Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism were born, which is the second largest Muslim nation on Earth; where Christianity has existed for 2000 years; where the oldest Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple; where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile reside; where the Zoroastrians from Persia have thrived since being thrown out of their ancient homeland; where Armenians and Syrians and many others have to come live; where the Paris-based OECD said was the largest economy on Earth 1,500 of the last 2,000 years, including the 2nd largest only 200 years ago; where 3 Muslim Presidents have been elected, where a Sikh is Prime Minister and the head of the ruling party a Catholic Italian woman, where the President is also a woman, succeeding a Muslim President who as a rocket scientist was a hero in the nation; where a booming economy is lifting 40 million out of poverty each year and is expected to have the majority of its population in the middle class, already equal to the entire US population, by 2025; where its optimism and vibrancy is manifested in its movies, arts, economic growth, and voting, despite all the incredible challenges and hardships; where all the great powers are vying for influence, as it itself finds its place in the world.

Where all of this is happening, is India, and as greater than 1/10 of humanity gets ready to vote, it is an inspiration to all the World.

- V Mitchell, New York, NY

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Teach Business Basics to First-Time-Bosses by Agatha Gilmore


It seemed like a natural progression: Cheryl was an ace employee, a high potential, a top performer. When a management position opened up at XYZ Corp., Cheryl was promoted without a second thought. But the organization didn't consider that it was relying on Cheryl's personal success as a top performer to enable her skill as a successful manager. Further, many organizations make this same mistake.

A new survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found nearly one-third of employers don't teach business basics such as budgeting, time management and project management to first-time bosses. Another 26 percent don't offer training on diversity awareness.

"There are two [issues here]," said Mary Ann Downey, talent pillar director for i4cp. "One, for a lot of first-time managers, they're at the lowest level of the organization. They may not have budgeting authority yet. It may be that organizations don't feel that those are needed skills. [But] if you don't understand how the budgeting process works, and you're in a management potion, you're really at a disadvantage.

"On the time management and project management point, in lot of organizations, the folks that are promoted may not necessarily have the best people skills, supervisory skills, but they were top performers. They probably already had good time management and project management skills. That may be the reason why companies are not focusing on those items."

However, just because new bosses exhibit these skills doesn't mean they can teach them effectively, nor does it mean their personal styles will mesh with their new management roles.

"Style is such an important element of time management and project management: You may have a personal style that works for you, but is it going to work in a team environment?" Downey said.

What are rookie managers being taught? According to the i4cp survey, employers instruct new bosses to a high or very high extent on harassment (39 percent), coaching skills (40.9 percent) and performance management (47.6 percent).

While coaching skills are crucial for managers to learn and fall on the softer side of training, harassment and performance management training could be considered standard risk management on the part of the organization, with the purpose of avoiding conflicts in the workplace.

"[These areas] are procedural and so probably a little easier to teach in an in-class format," Downey explained.

The i4cp study also found that 41 percent of those promoted to a first-time manager position end up supervising a group of peers. Downey said this statistic reveals just one of the reasons why new bosses must be taught the business basics.

"There are two pieces of it. First, there are the personal relationships - how you may have interacted with each other on a peer level may not be appropriate any longer. The reverse side of that is how are the folks that you're now supervising going to accept your new authority?" she said.
"If you're a first-time manager and you don't have these skills, and there are no other interventions being done - either an on-boarding or an assimilation - then organizations are really at a risk of both setting the supervisor up for failure and having the team productivity go down. That's the big risk for organizations: burning out a potential star or risking their overall organization's productivity."

[About the Author: Agatha Gilmore is a senior editor for Talent Management magazine.]

Relocation: A Balancing Act by Saskia Meckman


In 2009, companies will be forced to juggle expatriates and their families worldwide, while balancing the decisions involved in finding and retaining globally competent employees.

When taking the pulse of the global relocation field, it is apparent that there is a lot to think about. Will companies around the world be able to find the ideal globally competent employee? Once found, what will it take to retain this employee? And finally, how have expatriate-family dynamics and needs changed from the classic model?

Balancing these three key issues is on the minds of HR executives worldwide today and will continue for a long time to come. The trends of a global talent shortage, the need to retain talent and the demand for work/life balance are the main factors that have a direct bearing on this "balancing act."

While the phrase the "War for Talent" continues to be overused, it is clear that this trend shows no sign of abating. Evidence of this is the beginning exodus of the baby-boomer generation from the workforce, mostly through retirement. The result is a growing need to improve employee satisfaction and this, ensure retention. This is particularly important for expatriates repatriating back "home" after an international assignment.

Currently, the global demand for skilled labor has exceeded the supply, resulting in shortages in many pockets of the world, according to news articles. For the past 20 years, the U.S. workforce has grown by 50 percent; however it is predicted to grow by only 3 percent over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Demand in the United States continues to be high for skilled non-U.S. citizens (especially from India and China).

This year alone, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received more than 163,000 applications for just 65,000 H-1B visas, which were distributed within the first 24 hours. Debate over increasing the cap is ongoing. Since L-1 visas are not subject to a cap, non-U.S. employees are now entering with an "Intra-company Transferee Visa," whenever eligible. An additional advantage of this visa is that the accompanying spouse is allowed to work in the United States.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union will need 20 million skilled workers over the next two decades. They have a plan to make it easier for skilled foreign workers to get jobs in the E.U.'s 27 member states. The Blue Card is a combined residence permit and work visa that would allow holders and their families to live, work and travel anywhere within the European Union. If agreed upon by member governments, the proposal, introduced by the European Commission in 2007, will pass in 2009.

Currently, 55 percent of skilled non-U.S. citizens head for the United States and only 5 percent to the European Union. With the Blue Card, the European Union hopes to reduce this imbalance, which will be to the detriment of American employers.

According to GMAC Global Relocation Service's 2008 Global Relocation Trends Survey, the three emerging destinations for many expatriates are China, India and Russia -- countries with rapidly growing economies. These countries also happen to be the three most challenging locations for expatriates and their families to successfully complete assignments and for international-assignment-program managers to set up, according to the survey.

