The term "corporate culture" sounds hopelessly vague. The American Management Association and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) released a report that sought to identify some of the essential ingredients of corporate culture. The report acknowledges fatigue on behalf of workers in talking about a phrase that often clouds understanding more than it clarifies.
“Sometimes it refers to everything that goes on in the company,” according to Anne Lindberg, a researcher with i4cp and one of the authors of the report. “It can be kind of a default button where it’s used to talk about the ideals and what people want an organization to be instead of dealing with the uglier parts of culture.”
In a lot of ways, “corporate culture” is simply a buzzword that people inside an organization use casually. It’s used during job interviews, board meetings, and staff meetings. But outside of formal settings, it carries little meaning for daily activities, much like past initiatives that attempted to unify staff.
“It’s like a few years ago when everybody had a mission statement,” Lindberg says. “They all said the same thing.”
The i4cp survey revealed that employees are only minimally aware of such basic elements of an organization’s culture. Among organizations surveyed, 59 percent report that employees are familiar to a high degree with codes of conduct and organizational values.
A majority of survey respondents say that their culture has been in place for several years. Yet, a lower percentage says that employees are familiar to a high extent with basics such as the compensation system (35 percent), expectations about communication style (30 percent), and business strategy (27 percent).
As expected, the higher the level of awareness of employees about such cultural “artifacts,” the more likely the company is to have a positive culture. The authors believe senior leaders in an organization are doing an inadequate job of communicating the overall strategy to the entire staff.
Lindberg cautions that leaders cannot be faulted in all cases. A handful of employees do not pay attention to strategy regardless of how often it is communicated. Another segment might hear it, but soon forget. She suggests that companies continue to communicate goals repeatedly through various mediums to reach the largest number of employees.
One contributing factor to the confusion is the multiple functions that now exist inside a single organization. Few organizations specialize in one particular area, so agreeing on a strategy that is broad enough to include the entire workforce becomes increasingly difficult.
“Companies today do a lot of things,” Lindberg says. “They might sell food and movies, so it’s hard for people lower down to see an overriding strategy.”
Lindberg says culture has shifted inside organizations today to focus more on what employees think and want from the organization. This is most pronounced in the area of responsible corporate practices, often termed “sustainability,” from greening initiatives to ongoing charitable works. Employers know that to attract the best workers, they need to showcase some element in which people can take pride, beyond salary and benefits.
“It’s a combination of pressure from below and from outside,” says Lindberg. “Talented people don’t want to work for a company with a bad reputation.”
The report forecasts that organizations will use various feedback tools such as employee satisfaction surveys more aggressively to gauge whether a problem is growing and address it before employees walk out the door.
This is a response to growing concerns about the cost of turnover, specifically the time required to train new employees combined with the loss of knowledge triggered by the exodus of baby boomers.
You Snooze, You Learn
By Aparna Nancherla
When an employee is faced with an important decision, she is sometimes advised to “sleep on it” to be able to weigh her options more carefully and clearly the next day.
As it turns out, sleep is a useful ally to the brain when one is trying to learn new skills.
A University of Chicago study revealed that sleep helped subjects retain complex knowledge they might have otherwise forgotten throughout the day. The results demonstrated that students who learned to play a video game in the morning or evening both performed better in terms of using their new skills after a night of rest.
“We live in a society that does not sleep as much as our biology would dictate—we have a substantial 'sleep debt,'" says Howard Nusbaum, study co-author and psychology professor.
‘To the extent that we get less sleep than we should, the effectiveness of skill training may be reduced.”
To measure the effects of sleep in retaining newly acquired skills, the researchers used a sample of 207 college students (163 were female) who had limited experience with video games. The participants were taught how to play a combat style video game, and then tested on a similar game that applies the same skills.
The sample was divided into six groups, with some receiving training accompanied by a 12- or a 24-hour break prior to testing, with rest. The variables in the study included whether or not the subjects received rest before they were tested and how much time lapsed between training and a skills test.
The results showed that individuals who rested before testing performed just as well as those who were tested directly after training. In comparison, the group that was tested 12 hours later without rest demonstrated markedly less improvement.
An unexpected finding was that skills are retained even 24 hours after training with a night of rest.
Even when one sleeps after training, the daily activities performed during the next day do not cause loss of knowledge, notes Nusbaum.
“Sleep restores what was forgotten by the end of the day, and it makes learning resistant to subsequent forgetting,” he says.
The study highlights the crucial role that sleep may play in successful training programs. Considering the lack of emphasis on sleep in the business world, attitudes may need to shift toward making time for sufficient rest.
“We are interested in understanding what takes place during a waking day following training that adversely affects learning. While we know that sleep restores this forgetting, it is important to understand how and why this forgetting occurs,” Nusbaum says.
The other researchers were Timothy Brawn, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and the study’s lead author; Kimberly Fenn, an assistant professor at Michigan State University; and Daniel Margoliash, a professor at the University of Chicago.
T+D February 09 //Talent Pipeline//
High Potential Fallout
By Michael Laff
Whether the company calls it building bench strength, identifying high potentials, or something else, talent management is quickly discarded when short-term priorities take center stage.
Now as many organizations are just trying to stay afloat, developing high-potential performers is a luxury. One workplace analyst argues that it should not be.
According to a recent survey by Delta Organization & Leadership, few organizations live up to their ideals of identifying and developing high-potential executives. Only 13 percent of organizations report having a formal assessment process to select high-potential executives.
Only 10 percent of respondents report having ways to measure how promising executives are moving into new assignments. Just 5 percent of companies report having specific targets for hiring jobs with the best performers. The survey included responses from 62 directors of talent and personnel.
