T+D December 09 // Intelligence //

Future Leaders Expected to Wield Soft Power

By Aparna Nancherla

The next generation of leaders will draw strength from the downturn.

When it comes to desirable qualities in a leader, fail-safe picks such as integrity and confidence will always make the list. But finding order in the midst of chaos is now also a must in a time of financial turmoil and job uncertainty. What other qualities will set apart a leader of the future?

A recent Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) Leadership Competencies study uncovered some of the top business competencies sought from upcoming leaders, including strategy development and execution, business ethics, and decision making.

Overall, when all the qualities were integrated, the five that ranked the highest were knowledge of the business (60.9 percent), strategy execution (59.8 percent), good relationship-building skills (51.6 percent), customer knowledge (48.4 percent), and strategy development (46.7 percent).

The study consisted of 599 participants, and the questions explored three types of competencies (business, soft skills, and management) on two scales—a leadership success index and a market performance index. Additionally, each competency was measured in terms of what companies are actually doing and what they think they should be doing.

Jay Jamrog, senior vice president of research at i4cp, points out that when the survey was conducted in the past, and leaders were asked what challenges they would face over the next decade, globalization and virtual leadership were cited the most. But this time around, the answers were the need to operate efficiently and the need for profitability.

In terms of soft skills competencies, the ones that tied directly to leadership success were creating an environment of trust and respect, coaching skills, community involvement, being a role model for organizational values, and emotional intelligence.

“I think what companies are starting to realize is that the competencies that have to do with building relationships are becoming just as important as the skills to build and maintain a business,” Jamrog says.

In addition, there is crossover in terms of business ethics being rated highly but also wanting leaders to be a role model for organizational values. These findings are probably related to the rise of corporate scandals in recent years.

Jamrog believes that emotional intelligence will be one of the most important competencies in the next 10 years, whether in the form of empathy or building relationships.

The only barrier is that with the increase in layoffs, company leaders are increasing their spans of control to produce results, whereas developing more soft skills means reducing one’s span of control and allowing results to develop organically.

He also notes that companies are not sure how to reward people for soft skills because business and management competencies are usually rewarded monetarily and measured quantitatively, and the same metrics do not work for relationship building.

In terms of management competencies, the top priorities include developing other leaders, change management skills, and hiring talent.

“One of the key things we’re seeing with leadership today is, ‘Can we get the right people at the right place and time with the right skills and behaviors?’” Jamrog asks.


T+D December 09 // performance // 

The Formula for Performance

By Ann Pace

Consultants find ways to calculate success.

What is the key to unlocking high performance in organizations? It would be nice if the answer were as direct as a simple algebra equation.

Interaction Associates, a leadership consulting agency, may have determined the variables for that equation in its latest report, “Building Trust in Business.” The study defines high-performing companies as those that reported high levels of trust, effective leadership, and collaboration.

The study surveyed 211 business leaders from 150 companies in industries including healthcare, energy, financial services, technology, and manufacturing. The research found a that organizations that scored high in the trust dimension also scored high in effective leadership (91 percent) and collaboration (87 percent).

“There is an interrelationship between trust and collaboration that creates a virtuous cycle,” says Andy Atkins, director of strategic collaboration consulting at Interaction Associates. “Collaboration is based on trusting others and sharing with them, and by sharing with others you create trust.”

Research participants were given a list of 15 business goals related to productivity and innovation, operational efficiency, and employee and customer retention. They were asked to rate their organizations’ success at achieving each goal and then prioritize them in terms of importance. Companies high in trust and effective leadership reported customer loyalty and retention as their top business goal, and companies high in collaboration reported customer loyalty and retention and top-line revenue growth as their top business goals.

“This shows an emphasis on the relationship aspect of the business, rather than the financial aspect, which is especially interesting in this economic time,” Atkins says.

When asked, “What is your sense of confidence that you will manage your way through the current economic crisis?” 88 percent of effective leadership organizations (which are also highly collaborative with a high degree of trust in management) reported that they were either extremely or very confident that they would be able to weather the storm.