With 25 percent of international assignments now in emerging markets, this is no small challenge. With security issues, rising housing costs, insurance prices, natural disasters, education for kids, work permits and visa issues, the list of worries for expatriates goes on and on. Additionally, potential employees and their families are often reluctant to head to a part of the world they may have heard little about until recently.

How do HR executives balance the needs of the company with those of the potential expatriates employees and their families?

Often the secret ingredient, forgotten in most recipes, is the expatriate spouse. While discussions between the employee and company may happen months ahead of an upcoming international assignment, the spouse is often left out of the equation until the last minute or, more often than not, altogether. The employee and spouse may have spoken countless times about the possible assignment, yet the company may offer little to no support regarding the spouse's career or other needs.

For most companies, it is becoming increasingly hard to fill certain positions without providing comprehensive and lucrative compensation packages. Including career-support services and any other additional support for the spouse may make a difference in whether an employee accepts or declines an international assignment.

Retaining Talent

There is no arguing that the most valuable and sought after commodity in any company is talent. In order to attract and keep this talent, all aspects of a relocation package need to be appealing. The challenge then becomes, how do companies keep these packages frequently updated in order to offset the declining purchasing power of the dollar, while at the same time addressing the needs of the employees and their families?

According to Martin Foxwell, West Coast director of the New York-based consulting firm ORC Worldwide, "The implications for global and expatriate pay packages include a classic conflict: Expatriate pay packages are renowned for their high cost to the company -- often three or four times an employee's base salary.

On one hand, companies are continually challenged to reduce costs wherever they can, and expatriate packages are an obvious place to start. On the other hand, the fierce competition for the best talent is putting upward pressure on the cash, perquisites and benefits needed to incentivize potential expatriates [and their families] to undertake international assignments. This dilemma is a delicate balance and an extremely important strategic issue."

This statement should be given considerable thought in light of the fact that, in 2008, 58 percent of companies surveyed by GRTS said they were reducing expenses for international assignments in response to economic conditions.

Once companies have found talented employees, the main goal is to retain them. One way of doing this is by making sure that there is a job offer of equal or greater interest for them once they repatriate "home" or head off on another international assignment. Companies are often still losing their best talent by not taking advantage of the cultural understanding and global competence the employees acquired while on assignment.

Natalie Richter, principal of Natalie Richter and Associates states, "An organization's greatest resource is its globally competent employees. They enable companies to be nimble and respond quickly to changes in the international environment, which in turn makes them more globally competitive."

HR executives are crucial in providing an employee with a seamless international-assignment transition and ensuring that there is communication between home and host country.

As the war for talent continues, it is apparent that practices such as flexible hours, remote work, intercultural training, executive coaching and spousal-career services, are now essential. Even areas such as more effective use of virtual teams and greater utilization of communication alternatives such as instant messaging, voice over IP and Web conferences -- once regarded as optional -- are now crucial.

Companies that are spending more time and effort focusing on work/life balance as a strategy for talent management will be the winners of this war!

Work/Life Balance

How are HR executives going to address work/life balance issues, which are particularly challenging for expatriates on international assignments? In some cases, the "norm" is often for the employee to arrive months ahead of the rest of the family and then travel extensively throughout the assignment. It is no wonder that finding balance is imperative. This is particularly true when many expatriate families juggle the demands of needing to be in two or more places at the same time, while preparing for the final move to a new country.

One of the areas that creates great challenges for HR executives and companies, not to mention the expatriate families in question, is when the accompanying spouse or partner must give up his or her career. The dual-career issue continues to be one of the main reasons employees turn down international assignments. When families are accustomed to two working parents' salaries, it becomes very hard to scale down to one income, even if the expatriate-compensation package comes with additional perks and added benefits.

According to the GRTS, 54 percent of accompanying spouses were employed before their relocation. During the assignment, however, only 20 percent found employment. This dramatic drop may be due to a variety of factors. It is clear that these spouses have to be very creative in finding work that matches their skill set, as each country offers new challenges and opportunities.

This is particularly true for "serial expatriates," who move every few years. For some spouses, having a portable career -- a profession that they can "carry in a suitcase" and keep with them from one host country to the next -- is the ideal situation. A few lucky and strategic individuals are able to continue working with their same employers, either remotely or at an office in the host country.
For most spouses, however, the visa restrictions, time constraints and difficulties of finding a job make seeking meaningful, financially stable employment close to impossible. This may suit the needs of some families, when the spouse is eager to be a full-time parent, but for younger couples just starting their careers, this may cause unexpected stress. Finally, the needs of the single expatriate employee (and parent!) relocating alone must not be forgotten, as this population is slowly growing and the dynamics of the expatriate family are changing.

When looking at the demographics of the current expatriate population -- 50 percent are between the ages of 20 and 39, according to the GRTS -- the needs of Generations X and Y are becoming more apparent. These populations have an increasing interest in greater flexibility at work, more meaningful jobs, further professional freedom and ultimately more work/life balance. Their outlook on life has been shaped by, among other things, the Internet, information overload and overzealous parents. Many of their overworked parents spent most of their lives working for the same company and not as much time as they would have liked with their families. These new generations are ready to change that.

The classic model of an expatriate employee willing to work 75 or more hours per week with a demanding travel schedule is slowly shifting, as there is ample evidence of the stress caused by the work/life time crunch of international assignments. Companies are becoming more and more aware that family adjustment, partner resistance and children's education are the three most critical challenges faced by expatriates.

Since the inception of the GRTS 15 years ago, these same challenges have continued to be critical, so it should come as no surprise that family concerns, including dual-career issues, are the most common reasons potential expatriate employees and their families turn down international assignments.

Finding a balance for these work/life matters will be a challenge for HR executives as the changing generations will continue to affect the global workforce.

In order for companies to remain globally competitive and win the war for talent, they must be able to juggle expatriate family needs as well as company demands and economic hurdles in order to find and retain the ideal globally competent employee and be successful in this global market.

[About the Author: Saskia Meckman is founder of Soleil Intercultural and offers intercultural training and consulting to organizations with employees on global assignments. She has been working in the global relocation field since 1998, based out of New York, Boston, and currently Boca Raton, Fla. U.S.-born, with Ecuadorian and Dutch-Austrian-Danish parents, she grew up in France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, and has traveled extensively around the world.]