Identifying capable successors is not new in business. What changed is the need for a new kind of leader bringing skills that were not demanded of executives a generation ago.
“Historically, organizations developed leaders through technical skills,” says Steve Krupp, a partner with Delta Organization & Leadership. “Companies were good at moving people around. Now, technical expertise is no longer enough. You need broad leadership capability. With globalization there are new competitive pressures.”
Too often, executives perform a disappearing act when it is time to engage promising employees. Among survey participants, 68 percent said their CEOs and executives participate in identifying future leaders, but only 29 percent say the same executives devote the time to oversee development projects.
“A lot of organizations drop the ball on development,” Krupp says. “They identify people and put together a development plan, and then it tails off.”
Executives should make a point to meet with a different high-potential employee for lunch each week. They could meet once a month with a group of future leaders to discuss the organization’s strategy.
Krupp says such efforts do not require extra time from an executive, just a willingness to make the effort routine. He cites clients in the banking and hotel sectors who are pushing ahead with concerted leadership development programs despite being hard hit by the economy.
Krupp believes that as many organizations expand their reach into international markets, they are looking for leaders with extensive experience in other countries, something few leaders among the current generation possess. One method successful organizations use is assigning high performers with the task of analyzing future market opportunities in developing regions such as Latin America.
Businesses that choose to ignore talent development in light of grim economic forecasts do so at the risk of losing valuable employees.
“A lot of MBA students are saying, ‘Do I want to stay in investment banking? Maybe I should have gone into law?’ Now if you’re a manager in investment banking shouldn’t you worry about retention?” Krupp asks.
T+D February 09 //Trends//
By Ann Pace
Imagine driving to work on a Monday morning, lost in a rush hour traffic daze. Suddenly, your mind is roused from its fog as you recall that your game account is 100 tokens richer from the sales goal you met the previous Friday.
The first item on your daily agenda: win enough game points to redeem an Amazon gift card.
This experience is becoming increasingly common among employees whose organizations have implemented the Capstone software, designed by Snowfly Inc., a Wyoming-based creator and administrator of workforce incentive programs.
In the struggling economy, Capstone may offer a viable performance incentives option for companies that are trying to do more with less, motivate and reward their current employees, and attract technologically savvy and gaming-minded Gen X and Y talent. And who wouldn’t want to take a stab at Wheel of Fun, Punch Board, or Dart Throw during business hours?
Snowfly’s web-based program rewards employees for high performance through online games and real-time prizes, resulting in increased employee morale, higher productivity, and lower turnover.
“It’s an amazing concept—perform well and play games,” says Grant Lewis, a bank employee at First Interstate Bank (FIB) in Laramie, Wyoming, where the program was successfully introduced several years ago.
“Plus, Snowfly points aren’t some trinket. It’s real money, and that’s the best incentive there is.”
The Snowfly incentive program was designed by a team headed by Brooks Mitchell, a University of Wyoming professor who specializes in human behavior and employee motivation. Mitchell’s research regarding the direct link between behavior modification and immediate, relevant rewards led to Capstone’s development.
“This is an exciting time in the real world application of the behavioral sciences in the workplace,” says Mitchell. “We have known for a long time what is effective and what isn’t. The problem has always been how
to apply our knowledge base to
Capstone was designed to rectify that problem. The program provides each organization a unique URL and website, which allows companies to put their own stamp on the software. Employee goals and desired behavior are tracked via individual accounts, with game token and/or point values attached to the completion of each goal.
Once an employee completes a goal or demonstrates an activity worthy of recognition, he is notified of his accomplishment and subsequent token earnings. The employee uses the tokens to play a Snowfly online game, which earns him a random number of points. The employee can immediately redeem points for a reward of his choosing, such as a Visa or Amazon gift card.
Within six months of program execution at FIB, employee referrals increased significantly, with credit card referrals up 108 percent, trust referrals up 150 percent, and mortgage referrals up 308 percent.
Regence, a West Coast independent licensee of Blue Cross Blue Shield implemented Capstone in October 2006. When comparing employees who used the program with those who did not, Regence reported a 39 percent improvement in employee turnover, a 36 percent increase in employee attendance, and a real dollar return-on-investment of approximately $1,000 per participant. In addition, users at Regence reported a 95 percent approval rate.
The program has even improved internal communication between employees and their supervisors. Sharleen Castle, FIB West Laramie’s branch manager, reports that one of the greatest benefits of Snowfly is “improved communication between supervisors and staff due to their ability to reward and comment on employee behavior. Now they have a formal system and way of acknowledging this.”
T+D February 09 //fast fact//
An overwhelming majority of U.S. workers value technology in the workplace so much that almost 40 percent would consider changing jobs to work for an organization that is more committed to providing access and training in the latest technology, according to a survey commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority
Americans working in professional services are more likely (90 percent) to say that technology is critical to their individual productivity at work, when compared with those working in manufacturing/construction (80 percent), direct services (77 percent), health (77 percent), or education (72 percent).
Men (43 percent) are significantly more likely than women (31 percent) to suggest that they would work for another employer that provided more in-depth training on the latest technology.
Americans working in the manufacturing sector (52 percent) are significantly more likely than those working in direct services (43 percent), healthcare (39 percent), other sectors (39 percent), professional services (37 percent), or education (22 percent) to say that they would consider leaving their employer for another company that makes better use of available technology.
Hispanic workers are more likely to consider changing jobs for greater access to or training in technology. Sixty-five percent of Hispanic respondents said they would consider switching jobs for better access, and 63 percent said they would consider switching for more technology training.
T+D February 09 //Info Graph//
Calling Out Competence
Right Management surveyed organizations representing a cross-section of industries in North America regarding their ability to develop and evaluate their leadership competency models and the implications for failing to do so.