T+D November 09 // Intelligence //

Surviving a Down Economy With an Upbeat Approach

By Dean Smith

Employees and bosses discover real rewards in finding that proverbial silver lining.

While the recession may officially be over, it will be some time before the workplace returns to stability. Layoffs, salary freezes, and reduced benefits continue to be the norm. Companies have stretched both budgets and employees to ensure survival.

A new study by Randstad finds employers placing a higher emphasis on leadership and employees embracing the challenge by looking for ways to increase their value to the organization, broaden their skills, and stay positive.

“Our World of Work survey reveals that employers and employees are doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes,” said Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of Randstad U.S., who authored the study. “They understand that their chances of weathering the economic storm are better if they work for a stable and successful company, so they are taking a hands-on approach to achieving company goals and being more involved in their organizations’ success.”

The recently released study, “Facing the Challenges of a Changing Workplace,” included the results of more than 2,000 employees and 800 managers across four generational categories: Generation Y, Generation X, baby boomers, and matures (born before 1945).

Nearly eight in 10 employees and three in four employers attribute their ability to stay motivated and focused on a positive attitude. It’s ranked by all four generations as the number one coping mechanism. Eighty-four percent of baby boomers, and 87 percent of mature employees place a strong emphasis on keeping the glass half full.

Under the threat of layoffs, a positive approach can reduce concerns about job loss. Fifty-two percent of workers cite their outlook as the reason for having no fear of losing their jobs.

According to the survey, the downturn has also produced behaviors centered on personal and professional growth beyond just having a good attitude.

More than one-third of employees keep focused by concentrating on their physical condition, 45 percent on having a broader set of responsibilities, and 32 percent on being a key player in the company’s future success. Nine in 10 employees say it’s a good time for innovation—but only 38 percent encourage risk taking.

While they are not looking over their shoulders for the axe to fall, employees are watching every move their organization makes. According to 80 percent of employees and 83 percent of employers the number one trait of an ideal company should be to care about its employees as much as its customers—and to deliver on that promise to customers. In this climate, only 17 percent of workers and 28 percent of managers believe that management has taken action to improve morale.

Workers are also keeping their options open and positioning themselves for the turnaround.

Almost half of Gen Y workers have updated their résumé in the last six months compared to 35 percent of both Gen X and baby boomers. One in four of the youngest workers sampled has submitted a résumé in the past six months.

Talent management remains a key strategic driver for 31 percent of employers during the recession. Companies are placing a higher emphasis on communication and accountability. Seven in 10 employers have identified encouraging a collaborative work environment and communicating the vision as “must-have” leadership functions. During this critical moment, leadership must seize the opportunity to set the future direction.

“Keeping workers motivated and focused is the responsibility of the company and the employee,” Habelow says. “As long as companies are communicating well with remaining employees and the employees are actually staying focused and motivated, everyone is better able to look forward."


T+D November 09 // performance tech //

 

Web 2.0 In the Driver’s Seat

By Ann Pace

Professionals seek out ways to make informal learning tools the industry’s next top performance device.

Through the years, the learning profession has seen its share of trends and hot topics take the spotlight. Some shine for years, while others make a one-act appearance.

Gaining momentum from its spot in the backdrop, informal learning is taking its place as an integral actor on the learning stage.

“Informal learning isn’t that big elephant sitting in the middle of the room,” says Dave Batt, CEO and founder of StreetSmarts, a learning software company. “It’s something that represents tangible business value.”

According to StreetSmarts’ report “Unlock the Secrets to Informal Learning in the Enterprise,” informal learning is defined as knowledge that staff acquire on the job in practical situations as opposed to learning acquired in the classroom or through courseware. Examples include traditional practices such as mentoring and coaching, as well as newer Web 2.0 mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and wikis.

ASTD and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) reported in a 2008 study that while more than 70 percent of the knowledge that employees acquire comes from informal learning experiences, 78 percent of companies surveyed allocate less than 10 percent of their budgets to informal learning.

Although most companies are slow to adopt informal learning as a tool in their learning plan, the reality that it occurs every day within every organization cannot be ignored. And due to recent constraints in the economy and the surge of technologically savvy “Net” generation employees entering the workplace, employers are realizing the need to place informal learning on center stage.

The study notes that “forward-thinking training people are embracing informal learning as a means to shift their role from a middle man ‘builder’ to a direct ‘facilitator’ of vital conversations.” Web 2.0 technologies are a key enabler of this facilitation.

Industry analyst Forrester predicts that enterprise spending on Web 2.0 technologies will grow strongly over the next five years, reaching $4.6 billion globally by 2013. According to research published this summer by McKinsey & Company, 68 percent of companies discovered that Web 2.0 technology increased their speed of access to knowledge and information.

Despite these benefits, many companies still hesitate to purchase Web 2.0 technology software for use across the enterprise, citing a lack of security, poor fit with compliance practices and regulatory requirements, and a lack of employee expertise with the products.

To address these concerns and empower companies to take the first step toward embracing Web 2.0 as an enabler of informal learning, StreetSmarts provides a checklist of key points to consider when purchasing Web 2.0 software. Some of these factors include balancing communication and collaboration features with compliance requirements regarding security and workflow, and looking for systems that go beyond publishing informal learning to ranking, rating, and disseminating relevant information to those who need it most.

“Organizations that are doing this well are engendering a different level of quality and loyalty into their workforces,” Batt says. “Many are seeing a competitive advantage—they’re putting these systems in place to get better visibility not just from the workforce, but from customers. And in this economy, any incremental improvement with a low-cost model is desirable.”