The Training Industry in 2009: A Look Ahead by Cushing Anderson


Respondents to Chief Learning Officer magazine's Business Intelligence Board survey view the coming year with guarded optimism. Most of them acknowledge the threats posed by economic problems, but also see opportunities for improvement.

Training executives remain basically optimistic about the outlook for employee development in 2009, with 50 percent feeling more optimistic about 2009 compared to 2008. However, compared to the outlook for 2008, learning leaders are feeling less optimistic overall. About 25 percent are less optimistic regarding the coming year, whereas only 19 percent of respondents felt less optimistic about 2008 when asked last year.

The fact that a quarter of learning executives are feeling less optimistic shows a dramatic change in overall outlook. The reasons for dampened optimism come as no surprise: Sixty-seven percent of "less optimistic" respondents gave the troubled U.S. and global economies as the reason for their concerns. Participants cited cash-flow issues, credit problems and lower revenues due to the economic crisis as reasons why budget cuts in training programs are expected to follow in the coming year.

On the more optimistic side, there are a variety of reasons companies gave for an optimistic view of training and development in 2009. Many of these take a positive view of the economic situation, as well as challenges in hiring talent and the surge in boomer retirements.

With regard to the economic situation, one training executive expressed increased optimism due to a "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" mindset. "We all have to be more creative in troubled times like these," the respondent stated. Many training executives see opportunities for a higher utilization of employee development programs as they strive to hire and retain talent and retrain workers to replace retiring company leaders.

Additionally, companies are expecting positive developments in the role training plays in their companies. Ninety-five percent of learning executives expect that training will be more aligned with company business objectives, while 84 percent believe that the perception of training in their companies will be higher.

And finally, 78 percent report that the quality of their training offerings will improve next year.

Impact of LMS and Knowledge Management Continues to Increase

The impact of learning activities from 2008 to 2009 shows shifts in rankings, though leadership training and competencies remain the top two choices. Beyond these two, there are some noteworthy changes. Informal learning is up four spots, while measurement (fourth place in 2008) is no longer in the top 10. (It landed at 11 this year.)

On the other hand, sales training made an appearance in the top 10 for 2009, although it did not in 2008. Sales training has increased in importance in light of the economy. As one executive put it, "In the tight economy, the performance of our sales team is the company's top priority. We are refocusing much of our efforts to drive productivity in the sales teams."

Key activities of significant impact continue to be:

a) Leadership

Leadership development continues to be a hot-button issue as companies work to support corporate succession initiatives. Replacing key leaders in an organization has become more important in light of talent shortages and an aging workforce. Companies need a pool of employees from which to select leaders, and leadership training also is a way to retain valuable employees.

b) Competencies

Competencies have always been the backbone of training. Today, however, amid the shortage for talent, competencies have taken on greater significance. To address current and future vacancies, organizations are looking to competency models to identify skills gaps and develop the necessary skills internally.

c) Informal learning

Informal learning also has become a key activity and not only because of foreseeable economic hardships and formal training budgets cuts. Many companies see informal training as the model to aspire to as training becomes intrinsic to everyday interactions and work cultures. Companies see that most learning occurs informally and that action learning and collaboration are vital areas of a learning organization.

d) LMS

The LMS is potentially the single-most important learning technology investment for companies. It's up one spot from last year and four spots in terms of impact over the past two years. It is seen as "the infrastructure that drives learning," thus making training administration more efficient and reaching more people through e-learning and reusable, standard content. Companies also seem satisfied with their current LMSs: Only 32 percent reported they will be changing or acquiring a new LMS in 2009.

e) Knowledge management

Knowledge management also continues a steady upward trend, up three this year, and up six spots over the past two years. As knowledge management captures processes, skills and context that are lost when employees leave the company, it is becoming more important given the retirement surge of aging baby boomers and as the "war for talent" continues.

Outsourcing in 2009

Nearly all training strategies have an impact in some circumstances, and no training strategy is overwhelmingly ineffective. So readers should take the assertion that outsourcing will impact training least in 2009 with a grain of salt. In a time of increased outsourcing in many areas of business, this activity was cited by 10 percent of companies as the area with the least impact on training for 2009.

Part of the explanation for this showing is that only 5-10 percent of organizations outsource significant portions of their training organizations. This leaves 90-95 percent of organizations that will not see outsourcing as a meaningful activity.

In general, companies feel the loss of control in outsourced arrangements - particularly around content creation and delivery - disconnects training from the company's overall vision and business strategy.

There also exists a sentiment that outsourced providers lack some subject matter expertise and provide a lower level of service than internal training departments. Only a quarter of companies report they will be outsourcing more of their training activities in 2009.

Social Networking Requires More and Less Attention

When asked which topics should be given more attention by the training industry, the top two choices were knowledge management and informal learning. Given the high impact that these two activities have on training programs, this comes as no surprise. However, social networking was the third-place choice.

Conversely, when asked what topic is overhyped and should be given less attention by the training industry, wikis/blogs was the first choice, and social networking was second. An equal percentage of companies selected social networking as an item to be given more attention as those that selected it to be "dropped from the radar."

For those companies that would like more attention paid to social networking, appealing to a younger generation of employees is a key factor in its importance. This ties directly to concerns over hiring talent and grooming the next generation of leaders.

Social networking also is seen as another avenue for high-impact informal learning and one that should be managed proactively rather than haphazardly. Companies are not yet fully convinced of social networking's impact, but it's pervasive in our culture, and many companies feel it should not be ignored.

On the flip side, those companies that see social networking as a topic to be given less attention believes it has "no real value" and is a "time waster." These companies do not see social networking as an appropriate training medium. As a technology, it is not believed to be mature or structured enough to be effective in training.

Similar criticisms are aimed at wikis and blogs: The content is opinion based rather than factual, and oftentimes - especially for blogs - it is ineffective since the structure is loose and finding content is difficult.