Another notable finding was the contrast between high-performing and low-performing companies’ financials. Researchers analyzed data drawn from the portfolios of seven publicly traded companies in both the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of surveyed companies.

On average, high-performing companies had earnings and price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios superior to those in the bottom 10 percent. For example, the low performers’ average P/E ratio was 14.67, compared to the high performers’ ratio of 18.85, meaning those organizations with higher trust and collaboration had better market prospects than those with low trust and collaboration. Atkins commented that the separation between the high and low performers’ ratios was much greater than the researchers anticipated.

High-performing organizations share certain important characteristics viewed as critical to their success at achieving business objectives. These qualities include bottom-up leadership, a strong sense of shared purpose, clear and open communication, and support for risk-taking.


T+D December 09 // Workforce //

Employee Stagnation Could Lead to Migration

By Eileen McKeown

Frustration contributes to longing for new work.

Employees who struggle to feel challenged by their employers with exciting new opportunities for growth and development are poised for departure as the economy rebounds.

According to Development Dimensions International (DDI), which conducted a “Pulse of the Workforce” survey with input from 1,000 employed U.S. workers across industries and throughout the United States, more than half of respondents said their jobs were stagnant. Among the stagnant workers, half of them stated that they plan to look for another job when the economy improves. These employees are also more than twice as likely as other workers to move to another company if given the opportunity.

Today’s “stagnated” workers are finding that their employers cannot or will not afford them the ability to learn new skills and offer them slim hopes of advancing in the organization through promotion. Thirty-two percent of those who said their jobs were stagnant cited no opportunity to advance as a major reason for their dissatisfaction. With little help from the slumping economy and continued layoffs, employee workloads have increased, adding more responsibility, with fewer available resources to tackle assignments.

“The economy has forced organizations to focus on profits and the bottom line, but this data tells us they’ve forgotten about the importance of also focusing on their people. This puts their organizations at risk for high turnover, poor performance, and low engagement,” says Jim Davis, vice president of workforce development for DDI.

Even in this climate of doing more with less, employees have checked out, doing only what they need to get by. According to DDI, you are just as likely to find a disengaged worker updating her Facebook status as helping out a fellow worker on a new project or taking on her own new projects.

Most employees do not expect to stay with the same company for their entire career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites employee median tenure at 4.1 years as of January 2008. As the economy recovers and opportunities present themselves, these “stagnant” workers are going to be the first ones out the door, taking valuable organizational knowledge with them. Organizations need to be concerned with neglecting frustrated employees.

“People are just trying to get by in jobs, and companies aren’t taking measures to re-engage their workers and improve productivity,” Davis states.

There is still hope, however. It might require as little as offering encouraging words or actions to keep employees engaged. The survey states that workers who said their career is stagnant also were half as likely to be recognized for their efforts.


T+D December 09 // web 2.0 //

No Networking Allowed

By Victoria DeVaux

It may be all the rage, but for some organizations, the answer is still “no.”

With greater potential to reach a new audience and promote a better corporate image, social networking web pages seem full of positives for all users. So why are companies restricting employees from visiting these sites?

As results of a Robert Half Technology survey indicate, instead of using social networking as a tool to expand business opportunities, companies view it as a diversion that drains productivity.

The survey of chief information officers (CIOs) asked about company policy on visiting social networking websites during work hours, and 54 percent of respondents strictly prohibit all social networking use. Research indicates that businesses actively engaged with social networking reap competitive advantages, including greater access to knowledge, measurable gains in revenue, and improved product innovation.

Despite its potential, companies do not view social networking as an essential business tool such as the Internet, phone, or fax. John Reed, district president of Robert Half Technology, cites loss of productivity and security as the two main grounds for these strict policies.

“A lot of people use them for business, but it is easy to get caught up surfing,” Reed explains. “You look down and realize, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this for 45 minutes!’ It’s not an issue of trust, but more of a decision not to put employees in a position in which they could unknowingly harm the company.”