T+D November 09 // training dollars //

Never Stop Training

By Aparna Nancherla

Recent stats show that 75 percent of companies have chosen to maintain or expand training.

In the past, most organizations viewed training as vital to building skills, but when the economy turned sour, those same organizations would make sharp cuts to the training department.

But in this recession, many organizations aren’t reducing training to save on expenses. In fact, some are even bolstering their professional development programs.

A recent Accountemps/Robert Half survey found that in the past year, 26 percent of companies cut their professional development programs, according to senior executives. At the same time, 28 percent reported that their companies actually strengthened their training initiatives and 45 percent maintained the same programming.

What the survey indicates is that there is a divide between companies that view training as an expense and those organizations that view it as an ongoing investment that needs to be maintained.

Despite the economic gloom, there are positive signs for training. Looking at the numbers from the training department’s perspective, three quarters of organizations surveyed increased training or kept training expenses at the same level. Expectations would have lead some to believe that training would be cut across the board, but statistics showed otherwise.

“The results are positive,” says Bill Driscoll, a district president for Robert Half International. “However, it’s also clear that other companies have missed an opportunity to invest in their employees’ professional development, which can help boost performance as well as motivation, recruitment, and retention efforts.”

According to Driscoll, some of the possible reasons for cutting professional development programs could be budgetary, but they also may stem from not having the proper staff in place to design and deliver them.

Other recent surveys tied low morale among employees to job prospects, fears of layoffs, and diminished opportunities within their organizations.

Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps, says, “Employees who feel their companies are invested in their careers will be more motivated to perform at a high level and less likely to resign when an improving economy spurs new job opportunities.”

There are several low-cost options for training and development, such as mentoring, online classes, and peer-to-peer learning, in which co-workers share knowledge among a group to disperse the flow of new information.

“On a regular basis, companies should assess the abilities and knowledge their teams need to enhance to meet current business demands,” Driscoll says. “Also examine how your objectives may evolve and how you can prepare staff to adapt to and succeed in the changing environment.”

The survey was done by telephone with 150 senior executives from a sampling of the Fortune 1000.

For more research on training investment, see the article on the 2009 ASTD State of the Industry report.


T+D November 09 // two-way web //

The Wonders of Conversation

By Victoria DeVaux

All kinds of businesses can get a bounce by building connections with users and clients online.

Just when you thought Facebook and Twitter were foreign instruments reserved for 20-somethings and Geek-Squads, Web 2.0 tools are taking businesses by storm.

Just as many, if not more, company pages exist as individual users on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, and businesses of all sizes and industries reported company wide improvements between 10 and 30 percent since turning to Web 2.0 tools.

According to a McKinsey & Company survey of Web 2.0 users, the benefits of newly adopted technologies reside in three main areas: internal relations; external relations with customers and clients; and dealings with suppliers, partners, and outside experts.

Sixty-nine percent of organizations that participated heavily in Web 2.0 usage reported notable advantages. Internally, employee satisfaction increased as the use of tools facilitating the exchange of knowledge via blogs, RSS feeds, and social networking increased.

Externally, greater use of conversation-like tools that disseminate information and allow for feedback strengthened employee-client bonds. Web 2.0 technology raised the amount and quality of communication between companies and their suppliers. Surprisingly enough, companies were more likely to benefit from Web 2.0 use internally as opposed to externally, regardless of industry or geographic region.

Web 2.0 users reported a 20 percent decrease in communication and travel costs both internally and in external supplier relations. Production innovation also soared by 20 percent because organizations could receive input from partners and customers quickly and apply the feedback to products. Web 2.0 technology users increased their revenue across all three areas at a rate of 13 percent.

These businesses most commonly reported better access to knowledge due to increased idea sharing; increased interaction with field experts; and increased opportunities for collaboration among partners and associates. Sixty-eight percent of the surveyed companies reported speedier access to knowledge internally.

A well-networked organization that is using interactive technologies both internally and externally will reap more benefits than a company that is not. Web 2.0 tools generate greater access to knowledge, more abundant learning opportunities, and better communication inbound and outbound. Adopting these advantageous tools now allows for more resilient, adaptive business practices.


T+D November 09 // fast fact //

Dynamics of Diversity

Diversity in the workplace continues to remain an important business driver and priority for many Fortune 500 companies.

In a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by Capital H Group, 95 percent of those surveyed say that senior management views creating a diverse workforce as a major goal.

The Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace survey involved managers and senior managers.

Ninety-three percent of those surveyed say that diversity is treated as a key business driver.

Most respondents appear to narrowly define diversity. When asked in what ways their team is diverse, 31 percent cited only gender and race and ethnicity while 61 percent mentioned only primary dimensions of diversity such as gender, race and ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. Only 6 percent mentioned background, 3 percent said personality, and another 3 percent cited work styles. No respondents mentioned talents, skills, or abilities, which are also key components of a diverse and inclusive workplace.

White respondents were more likely to say gender or race only compared to people of color—36 percent versus 23 percent. People of color were much more likely to provide an expanded definition of diversity than white respondents—60 percent versus 30 percent.

Respondents said the benefits of having a diverse team include thinking about issues from different viewpoints (36 percent), gathering fresh perspectives (21 percent), generating insight of various customer strategies (19 percent), and learning about different cultures (12 percent).

Sixty-three percent of respondents said performance reviews are tied to diversity goals. When asked what senior leaders should do more of the most common answers were lead by example (73 percent), acknowledge successes (68 percent), reward compliance (54 percent), clearly define diversity goals (50 percent), and offer more training (47 percent).