Predictions for 2009

Much about the upcoming year is uncertain, given the global economic environment, but 2009 will likely be a challenging year. Challenges from hiring and retirements will increase the importance of the training function, but only 41 percent expect budget increases, so training departments will have to do more with less.

Overall, companies believe the outlook for the learning function is similar to industries overall: It will be difficult, but there will be positive developments in the way organizations leverage and align learning, use tools and refocus on providing value to the organization.

[About the Author: Cushing Anderson is the program director of learning services at IDC.]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Get the Most Bang With Limited Training Bucks by John Myers and David Collins


It's easy to run a learning and development program when business is good. Growth leads to bigger budgets and new opportunities.

But in a tight economy, job opportunities decrease. Businesses are less likely to invest in new areas.
Employees are reluctant to leave their jobs, but may be distracted by financial concerns. As a result, productivity and performance often suffer at a time when just the opposite is required. To avoid this, learning strategy has to directly support the business.

"Only by understanding a business' most pivotal strategic goals can a relevant learning program be implemented," said Dr. John Boudreau, professor and research director at the University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations.

Boudreau said leaders typically are comfortable allocating resources for technology, advertising and other areas because they have well-developed models for evaluation and ROI. But the framework for these allocations often is unsophisticated and not geared toward greatest impact.

"Training can be the first cut, focusing on costs saved rather than value lost. Even worse, organizations may make across-the-board training cuts even though they are certain training and learning are not equally valuable everywhere," he said.

Nail the Basics

When times are tough, it's critical to focus training efforts on business fundamentals: What skills training and development initiatives will address the greatest number of workers and have the greatest impact?

For many organizations, that's managerial and supervisory skills. In white-collar businesses, a significant percentage of employees fall into these categories. Even in manufacturing, retail or service businesses, managers and supervisors are the first line of contact with the workforce. Further, the quality of the relationship with a direct manager is one of the most important variables in employee productivity and loyalty.

Training programs that address core supervisory/managerial skills, such as time management, communications, personal effectiveness and delegation are among the most universal skills and represent the foundation of most training curriculum. Similarly, training around common issues such as coaching, conflict management and team performance represent areas that have near-term influence on productivity and performance.

Because these core skills have proven workplace impact, maintaining funding is easier than that for initiatives considered more speculative, or "nice to have."

Take for example, PHH Arval's fleet management services business based in Toronto. Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Halliday realized through analysis of turnover data, employee-opinion surveys and 360 feedback that managers were having a negative impact on employee engagement. This resulted in higher turnover and lower levels of initiative, creativity and innovation needed to drive business results.

"With limited training dollars, we decided improving coaching skills would have the greatest impact on improving engagement," he said. "Coaching is about having ongoing dialogue with staff; creating one-on-one relationships that demonstrate understanding of needs, issues and concerns; and providing support to achieve individual and company goals."

Ongoing measured improvement - in addition to seeing the positive progression of most of PHH's managers - convinced Halliday to commit to continuing the investment as a "must have" for the business.

At CoBank, a financial cooperative serving rural America, there is a commitment to provide developmental opportunities for every employee and belief that managers are crucial to build engaged employees and satisfied customers.

"We believe that people leave managers rather than companies," said Bob O'Toole, vice president of human resources. "To ensure we have great managers, we offer a Leadership Excellence curriculum for anyone with one or more direct reports."

Demonstrate Impact

In an ideal world, every organization would evaluate the impact of its training programs. However, when an HR department is running full steam with limited staff, it can be difficult to find time to do more than gather "smiley sheets" or perform simple learning assessments. These Level 1 and Level 2 evaluations are a start, but they're not likely to carry much weight with a CEO who wants to measure impact.

Surprisingly, few companies assess behavioral change and the impact of training on critical business performance metrics, despite research from Accenture, Watson Wyatt, TRACOM and others showing learning investments have a strong impact and positive ROI.

A down market offers two advantages when it comes to conducting such evaluations: First, if an organization pares back course offerings and streamlines outreach, staff may have more time to develop a thoughtful Level 3 or Level 4 evaluation process and implement it.

Second, if a company is using outside vendors for training, a tighter market should make the vendors more willing to help research the training programs. Learning providers are more willing to step up to keep a customer satisfied and to get access to data showing the impact of their training.

At a minimum, a vendor should be able to provide an organization with ROI studies and research to substantiate the value of their offerings. If a vendor does not have these studies and isn't willing to help assess training impact, companies should question the vendor's commitment to achieving anything of value.

In a tough economy, there is more scrutiny on spending and a greater need to make a compelling business case for learning. "But by aligning our learning and development strategy with key elements of our business strategy, it's actually easier to show a return on our efforts," said O'Toole.

Be Efficient, Whatever the Budget

A recent white paper from KnowledgePool, a U.K. training consultancy, said organizations with staff of 2,000-plus can reduce learning and development expenses by 30 percent by following best practices and working efficiently. It recommends:

  1. Careful supplier management, including adherence to an authorized supplier list and discount bulk purchasing.
  2. Automating training administration.
  3. More efficiently managing course scheduling to maximize occupancy and minimize empty seats and canceled classes.
  4. Reviewing and modifying training offerings. Course content offered in the past doesn't always have priority today.

Here are some other ways to operate more efficiently:

  1. Tie training to specific business initiatives and job tasks. The more talent managers can make training job-specific using workplace examples, the better.
  2. Balance internal trainers with outside suppliers during peak times. The "day cost" will be higher when using a vendor, but companies will come out ahead if they limit use.
  3. Offer flexible delivery. Ten years ago, more than 50 percent of TRACOM's business was for training programs of two days or more. Today, most are shorter than one day. The availability of modular training, pre-study and follow-up allows people to develop their skills in a more effective manner that requires less time away from their jobs.

At Gates Corp., a manufacturer of industrial and automotive parts, today's environment has meant constraints on training travel. "It's forced us to look for more creative ways to deploy training content," said Kathy Wojcik, Gates' manager of leadership development and learning.

"We're doing more Web-based training, webinars and consolidating training in the field to focus on what's really needed by the business. Self-paced and on-demand learning are also on the rise. We're evaluating the impact of these changes so we can make smart long-term decisions about training deployment."