Such unintentional damaging acts range from revealing confidential information to bad-mouthing colleagues and degrading the company’s reputation.

Maybe it’s not a trust issue then, but what about ignorance? Are these companies unaware of the positives social networking can incur for a business?

“These companies do see the benefits, but they just want to manage the risks,” Reed says.

Companies that permitted use of social networking tools did so under strict conditions, since 19 percent of respondents permitted employees to visit these sites for businesses purposes only. Furthermore, 16 percent of companies allowed limited personal use of these sites and the remaining 10 percent sanctioned any type of personal use.

Given such strict policies, critics might wonder why companies permit use of personal social networking at all. Reed believes a lax work culture plays a major role but predicts that as time progresses and companies become better equipped to integrate social networking into their business practices, leniency on these policies will grow, but guidelines will always exist.

Therefore, while some companies exercise a liberal social media policy, most businesses have resisted the move into the 21st century under the assumption that the costs outweigh the benefits of social networking at work, even for business-related purposes. As Reed anticipates, hopefully these CIOs will wake up soon and realize the full potential that Facebook, Twitter, and blogging can offer. 


T+D December 09 // Tech Tools //

Birth of the Telemuse

Michael Laff

Vexed employees once turned to a spouse, close friend, or trusted colleague when dealing with a difficult boss or diminished career prospects.

Now they can consult their phones for advice. Joshua Miller, a certified coach, was receiving calls from individuals who could not afford coaching services but wanted the benefits of professional advice. So he and Tara Wise cofounded myinstantCOACH, an iPhone application available on the iTunes store.

Users are prompted to select from one of four categories, which Miller calls the four essential “buckets of life”: well-being, relationships, finance, and career. The application includes business scenarios such as asking for a raise. A text message is sent to the user reminding them to take appropriate action.

As with all things iPhone, the field of personal services is getting crowded, but Miller says the coach application is targeted and less commercial.

“We wanted to preserve the integrity of what a coach does,” he says. “The app offers new perspectives on problems and users are held accountable.”

Users can add a daily mantra that pops up on their phone. For users who get tired of the “be strong” daily messages, they can change it frequently as Miller does.

There are 19 other coaching applications for the iPhone, but Miller says many are tied to product or service endorsements. Self-improvement services is a $1.5 billion industry, according to Miller so the demand for advice is high especially as people weather lost jobs, diminishing career prospects, or reduced income.


T+D December 09 // fast fact //

Working in an Ideal World

A new Randstad Work Watch survey reveals that 83 percent of U.S. adults would not change their personal definition of the perfect job once the economy improves. While the majority wouldn’t change their definition, the most important attributes listed by Americans are good pay (81 percent), interesting and challenging work (66 percent), and health insurance (65 percent). Working for a company with a strong corporate social responsibility platform ranked lowest on the list of ideal job attributes (32 percent).

Thirty-one percent say that in their perfect job, they would have more responsibility than they currently have, while just six percent would want less responsibility. Men (36 percent) and Gen Y (43 percent) respondents are among those most eager for more responsibility. Additionally, when asked what would best describe the type of work they would be doing in their perfect job, 39 percent would do the same thing. Another 22 percent say that they would stay in their field, but working in another role.

Interestingly, the survey found that 22 percent said that their ideal job would entail a completely different line of work. No perfect job would be complete without perks. When asked which perks would be offered at their perfect job, Americans overwhelmingly stated five weeks of vacation (81 percent) followed by free lunch (56 percent) and a lifetime gym membership (40 percent).

Additional survey findings include:

  • Only 18 percent of those surveyed would want a sabbatical as a perk of their ideal job.
  • Men are more likely than are women to report that several attributes will grow in importance once the economy improves, including good pay (54 percent vs. 46 percent); opportunity for advancement (39 percent vs. 28 percent); and having interesting/challenging work (35 percent vs. 25 percent).
  • Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed report that having a great manager is no more or less important in an improved economy.