Support People

One of the biggest challenges organizations face in a down economy is waning employee engagement. Organizations typically don't lose many people during a recession because external opportunities are limited. But slow-growth and a shrinking opportunity pool can cause employees to lose motivation.

If layoffs occur, the remaining people likely will experience fear and stress from the change and risk overwork from picking up extra responsibility. It's important to support employees through training and development.

Communication may initially take precedence over training in the stages of cutbacks. But once people understand the situation, don't overlook how training and development programs can help. Consider:

  1. Building core skills such as personal effectiveness, team performance and conflict management.
  2. Providing new functional skills training for employees with new responsibilities.
  3. Assessing employee engagement to uncover areas of concern.

"[At CoBank], we know our learning and development activities have improved employee engagement. People feel emotionally connected to the business because we invest in them," said O'Toole.

Just as a stock market decline presents an opportunity for investors to regroup before future gains, a down economy presents an opportunity for training and development.

"It's the challenges that teach the best lessons," said Wojcik. "The decisions we make today will shape our future.

[About the Authors: John Myers is president and CEO of TRACOM, a workplace performance company, and David Collins is general manager, TRACOM Training Products Division.]

HR Technology: 'Mavens' and 'Connectors' by Wesley Wu


The advent of Web 2.0 gives HR leaders a whole new opportunity to bolster their organizations' knowledge-sharing and collaboration capabilities.

HR technology has always been at the forefront of HR change. With the advent of the database, HR shed its role as the keeper of manual payroll processes and steward of the company picnic and quickly found new capabilities to track the workforce and provide some minimal understanding of the state of the organization's employees.

Workflow and self-service in modern HR applications have provided another step in the evolution of HR. By removing administrative and manual tasks from the daily routine, HR has become incrementally more strategic. Technology tools have also provided better analytics to give us deeper insight into the workforce.

However, HR -- for the most part -- has rarely been an integral part of the business. These days, HR leaders may talk about "service delivery," being "business partners" and focusing more on "talent management," but the objective of these initiatives is to make the delivery of HR services and processes more efficient, not to change the way the workforce directly creates value for the business.

It may have moved from being administrative record keepers to being the owners of talent management, but it hasn't shown value to the operations side of the house other than it can "get them people." Generally, HR has had no impact on the way in which talent's value is deployed. That is now changing with Web 2.0.

If Web 1.0 was defined by the linear and unidirectional interaction of a single user with a Web page, Web 2.0 has been partially defined by the simultaneous interaction of many users within a community, i.e., Facebook and MySpace. Enterprise networks can perform this same function behind the corporate firewall, allowing real-time collaborative interactions.

The role of social media in the enterprise has yet to be clearly defined, even with its rapid adoption by many organizations. Project-management offices may use wiki technologies as tools to track progress, while research-and-development departments use blogs to publish knowledge and promote new practices. HR has found uses for the CEO blog to promote employer branding. Blogs have also aided in areas such as new-hire onboarding.

But social media, for all its vast potential, comes down to a single idea: connecting people to content and content owners. It's within these connections that value is ultimately created. Unfortunately, many HR departments seem to focus on tactical questions rather than the strategic goals of social media. This view needs to change.

As we implement the various social media and networks at the workplace, many of the current water-cooler conversations and hallway chats between co-workers will be displayed by wikis, blogs, discussion boards and instant messaging. Often, these are accidental, unplanned meetings of the minds where thoughts and ideas are shared and many spontaneous solutions and innovations arise.
Currently, however, geographic disparities limit many collaboration opportunities that could be valuable to the organization. But as we move into enterprise social networks, the opportunities for individuals to connect, share and then collaborate become more simplified and more plentiful, although the sometimes accidental nature of sharing disappears.

Directing Traffic

While many believe that HR doesn't have a role in nurturing collaboration, nothing could be further from the truth. It's not enough to simply give employees tools for simplifying and increasing connections between them. While doing so will certainly lead to increased collaboration, it isn't the most optimal exploitation of social media.

To gain the most efficient utilization of a collaboration network, one must first understand how collaboration works. It is more than just bringing people together to share knowledge and ideas in simple transactions. Rather, it involves a complex network of agents who transact, coordinate and direct inquiries from senders and recipients.

To be truly effective, the collaboration network must be able to identify the individuals who hold specific types of knowledge (or who Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, calls "mavens"), those that help direct traffic to knowledge holders (people Gladwell calls "connectors"), and those who are able to synthesize knowledge from multiple sources to create new innovations ("synthesizers").

Imagine a typical water-cooler transaction:

  • Tom: How was your weekend, Jane?
  • Jane: Great, but I spent too much time trying to figure out [XYZ engineering problem].
  • Tom: You know, I hear Mary has a straw model to fix a similar problem. The ABC project team is looking at the issue to see what they come up with. You should go chat with them.

In this case, Jane is the requestor of information, Tom is the connector, Mary is the maven, and the project team is synthesizing the data. In most collaboration networks, the connectors are fairly stable: The same people always know where to go to find experts, even if they're never the experts themselves.

Similarly, the mavens and deep subject-matter experts for specific types of knowledge generally remain constant. In today's world, these are informal and uncodified networks that rely on users "knowing somebody." In the future state of Web 2.0 enterprise networks, HR will help manage collaboration as a quintessential HR function and a natural extension of its relationship with every other function.

HR can help facilitate these transactions simply by recording skills and competencies within the workforce and making them available to the network. This makes sense because HR not only has employees' self-identified skills and competencies at its disposal, but also job histories, performance reviews and other relevant data sources.

By identifying people within the network as subject-matter experts, mavens or connectors, HR can take even more of the guesswork out of matching knowledge with needs. In essence, HR could use a system of tagging to identify competencies, skills, knowledge and subject-matter expertise for each employee.

And, while it may require some effort, employees should also be able to self-update their own areas of expertise and have those data sets automatically uploaded back into HR and talent-management systems.

"Tagging" Knowledge

As the network matures and evolves, both the complexity and accuracy of employee "tagging" models should increase. First, a quick definition of tagging: In a Web and social-networking environment, tagging allows any user to create information about any data in the network.

As described by, a tag is a non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information (such as an Internet bookmark, digital image, or computer file). This kind of metadata helps describe an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching. Tags are chosen informally and personally by the item's creator or by its viewer, depending on the system. On a Web site where many users tag many items, this collection of tags becomes a folksonomy.

In our example, the data would be a person and the tag would be a competency. Therefore, if I'm an employee looking for information about designing a widget, I should be able to look for tags associated with "widget" and find the right resources to help me.

As employees find resources within the network, they also have the opportunity to tag them. They may do this in employee blogs, entries on internal wikis, or participation in the network. As employees in the network create blogs or post changes to an enterprise wiki, those entries can also be tagged to identify their content. Network interactions in the form of blog comments and traffic to the specific Web page provide a measure through which popularity, insightfulness and expertise can be inferred.

When an employee writes a particularly interesting blog entry on a topic, other employees might also tag and rate that entry, which is directly related to the employee's competence on that topic.

So, each time an employee participates in any way, the network should be able to log and categorize that action. When the actions are categorized, we get information on what the employee is interested in, and also, perhaps, data regarding how competent they are in those topics.

For example, a single employee comment on a topic could be seen as providing low-level insight or requesting more information. But the employee who posts 20 or more transactions on the same topic might be considered either an interested party or subject-matter expert.

By going to the next step and looking at the connections that exist within the employee's network and how the employee has interacted with those connections through instant messages, blog posts, wikis and discussion boards, the organization could identify that person as a transaction agent in addition to being a subject-matter expert.

While HR's list of employee competencies and knowledge often centers on the employees' jobs, networks and the traffic patterns within them may reveal interests and subject-matter expertise outside their normal jobs. Additionally, as employees move around an organization and use previous work experiences, HR may find that their ability to collaborate in areas outside of their subject matter is greatly enhanced.

To fully realize the impact on collaboration networks in the business, HRIT organizations will not only need to mine their HR databases, but ensure that they're looking at metrics from the enterprise network as well. Integrating the two data sets and creating new types of analytics will inform HR not just about job competencies, but also about the employee dissemination and flow of knowledge from, through and to specific employee users.

Matching employee competencies in the talent databases to content, activity and traffic within the network can provide an analytical baseline through which new patterns of employee movement and conversation can be analyzed. It is through the combination of these metrics that HR will be able to best identify connectors, mavens and synthesizers in a collaboration network, and help employees put these skills to the best use. These analytics will allow HR to better facilitate knowledge transactions, and, therefore, create a stronger value proposition for its role in the business.

If the future of HR lies with greater integration with the business, then it must quickly adopt new technologies and exploit them before opportunities vanish. While the widespread implementation and adoption of these technologies may be several years away, many HR organizations can start preparing now.

Well-aligned competency models that include the roles played in collaboration models can be developed today. These models can be further broadened by incorporating employees' skills and interests.

Business-intelligence tools such as data mining and data warehouses will be needed to combine data -- everything from future collaboration tools to current HR technologies. Multi-dimensional data warehouse technologies will be used to combine data from core HR systems, talent, learning and any future Web 2.0 metrics.

HR needs to start incorporating Enterprise 2.0 tools into the organization. A major cultural change is necessary to reap the full rewards, and that takes time to create within a company culture. Now is the time to start.

Enterprise networks will accelerate the speed of communication, resource identification and collaboration. That acceleration will increase as HR incorporates data that only it can offer, including information on competencies, performance, job and organization history. The question is whether HR will be prepared to take a leading role in this new model of employee collaboration.

[About the Author: Wesley Wu is a senior consultant in the San Francisco office of Towers Perrin. He works with major corporations, helping them improve the effectiveness of their human resource programs and services. Wu's areas of expertise include HR strategy, service delivery, function effectiveness and HR technology.]

Capturing Knowledge That Makes the Company Great by Robert Hyde

As the Cold War generation retires from the defense industry, companies in this sector are struggling to replace these personnel with a shrinking pool of qualified professionals. Northrop Grumman has turned to knowledge transfer as a means for growing tomorrow's leaders.


The concept of knowledge transfer is taking on new importance throughout the defense industry. That industry is faced with a demographic profile that had its foundation during the 1960s portion of the Cold War. It developed the world's best technical workforce in a society in which engineering was an occupation of choice and our public education systems had the rigor to develop tens of thousands who understood, learned and applied the math and science skills needed to be successful engineers.

That workforce is now retiring and the pipeline of talented replacements has shrunk considerably. All of the above are realities forcing the defense industry to understand that knowledge transfer isn't just another consultant-generated fad or cutting-edge buzzword. Survival - and, by extension, the qualitative edge the industry provides the American defense establishment - is reliant on successful knowledge transfer.

The Northrop Grumman Story

For Northrop Grumman Marine Systems, which employed more than 2,000 during the peak of the Cold War, the final victory was symbolized with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling of Soviet Communism and the Westernization of the Eastern Bloc.

All of those events, however, resulted in tens of billions of dollars in canceled defense contracts and a flattening of defense spending on development programs and weapons systems production. It was the peace "dividend," which meant reducing the workforce from approximately 2,500 to about 1,000. Business wasn't expanding, few new employees were hired and attrition was limited to retirement.

Fast-forward to today and Cold War-era systems need replacement, business is better, employment is growing, and the generation that won the Cold War is retiring in droves.

Northrop Grumman Marine Systems owns the intellectual property that makes one of its products singular in the world. It helps deliver the absolute reliability of a key strategic weapons system. This technology, which has never failed even a single test during decades of deployment, is the brain child of a key and indispensable engineer who has nurtured, fine-tuned and mastered this technology.

The problem is that this engineer has decades of accumulated "institutional" and "tribal" knowledge bouncing around in his head. He is planning to retire. In response, the business hired a brilliant engineer to serve as a protege for several years and learn from the master. That was a plan right up until the moment the protege accepted her "dream job" at NASA. Lesson learned: Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.

The case above demonstrated a key flaw over and above having "all of your eggs in one basket." Where were the lessons? How can they be replicated? What gets taught first? These and other questions plagued the management team. The result was a documented process and management commitment.

The leadership team quickly understood that to succeed, the organization needed a plan that standardized the process and removed the guesswork of ad-hoc learning. That plan and the lessons inherent in it had to be documented and shared with more than a single protege. Lessons are now prepared, reviewed by contemporaries of the knowledge holder and the management team and presented in a classroom in Socratic fashion.

Starting with the basics, the senior technologist presents the technical road map intertwined with that invaluable lifetime experience. "Here's what the book says, and here's what I've found out about this that isn't in the book," is the key to passing on the unique knowledge and keeping the interest level of the learners high.

The foundational sessions are presented to a group of learners that represents varying levels of experience. A veteran should be included along with newer high-potential employees and those others who need the knowledge to better accomplish their jobs. That veteran will help with organizational knowledge and has his or her own set of experiences to impart. Along with each learning session, job assignments and projects are assigned so the learners, the master and the management team can be confident that the concept is being imparted.

As the lessons progress, they get more detailed and specialized. With the input of the knowledge-holder and management team, the larger group branches out toward those aspects that best fit their skills, abilities and interests.

If there are any prodigies in the group, they will keep up with multiple branches of the lessons. These lessons are presented at intervals of three to four weeks. In the intervening periods, the project assignments are prepared in consultation with the knowledge-holder and in collaboration the entire team of learners.

At the right times, independent projects are assigned so the learner can demonstrate competency in an aspect of the knowledge. To spread the advantages, other interested engineers and technologists who can benefit from the entire process are invited. Managers debrief the senior technologist and the learners in individual sessions every 60 days. Progress is measured and reviewed, and necessary adjustments are made.

To summarize some of the key lessons learned:

  1. Management must allow the senior technologist to have the dual role of contributor and teacher. Time and workload have to be carefully managed to make that work.
  2. It doesn't work without budget and allocated time.
  3. Keeping critical skills is the organization's highest priority. Without them, it is like every other organization. Remember that when weighing priorities.
  4. Impart the knowledge to groups, and don't hesitate to have the body of knowledge branch out into more discrete paths.
  5. Learned skills must be exercised, and learners have to develop their own lessons learned.
  6. Measure results and reward success. This process shouldn't be a burden; it should be an opportunity.

In summary, because there was a plan, a road map, frequent review and adequate documentation, the process not only succeeded, but could be replicated. The business is stronger because of it. Instead of a sense of dread regarding retirement of the senior levels of the workforce, this is seen as an opportunity to grow tomorrow's key contributors.


The U.S. defense establishment is faced with a wholesale passing of the baton from the Cold War generation. The legacy of that generation can be preserved. It's neither cheap nor easy, but it is imperative if the defense industry is to fulfill its responsibility to the shareholders and keep the United States and its Armed Forces personnel safe.

[About the Author: Robert Hyde is director of human resources at Northrop Grummans's Marine Systems business.]

Manager vs. Manager by Scott Flander [Human Resource Executive Online | September 2, 2008]


Employees worried about their jobs because of the tough economy are competing against each other in unhealthy ways. But HR executives can mitigate such problems in several ways, including making people feel more appreciated.

As the economy falters, it's more of a dog-eat-dog world than ever -- and your best managers and executives may be the ones snapping at each other's throats.

Executive coaches and others say that high anxiety in corporate America is causing co-workers to be more competitive, often in harmful ways.

"August is the biggest month I've had in 25 years," says Anna Maravelas, a coach and author of How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress. "I've had human resource directors calling me up, they were hyperventilating over the state of their executive teams. They say, 'Our teams are dysfunctional, the executives are hostile to each other.'"

Maravelas, founder of the St. Paul, Minn.-based firm Thera Rising, which focuses on team building, conflict resolution and leadership development, says co-worker competitiveness has significantly increased over the past year -- a situation she attributes to the downturn in the economy.

'When people's economic security is at risk, their behavior deteriorates," she says. Among the most serious problems among managers and executives are "backstabbing and avoidance," she says. "You do something that annoys me, or I don't agree with, I don't bring it up. I don't ask for explanations when things aren't going well in your division."

Eventually, she says, executives will stop offering each other a head's up about imminent problems -- "Or worse, they'll set you up to fail."

There are other signs co-worker competitiveness is growing. A recent survey of 150 senior executives from large U.S. companies found that nearly half (46 percent) believe employees are more competitive with their co-workers than they were 10 years ago.

But, just in the past year, the competitiveness has been accelerating, says Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam, which commissioned the survey. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm, a division of Robert Half International, places professional and customer-service professionals.
He also puts the blame on the economy.

Competition among co-workers can be healthy, and can benefit companies when times get tough, says Willmer. But HR leaders need to be on the lookout for competition that becomes unhealthy -- which can lead to poor morale, lower productivity and difficulty in retaining good employees.

Employee often feel more anxious about their jobs when they don't get enough recognition, says Willmer. "If recognition is unfairly distributed or not distributed, people become competitive to seek that," he says.

Competitiveness among co-workers also increases when companies don't communicate with their employees well -- not only about where things stand with the company's health, but about where an employee's career stands. "When you don't know, you tell yourself, 'I have to do whatever I can,'" says Willmer. "But that may not be a healthy thing."

Joseph Koob, author of Succeeding with Difficult Co-Workers, says he's seen a growing competitiveness over the last five or six years, as companies have cut back and eliminated entire levels of management. "They're leaner and meaner, but that creates more work and takes away a fair amount of advancement," he says.

"Mid-level and senior executives are working tremendously long hours, which puts pressure on everybody," says Koob, founder of Metacoach, based in Lansdale, Pa.

At the same time, he says, there's less loyalty to companies, and people are jumping from one to another -- which means "you have all these people floating around who are really good." That gets managers and others worried about their own job security, which creates even more angst and competitiveness, he says.

Co-worker competition can be good when it helps people to do their best, but becomes unhealthy when employees are so unhappy they leave, says Koob. "That eventually undermines the whole organization," he says.

How can a manager or executive tell when competition has moved from healthy to unhealthy? Koob suggests that leaders walk around and talk to people. Among the signs: "People will be complaining about other people, pointing their fingers. They'll be blaming others. They'll be whining about their own situations."

Like other experts, Koob says that if employees feel appreciated, they're less likely to worry about their jobs and engage in harmful competition. "It comes down to how people are treated," he says. "If a manager makes an effort to understand who they are, and appreciate who they are, then competition is fine."

Maravelas, of Thera Rising, offers these suggestions for keeping competition from getting out of control:

  1. Acknowledge the contributions of your direct reports and other divisions daily." She recommends inviting leaders and employees from other departments to staff meetings and publicly thanking them. This helps everyone feel appreciated.
  2. Eliminate performance measures "that reward employees and leaders for sacrificing the needs of other divisions for their own gain" such as a sales-compensation structure "that drives wedges between groups and leaders."
  3. "Build the consistent message that we don't throw people under the bus here. As soon as you see a person disrespect or target another person or group, you shut that down."

Upgrading Talent by Matthew Guthridge, John R. McPherson & William J. Wolf


A downturn can give smart companies a chance to upgrade their talent.

Downturns place companies' talent strategies at risk. As deteriorating performance forces increasingly aggressive head count reductions, it's easy to lose valuable contributors inadvertently, damage morale or the company's external reputation among potential employees, or drop the ball on important training and staff-development programs. But there is a better way. By emphasizing talent in cost-cutting efforts, employers can intelligently strengthen the value proposition they offer current and potential employees and position themselves strongly for growth when economic conditions improve.

Companies can maintain their attractiveness to internal and external talent by using cost-cutting efforts as an opportunity to redesign jobs so that they become more engaging for the people undertaking them. A job's level of responsibility, degree of autonomy, and span of control all contribute to employee satisfaction. Head count reductions provide a powerful incentive to use existing resources better by breaking down silos and increasing the span of control for challenging managerial roles-thus improving the odds of engaging key talent in the redesigned jobs.

Consider Cisco Systems' approach to downsizing during the last recession. In 2001, as deteriorating financial performance forced the elimination of 8,500 jobs, Cisco redesigned roles and responsibilities to improve cross-functional alignment and reduce duplication. The more collaborative environment fostered by such moves increased workplace satisfaction and productivity for many employees. Initiatives like Cisco's succeed when companies focus on redesigning jobs and retaining talent at the outset of downsizing efforts.

In addition to redesigning roles, companies cutting jobs should carefully protect training and development programs. These are not only essential to maintaining workplace morale and increasing long-term productivity, but they also give people the skills necessary to carry out redesigned jobs that have greater spans of control. During the last recession, International Paper continued offering classes at its leadership institute by replacing external facilitators with the company's senior leaders. This approach not only reduced the cost of delivery but also, thanks to the involvement of senior leaders, redirected the content of the leadership program by tying it more closely to decisions and skills affecting the company's current performance. Similarly, IBM retained its employee-development programs during its major performance challenges in the mid- to late 1980s. It took the arrival of Lou Gerstner as CEO and a new strategy to turn the company around, but the historical investments IBM had made in developing its people helped achieve a successful turnaround.

Before undertaking widespread layoffs, companies should use their performance-management processes to help identify strong employees. Companies that conduct disciplined, meritocratic assessments of performance and potential are well placed to make good personnel decisions. These companies should also bring additional strategic considerations to the decisions. They should assess which types of talent drive business value today and which will drive it three years from now, as well as which talent segments are currently available and which will be in the future-keeping in mind, for example, that new MBAs will be equally available in two years. They should also look at which types of talent would take years to replace or develop-for instance, skilled electric utility engineers in an environment where retirements are dramatically reducing supply. Performance management well informed by key strategic questions can minimize the negative cultural impact of downsizing, improve the bottom line, and help identify talented people the company should try to retain.

Companies that are reducing staff must focus relentlessly on the internal cultural and external reputational implications of cost-cutting efforts. Although strong employer brands are resilient, it's difficult to reestablish brand strength once the culture has been damaged. The way many companies conduct large-scale downsizing decreases efficiency, morale, and motivation on the part of remaining employees. It also increases voluntary turnover among high performers and compromises a company's ability to attract strong talent in the future, as potential employees wonder how risky it is to take a job there.

Counteracting these tendencies requires creativity. In 2001, Cisco gave generous severance packages and assistance with job searches to the workers it laid off and launched a program that paid one-third of salary, plus benefits and stock options, to ex-employees who agreed to work for a local charity or community organization. Steps like these protected Cisco's employer brand by attempting to make departing employees feel better about Cisco and underscored the company's commitment to its people for those who remained. The results were measurable: employee satisfaction remained high, and Cisco retained a prominent spot on Fortune magazine's "Best Companies to Work For" list.

A strong employer brand is also important for companies undertaking selective recruitment even as they cut personnel costs elsewhere. Using slowdowns to uncover and hire displaced talent is often fruitful. Studies have shown that although overall levels of recruitment may level off or even fall, the quality of workers hired rises in recessions. And opportunities to find and hire displaced talent may be particularly valuable during this downturn, as massive downsizing in the financial-services sector makes available to nonfinancial companies a large pool of highly educated and motivated professionals who previously might not have considered jobs outside their previous employers or industries.

Some organizations are moving surprisingly quickly in response to these opportunities in the talent market. In late October 2008, the US Internal Revenue Service hosted a Manhattan career fair targeted at displaced financial-services professionals. More than 1,300 people attended, many standing in line for three hours to learn more about an employer that offered a newly interesting brand of "job stability."

Cost cutting during a downturn is often necessary to ensure a company's current profitability and future competitiveness. Rather than freezing all hiring and employee-development programs, companies should use this period as an opportunity to upgrade talent and better engage existing staff. This means reinventing a percentage of the capital liberated from cost cutting into, for example, selective recruiting and development programs and in efforts to safeguard the culture and to redesign jobs so that they are more engaging to the remaining employees.

[About the Authors: Matthew Guthridge is an associate principal in McKinsey's London office, John McPherson is a director in the Dallas office, and William Wolf is a principal in the Washington, DC, office.]